A tale of two bulldozers - FamilyEducation

A tale of two bulldozers

February 08,2012
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Each Monday I take both kids to T.’s gymnastics class. We get there about 25 minutes early and T. uses the time before her class to work on her homework. L. spends most of his time on his beloved iPod, despite my best efforts. There is no WiFi at gymnastics (why?), but we can usually poach off free WiFi from a nearby business. Usually. This Monday, though, for reasons we couldn't understand, L.’s iPod would not pick up the WiFi, while mine did.

This was what Scott and I call a setback. We started using that term years ago, mainly to lighten the mood whenever L. encountered one of them. Setbacks have never been good, and L. depends on things going just the way he expects them to go. When all is well in his world, and he’s well-fed, content, and well-rested, he has learned to move through setbacks much better than in the old days, when one could derail him for hours. But things have been rocky lately and he is even more dependent on things being just so.

And they weren’t just so on Monday. I told L. I would let him have my iPod when I was done helping T. with her math, but this wasn’t enough. He was extremely frustrated with the situation; what was supposed to be working wasn’t. He went around and around about it while I tried to deflect him with calm, patient words.

Then I noticed a mom across from us making a raised eyebrow face in our direction. Here it comes, I thought.

“There isn’t actually any WiFi here,” she said.

I gave her a thin smile. “We can usually get it,” I told her. “But it’s not working right today.”

The lady fixed a look on L., who was still venting about the lack of WiFi. “There isn’t actually any WiFi here,” she said again. “So there’s no use getting mad.”

“I’ve got this,” I surprised myself by saying. “Thanks.”

“I was only trying to help,” she said huffily. Then she packed up her iPad and moved seats.

I know she was, but I was feeling raw yesterday, and trodden upon, and I didn’t want her help, or judgment, or whatever it was she was thinking.

I've got this, I wanted to shout to the whole room. THANKS.

**************

In January last year, as I was weighing in on the whole Tiger Mother debate, I wrote “Judging other parents is easy--we all do it. I've done it, and no doubt I will continue to do so, however petty that makes me seem. Passing judgment on others is, I think, just our way of checking in with our own values and practices as parents.”

I still believe that, I really do; however, I’m not always good about it all when I feel like I’m on the receiving end of this whole judgment business. When L. was much younger I often felt judged when I was out and about with him. He’s such a bright kid with a tremendously staggering vocabulary and his ability, even at a young age, to unleash verbal attacks and snarky rejoinders when upset, stressed, or overloaded often led to many raised eyebrows from the people around us. We learned long ago not to engage L. when he got like that—speaking in a low, calm voice, or turning away and ignoring the attacks, were the best things to do.

What a doormat of a mom, I imagined people saying.

And, truth be told, I often felt like a doormat--but a doormat who knew what she was doing, thank you very much.

A couple of weeks ago, when my friend B. and I were out walking we fell to unburdening ourselves of the trials and tribulations of the week. I told her about my Target nightmare with L., she told me about an outing to a store with her kids that had failed miserably.

We checked in with each other on our responses, and I told her how inadequate I had felt that afternoon, as a mother, when I couldn't find L., and how powerless I had felt, too.

Me too, she said.

We walked on in silence for a few minutes, each wrestling with our own demons. There is a piece of parenting advice that encourages parents to remember how much more a slow moving bulldozer can accomplish, over one gone crazy. Be the slow-moving bulldozer. Firm. Steady. Patient. Unyielding. Careful

Easier said than done sometimes, thinks the slow-moving bulldozer.