Number 3 and I have been going head to head recently.
Of all the kids in the house, he’s the one that frustrates me the most right now.
This title of MFK (Most Frustrating Kid) shifts from child to child.
It seems just as one of them settles into a happy and agreeable place, another one fills the button-pushing spot.
Number 3 has held this title for a while. And I’ve pretty much been blaming it all on him.
Even though I know that’s not where the problem is starting. I wish he was the reason. I wish I could justify simply pointing my finger at him.
But I can’t. Because it’s not all on him.
It’s all on me, really.
But it’s so much easier to point the finger in the other direction!
One of the solutions to this problem was made abundantly clear to me last week.
It’s very simple.
I don’t spend enough time with him.
I don’t spend enough time with any of the kids, really.
Obviously the number of kids we have poses a challenge.
Then there is the fact that I coach the swim team every night from 5 – 8 pm.
I’m out the door just as most of them are getting off the bus, and I’m not home until just before bed time. Every single night.
I coach the groups that Number 4, Number 5 and Number 7 swim in, so I do at least spend that time with them.
It’s not exactly quality, one-on-one time, but at least I am interacting with them, and I’m also watching them do what they do. Which kids love. (Although coaching your own kids among a whole team as opposed to being able to watch your child and focus mostly on them isn’t the same thing, but that’s a topic for a whole different blog post).
Since Number 4 swims in the last practice of the night, we drive home together. Just the two of us.
Even though it’s only a five minute drive from the pool to the house, Number 4 and I have a daily opportunity for a one-on-one conversation in the car. We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary, but it’s still our special time. And I know it’s special to her because last night Number 5 stayed late after her practice and came home with us.
And Number 4 was pissed.
“MOM! WHY IS SHE COMING HOME WITH US??? WHY DIDN’T DAD COME AND GET HER???”
Number 3 gets pretty much no time with me.
He swims in an earlier practice with a different coach at a different pool, and I usually drop him off first before I take everyone else to their practices. So we are rarely in the car alone together where we would have an opportunity to talk about anything.
Then there is the fact that I’m often dropping him off late or one minute before practice starts, so he has to rush into the pool, which he hates. I don’t blame him. I hate being late because of someone else, too.
And when that happens, he is super short-tempered and annoyed, he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, and he leaves the car with a heavy sigh followed by a loud door slam.
When his practice is over, my husband picks him up, and he’s home for about two hours before I get back from practice.
And by that time it’s late, it’s time for everyone to get into bed, and I’m tired and running very low on patience.
All of our weekdays are like that.
The weekends aren’t much better.
About two weeks ago, Number 3 got pretty sick. He got strep and bronchitis and had a stomach bug, and who knows what else.
After about a week of being on antibiotics and pretty much staying in bed, he wasn’t contagious anymore and he was definitely feeling better, but he was still coughing. A LOT. Too much to send him to school.
The doctor had recommended that all the kids get outside as often as possible to get some fresh air, and we had some unseasonably warm weather last week.
65 degrees in Connecticut in February!
So I told Number 3 we were going for a walk.
There is a newly constructed Greenway in town, and I thought we could check it out.
Number 3 was not impressed with me. I didn’t know where I was going, and he didn’t understand exactly what this whole greenway-thing was. Venturing into anything unknown causes major anxiety in him.
“MOM! THIS IS STUPID!”
“MOM! WHERE THE HECK ARE WE GOING?”
“MOM! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WONDER WHY I’M NOT IN SCHOOL.”
Once I realized where the entrance was, he reluctantly followed me.
“Mom! This place is actually kind of cool,” he told me after approximately 30 seconds of walking.
We walked and walked.
We talked about anything and everything.
We walked from one end of the trail to the other.
And then, as we were heading back to the car, Number 3 asked, “Mom, can we do this again?”
The next day was also beautiful out, and the cough was still pretty bad, so we went for another walk. I suggested that maybe the whole family could go for a walk on the weekend and Number 3 yelled, NO, MOM!
I asked him if he wanted it to be our special place.
“Kind of, ” he said to me.
That was the light bulb moment for me. That’s when it clicked that I haven’t been giving Number 3 what he really wants. And needs. This kind of attention. Not for doing something infuriating or negative. But genuine quality time. Special attention. Just me and him.
The following day Number 3 went back to school.
He also decided he wanted to try to go to swim practice when he got home.
Rather than do the after school scramble with everyone, I left the younger three in Number 4’s care for ten minutes so we could leave early and he wouldn’t have to rush. That would give the younger kids a few extra minutes to get their swim stuff ready, and I’d come back home and get everyone after I dropped Number 3 off.
He was thankful to be leaving early and not to be rushing, and in the car he was talkative and relaxed — the complete opposite of how he’d acted in the last couple months.
When I pulled up to the front door of the pool and came to a stop, Number 3 wasn’t sighing heavily or rolling his eyes. He was calm. And he was happy.
And as he opened the door and got out of the car, I looked back at him from the driver’s seat and told him to have a good practice.
Number 3 looked at me and he smiled.
“Thanks,” he said.
And then, for the first time in, well…
Honestly for the first time in as long as I can remember,
Number 3 looked at me, and he smiled again, and then he said, “I love you, Mom.”
And with that, he gently closed the door, turned around and walked into the pool.