Hilarious kid. Such a sweetheart. Smarter than her Mama already. A heart of gold beats in her chest. Wittier at four than most adults. Such a clown. Thinks she has to pose if a camera is pointed in her direction, and that pink gloves complete any outfit. My beloved firstborn, who I'm absolutely crazy over.
So imagine my dismay last week when her preschool teacher walked her out to my my car as I waited in the pickup line to tell me that Mattie had not had a good day. She went on to describe some pretty bad behavior, that had not only been going on that day, but for sometime leading up to that point. Apparently that day had just been the breaking point in what had been a steady escalation of behavior issues. I was stunned and very caught off guard, but I can't say I was too surprised. We had been seeing and dealing with the same escalation at home for sometime, but I never considered that it would carry over to school. Mattie has always been a teacher pleaser...eager to earn favor and be the "pet", so I was shocked to hear of her disobedience in the classroom.
Among her offenses were things like bossiness, being whiny or falling apart when not getting her way, lots of unnecessary tattle-telling on her friends, but most of all, ignoring her teacher or having to be told three or four times to do something. Blatant disobedience. And like I said, we had been having some of the same issues at home...having to tell her several times to do something, whining when she doesn't get her way, falling apart over the least little thing. A huge departure from the kid we had known up to this point.
After finding this out, Matthew and I talked about it and came up with what we thought were some appropriate punishments for her. We had a very stern talk with her about what was going on, exactly why she was being punished, exactly what was expected of her at home and in the classroom, and what would happen if the bad behavior continued. And honestly, we thought that would be the end of it.
So, imagine my even greater surprise later in the week when I had a message from her preschool teacher to please call her that night. Because not only had Mattie not corrected her behavior, it had gotten worse. If you've never had such a message from your own child's teacher, let me tell you that the anxiety you will feel upon hearing said message will possibly cause you some degree of gastrointestinal upset.
I am not a cryer. I hold it together well, under most circumstances. It takes a lot to get me upset. But this phone conversation left me in tears. The way she described my child to me, the problems she was having with Mattie, the way she described Mattie's friends not even wanting to play with her because she was so awful...the picture she painted of my sweet Mattie left me in a puddle of tears. How? How did the sweet girl I knew get to this point? Where had Matthew and I failed in our parenting to let this happen? Was there any hope in correcting and redirecting her at this point or was this our new "normal"? The most frustrating thing to me is that I KNOW Mattie knows better. I KNOW she's capable of better.
Matthew and I had another very lengthy discussion. We were both so dismayed...I don't think we're under any dilusions about having a perfect child. Clearly we don't. But we were both so shocked and saddened by this. We came up with some even sterner punishments, even worse consequences, and planned to talk to Mattie in the morning since my conversation with her teacher took place after she was already in bed that night. I went into her room that night and cried as I prayed over her. Father, please show me how to shape her.
The next morning I informed Mattie that I had spoken on the phone with her teacher, much to her shock, and that I was very aware of what had gone on at school. We went on to talk about her new punishments and consequences, and when I told her that her teacher now had Mommy's cell phone and would be calling me the moment she got out of line again so I could come to the school and discipline her, she fell apart. She was absolutely broken, and just fell into my arms and wept and wept and wept. It was like something finally clicked with her that this was serious. I gently reminded her that Mommy and Daddy still love her, even when her behavior is not great, that there are ALWAYS second chances with us, and that we KNEW she would do better from now on.
I am so struck by the parallels between this situation and my relationship with my Heavenly Father. How many times has he looked at me in frustration and thought "I KNOW she knows better than this". How many times have my actions disappointed Him? How many times have I fallen short of His expectations for me? And yet there are alway second chances with Him. I try very hard to remember God's grace to me as I parent my little loves, particulary in these tougher situations. And in the same way that we are moving on from this with Mattie and not holding it over her head, the same is true with God...there is no record of wrongs. Only boundless grace, endless mercy, tender love and complete forgiveness. How thankful I am for that.
I am happy to say that we have seen a dramatic turnaround in Mattie's behavior, at home and at school. Her teacher's exact words to me were that she has made a 180 degree turn in her behavior, and that the child we have sent to school the past few days has been a delight. Exactly what we wanted to hear. Something we said or did must have gotten through to her, praise Jesus.
Interestingly, someone told my sister that preemies tend to display these behaviors more because they start out life as little fighters. At five weeks early, she was no micro-preemie, but she did do her share of fighting in her early weeks. Should I be surprised that this girl is now somewhat headstrong? Perhaps not?