Yin / Yang
Over a recent weekend, my mom and I loaded the kids up and drove five hours to see my brother one last time while he still resides in a nearby region. The kids are much easier to travel with now than they were a few years ago, but that is still a significantly relative statement. I went from cursing myself for allowing the kids to drown out reality with movie after movie to cursing the kids for not having the mature, appreciative perspective that kids never have when their days still stretch before them with so much ease that they actually have the edifying option of simply looking out the car window, or taking a nap. Once at our destination, there were relatives to visit and minor family crises to discuss and a goodbye party to administer for my brother, which made the kids' completely normal, age-appropriate bickering and mischief slightly more annoying than usual.
During one of the several intra-city car trips to accomplish one thing or another while taking the occasional deep breath after telling the kids dozens of times to quiet down and not cause a heart attack or fatal car accident, we were waiting at red light in a busy intersection where a downtrodden, frail old man leaned against the concrete bridge railing holding a cardboard sign scratched with fading black marker, HUNGRY NEED WORK. For the first time in that 20-minute ride, both kids were actually quiet, but I thought it was just a coincidence until, right as the light turned green and my mom drove through, Bryce's intense but (for once) quiet voice came from the back seat, "are we gonna pay that guy?" The guilty silence choked us while we drove through the now green light, I think both of us hoping we wouldn't have to answer his legitimate question. He asked again, this time more intensely: "Hey. Are we gonna PAY that guy?" I spoke up finally, "Well, Bryce...we probably should have. I wish I would have thought of it before we went through the light." I hoped that would be the end of it so I could go back to thinking about whatever superficial things were on my mind. Now he became adamant, and a little confused as to why this was even up for discussion: "He doesn't have a job! He can't even buy FOOD. We need to go BACK and PAY HIM SOME MONEY!"
Ummm, yeah. Option 1: Tell the ethically observant six-year-old that we'd rather hurry up and order our pasta at the restaurant we were approaching and hope he wouldn't lose that apparently natural sense of human obligation and responsibility. Option 2: Turn the car around and pay that guy some money. We chose option 2 after flogging ourselves for debating over it, which meant we had to turn around and get back on the highway, then turn around again. When we approached him and handed him the money, my mom told him the six-year-old had insisted we come back to him. "God bless you," he said as he gathered the few belongings he had with him. He crossed the street in front of us and waved to the back seat where Bryce was watching intently. Then he looked down at the $20 bill, the first time he'd checked the amount since receiving it, and his expression of disbelief and gratitude was obvious from a block away as he mouthed "wow" on his way across the street. He turned back and waved a second time to the kids. Bryce was quiet the rest of the way to our dinner, and when we saw my brother that night and told him the story, he told Bryce it was good karma, that one day it would come back to him when he needed help or money or food. We got in the car a few hours later to head home and Bryce asked, "Mom, are you happy that we helped that guy?" I told him yes, and that I appreciated him reminding us to pay more attention to what is around us, that sometimes adults forget these things. "Yeah, and you're one of 'em," he laughed.
We've spent countless hours this summer pulling our hair out over Bryce and his antics. Right now he is in a phase I could only label as "bullying" when confronted with anything not meeting his exact preferences. Quinn, of course, receives the brunt of this problem, but he's also not as innocent as he appears in these cases, so if we're not gritting our teeth over Bryce's bossy, impatient, aggressive stances, we're wailing over Quinn's latest manipulative regression attempt to get his way or draw Bryce into a fight. Bryce's birthday is this week, and despite all the warning signs flashing in our faces, we attempted to have a "fun" and "family oriented" weekend complete with Friday night at the movies and Saturday last minute birthday party errands (Who wouldn't want to pick out one's own party balloons and snacks? Bryce, that's who.). Within five minutes of every attempt, one of us was rolling their eyes, sighing, or saying aloud, "I AM SO SICK OF THIS. JUST STOP IT!"
At Bryce's birthday party today, one of our neighbors' kids let out a wail about something and I caught his mother's eye and said, "so it's not just us." She let it fly after that: "What is it? Summer? What is the problem? They're constantly fighting and yelling and hitting." We were talking in unison by now, "And the CAR, that is THE ABSOLUTE WORST! It's like they know they can get away with something back there!"
They start school tomorrow and frankly we're just hoping the teachers are more disciplined than we are. Our disciplinary tactics (questionable already) have fallen by the wayside over the past several weeks. Even our normally poor attempt at a regular routine has completely failed, resulting in kids who fall to the floor and writhe anytime they're required to get dressed and walk out the door and away from a blaring television. As John suggested tonight, "we either need to go back to an agrarian society where the kids actually have to work the fields all summer, or we need to go to year-round school."