Homework with N has been horrible lately. I'm short-tempered, he's in over his head and fidgety and unhappy. Yesterday was really bad. I was already feeling touchy, after his teacher had pulled me aside in the playground to tell me about some more problems he's having academically, and also to bemoan the fact that this same kid--the one who kicked butt as Star of the Week--is now the Pledge Leader, and is doing the measly little THREE LINES ("Put your right hand over your heart. Ready, begin. You may be seated.") with his hands over his eyes and his head pulled into his shirt collar and in a voice that is basically inaudible. "He's practically in tears by the end of it each day," she said, shaking her head. "I just don't understand."
To which I wanted to scream: I KNOW. THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY FOR SEVEN YEARS NOW. There is no consistency; no using yesterday's gains to inform tomorrow's expectations. My child is like human quicksand, and every time I move, I get sucked deeper into the not-understanding.
But that's not my point. My point is, homework has been bad. And yesterday's was especially so. He was so not-there, and I was so on edge, that at one point I grabbed his arm...hard...with an intent to get his attention, and without an intent to be gentle with him. "N!" I snapped, loudly, getting right into his face. "You need to listen to me right now, or you're going to lose TV!" At he looked at me and grinned smugly, insultingly. I saw red and sent him to his room until I could calm down enough to finish working with him.
Today was less bad. Not good, but less bad. Still, by the end, he was twirling around a crayon and writing on the table inadvertently and simply not paying attention to the VERY LAST PROBLEM we had to get through. I could feel my composure slipping, and so--trying to pretened I'd something from the day before--I took my anger out on the crayon he was playing with, snapping it in half and throwing it into the garbage. I wasn't yelling, I didn't even raise my voice. I thought I'd done pretty well...until I looked at my son, who literally and immediately collapsed onto the couch in tears.
"That was my favorite brown!" he wailed.
"I'm sorry, but you were using it as a toy during homework, and I needed you to focus on what you were doing," I said.
"BUT YOU BROKE BROWN!" And thus ensued ten straight minutes of true, honest-to-goodness sobs, while I held him and rocked him and told him that I was sorry, that I didn't know the crayon was so special to him.
Finally, when he'd quieted down a bit, I said, "Are we OK now?"
"I don't know," he said, his head still in his hands. "I'm still so sad for brown."
Ten minutes later, after we'd finished the last homework problem, he came into the family room to find me. In his cupped hands were the two pieces of brown crayon.
"We're better now," he said. "I don't mind so much that brown is in two pieces."
I thought, for a microsecond, of being the model of consistency that every parenting book tells me I need to be, and insisting that he put the pieces back in the garbage: After all, that was the punishment I'd meted out, and I should stick to it. But I couldn't do that to his hopeful, newly happy face. I couldn't do that to a kid who could grin while his mom is yelling in his face one day, but who collapses in grief over a broken crayon. I couldn't be that mean.
Quicksand, I say. That child is pure quicksand. And he's totally sucked me in.