One of the things I often think about is how I can’t protect Rockstar from the world. There’s junkfood, and tv, and a-holes out there. So I wanted him to start learning as soon as possible to do it himself.
When I first had the thought however, it was to do with food. In Rockstar’s first year of life, I was strict. Breastmilk (pumped years ago around a full time job in a dealing room -friends/ ex-colleagues have joked that this is why Rockstar is very much not easygoing – during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, I was either sweating over lunchtime conference calls involving investment product termsheets, or battling stick-up-your-bum Compliance), rice, organic veggies, bread. I loosened up considerably when he got older and started going to school, but then faced with prospects of Halloween candy and birthday party loot bags filled junk food was when it occurred to me I couldn’t keep every candy bar and potato crisp out of his reach forever. He has to want the wholesome stuff even when I’m not looking. Sounds like a parenting mantra I could use for a lot of things in life.
So I began communicating what food was really for: Fuel, for a growing mind and body. Feed your growing body junk, and you will have less room for the good stuff. Less good stuff means a less well-functioning brain or body. It worked passably well – I don’t need to hide sugar from him, and he can “social junk-binge” freely – at parties, accepting handouts from salesgirls distracting him while I shop (he hates when I shop). A standard birthday loot bag of junk takes him couple weeks to get through.
If he takes in more sugar when we eat out, he doesn’t ask for more at home, for a few days or longer. Too many salty chips, drink more water. And no more for awhile. Conversely if he doesn’t feel like broccoli at dinner, he has more carrots – and makes up his broccoli intake the next day (this is partly my mildly obsessive compulsive fault, I talk to him about it as a reflex… But I do know friends who keep Food Diaries of everything that passes their child’s lips, including whether the foods are fried. And no, their child has never had a weight problem, they’ve just always done it as part of their regular parenting.)
Then I recently tried to do the playdate equivalent for the first time. With umm, a little less success…
Rockstar’s angry holler cuts through our apartment. Both us mums know our boys are strong-willed. We’d discussed letting them sort it out between them – there would be a lot of friction as they locked horns, but the boys have very different strengths and weaknesses. We thought it would be useful if they learned to live with each other. Uh, eventually. I pick furious, bawling Rockstar up and close the bedroom door for timeout.
15 minutes later, Rockstar rejoins the group on his own, leaving me in the room. When he also seems to be following our guest around before they have to go to school, I think Ah, He’s Learning To Work Things Out. Except hours later during car pool, another fight escalates into Rockstar practically foaming at the mouth before passing out cold (well he also had a late previous night and that morning scream-fest).
When he comes to, I ask if he’s ready to talk. “Yes,” solemnly. “Just now, that was me. I was the naughty one. But earlier was not me. <pause> I’m still angry.”
If you’ve watched Singapore sitcom Phua Chu Kang, there was a scene in the opening credits from when the characters were all little kids playing in the neighborhood. Chu Kang and the other boys run ahead with the soccer ball, and younger, smaller, bespectacled Phua Chu Beng is calling after them, “That’s my ball!” (My turn to kick, I guess he means.)
I keep thinking That could be Rockstar. He’s little, and sometimes during play he creates a lot of rules in his little head: Each child should take a turn on each mum’s cellphone game (not say, play separately on their own mums’ phones). Taking turns on a scooter means going 3 rounds each. It is not yet his turn if the other child has done only 2 1/2 rounds. Any changes to The Rules should be proposed (not simply carried out) and he should have a few moments to decide to agree (he usually does, but WHO goes around verbalizing Changes To The Rules???). The Rockstar has a black belt in red tape. (And if you have a joke about me and Compliance during pregnancy, restrain yourself please. I can feel some of old friends/ ex-colleagues thinking it. Shutup.)
But that’s where the similarity to Chu Beng ends, because when he gets treated like Chu Beng, he turns into a pint-sized Incredible Hulk. Who also has ties with the Mafia (he doesn’t forget easy.) A girlfriend whose extremely easy-going boy gives in to everything has actually told me at least Rockstar doesn’t take everything lying down. Erm…………..but…………. Anyway doesn’t matter how you spin it, Rockstar’s not easygoing. So I can’t pretend in my raising of him that he is.
Maybe it’s also a chemistry thing. Even on things I think both boys are usually easygoing over, put them together and watch their competitive hackles rise. Still, for the rest of the evening, I feel lousy. (I later realize it’s partly because Rockstar has not had an all-out scream-fest, let alone two in a day, for more than 6 months. So my tolerance level for scream-fests has gotten a little low.) “You need to start learning how to deal with your anger. Shrieking at the top of your lungs is not a solution, if you can’t communicate what the problem is, how do you expect anyone respond?”
Rockstar is apologetic but adamant. “Ok, Mum. He makes me angry, so I’ll stay away from him.” Uh…….. Seriously unsure that was the response I was looking for. “Can you just make up for (your frothing at the mouth in the car at pickup time) by doing better in your own class please?” <Avoid commenting. Because while I really hoped he would learn to handle his emotion better, frankly I still avoid people I can’t stand if they make me angry. And how can you ever force kids to be friends, real friends?>
“<Heavy, theatrical sigh> Oh-kaaaaay.”
Wow. No One Knows The Trouble He’s Seen.
Regretfully, I take out my cellphone and hold off the next playdate til I can get Rockstar to come round (and I’m not sure when that’ll be, the Rockstar is his own little man and I can only check his temperature and debate him through the week, he’s not a Let Me Try And Please My Mum boy, more Is Mum Making Any Sense Boy), even as he chatters on in the bath. Without impending school interviews, I would’ve been more inclined to push it. As is, I have to leave off for now. But this conversation isn’t over.
It wasn’t simply me liking Other Mum, therefore wanting Rockstar to get along with her child – it was our ability to have a frank discussion about our boys’ and our own (perceived parenting) weaknesses, not just strengths, that I really valued. Ever been on playdates where the other mum just goes on about how far ahead of everyone else her child is? Or what a good job she’s doing? How about the ones where the other child (or for that matter their own child) is always at fault? If you find someone who tries not to be all those things AND has a child the same age as yours AND a similar schedule, don’t let them get away. (And if you’re guilty of any of the above, as we all are from time to time, rethink.) It’s a jungle out there.
Me (to Kings, later that night): …….so it sucks, <indicating still-apologetic-but-adamant Rockstar hanging about listening in as usual> sometimes you’re just WHY do you have to be friends with him, his mum fake-numbered me/ is annoying/ on crack/ nuts.
Kings: Get him a hamster. (To Rockstar) You can get along with a hamster, right?
Rockstar: I want a horse. Does JD (our Border Collie) herd horses?
Apparently these people think that’s funny.