I've been mentally and physically beat up by enough adults to know that there is absolutely nothing more horrid you can say to a kid than, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." The only people who say that are narcissistic sociopaths. If an adult says that to you, you're most likely going to carry whatever scar is left on you for the rest of your life.
I've never said it to my kids, and then few times I've even thought it's been appropriate I've stepped back immediately to reassess the situation, because those 11 words mean someone doesn't have a firm grip on the situation at hand, and that someone is probably me.
Except for today. Today I found the way that something can actually hurt me as the parent more than it hurts him as the kid, and I had to do it. The problem with having all these pre-conceived notions about what is and isn't good or appropriate parenting is that parenting isn't a finite thing. Children change every day, and so do the rules that govern engagement with them.
So, my son messed up. The details of that mess up are not mine to share. (This is why keeping a mom blog for a decade is hard, friends.) No one is dead or detoxing or in jail or pregnant, but there was a mistake made at school. It was pretty big. I found out about this mistake because moms always find out, kids, and I asked about it. When I asked about it - correction, several minutes and excuses after I asked about it, I was handed a piece of paper on which the school had tried to notify me of the mistake 11 full days ago. That piece of paper had been forgotten....um, no, errr, lost...well, um....you know...it was in the WAY BOTTOM of my bag, mom.
I checked. His bag does not have hole in it's heart that goes all the way to China. There is no door to another dimension in the bottom of his bag. His bag is not the 13th Doctor's Tardis.
I have this rule that I've always had in place - if you tell me the truth, and tell it right way, you get in no trouble. This is the most awesomely terrifying rule for kids, because no matter how many times they try it and it works, they will never believe that this time this thing they've done won't land them up shit creek. It's a leap of faith for them, a calculated risk, and I have never faltered from it even when I've re-heally wanted to. I value truth more than I value punishment served for wrong-doing. Coming clean the first time, owning up to your shit, it's hard business. They have to learn to do it, or they'll grow up to be conniving jerks. So I have no earthly clue why, the older they get, the more they try to lie their way out of things. I guess it's just part of being a teenager.
Anyway, we had a problem. I was righteously mad at that problem; mad enough, in fact, to consider laying down some pretty severe consequences. You see, he has this ski trip coming up next week, and even though this child was born and raised in Colorado and then spent 3 1/2 years in Vancouver, he's never once been snowboarding. He's waited his whole life for this trip, and now I had to consider taking it away from him.
But I really didn't want to. I know what this trip means to him. I know how hard he worked to sell candybars and tchotchkes to pay for it. I know that he's dreamed of this his whole life, and I know that I wasn't able to provide it to him even when we lived in two of the greatest places on this continent to do it. It is more than just a trip - it's a lifetime of waiting and wanting and doing without while watching all his friends have and jeez, anything but the trip, you know? I needed a reason, one excuse, to not take it away. I searched. I searched my rational mind and my irrational heart and after long enough, I found it.
I sent him to his room, emailed his teachers, and calmed down a bit. He seemed sufficiently concerned about the situation, he seemed to grasp the severity of the actions that led him to this place, so I called him to me and instructed him to go to school the next day and sort this out with his teachers. He was to apologize for disrespecting them in the way he did that landed him in this mess, and ask them to work with him to find a way to correct the situation and better himself as a student. He was to express his dedication to his education and his respect for the work they do to provide it, and then he was to come home with an action plan. I know this works, because we've done it in the past. He agreed, apologized, promised to do better, and after I took every screen away from that child for the conceivable future, i decided to myself that enough was done to handle the situation, and the ski trip could still happen.
This morning, we rehearsed what he'd say, and I sent him off to school with a hug. And then that child came home today having done not one single thing he was supposed to do. Of course, he didn't tell me that. He distracted me with having remembered to bring his lunch box home today, whee!, like I had forgotten or something. So I asked. Want to know what he said?
"Oh, I thought I could just stop doing that thing I'd done and it would be fine."
So now we have omission coupled with blatant disobedience and to make matters worse? The thing he did to get himself into hot water? HE DID IT AGAIN TODAY.
Since I had already taken away his phone, computer, and TV for like ever, this pretty much left my options as a responsible parent in dire need of getting the severity of the situation through his teenaged skull at:
- Sell him to traveling carnies
- Take the ski trip away
This incident aside, I'm actually quite madly in love with him, so that takes the circus off the table. He's left me with no other option. I have to take the ski trip away. Now, I know this is going to sting. Tuesday at school is going to su-huck nuts for him, when he's in class knowing his snow club is on the mountain. He's probably not going to have the opportunity to snowboard again any time soon - we live in Northern California, and we have five kids. Snow trips aren't exactly in the budget.
He's going to regret this for a long time, but me? I wanted him to have this opportunity so goddamn much. I feel so much guilt all the time for not having been able to provide this for these boys when it was right there in our backyards. I feel so much guilt for so many of the things they had to live without when they were little. I wanted to give them the world, and I never even came close. This was something of a redemption for me. At least one of my kids would step foot on a mountain in winter while they were still kids and know what conquering it felt like. They're Colorado boys; it's in their, in our, blood. And i'm taking it away from him.
This, my friends, is going to hurt me much more than it hurts him.
It is breaking my heart. And I still have to do it.