November 18, 2007

Rule Two

I narrowly avoided causing another "incident" on Friday. Yes, it could have been the "chess incident" all over again but, I'm happy to say, sometimes I do learn from my mistakes.

Jerry had said he wanted to take a survival class through our homeschool group, so we signed up for two classes, the first of which took place last Friday. I was really looking forward to this class. We were going to learn about edible plants in the wilderness and I thought it would be really cool. Jerry had had a stomach flu the previous day but seemed fine that morning so we drove to the class. Once we got there and the other students started to arrive Jerry leaned on me and said he was sorry but he didn't feel good and he wanted to go home.

Now, I was helped out by the fact that he'd been sick the day before. If he'd been well I might have fallen into the old habit of insisting we stay because, after all, I drove all that way and I paid for it. But since Jerry had been sick I really had to consider his feelings seriously.

I took some deep breaths (being especially conscious not to turn them into heavy sighs) then told the woman who had organized the class that Jerry wasn't feeling well and we were going to leave but we'd see her at the next class. We got into the car and drove toward home.

So far so good, right? Well, what I should have done was just say "I understand" and drop it. But, I'm a beginner. I had to talk. "Blah, blah, blah blah. You know, if you want to make friends you need to put yourself out there. Blah, blah. You've got to talk to people. Blah. These classes are such a great way to make new friends but if you never want to stay.....". You get the picture.

Even as I was speaking I knew I should shut up. Eventually I did (I came to my senses after just a few minutes.) and asked if he'd like to stop for a bagel. So, we went to the bagel place where we used to go when he was in kindergarten and before we walked in the door Jerry hugged me and said "I love you, Mom. I know you really wanted to take that class and I'm sorry. But thanks for leaving."

Isn't that sweet? It made me think back to "Chess Incident" (you can read it for an example of one of my less than stellar parenting days). I was really struck by the different outcomes of the two similar situations. The chess incident started out much the same way the survival class did: I signed him up, paid for the class, drove 30 miles to get him there and then he told me he was too tired for chess and wanted to leave. But it ended with anger, hurt feelings, sadness, and the literal shoveling of shit--I sent him out back to pick up dog poop when we got home. (So sad! I feel really bad about that now.)

This time, though, I told myself that his needs were real. I knew I could sign up for an edible plant class some other time. It was not a big deal to leave. What was more important was to show Jerry that I took his needs seriously. So I did. I wasn't perfect (I had to talk!). But I didn't get mad. Instead of ending the scene with two people feeling awful, we ended up sharing a bagel and drinks, having a nice conversation, and appreciating each other's company. What a difference!

But wait! There's more! Learning this lesson has helped in other ways, too. I signed up to take a circus class with the homeschoolers because I thought Jerry would really like it, but he didn't want to join. He just wanted to watch to see if he would like the class. So, I took the class on my own. Now, Jerry had said he'd watch the class, but instead he played in another room with one of the other kids. I wondered if I should suggest that he stop playing and come watch (the whole point of me taking it was so he would join in eventually) but I didn't. The next week he didn't even feel like watching so I went to the class without him--no fuss or fight. I just said okay and I really was okay with it. (I love that class and there was no way I was going to miss it!) Now this week he says he wants to join! Yippee!

So, after two months I have finally discovered my second rule of unschooling. I'll write it out in caps again like I did the first rule:

HONOR YOUR CHILD'S FEELINGS.

Good things happen when you do.

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