There were clues. The first was that my six year old didn’t eat breakfast: no hot cereal and no eggs. When asked why, he said he was tired. The second and third clues were screams of anguish over small things, small enough that I can’t remember them just a day later. And on the way to the car, my son yelled to his father who would be driving him that he didn’t want to go to school! No! No school!
Guess what we did?
I told his father to leave our son at home, and go forth with other errands. And when my husband without a word did just that, my son let out more screams: Actually I want to go to school! I changed my mind! I want to go! Daddy! Daddy!! Then he collapsed in a heap on the deck. It didn’t seem like a good time to talk, so I went back into the house.
I peeked out the window to check on my boy a few minutes later. He was still sitting, but had found a stick and was silently drawing with it on the wooden boards of our deck.
A few minutes after that he came into the house. Different, calm. He saw me and smiled. “What are we going to do today, Mommy?”
A few years back, I read Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. As I recall, I didn’t read quite to the end, but his main message (see subtitle above) resonated with me. I remember him likening the remedy for a child who is out of sorts, withdrawn, or unusually moody to the remedy for a physically sick child. And that’s to slow everything right down, and rest.
I don’t know why I was certain that this is what my son needed yesterday, but I was. We had not been noticeably more busy than usual, with the exception of a new basketball practice, and he had been sleeping enough and well. He has been ravenous lately, so maybe he needed some respite from all the growing his body is doing. I’m not sure. But I do know that the boy who always eats a good breakfast and who looks forward to school and who was falling on the back deck was not himself yesterday, and I was sure that some downtime was the remedy.
We ended up ditching school for the whole day, and reading club after that. He came along for the ride when I dropped his brother off for a half day of afternoon kindergarten, and asked to get out to say hello to his brother’s teacher (and his former kindergarten teacher) “because he doesn’t get a chance to talk to her”. He popped out, said hello, showed her a rock he had in his pocket, and got back into the car. I asked if he wanted to go to school in the afternoon, although I knew the answer. “No,” he said.
What did he do? I just followed his lead. First, he asked to make a pillow for a beloved stuffed friend. He chose the felt rectangles, the embroidery floss, and practiced the running stitch that he’s learned recently at school. I couldn’t find my bag of stuffing for the pillow, so he used small pieces of scrap fleece to stuff the pillow.
Turns out the present of the pillow was for the stuffie’s birthday (just a day away!), so he needed to make a cake. He often makes food on his own in the kitchen, and yesterday he made a cake with no recipe or input for me, following only his own sense of what should go in a cake (we bake and cook a lot together, so he has a sense of these things).
While I was putting his baby brother down for his afternoon nap, I fell into a deep sleep, not realizing how tired I was. I tried to wake myself up from the nap, but I couldn’t will my eyes to open. Finally, after an hour and a half, I struggled out of sleep to check in on my older son, thinking he might be disappointed at losing time alone with me. I found him in the bathroom, washing something.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Fine!” he replied.
“What have you been doing?” I asked.
“I worked on my Lego fire truck, and now I’m washing my rocks. They need to be washed every week.”
And the day went on like that: pleasant, easy.
When he saw me this morning, he said, “I feel better today. I want to go to school.” And he did.
When he came home, he made the icing for his stuffie’s cake, and decorated it with sugar he coloured with food dyes. We sang a warm happy birthday to our stuffed animal friend, and ate cake. It was nice to round off the doings of the previous day with this little celebration.
I’m not worried that I’m instilling bad habits or a slack attitude in letting my son stay home yesterday. I think many of us, no matter how old we are, can benefit from a well-timed day of downtime, after which we go back to our routines refreshed and rested. Sometimes we can’t do this, but sometimes we can, and I’m glad we did it yesterday. Some people call it hookey. I call it home.