Middle school, Midlife, and Mommy’s little Zen Kit

First, let me clear up any possible misconceptions about the Zen Kit.  No, “Zen Kit” is not a euphemism for something else.  It really is a Zen Kit.  You know, for being… Zen-ish.  I made it because of the two other topics in this blog post.  The fact that I know almost nothing about Zen Buddhism was no deterrent to me.

I do, after all, have this book:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which says things like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this:

Obviously, this is good stuff.

The Zen Kit came into being a few weeks after Zoe and Alexander started middle school.  In our county, all the public schools are K – 8 schools that feed into one large high school.  “Middle School” consists of grades 6 – 8.  For my kids, middle school meant going to school in the same place they had gone for the past five years, with the same 32 – 36 kids who had been their classmates for the past five years.  Nevertheless, there was a certain mystique to the idea of middle school.  Things would be different; middle school kids were “big”.  There would be lockers, and a schedule.  Alexander and Zoe were a little nervous, but also seemed excited (though they wouldn’t exactly admit it).  I started getting excited, too.  I read auspicious signs of great things ahead in their most trivial comments and gestures.  This was it.  The kids were going to grow up, take ownership of their school work, and blossom into the mature, well-adjusted, enthusiastic scholars that I knew they could be.  It was MIDDLE SCHOOL!

This delusion lasted for about three days, and then things started to go sour.  The kids came home by themselves on the bus and, instead of doing their homework (which they had done, unsupervised, for exactly one day before things began to go downhill), they made extravagant snacks.  Snacks involving blenders and hot chocolate power and ice cream.  Snacks that were not cleaned up.  They fought with each other.  They fussed and procrastinated.  There was, almost immediately, frustration over homework.  I still had to nag them to brush their teeth in the morning.

I was so angry and discouraged.  And it was only the first week of school!  Then I had a shocking realization:  It wasn’t them (or at least, it wasn’t just them): it was me.  I was being reactive, irritable, and absolutely intolerant of almost everything the kids did.  Chalk it up to my profound disappointment that middle school was not going to instantaneously transform my kids into model children and students — or to good old-fashioned midlife hormones (a theory that is gaining strength, much to my chagrin) — but I really needed to chill out.

And so, the Zen Kit was born.  I had noticed that there were certain situations with my kids that just drove me insane, and I always found myself jumping into the fray, imploring or lecturing or raging in exasperation — despite the fact that nothing I did improved the situation.  I knew this.  But I couldn’t seem to stop myself from saying/ doing the same things each time a child whined about a chore, or wasted time instead of doing homework, or had to be reminded again to pick up his or her belongings.  If only I had a tangible reminder of my vow to step back in these situations, a way to truly follow through on my belief that “less is more”, a place to go and something to do to help me feel calm during these hot button moments.  If only I had a Zen Kit — peace and tranquility in a box!

Into the Zen Kit went, of course, my book of Buddhist sayings, along with my journal, some nice pens, a sketch book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms”, Wayne Dyer’s Inner Peace cards, “52 Silly Things to do When You’re Feeling Blue” and “52 Ways to Simplify Your Life”.  Nothing new, just items I gathered from around the house — simple stuff, little things.  I put everything in a bin and put it in my bedroom.

And immediately I felt better.  Really.  It was kind of weird.  It’s like the psychology studies finding that even seeking help for a health problem (i.e. calling the doctor for an appointment) leads to tangible improvement in people’s symptoms.  Just having the Zen Kit made me feel like I had an escape hatch for the next time I started to get trapped in the same old unpleasant patterns with my kids.  It was very reassuring.  Plus, it seemed kind of fun.

So, how’s it going?  Truth is, I haven’t used the Zen Kit much yet.  Remembering, as I start down the path of nagging, lecturing, and despair, that there is another way is a challenge.  But, like I said, just having the Zen Kit has changed my perspective somewhat.  Now I need the discipline to use it.  Change is hard.   Which is why LOVED this drawing from The New Yorker when I saw it in the August 13 – 20 issue this morning:

  : )

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All’s well that ends well? Or maybe even if it doesn’t?

This week, like most, had its ups and downs. Unfortunately, I seem a little more susceptible to the downs recently. The kids are wearing me out. With Zander, it’s about trying to help him do better in school — encouraging him to slow down, get organized, write more neatly, take pride in turning in good quality work. I feel like I’m on him constantly. It’s exhausting. With Zoe, it’s a completely different dynamic. She and I seem to be engaged in an endless, complex power struggle, which is constantly manifesting in new and bizarre ways. This, too, is exhausting and leaves me with a continuously short fuse.

On Wednesday, we tried something new. After I picked up the kids from my mom’s, we went to the University library to do homework. The atmosphere seemed perfect, and I had high hopes for a pleasant and productive evening. Turns out the kids had a lot of homework that night — especially Alexander. And things were not exactly “pleasant”. After almost two hours of slogging away, we left the library, stopping for a quick hot chocolate at the coffee shop on the way out. That’s when Alexander dropped the bombshell: he still had some unfinished homework for AIG math. But not just “some homework”; he was required to create a math board game, for which he still had to make 25 cards with math problems and answers. He also had to write detailed directions for the game. It was due the next day.

Despite the fact that this was not MY homework, I immediately felt completely freaked out, along with being angry and frustrated that the assignment had been left to the last minute. We got home a little after 8 p.m., and Alexander immediately got to work. I was impressed by his determination, but there simply wasn’t enough time to get it all done — and the law of diminishing returns started kicking in as he got more tired. He went to bed with a plan to get up early the next morning and finish. The next day, he did wake up early, though not quite as early as planned. There was still a lot to do, and he was overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to write the math questions neatly on the cards. But then Zoe got up and started helping him make the cards, and things took a turn for the better. Though they didn’t get them all finished, they had a substantial number, and Zander had also fleshed out the game instructions. He had a plan for how he was going to present the assignment to his teacher.

Overall, based on past experience with how Alexander responds to school work challenges, I was surprised and encouraged with the way he had handled things. It was also great to see Zoe and Alexander work together, which had turned it into a much more positive situation.  Suddenly, instead of another 5th grade homework debacle, this felt more like an “all’s well that ends well” scenario.  With the homework dilemma solved, I was able to assess my own role and recognize how I could have toned down my reaction and not been so distraught.

But what if things hadn’t turned out well? What if, in fact, things had turned out very badly, with serious negative consequences? What if I or our family was confronted with a real crisis, not just the threat of a late homework assignment? How would we handle it?

At a recent Unitarian Universalist service, visiting minister Reverend Audette Fulbright shared this story about Thomas Edison, which was adapted from Chicken Soup for the Soul:

“On December 9, 1914, fire broke out in the West Orange district where Thomas Edison’s laboratories were. The fire destroyed most of the labs, and although the damage exceeded $2 million dollars’ worth, they were only insured for about $240,000 because they had been built of concrete and were thought to be fireproof. Edison was 67 at the time.

At the height of the fire, his son, Charles, went racing around, trying to find him. He finally found Thomas standing nearby, white hair blowing in the wind, soot and smoke surrounding him. ‘Where’s your mother?’ his father shouted at him. ‘Go find her. She’ll never see anything like this as long as she lives.’

Charles later wrote how sad he felt for his father at that moment. What must he be feeling, at age 67, watching much of his life’s work go up in flames? A disaster, surely. The next morning, the two went and surveyed the ruins. ‘There is great value in disaster,” Thomas suddenly said. ‘All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew!'”

Reverend Albright went on to elaborate on the individual differences in how people respond to change, the unexpected, and crisis. “I consider a fire that burns almost all one’s life work to be one of those big moments of unexpected change. Some people are devastated by such events. Some people look at the flames and see an opportunity to start over. What is the key to that difference?

My suspicion is we can’t begin with the fire. We probably need to start much closer to home, somewhere in the realm of the daily, with those much smaller, much more frequent opportunities for dealing with the unexpected that visit us. We’re stuck in traffic when our meeting is beginning across town. We burn the biscuits the night we hope to impress someone with our cooking. A child drops and breaks our favorite coffee mug. How do we deal with these little things? Do we get angry, do we sulk, sigh with resignation and move on, do we laugh? It makes a difference, each time we face that choice of how to respond.”

Ah, how that hit home for me. I often think about how I want my children to be more resilient and adaptable — but I really need those characteristics for myself! In the area of my family life, more than in any other arena, I find that I do not react the way in which I would wish to change, the unexpected, the (minor) crisis.

In her service, Reverend Fulbright discussed ways to combat our negative reactions to unexpected and uncontrollable events in our lives. She remined us that we have choices about how we see and respond to change and suggested the use of humor, which “allows us to flow through difficulties instead of being broken by them.”

It was a lovely sermon, and I left feeling refreshed and excited by the ideas she had described. I’m not a particularly spiritual person — and I’m definitely not a religious person. But there are those moments of transcendence — glimpses into another world that are inexplicably uplifting and inspiring. Mostly, for me, they happen outside in nature, sometimes during truly good times with friends (or with my children!), and very occasionally even in a church. At earlier times in my life, it seemed those moments were enough — enough to buoy me through the mundane and the trying. But I’m realizing (ten years in) that successful and happy parenting requires more than just moments of transcendence; it requires a true sea change in one’s attitude about life. It requires becoming Thomas Edison! And that, my dear friends, is something I’m still working on.

Live by the sword; die by the sword…

As you may know, I’ve implemented a new system for school nights.  The deal is — no screen time for the kids Monday through Thursday, regardless of whether or not homework is finished before bedtime.  Between snow days and holidays, the policy has been in effect for all of seven actual school nights.  But the system has been awesome!  Well, in my opinion, at least.

With our jobs — and the kids’ after-school, and activity schedule — homework often doesn’t get started until 6 p.m. or later.  Even if a lot of the work has been done before we get home, I still need to look it over and make sure everything is finished and that they’re not completely off-track on an assignment.  I used to think it was enough for them simply to get the work done, but a spate of bad grades has made me realize more quality control is needed.  Alexander, especially, has a habit of rushing and handing in sloppy work.  Under the old system, if homework was done by a certain time, the kids could watch a half hour of TV or play on the computer before reading/ bed time.  The problem was that they became obsessessed with reaching the “screen time” portion of the evening.  They hurried through their work and became agitated and angry if they thought they might not be able to have screen time.  I even found myself bending over backwards to ensure that they had this reward each night, because they would get so worked up about it.  (Another example of rewards backfiring.)

So far, the new system has worked exactly like I hoped it would.  The kids are much more low-key about their homework and more accepting of me checking it over.  The pace has slowed.  And, as an added bonus, we’ve had good times after the work is done.  One night (after Zander had initially been disgruntled about not watching TV), the three of us ended up on the floor together building with Legos.  It felt so relaxed and pleasant to me, and neither child seemed to remember that they had been deprived of television.

Here’s the rub.  Since last May, we’ve been having weekly family meetings.  I learned about family meetings in the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.  The idea immediately spoke to me.  The family meeting, as described in Positive Discipline, offers a sort of family safe haven — a built in time for coming together each week to touch base, plan, anticipate, and problem solve.  The typical family meeting includes compliments, looking at what’s ahead for the week, meal planning, and discussing any issue that a family member puts on the agenda.

We’ve had great family meetings and cruddy ones.  Zoe has stormed off several times, and I think Alexander has stormed off at least once.  Often I feel like the “enforcer”, since I’m adamant about having the meetings every week unless we’re out of town.  The rest of the family is — to varying degrees — less enthusiastic about it than I am.  But I still feel strongly about sticking with it.  Looking ahead to the teen years especially inspires me to continue to work on and strengthen our family meeting ritual.

Still, it has been pretty much my deal — and I’m not sure anyone would notice — much less protest — if we just didn’t do it one weekend.  Until recently, that is.

Not too far into the new no-screen-time-on-school-nights policy, Alexander was struck with a brilliant idea:  I can put this on the family meeting agenda.  Suddenly, he was a child possessed.  He rushed to where the agenda was hanging on a bulletin board in the kitchen, armed with many colored pens and a determination to make this system work for him.  His agenda item for revisiting the screen time policy is circled, written in red, and highlighted with the word “urgent”.  Our meeting is tomorrow.

So, dear friends, what do I do?  I want to honor the process of joint problem solving — and not discredit the whole family meeting process as a sham — but I really really (I mean really!) want to keep the no-screen-time-policy in place.  Positive discipline promotes problem solving by consensus, making sure that solutions are related, respectful, reasonable, and helpful.  We have put these principles into action and seen them work.  But in this situation I just want to say, I’m the boss, and this is how it’s going to be.  Help!

Ideas and experiences welcome, please.

And I promise to let you know how it turns out!

In case you were wondering…

Thursday was the first — and, so far, only — day of the new no-screen-time-on-school-nights regime. Here is a quick recap:

On the way home, it was clear the kids were well-aware of what was in store (even though we hadn’t talked about it much). There was mention of “having nothing to look forward to.” Both kids suggested that since their homework was already done and would only be corrected by them in class, and not handed in to the teacher, there was no need to go over the work. I pointed out that actually understanding every assignment was an important part of learning and doing well. They did not buy it. I reminded Alexander of his self-proclaimed new year’s resolution to get all A’s. He decided that he had changed his mind about that.

Once at home, we had dinner, followed by a rather extravagant dessert, which the kids claimed would fuel them during the homework session. After that, they became very silly. They played a game of being slo-mo zombies. For a long time. It was funny — until it wasn’t anymore.

At last, we sat down at the table and started reviewing their math worksheets. Both kids had some of the answers wrong, and we went through the problems together. They were acting a little whacky, but basically cooperating (somewhat to my surprise). They were also working together remarkably well, which doesn’t usually happen.

We finished going over homework by around 7 p.m., which normally would have given them plenty of time to watch TV for 30 minutes or an hour before they started reading. I almost wavered and changed the plan based on the homework being successfully completed. But then I realized that this would be sheer madness.

I announced that I was going to work on a new jigsaw puzzle if anyone wanted to help. Zander went into the living room and turned the television on. I wrestled him for the remote, and turned the TV off. This happened again. We wrestled again. I yelled (I would call it “mild” yelling). Zander stormed off to his room.

Zoe and I worked on the puzzle for awhile. Alexander came downstairs pouting and complaining. After awhile, he joined us at the puzzle table. He did something to make Zoe mad, and she stormed off to her room. (I think they were arguing about who would get to put the last piece in the 1000 piece puzzle when we finished it. Yup.) Zander and I worked on the puzzle a little longer. Then he asked if I would “do questions” with him on the big bed (an activity he had earlier rejected as too taxing on the brain).

An earlyish bed time was easy to achieve. Things were peaceful. Zander’s last words to me as I turned out the lights were to blame one of my friends for “giving me this idea” and assert his right to watch television the next night, since it would be Friday.

All in all, I considered the evening a success.

New Year’s wrap-up

During the weeks before Christmas, various ideas for blog posts were swirling around in my head, but I just didn’t have time to sit down and write.  Things continued fast and furious up to the day we left on our trip for New York on December 21.  Despite the busy-ness and mixed sense of excited anticipation and impending doom, we did remarkably well on the packing and preparation-for-departure front.  In fact, I’m pretty proud of all of us for our generally stellar attitudes and sense of adventure throughout the trip.  Top on the list, I must give kudos to Dirk for not completely losing it on our NINE HOUR DRIVE from Mt. Kisco, New York to Washington, D.C. through driving rain, strong winds, and relentless stop-and-go traffic.  Very impressive, indeed.

Now, the holidays have passed, the new year is upon us, resolutions are being formulated, and I am itching to write — but where to begin?

For the sake of expedience, I’m going to go with a numbered list:

1) Family travels:  By and large, the kids did really well with our whirlwind holiday itinerary, which involved tons of driving, numerous transitions, meeting new people, interacting with relatives, and tiring days trekking around two major cities —  New York and Washington, D.C.  Reflecting on the trip, I appreciate the kids’ resilience and good spirits.  Highlight:  How quick and easy they were in their interactions with other children we met along the way.  (I managed to squeeze in visits with three good friends from law school in a two-to-three day period at the end of the trip, and they all had kids who Zoe and Alexander played with).  This was so nice to see!

Sightseeing highlights:  The train show at New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx — beautiful and magical and, because of the abnormally warm weather for December, it was a great day to stroll around the garden. 

In Washington, D.C.:  The photography exhibit “Ocean Soul” at National Geographic Headquarters — gorgeous, spectacular, and educational — a feast for the eyes!  And free, which we didn’t realize when we paid for our tickets to go into the museum (the tickets allowed us to get into two other exhibits, but the photography exhibit was, by far, the best).

(snip from Brian Skerry photograph)

2) Positive Discipline:  I love this book!  I started re-reading it today.  It literally makes me laugh and cry.  Here is a link to the Positive Discipline website, which includes tons of articles, resources, ideas:  Positive Discipline; Creating Respectful Relationships in Homes and Schools.  Really, though, the best way to become familiar with Positive Discipline concepts is to read the original book by Jane Nelsen.  As the new year begins, it feels good to re-visit this wonderfully compassionate parenting guide.  Some of the basic principles: allow children to have input into developing solutions; treat children with dignity and respect;  use kindness and firmness at the same time; use encouragement; see mistakes as opportunities to learn and, one of my favorites:  Being kind means being respectful to both you and your child.

3) A new approach to school nights:  After a quick pre-Christmas poll of my Facebook friends, about half of whom do not allow any screen time on school nights, I felt emboldened to make a big change in our weekday evening routine (which we’ve continued to struggle with throughout the fall).  Beginning this week when the kids go back to school, there will be no “screen time” on school nights, regardless of whether homework has been completed.  I’ve found that the draw of television (or computer time) adds an unhealthy element of tension to our evenings on school nights, leading to hurried homework, angst, and frustration.  Time to do things differently.  Instituting a policy for the kids, unilaterally, without their input, does not really comply with the principles of Positive Discipline.  But the bottom line is that grades need to improve, and I can’t stand the unpleasantness of our current system.  So I’m doing it.  And I’m kind of excited.  Kids have been informed, and there’s been some discussion.  To my shock and amazement, they did not immediately throw themselves on the floor and start screaming in protest.  More on how it works out in a future post.  In the meantime, I’ve allowed total screen-time overload since we got back from our trip (in hopes of saturating them?)…  Bleh!

4) The new year:  So here it it:  2012.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit, I absolutely believe in making new year’s resolutions and harbor no cynicism for any goal, ambition, or scheme, despite the fact that many of these new resolves will undoubtably fall by the wayside sooner or later (sometimes almost immediately).  I find resolutions  inspiring and illuminating.  I’ve seen that incremental tweaks often lead to great improvements in quality of life and, sometimes, unexpectedly, to more significant realizations and changes.  For me, in 2012, this pretty much means more of the same — only, hopefully, better!  I’ve slightly revised my simple daily goals.  Flossing is still included (!) and, of course, exercise — but I’ve removed a few things and added a few, including “doing something creative”.  hmm…  Internal challenges (within my control):  wasting time “playing” on my iPod and just generally being slack.  External challenges (outside of my control):  financial stress (bleh!) and, of course, the kids, who I can never control and must keep trying to embrace that utter (and marvelous?) lack of control while becoming better at finding ways to teach, guide, inspire and accept them.  Whew!

So, signing off with another mantra:  clear head; peaceful heart; energetic body…  (easy, right???)

And wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!

Please share your resolutions, if you like.  Seeing what other people are doing and thinking provides inspiration and great ideas!

Putting out fires

Sometimes helping the kids navigate their school work feels like putting out dozens of tiny forest fires; as soon as you stamp one out, another one pops up a few feet away.  I feel good about Zander agreeing to let me check his math homework and being willing to correct problems that are wrong, but then both kids forget to bring home the book they need to study for a test.  I see improvement in spelling grades, but then one child or the other gets an F on an assignment in a class that wasn’t even on my radar to help them with.  The work packets that come home at the end of each week are a schizophrenic mix of marks, ranging from 100s to failing grades.  This week I was especially disheartened when I saw that Alexander had gotten a score of 25 (!) on a reading assignment — reading!  Say it ain’t so!  Not only was the assignment, which asked him to describe the main points of a book he had read, clearly incomplete (two sentences written on what should have been a full page), but the hand-writing was so horrendous, it was almost impossible to read.  Ugh!

I wish I could say I’m not personally invested in their performance or that these grades don’t really matter.  But the message I’m getting is that it does matter and that I do need to be involved and invested.  Notes from the teachers warning parents of bad grades coming home in the work packets, and reminders that a few low scores on assignments will significantly impact the final grade for the quarter, send a clear signal that the kids need to be on their game for each and every assignment.  Also, we were instructed at the beginning of the year to keep an eye on when the kids had tests (which is supposed to be written by them in their “planners”, but isn’t always) and to help them study.

Furthermore (and this is the tricky piece that makes me scratch my head and sigh in frustration), based on my children’s overall abilities (high standardized test scores, advanced reading levels), they should be more than capable of doing well on daily assignments and in-class tests.  So what’s the missing piece?  Is it lack of motivation?  Are they hurrying?  Do they still need to learn basic study skills and the concept of checking their work?  Are they just not trying?  And what, if anything, can I do to help?

I look into the future and see a long dark tunnel of struggling with school work, night after night, week after week.  For eight more years.  “Noooo….!!!”  my soul screams soundlessly.  Then, from time to time, I hear encouraging tales:  the child who was recalcitrant, disorganized, disengaged, angry (fill in the adjective) about school work suddenly turns it around and starts to cruise through the academic world like nobody’s business.  I know some of these kids and their parents well, so I know these are not just urban myths of Amazing-Child-Transformations.  I’ve heard about the bad grades and homework frustrations and meetings with teachers.  I’ve observed the different reactions and attitudes of the parents, too — from thinking their child might have a learning disability to railing against the teachers for giving too much homework.  I know parents who have encouraged their kids to not give a damn about school requirements that they feel are meaningless and those who have anxiously bent over backwards to arrange extra help for their children.  And all these kids are doing fine now — better than fine — in performance, attitude and spirit.  These stories give me hope.  But, still, it is a hard row to hoe (for me, at least), trying to walk the line of providing just the right amount of support and involvement in my children’s academic world.  And sometimes I am jealous of parents with kids to whom things seem to come more easily.  And sometimes I worry, what if things never turn around?  But what can you do as a parent but hang in there and do your best to help your kids navigate their world?  Appreciate the good and try not to get too freaked out by the not-so-good is my motto for now.

A totally inappropriate response

Tonight when we got home, both kids had homework.  For a change, Zander was further along — thanks to a new after-school arrangement with my mom that involves going to Kojay’s Cafe to drink hot chocolate and do homework while Zoe is at Girls on the Run.

Zoe had had a trying day.  A special rock that she had been carrying around with her for days was confiscated by a teacher and thrown away.  Sadly, this happened at Girls on the Run, which is meant to be a fun, empowering activity.  My mom reported that when she picked Zoe up, Zoe was in tears.  It sounded to me as though the teacher had acted impulsively and, perhaps, made a wrong move in taking Zoe’s prized possesion wtihout explanation or chance for redemption — not only taken it, but actually thrown it into the long grass where it couldn’t be found later.

Impulsive.  I ran the word through my head as we drove home.  It made me feel calm and superior.  I was not impulsive.  I could step back and assess a situation and act in a measured way rather than reacting without thinking.

Then came homework time.  I helped Zander with the last problem on his math worksheet, a complicated logic problem that required several steps.  Zoe had already finished her math and moved on to spelling.  She reluctantly agreed to let me check her math worksheet.  She assured me that she knew it was all correct.  I went straight to the last problem.  Sure enough, it was wrong — totally wrong — all five parts of the answer.  But when I pointed this out to Zoe, she immediately, adamantly refused to correct it.

And what did I do?  Was I calm and measured?  Was I compassionate?  Did I try another approach?  No.  I said things like, “Handing in work that’s wrong is no better than not doing it at all.” and “You have a responsibility to do your best work.”  and probably worse.  I was convinced that Zoe would not let me help her with her math because of her need for power and control.  This made me feel angry and hopeless.  I wanted to overpower her.  I wanted to shame her into letting me help her.  I wanted the math problem to be done correctly at all costs.

Everything that was going through my head and coming out of my mouth was exactly the opposite of what Positive Discipline is all about.  Positive Discipline teaches parents to look for the hidden message behind children’s behavior and respond to that rather than to the immediate behavior.  It counsels parents to step back from conflict because our primitive brains take over when we are in conflict, making it difficult to find a solution.  It teaches us, above all, to be kind and compassionate to our children.

Epic failure.

Over the weekend, I found myself seething with anger several times when the kids were fighting.  I wasn’t using, or even thinking about, Positive Discipline skills and techniques.  And now, on the very first day of a new school and work week, I had already lost it and behaved in a manner that made me feel guilty and ineffective.

Happily, though, Positive Discipline also focuses on learning from our mistakes and forgiving ourselves — not just giving lip service to this idea because it makes us feel better, but really, truly learning and, hopefully, showing our children how mistakes can be wonderful teachers.  This is a hard one, I admit.  I would much rather have a magic wand to wave away my bad behavior.  But I’m working on it.  I mean, really, what else can I do?

Tonight, Zoe and I have reconciled, at least temporarilly.  She has agreed to look at the math problem with me after taking a break from her homework.  I know we have not reached the end of this power struggle between us.  Somehow, instead of cowering in dread and reverting to my most primitive parental behavior when confronted with her defiance, I need to rise to embrace this dynamic and change it.  Wish me luck and courage.