He enters the bedroom at 7:45 in the morning. He has squeezed himself into last year’s hoodie footie pajamas and pulled the hood up over his newly short hair.
Seven forty five would be a civilized time of day if it weren’t the hour that he was beginning his math homework.
There have been three occasions in the ten collective years of elementary school that I have been pulled down the rabbit hole. I consider this a combination of incredible luck and parenting prowess. Luck because my boys are strong students. Prowess because we established the expectation of homework independence with their very first worksheets. At times we would sit beside them at the battle scarred dining table and work on whatever was lingering over the heads of the heads of the household. Mostly we left them entirely alone. Oliver muttering a constant monologue. Leo asking him politely to work in his head. If ask politely means to bark “shut up.”
I have to imagine that since the math meltdowns are so rare they pack years worth of misery into one tantrum. Or maybe the rest of you deal with this regularly. If that is the case I offer you my esteem and sympathy.
There are tears and snot of course. Tantrum basics. In a slightly more advanced maneuver we have the writhing whining combination. Where Oliver huddled in the corner over his word problem during last year’s memorable melt down Leo is long with lashing limbs over fractions. Somehow his blue clad body covers our blue batik comforter. I take a moment to consider whether I think the two blues compliment each other or clash. It is not really a question because at this moment everything on earth clashes. “I can’t do it.” he tells me. If “tells” means screaming like he is staring into the great abyss and is keeping himself on this earth purely by the force of his emotion.
Forget supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan’t is clearly the longest word in the human language. It is almost comical. Except now somehow he is strangling on his own upset. His face is purplish red (totally clashing with the comforter), his eyes almost as buggy as our new dog. I tell myself that I child can not choke at will but he is challenging me in the this assumption.
Meanwhile time is ticking by. He needs to be out the door at 8:11. It is 7:51. I keep myself from doing the math. There is enough math on the agenda already.
I am quiet hoping that my calm is catching. If calm means counting slowly to ten in my head to keep myself from snatching the math workbook and throwing it across the room. Which is one step better from pushing my writhing child off the bed. Evidently my approximation of “calm” is convincing because he ends his breathing strike with a big gasp.
“I caaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…” he starts again.
“Maybe you should adjust your mindset to getting a home work slip.” I suggest, helpfully. If helpful means the deepest possible betrayal combined with asking the impossible.
Somehow this ridiculous suggestion spurs him to action. He grabs his mechanical pencil and presses it to the page. The lead breaks off projectile style sparking a new round of crying. He is clutching his face in pain even though the lead has hit my arm. Now we are in my wheelhouse. “Oh sweetheart, I tell him, that must have hurt so much.” I show him where the lead is still in my knee from Kindergarten. He touches it gently and gives me a kiss which travels through time and generations.
He is back.
I offer a few answers to the first math problem. All of them wrong. (On purpose people…I am still smarter than my fourth grader…at least when he is at death con 9) He laughs a bit at my foolishness and brings his pencil to page. I brace for impact. “It’s out of lead.” He looks at me with pure panic. How could this have happened. This is no accident. At this moment he believes in divine intervention but in the BAD way. Everything is against him. Except me. I reach for a traditional pencil from my bedside cup. I keep it there to catch snippets of flowing phrases. Instead it mostly records midnight anxieties. (Re-attach doorbell. Taxes!!!!!) This morning however it is a life saver. Together we step back from the edge and make it through quarters. I get the four pages 100% wrong. Leo 100% right.
It turns out he caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan do it. But that is forgotten in the scramble for water bottles and jackets (misplaced.) He battles his bulging binder into his backpack and stops to kiss the bug eyed dog good bye. Next he turns to me.
“Thank you for your help Moey” he says as he puts on his brother’s jacket. “It was my pleasure love.” I tell him. And I am not totally lying.