Operation Caffeination

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The best I can

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My son is a great kid. He is funny, smart, full of great big ideas and great big hugs, and he has an insatiable appetite for those who march to the beat of their own drummer. This love of his for the wacky, the oddities, the misfits, is quite heartwarming on the playground. If there is a disabled child to be found, my son will seek that kid out and will not rest until that child is smiling.

That said, my son is also physically aggressive. No bones about it, if there is trouble brewing I can rest easy knowing that my son is smack-dab in the middle of it all, throwing punches and taking them straight in the face without a flinch. He came by this tendency naturally; at 23, I can’t think of anything I love more than the adrenaline rush you get from seriously walloping someone. I had six years of martial arts lessons in my teens and loved every second of it. As soon as we can afford it I intend to resume lessons again. I can’t fault Darren for what I know to be a natural predisposition toward violence; it simply is what it is. I am not proud of this aspect of my personality, but I also realize that I am not responsible for it. I am only responsible to see to it that my happiness doesn’t come at the cost of someone else’s safety. I’ve learned to pour my excess energy into harmless channels and I believe that Darren will eventually find healthy outlets for his pent-up aggression as well.

But what to do in the meantime.

He will hit another child for hitting him.

He will hit another child for moving their hand like they might hit him.

He will hit another child for spitting.

He’s hit kids for making mean faces, being too loud, being too quiet, sitting in the chair that he wanted to sit in, for disobeying the teacher, for disobeying Darren, and for running away from him when they realized that they were about to get hit.

He is very tall for his age, but does not have the maturity to go with that extra strength. And, take it from someone who knows, this kid can pack a punch. He’ll leave a mark. I’m just glad that he hasn’t discovered how to kick because his feet are nearly as large as mine already. I can only imagine the devastation he could wreck upon society if he learned how to harness those babies!

And so, here we have it. The story of the last year of my life: a hot-headed, impetuous, stubborn, young mother trying to teach her similarly-dispositioned child to solve problems with words instead of hands, to respect other people’s right to go about their lives without fear of violence and to find healthy outlets for very unhealthy levels of angst.

I do not have this down. I do not know what to do. I talk until I am blue in the face. I act out puppet shows. I play games with Darren where he wins points for accurately identifying expressions of emotion in others. When a problem arises, I take the time to help him rehearse his apology, deliver it to the victim and then return to tell me what he said and did to help the other child feel better. It is hard work, and I am at it all the time, day in and day out…and I have nothing to show for it. His preschool teacher has taken me aside to offer tips for ways to begin addressing his aggressive tendencies at home. I heard myself make a sound somewhere between a choke and a snort at that word “begin.” Believe me, I know that I’m not getting anywhere…but don’t think for a second that it’s because I haven’t tried, haven’t tried that special right thing that will work for him, haven’t tried consistently, haven’t, haven’t, haven’t…

I have. And do you know what I’ve realized?

I’ve realized that I’m not the one doing the hitting.

Day in and day out, I model appropriate behavior for my son to follow. I explain the facts of life to him in terms that he can understand; hitting hurts, it is never okay to hurt someone, and to have a friend you must be a friend.

I know from personal experience that I could do more. I could end this problem in no more than a week if I were willing to spank my son, break his will and force him to obey me out of fear. That was how I was raised, and I know that I could get the instant results that everyone (myself included!) seems to want. But that is not how I want to be, as a parent or as a person.

Darren will mature over time, and eventually he will learn to harness his impulses whether or not I am present to drag him off another kid and sit on him until he cools down. He will find out, one way or another, that I am not lying to him when I say that violence is isolating. I’d like to see him learn these lessons sooner rather than later, obviously, but one way or another the lesson will get through to him. Beyond learning to control his temper, however, Darren will learn something else: that I do not lie to him. That I love him. That I want to protect him. That he can trust me to tell him the truth, to give him the best advice I have and to see him through thick or thin.

One way or another, we are going to get through this, and many other things. Together.


Written by GRSeim

October 31, 2011 at 5:12 am

7 Responses

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  1. Oh, oh. I identify with so much of this post it’s frightening – except possibly for the part about martial arts; I wimped out after about two years. But I did love it, and it’s clear to me that Libra has inherited my hotheadedness, my stubbornness, and my physicality. There are days when I end up retreating in sheer frustration (like now, when my partner has the kids out trick or treating, and I am here, hiding, on my computer) because I just don’t know how to address the hitting issue.

    And I’ve tried spanking, not necessarily because I believe it will work (it doesn’t), but because I thought that maybe, possibly, he didn’t understand the connection between hitting and why the other person is crying, and because I couldn’t stand the thought of my youngest growing up to someday ask me why I never punished his brother for beating on him. So you can give a big ol’ middle finger to the people who’ll tell you that “if you’d only spank” – all it does is create bad feeling all around.

    At this point, I’m just hoping to be able to get him into actual martial arts lessons as soon as possible, so that he’ll have somewhere constructive to channel his apparent need to hit things, and hopefully having the messages reinforced from people who are not-me will get through to him.

    tl;dr to say, I sympathize, way too much.


    November 1, 2011 at 2:03 am

    • It’s encouraging to know that we aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue! I’ve read EVERYTHING I can get my hands on related to this topic and I know in my head that it’s a fairly normal problem and that this doesn’t mean that my kid is going to turn out to be a serial killer or anything like that…but I still worry, of course.


      November 1, 2011 at 2:20 am

    • What are your thoughts on the timing of martial arts classes? I am worried about helping him develop skills that he isn’t mature enough to use responsibly. He definitely needs some sort of outlet, though, and your point about having other adults back you up is a good one! I have found that Darren is way more receptive to other adults than to me…which frustrates me to no end.


      November 1, 2011 at 2:29 am

      • The earliest I’ve seen classes start is at the 4-5 years range, and if we’re in a place where that’s possible when Libra gets to that age, we’ll do it. I hear you about the maturity question, because it’s something I think about too; from what I remember of my own years in tae kwon do, though, there’s a very big emphasis on when it is or is not appropriate to use the information you have. I’m sure that varies by instructor, though, so I plan on checking out a variety of them when the time comes.


        November 8, 2011 at 7:02 am

  2. Reading this, one thing stands out above everything else — Darren is so, SO fortunate to have you as a mom. Your creativity and determination and willingness to do the hard work of sticking with your mother-heart rather than cop out and go with the norm* is just amazing. I’m cheering you on, just so you know.

    *I totally believe that one day people are going to look at the practice of spanking like people today look on public floggings as a punitive solution. Just because a form of violence is widely accepted doesn’t make it effective or ethical. ::stepping off soap-box before I get too wound up:: 🙂


    November 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    • Thanks, Bethany! I’m with you on the public flogging comparison. All of the families I grew up with believed firmly in spanking, and I’ve seen 0, nothing, not one good thing come from it. Every single family I knew growing up has had a child attempt suicide, run away from home, develop an eating disorder, get into serious trouble with the police, something of that nature. Three states, eight churches, four homeschool co-ops and every single family has fallen apart in adolescence in a very major way. I understand that many people believe that this practice is prescribed in the Bible (it isn’t) and think that it is THE key to saving their kids’ souls (it isn’t), but ignoring the facts in the name of tolerance doesn’t strike me as a good long-term policy. People in the know really need to speak out on these issues.


      December 16, 2011 at 6:55 am

  3. […] latest bit of excitement has had to do with Darren’s struggles at school. The situation at school deteriorated rapidly over the month of November, with the teacher […]

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