For the last two weeks Nadjah, my eldest, has come home with a bad behavioral report from school at least 3 out of 5 days a week. It has been absolutely maddening for me. As long time readers of the blog know, Nadjah is not a hooligan, but she’s no saint either. She’s capable of her moments. These “moments” have just been more consistent and frequent than I care for of late.
The behavioral report tracks 6 markers:
1) Completing assignments
2) Being quite through transitions
3) Obeying the teacher
4) Respecting and showing kindness for other students
5) Caring for school property
6) Speaking only when appropriate
If they succeed in all these areas, they get a star at the end of the day, and at the end of the week the students with the most stars get a treasure from the classroom’s treasure box. She consistently violates 2, 3 and 6, and rarely gets to participate in treasure box. She’s a talker, and always has been. To my shame, some of that talk includes backtalk. Any African mother will agree that backtalk from a child is a cardinal sin, and never to be tolerated. Somehow, my sisters on the continent have managed to quell this desire in their children, where as I have failed to do so. Therein lies my shame.
As it turns out, Nadjah took a departure from the norm and violated rule 4 and 6 yesterday. After 15 minutes of investigation, I discovered that she had struck another student in class for laughing at her. Last week she threw a chair because she did not get a star, and as punishment, my husband made her write “I will have self control” 50 times. The punishment obviously had very little effect.
“Why did you hit the boy, Nadjah?” I growled.
“Because he was laughing at me!” she wailed.
“Did he hit you first?”
“Did he hurt you physically?”
“No…” she moped.
“Are you supposed to put your hands on another student for any reason?!?” I said deliriously.
“No!” she sobbed.
She knows what’s right. As far as I was concerned, she was willfully being disruptive. This was worthy of a spanking. I was incensed, envisioning myself taking my child upstairs and beating respect into her. I told her to get her homework done and get ready for a spanking.
Her eyes welled up with tears and she choked her way through her assignment, with far more efficiency than I’d seen previously. Homework usually takes 30-45 minutes for Nadjah to complete. Yesterday she was done in a record 10. I was not prepared for this level of productiveness so soon. The time to whop her came faster than I expected.
I chickened out.
I didn’t want to beat my child; I truly didn’t! I wanted to reason with her and make her understand the error of her ways so that she could consciously change them. In a stroke of brilliance, I gave her an opportunity to save us both. It was a warm pre-spring day yesterday and all her friends were outside playing. She looked desperately at the door, listening to their laughter and playful screams. I hoped she would make the right choice as I uttered my next words.
“Nadjah, I’m going to give you a choice,” I said menacingly. “I’m either going to take you upstairs and spank you and then let you go outside, or you’re going to have to read a book and do a report and stay inside.”
“I’ll do the report,” Nadjah said without hesitation.
I breathed a lot easier.
“A wise choice,” I told her.
Nadjah hates to read, but she hates to write even more. I figured this was a fitting punishment – making her do something she loathed – and I stalked off to make sure that the big kids did not hurt the babies while they played outside.
A friend of mine was over to visit and watched the whole match unfold. She shook her head disbelievingly before giving her opinion, which is generally welcome.
“You’re so soft,” she scolded.
“Huh? What do you mean?” I asked.
“Given the choice to have someone put their hands on you or to read a book, ANYONE would choose the book!”
I stared blankly at her.
“That’s not true,” I said in disagreement. “When I was a kid, I would much rather have taken the beating and been set free. I hated being cooped up in the house with my parents. Given the choice between a spanking and a grounding, I chose the spanking every time. I value my freedom far too much.”
My friend said I ought to take a poll.
“I’m sure you will find that you are in the minority,” she contended. “And you forget: Nadjah enjoys your company. Making her hang out with you is no punishment at all!”
This shocked me, and actually nearly brought me to tears. Only a few people know that I have a less than cordial relationship with my own mother. I haven’t spoken to the woman in years. To put it into context, my mother did not find out about Nadjah’s existence until almost 2 years after she was born. The circumstances of her birth were difficult enough, and I chose at the time not to complicate them with what I anticipated would be a less than desirable reaction from my mother.
Inwardly, I expect – and fear – that my relationship with my children will turn out very similar to that of my siblings and our mother…which is none at all. Instinctively I know that by not disciplining my children appropriately is doing my children in doing them a disservice in the long run. I would be okay with my children not loving me for this, but it would devastate me for them to grow up hating me. There is a subtle difference.
Fortunately my husband came home and added some balance to my leniency. He told her she could have no TV or outside play for the next two weeks in ADDITION to a daily book report.
M.O.M Squad: Think back to your days as a kid if you can. Would you have taken the beating, or done the report, given the choice? Would you laugh at your mother for even having this internal dilemma? Over to you. As always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.