The “punishment” belongs to Little Guy, my nine-year old son, and the “pleasure” is all mine. Recently, my son inadvertently reminded me how important it is to be present in my children’s lives, how much there is to gain from 100% attendance.
My fifteen year-old son, Scowl, and I are both battling our hormones. He’s a teenager and I’m, well, not a teenager. Sometimes, I’m afraid we model less than exemplary behaviour in front of Little Guy and lately, I have noticed that he is becoming mouthier. Since my youngest son does not push my buttons the way my older doppelganger- child does, I have mostly allowed him to get away with unsuitable comments and tone. But, now that Little Guy is growing older, I realize I need to nip the freedom mouth in the bud and teach him to respect parameters.
I have never been particularly strict with Little Guy, not just because he is the youngest but because I worked so hard to have him and have always viewed him as a gift. Maybe, I have spoiled him with leeway, but I now realize that I am actually doing my son a disservice. It is my responsibility to teach him how far is too far.
It was in the spirit of education that I confiscated Little Guy’s 3DS, last week. Probably, he was tired or in need of food to restore balance, but his behaviour was disrespectful, sarcasm and mimicry mixing into a hot and sour soup that required aggressive cooling. I knew that taking away his electronic fun was not one of the “natural consequences” that child therapists tout. I also knew that I couldn’t put a muzzle on him – social services would have been all over me – and the action I chose seemed like a good way to help him stop and think instead of becoming absorbed in the wonderful worlds of dragons or moustachioed race car brothers.
Little Guy took it like a “little man”. He listened, he understood and his behaviour immediately changed once I made him aware of how it affected me. Still, I felt compelled to maintain the consequence.
Usually, when we’re in the car together, Little Guy plays his games. This day, on the way to school, we instead listened to music and had a rollicking conversation about some of the inane lyrics we heard. “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” sang Buffalo Springfield. “Mom, that’s ridiculous. Of course, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong – it’s obvious. Why is that guy saying something we already know?”
Why, indeed. “Because sometimes, people need to be reminded,” I said, “and if you listen to the whole song, it makes sense.”
In my mind though, my nine year-old made me wonder – and I liked it.
After school, once we discussed his day and agreed that, as a snack, skinny Cheetohs pack a more flavourful punch than the fat puffy kind, we went for hair-cuts. Usually, while waiting his turn, Little Guy becomes lost in his electronics, but since the ban was still in effect, we simply kept talking. Little Guy asked me why it is that his bed always feels the most comfortable the moment he is asked to get out of it. He also wanted to know why kids in movies are always shown gargling during their morning ablutions, whereas in real life we only gargle when we’re sick. Damn, if he didn’t make me think and smile.
“Do you miss your 3DS?” I inquired on the way home.
“No,” said my son.
“Me either,” I said.
“Can I have it back, though?” Little Guy asked.
“Tomorrow,” I said, “but, nice try.”
My son grinned in submission. I felt it was important to stick to the consequence. Plus, I was having too much fun riffing off his mind; to me, there is no greater entertainment than engaging with a free-thinking child, especially when it’s my own.
That evening, after a convivial dinner and bed-time reading session, I wondered if part of the reason why my son’s behaviour had immediately improved was because he enjoyed my undivided attention as much as I enjoyed his. Usually, while he is concentrating on his games, I am busy with thoughts, other conversations, or electronic screens of my own. Maybe, the remedy for mouthiness is ear-i-ness; listening and conversing with the dearest people in our lives.