Our kids love their school. They’re jazzed about an occasional snow day; but they never give us lip about going to school. Even on their crankiest mornings. B&B and I also love their school. It’s single sex, which is nice for them. Boys and girls learn differently. It’s non-denominational, which B&B loves. Since he’s, uh, not the most religious guy. The President of the school is also dreamy. This is not a selling point, but it’s a nice bonus. And the President’s wife is equally dreamy, which pleases B&B. 5 minutes after we found out we were expecting the Verb, we attended a party that Mr. and Mrs. Dreamy also attended. B&B and I need to divide and conquer at a party. We are two strong personalities who both enjoy holding court. If we don’t split up during a party, we’ll argue, which is amusing for the guests, but not so for B&B who likes, once we get home, to close out the evening with some extra-curricular activities. Like hand holding and cuddling. He’s such a softie, my B&B.
After this particular party, during which I pose as the responsible driver since we’re not yet ready to announce this 4th pregnancy, we are walking to our car.
Me: “That Emily is such a sweetheart. I really like her. So, who did you talk to?”
B&B: Starry-eyed, “I talked to Mrs. Dreamy.”
Me: “She’s nice, isn’t she? I haven’t really spoken with her, but I’ve heard she’s nice.”
B&B: Still starry, “Yes. She’s nice.”
We walk in silence for another minute.
B&B: “I told her.”
Me: “You told who? What did you tell?”
B&B: Hesitantly, “I told Mrs. Dreamy. About you.”
Me: “What did you tell Mrs. Dreamy about me?”
B&B: Pausing, “About the baby. I told her you’re pregnant.”
Me: Incredulous, “WTF? I am like 10 minutes pregnant! Have we even told your parents?! Jesus, B&B!”
B&B: Apologetically, “I couldn’t help it. She’s so pretty, I want to tell her all my secrets.”
B&B is not a caveman. Well, maybe he’s a little bit of a caveman. But, Mrs. Dreamy really is that pretty.
So, this past year, one of the school administrators began a book club. All parents are welcome. We meet monthly and discuss 1-2 chapters at a time. The head of the boys lower school and the school psychologist participate. Several of the parents who attend are child psychologists as well. So we have some expert perspectives. It’s always a conversation to which I look forward.
One night, I am reading the book in bed. Taking pertinent discussion notes on my phone.
Oh, God. I knew it. I just knew it. It’s exactly as I’d feared. Why couldn’t this goddamn book have been published 11 years ago? We’re screwed.
I shake B&B, who’s sleeping soundly next to me.
B&B: “Hmm, what, hmm, what’s wrong? Did one of the kids puke?”
Me: “No. No one puked, knock on wood. We’re doing it wrong.”
B&B: “We’re doing what wrong?”
Me: Exasperated, “EVERYTHING! We are doing it all wrong!”
B&B: “OK, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
He rolls over.
He can sleep through anything, this one..
Me: Relentlessly, “The KIDS! We are doing it wrong with the kids!”
B&B: Half asleep already, “Huh? How so?”
Me: “You know how we always say, ‘you’re so smart’, thinking we’ll convince them that they’re smart? Then hoping that will inspire confidence, translate into a good work ethic, which eventually helps them succeed in their careers and move out of our house?”
Good Grief. Is there a human being on the planet who can fall asleep as quickly as B&B? I think not.
Me: Jabbing B&B and pounding the pages of the book, “WAKE UP! We’re doing it ALL WRONG! Instead of telling them how smart they are, we have to reward their efforts!!! When you reward their efforts, they will continue to give good effort because they are always looking for validation. They won’t skate through school thinking they’re smart, and not working to their true potential. They’ll pride themselves in being hard workers when we reward them for working hard! It all makes sense! I am changing my tune tomorrow! Make sure you’re on board.”
B&B is dead asleep. And, truly, his role is primarily as Fun Dad, with an occasional cameo as Bad Cop. He realizes I am only half the nutcase that most moms are, so he trusts me to do minimal damage (fingers crossed) with his offspring. Because there are sometimes days that go by that he doesn’t see anything of them but their angelic faces sacked out on their pillows.
With my current parenting style, I’ve done 10 solid years of damage with Waldorf. He may be broken beyond fixing. But I’ll try. The Kenyan has 8 years of damage done. Possibly reversible. The Interrogator? I’ve got a good chance with him. He glazes over regularly when I talk to him, so I doubt he’s heard 50% of the conversations we’ve had. The Verb stands to gain the most from this parenting philosophy switch up. He’s my guinea pig. If, in 30 years, he is confident, hardworking and has moved out of our house, I’ll know that this was a solid move.
Now, where can I write this down…there is no shot I’ll remember this shit in 30 years.
The next day I take my new attitude to the playground. The Interrogator is playing after school with some of his kindergarten cohorts.
Nice Kindergarten Mom: To the Interrogator, “Interrogator, you’re a great climber!” then to me, “He really is a good climber. He is making me nervous up there.”
Me: “Please don’t say that.”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: “What, that he’s making me nervous? I’m sorry.”
Me: “No, please don’t tell him he’s a good climber. If he thinks he’s a good climber, he’ll only ever want to climb, then he’ll never do well in school, he’ll never get a job, and he’ll never move out of my house.”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: Perplexed, “Um, I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
Me: “Sorry, it’s this new book I’m reading for school book club. Nurture Shock. Evidently, we’re doing it wrong. B&B and I. We always tell the kids they’re smart, hoping they’ll feel smart and do smart things.”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: Agreeing, “Sure, that’s what we do too! Is that wrong?”
Me: “Totally wrong. Evidently, we have to reward the effort, not the achievement. For instance, if the Kenyan gets a perfect score on his Spelling test, typically I’d say, ‘Great job, perfect score, I’m so proud of you!’ But that’s all wrong. What I’m supposed to say, according to this book is,’Kenyan, I’m so proud of how hard you studied for this test. And look at that wonderful outcome. A perfect score is proof of all your hard work studying. Well done, my boy.’ Does this make sense?”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: “Yes, it does. This is going to take some getting used to.”
Me: “Tell me about it.”
As we are deep in discussion, the Interrogator rappels the side of the climbing apparatus he’s mounted, finds a tree, drops trough, relieves himself on said tree, then runs back over to climb again. I am completely unaffected by this, by the way. My sons peeing on trees. It may be slightly crass, but it beats schlepping all 4 of them off the playground and to the bathroom.
The Interrogator reaches the top with ease. Nice Kindergarten Mom and I look at each other, and stutter, struggling for words of reinforcement to shout to him.
Nice Kindergarten Mom: Looking at me, “Nice climbing? Strong grip?”
Me: Looking at her, “Valiant effort? Good balance?”
Interrogator: “Mom! Hey, Mom! Mom! I’m at the top, look at me, I did a great job climbing to the top! Look at me, Mom, look, I’m taller than you!”
Me: To the Interrogator, “Yes, you are, buddy, you’re tall!” To nice Kindergarten Mom, “WTF am I supposed to say to him?! Help me! I am damaging him with each passing second of silence!”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: “I know, I KNOW! OK, how about, ‘I love how hard you worked to get to the top’?”
Me: Desperate, “OK, yeah, good, I’ll go with that…”
Me: To the Interrogator, “I love how….”
Me: To Nice Kindergarten Mom: “SHIT, what was it again? I love how strong? I love how fast? I love how what??!?”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: Whispering to me,“I love how hard you worked to get to the top!”
Interrogator: “What, Mom? You loved what? What did you love? I can’t hear you Mom. You said you love something. What do you love, Mom?”
Me: “I..I LOVE HOW HARD YOU WORKED TO GET TO THE TOP!”
Interrogator: Smiling, “Thanks, Mom!”
Me: To Nice Kindergarten Mom, “Thanks, I’m exhausted.”
Nice Kindergarten Mom: “I need a drink after that.”
Me: “This new parenting philosophy is going to be harder than I thought.”
So this new parenting philosophy of praising the effort is taking some getting used to. But we’ve worked it into our repertoire.
Meanwhile, we continue to meet monthly to discuss the other chapters. And, really, it’s been a fairly equal mix of enlightening and agita-inducing. Kids need sleep. Not only does lack of sleep negatively impact a child’s academic performance and behavior (particularly impulse control) in school. But it also allows kids to draw more easily on memories associated with negative emotions. So sleep deprived kids may experience symptoms of depression because it’s more difficult for them to access memories that are associated with positive emotions.
B&B and I are notoriously known as the Sleep Nazis. Dare I say the reason we have such a large family is the result of putting our kids to bed so early. There’s not much to do between 6:30PM and must see TV. We do a nice job getting the kids to bed early/on time. It works for us because then we have some time together. Now, Waldorf and the Kenyan share a room. And the Interrogator and the Verb share a room. So, once they are in bed, it’s not uncommon for the shenanigans to commence. But that’s almost a rite of passage. They’re not fighting, they’re bonding. Some of my own best talks with my sister occurred in our shared bedroom, long after Mom and Dad had hollered “lights out!”
Another nugget we’ve learned is that a child’s relationship with his best friend is a good indicator of how his future relationships will be with his younger siblings.
Hmm, maybe we should have at least waited until Waldorf’s 1st birthday before getting pregnant with the Kenyan.
Finally, in our most recent meeting, we uncover why teens lie to their parents. I don’t have teens yet. I just hung up the diapers. Yet, Waldorf is going to be there in a blink.
I watch the faces of the parents around me go pale, then red, then pale. We listen, spellbound. I am almost ready to ask if someone will please open that window a little more, when it hits me…
I have nothing to worry about.
Now, I am no fool. But I know I can enter my kids’ teenage years with some confidence. Because I think I’m a good Mom? Negative. Because I think my kids will behave? Wrong again. I am fully aware that they will lie. I am fully aware that they will be around alcohol and girls, and that odds are they will fool around some with both. I am cringing as I type this. I am not in denial. But I have something these other parents don’t have. I have the secret weapon.
I have B&B.
A dear friend of ours who passed away in 2010 was the mother to 5 boys. She used to say to us, “Among the 5 of them, they’ve done everything but rob a bank and commit murder.” I can safely say the same about the one and only B&B. The mischief of 5 boys all rolled into one. He has done it all and then some. He has done things our kids wouldn’t dream of doing.
He’s notorious in the neighborhood for camouflaging himself on Halloween. Hiding in piles of leaves. In our yard. Then scaring the bejesus out of the trick-or-treaters as they innocently amble down the street. He claims it’s all in an effort to keep him sharp for the future. When our boys are teenagers.
My idea of a nice Saturday night once the kids are older is to go out to dinner, come home, and relax. B&B’s idea of a nice Saturday night is very similar. Nice dinner. Come home. But there is no relaxing for B&B.
A real live game of Manhunt. That’s his nightcap.
Will he be orchestrating a game of manhunt with his teenage sons? Certainly not. He will be playing. And they will be playing. They just won’t know it.
Our sons will go out with their friends. And B&B has grand plans to follow them. All of them. Clad in dark clothing. Wielding surveillance equipment if the situation calls for it.
With the speed of a gazelle and the silence of a deadly ninja, he intends to scale walls and cross rooftops to see with his own eyes that our sons are indeed where they’ve claimed they would be. If the boys have been truthful? B&B will return home, remove all traces of his black face, and relax with me.
If the boys are caught lying? Well, now, I’ll leave that up to B&B. Good luck to those boys, though, because B&B hates being lied to more than anything. I have complete confidence in his tracking abilities. And his agility and strength. If one of my kids is at a party he’s not supposed to be attending, and he hears footsteps on the roof of the party house? He should run. Fast. Straight for home. Same with my kids’ friends. Run, boys. Like an assassin, B&B will hunt you down. And he will catch you. And over power you. And hand you over to your parents. Or he will challenge you to a quick basketball game of one on one, and loser gets to tell your parents. And then you’ll have some explaining to do. Because he will beat your ass at one on one. He will embarrass you in front of your friends, then make you tell your parents you’ve lied to them.
It has the makings of some great blog entries. But, for fuck’s sake, I hope I’m writing some books by then.
So, while I revamp my parenting philosophy in an attempt to raise hard workers, B&B giddily compiles a binder of maps of our kids’ friends’ homes. Familiarizing himself with the cartography, so he’s ready to hit the ground running once those teenage years get here. They’ll be here in a blink.
Me: To B&B, “I love the effort you’re putting into the future stalking of our sons.”
B&B: Face lighting up from my compliment, “Thanks! They will rue the day they lie to us.” He points to a spot on his map, “You know who lives here? The creek runs right behind their house. I could make good use of that. If I climb that tree over there, then drop myself into the creek, no one will hear me coming.”
Back to my book.
Chapter 8. Can Self Control be Taught?
I need this chapter 4 times over.
I sneak a peek at B&B…
Well, maybe 5 times over.