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I’ve mentioned in passing that Leo has been hard work lately. And I’m not the only one who has been mentioning this, either. “Leo had a hard day,” his teachers have been saying—more often than not—when I pick him up. Or, “Leo was loose with his hands today.” “Leo really tired us both out,” Grandpa Ron will say when they get back from the park. “I did not quiet rest today,” Leo will tell me, “I made noise. The teachers said SHHHH!” “I heard Leo was sent back to the two’s room until he could be a big boy,” a friend of another parent at his school mentioned recently.
Right. I get it. We see it at home, so I’m not surprised to hear all this. Just…disheartened. And just about clueless. “We don’t hit, we keep our hands to our bodies,” Leo tells me. Which is nice except how many times has he had to be reminded of this at school if he’s reciting it spontaneously in his stroller?
Still, when I saw those “loose hands” in action at playgroup last week, I was caught off guard. It was so fast, in fact, that I didn’t see anything. I just heard the sound of Leo’s friend Dashiell’s head slamming into the floor. Then I watched Dashiell’s mom tell Leo “that was NOT OKAY!” as she scooped up her hysterical child. “What just happened?!” I asked a few times in disbelief. “Did you just push Dashiell?!”
“Look at your friend’s face,” I told Leo, “he’s crying and he’s really hurt.” “I want to stand by the wall,” was all Leo would say, once he realized this wasn’t blowing over. “Is that what you do at school?” I asked, and he nodded. “Well this is home,” I told him, “and I want to talk about it.” So I took him into his room and tried to impress upon him how seriously I was taking his spontaneous act of violence, and how worried I was about Dashiell. The whole “talk” eventually devolved into a wrestling match, with me getting the worst of it, which isn’t exactly what I was aiming for. But we emerged holding hands, ready to see if Dash was okay. And he was. A few minutes later, Leo told him “I did not mean to hurt you,” and everyone seemed relieved that the boys were friends again.
Then, the floodgates opened. The other moms took a moment to realize that I was going to keep crying torrentially without stopping. Then they were sympathetic, and empathetic. And I was just…blindsided. I mean, I have known that Leo’s been pushing and hitting. I have known that we’re having a hard time, for whatever complex of reasons I probably can never fully sort out. And in a way I was glad to have the opportunity to show Leo how seriously I take his behavior, and to start working on how we respond to this kind of thing at home. And of course, I was hugely relieved that Dashiell didn’t seem too badly bruised—physically or emotionally—by the unexpected flight onto his head.
Until I flooded our playgroup with tears for a good long while though, I don’t think I was really aware of what a big toll this has been taking on our whole family. It’s troubling, frightening, embarrassing, worrying and so challenging. I often don’t feel safe expressing doubt about our parenting, Leo’s well-being, his school, and all the decisions and experiences that have accrued in the past half year or so that seem to be in some way related to what we’re going through now.
I don’t think I’m talking about a massive, out-of-the-ordinary behavioral problem, or a need for instant intervention. And I imagine I’m not the only parent who feels concerned about their kid’s behavior or the support they’re providing for it at various points. It’s a hard thing to do on your own or just with your partner, and a harder thing to open yourself to advice—and criticisms—about. In the end, breaking down at playgroup, with supportive mom friends who seemed to relate in some way, was cathartic. I feel relieved to have opened up to them and to myself about how concerned and frustrated I’ve been feeling. And I’ve scheduled a parent-teacher conference for later this week.
In the meantime, we are in Maryland visiting Aaron’s family for Passover, and Leo has been on his best behavior. I’m delighted to watch Leo with his older cousin Lucy. He instinctively knows she wouldn’t stand for being pushed around, and she models the “use your words” approach so well, I have hopes that Leo will return to school with new skills for dealing with the other kids in his class. As for me, I’m hanging onto my diet by a thread here, just reminding myself that 15 pounds is a long-term goal and there will be better and worse moments along the way.
As far as recipes go, about all I can offer is this: take a whole wheat matzoh, spread with almond butter and eat. Repeat until you break down and scarf the hot dog on your son’s plate. Ah well. Sometime you’re better off focusing on process, right?
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.