“Going my way home?” my impish 8 year old son, Eli, asked as he leaned thru the passenger side window of my car after happily bounding off the school bus yesterday afternoon. His grin warmed my heart.
“No silly,” I chirped, “We have to go pick up your brother at school. Hop in.”
Then he flashed a mischievous smile, turned tail and ran away from me at lightning speed.
OK, I was stunned. And I mean stunned like a deer who had just been shot in the chest by a tranquilizer gun. All the other moms at the bus stop looked at me with embarrassing glances, trying not to actually meet my gaze. Inside my head, I heard them snickering about my parental ineptitude. I tried to make light of the situation. “Ha ha,” I chuckled, “He just loves to race me home.” The awkwardness was palpable.
I drove away and as soon as I was out of their view, I pulled over and tried to catch my breath. I rationally weighed my options. I could go immediately home to rant, rave and revile my youngster for publicly disobeying and humiliating me. Then I could physically imbed him into his car seat and embark upon the trek to his brother, Levi’s, school to retrieve him. But I gotta tell you, that didn’t sound all that appealing to me.
Instead, I began driving slowly away from my home where I imagined Eli victoriously awaiting my arrival for our scream fest. No, I was not going to play the scene out like that. I carefully considered what potential perils Eli might possibly encounter as he sat locked outside our house for the next 45 minutes. I admit I had visions of an errant mountain lion meandering past and eating him, or a band of gypsies kidnapping him at gun-point, but I figured that the odds of either of those things happening in our well-patrolled, gated community with plenty of neighbors within ear shot, was more than unlikely. Besides, when is the last time you saw gypsies packing heat? The greater threat seemed to me to be withholding the valuable lesson that this opportunity presented for my child to learn about natural consequences, responsibility and respect.
Sitting outside the house alone was a small price to pay if it taught my boy that it is not okay to run away from me or directly defy me like that. Sure he might be scared. He might cry. He might even fear abandonment for his impulsive behavior. But as a staunch believer in behavior modification and “Love and Logic,” this negative consequence naturally follows the poor choice he made. The only way for him to internalize that lesson is to truly experience an unpleasant outcome that naturally emerges out of his rash and impulsive behavior.
I picked up Levi and raced home nervously. When I pulled up to the house, I expected to see my tear-stained youngest son regretfully pouting outside the front door. But he wasn’t there. It was either the gypsies or he’d figured out where the spare key was hidden. I began to panic and ran inside the house. I hurried down the hall towards his room but slowed my pace and nonchalantly passed his doorway to see if he was there. I spotted him peripherally and continued walking. He was hiding under his covers awaiting some horrific consequence, I imagine. I said nothing.
Later that night he came to me and apologized. We talked about it briefly and I let him think that it was over and all was well. Unfortunately this weekend is the Diamond Back game he’s been waiting for months to attend. When it comes time to head to the ballpark, the babysitter is arriving and we’re going to have to explain to Eli that we love him too much to risk losing him at such a busy stadium. Since we can’t trust him to not run away from us, he’ll just have to stay home with a sitter while the rest of us enjoy our peanuts, popcorn and crackerjack.
I don’t look forward to his reaction. He’ll be angry. He’ll be crest-fallen. But I believe in my heart that he will learn how to better control his urges, how to respect his parents, and that his actions have very direct and relevant consequences.