I'm a single parent, working full-time. This past year, I worked too much, my son didn't get enough time with me nor enough consistency in his after-school care, and things got rough. He was very angry and acted out (hitting me sometimes). I worked less during Spring term, and saw things gradually improve.
I want to write about two steps forward, and one other milestone.
Last year in July I left my son with my brother and my family for a week while I attended the Math Circle Teacher Training Institute. When I returned, my son was furious. We had lots of trouble at bedtime, when he was acting up and I was too tired to deal. It was memorably bad.
I was planning to go to the Institute again this year, and he was saying he didn't want to go to Michigan. (We live in California, my family is in Michigan, he stays with them there while I go to the institute in Indiana.) He was not happy about the thought of me leaving him for a week again. But I knew I just had to go.
A few weeks before we left for Michigan, I stumbled upon a wonderful idea. We were at Toy Go Round, a used toy store, to buy him a hotwheels car. In the front window was a Playmobil service station. My son has been just about obsessive over cars his whole life, and has recently become enamored of Playmobil (way more expensive than the other toys in his life). The service station was the perfect thing for him. But his birthday was the month before, and xmas is a very long way off.
He says he asked for it. I don't even remember that. We asked to see the price when we went in, and at $35, I just shrugged to tell him it was way too much to spend. I so wanted to get it for him, but couldn't justify it when he'd already gotten so much on his birthday. He took his usual long time picking a hotwheels car, and we paid and left.
As I looked in the window one last time, I had an idea. I sat him down and reminded him of how angry he had been last year after I'd come back from the Institute, and how badly he'd behaved. Poor kid thought I was reprimanding him, I think. I said he might feel angry again this year, but it's important to find better ways to express it. I asked if he wanted me to get the service station and hold onto it until we got back. He could have it if he behaved well. His eyes lit up - "Oh, yeah!"
Normally I hate punishments and rewards. But it seemed like a good idea for him to have something to look forward to. And it was. He was great on our trip, even though it was hard for him. (He had a bunch of meltdowns the day after I got back, and I'd hold him each time and say "I know, it was so hard...") I think the second time with mom away was easier for him, but still very hard. He was more prepared for it, having gone through it before. And I was more prepared for dealing with the aftermath. When we got home a week later, he was thrilled with his new service station, and maybe it means more to him than other toys.
The holding and loving him up (with not so many words) when he cried came in handy again yesterday. He hates change, and I wanted to move the furniture in my room around. He still sleeps in my bed and didn't want me to change the room. He burst into tears at one point, and I just held him and said, "I know, it's hard." I'm learning to talk less sometimes.
That's the two steps forward. Here's the milestone: My son is friends with a woman who uses a powered wheelchair when her energy level demands it. She carries it in her van, and when she's visiting us, she's not using it. She allows my son to 'drive' it sometimes. Yesterday he asked if he could drive it out of the van. It was facing away from the door, and he made a 4-point turn to face forward, without touching the walls. When she complimented him, he said, "I was thinking about how to do it the other night, and I figured it out in my head." She and I both thought that was some pretty fancy visualization.