Experience allows a more 20/20 perspective on behavior. Otherwise, the other night, I probably would have notched my stress level to Red Alert, incited an inquisition and reduced my little guy to tears. As a matter of fact, he was disappointed I didn’t make him cry.
I was snuggled in a blanket reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Whenever life gets a little stressful, I succumb to 19th century literature. Nineteenth Century lit always has a happy ending. Last week, I finished Jane Austin’s Persuasion to assuage my stress. We are physically moving our household this weekend to another state. School starts Monday. We’ve been living with my lovely in-laws on and off during the summer, getting the boys moved up for their sports activities. I’m sure I’m going to need another dose of Austin before the next week is out!
My little guy, the Human Resource Department of the family, entered. “Mom,” he said. “I gotta tell you something.”
“Oh, what have you got to tell me,” I asked. I could pull out a folder a mile long on “I gotta tell you something.” This folder could boast of owls in the yard, snakes on the living room floor, the family room on fire, a project due tomorrow, broken dishes, spilled drinks, or just simply, “I love you.” I was hoping for “I love you.”
“I’ve been saying bad words,” he answered.
Shew! I’ve been here before. I can handle this. I set my book down, asking, “When did you say these bad words?”
“Well, I know about 2 or 3. But I didn’t know they were bad when I said them,” he explained, in a matter of fact voice.
“When did you say these bad words?” I repeated, reigning in the conversation, my information-gathering detective mode kicking in.
“Well, one was a very long time ago,” and then he rambled on a bit about the others. I wasn not about to ask him what the words were. I could guess. Reducing him to embarrassed giggles by making him recite them would detract from the message. Besides, if he is not supposed to say them, asking him to do so somewhat defeats that directive.
“If you know they’re bad words, then don’t say them again. O.K.,” I instructed.
He waited, looked a little crestfallen. “Are you going to spank me?” he asked.
“No. Not if you don’t say the words again. You know the right thing to do,” I assured him.
“Can I pretend to cry, go upstairs to [Fire and Power], and tell him you spanked me,” he asked, hopeful. After all, he had a plan. It looked like the plan began and ended with him pulling a prank on his brother, not true despair and repentance over word choice.
“Do we need to talk about truth-telling and lying now?” I asked, trying to pierce him with my sternest look.
It probably didn’t end that way when the first and second son came in years ago, saying the same thing. I probably made more out of it than I should have. Some things don’t change: Same conversation, different sons. It is part of growing up, learning to decipher good behavior choices from bad. They just want reassurance they know the right choices, the right language from the wrong. My oldest son says that I am easier on the younger ones than I was on him. I think I am a little wiser in how I handle parenting challenges. For example, subtle pressure verses lowering the boom can be quite powerful.
Funny how little moments like that, spiced with some pure mischievousness can lighten your heart and reduce your stress better than a good 19th century classic!