Today I took school away from Raphael.
Seriously. He spent the first 45 minutes of school time whining, falling to the floor, and telling me how much he hates math. After he slogged through one page of it, I sent him to get his spelling work. He came back to me (after several side trips) and flopped the book in my direction. It dropped, a good foot away from my hand, and he shrieked at me. “MOM! Why did you have do that to my STUPID SPELLING BOOK?”
I took him by one arm (a little more firmly than strictly necessary), showed him to his room, and informed him that he had lost the opportunity to do school. He was to wait on his bed until we were done.
I don’t know what’s going on with the boy these days. Half the time he’s fine, his own happy, intensely engaged little self. The rest of the time he’s a great thundercloud of ire and obstinacy. I tell him to stop playing and come eat, and he will turn to me and shriek NO in my face, as though we live on THAT planet, where the children are the angry overlords who reject mealtimes.
Sometimes I want to gather him up in my arms, hold him tight until his heart slows down its furious torrent, and whisper, what is wrong, sweet son?
Other times I want to grab him by both arms and snarl in his face, step off, little man. You are NOT the evil despot in this house. That would be me.
Clay tells me, sometimes, that I indulge Raphael. When he says that, gently as he can, it stings as only the truth will.
I don’t think, though, that I have ever given him the impression that school was an optional activity, reserved for the days when you feel…you know…learn-y. I don’t think I ever invited him to scream at me. If I was unclear, today was an opportunity to set the record straight.
When I went downstairs to get him for lunch, he was asleep. I woke him up, and he curled into my arms. It only took him a few minutes, however, to remember what a horrible person I am, and the weight of his sorrow made it impossible for him to eat his food. Hunger. THAT’ll teach me.
After ignoring lunch he went back to his bed, and Max and Tre got back to work. Tre was his usual brooding self, offended at his math book for some reason today. But Max was incandescent. He was, for once, the good kid. He bounced up to me, text book extended.
“Check my work, please, Mom.” He sighed with joy. “I just love math.”
“Mmm-hmm,” I replied, scanning his work (a perfect page. Still surprised by that).
“I’m having a good day today! I think I’m the only one. Except you. You’re having a good day, aren’t you, Mom?”
I looked at him and thought about that.
“Well…Raphael’s having a hard day, and I don’t know how to make it better. That bothers me. So my day is fine, but I’m a little sad.”
He looked at me, and for a moment the air between us was full of memories of days that I couldn’t improve for Max, no matter how hard we both tried. He bounced on the balls of his feet for a moment, then reached up quick and kissed me on the cheek, and ran off before the mood could break.
Eventually, Raphael was released from his captivity. He came upstairs, blinking in the light, and swore in a small voice that he would always do his work and never yell and have a bad attitude and…what did he do wrong again?
I gave him permission to play in the back yard, one of the few pleasures available to small boys who haven’t done school that day. As he turned toward the door, he stopped and reached out one hand and put it on my side. Then he leaned his head against that hand. Sometimes I’m like a favorite piece of furniture.
“Mom?” He said, “we have loved each other since before I had a heartbeat.”
I leaned down and buried my nose in his puppy dog smelling hair.
“You bet. That’s my whole point, son.”