* A Journey of 1000 Miles

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn we’ll embark on the long drive to New England. As a veteran traveler and entertainer of little Hercules, I’ve already checked out a stack of audio books from the library for our listening enjoyment. We were fortunate to find our latest installment from the Narnia trilogies, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as well as the timeless classic Ol’ Yeller and one of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, “The Carnivorous Carnival”. And let’s not forget The Old Time Radio Westerns, including The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid.

Who says a punk rock warrior god can’t be cultured?

OK, so maybe I have a loose definition of cultured, but at least it’s better than a Gameboy and some Pokemon paraphernalia.

Meanwhile, it’s 10:30 PM and I’m still awake, however reluctantly. The packing is done, we’re just waiting for The Kids to get picked up. Half of them are asleep, worn out by some wrestling matches and cutthroat rounds of Old Maid and Go Fish.

The good news is that my attitude is in a better place, and I’m continually reminding myself to be in the present moment rather than fretting over an undetermined future. So I’ve mellowed out, and even though life is chaos, I’m enjoying myself:)

I know I haven’t had much to say about little Hercules lately but don’t worry, he’s still at his usual antics. I’ll try to get back on track here pretty quick, so come back soon. Meanwhile, enjoy your holiday!

* Mixed emotions

At last, the worst of Christmas (shopping) is over, and now I can look forward to the best of Christmas – spending time with family. Today and tomorrow are my last work days, and then I’m off until after the New Year. Yippeee!

Rio, Pa, and I are leaving for New England on Wednesday to see my father and stepmother. In spite of the 2-day drive, I can’t wait to get back to my old stomping grounds and relax in someone else’s house for a while. The drive shouldn’t be so bad as long as the weather cooperates with us. Otherwise, little Hercules is a remarkably great traveler, thank goodness, because this semi-nomadic mama loves to travel.

Meanwhile, Pa has all The Kids at home today. Yes, my husband is at home with 6 children while I sit here at work and blog to you folks. Novel, isn’t it? Not only that, but he totally saved my ass today because I mixed up the day for our office potluck/gift exchange. I thought it was tomorrow, and it was supposed to be, but they rescheduled it for today and even though I had been informed of that, my brain didn’t file that information properly and so I showed up at work today without my promised spinach quiche and gift.

After I slammed my head against the wall a few times, I humbly called Pa and over the din of screaming children (“Those are happy screams!” he tells me) I asked him if he would mind baking the quiche and wrapping my gift for the office. He didn’t even hesitate, he happily agreed and just asked me to email him the recipe. What a relief! What a guy! No, you cannot borrow him, he’s all mine:)

This, even after all my holiday crankiness. He really must love me. I’m still looking for a good attitude adjustment, even with all the shopping done. I’m stressing out over things that haven’t even happened yet, but they might happen, they could happen, and the very possibility is freaking me out.

I can’t provide details here, sorry. But it would be nice if you would say a little prayer for The Kids’ mother. God, please bless her in every way because I’m not ready to care for all her children full-time. And I promise not to call her the cursed wretch anymore, God. Please, please bless her!

I gotta go pray some more and get my heart in the right place. I’m full of judgment and that’s no good.

Speaking of judgment, Buddha Mama posted on this topic recently too and it’s worth reading. Maybe I’ll touch on that more later. I hope to blog some while I’m on vacation, but I can’t promise too much. I don’t want to be completely antisocial. At least, not all the time.

* Christmas Program

Christmas Program
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
The Christmas Program went off without a hitch! Rio's teacher even took a minute to tell me what a great day he'd had prior to that. He's making me proud, that little Hercules.

There's just one problem. If little Hercules doesn't keep getting into trouble, whatever will I blog about??

That's a problem I wouldn't mind having;)

We had Christmas with The Kids today, since we'll be in New England with my family next weekend. It was fun, and now I think I'll go sleep off my eggnog buzz. More later.

* Is it over yet?

Yesterday was another one of those days for Rio. When I picked him up he was already fussy; I knew that wasn’t a good sign and sure enough, sad faces on his chart. I decided we could talk about it later when he was in a better mood. As we were leaving one of the after-school staff handed him a card and a candy cane. The candy cane cheered him up a bit, at least until he dropped it on the sidewalk on the way to the car. Oh man, what a crisis! He stopped in his tracks and just wailed. I actually told him to pick it up and eat it, but he wasn’t having any of that. I tried to ease his pain and offered to give him another candy when we got home, but no, he didn’t want another candy. He wanted a candy cane. That candy cane, and no other would do. He was still wailing when we finally got in the car and drove away. I was still trying to convince him that he should be happy to get more candy at home and that he may as well forget the candy cane because it was a done deal, gone. He continued wailing. And then I had one of those moments that brings me no end of guilt and shame. I snapped.


Well, that pretty much made me feel like shit, but Rio shut up and that was actually pretty amazing. We drove the rest of the way home in silence. When we got home I opened Rio’s door for him and waited for him to get out of the car, then I hugged him tight.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Rio. I shouldn’t talk to you like that. It’s mean and disrespectful and I feel awful. Do you forgive me?”

“Sure Mama, I always forgive you.”

“You’re so sweet like that. That must be why I love you so much.”

Sometimes I could just eat him up.

It was definitely a hard night, though. Pa wouldn’t be home at all because he had his algebra final that night, poor guy. I had already promised myself I would do Rio’s homework with him first thing when we got home, but The Diva was coming over very soon to do yoga with me. And I was supposed to put the Christmas lights up tonight, too, because it was already way overdue. And I had to feed the kids at some point. And do like three days’ worth of dishes. And finish my Christmas cards.

Did I mention that I hate Christmas? Ugh.

Yet somehow it all came together. The first good news was that Rio didn’t have any homework that night. He claimed that his teacher gave it to him but then took it away. I’m still wondering what that’s all about, but I wasn’t about to lament that happy stroke of luck. Besides, Rio was not in a good state of mind for reading practice. Nope. So that was a load off my back. Then, The Diva was fashionably late, as usual, so I had some time to borrow the neighbor’s ladder and get started with the lights. We did our yoga upstairs and the only reason the boys stayed out of trouble is because Big B turned the TV on and Rio was happy to lounge on the couch and soak it in. Normally I would not approve of him watching TV after school, especially when he’s had a bad day at school. But I was just too damn stressed out to care and I knew that it would be impossible to ban him from that entire half of the house while I was upstairs and he was unsupervised. Not to mention the inevitable meltdown that would result. Screw that. A little Monster Garage won’t rot his brain just this once.

It ended up being a late dinner, but I got the little Hercules to bed at a reasonable hour and somehow managed to accomplish everything on my list before Pa got home from his exam. I don’t know who was happier that the night was over, me or him.

And then, just as I was congratulating myself for having done so much Christmas shopping already, it occurred to me that I still have to wrap all those presents. Before Saturday.

*sigh* I just want it to be over.

Tomorrow I'll be going to Rio's school for their Christmas pageant. Stay tuned for a full report:)

* First kiss and more

Well, the smiley streak at school had to come to an end eventually, and Tuesday was it. Rio had a sub in the morning, and although he told me he was “just trying to help,” he finally admitted that maybe he was being a little too “wild.” She made him leave the classroom and go upstairs to the quiet spot. Otherwise, the rest of his day was all smiles, and he was in a happy, cooperative mood when I picked him up, so I didn’t make a big deal out of it.

What he really wanted to talk about was his first kiss. When I arrived at his school, he was in the gym with the other after-school kids and he came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Mama, go ask Sweetie.”

“Ask her what, Rio?”

“Just ask, Mama! She’ll tell you.”

So I found Sweetie (she’s the one who has birthday parties at her parents’ costume shop, she’ll never have trouble making friends) and although I didn’t really know what I was supposed to say, she was all smiles and happily announced, “Rio kissed me!”

I had to try really hard not to laugh, but I wasn’t at all surprised. Rio’s been talking about this little girl for weeks, I already knew he liked her. So I said “Aaaaawwww!” and “How sweet!” and tried to get Rio to get his things together so we could go home. I really was amused but I was also eager to get home and accomplish at least half the things on my must-do list.

When we told Pa about it, Rio feigned embarrassment and told us how it was different ‘cuz he had never kissed a girl like that before. Not a girl he really liked, not because he really wanted to. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He’s only six! Watch out, Sweetie!

At dinner I fed everyone one at a time, since it was eggs for dinner (need to get groceries!) and cold eggs are no good. So while I was cooking my dinner, Rio comes into the kitchen and starts begging for a snack. I told him he could wait a while longer, like until he was actually hungry. He insisted that he was hungry. I replied, “That’s not hunger, that’s gluttony. Don’t be a glutton, Rio.”

“What’s a glutton?”

“A glutton is someone who is full but they still want more.”

And he proudly declared, “Yep, that’s me! I’m a glutton!”

He still had to wait for his snack, though.

The other noteworthy event of the evening was when we sat down to do his homework. You see, at the beginning of the school year Rio brought a book home every night for me to read to him. Then we had a piece of paper for him to write the title and two of his favorite words from the story. Now we have reversed our roles, and he brings home a book that he’s supposed to read to me. Rio has always loved stories, and I’ve been reading to him nightly since he was a baby. We progressed to chapter books without illustrations long ago, and we’re currently about halfway through The Chronicles of Narnia. Despite his love for books, however, Rio has been slow to start reading himself. It’s been my policy not to pressure him, since that will generally just make him resistant. Now that this has become a regular assignment, I suppose it’s time to tackle this new challenge.

The problem is that Rio is very good at memorizing a story, so when he recites it back to you, page by page and word for word, it sounds like he’s reading. Until you show him a word out of context, even if it’s a word that occurs throughout the story. For instance, last night his book was called “Whose Forest Is It?” and on every page there was a picture of a different animal and they all say the same thing: “This is my forest.” However, when Rio heard the story, he remembered it as “IT’S my forest” and that’s how he read it to me. So on every page we stopped and I had him sound out the first word, which was always “this.” And every time he tried to make t-h-i-s sound like “it’s. The first time I helped him and we sounded it out together and he got it. But when we got to the next page and there it was again, we had to start all over again. Each page was a new struggle, and it really only took 3 or 4 pages before Rio was in tears.

The thing is, Rio is no dummy. He’s smart as a whip, but when he gets something stuck in his head he won’t let it go (inflexible-explosive indeed). And he had decided that t-h-i-s was “it’s” and whenever I tried to teach him otherwise, he became increasingly frustrated. Thankfully, my coping skills have progressed considerably and we circumvented a meltdown. I ended up repeating much of the same arguments I made when he was learning to ride his bike: “It’s OK to make mistakes, you’re supposed to make mistakes, you need to make mistakes if you want to read. Don’t give up!”

He cried but he wasn’t angry, and he told me that he really wants to learn to read, but whenever he got stuck he was utterly convinced that he couldn’t do it and he never would. Finally, he asked if he could have a break and I let him go. I knew he had had enough, I wasn’t going to force him to finish the book. But thanks to our recent success with learning to ride a bike, I feel confident that I can help Rio and we just have to get past the initial frustration. Once you get the first thing, the rest is easy. But first there will be tears and gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes. Just don’t give up, little Hercules!

Tonight, we will do his homework right after school. The longer we wait, the more tired he’ll be, and that’s never good for learning something new.

p.s. I've subscribed to a new commenting service courtesy of haloscan, because blogger's commenting configuration sucks. Unfortunately, this has resulted in all of my old comments being erased. But you can now leave comments without being tricked into registering with blogger, and you are always encouraged to do so:) Thanks!

* Little lessons

Busy busy, lots to cover. First of all, Rio ended last week with more smiles, so I had to come clean on an old promise and take him to *gasp* Burger King. Those of you who know me will realize what an altruistic act this was, for eating fast food is right up there with killing baby seals and driving an SUV in my book. But I survived the ordeal, and really didn’t mind so much, so pleased was I with little Hercules. This was by far his best week of school since the beginning of Kindergarten, so it was a worthy event.

Second of all, Christmas is fast approaching and with it comes all of my holiday angst. Have I mentioned how much I hate Christmas? Yep. Hate it. I like the idea of it, mind you, just not the actuality. And it really brings out the worst in my Evil Twin. For instance, while shopping for stocking stuffers at the dollar store, Evil Twin tried to persuade me to buy each of the little ones a vampire action figure. They were perfectly hideous! Inspired by Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Evil Twin was actually cackling with glee, right there in the store. Whenever she does that, I know I must resist. So I did, however reluctantly, and went for the toy planes instead.

Finally, I had to come to grips with the fact that I need a serious attitude adjustment. Spending part of Saturday with The Diva certainly helped. She completed her latest move by donating a large quantity of furniture and household goods to my home, and in between trips we wallowed together in our mutual humbuggery. This also gave me a chance to escape the chaos of my kid-filled home, where they were preparing a holiday pageant for the grown-ups, and waiting my return so we could finish decorating our tree. I secretly hoped they would get tired of waiting and do it without me, but to no avail. However, my afternoon with The Diva gave me the oomph I needed to face Christmas cheer with a happy face. Or maybe it was just all that rum Pa put in my eggnog, but I think I may have even enjoyed myself.

Sunday was a perfect day to recover. Rio and I started the week off right with a hike in the woods. It’s the perfect activity for today’s spiritual lesson from The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, for Sunday is the day of pure potentiality. On this day, we delight in the wonders and beauty of nature, remind ourselves that with God anything is possible, and take some time for quiet meditation. So instead of going to church, Rio and I drove on down to our favorite trailhead and did some exploring down by the river. While we were hiking I explained to him that meditating was like praying, except that praying is how you talk to God, and meditating is how you listen to him. He watched me curiously as I meditated under a grove of trees, as if he were hoping to eavesdrop on me and God.

I learned a new lesson from Rio this weekend. Saturday was kind of a hard day for him, which was a bit discouraging after such a record-breaking smiley marathon at school all week. We had endured a few meltdowns over fairly trivial requests that he flat out refused to comply with. Later that night as we were preparing to let all the kids watch a movie (The Dark Crystal, a timeless classic in my book), we asked them all to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas before we got started. Rio, however, objected to brushing his teeth on the grounds that we were supposed to get movie snacks, and his teeth would get yucky again. After we’d spent a good part of the day combating his defiant attitude, my instant response was to bristle and say “Too bad, little man. Mama said brush your teeth, so you better do what you’re told.” But instead I paused because, after all, little Hercules had a very good point. It really does make sense to brush your teeth after popcorn, rather than before. So I let it go. He happily agreed to brush his teeth after the movie, and life was good.

Those of you with any sort of inflexible-explosive child will know what an immense relief it is to narrowly escape a total meltdown. Because really, that’s exactly what was in store for us if I had insisted on absolute compliance. But I am learning that sometimes absolute compliance is just not worth it.

I know my dear husband is bristling already at that statement, so I will elaborate (we’re both having to shed some old, ingrained patterns of behavior – it’s not easy and we’re still making sense of this new approach). For years I’ve been operating under the belief that my child must always do as he is told, without back-talk and all that sass. That’s standard operating procedure from Parenting 101 – Parents Are Boss. Consequently, I’ve spent years fighting an endless battle with my little Hercules, who most certainly flunked Intro to Acceptable Behavior. He’s the sort whose automatic response to most requests, particularly those that are barked at him in the sternest of voices, is “NO!” or maybe “But I . . .” or just “BLAAAAAAAAH!”

In my old way of thinking, I got it into my head that if Rio doesn’t like to be told No, then he must need to be told No more often until he damn well gets used to it. Because when I say NO I mean NO! You heard me, Dammit! NO NO NO NO NO NO!!

Well, you can imagine how that turned out. What a disaster. This is what Dr. Greene refers to as “the parent as adversary.” However, even before I got my hands on his book, I figured out a couple of things. First, barking orders like a drill sergeant will not get good results from Rio. You are much more likely to get him to cooperate by phrasing your request as a favor: “Hey Rio, could you please do me a favor? I really need you to put these legos away so I can vacuum in here.” Or just saying please and asking in a calm, soothing voice will also do the trick. Amazing revelation, I know. It’s kinda sad how long it took me to figure that one out. But even now it’s not easy to remember when Rio has taken my last nerve and maimed it.

Secondly, Rio gets far more negative feedback than he does positive feedback, which in all fairness is because he spends quite a lot of his time doing things he’s been told repeatedly NOT to do. However, the point is that Rio doesn’t need to hear NO more often and he doesn’t need to be punished more often. There have been times when I’ve felt like all I ever do is punish the kid, and it doesn’t seem to do a damn bit of good because he’ll go right back and do it again. And again. And again. Welcome to my downward spiral of exasperation.

Instead, what Rio needs is more positive feedback, and less punishment for punishment’s sake. In other words, it’s a matter of choosing my battles, really. There are obviously some things Rio should not and cannot do under any circumstances, like play in the street or sneak into Mama’s closet and open somebody else’s present (like he did on Sat). However, some things can be negotiated, like brushing one’s teeth before you have your movie snacks, even though Mama really wanted everyone to have their teeth brushed before the movie so we could skip the post-movie rush for the bathroom when everyone’s sleepy and cranky. So, we can either induce a meltdown whenever “because I said so!” is the best reason, or we can negotiate a little bit and try to make everyone happy, even the little warrior god.

What a concept! I really should be a diplomat:)

UPDATE: Um, it occurred to me that equating SUV drivers with baby seal killers might piss some people off, so please don't take that too literally. I won't judge you if you drive an SUV, I just choose not to drive one myself (as if I could afford to! ha!). However, if you are a killer of baby seals then I will personally kick your ass. Unless you are an Eskimo and you eat or wear every last piece of said baby seal. Then I will forgive you. I'm glad I cleared that up, I feel much better now.

* Smiles

Yesterday was a stellar day: No sad faces on Rio’s Behavior Chart, smiles all around:)

When we got home, his big brother (Big B) had acquired 2 free skateboard decks, and donated one to Rio provided he let the other kids use it when they're here. Rio was tickled, almost as tickled as I was to see his stepbrother being so nice to him. I can cut a teenager a lot of slack if he just treats his little brothers and sister with some kindness.

It was yoga night last night, and this time the Diva came over and we did it at my house. We went upstairs where it’s warm and made it through our whole routine without any interruption or eruptions from the boys downstairs. Nothing short of miraculous, this. Afterward, the Diva had to run and the boys were outside skating across the street. I had the whole house to myself. The universe must really be pleased with me these days:)

Now’s my chance to talk about some of the strategies I’ve been learning to use for Rio. I started out with The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents by Deepak Chopra. This is a beautiful book for any family, and his ideas are simple yet effective. This book was the first to point out that the conventional punishment-reward system is not necessarily the best way to teach children how to make good choices. However, it is not easy to release old habits, as I am learning.

I first picked up this book when Rio was still only a year old or so, and it’s really not terribly applicable to children at that age, so I put it back on the shelf and forgot about it. But it was already clear to me then that my romantic visions of motherhood were not going to be realized, not even close. I was so idealistic and so naïve at that time, and I still had reason to believe that Rio’s behavior was merely the typical stuff of toddler years, surely he would outgrow it, right?

Ever since then, I’ve been disciplining him defensively, for fear that people would think that I’m too easy on him, that I’ve allowed him to behave so badly by giving in to him. If only that were true, if only consistent discipline, harsh punishments and bribes were enough to train a little Hercules. If only!

Thanks to The Explosive Child, I am now armed with a new viewpoint. This book deals specifically with inflexible-explosive children, and that’s my Rio. According to the author, Dr. Ross Greene, these children have a critically low frustration threshold, which means that he becomes frustrated very easily over seemingly trivial things. Concurrently, he also has very low frustration tolerance, which means that when he does become frustrated, he lacks the skills to cope with it.

For example: I send Rio into the backyard one evening while I fiddle around out front. He tries to get into the house through the back door, which is locked. He pounds on the door, but Big B can’t hear him because he has his headphones on. Rio hollers and pounds some more. Still no answer. Next thing I know, Rio is screaming and crying and kicking and punching the back door. He was too frustrated to think clearly, and therefore unable to reason that perhaps he should just walk around to the front door, which was open. When I try to talk to him, he screams at me. This is what I call meltdown mode: the point at which Rio is beyond reason. Once he reaches that point it won’t do any good to threaten him with severe punishment or loss of all his most prized privileges. Nope. This will only serve to compound his despair and frustration, and escalate the meltdown. It can get very, very ugly, even violent and destructive.

So instead of threats and coercion, I have learned that what Rio really needs at that point is reassurance. He needs help, and he doesn’t know how to help himself. He needs to know that I’m there to help him work it out, not to increase his frustration. And already I’m seeing a difference in how he responds to me. And it’s funny in a tragic sort of way, because all along my instinct has been to do just that, to comfort him and soothe him when he’s beyond control. Yet I was so worried about what other people thought was right for my son, people who seemed to know better than me, that I second guessed myself and played the authoritarian mother. It was not only counter-productive, it was miserable.

Someday, I will learn to trust my instincts.

* Good Medicine

I got two phone calls from Rio's school today. The first was from the school nurse, asking about his rash. School policy says kids with an undiagnosed rash can't go to school. She was pleasant, trying to reassure me, saying it was probably just hives, nothing contagious. But he still had to get a doctor's note before he could return to school.

That, I can live with. Relieved that it wasn't the principal, I was already looking forward to having the rest of the afternoon off. I got the call right before lunch, so it was a nice even half day. And I was able to get Rio an appointment this afternoon at 2:00. That's pretty good for short notice at the health clinic.

I left my office and hiked the 8 blocks to Rio's school, where I also keep my car. On the way, I got the second phone call. This one was the school counselor wanting to 'touch bases with me.' She was also pleasant, and said I could keep her book as long as I needed it. She wanted to be able to contact Rio's other counselor, and asked me to sign a release form. No problem. I laughed out loud when I got off the phone, for all my dread of interaction with the school administration, this time was entirely painless. Relief, gratitude, laughter: good medicine.

The doctor looked Rio over and told me he had some sort of contact rash or something. I really just understood "not contagious" and "he can go back to school tomorrow." More good news, no worries.

Back at home, I decided to tackle a long-awaited project: the train set. It's upstairs where the Kids sleep when they're here, and it's been waiting for Pa or I to nail down the tracks into the table. Since we'd be watching the Kids tonight, I figured it was a good time to get it done and give them something new for their amusement.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I cussed and cursed and sent Rio downstairs at least three times for trying to run the train on the track I was in the midst of building. He finally occupied himself by searching the yard for the perfect christmas tree for our train town. He came in with various weeds and branches and insisted that I nail them to the table around the tracks. I convinced him to let me finish the track before I added the landscape accoutrements.

Later, the Kids arrived with the usual clamor. After some dinner, a bath, and a movie, their night has been pretty full. Only my stepdaughter (the only girl, other 5 are all boys) showed much interest in the train after all, but it will still be here when they come again this weekend. Right now it can't compete with Harry Potter.

Rio went to bed earlier than the rest. Late nights and early mornings make for a cranky Rio, and cranky pirates don't get a lot of smiley faces at school. Tomorrow, it's another day, another labor of love.

* Encouragement

There weren't many adventures with Rio this weekend. Overall, it was pretty tame, as tame it can be anyway, with the little hercules plus five more.

I've decided that it's best not to bring the stepkids into this blog very much, just in case their mother ever stumbles across it. Because keeping things civil with her is a delicate balancing act, and we don't need any setbacks with that one. 'Nuff said.

Rio and I didn't get to do much of interest this weekend. Saturday we had the whole herd to wrangle, and Sunday was rainy and dreary, so we stayed in and played some Uno after I finished my housework. Rio loves cards, and he learned how to count by playing War with me when he was three.

Some good news: I had a great conversation with his counselor Friday night. I had faxed her all the paperwork that Rio's school had filled out for me, in hopes that I would turn it over to a pediatrician to have him assessed (not). I also wrote her a letter to catch her up on the outcome of my various meetings with his teacher and principal. She was very optimistic that we could persuade the principal to allow Rio to stay at his school, and she was also excited about the book they gave me. She sees a lot of books of this sort in her line of work, and she considers this to be one of the best. So we're going to start implementing those strategies in full force and we both believe that will yield very positive results. It looks like I'll be purchasing that book soon, since I've got it on a short-term loan at the moment.

I was very encouraged by her response and enthusiasm, because dealing with Rio's school has been wholly depressing. The behavioral assessment that they gave me was dreadfully harsh, and after I read it I felt like someone had driven a knife through my heart. Basically, it lists a whole bunch of negative behaviors, and the teacher checks a box under not at all, occasionally, often, or all the time. Rio got either "Often" or "All the time" for all of them, including: disliked by other children, explosive temper, ignored by other children, rejected by other children, uncooperative, impulsive, defiant, and bossy. The rest of it basically tells me he is "not at all like a normal child."

You know what I have to say to that?

Fuck you, educators. Fuck you for criminalizing nonconformity. Shame on you for demonizing my child, you're damn right he's not normal. I never dreamed of having a normal child, because I'm not a normal mother. I'm better than that, and so is Rio. Yes, Rio needs help, Rio doesn't know how to cope with frustration, and that's a problem that we can solve. Fuck you for deciding what is normal and what is not based on your own convenient paradigm.

I am a paradigm dismantler. Stand back, educators.

* The Littlest Angel

[This post has been entered in the Blogging for Books contest.]

So Rio's back to school today and so far, so good. His class went on a field trip today to see The Littlest Angel performed at the local college. Since Rio's principal has dictated that he must have his own personal chaperone on all fieldtrips or he can't go, I took a couple hours off work to accompany him. When I arrived, Rio was not waiting in line with his classmates. He was sitting alone in front of the principal's office, just in case I didn't show. She wasn't taking any chances.

As we were boarding the bus, he asked the busdriver about her knitting, and then as we stepped off he told her how much he liked her beautiful blanket. The driver was thoroughly charmed. Her face lit up, and I could just imagine her thinking, "My, what a sweet boy!" Yes, he is a darling, isn't he? Just be thankful he doesn't ride your bus everyday, when I'm not here to keep him in his seat.

That reminds me of what was going through my head the first time I met Rio's soon-to-be Kindergarten teacher. It was one of those prearranged introductory meetings for parents and teachers, to put names with faces and to follow a nice, friendly script about how excited you are for your child to start Kindergarten. But I knew better, and I was trying to find a very tactful way to warn her: "Look, Rio will charm the pants off you, and then shred to pieces whatever semblance of order you might have achieved in your classroom, smiling sweetly all the while. He's smarter than you, miss. Don't underestimate him. And whatever you do, don't take your eyes off him for a second."

I should have just leveled with her, just like that. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to be so blunt, and she just assured me that "Oh, don't worry, I've been in this business a long time! I've seen it all! There's nothing I can't handle!"

Yeah, uh-huh. That's why I'm here on this field trip today.

The field trip was relatively uneventful. Rio was well-behaved under my watchful eye. Naturally, he couldn't stay in his seat throughout the play, but he was happy to sit in my lap for the last bit. I also noticed that there were plenty of other kids fidgeting and getting out of their seats. Hmmm, has anyone suggested that those kids get medicated? Clearly, they're having trouble sitting still, must be a disorder.

I had a minor run-in with this little girl sitting behind Rio, I'll call her Princess. Before the play began, Rio was talking to his classmates. Then this cutesy girl behind us chimes in and informs me:

"He's mean to me!"

She gave me a nasty look. Look, Princess, Rio's got enough trouble, and for once he's not bothering anyone. Save it for the teachers, they probably believe you no matter what you say.

"He's not doing anything to you. Be quiet and mind your own business."

I don't need your grief, Princess. I got the principal on my ass.

I also noticed that the other trouble maker in Rio's class, a little girl we'll call Jezebel, was not accompanied by a parent on that trip. This is the same little girl that, at the Thanksgiving luncheon for Rio's class, was dragging a kid across the floor by the hood of his sweatshirt while he's hollering "You're choking me!" I was the one who pulled his shirt out of her fist and told her that wasn't a good idea. Hell, somebody had to do it, the other parents were just sitting there, gaping in horror. The teacher already had her hands plenty full, serving up lunch for all those parents and kids. Maybe those other parents aren't used to hellion kids. Me, I ain't scared.

Yeah, so this Jezebel is no picnic. She was right by the teacher's side during the whole trip. But she was allowed to go, whereas Rio would still be sitting in front of the principal's office if I hadn't been there today. That doesn't seem quite fair to me. Maybe her parents have already agreed to put little Jezebel on Ritalin. Or maybe I'm just cynical.

* Setbacks

Well, just when you think your little Hercules is really making progress, he gets suspended from school for pushing his teacher and hitting a classmate. *sigh* And just the day before he came home with a great report - "Look Mama, no sad faces!" You see, Rio's teachers fill out a behavior chart for him every day, and he gets smiley faces for compliance and sad faces for noncompliance. Tuesday, no sad faces, hurray! Wednesday, I get a phone call from the principal informing me that Rio will not be welcome at school the next day.

My initial reaction was to be angry at the principal. Obviously Rio's actions were completely unacceptable and I can't argue with that. However, I'm not so sure that giving him a day off from school is really a negative consequence, which makes it seem more like I'm the one being punished. I also can't help but feel that she's only building her case against Rio until she finally has enough artillery to boot him out of this school. But, I also have to acknowledge my own resentment and defensiveness, and, let's face it, my personal dislike for this woman. And pointing fingers at her for her response to Rio's behavior does not change the fact that what Rio was did was very, very wrong and he needs to understand that.

Therefore, in the interest of the higher truth, it is my job to make sure that a day off for Rio is not a positive outcome, but a punishment. So here I am at home this morning while Rio is confined to his room, door shut. That's really about as bad as it can get for Rio, because he absolutely hates to be shut out from whatever is going on in the house. He was allowed out once, to sit at the table with me and write a letter of apology to his teacher. Otherwise, he can only come out for meals and to use the bathroom. This is important, because after lunch I will go to work and Anlon will take over for me. Now, Anlon is probably Rio's favorite person (except for his Papa), and we don't want him to think that once she gets here it will be all fun and games. She and I discussed today's arrangement so we're all on the same page. And to give Rio an incentive to comply, I told him that if he abides by his punishment all day, he and I can ride bikes when I get home from work. I think that 9 hours of confinement is plenty for a 6 year old warrior god, and exercise is just the sort of reward he needs after being cooped up all day.

What we really want to avoid is a meltdown. And punishments are generally a sure way to induce a meltdown, so an incentive is key. Meanwhile, I'm off to work. And if Rio gets really mad, he has his drums to bang on. I don't think I mentioned that we got Rio a kiddie drumset for his birthday. It was supercheap, and hence already damaged, but still functional. Before, when he got sent to his room he would respond by writing on his bedroom walls. Now, he can beat on his drums instead. I think that's a much better outlet for his frustration, to hell with the noise. It sure beats listening to him scream.