The Matron adores her youngest -- the wild child. -- beyond all reason.
John: "Mary, why do you always say yes when Merrick asks to sleep in our bed? We need to pull together on this and get that kid in his own bed, all the time!"
Matron: "For the record, I am constitutionally incapable of refusing a late-night parental bed request from my baby. If he asks me, he's in. Keep me away from him after 9 pm."
Guess who sleeps with his parents?
The Matron makes light of the bedtime carousel, but has weightier concerns. The gun-toting, dog-loving, tree-climbing Merrick is doing poorly in math. Not just poorly. Emergency-level bad. His teacher actually called for an Official Two-Parent Consult to report that he is failing math.
Matron: "Merrick? What's 8 x 7?"
The situation was significantly dire that the Matron called in the big educational guns and had her son tested for a learning disability. Nope. But Merrick has what the psychologist calls a "perceptual black hole," a gap in his cognitive ability. That gap? He cannot comprehend how parts fit into a whole.
Psychologist: "I showed Merrick a square made out of four sections, took it apart and had him put it back together. He made a straight line. Four times."
The psychologist reported that Merrick was a bright kid and generally strapping young man, but would benefit from individual focused instruction on how all those single digit numbers add up to ten, and the like. So Merrick is headed for four weeks (mornings only) of Summer Academy, a reading, writing and math camp. Starts next week!
Nobody wants to see a new fourth grader unable to add 2 + 2. Right?
In the interim, one of the Matron's wise blog readers threw yours truly for a loop. She queried: why send a gun-toting, dog-loving, tree-climbing nine year old to squirm in a desk all summer? Perhaps--and the Matron is paraphrasing -- this child will thrive if he's tossed into the woods. An all body boy might not actually bloom in school. Thanks Suburban Correspondent!
This gave the Matron pause. Summer school is just four weeks, mornings only, out of the 12 week vacation. Merrick needs the instruction. But the Matron took a hard, self-critical look at how Merrick spent his time outside of school.
In front of the television.
More and more, that child had been gravitating toward TV. He argued at bedtime, not just about the parental bed but any - didn't want to go. He'd been having trouble falling asleep and rising early. Left to his own devices, he still grabbed a gun but carried it to the couch. With chips.
The television and computer were -- are -- superior in their cage-like capabilities. The Matron and her husband, who both work largely from home, both need to - well -- work. With and around their three children. They are also stage parents, schlepping Scarlett from one show to the next, another rehearsal, audition or now voice rehabilitation. HWCBN had baseball, debate. Driving to school. Teenagers -- at least theirs -- want to talk. They require energy, tutelage and concentration.
The Matron and her husband were all offhand, been there and done that, with third-graders. So they took the path of least resistance and let the television and computer take turns raising their child. Things have been even worse, as of late. HWCBN is gone for most of the summer (debate institute), Scarlett is still in school (year-round all-girls school) with theatre and friends in the evenings, most of Merrick's buddies are in day-care full-time. His only remaining reliable companion? TV.
A few days ago, the Matron juggled all this information: the poor behavior, problems in school, Suburban's advice, impending summer school, screen fixation, the absence of friends and siblings. Actually, she didn't just 'juggle.' She stood in the center of it all -- and knew.
Because she knows -- and loves -- this child.
No more TV.
On Monday, new screen rules -- okay, first ever screen rules -- were presented to Merrick. The parents tried to keep it simple: no television or computer from 9 am until after dinner. Not a quick game of bowling on the wii, not just one tiny episode of The Office. No youtube dog videos. Nothing. And no, it didn't matter what the older children were doing visa vie screen time. This rule was the household rule for children, twelve and under. Which was only him.
Friends, there were tears. Withdrawal and denial. He might as well have been attending his first AA meeting. He begged, pleased, bargained, cajoled and reasoned. That child raged about life's injustices. He pouted in his room and swore of all of humanity.
Until . . . he remembered his tent! Why, wasn't there a tent he could put up in the backyard? Indeed! The Matron could not pull out that tent fast enough. And . . . wasn't there a big box of untouched leggos in the basement? Yes! Here they are, darling! Merrick speculated that Scruffy needed a bath. Why, he could do it! During a routine Target run, he expressed interest in a BOOK which the Matron promptly tossed in the cart, library be damned. She was seizing that moment. Merrick had not willingly touched anything with text in four months.
Buying band-aids, Merrick inquired about the $8 package of 100 latex gloves.
Merrick: "Mom? Can we buy those? I have a couple of ideas for them."
This morning, Merrick forgot about television before nine. He had 12 solid hours of sleep under his skinny little belt, the second in a row after happily going to bed at a reasonable time -- in his own room. That child popped awake, grabbed ten latex gloves, a cap gun, a comic book and headed to his tree for some reading and what-not.
This is Day Three.
She knows, she knows . . . she's all Pink Cloud and La-La-Land and also probably entirely discovering what everyone else already knew. Parenting is like that. In all honesty, less Matronly income-generating activity has taken place. There have been a few dark moments when the dogs and outdoors and no tent would suffice: Merrick wanted just a few minutes of TV. She couldn't even find those few minutes to attend to this blog.
The final bright side to the screen ban is that for the very first time, the Matron and her husband scheduled work hours. One parent is fully on domestic duty and other, hunkered in an office. So for the first time in oh so many years, the Matron hasn't been checking email and scanning online classes in every free minute. Instead, she worked from 8 to noon Wednesday morning and will return to the trade on Friday.
Excuse her now. She and Merrick are biking to the dollar store, rounding through the park on the way home, and then headed downtown St. Paul where they plan to window shop. As God-Buddha-Allah-Oprah-Universe is her witness, window shopping was Merrick's idea. Then Merrick has offered to help make dinner.
Sixteen years into parenting, the Matron is smart enough to know a corner that needs to be turned when she comes to one. Not yet on the other side, but she is definitely rounding. It feels good.