Slap Unhappy

My heart sinks whenever I see the kids' school pop up on my caller ID. "Best" case scenario was once Layla nose dived into a mud puddle (I feel legit proud), and didn't have backup clothes, and worst case was Judah getting his first ever migraine and screaming in abject misery in the middle of class. Usually it means they've puked or have a fever and I need to go get them. Never fun on any level.

Well, yesterday we captured the third kind of school phone call Pokemon: The Discipline Call.

Layla's sweet, sweet Kindergarten teacher left me a message just letting me know the story of the "white reminder" I would find in her folder today (a conduct report home to parents). She said Layla had slapped a friend, not very hard, but definitely a slap on the face and the little boy was upset. When she asked about it, Layla couldn't really say why she had done it--the boys hadn't hurt or teased her. The teacher said it was handled and over with as far as the school was concerned, but that it was extremely out of character for Layla. 

My first thoughts and feelings: I'm pretty angry because she knowsKNOWS that using your body to hurt or control someone else is unacceptable anywhere anytime (unless she's in danger). I'm embarrassed because I don't want my kid to be THAT kid, and what if the teacher thinks we are just crappy parents? I feel betrayed by Layla for making me look bad.

All that stuff is ABOUT ME. Not about Layla. That's not great.  That's parenting out of my own junk and insecurities instead of out of love for her and a desire to train her to be a healthy adult. 

So as I am waiting for the bus with Jesse, we decide to just ask her about her day as if we don't already know and just see how it plays out (because honesty has been a challenge for Layla sometimes, and want to give her practice at speaking hard truth). I am praying to just hear her heart and care for her--not myself. 

I am glad I had that time to think beforehand.

She hops off the bus and I asked about her day. She immediately says "I got a white reminder" kind of with a weird smirk on her face, almost a naughty smile, and I look at Jesse and am all "OH IT'S ON" inside. Benefit of Doubt: GONE. Little homie is laughing about this?!?!? Time to rain down the thunder. My "tsk-ing" finger is itching to be wagged.

But then she dissolves into tears, wailing, "I'm sad to talk about it." And my wagger finger disappears. I had not expected this gambit from this child. And it wasn't a gambit.

Come to find out, her day leading up to the slap was pregnant with angst. First, she had asked a few friends to play at recess and they had all been engaged with other buddies or activities and (not unkindly) declined. Then she did all the right classroom behaviors/tasks that typically earn her a reward but her teacher just happened to not notice this one time. And finally she left her snack box in the garage in the morning, so she didn't have anything during class snack time, and when she asked a friend for a piece of his cookie the friend said no.

That's a LOT of perceived rejection for a 5 year old who thrives on relationship, positive reinforcement, feeling treasured, social interaction--and SNACKS, by golly. 

"People make bad choices when they're mad or scared or stressed..." -Wise Trolls

Does any of this absolve her of or change the fact that she straight up broke a serious rule when she slapped her buddy? NO. Does it mitigate how we chose to discipline her? NO again. Does it add another separate layer to the situation? Yes.

Parenting isn't a zero sum game. Obviously Layla having her heart hurt doesn't give her a free pass to make bad choices (the classic "there's no excuse for that!" comes to mind). We have to handle the behavior and the heart. One phone call becomes two very different parenting tasks.

This is tiring and daunting and does not come easy to me. It's more efficient and mathematically tidy to just call it a wash: you had crappy stuff happen to you, and you did something crappy because of that. Even Steven. But almost every parent who is actually trying knows that's not going to work. When she's 17 and her boyfriend dumps her and she decides to shoplift some holographic nail polish because she's sad (the future has cool things) she WILL go to space jail. This stuff doesn't wash out (nor does holographic nail polish, I bet), it doubles down, it finds a way out, and the older you get the yuckier and scarier those ways out become.

It's not a wash, so we have to address it.

But we can't stop with JUST addressing the slap either, and saying, "we don't care WHAT you were feeling, you NEVER slap!" Because, while basically true, I'm betting what she hears and internalizes the most is the "we don't care WHAT you were feeling" portion of that statement.

I am betting that because I have felt that. "You and your feelings don't matter, just stop screwing up."

She'll come up with another outlet for her painful feelings because pain always has to go somewhere. The slapping is a symptom. Sure, it's expedient and necessary in the moment to treat symptoms, but real healing is out of reach if we stop there and don't treat the source of the infection. 

Two things we have to parent now: her heart and the slap.

Feelings and Actions. Our brains are REEEEEALLY good at mashing them together.

As parents, Jesse and I want to work to detangle these two things from each other; to bring attention to, and help the kids learn to identify and separate what they're feeling from what they decide to do about it. Because, without ever intending it, she merged them (we all do): I am feeling hurt, so it's okay for me to hurt someone else. 

My entire adult life has been spent trying to chop that thinking in half. To throw on the brakes and say, "Whoa, let's stop at 'I'm hurt' part and address that." Because honestly, it just feels better and easier and less risky to go around slapping people rather than talking about how I felt rejected and alone and un cared-for. 

That is called VULNERABILITY and both our lizard brains--that help us survive in the wild, and our sinful hearts--that say  "you can be a god and have the power," throw up unending resistance to showing it. 

It took me YEARS to realize that I am actually not simply an angry person. I am a deeply sensitive person with a soft heart who takes rejection or refusal (perceived or real) as a negation of my basic value. That's a scary proposition to stare in the face and my lizard brain was not about to let me show this "weakness."

But you know what isn't scary? Going on the attack.  I medicated pain by just getting super pissed super fast at anyone who hurt me. The knife in your back doesn't hurt so bad when you're flailing about with brass knuckles. Of course you also don't get the knife out or help heal the damage, but who cares as long as it makes you feel better right now?

So Layla's slap: what did we do? Ironically, something like this had JUST happened to me a few days earlier. I had felt incredibly rejected by someone that I treasure and had ended up crying about it! I am 33 year old and was crying about my friend not liking me enough (and yes, my first thought still was "Imma unfollow her on Instagram, block her on FB and NEVER talk to her again" because I'm basically a  maturity expert).

I told Layla about my heartbreak after she described what happened. I asked her if that was kind of how she had felt, like the people that she loved didn't love her back? She said it was. Then Judah chimes in, "I have felt that way too. It feels like everyone in the world is against you." Whoa. We're having a moment here! (Jesse had gone back to work at this point).

Layla lost privileges as a result of slapping her friend. But, while that was very important, we only spent maybe 5 minutes on that part before we felt like it was covered. We spent far more time talking about her heart and what makes it feel cared for and what makes it feel scared or empty. We talked about what to do in case she feels those painful feelings again, and how to stop them before they take over. 

If we'd freaked out and given away her barbie dolls or done something major to punish her and make the lesson stick, I bet she'd remember better and would never slap again. I  bet that memory would stay with her for a long, long time. Not in a good way. And honestly, she probably won't even remember the talk we had about feelings. But it's one more brick in something bigger we want to build. That gives her a firm foundation of knowing that her parents are a safe place for her heart. That she is loved and treasured and valuable.

Demolishing something is so much faster than building something, but it leaves rubble and nothing. We want to leave substance.

We don't want her to be so afraid to mess up that she does things right. We want her to be so secure in who she is and how she's loved that it naturally spills over into her decisions and the way she treats people. 

Layla decided to write an apology to her friend. She can't spell so Judah scribed while Layla dictated. It smells like purple Mr. Sketch: a grape paradise. It smells like fearless love.

  "People make bad choices when they're mad or scared or stressed...but throw a little love their way, and you'll bring out the best" -Wise Trolls.