Since Thanksgiving, the girls have been in a spiral, edging their way toward completely out of control behaviors. Nothing major, mind you. Just a ratcheting up of their usual sisterly bickering, irritation in a higher gear, and lots and lots of spewing out at the world around them. I thought that a return to routine would bring the world right again, and yet routine has been turned on its ear at school, too. The fifth grade choir is in the final stages of preparation for their big annual performance which will take place next week. On top of that, they had a mini-concert at the Senior Center yesterday (and they did a fantastic job!) but you could hear their first public performance nerves as they screeched and hooted their way the few blocks’ walk. The first graders, having achieved a behavior milestone and earned a special party, wore their pajamas to school and had a special afternoon movie.
I guess it was no surprise that I got a call from the first grade teacher. It seems as though my little one’s behavior has been winding up for a big day of not listening. The big one doesn’t always help in that regard; she is self-critical and that spills over onto her sister (and me, of course). Having been ill for the two weeks before Thanksgiving and then starting to feel better but not best yet, I have been out of sorts, easily frustrated and, more than usual, reacting to all the childhood antics that swirl around me like leaves dancing in the wind. I am still feeling overly tired and working on managing the holiday season one day at a time, one list item at a time. I thought I was doing fairly well, in all areas except with the children. Seems my patience is the last thing to recover.
Last night, I gathered what remnants of motherly strength I could muster and pulled the reins. To my credit, I didn’t yell. I told them what I expected and how we were going to work as a family to achieve it. The little one knows the rules and knows how to follow them, but she is a free spirit and wants to soar and come back to ground only when she deems fit. Were I a different person, I imagine she would be well served with homeschooling. She is smart and curious, and I know she would do a good job of self-directing her learning if she had the chance and the guidance. Sadly, I am not a different person. I also believe that the structured learning environment she is in now is giving her skills that she wouldn’t get from me at home. The big one, she has battled through her learning disability and attentional challenges and has emerged as a great student. She is a hard worker, she wants to learn, and she tackles her assignments with vigor. Still, her frustration level is high when the assignments read like hieroglyphics to her and she rants and flails and wants to give up, blaming herself and thinking she is stupid. She is not. Last night, we managed to work our way through both the first grade and fifth grade homework. First grade reading is improving. Fifth grade social studies is exasperating. Both were finished. There was even time for a short game of UNO Attack before I tucked the fifth grader into bed.
I was tired, oh so tired, and my eyes burned like one who had not slept in weeks. I’m not sure why. I have slept. I went to bed with the determination to bring forward the calm from the evening and wrap it gently and securely around the morning. I dreamed of camera shots and conversations with women that I did not recognize from my waking life.
This morning, they were excited once again. It is the birthday of their “cousin,” the daughter of one of my best friends’ son. They talked all about wanting to be able to go over and giver her the birthday present they picked out for her, that the older one wrapped up all by herself. They talked about the day their little cousin was born and remembered going to see her on that first day in the hospital and how tiny she was and how they held her on their laps with smiles so wide they made their cheeks hurt. In the midst of this, they discovered the treasures in their advent boxes, took their vitamins and got their shoes on. They gathered up their coats and mittens for the cold, cold morning and clumped their way to the car. They giggled and laughed for the whole ride, and they were at school in good time, climbing out the door and making their way to the cafeteria for breakfast. (They have insisted on eating school breakfast since it became available. They relish in that morning time to make the transition into their days.)
For the first time in many mornings, I smiled all the way home. I sang, in fact, a song that made me wish I could produce two notes at once from my single throat because I love the sound of the harmony so much. Once home, I took a long pre-winter nap.