This is what I believe: a child’s behavior is a reaction to his sensory and emotional experience of the world around him. While these reactions may sometimes seem deeply flawed to other humans who have already completed the phase a child is going through, they are actually exactly right for the child in question as he or she learns to adapt to and cope with a chaotic, complex, and sometimes hostile world. Every child is born uniquely orientated toward receiving and processing sensory and emotional information, and, as such, they are each motivated to act for their own very personal reasons.
And sometimes one of those reasons is they’re an asshole.
Perhaps this isn’t the core character trait of the child, who may also be funny, interesting, occasionally compliant, loving, smart, etc. But let’s face it – sometimes kids do things just to be a jerk.
Case in point:
This is not my parenting week, but my co-parent dropped my sons off at my house this morning because school was starting two hours late today. Tolkien is grounded from electronics at his dad’s house this week, so before he dropped the boys off, he called and asked me if I would please support this by not allowing Tolkien to have screen time at my house as well. I said I would.
When the boys arrived, Tolkien led the charge through the front door by throwing his backpack on the ground and shouting, “Dad is a jerk!”
“Hey, Tolkien,” I said.
“And you’re a jerk, too!” he said with a facial expression his dad and I call The Frowny Face of Disappointment, which looks exactly like this:
His twin brother, Indigo, got on the computer for an hour, in which time Tolkien escalated his acting out behavior – his reaction to the sensory and emotional information he was facing – with ever-increasing unhappiness until I finally erupted, screamed, threatened, and eventually strong-armed him into compliance. This, you see, is my common reaction to the sensory and emotional information I’m often faced with. (In my defense, I can go an impressive amount of time before it gets to this point. I think an hour of troubleshooting and processing with my child before I blew my top should be lauded. Unfortunately, this isn’t how parenting works. In my experience, it’s the very last thing you do that is remembered and weighed when it comes time for judgement.)
Tolkien and I found an equilibrium. Indigo got off the computer. We all began a project together and there was relative peace.
That’s when I noticed it was sweltering in my house.
I went around and checked all of the thermostats connected to the baseboard heaters in each room and found they were all set to max. I knew instantly which kid had done this and was triggered to anger again. Just six weeks ago, Tolkien left the backdoor open (“I had to get to the couch mom! It was so cold outside, I didn’t have time to shut the door!”) and froze all the pipes in my laundry room, which resulted in running heat in a space I don’t normally warm, which then resulted in an electric bill much higher than I’ve ever paid, even in the depths of winter. I’ve been out of work on medical leave for nearly six weeks, and instantly imagined a high bill I didn’t want to have to pay.
I began turning all of the heaters back down to the 61 degrees I keep my house at. “Fucking hell, son!” I shouted. “If you’re going to keep wasting energy, you’re going to have to get a fucking job!”
I stomped around the house turning down heaters. Tolkien shouted, “Well, I can’t get a job because I’m only 11 and the world is a jerk to 11 year olds!”
Indigo shouted, “Oh, great! Everyone’s going to start yelling again.”
I got the heat down. We resumed our project. Eventually, blissfully, the boys left for school. The house remained too warm.
I waited for a while, but when it still didn’t seem to be cooling down, I went to investigate and realized the heat was coming from the kitchen. There’s a baseboard heater in there, yes, but I never turn it on. In fact, the thermostat is behind the refrigerator, which you have to move to turn on. It didn’t seem possible that my son had been able to maneuver this giant appliance away from the wall, turn on the heat, and the put it back in place without me noticing. Yet, when I moved the fridge and looked, sure enough, the thermostat read 90.
“That little fucker…” I said out loud. I wanted to laugh, but just couldn’t.