As I mentioned in a previous post, we were very much looking forward to the Shrek musical coming to the Hippodrome last night. Jack, my four-year-old, has been talking about it for weeks, asking "Are we going to Shrek today?" almost every morning. I've heard him talking about it to his friends ("the real Shrek is gonna be there!"). It was going to be Jack's first full-scale musical, he was going to have an incredible time, and I was going to write here about our magical evening.
As you might've guessed by now, it didn't happen.
When my wife Brenda brought the boys home from school, she explained that his teacher said he had really been misbehaving at school, not listening to his teachers and pushing other kids. I should mention that this has been an ongoing problem. Jack is a really sweet, smart, good-natured kid - all of his teachers have agreed on that - but he has really struggled to follow directions and pay attention to his teachers (and, often, us), to the point that we've wondered if he's showing signs of ADD/ADHD.
The whole time that Brenda was explaining the situation to me, Jack was yanking on my leg, asking, "Can I still go to Shrek? Can I still go to Shrek?" I was really torn.
In the past when Jack had misbehaved, he was punished with timeouts, or with no dessert or no books at bedtime. The worst punishment, it seems, is just us being mad at him. When we are, he constantly tries to engage us in silly conversation, asking every few minutes, "Are you still mad at me?" But nothing we do really seems to change his behavior.
On the one hand, it just didn't seem right to take Jack out for the special night right after reprimanding him for misbehaving. What are the chances he would remember our talk after the Shrek show? We considered some other punishment, like not letting him go to the circus (which he also loves), as we're planning for next week, but it seemed so far away, so disconnected. Clearly, not letting him go to Shrek would be the most impactful punishment, one that might really get him to think about his behavior next time.
On the other hand, I, like most other parents, I assume, live for those moments when your kids are just filled with joy. There is literally nothing in this world that makes me happier than watching Jack and Benny smile and laugh - and I knew Shrek would make Jack do that. Taking it away really felt like as much a punishment for me as it was for him.
Ultimately, we decided not to let him go. He cried for a good 10 minutes, then recovered pretty quickly - a little too quickly, actually. He said he didn't really want to go anyway, which I know is just a ploy/defense mechanism, but darned if it ain't effective! He spent the rest of the night asking if we were still mad at him.
I spent the rest of the night looking up symptoms of ADD/ADHD and wondering if we had done the right thing. If he really does show signs of the disorder, maybe he really can't help his wandering attention span. Before bed, I gave him a hug and told him I wasn't mad at him anymore, but that I hoped he learned something from the experience. The whole time we were talking, he was reaching for his toy trumpet. It's so hard to know if we're getting through to him. After he went to bed, I went online to see if we could get Shrek tickets for another night.
Anyway, I really don't know if we made the right decision. I guess we never really know. Parenting is hard, eh? Such a strange mix of joy and anxiety, hopes and fears. My sense is that the anxiety and fear are just part of the process. As long as you're constantly worried about doing something wrong, you can't really do anything wrong. At least nothing permanent. Here's hoping....