Rules, right back at you, Mom

My nephew, Jeremy, and his wife, Tara, have seven children from four months to 12 years old. Tara homeschools and takes the children to music lessons. She maintains a private family blog about their children. With their permission I am sharing a recent posting about discipline.

Last week there was a family discussion about how to handle rule-breakers out in the big, scary world that is not homeschooling. Someone wanted to know what to do if a college roommate was doing something illegal, for instance. We talked about resident assistants, but Jeremy said “It’s always better to go to the person first, in a friendly way.” In fact, he pointed out that military procedure mentions saying to the offender “I saw you do X. I’m asking you to turn yourself in by the end of the day or I will” or something to that effect.

A few nights later, I was winding down for the night on my bed when Joshua came in, looking ill at ease.

He came over and quietly said, “Mommy, I’m sorry that I was playing with some sticky things during naptime.”

I had to think about this because …

a) I first assumed that this was a gateway confession for something bigger, involving “sticky things” on a bed

b) when I realized it wasn’t, I couldn’t figure out why a confession was in order until I remembered a rant of mine about the extreme need for QUIET during naptimes. I had made an ultimatum about reading or LYING QUIETLY DOING NOTHING BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOU and announced a future deaf ear to questions of “playing with dolls and just thinking what they would say” and the like. Because it seems the dolls can’t remember to keep it all in their heads and somehow one doll-thought seems to breed high-volume discord amongst my two youngest daughters.

So, I thought about it and decided that something very noble was taking place. Here Joshua, who likes to keep a low profile when any criminal activity is going on and tends to plead the fifth during questioning, was offering a sincere-sounding apology for a crime in which I had not even caught him.

I said “Joshua, it fills my heart with gladness that you would be so honest as to come and confess what you had done. I am extremely impre–”

At this point he cut me off to say “Well, Daniel told me that he saw me and if I did not tell you by the time he finished his shower, he was going to…”

• • •

Samuel, 2, loves Benji (the baby) and will frequently try to hug or kiss him. He may also suddenly grab his arm and yank it or bonk him on the head with a book but I believe his motives are pure. Nevertheless, I commonly find myself reminding him to be gentle.

Two days ago, I was trying to get something accomplished at my desk and Samuel wandered in, bored. To counteract the boredom, he hit on the idea of helping me type. After two verbal attempts to squash that idea, “No Touch! Do not touch the keyboard!” I lost patience and gave him a hand smack. He drew back, offended, and said, “Mommy! Be gentle!”

• • •

I decided, the other night, to go on what Samuel calls a “tiny walk” and what I refer to as “a 2.8 mile jog.” My jog is a walk because of my slow, slow pace, made slower by the impact of a Sammy-filled stroller pushing back on me as I puff up a hill. There are no flat loops around my house. I’ve checked as I pounded over a poetry-engraved sidewalk slab that reads, “…Listen to the symphony in your footsteps.”

(My symphony would be a thoughtful Largo, I am sure.)

Anna determined to go with me on her bicycle so she could stop at the library for a book. She was forced to ride another mile and a half to complete my loop, keeping in mind that there are no flat loops near our house and her bike has no gears.

Caspian (the dog) also determined to go. It was a little bit frustrating negotiating turns and people with a stroller, a child on a bike, and an overly-friendly golden retriever. We careened down Madison Ave.

“Turn LEFT at Winslow” I puffed.

“Left? Here!?”

“YES!” I gasped.

She turned left, out of sight. I gathered up the dog, tilted the stroller back, picked up a modicum of speed, gained the corner on a slight and most welcome downhill – only to find Anna stopped smack in the middle of the sidewalk.

I screeched to a halt, frustrated, and snapped a remark about NOT STOPPING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK WHEN SOMEONE IS BEHIND YOU. Anna’s heart is probably the most sensitive to criticism of the lot. My remark went in deep and she put her head down and started pedalling as fast as she could, across Winslow Way.

When I caught up, mollified by time and guilt, I gave a little speech that ended, “So, it’s fine to stop any time! Just pull over first!”

About two minutes later, Caspian decided, without communicating, that he need to stop Right Then and did so, creating another muddle with leash, bike, and stroller.

Anna, lyly said, “It’s okay if you need to stop, Mommy. Just pull over first.”

(Written with Tara Stein – Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at joanh@everybody.org)

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