Saturday, September 20, 2008


I've never really found anything to love about the concept of "obedience," unless you are talking about an unruly puppy. Growing up, I was forever being grounded or otherwise punished for what basically amounts to insubordination--usually "talking back" or else using various passive resistance methods to avoid giving in to the authority, whether in the form of my parents or my school authority figures.

Although I'm sure at times it was just childish (like the time I engaged in something of a staring contest with a substitute teacher until she lost control of her temper and sank to levels of immaturity even I was above), I kind of see this trait of questioning authority as a strength of mine. I'm the authority. And that changes things.

Is it a little paradoxical for me to believe that it's wrong to blindly obey while insisting that my students never make a peep while I am talking? That I value my own rebellion but just about go ballistic every time my own children refuse to listen?

I have two very different children. Jabberwock never really gave me a moment of trouble until he was three-and-a-half. If I told him that crayons were only for paper, he would stare at me with those big, solemn eyes and nod gravely. He wouldn't even think of drawing on the wall, or the floor, or the table--not even if I wasn't there to supervise. To this day, he holds my hand...well, obediently...whenever I ask him to. He asks for permission before doing just about anything. He feels bad about getting in trouble, as though he has let everyone down.

I'm sure the day will come when he will try his hand at a little rebellion, and of course he tests us even now, occasionally pulling out a defiant little "NO!" when we ask him to do something, but he looks genuinely surprised at himself afterward, like he just doesn't know what came over him.

Monkey, on the other hand, really doesn't care so much about being obedient. He hears us telling him to stop, come back, don't touch, keep that out of your mouth, be gentle, color only on the paper, be nice to your brother. He hears us, and he gives us a nice smile to let us know he heard. And then he does whatever the hell he wants.

This makes most events in public worlds different than they were when Jabber was a baby. I never really understood before how children could keep people from attending events, eating at restaurants, entertaining guests. We brought Jabber with us everywhere--dinner parties, the theatre, concerts--he even regularly accompanied David on business meetings with brides who were looking for our photography services.

The thought of doing any of these things with the Monkey is just laughable. This afternoon we tried to eat McDonalds. We were there for approximately seventeen minutes, and Monkey not only ran behind the counter and tried to make himself a McFlurry but also retrieved a nasty napkin from a dark corner under a booth (it had a smashed fly on it) and played roller derby with all of the high chairs that had been neatly lined up along the wall.

I'm pretty sure it will be Monkey who has all the good ideas in middle school and high school, and he'll convince Jabber to play along with most of them. We already chose the bedroom for the boys whose window does not have access to the porch roof, thinking of future late-night sneaking out and about. I'm just a little bit frightened to think of the conflicts that are surely coming as this little willful one clashes with his mother, who may have a little bit of a willful streak as well. So it is rumored.

I don't want mindless sheep for children. I want them to be critical thinkers, and I want them to value their autonomy. At the same time, though, I want them to follow my very sensible rules. Like, please don't run into traffic. And please don't bludgeon each other with toy trucks.

And quit talking back to me, dammit!


CDP said...

I could have written this about my two. If they're anything like mine, Monkey will get better but he'll always be the one who likes to challenge you and see what he can get away with. I've had to teach my older one not to just hand over his toys because his little brother screams; he's gotten quite good about standing up for himself and letting him scream if he wants to. Great post!

Beverly said...

I talk about obedience during good, quiet moments with my kids. It might seem not to go along with other choices I've made, like co-sleeping and unschooling, but oh well! I have told them that being obedient to their parents is their job right now. In return, I only tell them to do something when it's really important. It all goes toward the goal of a peaceful home. I am balancing a lot of needs, and if I need a child to go get her socks on, etc., she needs to do it right now. She just needs to trust me that it's important.
Works for us. :-)