Slipping back on slipping off socks
By Jane Flanagan
Okay, ladies, do you find this mothering role a slippery slope? I do. A couple of years ago I read an article by a woman who had an 8-year-old son. She wrote about how she was still dressing him in the morning. I was shocked. Why is she doing that, I wondered. I was then a smug mother of a four-year-old son who was dressing fairly well for his age. I just couldnt imagine.
But now here I am the mother of a 7-year-old and confessing to a very similar tale. Many a morning and evening I have dressed my 7-year-old. Its taken me awhile but Im finally beginning to see that child rearing is not one long, smooth continuum. Sometimes kids slip back. Sometimes way back.
Because by this time I thought Id be long out of the where are my shoes, Mom? stage. (I now see that one may never pass.) Still, last summer we were doing pretty well. Rusty still wanted me around when he got dressed, but he would get his clothes by himself and put them on. Since it was the summer, that meant a tee shirt, shorts and sandals. And we werent usually in too much of a hurry. It was a sunny time.
But then came September and whamo. Transitioning back to reality hit us like a jolt. First grade hit him like an even bigger jolt. One evening, spotting his mud-caked jeans lying on the couch I said, Rusty, would you please put your pants in the hamper? Suddenly he started to shout, I dont want to, I dont want to! and flung himself from the couch to a chair to another chair. I sensed something was up.
Everything okay, Rust? How is school? No answer. One of the things Im learning is that being a parent to a boy is to be a detective and a psychologist working with very few verbal cues.
I asked again. How was school? He murmured something largely unintelligible, but in the mix I distinctly detected the word stinks.
Turns out he was way understating his case. The next few months would present a boy arriving home daily with serious, unhappy grumblings. He was not liking first grade. His new teacher was strict, and much more formal than anyone hed ever met before. There were a lot of rules and the work both more serious and less interesting to him.
Since then Ive been working on ways to make first grade more palatable sending him notes in his lunch box, playing tag with him in the yard, trying to get him to joke about how strict things are. And while I still wouldnt call him enthusiastic, he is at least more tolerant of first grade. Dressing himself, however, thats something else.
After the hamper melt down, I began approaching him with kid gloves. At bedtime, when he began saying, Mom, you take off my shoes, followed by Mom, you take off my socks, I stifled my immediate reaction. Looking at my forlorn looking boy, I sensed something in him needed me to take off his socks. So instead of saying, Are you crazy! I went ahead and did it. But soon it mushroomed to, Mom, you take off my pants, and before I knew it I was in charge of the whole shebang again, just like when he was 3.
All the time I kept hearing the voice of his preschool director looming in my head. Dont do for a child what he can do for himself. I still remember the time she scolded me for showing up with 4-year-old Rusty in a stroller. He should be walking. Hes too big for that thing. Hes huge! she said.
If she could only see me now.
Because here it is December and Id like to report that this episode is long behind me. But it isnt. Most nights, I still seem to be slipping off his jeans and tee shirts. And despite clever statements such as: Rust, Ill help you tonight, but Ill bet very soon a big boy like you will want to do it yourself, I see no let up in sight.
And I havent a clue how to successfully back off from this position. I fear it may not come until hes enthusiastic again. Whoa. Heres hoping the second grade teacher is a fun one.