Mr. Baseball needs structure like tomatoes need cages. Without it, he's all over the place, out of control, and, well, wild. Since the summer humidity and heat set in, we've been sleeping on our futon beneath the air conditioner in the living room window. Every morning Mr. Baseball wakes up about 6:30 am and either climbs into bed with us or (more often) sits on the couch beside us and grumbles under his breath about being hungry. Of course we haven't had the gumption to set out food the night before, so every morning I tell him through my pillow that he may get a snack out of the fridge or the cupboard, that its too early to be awake, and that we will get up when we are done sleeping. In varying degrees of frustration he tells us all the reasons why he cannot get a snack for himself and continues to grumble under his breath, looking very upset at us for being such inept parents. Finally one of us gets out of bed, pulls a box of crackers, or cereal, or a banana out for him and sit him at the table with it.
Going back to bed at this point is difficult since the table is right next to our futon and once Mr. Baseball has finished his snack he wants to watch a show on television, or wants us to play a game with him, or read him a book. Some mornings we tell him he may look at a book on his own and we try to go back to sleep, but by then the Monkey has usually woken up and staying asleep becomes impossible.
Not only does this situation not work at all, but it makes us all rather grumpy. It's really not Mr. Baseball's fault that he wakes up early. But at the same time, its difficult to be patient with a four-year-old sense of entitlement that wants everything right now. This pattern repeats itself throughout the day, with intermittent moments of contentedness when he is helpful, kind, and willing to work with the rest of us to get through the day. I don't feel like we spoil him, or like we let him get his way whenever he wants, and I genuinely believe he is good natured, happy, and willing to help, but sometimes (almost always) he acts like he deserves to do whatever he wants whenever he wants no matter where we are or what we are doing. It's like he's a four-year-old teenager.
It is almost as if he understands that our authority as parents, our control over his life is arbitrary, dictated by age, size, and financial power, that we really are not different than he is, except that we hold most of the cards. So he challenges that authority at every turn. Why shouldn't he be able to leave his clothes all over the floor, why should he have to pick up after dinner, why should he have to sit still in sacrament meeting, eat his dinner, go to bed, stay in bed, pick up his toys, stop throwing the ball in the house, and not jump on guests when they come to visit?
95 percent of the time when he does flip out, the QB and I are very good at calmly explaining that such behavior is not an acceptable way of communicating and we invite him to express himself differently, but when it happens every day, all day, in just about every interaction where he's asked to do something he doesn't want to do, it becomes difficult to stomach.
Last night the QB and I were discussing the state of things in our home, the relative whininess, the tantrum-to-contentment ratio, and something I like to call the "Flip-out" coefficient (a standard unit of measure, in hours of sleep, that effects the extent and frequency of hissy-fits) and we've decided that we could all do a little better. Our self-inflicted busy summer full of swimming lessons, t-ball, road trips, community gardening, and hours and hours of independent studying, coupled with the fact that we're living in 550 square linoleum feet of glorified dorm space that we're getting ready to move out of, has left us all a little haggard. And Mr. Baseball, who thrives on schedules, charts, plans, and patterns has for most of the summer been dragged around on a short leash from one activity to the next, with little or no regular schedule to tether himself to. Just watching him today on the couch during "quiet time" was enough to notice something's up. During a good portion of the Monkey's nap time, Mr. Baseball has "quiet time" where he either looks at books, colors quietly, or listens to a book on tape. It's an activity we instituted when he began refusing to take a real nap, nearly six months ago. Today during quiet time while the QB and I were trying to plan out the week, Mr. Baseball was "sitting" on our futon listening to a story on CD. He wiggled from sitting cross-legged to kneeling, to squatting on his haunches, to standing on his head, to laying on his side with his legs in the air, to bouncing on his knees to chewing on his finger-nails and then finally, his toe-nails. (at which point we finally asked him to sit still).
The plan this week is to stick to as much a schedule as possible, keep him busy, keep him thinking and focusing on progressing through the day. That means pre-school lessons at home and naps and outside play time and good one-on-one time with both of us. It also means that some days I feel at a complete loss as to how to help him, as if everything I do is wrong, that whether I try patient, inquisitive, active listening or whether I threaten to flush him down the toilet, he's going to do what he wants to do on his own time and that is that.
My one consolation this week was teaching his primary class, which is full of four other kids his age, three of which are as high strung and independent as he is. Watching one spit foam as he blasted imaginary bad guys with his two pointer-finger pistols, and another vying loudly for position as a line leader made me feel better about the tantrum Mr. baseball threw over not getting to act out the part of the Good Samaritan during a class role-play activity. Perhaps he 's more normal than I fear. Perhaps other parents have to deal with the same issues that we're dealing with. Perhaps he will turn into the "normal," loving, respectful, and acculturated young man that we want him to.
Fitting that today's lesson was about the the greatest commandment: to love one another. Kindness, it seems, no matter how much patience it takes, is the only way to get through to Mr. Baseball. And what a lesson the Savior taught in his parable of the Good Samaritan--Not only did the Samaritan, who should have scoffed at the self-righteous man from Judea who got what was coming to him, help the stranger up, but he cleaned and dressed his wounds and took him to an inn to get real help.
The real redeeming moment today came when those five children, including Mr. Baseball, sat transfixed as I paraphrased this, the greatest lesson on love from the Master and author of love itself. Despite their wiggling, and hollering, and speaking out, and joking during the rest of thelesson, as I told the story they all sat quietly, thinking on the thieves, the unhelpful Levite and Priest, and the genuinely good Samaritan who was willing to help an "enemy" no matter what the cost.
Who, indeed, is your neighbor Mr. Pharisee, if not the neighbors who live under your own roof, who share your life and depends upon you for everything they have? Perhaps the greatest lesson Mr. Baseball is teaching me is that though he is my son, we are really only brothers in the greater family of God, and that because he is on loan from OUR Father, my greatest responsibility is not to coerce him into doing what I say, but to show him by example what it means to be a disciple, a neighbor, and a friend.