There they go again with their silly talk and behaviour! One boy says “I’ll eat your dump truck!” while the other squeals “Ah-kak, Ah-kak, Ah-kak!”
The scene? Me driving two rambunctious 8 year old boys home from school as they make endless noise in the back seat, while I try my darndest to ignore them and concentrate on not banging my car into the vehicle in front!
This is what I go through nearly every school day between 1 and 1.30 pm, and it’s a wonder I make it through with my nerves still intact. Of course I’ve tried all kinds of ways to get them to be quiet, or to at least be less noisy and talkative. I’ve played soft, relaxing music; audio children stories; got them to share how their school day was; or just plain showed them my angry face with threats to boot.
But there’s just no way to hold their attention for long before they revert to their silly talk and behaviour.
In fact, of late it’s actually gotten worse. N, my son Caleb’s classmate, who’s the other boy in the car, has been exceptionally difficult to manage. There seemed to be some kind of latent rage in him threatening to erupt like a volcano each time we’re in the car. Everything that spews from his mouth seemed to run along the lines of either “Stop it!” or “Shut up!” or “I’ll throw your things out” or something equally nasty. This has been going on for the last fortnight especially, and I’m really starting to lose my cool!
The effect was not just startling for me. Caleb also seemed at a loss as to why his friend was being extra mean these days. Not being able to understand, Caleb simply stuck to his usual way of asking “Hey N, why you say ______ ah?!”
And on and on it goes until I too feel like spewing expletives or just plain blow my top at N, and also Caleb, since he can’t stop asking why.
So much for smooth car rides. I just find myself praying hard each trip that we make it home in one piece.
Each day after school, N goes to his granny’s place which is near to ours. So ever since the school year started, we’ve been offering to give him a lift home from school, also in hopes that he and Caleb can become good friends.
As the months pass though, it became clear that this hope was but a pipe dream. They’re almost always quarelling about something or other all the way home and after some months, I decided to have a discussion with their teacher how we could manage this better. The good thing about special needs schools and their teachers is that you can bring these after-school issues up and the teachers are still willing to help strategise. With the teacher’s help, we started several months ago to institute a checklist of tasks for both boys to do each time they got into my car. Each boy had their own copy of the checklist, nicely prepared and pasted onto a small clipboard they each carried. The checklist would contain a short list of three tasks they must do in the car; once done, they may then check each task off as completed.
The first of course was to belt up for safety. Then each would take turns to share about some lesson they learnt in school that day. Usually they will complete that second task just before I hit the highway which then leads them to the third and final task – to shut their eyes and mouth and take a short nap or just relax. That last one was put in place by the teacher to remind the boys how critical it was that ‘Uncle’ (yours truly) be able to stay cool and collected when coasting along the highway to get them safely home.
For quite a while this checklist was a real life-saviour. It became a more pleasant (and sane) drive on the highway for me when the kids kept to this task of staying quiet.
But as the old adage goes: “All good things must come to an end!” In the last month or two, the boys have started to push the boundaries of these tasks, first with furtive and incessant whispers that gradually got louder, then with fiddling around with their school bags or any handy toys they had with them. N even had an iPhone 7 with him which he would take out and talk to (though he didn’t actually make any calls)! So unfortunately the strategy’s effect has clearly waned off, and a new approach needs be taken.
And it doesn’t help that N’s behaviour has been especially challenging these past two weeks.
I finally had no choice but to contact his mom yesterday to find out if anything was going on at home that may have triggered N’s more ornery behaviour these days. I knew from the start that N came from a broken family (his parents were divorced), and the constant moving about from maternal home to the home of his paternal grandparents can’t have been easy for him. So I’ve tried to be patient.
But a saint I’m afraid I’m still far from being. So there are days when I do lose it. Not a proud moment for an adult caregiver, but that’s the way it is.
This time though, the mom explained that she was actually in the process of moving herself (a single mom) and N to a smaller rental apartment. It was this downsizing that seems to have triggered N in a most unhappy way. He was constantly at loggerheads with her on many days and his mom was too busy and distraught herself to be able to handle his tantrums. There were days when he would even tell her that he won’t pee in the smaller apartment, because he doesn’t belong there. Stuff that will drive any parent to despair.
Ahhh…so now I know. And now I understand. And now I’m humbled. For it’s yet another reminder to me that there’s almost always a trigger (and usually these are home-based) for a child’s abrupt change in behaviour. Surely I ought to have known better? But I guess I was too engrossed trying to keep a clear head driving to pause long enough and consider what might have set N off.
However, the challenge would be what to do next, now that I have a clearer picture of what’s been going on in his little life. Perhaps I can try to get him to air his ‘grievances’ since confession is supposed to be good for the soul right?
Whatever it is, I do hope to at least be a better caregiver to N (and of course Caleb) between 1 and 1.30 daily. Surely I can keep it together for at least half an hour no?
Well, I’ll know in three hours time from now. Wish me luck!