Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Conflict of interest

I signed up for a drawing class with 11 yo. We signed up together because he expressed a rare interest in doing something outside of his comfort zone. I signed up because I have been waiting my whole entire life to take art classes. First it was not for me, then how would I make a living like that, because artists are starving... then I could not afford the supply fee that accompanied art classes in college and then there was no time and no money and no place to take them. And finally, finally I live within a short distance of an art center and they offer a glorious selection of multimedia classes. I took an evening class in acrylics followed by watercolor. It quickly became evident that I need to get the basics of drawing down first. When I was looking at the selection, trying to avoid Friday nights and Saturdays and Sundays, I saw a mid-morning class. I asked 11 yo whether I can leave him at the house to take that class or whether he wanted to take it with me. He wanted to sign up, and I dared not breathe from happiness. I imagined us drawing together, learning side-by-side.

Now, these classes are my outlet, both for creativity and as a chance to experience "flow", get swallowed by an activity, let the time pass unnoticed. I so rarely experience flow that I forget how I need it. Blogging took a hit because with teens I am up and talking and dealing with them late into the evening. If I want to do anything immersive, I need it on the calendar and away from home. I am not aspiring to produce the next work of art, but I am treating this time as a therapy of sorts. And I really, really need it.

Every class comes with a supply list. We printed it out and hit Hobby Lobby. marveling at the materials. 11 yo seemed intrigued. When we attended the first class, everyone was asked to disclose their level of training and what they were planning on getting out of the class. Everyone was older than me by at least a decade. Three people were retired. I think it was a confidence boost to hear that everyone was a beginner. 11 yo jumped in, but I saw that he was not exactly taking all the creative risks that the teacher recommended. Then we sketched at home. He seemed excited to practice what he has learned.

11 yo sketching out of his own free will
The following week I made a mistake of scheduling an early morning appointment with a psychologist for 11 yo. I can probably write a whole angry megilah about childhood mental health professionals who refuse to help you and think it is perfectly fine to tell it to the child's face. It was a total waste of time, accompanied by lowering of self-esteem for 11 yo. That was not exactly the best way to be going into doing something hard and outside of your comfort zone. And now we were late to class, 40 minutes late. I felt that missing that time from a two-and-a-half hour class that is not graded is not a big deal. I told as much to my son, grumbling about all the time we wasted that morning. But he realized that we were late, and not a little bit late, but ridiculously late, and he started asking to go home. Now I used to be super anally punctual. My old self would probably preferred to go home and hide under the covers too. My new chutzpadik self proclaimed that there is more than enough class time to salvage and I am going in. My son refused. I gave him an option to join me at any point, or to hang out in the library next door. He buried himself in a comic book.

This week, my 2 yo has been sick. I called on my MIL to watch her so I could take 11 yo and myself to the class. She came. 11 yo woke up crabby, declared today to be a bad day and notified me that he quit drawing. I kept cursing the psychologist for the damage he did the previous week because this week my child did not attempt sketching. He probably felt that he fell hopelessly behind, despite my assurances that every class could be free-standing. I used all my calm arguments trying to coax 11 yo to come. He flat out refused. No reasons were given except that he quit and he's not coming. I told him that I expect him just to come and sit in on class, not necessarily draw. On that note, staying calm, I told him that I am starting up the car and I will be waiting for him. he said sadly that I will be waiting for a long time.

I went to the car and sat in there, as promised. The clock was ticking. I'm reading a book on meditation. I have taken yoga. I know about putting yourself in timeout, counting to ten, to a hundred, deciding that it is not that important, not worth the fight, letting go. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe...

But I couldn't. This class was important to ME and I was missing MY class time dealing with my child who declared that he is not coming. I had to psych myself into going, into jumping in, into believing that at the end of eight weeks I will get all the necessary sketching skills under my belt. I had to believe that I am not frustrated suburban housewife dallying in art without any talent and what a waste of time and money anyway! And you are abandoning a sick child!

...I had been so good about not butting heads with 11 yo. I had been flexible, understanding. I dropped a whole lot of academic expectations, just let him be, worked on the relationship, listened to his side, tried to understand what it was like to be him. But now he was at odds with what was best for me. I want so little, and now one thing that was supposed to be purely for me became about HIM.

I stormed back into the house. As promised, he was on the top bunk, hiding in the blankets. I told him firmly that I expect him to come right now! And I do not want to count. And I do not want to punish. And I do not demand much. But he was not coming. I yelled how I hate quitters and people who do not try. He did not respond.

I walked out and drove to my class, late yet again.

Unless you have a difficult child, of the kind of "difficult" where psychologists decide that they will not handle this, you might not understand what day-to-day life feels like. I cannot overpower his will, I cannot punish him, I cannot produce enough consequences to make him do the things that he decides to refuse to do. Moreover, he usually does not have a solid reason why he dug in his heels. I just feel that I made a big mistake with trying to take this class together because this is setting up the ground for a conflict every single week and poisoning one activity that I could have claimed as my own.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fee(n)ding for themselves

Last day of the winter vacation for the dayschool kids, and they made both lunch and dinner. Yes, that includes even my moody teenager. He was tired of leftovers. So he made mulligatawny soup and garlic bread. I was downstairs organizing with a friend, so I was not available at all. I would have settled for PBJ or chick patties, as long as I did not have to supervise. But the three older kids rallied together and made soup and bread. And then they rebelled against even more leftovers for dinner, so they made mac-n-cheese (from scratch because I don't use boxed stuff, so that's how they think mac-n-cheese is supposed to be).

And before that, on New Year's Day, when I finally got everyone back from the JCC swimming pool, I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Yeah, doctor's wives do not get a winter break. We get pinch hitting calls when the legal holidays are many and the Jewish doctors cover for everyone. And nothing is open. So I took everyone to JCC for an AM swim before they would close. I promised them hot pretzels, but the cafe closed (or was it never open?) before we came out. By the time we got home and I was faced with a full load of chlorinated laundry after wrestling two kids through showers, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about lunch.

Same older kids jumped on it. 7 yo scrambled eggs. 11yo and 13yo worked together to make a vegetarian taco salad, served on top of skillet-toasted tortillas. They even fed something to the younger siblings because they practiced no child left behind.

How do I explain to all the moms who rejoice that the break is over and that the kids are back at school that these moments of motivation do not happen when they are gone? That 13 yo has not been packing his lunch, let alone making food for others?

I know, I know, kids can cook in their spare time. Kids can cook for Shabbos. Kids can cook on Sundays. I know I could have made this post into a feel-good story about how independent my kids are, how good. But I really wonder what stands behind their motivation. Why do they rise to an occasion only when they have been home for a while, and not on a daily basis? Are they too stressed and overwhelmed? Do they need to spend a large chunk of time bonding as a family first, and then they start to see the needs? Do I need to completely drop out of a picture for them to rise to an occasion? Or do they feel cornered, like there is no grown-up who will "take care" of them, so they might as well fend for themselves?

As much as their actions look good, I think it is very important to find out what is driving them. Each one might be driven by a different factor, too.