Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Back to the Kids - dealing with anger

I am, as many of you know, housing, feeding and selectively educating a small group of pre-teens who attend my children's Waldorf school just north of Avignon. As this is one of the rare Waldorf schools that goes through high school in the country, and the only one in the South, kids come from all over to attend it. So it has become de facto a boarding school for a small percentage of the student body. However, there is no official structure linked to the school to house the kids, it is up to various parents to offer their extra rooms, generosity, welcome, food, etc., to permit these kids to be here.

A fellow single mother at the school -- a dear friend who is an amazingly resourceful woman coping with the private school tuition of her two sons, feeding her household mostly organic, raising chickens, making gorgeous shawls and working full time as a nurse -- paved the way for me to open my house to kids from the school. I observed how she structured the house rhythms, what she expected from the kids, how much she charged the parents, and have since checked in with her when things go awry in my own household.

Ostensibly I do it for the money -- it definitely helps to have a bit more cash flow coming into the house, and it also offsets my kids' tuition at the school. I am also doing the school a favor.

What is fascinating is the myriad of ways having these children in my house teaches, stretches, challenges, and at times frustrates we three who normally live here. Right now I am taken with the magic age of thirteen.

Now, I must stress that we are in France, the food supply is not riddled with growth hormones, and kids are still hitting pre-adolescence/adolescence at the relatively normal age of thirteen. Leo's teacher once accused his American side of bringing on early pre-adolescence, now two years ago??? And I simply looked at her like, what? Are you insane woman? Are you accusing my half of his genes for his early mustache? His grace with the female half of of his class? his moodiness? In any case, raised on French food, and a majority of that organic, he shouldn't have any excess estrogen flowing through his system...

In the past few weeks we've had some interesting moments of upset in the household. In particular, our young man (thirteen this February) slammed a door in anger (he was being gently teased) and caused another to fall and thus broke both the door handle (lovely, antique brass) and a corner of a table. My reaction? Get ahold of your anger kid. By all means, feel it, do not deny it, but please, do not break my house! If you're feeling physical, go for a run, go kick a (big) tree, but leave my house alone!

And yes, if you're wondering, his parents will replace both the door handle and the table. All will get sorted out.

Later, it was our young girl's moment in the sun. She is fully thirteen and aiming quickly towards fourteen. And goodness, she has her moments of being rightfully pissy and bitchy and snide and harumphs off, stomping her feet and (before I gave them all hell for this) slamming doors. I let her blow off steam and come back of her own accord. However, this would be normal, yes? I can handle most of the basic details of pre-teen moodiness.

What worries me is the way she seems proud of making the majority of her teachers angry with her. To her mind, she is fully justified in slamming chairs, stomping off, slamming doors, etc., to go outside and cool down when she feels that otherwise she would piquer une crise, i.e. have a fit. And for this, she was expelled from school for two days. Somehow, I think a bit more went into the school's decision... but I haven't had the full story.

Her mother has had her time with her, and things seem a bit better now... However, she is living with me, under my roof, for many more nights this year than at her mother's. My role is thus -- forcibly -- to educate and cajol and advise over and beyond providing her with a bed, food and hot water. And so, I've said my two bits. Basically, that being angry, feeling that intense hit of emotions overwhelm her is normal, and scary, but an important part of growing up is mastering these, not letting them master you. Far more easily said than done. But I've suggested strongly to my young girl that even when she's feeling about to burst, that she request permission to leave her class room to get herself under control. If she did that, it would not lessen her in the eyes of either her classmates or her teachers, and more importantly, I believe her teachers would respect her choice to quietly cope with the waves of emotion hitting her, and grant her this permission.

Leo, my son, is not yet thirteen. He will be so in June. As yet, we've really not had any great great upsets -- well there was that half hour of extreme depression and groaning this summer but since then... And so I asked him if he was curious about these two who are not so brilliantly handling their anger; does he sense that soon he too may be in the same boat? Not really. What followed was a question on his part as to whether a boy's handling his sex is normal.

I said yes, but in private.


Nathalie said...

Madeleine, your post is worth reading to the very last line!

Excellent suggestion you made regarding anger management - asking permission to leave the class room to get herself under control.

I doubt that your sons will go through really difficult phases such as those your boarders are going through. I think the quality relationship you are building with them will prevent that. But then, who knows? Adolescence is a weird thing...

Madeleine Vedel said...

I can always keep my fingers crossed... I just hope they'll still like me when they're adult!