Thursday, January 20, 2005

"Why does everything have to be so hard?"

First off, that's my 7-year-old stepson O talking, not me--I don't think words to that effect have ever crossed my lips. Second, my SO, C, informs me that those words actually come straight from the lips of his ex (hey, kids learn stuff from somewhere). Third, though, the first time O said that, I started laughing, which, really, didn't help matters much. Another of his favorites is "My life is so horrible!" Once again, I laughed, and, once again, that was not the response he wanted. C and I were talking about it this past weekend, after O had a Big Fat Meltdown Saturday night--likely a combination of being really tired, losing at Operation (he's a really terrible loser, but he's also hard on himself, with things like "I'm a failure" coming out of his mouth), and being really tired. Yes, I know that got two mentions, but that's the single biggest factor in predicting the likelihood of a meltdown.

Parenting someone else's kid is an interesting exercise. One of the freeing parts is that he's not my kid. I don't bear the weight of being Mommy or Daddy--I can occupy a different, less well-defined and less emotionally fraught role. Which is not to say that I'm not a disciplinarian--I regularly describe myself as the biggest pain in that child's ass, and, in many ways, I am. I have no patience with the self-pitying crap exemplified above, or with the lack of responsibility for his own actions that everyone else in his life seems willing to accommodate to a greater or lesser extent. And that leads to the occasional downside: he displays behaviors learned someplace else, and not just any old someplace else, but his mother's and grandparents' houses, and those behaviors drive me nuts.

Let me throw in that I give his mother a great deal of credit--she is more generous toward me than I suspect many people in similar situations are, and she accepts and even appreciates my role in her son's life. The . . . other stuff I see only indirectly, through the behaviors that O is learning, and through stories that C tells, and I won't deny having some frustration about that, but I also appreciate the difficult position she's in. She doesn't have a lot of emotional skills, I think, based on what C has said, and taking responsibility isn't one of her strong suits, either--if everything is "so hard," then, of course, it isn't your fault when it goes badly. I think she learned--probably from her parents--that it was a bad thing to admit a mistake; better to find something worse that your accuser has done, use that as ammunition. And I see O learning a version of that, though it doesn't fly very well at our house. It's frustrating--the only way to break him of that behavior is to set out clear consequences for displaying it and then administering them consistently, and I cannot do that unilaterally. So that's the downside.

But another upside is subversion. I always manage to find some small chore for him, or, better, get him involved in whatever I'm doing. His dad and I both encourage him to try new foods, and he shows increasing willingness to do that. I've been teaching him about various other ways that people think about deities (as an antidote to the Catholic school he attends)--he's got a deck of Tibetan Buddhas, and I've been "summoning" Hindu gods when we make up our own Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, and we had a pagan prayer to go with the Catholic prayer at Thanksgiving (he knows that I don't believe in a god, but he also knows that different people believe different things; we did the grace at Thanksgiving partly for him and partly for his paternal grandmother). We've had serious conversations about September 11, about cancer, about deities. He knows that I won't lie to him, and that I will always do my best to answer his questions.

Perhaps most subversively, I've been dragging him into the kitchen with me for two or three years now, and he sees Daddy cooking, too. And he really likes it. It also broadens his palate a bit, a tiny little bit at a time. Early this past weekend, he was complaining about the bread he had for his sandwiches--he was unconvinced when Daddy said that Mommy and Daddy use exactly the same bread (Wonder--blegh!). On Saturday, I took him off to handball with me and made a sandwich for him from the bread that he and I made before Christmas. (He was stunned to learn about yeast farts, and how that's what makes bread rise.) On Sunday, when we were at the store, I asked him what kind of bread he wanted, what he liked. "I like the bread we made," he announces, so I said, okay, we'll make some more this afternoon, which we did. (The recipe makes four loaves, so I could send a loaf and a half home with him and put two more loaves in the freezer at our place.)

Just before Christmas, when he and I were embarking on some kind of baking (or maybe he was just keeping me company in the kitchen), he asked me why I make things--he meant "from scratch," though he didn't have or use that phrase. And I told him--I think a lot of it is healthier, it doesn't have as many chemicals in it, plus I like making things, especially if it's things that I know people will like. He pondered that and moved on, but what I hope he's also getting--subversively--is that a lot of hard things are worth the effort. Yes, it's a lot easier to buy your bread from the shelf, but making your own--harder though it may be--makes for a much tastier loaf.


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5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm commenting on the thursday jan 20 2005 post about "why does everything have to be so hard" (a shocked friend showed this to me) Wow. I agree with some of the theological ideas presented but am shocked that the blogger laughed at her kid for asking why life had to be so hard, and saying "words like that have never crossed my lips". Very tough love, very 80's. I'm shocked too! Well, everyone wonders why life is hard, and it seems deplorable to laugh at a child for asking a natural question. the blogger seems to think she's a better influence on her stepson than his more empathetic natural family. I feel for that kid. Things are hard, and complaining and expressing frustration is not necessarily self pity, and even self pity is not necessarily a moral failing. Anybody gets that self righteous with me, I end communication with them. God help that poor kid, and not because of his "emotionally immature" mother and grandparents, but from his self righteous tough love wicked stepmother.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

responding to a comment my friend just made. i've looked at more of your blog and we cant tell if that blog that shocked all of us was by the blogger? because the main blogger, when you look at the rest of the blog, sounds like a nice person. we are intrigued with the theological ideas although we are deity believers. think of unity church or religious science or very liberal christian and jewish ideas. but very cool to look at other theologies. we're just so shocked that the lady would laugh at her stepson and condemn his struggle or the home from which he learned his coping. coping is hard, not everyone is equally good at coping with all things, and that doesn't mean you should look down on them. otherwise the blogger seems like a nice person in other areass.

7:43 AM  

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