Photo: When you present your children with their own mess and you tell them that they are responsible for cleaning it up…
I fought with Ursa Major near about all day yesterday and today. I just could not appease him and neither could his brother. The world is just not enough for him at the moment, nor any of his toys, the joys of the world outside, the thrills of the amenities of our lovely community… Anything presented to our little tyrant are dismissed out of hand. Alternatives to his own vision of how things are gonna go are greeted with palms over his little ears, a most judgmental glare, and maybe even a scream if things are egregious enough.
Major is doing this thing right now where an adult announces whatever is about to go down, he declares whatever thing he would prefer, and when we explain that this will not be happening, he pronounces that everything is “awful,” that his “life is ruined,” and that he “wants nothing at all.”
Now, the way I wrote that makes it seem very cute indeed. But it really isn’t. So don’t think about it as an adorable thing. Think about is as an obstinate thing. Gone are the days of full blown tantrum, which was him losing control because he couldn’t express himself. Here are the days of declarations and counters, negotiations and dealings, winners and losers, prizes and disasters. Here are also the days where he begins another round of asserting his personhood, his stake, his presence and his power, where I need to re-assert my totalitarian governance over the homestead.
As I thought about my marathon, exhausted and crawling into bed for some knitting and reality television, a conversation came to mind. From ten years ago.
When I was an undergrad, I was a Resident Assistant. I had a fun first year in a fantastic hall and when I was re-hired for a second year, I thought I was going to stay with my team and my boss. I didn’t get a say in that, though, as the Community Directors had the option to “trade” us at the end of the year and send us off to other places.
Well, I was traded. Not even to another dorm (my favorite spot), but to the apartments. They were older buildings with kitchens, yes, but also I’d have roommates again (no bueno), I’d have to climb a massive hill every time I wanted to get back to my place from classes, and the apartments were swarming with all of the fraternities and sorority kids. In other words, no studying would get done. I’d spend all my time dealing with drunk kids. And… the woman who was the CD up there was… not my favorite.
But I needed her. Because I was taking two summer classes so I could graduate on time. I’d kissed up to her all spring so I could get a summer RA position, which gave me free housing and a little cash during the summer (always a plus). Well… I guess I kissed up a bit too much. I thought about quitting. I just… died. But I did what I had to do. It actually was a fun summer because a lot of my friends decided to stick around. God was lookin’ out though, because a miracle came to my inbox in mid-July: a new CD was coming to take over one of the older, traditional dorms. He was building an all new staff and needed a “veteran” staffer to help lead the team.
I emailed within 5 minutes. Gimmie the job. Gimmie it now.
And I got it, too. What a relief.
You’re like, “why are you telling me all this?”
Because the week before I moved my stuff back down the hill to my own room in a great building, the woman who thought she had me took me aside. “You wouldn’t have made it here anyway,” she said. “You walk into a room and you think you’re in charge. You always think you’re in charge. And you knew that here, you aren’t. So that’s why you’re leaving.”
I can be reflective now and tell you that, yeah, at 20, I was a haughty little thing. I also worked my ass off and took few prisoners. I liked who I liked, I hated who I hated, I had a very clear set of goals and I didn’t have time for people in my way. I didn’t think I was in charge, but I certainly had a strong voice, and a lot of potential, which sometimes went unnoticed. Maybe because of the huge chip on my shoulders. I was 20 back then. Who doesn’t have lessons to learn when they’re 20 and the world is limitless?
Major is 4. He has an entire curriculum ahead of him. But when he walks into a room, he expects to be a full participant, to be heard and to even, sometimes, be followed. He sees himself as equal to every adult he encounters. He knows that there is a difference between kids and adults, but he just doesn’t seem to accept the distinct difference in power that comes with that. He’s got the qualities of a leader: he’s confident, he’s bold, he’s affable, he can be empathetic when he wants to be. He’s quick to say hello, flash a smile. He rarely dithers… he has a plan, wherever he goes. He knows what he wants, as much as you’d expect a 4 year-old to, anyway.
I think that the reason why that particular voice came into my head as I was thinking about my current challenges is that I have the space to wonder what could have been, if that woman had chosen to uplift instead of sneer. It’s a lot of pressure, to hold myself to the high standard of building while also disciplining. But Lord, I’m trying…
It’s hard to do the right thing with your 4 year-old when you’ve been battling all day. It’s hard when you’re tired, you’ve repeated yourself for the fifteenth time, your expectations for the day have been shattered and, yeah, he’s looking at you with that same level of frustration in his eyes. Unlike some of the other Mom Bloggers, I’m not going to tell you that I have a bunch of regrets about not validating ever single one of his feelings. I am proud to say that I’ve restrained myself more often than not, answering as calmly as I can, even if I’m directly telling him that he’s being frustrating or ungrateful. I will say that I am remembering that the apple rarely falls far from the tree. He’s a little me: he’s smart, he knows it, he can do it better, faster, with style, he’s going to wow so many of the rooms that he walks into. He does it even now… even when he’s challenging.
We all have our challenges and we must meet them, Dear Reader. I hope you are meeting yours, and you are doing it in style. See you Friday for Quiet Thoughts… I hope. Until then, take care.