Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Heads Up

When Katie's teacher sends me an email with "heads up" in the subject line, I figure it can mean only one thing: Katie's been yelling at her classmates again.

A month ago I blogged about the first email I got from Katie's teacher about her yelling in class and how we worked through the problem.  I realized that Katie might have learned to yell at her peers from modeling my behavior yelling at the dogs.  So Katie and I struck a deal: I'd try to quit yelling at the dogs if she'd try to quit yelling at her classmates.

It seemed to be working until yesterday when I got another email from Ms. B:

"Katie is not herself today.  She has gotten mad several times and has yelled at classmates.  I asked her if she would want to sit by herself at one of the tables and she said she would.  She told me she was tired.  Just thought I would let you know.  This afternoon has been better than this morning."

One thing I'm learning on my own private post-traumatic stress disorder journey is to not equate a mood with a personality trait.  I'm really bad at this.  Especially when it comes to my daughter.  Because I can't fuck that shit up!  Parenting is a big deal.  I want to get it right more than anything else in the world.  I want to raise my child to be healthy and self-actualized and strong.  The problem is, I've strugged with perfectionism since I was very young, and having a kid just heightens the anxieity that tags along with that disorder.  So when we stumble along the path to health, self-actualization, and strength, I start to worry if we're going the right way.

My child?  No no no!  There must be some misunderstanding.  My child is wonderful and empathetic and caring and considerate.  She would never yell at her classmates!  Would she?

I had to work late, so Katie was in bed by the time I got home.  Will had no idea what was going on because Ms. B just sent the email to me and not both of us.  He said Katie never mentioned anything to him.  He leaves for work before Katie wakes up in the morning, so the job of talking to Katie about her yelling at school again would fall on me alone.  Will and I have worked opposite shifts since Katie was born so we wouldn't have to put her in daycare, so we'd be raising her ourselves like we wanted to.  For the most part it works out, and we're lucky to have support from Will's folks and my friend Cindy when we need a babysitter.  But the downside of our work/home schedule is that it sometimes feels like I'm a single parent.  Which can make it interesting and spicy when Will and I find ourselves with some alone time - it's like we're dating again and, you know, the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder effect.  But on the parenting side of things it's sometimes hard, especially when I find myself having to deal with a delicate situation with no immediate co-parent backup.  I guess the good thing is that Katie doesn't feel like we're ganging up on her, more like we're just having a converstaion.

After she awoke this morning and made her way to the dining table, I set a cereal bar and a glass of water in front of her.  She has a poor appetite first thing in the morning.  She doesn't even like milk in cereal.  I can't complain because I'm the same way.  I'm generally slightly queasy until a couple of hours after I've woken up.  I would like to say Katie's poor morning appetite is not a learned behavior from me, that it's an innate characteristic that is not my fault for passing it onto her, but I don't know why she is the way she is.  Nature or nurture, I just find ways to work around it.  Like offering cereal bars and water and not making a big deal out of how experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I say, listen to your own body and feed it accordingly.

I sat beside her with my own water.  I wouldn't even make coffee for another thirty minutes or so.  Seriously, just plain water is what I want first thing in the morning.  And very little talking.

I'm usually such a stickler for not much talking first thing in the morning.  One of the strangest things I discovered about Will and his family is how they spring out of bed all Good morning! and don't feel like punching the next person who greets them sunnily like I do.  But today I had to bite the parenting bullet and have a talk with my kid before she'd head off to school and start yelling again.

"Hey, Punk.  Is there something you want to tell me about that happened at school yesterday?"  I begain.

Katie looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about.  Or why I was talking.  She's used to a mostly-quiet before-school mom.

"About not getting along with some of your classmates?"  I tried to nudge her memory.  

Suddenly her face changed like I'd discovered her secret candy stash.  "How did you knowed about that?"

"Ms. B emailed me.  But I didn't get it until after I got home from work and you were already asleep.  So I didn't get a chance to talk to you about it yesterday.  But we can talk about it this morning before school, OK?"  I said.

"OK," Katie replied.

"So what happened?  Ms. B said you yelled at some of your classmates yesterday."

"Yeah.  Alex and Kaylee were bossing me around."

"I see," I wanted to start lecturing her about not yelling at people, but I waited to see what else she had to say.

"And Kaylee was scaring me," Katie had been looking down at her lap as she talked but she raised her head and looked me in the eye like See, don't you pity me?

"Oh, no.  What was she doing that was scary?" I wondered.

"She kept getting in my face and saying, 'Boo!'"

This seemed suspicious to me.  Why would Kaylee do that in class?  It's not Halloween.  They haven't been reading ghost stories or anything.  But I wasn't there and what do I know?  Probably kids today, who don't live with fraidy cats like me, watch scary movies all the time and don't associate shouting "boo" at someone as something you do during the month of October only.

"Is that when you yelled at her?"  I asked.

"Yes.  I wanted her to quit scaring me."

"Well, Sweetie.  She shouldn't try to scare you.  But you shouldn't yell at people either.  When someone is treating you badly when you're not doing something wrong, but then you yell at them for it, you end up not doing the right thing too.  If you're annoying someone would you rather them ask you calmly to stop or would you rather them yell at you back?"

"I know, Mom." Katie said and looked back down.

I didn't want it to be like that.  "Good.  I know you know.  And you're trying.  It's really hard to not yell at people when they make you mad.  Do you remember the things you can do when you start to feel mad?"

"Yes, take deep breaths and count to ten or say my ABCs," she said in a monotone as if she were reading it off a script.

"That's right.  Did Ms. B have any other suggestions when she talked to you about yelling yesterday?" I asked.

Katie looked back up, smiled, and stood up.  "Yes!" she exclaimed.  "She had me jump up and down and pretend I was stomping on the world!"  She jumped up and down and growled like a wild beast.

"Wow, she let you do that in class?" I asked.

"Yeah, over in a corner by her desk.  It was kind of private."

"Huh.  That's cool.  How did you feel after you stomped on the world?" I asked.


"I might have to try this technique.  Next time I'm at work and I'm having a bad day, I can go out to the park and stomp on the world on my walking breaks," I laughed.

"You should, Mama!  It feels great to stomp on the world," Katie said.

I emailed Ms. B and told her about our discussion that morning.  She replied, "It could have been just one of those days. I will be in touch if she is troubled today."

So far so good, but I'm keeping an eye on my inbox.  I'm prepared.  If something pops up and I don't like the news, I'll get up and take a stomp-on-the-world break.