***WARNING: THIS IS AN EPIC POST! ONLY READ IF YOU HAVE TIME.***
Last week was not a good week. There were a bunch of things that happened, one of them being that we found out that we can't actually take a trip that we were so hoping to take. Regardless, that's not the part of the bad week I was going to write about. Just something that added to it.
I look after a bunch of kids, as you know, and there is one child in particular that has been a bee in my bonnet (or wasp in my pant leg, since this IS the new millenium and as I'm not Amish I do not wear a bonnet!) We'll call him X. X has been with me since he was almost three. He is now 9. Ever since L could move independently, he and X have clashed. X has "had it in for him" for his entire life. Almost like it's been his personal life's goal to make L's life as miserable as he can. He teases him, fights and argues with him, provokes and taunts him, and just generally does everything within that vague circle of allowable limits that he can do to pester him. And there's the odd time that he gets physical with him too.
At first, in the early years, I chalked it up to #1) immaturity on X's part, and #2) jealousy felt on X's part at having to share my other son R. I always thought that he didn't like that R loved L more than him, or something like that. I also always tried to be objective; to hide that mother bear instinct to immediately rage at and throttle anyone who dared to make my child cry. I tried to see L as another kid I cared for, without special treatment and to allow him to find his own way through it. I tried to give him his own chances to stand up to X or to find acceptable coping strategies and conflict resolution. I've never wanted to say, "It's all his fault" (X's), because I fully realize that it takes two to argue or fight.
I had hoped that X would grow out of it eventually. I mean, every kid has to grow up and mature at some point right? I see it in many of R's friends, and R himself. They are growing past the petty fighting and bickering. They are all starting to be able to see beyond themselves and to look at the "big picture". They can put themselves in another's point of view without having to be reminded to do so. They are starting to see when to let things go, and what's worth fighting over and what's not. As a side note, I am LOVING this age! Nine is wonderful! R is (mostly) compliant, helpful and generally a joy to be around. But apparently that doesn't apply to all nine-year-olds.
So here it what happened last week. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I had quite a few children under my care after school. A 15-month-old, a 26-month-old, one 4-yr-old, three 5-year-olds, my own two (6.5 and 9) and X. To say I was a little taxed in my patience is being generous. It started off by L, X and the 4 and a 5 year old making some sort of obstacle course involving the slide, and several pieces of equipment in my backyard. Well, actually it was L who was making it, the others were watching. L was getting frustrated as the 26 mos old kept trying to steal away some of the obstacles, so he was already ramped up. I was being run off my feet, as usual, getting snack, sorting fights, and looking after the youngest. My patience was also rather short due to a severe depletion from having my newest little one visit that morning (she cried and cried if that says anything, poor thing.) When L had finally completed his course, he claimed he would be the first to try. Fair enough. The one who made it should be the one to try first. Laws of the playground. The 4 and 5 year olds (brothers incidentally) agreed and were waiting patiently for their turn. X however, decided that he was going to go first no matter what. It didn't matter that L was screaming at him "NO!" or even that the brothers were also telling him to wait. It didn't matter that L was climbing up the slide (the starting point of the course) effectively blocking X from going down and beginning. It didn't matter that L was extremely upset, in tears even because he knows X so well and knew that he would do his darndest to get what he wanted. I don't even know what the attraction was for him. It wasn't even challenging to a much taller 9-year-old. But the fact that it was of no great feat to "beat" this obstacle course, or that he was playing with children much younger than him instead of seeking out R didn't make a damn bit of difference to X. He was going to go no matter what, and go he did. He hopped around L and completed the course in less than two seconds, cheering as if he'd won a gold medal at the Olympics while L screamed at him and the brothers shouted that he was being annoying and unfair. At that point, they refused to "play" with him, which you'd think would be enough of a lesson (peer pressure can be powerful!) but not for X. He continued to be his obnoxious self and tried to be as intrusive and annoying as possible, hopping through the course as the others were trying to complete it and just genterally getting in the way.
And what did I do during all this, you may ask? Nothing, aside from a few verbal warnings to X to quit it. And herein lies part of my dilemma. I've always felt and run my daycare by being an observer. I have always tried not to jump in and solve the children's problems for them. I think they need to learn how to deal with them on their own. So if there is fighting, but no one is being hurt, I don't usually jump in. Part of that is also that I can't stand the whining and tattling, so I ignore it as best I can. I guess I shut down a little too much.
I'm sure the mothers out there are going, why didn't you stick up for your son, and help him? Put X in time-out or something? And the answer is in a few parts. Part one, see above. Part two, I'm soooooooo tired of it! I'm so sick of the fighting between these two that I just don't want to hear it anymore. I don't want to deal with it, so I don't. I know, it's selfish of me, and mean, and last week I would have said I didn't care anymore but this week I'm seeing a new light and I've learnt my lesson. I'm getting to that part. And part three is that I just don't know how to punish a 9 year old. Time outs are for toddlers; for children that have not yet learned to control their tempers, like my 26-month-old. I rarely have to punish any of the other kids EVER, so I must be doing something right, right? I have no authority to take away cherished possessions or privileges, which is how I punish my own children. The privileges at daycare are limited. They don't have computer time, tv time or video game time in general (occasionally but not often enough for it to make a difference to take it away). So how do I punish him, other than telling his parents and leaving it up to them? Which is fairly ineffective, as I've seen.
But I must get on with this story. That's right, my friends, it's not over yet! The climax is yet to come. And then I will reveal my true dilemma.
At some point, the fighting was forgotten (as it seems to go with boys) and the four were somewhat playing together again. This time it was my ever-hated-least-favourite game of all that they play, sword fighting. Or some sort of weapon. They gather up all the plastic sporting equipment (bats, golf clubs, lacrosse sticks, etc.) and run around the yard using the two play structures as "bases" and the sporting equipment as weapons. This is why I hate looking after boys. They are so violent all the time. I fought against this sort of play for so long. I became tired of the fight. A part of me realized that it's genetically ingrained in boys to play this way, to work through their long buried hunting instincts by playing aggressively. There needed to be some outlets, such as this game, or the real fighting escalates and they start wrestling, which I hate EVEN MORE!
So now, I let them. But at some point during the game, as I was talking to one of the moms of the sweet little girls I look after, L hurled or either his hand slipped off one of his "weapons" and of course landed on X. X immediately began to cry like a baby because of course he should, I mean he's ONLY nine, right? The crying was extremely forced and whiny, which I can't stand so I mostly ignored him. My standard statement is, "If you guys are going to play that game, someone ALWAYS gets hurt, you know that, so I've told you don't cry to me about it! If you don't want to get hurt, don't play that game!!" The mom just chuckled and we continued our conversation. I'm not sure how the fight began, but the next thing I knew, L was attacking X by running at him. X defended himself and then proceeded to attack L. The mom alerted me to this fact and I, like the amazing childcare giver that I am,
OMG. I am the worst mother in the world for letting this happen.
I immediately bid her goodbye, grabbed L and the baby and made for inside, telling X to sit his butt down on the deck and not move from that spot until his mother arrived. L's nose had been badly bumped by X's knee and was bleeding. I didn't want to apply pressure, because I was scared it was broken. So I put a kleenex under it, and a bag of frozen corn niblets over it, and made L sit there for 20 mins like that while I obsessed that my child would be damaged for life and it was ALL MY FAULT!
When X's mother finally arrived to pick him and his sister up, L didn't hesitate to let her know just what her son had done. I elaborated, explaining generally how the afternoon had gone and that they had ended up in a physical fight. I downplayed the fact that it was all X's fault, and allowed that some of it was L's fault too. I never want to be one of those parents who thinks that their child can do no wrong. I also never want to make anyone else feel like they're a bad parent either. I can't imagine arriving at daycare or the school to pick up my kid and being told that they alone had caused and instigated a fight, that essentially they were an evil little shit-disturber! Dealing with this sort of thing (telling parents about the bad stuff their kids did) is one of the worst parts of this job, mostly because I put myself in their shoes too much.
X's mother asked me, "Did you punish him?" Ummmmm....not sure how you want me to do that? Any ideas lady? I sat him on the deck, which is where he thankfully stayed, but that's about it.
So now my dilemma. I have debated for years about what to do with this child. My sister N has told me several times to "fire" him. But it's more complicated than that. Firstly, it's difficult for me to say, "I'm sorry, your child has no place in this daycare anymore due to his behaviour." Part of it would be sort of like admitting defeat, telling everyone that I can't handle the children the way I should be able to. Plus I would hate to be on the receiving end of that statement, so I can't do that to someone. Secondly, he has a younger sister who is great to look after, is very good friends with two of the other children, and would surely follow him to whatever new daycare his family found. Thirdly, his family has been with me for 6 years now, so how do I now, after all this time, say that's it? Why didn't I say something sooner? Fourthly, if he goes, I lose income and have to replace that income for not only him, but also his sister. And lastly, since I have known his family for so long, it would be so awkward. His mom is not exactly a friend, per se, but we have had many friendly conversations and "bitch" sessions, as well as I've been over to her house for tea a few times and I've used her out of desperation for my own babysitting needs or tight spots I've got in from time to time with the daycare. (I don't mean financially I just mean not being able to pick up her kids, my kids or whatever).
She emailed me today, telling me she had been thinking about it a lot, and didn't know what to do and did I have any ideas or thoughts?? Of course I do, but how do I express them without hurting her feelings? How do I tell her that she better straighten her son out today, or that's it? Oh, and by the way, leave little x here. We like her just fine. Part of me wonders if she herself has been looking for an out. Maybe she found cheaper daycare, or can find cheaper daycare and is looking to me to tell her to go, saving her the trouble of firing me. Or maybe she doesn't like me anymore. Who knows?
What I do know is this. Part of this is my fault. I should never have stood by and let them "fight it out". I am damn lucky (and so is L) that L's nose wasn't broken. At least I'm pretty sure it wasn't. I will be vigilant from this day forward to immediately jump in and break up any sort of argument or fight between the two of them. And I won't hesitate to let X know he is treading on VERY thin ice.
Your thoughts? Please?