On Thursday morning, we needed to collect the the garbage from various wastebaskets in the house, to put it out by the curb for collection. Riley had already gone off to school, so the task fell to Derek. I was checking emails on my laptop while enjoying my morning java jolt...when suddenly my peaceful interlude was shattered by a tremendous...disturbance. There were a couple of disconcerting thumps, then a resounding crash...followed by profound silence. The initial noise was loud enough to make me jump, and sufficiently alarming to cause a reflexive wince. Really, it was precisely the kind of scenario where, as a mother, you instantly leap to imagining the worst...like "my kid is lying crumpled at the bottom of the stairs...probably bleeding...possibly with a head injury...and can't move or even yell for help."
This all flashed through my mind in the space of no more than a couple of racing heartbeats, before the almost unbearable tension was broken by...my son's hysterical...laughter. I released the breath I didn't realize I'd been holding, and steeled myself to go survey the damage. First I called out, "Um...Derek? You all right in there?" He came skidding around the corner, still chuckling, and said, "Guess what happened? I fell down the stairs!" I stared at him in confusion...he looked far too cheerful for this to have occurred, his wide grin strangely incongruous to the situation at hand. "Oh-kaaaayyy..." I began, unsure of how, exactly, to proceed.
Fortunately he spared me the difficulty of trying to figure out what to say next, as he continued, "Yeah, I tripped, and slid down a few steps...and because my hands were full I couldn't catch myself....but the trash came flying out all over the floor....so you probably don't want to go in there right now." He added as an afterthought, "I'm allowed to use the Dustbuster, right?" When I nodded, bemused, he trotted off in the direction of his man-made disaster, presumably to clean up. Meanwhile I went back to my own pursuits, marveling at some of the contradictions evident in this family tableau. The first thing that springs to mind is that on the soccer field Derek lopes across the grass like some kind of...hybrid human/gazelle creature...graceful, fleet, and strong. Yet put those Size 11 feet inside the confines of 4 walls...and stand back. (No, really, the safest place to be is WELL out of the way, sometimes...)
Now, one reason this whole goofy event amused me so much is that it showcased some of the personality traits my older son and I do NOT share. For example, had this been me, my immediate reaction would have been an exasperated/annoyed inner monologue, something along the lines of "Oh, nice job, you clumsy oaf," while glaring at the mess I'd caused and grousing under my breath the entire time I had to devote to putting things right. So I have always admired Derek's ability to just...rolls with things, and not take anything--including himself--too seriously.
Which brings me to a contrasting tale, regarding my younger son. The other night he came to find me, ostensibly to consult on his homework, but with an unexpectedly upset look on his face. In fact, when I peered at him more closely, he seemed almost on the verge of tears. He explained that he was supposed to create a poem about himself to share with the class, and was having some trouble with the wording. "Of course, honey, I'd love to help you with that," I assured him, still wondering what was up with the sad vibe I was getting. Then I read what he he had written in the section where he was directed to describe "hardships or challenges" he'd faced in his life. Basically, he had chosen to express how he was struggling with the fact that he was afraid he wasn't...what his parents wanted him to be.
I'm sorry, whaaaaat? Completely flummoxed as to where this was coming from, I asked him why he felt this way. And then the sobbing commenced. Now I was tempted to join right in along with him. Feeling like the Worst. Mother. Ever...I finally managed to get him to elaborate, and it turns out this all stemmed from me scheduling a recent meeting with his Middle School teachers. I requested the conference because, since we moved in from out-of-state, I wanted to touch base with his team of instructors, to make sure at this point that we're all on the same page about the level of challenging work Riley needs to be receiving. Apparently Riley took this to mean that he's not living up to our expectations, because he's not already in the Gifted Program/Advanced Math/what have you.
Now that I understood what the HECK was going on in that deep brain of his, I could respond effectively and compassionately...Dude! That is soooooo not what we're thinking at ALL! I hastened to add all of the important stuff: you're doing great, we're proud of you, we just want your teachers to give you challenges appropriate for your abilities, blah blah blah. But then it hit me like a foul ball right between the eyes...hmm, let's see...perfectionist...who's never quite sure he's performing well enough to satisfy expectations...not 100% comfortable with whether what he's produced is of adequate quality. Huh. Well, hello, my little "pot"...it's your mother...."kettle". Siiiighhhh.
Anyway, after we got that little bit of...emotional turmoil...cleared up--and revised the affected portion of his composition--all seemed to be well. Except now I'm worried that I'm ruining my kids--I mean, clearly I didn't teach Derek to navigate a staircase properly...and I'm stressing Riley out somehow by transmitting the idea that he's a high-achiever who can handle harder schoolwork...Okay, that's it, I'm retreating to my office with a mug of tea and a good book. I'm declaring that Mom Hours have officially ended for today. And bright and early tomorrow, I can start a program for...How to Be a Better Parent....well, maybe after coffee, that is...