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Let Them Eat Cake…?

Back when we moved in to this house, I quickly looked at the hall bathroom and realized it wouldn’t work for my mom.  For you see, she needs an ADA toilet, and the existing one was way too short.

So, we picked out a new toilet, and Troy and my father-in-law set to work at replacing it.

Then we realized that the vanity was too large for my mom’s wheelchair to make it in the bathroom.  So, we decided to replace the vanity.

Then, since we were replacing the vanity, my father-in-law pointed out that the old linoleum might get damaged with ripping things up, and we should just replace that too.

What started out as needing a new toilet, became a bathroom with just sub-flooring and a shower.  I kept walking by saying “how in the world did we end up here from something so simple”.

That’s kind of how I feel today.  I apparently started a weird shit storm on Facebook with what I assumed was a simple question.  And yes, we all know what happens when we assume, right?

Before I go in to what happened, I need to take you back, way back. (cue time machine music).

From the time my kid could use his body independently, he’s been using it to touch other people.  He is a very tactile kid.  Some of those touches were good, and some were of the “ok, you’re not being nice” variety.  He cannot run in a group of people without elbowing someone who is close to him, and he cannot walk by a friend or someone who looks upset without hugging them, giving them a high five, etc.

The idea of a space bubble is something we’ve worked on for years.  YEARS.  He’s been in two preschools, and now kindergarten.  And I’ve shared my past struggles with you all in this space.  I’ve shared how my kid is always the high-energy touchy one.  I’ve never once proclaimed to know how to do this mom thing.

At preschool it was “these are things to work on”, and now that he is in “school” school, it’s becoming a legitimate issue.

We’ve tried everything over the years.  EVERYTHING.  I felt like we’ve read every book, tried every form of sticker charts, reward systems, punishments, positive reinforcement.  EVERYTHING.  It’s exhausting to constantly have the kid in every situation where the parents give the side eye because he can’t keep his mitts to himself. I’ve cried myself to sleep many a time just trying to figure out what the hell to do with this, and how to get him to understand.

Secretly we call him Lenny like from Of Mice and Men.  We say he likes to pet the rabbits, but sometimes he just pets too hard.

Now, let’s flash forward a bit to the start of school.  We talked for weeks and weeks leading up to kindergarten about boundaries, personal space, keeping our hands to yourself, etc, etc.,  And on day three, he got on the “red” portion of the color chart for talking out of turn, tattling, and putting his hands on others.  So, we talked and talked and talked about different ideas on how to fix this.

And then the next week, he did the same thing again.

So, the next week, there was punishment.  He lost dessert, he lost TV, and he lost movie night (it was a Friday). And we talked some more, and more, and more.

And then there was a blissful two weeks where his reports were pretty decent, and Troy and I were high fiving each other, because hey “this time something we tried was WORKING”!!!! And it felt really really good.

Let’s now flash forward to Thursday, the day of Jack’s parent teacher conferences.  It was conference week for the whole school, so this wasn’t a specially called conference.  I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a beat down.  Working in corporate, we’re very specific about using “sandwich” style feedback.  You start off by saying something the person does well at, then talk about areas for improvement, and finish with another positive.

Picture a 20 minute conference.  17 of those minutes were “this is everything you kid basically sucks at” (and now, she didn’t use those words, but it felt like it).

Huge issues are: tattling, putting his hands on other kids (newsflash), distracting other kids, and not being an all around great citizen.  She told us she has sent Jack to the interventionist a few times to work on impulse control, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.  She told us she needed us to also work on this at home.  I wanted to sob, because we have.  We have tried SO HARD.  I asked her for additional resources because we had been working on these things, and the suggestion we got back was “be consistent, and if he doesn’t get a good report at school, there needs to be repercussions at home”.  Ack, again, things we’ve tried.

Then the last three minutes were “oh, and he reads at the fourth grade reading level, we stopped testing him for site words at the third grade level, when we do the 15 minute number writing tests, most of the kids flip their lid after 2 minutes of trying to write to 10, but Jack got to 100 in 6 minutes, and was upset he couldn’t keep going”.  Oh, and here is a chart showing the average of all kids in the class and their reading comprehension.  And this line here that goes off that page, well that is Jack.

Before you comment that “Jack is bored and not being challenged”, the answer is for sure.  But in defense of school and his teacher, even while challenged, Jack exhibits similar behaviors, so it’s not just a matter of making sure he is learning at the appropriate level.

So, we came home, feeling like we had been kicked in the gut, and feeling SO discouraged.  That night, while Jack was in the bath, he and I had a really long conversation.  We talked about specific behaviors that needed to be improved, and we also talked about what in the world we were going to do if this continued at school.  I listed bunch of consequences I was thinking of, and then he got to select what thought was appropriate.  Options: no dessert, no TV, and no Nerf guns.  He chose no dessert, and when I said “and for how long” he said “a month”.  I said “let’s dial it back a bit”, and he chose two weeks.  At this point, I was desperate for RESULTS, so we agreed to it.

He also came up with the idea of having something on his desk like a sign that helps him visually remember what to work on.  We talked about what to put on it, and then I said I’d make it over the weekend, and we’d laminate it so it would be strong, and really help him remember.  I took him to school on Friday, and we talked all about impulse control, and what he needed to work on that day.  We talked about making good choices. Just a point of clarification, we always discuss good CHOICES and bad CHOICES, instead of “you were a bad kid today”.  We want to him to realize that the choices he makes now don’t define who he is, i.e., “that was a bad choice, but you’re still a good kid”.  I felt pumped!  He was board, I was on board, and this was going to work.

And then I picked him up from school and was told that he was in trouble twice in for the same thing (putting his hands on other kids) within 50 minutes of the day starting.

I have never wanted to scream so loud and for so long in my life.  The amount of incompetency I felt in that moment as a parent cannot be measured.  Maybe NASA can figure out a scale that would adequately demonstrate my sense of hopelessness in that moment.

We got in the car, and Jack said “I lost dessert, didn’t I” and I said “yep”.  We got home, and he smarted off to me, and I sent him to his room.  For a really long time.  I couldn’t properly speak to him when I was in that frame of mind.  It wouldn’t be fair my extreme anger in that moment to be projected on to him.  It was only what I could describe as an out of body moment.  I was watching myself crumble and deconstruct in the kitchen.

So he stayed in his room for a really long time.  I went in there, and he had fallen asleep on his bed.

I woke him up, and we talked about why he was in his room for so long.  And then, because I was all out of rational words at that moment, I broke down.  I sobbed, I ugly cried.  I whole body shook cried.  Which naturally set Jack off crying.  When we could both calm down long enough to talk, I explained why I was crying and how I was so frustrated that I didn’t have any more words to explain my feelings.  We then started crying again, and he said “I’ll do better mommy, I promise” which just broke my heart and made me sob harder.

We sat on his bedroom floor crying, rocking, and snuggling for probably 45 minutes.  I kept hugging him, and kissing him, and we wiped each others tears.  I ended it with “I will always love you no matter what, but this behavior has to stop”.

And we went out to the computer and made the sign we talked about taping to his desk at school:

  • F: Feet and hands to myself at all times.
  • O: Only talk when called on. No tattling!
  • C: Carefully do my work and not distract others.
  • U: Use my words and not my body. No tattling!
  • S: Space bubble – respect other’s personal space.

FOCUS JACK! Make good choices!

Troy was gone last night, so Jack and I ended up sleeping in my bed, crying a bit more, and snuggling pretty much most of the night.  Please note, Jack does consider a foot in my ribs while in deep sleep “snuggling”.

I woke up this morning, realizing he had a birthday party to go to this morning, and holy crud, what about the whole no dessert thing.  I thought “hey, let’s get some input”, and posted the following on Facebook:

Would love some input. After Jack’s behavior yesterday at school, I took away dessert for 2 weeks.

He has a birthday party today. Do I include the cake as dessert and make him sit this one out? On one hand, that shows I mean business. On the other hand, he’ll be super called out at the party because of it.

Leaning towards allowing him to earn a small slice of cake based on his behavior at the party. And then no dessert at home for 2 weeks still stand.

What say you? Help me find the perfect mix of “Hurricane Hardass” and “help him improve”!

And wow, there were some comments indeed.  I would say most were civil and helpful, but some where so far out of left field that I thought “they don’t know the background here, and I did a piss poor job of explaining the situation”.  There seemed to be a lot of questions about how being punished at home by taking away the dessert  at home helped him realize his behavior at school, and that the type of punishment should reflect what he did wrong.  So, I posted this:

Ok, so it seems like my last post didn’t give enough info. my bad!

1) today’s party is not for Jack. his birthday is in april. I would not take him as a punishment but the host prepaid for each kid. I would just give her cash, but we pulled out of this same party last yr because of a last minute cold.

2) the issue at school is ongoing since school started. we had a conference with jack’s teacher on Thurs. Thurs night jack and I had a long talk about what if things didn’t improve, what would the consequences be. HE chose the dessert as his punishment for future reoccurances of the same behavior. Including the length of time.

3) he got in trouble the very next day for the same thing at school. He knew what was coming if he didn’t improve.

4) he is getting in trouble for being handsy and in people’s faces at school. To make the punishment fit the crime, what would I do…not touch him or hug him for a day or so?

There is more to this behavior thing at school which I will post in my blog tomorrow, but the important facts are he chose his dessert punishment and had many many warnings before the hammer came down.

hope that clears up any questions!

And wouldn’t you believe it, it didn’t clear up any questions.  It seems to have brought out more, including being accused of shaming my kid, him likely having ADHD, and being the kind of mother that wouldn’t hug my child as a punishment.  I really think we need to teach people how to read sarcasm in 10th grade English.

And then Jack and I went to the party, which was like the North Korea of dead zones for cell reception, and I didn’t really have a chance to read many more comments because I couldn’t even access texts on my phone.

And it was a good thing (I’m really starting a lot of sentences with “and” today…),  a really really REALLY good thing.  Because I could think about the situation and be calm, rather than being an ass all over Facebook trying to defend myself.

It was a roller skating party, and my boy can’t skate to save his life.  We held hands, and went very slowly around the rink.  VERY slowly, and I pipped in with some tips, and tricks, and MY thoughts on how HE should learn to skate.

And it didn’t work.  He ended up falling a ton, which I knew was going to happen, but he was having none of it.  He got so frustrated at one point, that he “skated” away from me saying “I don’t want your help”.  He ended up falling in the middle of the rink.  Lots of kids skated by him and said “you should get up”, and a few skated over to me saying “Jack fell”.

I really didn’t want to run out there and just pick him up.  I needed him to learn that even when you feel awful because you can’t do something, or can’t do something well, you can always get back up and try again.

After watching him struggle for a bit, a little girl who was great at skating, skated over.  She didn’t say anything, she didn’t tell him he wasn’t doing it correctly, she silently held out her hand, and helped him up, and they skated off together.  Jack later told me “skating was fun with a friend”.

And isn’t that what we all need some times?  To be allowed to make mistakes without being humiliated, told we’re wrong, and that clearly we’re terrible at this task?  It seems like a hand up, a smile, and some grace speaks so much more than anything.

So, to people on Facebook who suggested books, and other things, I’ve written them down and will be checking them out at the library.  I’ve probably read it already, but it doesn’t hurt to try again, right?  If we fall down, we get back up.

To anyone who had less than helpful comments, and felt better about themselves by trying to make me feel bad about my parenting, I offer you my hand, a smile, and hoping that this tough ass job we call motherhood would be better experienced with a friend.

God bless.



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78 comments on “Let Them Eat Cake…?”

  1. Oh how I feel for you! And I am about to give you a TON of hope ๐Ÿ™‚

    My son in kindergarten and first grade- total nightmare. He was constantly in the principals office for some of the similar behaviors your son is having trouble with. He was almost put in a 5 pt harness on the bus because he wouldn’t stay properly seated. I had many-o big ugly cries because of his behavior. I have one other older son that NEVER behaved like this and a younger daughter who had better social skills than her older brother.

    My son was diagnosed with ADHD at 4 (not medicated controlled by diet) and mild SPD. He was HARD to discipline (nothing really stuck long term) he was hard to handle- but he was never really bad. He has a heart of gold and is very sweet and social- but just doesn’t take to social ques and is so dang implosive and active. He was given the nickname of “Tazz” from my husbands co-work after just seeing him for 5 minutes.

    So now- he is in second grade. I got a phone call from the teacher a few nights ago (I talked to her before school started about some common issues with my son) and I thought “here we go again…” BUT she was calling to tell me how WONDERFUL he is!!! We turned a corner. He LISTENS! He keeps his hands to himself! He follows rules!! He talks when it is his turn!!! He is creative and loving and unique (all things I knew- but to hear someone say that instead of all negative.. meant the world to me!)

    So.. here is my advice from a mom that has been there, done that! Do what feels right to you. Keep loving him. Keep guiding him. Keep truckin’ along momma! It will get better. You many not feel like it- but he is learning from you. Once the maturity catches up it will get better. And as for the judging- been there too. It can make you feel so small. But if you do what feels right and follow intuition you will get there. What I remind myself when it gets hard- “God gave me this child because HE knew I was the best mom for him.” Even when you don’t know what is the right thing to do- you are the right mom to help him reach his potential.

    I swear it is the genius children that are the hardest to raise ๐Ÿ˜€ Sounds like Jack is a little genius. I know my little Landan is super smart too ๐Ÿ˜€

    • I love that — “God gave me this child because HE knew I was the best mom for him.” What a great mantra, something all mothers should hear. Okay, now I have to go call my mom and tell her I love her.


    • The call from the teacher made me smile a huge smile. I’m so thrilled you are all at a place now where he has a good fit. I hope we get to that point soon as well.

  2. I am so sorry for the shitstorm on FB. You are his mom, and you are doing the best you can. It will work out. Hugs. I hate crappy days.

  3. Well, that settles it. Jack has an incurable disease. He’s a BOY. They all act like this at one time or another. I have the fortune of having 3 of these creatures. While they love their moms with all their hearts, they are foreign creatures. You’re doing a great job, and don’t let anyone mom-shame you otherwise just so they can feel like high & mighty wretches. At the end of they day, he’s a 5 yr old little boy who is testing boundaries. I recommend a hearty dose of ice cream for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Nothing like a good mom shaming to start the day! I read your follow up post and it sounds like you’re doing much better than I would in the same situation.

    The only thing I can muster when being judged by fellow mothers is a rage induced exclamation of “DERP DERP DERP!” You’re much more eloquent ๐Ÿ™‚

    And also, you’re doing great, which I’m sure is not so helpful from an internet stranger…but all the same. Keep on keepin’ on!

  5. WHOA! What I took from this is your comment “This shit is hard”. I purposely didn’t read the FB thread first because I can imagine the procession of ‘input’.

    What I love about this is comments from your loyal readers who are not those who blog about perfect children when they are still toddlers (personal peeve= come back and tell us how highschool went). Great comments from your peeps with good support, ideas and advice that is non judgy.

    I’m a ‘school interventionist’ (school psychologist) and am married to a grown up Jack. (when we met I was in my internship and he told me “I was tested by someone like you!”). Your Jack will be just fine because he is super smart and kind. Believe me when I say that the school should be more worried about less capable mean kids. I have seen many kids who have early issues turn out just fine because they are smart and kind. You are also super involved parents….schools tend to report more stuff to those who listen. Jack is a perfect storm…totally bright, wants to do well and has parents who care. That’s all that matters; it will get better and he will go on to do great things but hang in there for the time being.

    He’s your awesome little man.

  6. Hi Sarah,

    First of all, I love your blog, especially your honesty and sarcasm! You are one of the hardest working mamas I know and thanks for taking the time to share your life with us. I can only imagine some of the off-handed comments and feedback you must deal with. Some people just seem to really get their jollies from putting down and judging others.

    I am a mom with twin 5 year-olds who are both on the autism spectrum. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but has this ever been a consideration for Jack? I obviously only know him through your blogs, but you have shared traits that are common for high-functioning autistic children (and remind me of some boys I have met in our local autism community). He doesn’t sound ADD/ADHD at all. You have described him as having troubles socially, as far as understanding personal boundaries and interacting with other kids. Behavioral and social skills are two main factors in an autism diagnosis.

    I am not an autism specialist, just a mama trying to be helpful. I apologize if this has been touched on already. And please do not read into my comment as anything more than a suggestion. I did see in one comment that you have a referral for a behavioral therapist. I think that would be a good start. And an OT can quickly discern if Jack’s lack of a personal bubble is a sensory-seeking behavior. I would suggest moving forward with that because you have done so much already.

    Good luck and hang in there!

  7. Oh my gosh! You have been through the wringer. I have gone back and forth with whether or not to post – you’ve had more than a fair share of replies and I don’t know that I’ve got anything different to add. Just please know you are not alone with your struggles.

    Though my son is much older – he’s 23 now – we went through many of the same issues. His first few years of pre-K and elementary school were tough. He was bright, funny, charming but also talkative and loved to be in the middle of things. Like you, there were several conferences and phone calls about misbehavior. Lots of promises on my son’s part about improvements. He was labeled as a difficult student and it effected everything. It reached a pinnacle in 3rd grade – with a very uncompromising teacher. It was a tough, tough year. Ultimately, we had to move for work reasons to another state and it made all the difference. The new state/school district had many more resources, ideas and a seemingly endless belief in my son. From 4th grade on, we had no problems. He was homecoming prince in 9th and 10th grade and starting quarterback all four years.

    From the very beginning our situation boiled down to my son’s inability to focus on task, be quiet and follow instruction. No amount of punishment/incentive had any permanent affect. I think the root cause for my son was that I put him in kindergarten too soon – he just didn’t have the age appropriate skills yet. He should have had another year to mature. In our home state, kindergarten was for any child who turned 5 before Sept 1. My son turned 5 on Aug 31. I had the option to postpone for a year, but I pushed ahead thinking it wouldn’t be any big deal. It was a huge deal. And since it was a concept he never really learned, it continued to be a problem for a long time.

    Here’s what I learned through our whole experience:

    – At this age your handsome little boy wants nothing more than to make you happy. You and your husband are the biggest and best influences. Continue to have those moments where you build him up and encourage him. Sometimes what happened during the school day could really wear my son down. It was heartbreaking. He wanted so much to be good.

    – The chemistry between my son and his teacher was paramount. If my son felt like his teacher was behind him, he would bend over backward to accomplish any task. This was true in elementary school and it was true in high school English composition, biology and choir (because girls are in choir, lol). When my son was labeled the bad kid in 3rd grade, everything fell apart. The teacher and my son completely disengaged. He would spend days ignored by his teacher with his head down on his desk and his jacket over his head. When we moved to the new state, I shared my concerns with the new principal. He kept an eye on all his classes and made any necessary adjustments. His grades soared, he won the best citizen award that year for helping an autistic boy with hearing sensitivities during fire drills. The difference between 3rd grade and 4th grade were night and day. We learned a bad fit with a teacher could result in failing easy subjects (math and science) while a good fit with difficult subjects (history, writing) could have straight As.

    – You are his best advocate. I have a hard time speaking up, making waves, etc. This was never truer than with the 3rd grade teacher. She felt like she’d been teaching for 30 years, she had a system and she wasn’t going to alter her system for anyone. I didn’t necessarily want her to change her system but I did want her to see my son as a person who was trying and to recognize the attempts instead of constantly belittling him. I didn’t stand up for him and he suffered.

    – The school my son was in through 3rd grade was a well-respected private school that cost a fortune. The school were my son excelled was a public school. Find what works best for your family. I remember telling my son’s high school principal at graduation that at every meeting with teachers, I felt like teachers were solely focused on my son – that outta 1000 kids they were only interested in him and what was best for him. That’s something every kid should experience.

    I’m not going to say everything was perfect with sunshine and roses. There was always a difficult transition at the beginning of every school year as we tried to find the right balance in teachers. Sometimes he just had to struggle through the year with a teacher that wasn’t a perfect fit. But he needed to learn how to get along with people he didn’t necessarily agree with or like and still succeed.

    I have to say that when I read your initial post about Jack’s classroom behaviors – my heart went out to you. I felt so helpless in those first few school years. That 3rd grade year felt like a huge dark whole had swallowed me up and I know it must have been worse for my son. I was heartbroken for him. I felt like a failure and I was frustrated with my son (why couldn’t he just behave????).

    So really, after typing all that out, I have nothing really helpful to add. Just know that you are not alone – many parents struggle with similar issues. The great thing about social media is that you can get a million different opinions, ideas and experiences. The bad thing about social media is that you can get a million different opinions, ideas and experiences. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you can ignore all the negativity and find comfort in those that support you. Ultimately, this is your life, your son, your family. Make the decisions that are best for you and I believe the best will come.

  8. I don’t have kids, and I don’t have any room to talk. And frankly, my opinion shouldn’t matter. But I think you’re wonderful, and also think that you should know that. I’m sorry you had a rough day with facebook and parenting and teacher’s conferences. But you’re still wonderful, and even moreso for your tenacity and for caring. Don’t give up. It will all work out. I don’t have kids, but I was a difficult one, and I know this to be true.

  9. Oh, how I wish I could hug you and then turn around and to slap all those dingbats on FB who think they know your kid better than you!
    I, too, am married to a Jack– only his name is Jeff! He was full of bad choices in school. In fact, I don’t imagine he ever made good choices from the stories I have heard. He was super popular- Homecoming King, etc- but the class clown. His ‘bad’ choices included peeing on the radiator so when the heat kicked on, the whole school smelled, and other things that make me shake my head and think, “OMG.” Back in the 60s and 70s though, he would be punished by “paddling.” It did take him until after he graduated before he “outgrew” his bad decision making, though!
    Flash forward and we have now been married 30+ years and he is the most loving husband and the best father around. It is like he got all his “bad” choices out of the way when he was a kid so he only had room to make good choices in his life.
    We now have a grandson that has made his share of “bad” choices in K and 1st grade with our daughter and son-in-law having multiple conferences at school, lots of tears, lots of yelling and so much frustration. Finally Jeff stepped up and said to them, “You know he is just a kid, right? You can’t expect a kid to act like an adult.” And that was the turning point. When they stopped expecting him to act older than he was and they talked to the school about it, things started to change.
    We are now 8 weeks into the new school year and there hasn’t been a single call from the school. He is excelling at school and was even elected as the 2nd grade representative to the student council.
    I guess what I am trying to say is maybe Jack needs to be Jack! He may not be ready to NOT violate other children’s personal space so instead of getting upset and punishing him, try turning it around and say something like I bet Suzy doesn’t like when you touch her or get so close to her. Or I bet Mike would rather you didn’t put your hands on him. That way it isn’t all about Jack.
    No one knows your kid like you do so keep your head up, Mama, and if you need any help slapping a few dingbats, give me a call ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Hey, just my 2 cents: Birthday cake isn’t normal dessert, but a way of celebrating someone else’s life, so I wouldn’t include it . . .
    Anyway, love you! I’m way past raising kids, but I read your blog ’cause it’s real and true and funny, too.
    Yes, let him eat birthday cake, but no dessert after dinner, imho, which sounds like what the consequence was supposed to be in your mind . . .
    He’ll be fine; he’ll catch up to the social norms eventually. He will. Don’t stress too much; you’re a great mom!