Thursday, May 08, 2014

A Tale of Two Matthews

This post contains two very different stories about Matthew and the impact he has on his younger siblings.

The first story took place a month ago.

We were having family home evening and Matthew was having a BAD DAY.  The topic of the evening was how to apologize and ask forgiveness.  Too often in our family someone would do something that hurt another family member and when told he or she needed to "say sorry" the offender would roll his eyes and sarcastically say sooorrry! in a huff.  This did nothing for the offender and made the victim feel worse.  No good.  I read this teacher's blog post about how she introduced a better way to apologize in her classroom.  It is well worth a read.  A good apology can be broken down into four steps.  First acknowledge that what you did.  "I'm sorry I..."  Second tell why it was wrong to do.  "It was wrong because...."  Third say what you will do in the future differently and it has to be something positive (i.e. you can't use "I won't...")  "In the future I will... Lastly, and just as importantly, ask for forgiveness with the realization that the wronged person may not be able to forgive at that time.  "Will you forgive me?"  

So, to get back to the story, the other kids were amused by Jonathan and I acting out bad and good apologies and seemed to get the gist of the lesson.  They told us what we did right and what we did wrong.  Matthew had a chip on his shoulder that night though.  This chip had been hanging around for several weeks actually.  During the lesson he decided to call his sister a nickname he made up for her that she didn't like and she asked him to quit using it.  Jonathan told him that this was the perfect time to practice apologizing.  We were practicing mock scenarios and up until that point the mood was still light.  This suggestion only elicited an angry response and a sarcastic apology from Matthew, totally missing the point of the lesson.  We excused him to finish loading the dishes when it became clear his heart was hard and he wasn't going to listen or change his position.  This only made him madder and he started slamming dishes in the dishwasher and then he knocked over the silverware holder with all the silverware in his angry carelessness.  Not wanting to have my dishes broken due to his 11 year-old tantrum I told him that he was clearly tired and needed to go to bed.  Now.  

He stomped upstairs.  Isaac asked me if he could spend the night in Matthew's room.  One of Isaac's favorite things is to have a "sleepover" with Matthew.  I told him no, that wasn't a good idea.  Isaac didn't listen and since he's rather tone deaf when it comes to other's bad moods, he decided to ask Matthew directly.  Matthew laid into him and said he didn't like sleeping with Isaac and would never do it again.  Also Isaac did x, y, and z that annoyed him and that he didn't like Isaac either.  Of course this just devastated Isaac.  Isaac cried and this only seemed to infuriate Matthew more.  I told Matthew that he was out of line and to stay in his room till morning.  "Your parents don't deserve this and your brothers and sisters will not want to be around you if this is the way you treat them.  Also Thomas does not deserve to hear yelling in his home.  It isn't good for babies and you didn't have that when you were a baby."  Then I consoled Isaac in his room.  "Matthew is angry and sometimes angry people say things that aren't true, Isaac."  I comforted Isaac and settled him back to bed, but I was pretty peeved at Matthew and the way he'd been treating his family, not just tonight, but lately.  

An hour later I went upstairs to check on the kids and pull up the covers on any child who may have kicked them off.  Matthew's light was still on in his room.  Great, I thought, he's grouchy and now he'll be overtired tomorrow.  I knocked on his door and opened it.  Inside I found Matthew sitting on his unmade bed and just sobbing.  

"Matthew, I'm going to help you make your bed.  Do you want to tell me what's going on?"  "I've just been so mean to Isaac, and Melissa, and Corinna."  he said between sobs.  "I've been disrespectful to you and dad.  I feel really bad."  I was glad to see his heart had softened and that he finally realized the damage he was doing.  "I don't know how to make it better."  I put my arms around him and told him that he was going to need help to make it better.  That's why we have a Savior.  Christ already covered the cost, our part is to repent and make amends with those we've wronged.  

"Now go wash your face, blow your nose, and get a drink, Matthew.  That will help you calm down tonight."  On the way back from the bathroom Matthew stopped by Isaac's room.  When he saw that Isaac was asleep, Matthew started sobbing again.  

"I can't tell him I'm sorry and that I love him because he's asleep!"  

"Matthew, tomorrow is a fresh new day.  Isaac knows you love him, but tomorrow and from here on, you need to work on showing him."  

Together Matthew and I thought of ways he could be kind to Isaac and his other siblings, and also strategies he could use to calm down when he's angry instead of escalating it.  

The next morning Matthew asked if he could treat Isaac to Baskin Robbins as part of his apology.  There's one right across the street from our neighborhood that we walk to and I told him that would be fine.  Matthew left for school a much happier boy!

When he got home, the first thing he did was apologize to Isaac and Isaac quickly forgave him.  One nice thing about Isaac is he doesn't hold a grudge.  Then the two of them left for ice cream on Matthew's dime.  They returned hand-in-hand and Matthew was a different person than he'd been before that day.

It hasn't been easy for Matthew because he does have a short fuse like his mother, but he really has been trying to be kind to his siblings lately.  I personally know it is hard to not yell when frustrated and that sometimes it is best to leave things unsaid.  He has been doing much, much better at controlling his temper.  I told him that they all look up to him as an example and a leader, and it is very true.  When Matthew is playful and generous they respond to it in kind.  Conversely when Matthew is argumentative or quick tempered, the whole feeling in the home changes and fights are more likely to break out.  Not physical fights, fortunately hitting is rare, but verbal ones.  Matthew very much is the leader of the Ellis pack o' kids and all of them want to spend time with him and seek his approval.  Which leads into my next story.

About a week ago I had to make some visits right after school.  Corinna was napping so I asked Matthew if he'd take on his first official babysitting job.  I also told him we'd be having dinner guests that night and could he and Melissa please pick up the front room while I was gone?  An hour later I returned and discovered Melissa sweeping the floor, Matthew picking up the rest of the house and Corinna toddling around after him.  All the kids were cheerful and so helpful.  Matthew had convinced Melissa that Mom really needed help so she'd also emptied the dishwasher and he loaded it.  What good kids I have!  He then held Tommy and bounced on the ball while I prepared the dinner and asked several times what else he could do to help!  Matthew has super powers for good, for sure.  

Just like Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility."  


Adrasteia said...

I barely remember what I was like at 11. I vaguely remember terrible taste in clothes, but I can't recall if I was combative or not. Probably. So glad this had a happy ending and everyone is doing better! Good on you guys for being such awesome parents. <3

Rachel Ellis said...

I don't feel like an "awesome" parent. But I'm trying. Just hoping they make it to adulthood as decent, ambitious people.