Whenever I imagined a future first where I would have to teach Hawkeye that there are certain words he should not use, I always imagined that it would be curse words that he would have picked up from my own careless muttering. After all, it seems like the logical consequence of the things that come out of my mouth when I’m rushing around the apartment in the morning frantically searching for my phone which I have managed to put down, yet again, in some place that isn’t where it belongs, or some other similar scenario.
However it turns out that my worry was premature. I’m sure that this lesson is still coming, but the curse words which I had been dreading so much have been preempted by something much more insidious. The last couple of days, we’ve been butting up against Hawkeye’s newest expression that he has been hurling at us whenever he’s been in the midst of a bad tantrum, with snot and tears and a red face contorted in the rictus of anger and frustration: “NO!!!!” he roars at us. “STOP WHINGING!”
Writing it down like this kind of makes me want to chuckle, but the truth is that the first time I heard him say this over the weekend I was stunned. Then I was dismayed. And after that I was angry. The shock has worn off, but the anger and dismay still vie with each other for dominance. This is not a directive either my husband or I ever use with our son. There are plenty of things we tell him to stop doing, but they are usually things like “stop hitting”, “stop throwing”, “stop jumping”, “stop running”, “stop fidgeting”, “stop making mommy tear her hair out”, and they are always, always, accompanied by a “please” and, in cases of compliance, a “thank you”.
My first instinct was to worry that one of the staff members in his creche was using it. But this wasn’t a logical response. I wanted someone to blame and this was the only thing I could think of initially. However I know the staff in our creche well. They have never shown anything other than complete professionalism and on top of that, almost everyone I have met there has that little extra something which I often refer to as “the crazy”. They’re madly in love with looking after children, in the way that you have to be if you want to do well in that profession and not go batshit crazy in a short space of time. Children will do that to you. If childcare is just a job to you, and not a calling, they will eat you alive and pick their teeth with your bones. It is not a job for the half-hearted.
The other problem with my first response was that it’s also not the Montessori way. Hawkeye’s creche is deeply committed to the Montessori methodology and this sort of careless behaviour on the part of a staff member would not go unnoticed. Why, just even a few days ago I remember hearing one of the staff members tell me “some of the children have been using the phrase ‘time out’ but we don’t know where they got it – we don’t use time out here.”
But I didn’t know where else to look for blame. However, the answer has been staring me in the face this whole time whenever I am out and about and I observe other familial interactions around us, and the creche’s director confirmed it to me this morning in conversation – he probably picked it up from another child who heard the phrase outside of creche.
And that’s the thought around which the despair and anger fight over. Because I know there are families out there where communication in this sort of tone and language is acceptable. Where shouting at each other is common enough occurrence. And all they can do whenever this happens, the director said, is teach the children that even if they hear these words at home, that it’s still not all right to use them in other places like school. This source did not occur to me initially, because it’s an alien sort of parental interaction for us. I’m not saying we’re perfect parents. But those occasional times when one of us raises our voice in frustration or impatience is almost immediately followed by guilt and by the need to offer hugs and reassurance. In the worst instances, it is followed by us swapping jobs because it’s ok sometimes to need to take a break and take a few breaths away from the situation. But mostly, it’s not a conscious parenting choice that we have to make every day in order to succeed – it’s who we are. Not yelling at our son when we’re angry or frustrated feels instinctively right to us.
This morning was very rough – full of much crying and shouting and my being tested to the limits of my patience – but the evening was full of laughter and smiles. Sometime soon I will need to find a quiet, calm opportunity to sit down with Hawkeye and explain to him that we shouldn’t use the phrase “stop whinging”. It may be a conversation I will need to have numerous times. And then there will be new words and phrases which I will have to worry about. But ultimately, the best thing we can do is teach by example.