Friday, February 20, 2009

Psychos, subs, sexism, sledding and sobbing....

Well, Zander has been a real delight lately (as you may have gathered) and on Tuesday he came home extremely unhappy. I was unable to figure out why until he had already physically attacked me, his sister and his brother, thrown his glasses (losing a lens) and tried to break our glass door. I finally ended up holding him down for about 15 minutes until he promised to stop being destructive.

I find this incredibly frustrating since I haven't had to hold him down like that since probably the first week we were here and before that it had been months and months, and also since such attention is completely counterproductive. I mean, let's face it, when I am holding him down I can't really give attention to the other munchkins, can I? Of course, I tried to and actually did hold down a conversation with Callie and Griffin about their days at school, attempting to ignore, as much as possible the writhing scratching spitting creature trapped beneath me. Here is something I never knew I would be doing as a parent - talking about art projects and wrestling simultaneously!

The ironic thing is that I would also classify Zander as my most thoughtful and considerate of our bunch. Here he is holding a little tree he created for Griffin. The other day he made Callie a little picture just for her and he is always the one who wants to send pictures and cards to Grammie and Grandpa and mentions missing Lina and Livi (his cousins) all the time. He will be extra quiet when someone is napping and, for our last anniversary, convinced the other two to let Andre' and I sleep in for about an hour while he engineered breakfast and entertainment. His teachers always say he is the kindest of all the boys in the class. He has been through counseling, we've read every book around, we try to manage his behavior in a consistent, expertly reccomended fasion. Where does all this rage come from?
Once he finally calmed down, the tears started and I discovered he had been cursed with, oh horror of horrors, a substitute that morning at school. And, not just any substitute either. (He has experienced a sub in France one other time) But this one, this was a really, really, really mean substitute. She wouldn't speak English to him at all, or help him understand, and if he didn't do his work, she would put him in time out, AND if he tried to ask one of his friends for help to understand what his work was - she put him in time out. Apparantly, she put the whole class in time out at one time or another - "even if you just breathed too much or, like, wiggled your legs."

Now, I realize of course, how stressful and hard this must have been for him. Imagine being told what to do, not understanding what you are told, and then being punished for not following instructions! He prides himself on his extremely good behavior in school - he always does his best, and she wouldn't cut him even a tiny break. Throughout all this crushing unfairness, he still tried his best, went to time out quietly when the teacher asked and behaved himself. That's worth something.
But I guess he used up all his reserves by the time he got home and an explosion was inevitable. I DID forget to ask him if anything bad had happened that morning when I first picked him up - a measure that we put in place long ago to help him to remember to tell me what was bothering him. So, really, it is my fault, right? I told him I really didn't like having to hold him down like that. His response? "Well, but Mom, sometimes you just have to!" How comforting - to know I have to do such things.
Then, of course, he did not want to return to school that afternoon. "She is so mean and unfair, Mom!" I have to be honest, I half wanted to let him stay home, I mean, what is he learning? IF he had told me first off, without almost killing his siblings and me, about this crazy sub, I probably would have let him stay for the afternoon - but I never want to reward such bad behavior. So I tried to remind him of something I've told him numerous times in the past - sometimes life isn't fair - and sometimes you just have to deal with things not going your way. Well, his response to that was to crawl under the kitchen table and cry - along with flat out refusing to go to school. (At least he didn't attack anyone or break anything, and the fact that he was crying meant he was getting his feelings out - which is good). It took me another 15-20 minutes to convince him to come and get ready to go. By this time, of course, we were all incredibly late - which is super duper frowned upon in France.
I knew he would have a tough afternoon so I brought the sleds along with me for pick up so he could ride out some of that frustration down a hill before coming home and possibly committing hari kari.... Unfortunately, the other moms did not want to go sledding and a few of the kids had a hard time (understandably) passing us by as we sledded merrily down the hill. Tebo - who seems to be almost preternaturally obedient, turned around immediately and rejoined his mom when she called him while Noemi was, shall we say, a bit reluctant. Her mom agreed to let her go for one ride with Zander and then she was dawdling etc... and not wanting to come back up the hill. Her mother, getting frustrated, said "She is difficult!" and I said, pointing to Zander: "Oh yes, so is Zander" Her response - "Oh, but he is a boy...Noemi is a girl - she is supposed to be nice". Ummmm.... am I trapped in a Leave it to Beaver episode or something? I tried to explain that she couldn't really say that in the US, that we think some boys are stubborn and some girls are stubborn and some boys are 'easy' and some girls are 'easy'. Kids all have their own personalities and temperments. (Of course, my ability to express this in French was, to say the least, limited) I pointed Griffin out as an example of an easy-going little fellow. Well, I guess I thought this might make her feel better or something, but she just didn't get it. Noemi is a girl, she repeated, she is supposed to be gentle. I have found the level of gender roles here to be extremely annoying. Callie plays running games outside with her friends almost every day. Their favorite is Loup (wolf). In this game the boys are the chasseures (hunters) with guns and the loups (wolves) are the girls - they run away from the chasseures. Another game is pirate - the boys are pirates and the girls are 'the girls that the pirates are chasing'. Callie has told me, straight out: "I can run faster than all the boys, Mom, but I just go slow so they can catch me - then they won't feel bad." OK - I thought acting like a weak female to feed male egos was a stage that wouldn't arrive until she was a teenager - or hopefully never! They discipline boys and girls differently too. In the preschool, if girls hit, or don't share it is frowned upon but if boys do, that is just them being boys. Griffin says: "I don't like boys, the boys are mean." Mom: "What do they do?" Griffin: "They hit me and they take things. That's why I only like girls, the girls are nice." Mom: "But what about you Griffin. Are you a boy?" Griffin: "Oh yes, I'm a nice boy." Similar in Zander's school - lately he has been trying the physical play a bit on the playground. Noemi will literally tackle him and hurt him, with no consequence at all. If he retaliates against her, though, he gets in big trouble but he can roughhouse with the boys and it is not a problem. If he complains one of the boys is hurting him, there is no consequence for that boy (unless they are much bigger or something). It just seems to get worse as they are older. I pass the soccer field near our house and the boys and girls (tween age) are gender split into two teams for soccer. The boys are awesome, running, passing, dribbling etc... They are covering 2/3rds of the field. The girls, giggling and falling over, are relegated to the remaining third - and are mostly not even trying. I did see a few excellent young women playing - but they were tossed in with the boys. Really, really makes me want to scream. I was talking to someone about how the kids fight here and they said: ''Oh, well you can't go through life without learning to fight.'' "Oh really?" was my logical response, 'Well, I've never been in a physical fight." Then without skipping a beat he said: "Oh, but you are a girl." My response? "Oh, and you are a sexist!" (Yes, I literally did say that - guess my tact gene is missing - how suprising since according to the French I should be a 'nice' girl)

Well, as a consolation prize to the dissappointed friends, the moms invited us to sled with them the following afternoon. It was another lovely Wednesday and we spent the morning hanging at home and in the afternoon while Callie went to another birthday party (ride courtesy of another nice mom) Zander, Griffin and I joined Tebo's family for some luge. There is a hill behind the apartment complex I never knew was there. The snow stopped falling Monday and it got a bit warm on Tuesday, making tons of fun slush. By Wednesday it had all frozen to solid ice. This hill was steep, and, basically covered in a sheet of ice. It seems that it is part of a farmer's field or something as there is a barbed wire fence surrounding it - well, we just slithered right under that little barricade. It seems the French don't really mind trespassing.

It was actually great fun - super fast and super slippery. Griffin and I went down together a bunch of times and Zander was going on his own or with his friends. One strange thing about French sledding - there is no unwritten up and down protocol. In the US, my experience has always been - you walk up one side and slide down another spot. Here in France, whereever we have sledded, it is perfectly fine to simply walk right up where you just sledded down - and to sled down merrily right next to people struggling up the hill, often knocking them down. Makes me crazy. I try to convince mine to walk to the side anyway. Well, Zander was getting bored, I suppose so he decided to try going down on his belly and flipped over, planting face first into the ice. I saw it happen and ran over. Luckily he was not seriously hurt, but, not so luckily he lost his glasses and we couldn't find the lens that popped out anywhere. Poor guy!

Thursday was the day the terrific Isabelle was taking me to a coffee with some other ladies, all of whom, supposedly were transplanted Americans or married to transplanted Americans. I was very excited to finally be meeting some new potential friends. There were about 8 people there in all and one of them was another new Bisontin who has 4 children. She spoke no English or perhaps just very little and so everyone started out speaking in French. In fact, it turned out that except when I spoke and when one person asked me a question, everyone spoke in French the whole time. Isabelle was wonderful, translating for me and trying to help me out, but it was very frustrating for me as I couldn't really understand what was going on, get the jokes etc.... and also because I thought people would be speaking in English since they wanted to meet me or something. (Silly me, I know, I know - earth to Rebecca this is france - get used to it!) I did bring a zucchini cake and that was a big hit and it was fun to get out of the house - but I really didn't get a chance to connect with anyone new.

I got home just in time to pick up the kids for lunch - on the way home Tebo and Zander were playing and Tebo pushed Zander a bit too hard at the top of a hill knocking Zander down and hurting his feelings. So, did he push Tebo back or tell Tebo he was mad? No, both of those reactions would make sense. He (being Zander) decided to hurl himself, rolling, down the rest of the hill and then lay, crying, at the bottom holding his ankle. Oh man, these are the times I HATE being mom - Oh how I wished to not be the one to have to go down there. But, of course I did, falling over in the mud, cutting my hand and trashing my jeans and jacket. Noemi, ever proving she is no typical 'nice' girl, started laughing and pointing at the sorry scene I made. I crawled over to Zander, helped him up and we made it home. I only burst into tears once we got into the door. Sometimes, it is all just too much for me. Sometimes it is all just too hard. Whose job is it to run down that hill and nurse me?

Today starts the 2 week February vacation. Hopefully Zander will be happy to have a break from the stresses of school. His teacher told me the other day "It's a miracle - he is trying to speak in French!" Let's hope this break doesn't result in a backslide! I may not have time to blog for awhile as I will be taking care of the kids 24/7, we will have swimming lessons and carnivale next week and then we will be vacationing in Belgium the week after - I hope that I will do better than I did last vacation - it took me forever to catch up!

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