Monday, April 23, 2007

A Lesson Learned

I wrote a few days ago about punishment and how difficult it is to appropriately punish a child so that they actually learn something. Well, Boy #1 learned a lesson today and I didn't even have to lift a finger - I just had to let him do what he wanted.

Let me start by saying that Boy #1 thinks he is invincible. He follows rules, mostly, but if there is ever a loophole or he thinks I'm not going to enforce a rule, it is out the window. Like the "Don't ride your bike without a helmet" rule that was called into question last week when he wanted to ride about a mile to a friend's house but couldn't find his helmet. I think he thought not being able to find the helmet made it acceptable to still ride the bike. Um, wrong. Additionally, he follows the buddy rule when walking home from school, unless he can't find his buddy, and then he'll just walk home alone.

This story isn't about personal safety - I brought that up to show that he thinks that consequences are for other people, and he is pretty much immune from head injuries or kidnappers or whatever. Apparently he thought that he would also be immune to the perils of a common childhood accident - the sleepover.

Here in our area, sleepovers are not too common. They've been replaced by the "late night" wherein kids get to hang out until later at night, but then go home and sleep in their beds, thus ensuring that sleeping actually happens. The prevailing opinion amongst the moms my age is that a late night gets all the benefits of a sleepover, without the potential dangers, like sleep deprivation, or having to pick up a scared kid at 2 a.m., or the crazy things that teenagers think up in the middle of the night. When a General Authority said that nothing good happens after midnight, I think he was pretty much right on. So the idea is that we never start with the sleepovers and then it won't ever be an issue.

That's fine for all of the moms that are my contemporaries. The problem comes in with Boy #1's friends, all of whom are either the youngest in their family or have substantially older siblings, so the parents of these friends are 10+ years older than me. And that must be the generational difference between the pro- and anti-sleepover factions, because they don't seem to have any problem with sleepovers.

So yesterday Boy #1 announces that he's been invited to sleep over at a friends house. Probably I should have stuck to my guns and said, regardless of what your friends are allowed to do, the most you can have is a late night. But instead, I told him I was okay with it, although in my mind I really wasn't. I warned him that his friend's family stayed up much later than he does, and that they sleep in, which my kids seem genetically unable to do, but he assured me that he would be fine. I told him not to stay up too late, to try to actually get some sleep, and he said he would.

Every parent on the planet knows how this story is going to end. Possibly every person who ever slept over as a child/teen knows the outcome too. I've never, ever seen a child look so miserable when he got home this morning around 10. Honestly, he looked like I feel when I've been woken up by kids all night after going to bed at midnight and then not being able to fall back asleep. To put it mildly, it looked like he'd been beaten with a stick, only without the bruises. His eyes were half closed and he walked really slowly, like every step caused him pain. I don't know when I've ever been able to empathize more! I feel that way all the time!

The only reason I really did feel some compassion for him is because he's never done this before. I asked him what time he went to bed, and he didn't know. I asked him what time was it the last time he looked at a clock, and he said 11:00. Note that standard bedtime for him is 9:15. So I'm guessing he went to bed at 12ish. I asked him what time he woke up, and he said 6:00. He said that he had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor and he was so uncomfortable that he couldn't stay asleep. His friend, on the other hand, is a regular sleeper-inner so I knew the answer when I asked, "Did you wake up before your friend?" He said yes, and I remembered the misery of being awake at someone else's house while they are still asleep, and waiting for what feels like eternity for them to wake up so I could finally get up too.

He said he didn't feel too good, his stomach hurt, and he wanted to go to bed. I didn't see him again for 2 1/2 hours. This is another pretty rare occurrence, because my kids are as unable to nap past a certain age as they are to sleep in. He must have been truly miserable. The misery didn't end there, as he spent pretty much the entire day sitting in front of the television, doing nothing. Even when a friend came over, they sat. And every time I went in the room and shut off the tv and told them to find something to do, they'd be outside or downstairs for 5 minutes before I'd hear the tv on again. He went to bed early that night, and the next day he was still a little off, although not as bad as the day before. He must have his father's genes - it took DH a full 48 hours to recover from his 24 hour campout the weekend before. Heaven forbid men ever gain the ability to bear children - they could never handle it.

The only reason I felt the least bit of compassion towards him is that he has never gone on a sleepover before. I knew that there was no way I could convince him of the pain and misery involved in not getting enough sleep - after all, he's watched me this whole pregnancy and heard me say that I barely slept last night, so be really good so I don't yell at everyone for no reason. He theoretically could have seen from my example or my teachings that the logic of going to bed too late, sleeping on the floor, and waking up really early combine to make anyone atrociously tired the next day. But I know in the deepest recesses of my heart that he would not have believed me. He would have said that he'd go to sleep earlier, or he wouldn't have a problem sleeping on the floor, or of course he'd sleep in.

So that's why I let my child suffer through a thoroughly preventable incident. I am hoping that he learns a lesson from this. That he will remember the consequences of this action, and it will be enough to prevent him from asking to do it again. That it will leave enough of a scar that when Boy #2 asks for a sleepover, Boy #1 can say with all confidence, You'd be happier with a late night.

But I'm a mom. And I'm getting a little cynical. I know it's just a matter of time before he asks again, and I have the same dilemma of, Do I say no and have the whole family feel the reverberations of his choice? Or do I say yes and let him suffer again? When it comes time for Boy #2 to go through the same ritual, do I stop it or let it happen? I'm leaning towards making a blanket rule of no sleepovers. At least while Boy #1 can remember the pain of this incident, he will be supportive. But I know it will seem less and less painful to him as time goes on, so I have a feeling that this is one lesson we're going to have to revisit.

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