“He really acted up today,” was what I’d been told the day before.
I intimated that it might be more than just post-hurricane, out-of-school-for-far-too-long restlessness to the school administrator, contrary to what my husband wanted me to say to any of the school higher-ups this year. The office assistant told me it would stay between the two of us. I hoped so.
This afternoon threatened to make that conversation the least of my and my son’s problems, though. The little guy had recovered from his rusted-out frying pan of bad behavior only to be cast into the flames of the bad behavior of his entire class. Although his day overall had been “better,” his mind latched onto the injustice of removed recess privileges (no one was quiet, no one was listening, so those were the consequences for everyone) and worried over it like a dog with a bone during the car ride from school. Initially, I wasn’t too worried, myself. This had happened a few times before the previous year and was a common complaint that he let go of once he got home.
We unlocked the door, climbed up the stairs, and, once the after-school snacks had been devoured, took a look at what was in the homework folder – “Oh, I see the behavior flow chart you had to fill out,” I said, signing it. There was a note from the school asking for payment for a small instrument for use in the kiddo’s music instruction; okay, will send a check with him to school tomorrow, I noted. “Is there anything else?” I asked.
The little guy’s face fell.
“I have to write an essay about my day,” he said sorrowfully.
I sighed. From the tone of his voice, I knew what was coming. What would normally be forgotten, dropped at the door and allowed to waft away in the early September warmth, was now etched in his brain. Attempts to get him to recall anything other than that missed recess would prove fruitless; in fact, further questions and calm admonitions to get him into a better frame of mind only made things worse. He wandered off to his room in a teary huff, looking for his own brand of calm as far away from a blank page as he could get and still be indoors, while I called my husband.
“Please kill me,” was what I wanted to say.
Instead, I poured out my frustrations to my husband and got a different kind of slow stiletto to my heart.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “I guess you can tell him to just use the pain. Write out what he’s feeling, whether it’s in his notebook or on a scrap piece of paper to get it out and clear his head so that he can write something good about his day.” That advice felt to me what I’m sure my admonitions to my son felt like to him – like boiling water on a fire out of control. Now there were two people in the house that needed calm.
After a bunch of internet games and some reading to take my mind off it all and thrive on the quiet, I gave the subject some thought. I whipped up dinner, called the kiddo to the table, and we ate together, chatting of other things. We cleared the table, and then it was make or break time.
I broached the subject again. The little guy started crying. Again.
I fought the impulse to yell in frustration, instead giving him a hug we both needed. “I know this is hard. I know this is hurting you to remember…but you know what? Sometimes, that’s where writing can help.” He sniffed, looking at me questioningly.
“You want to leave these feelings behind? You’re really sad that this assignment wasn’t more specific than ‘write about your day?’ Guess what? You can use that,” I said, warming up a little more, kicking my own recent writing frustrations into it. “Go ahead and write what you’re feeling, right here and now. Leave it on the page. Just write it all out, kiddo.” There were some more sniffles.
But he turned back to that page. He confronted its blankness, stared its taunt in the face. The pencil began to scratch the surface. The redness disappeared from his cheeks. Even though the teacher’s work was meant to get the kids to do longer pieces of writing, the little guy stood up after two sentences. “I’m done, Mom.”
Some time after the kiddo went to bed, my husband came home from his rehearsal. “How’d he do?” I was asked. I gestured to the still-open notebook on the table. Dan looked it over. “Two sentences?”
“Sometimes, that’s more than enough,” I said.
For today, it was.