Jack Morris on Southbroom beach

Ever been in the dog box? Fairly and squarely? Well, I’m not so sure about the fair part but today I was certainly sure about the squarely bit! It started this morning with my insisting that Jack practise his English oral – the first one of the term, which happened to fall on the same day as the first English test of the term (Yes! Can you believe it? Why would teachers torture us like this? Why?) – before school.

As you can imagine, this suggestion (well, it wasn’t really a suggestion, it was pretty much a cut-and-dried, this will happen kind of thing) did not meet with any enthusiasm, let alone approval. It went down like a very heavy balloon.

I was a tad worried about the oral because we’d left it a bit late. Mea culpa. I’d been distracted all week as it was Kate’s first week away at Stellenbosch University and my eye was on several balls as I tried to help her manage the transition, get used to life in Res, cope with the exhaustion of Orientation week yet still pitch up at the right place, at the right time, plus deal with my own up-and-down emotions (be still, my aching heart!).

So with preparations for the oral taking a back seat (especially over the weekend, which was Stellenbosch-orientated), I was panicking. As you can imagine, the last-minute coaching did not go very smoothly. There were stops and starts, fidgeting, forgotten lines, some curious ad libbing …

Eventually we threw in the towel, hastily checked the grammar book for rules pertaining to the use of the comma, and dashed out to the car.

And this is when the wheels came off and the dog box came out. The car clock revealed that we were running 15 minutes behind schedule. Heaven forbid.

“What!” came a furious wail from the back of the car.
I tried to become The Voice of Reason. “Boy, it was important to practise your oral because you needed to do it with your poster, and we didn’t have a chance to do that last night!”
“But Momsy, now I am going to be 15 minutes’ late!”
“But Boy, you are still going to get to school with 15 minutes to spare before the bell goes!”
“That’s not enough for someone like me … I need to play with my friends. And I need to get rid of my energy before the bell goes!”
“What energy, boy? You were certainly not looking very lively when you were doing your oral two minutes ago? And you need to realise that, sometimes, schoolwork takes priority over playing. You’re in Grade 5 now. You need to be more responsible.”

By now there were tears of fury and indignation. And then he dealt the blow.

“I rely on you to get me to school on time, Momsy! I rely on you!” Subtext: You’re a huge disappointment this morning and your attitude sucks.

Yep. The dog box alright. I mulled over my swift fall from grace and when I got home I found this email newsletter in my inbox. It was titled, The Gift of the Good Enough Mother by American clinical social worker Dr Carla Naumburg, and it was basically about why our kids need us to fail sometimes – and how important that is for building resilience. Ah, the voice of sanity. 

This is her take on the matter: “Every time we don’t hear them calling us right away, every time we don’t give them our undivided attention, every time we feed them a dinner they don’t want to eat, every time we make them share when they don’t want to, we are getting them ready to function in a society that will frustrate and disappoint them on a regular basis.”

Children need to learn, in small ways every day, that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that their every request won’t be honoured, and that their behaviour impacts other people.

“They need to learn – through experience – that life can be hard, that they will feel let down and disappointed, that they won’t always get their way, and despite all of that (or perhaps because of it) they will still be ok,” she says.

“If our children never have these experiences, and if their every need is met every time, they will have no ability to manage the challenges that will inevitably arise. They won’t learn that it’s ok to feel bored or annoyed or sad or disappointed. They won’t learn, time and again, that life can be painful and frustrating, but they’ll get through it. In short, building our children’s resilience is the gift of the good enough mother.”

Hmmm. Well I am not sure Jack thinks what I did this morning was a gift. But, undeterred, I have stubbornly turned the other cheek and have got him a gift: a chocolate brownie (one of his favourite treats) to earn back some, ahem, brownie points. Will this peace offering  work? Or will the brownie go to his dad? Watch this space.


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