Disclaimer: This post is not one of those feel-good pieces about parenthood. If explicit mention of shit offends your sensibilities, please stop reading.
I might have mentioned before that this year has been challenging for us so far, mostly because Matthew has started Primary One. The second of four school terms has just ended, and Matthew has had bouts of behavioural issues in school because of peer influence already.
The quality of his academic work is also constantly under scrutiny and fire. It also doesn’t help he is the first-born, and naturally the centre of (negative) attention when it comes to producing quality work and being on the best behaviour all the time.
As the education system is nothing like that of my time, I will never comprehend the full extent of pressure being heaped upon 7 year-olds nowadays. With pressure in school and at home, Matthew’s short temper is rearing its ugly head more often now. “I hate (insert phrase)!” escapes his mouth, and hot tears of frustration pool in his eyes so often. Therein lies my inadequacy; I can only explain to him that all is not hate as he sees it, but love. Very tough love, nonetheless.
I try to soothe his ruffled feathers as best as I am emotionally capable of (at the end of a long day at work is not an excuse but a real factor), but I still feel I have failed him. I have failed to make him understand that these stem from love.
I knew I have failed as a mother, when I entered his bedroom one evening to see his precious artwork, done during his free time in school, lying lifeless and ‘broken’ all over the floor. Not that they were actually broken, for he would never intentionally let bad things happen to his possessions. He takes very good care of his things; he’s a darling for that, and more.
“Matthew, what happened?” I exclaimed in mild shock, gesturing to his artwork on the floor.
He slashed his paper figurine through the air in anger, and replied “Because I’m a piece of shit!!”, angry tears immediately pooling in his eyes.
“Huh?! Why would you call yourself that?!” I raised my voice unconsciously, reeling from the force spewed forth from his words.
It turned out he was scolded a few days ago. Hence his work, as evident in his English file, was “full of shit”. There were plenty of careless mistakes that could have been avoided had he copied the words carefully and double-checked them. “So I am a piece of shit!!”. Goodness, he still remembered what happened a few days ago.
He was chided this particular evening for leaving his artwork all over his shelves, making the bedroom unusually untidy. It does not help he has sensitive skin and nose either; dust collects easily the more things he leaves in the open, and he knows that. Still, he was having an emotional meltdown at the moment.
Immediately, the Ice Queen in me took over, blocking all my own emotions and focusing on getting Matthew to calm down. I knelt down in front of him and forced him to look me in the eyes. I pointed out to him that work that was not done to the best of his ability was just that – that was targeted at his work, not him at all. He was still indignant.
“If you are a piece of shit, then what is MaMa? I gave birth to you. If you call yourself a piece of shit, what does that make me? Do you know you are hurting me too, by saying such nasty things about yourself?”
He immediately calmed down and had a thoughtful look on his face. Whatever he saw in his mind from my words must had been funny, for a tiny lop-sided smile escaped his mouth. Well, at least it worked.
Next, I posed him a challenge, to prove all those out there that Matthew is far, far away from shitty. I challenged him to prove those out there he is good, by producing good work from now on. And that he should not let his mummy be hurt too. He looked as if he understood; I decided to leave it at that, and helped him to pack his artwork away neatly into the box.
Once the meltdown had been dealt with, and I left his room, the Ice Queen in me retreated. The shock and pain from his words came flooding back, overwhelming me. I kept replaying his words in my head over and over again, unable to stop the self-bashing. It took me a few days before I was well enough to write this.
If he thinks he is a piece of shit, what does that make me, what does that make me? He and I have some healing journey to go through together…