The best laid schemes of mice and men…

As you know, Mrs L. and I have three lovely children, and they truly are the apple of our four (or six if I‘m wearing my glasses) eyes. We adore them and think that they are simply the most brilliant beings ever to walk the face of the earth. We love them unreservedly and for the most part, they really are a joy to be around.

The overwhelming majority of parents are like me; recognize that whilst their children are amazing and a real blessing in their lives, they aren’t without fault.

There are another type of Mums and/or Dads; those whose children are paragons of virtue. These kids are simply unable to put a foot wrong. Whatever  misdemeanours they commit, their parents will overlook it, will insist that it is someone else’s fault, or worst of all, think it’s cute and crow about how “free thinking” their child is.

I have a name for parents like these: deluded.

Let’s be honest, no child is ever always perfect, and at times even our own little angels can be downright irritating, especially if you’ve had less than your prescribed quota of sleep. However, even when I’m fully rested, the things that my kids do which irk me more than any other, are the traits which I recognise as a coming directly from me. Whilst it does seem that in being passed down the family tree , they have become amplified almost to the nth degree, it  is entirely possible that I am merely enduring the same frustrations which my parents experienced with me.

Jojo for instance, is demonstrating an almost superhuman level of stubbornness. Whilst he responds in the affirmative to his name, it appears that his interpretation of “come here,” is to scamper at top speed, in the opposite direction to us. It would be understandable if he ran off giggling, but judging by the look on his face, he must have “Eye of the Tiger” (or the toddler equivalent) playing in his internal ipod. Of course, it is always possible to paint this in a positive light; he is clearly a very independent boy.

Fraboo, has her father’s ability to be distracted by almost anything. Going for a drive with me at the wheel can be a truly terrifying experience for my passengers, although in my defence, there are so many stunning views to enjoy here in New Zealand, that I would say that it would be a great shame to not take them in.

One of Fraboo’s standout qualities is how she loves to engage with people. She happily admits that she is a chatterbox and will talk to anyone about anything. She really does struggle to maintain her attention, especially if something which could be remotely interesting happens in the periphery of her consciousness. It is not unheard of for her to be distracted in midsentence, and it is very common for her to appear to ignore adults who are trying to get attention. This came to a head when Fraboo’s teacher mentioned to Mrs L. that this was causing problems in the classroom.

In an effort to combat her errant attention span, we hit upon a scheme which we thought would help her to concentrate. At the beginning of the week, we awarded her ten points, and told her that if she could get to twenty, I would take her to the cinema. Points could be achieved when she behaved well, was helpful, listened carefully, or did something similarly deserving. This may not seem like a particularly difficult task. I can hear you saying, why doesn’t she muck about all week, and then behave nicely on Friday?

The whole purpose of this endeavour, was to make Fraboo aware that there are consequences for her behaviour, and so while it was possible to gain points for good behaviour, she could also lose points for undesirable and bad behaviour, and the week didn’t get off to a terribly brilliant start.

As I have alluded too, I know that my perception of my children’s behaviour can be heavily influenced by my frame of mind. I find that it I am tired, hungry or generally disagreeable for another unspecified reason, my tolerance of their antics can be depleted.

The problem is twofold. Firstly, something that would ordinarily be considered cheeky (but not worthy of point removal) can, with the wrong set of circumstances, become a major crime, and a trip to the naughty corner (as well as a deduction of 50 million points) is in order.

This leads to the second and larger problem; the kids don’t really know what is permissible, and therefore what is acceptable behaviour.

I became aware of this when after a day or so, poor Fraboo had seen her ten points all but evaporate and was really upset that she wouldn’t get to see the movie she was so excited about, and so I began to focus on what she’d done well rather than what she hadn’t.

This was something of a revelation to me. The whole point of this scheme was to improve Fraboo’s behaviour not mine as a parent. After all I am the perfect Dad aren’t I?

I’m pleased to say that we did get to go to the movies. Fraboo even earned enough points to get some sweets (lollies, or candies depending on where you’re from) on the way.  We thoroughly enjoyed  Pixar’s brilliant ”Inside Out”, although for part of the film, we had to comfort each other (Fraboo even told me “Don’t worry Daddy, it’s just pretend”). The apple really hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

It’s true that Fraboo does have a short attention span and that she is easily distracted but she is only six and whilst I think she is reasonably mature (certainly when compared to me) it is essential to remind myself that she is only a child. She is still learning where her boundaries are and of course she will try to push them, but if I keep on changing their location this is only going to lead to confusion or worse.

It would therefore, be fair to say, that over the course this whole experience, it’s me whose been taught the most valuable lessons. As the poet wrote all those years ago “The best laid schemes of mice and men, will often go awry.”

Post script.

I had finished writing the bulk of this post earlier in the week with the intention of going over it this weekend. On Saturday morning, I took Fraboo to her weekly swimming lesson. She was more distracted than usual this week, giving me the thumbs up every time she finished the task she had been set. This in turn caused her to miss the instruction for the next part of the lesson, and this seemed to be to result in the increasing exasperation of her teacher. After the lesson, I apologised to the swimming instructor muttering something about how excited she was to be swimming and I’ll have a word with her about concentrating.

To my astonishment, her teacher told me very sternly, that Fraboo was doing what all of the other children were doing; being a child, and I shouldn’t be too concerned about it.