Let Him Be Late

Walking to school

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Late is something I am not.

Not to meetings or meet ups.  Count on me to help the host kick off her party or the coach unlock the gym door.  In the words of my grandmother, “Five minutes early is on time.”

Then I gave birth to Bubbe who arrived one week late and after two hours of pushing.  A little guy who stopped to collect pebbles from the sidewalk, admire makeshift rivers on a rainy day, and construct block towers when he was supposed to be eating breakfast, Bubbe’s dawdling challenged my timely tendencies.

The slow approach appeared to stem from his developmental delays.  As a toddler and preschooler, Bubbe worked regularly with speech, occupational and physical therapists.  He and I did much schlepping to services during the early years.

To ensure my son got what he needed when he needed it, I planned our schedule around his clock.  I laid out clothes, organized the diaper bag, and packed snacks hours in advance.  I set timers, offered reminders, and built in daily dawdle time.  There were days when Bubbe played along, but those were rare.  “Hurry up” became a staple in my vocabulary and carrying his boneless body out the door and onto the next appointment became my primary source of exercise.

After a decade of exposure to my anxious nudging and keen management skills coupled with his hard work and a little maturity, I expected Bubbe to come to value my vision of time.  No such luck.

This tortoise syndrome became a wider concern at the end of third grade when it led to academic road blocks.  His teachers investigated.  Turns out, Bubbe’s brain doesn’t send signals as fast as mine and most peers.  To process, organize and focus thoughts and movements takes hard work and energy.  Dawdling is part of his DNA.

Armed with the information, I intended to shift my parenting approach.  But the thought of giving my child space to figure out his day at the risk of him being tardy rattled me to the core.

It doesn’t matter how Bubbe’s brain is wired.  I thought.  He has to learn how to move faster; use time wisely.

I held the reins.

Bubbe’s fourth grade year commenced with him hearing my voice on auto replay each morning.  “Get dressed.  Eat breakfast.  Find your backpack.  Don’t keep your friends waiting.  C’mon let’s go.”

Too big to fling him over my shoulder; prods graduated to threats, coaxing converted to yelling.  I was met with eye rolls, I don’t cares and whatevers.  Our home transformed into a battleground, leaving Bubbe and I frazzled and fried before the day began.

Then I went back to work.

My responsibilities multiplied overnight.  I no longer had space in my brain to try and change his.  I was forced to accept Bubbe was older and in charge of his actions.  I was also forced to accept that he no longer needed me in the same way.  I resolved to “do” my tween differently.

Step one: let him be late for school.

One morning soon after, I awoke Bubbe as per the usual routine and announced, “We are leaving at 7:45.  You have until then to get up and do your thing.”

At 7:40 he was still in bed.  “Your brother and I are leaving in five minutes.  Just lock up on your way out.  The school bell rings at 8:15am.  See you there.”

The neighbors knocked on the door.  Skootch and I left Bubbe behind.

As we walked the three blocks, I looked back but there was no sign of him.  I dropped off his brother and headed across the school grounds toward the front gate.

Still no Bubbe.

I turned the corner toward home.  There he was, strolling up the sidewalk; dressed appropriately, jacket on and with backpack in tow.  For the first morning in weeks, Bubbe was smiling.

I smiled back.

As we passed each other, my son leaned in and nuzzled his brow into my chest.  “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.  Enjoy the day.”  We went our respective ways.

And no one was late.

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11 thoughts on “Let Him Be Late

  1. My special needs child was late. Several times (15 if I recall), in the 4th grade, but never more than five or ten minutes. We’re in Texas, and the school district took us to court over it. She rode the bus, and when she missed the bus, we had to drive her, which was normally okay, but sometimes not. Unreliable transportation, so sometimes we had to catch a ride with a neighbor, easier said than done as she attended a school for kids with special education needs, and it wasn’t the school that any of the neighbor kids attended and was quite a bit farther. Twice as far, in fact, as the nearest elementary that all the other kids attended.

    So yeah, the school filed truancy charges (although she had no absences and, incidentally, was an A/B honor roll student). The judge said “Get up earlier. Get her up at 5am if that’s what you need to do. Or before 5.” Then levied a fine that was equal to one month’s utility bills for us, and a “probation” condition that she not be late at all, the rest of the year and into the following year, lest another larger fine be imposed.

    That bus came at 6:45. For her to get her *needed* (to ease her behavioral issues) and medically recommended 9 to 10 hours of sleep at night at age 10, she was already going to bed at 8:30pm in order to be up by 6:00am. Same bus (cutbacks on the transportation system, anyone?) brought her home at 5pm every day (school let out at 3:15) and due to our work schedules and one car there was no way to shorten that for her. Long school day. Three & one half hours to do homework, have dinner, bathe, normal 10 year old chores (school isn’t her *only* responsibility!) and have any time with family,

    But yeah, the judge’s solution was to just get her up earlier.. and what, put her to bed at 7pm? Skip the bath? Skip the homework? Neither option would have gone over well. We did put a time limit on homework though; she could have all the help she wanted from us for one hour, but what wasn’t finished in that one hour was put away and sent to school, finished or not. She had a great tendency to do anything but homework and then drag it out as long as we’d let her, so that was what worked for us, and once she realized we were serious about the time limit, she managed to almost always get it finished in the allotted hour.

    It didn’t matter if we micromanaged every morning moment or let it be up to her, the missing the bus thing happened either way. The judge was absolutely uninterested in hearing about what went on those mornings. Just saying, there’s sometimes no room for natural consequences, or letting your child work it out, if you’re a child in public school in Texas at least. It also kind of blows my mind that that sort of schedule was deemed acceptable for her and we just had to go along with it due to financial circumstances.

    We’ve moved and thankfully it’s much better; she has an entire extra hour of sleep now with a reasonable bed time (she is 13), a bus that brings her home at 4:15 and picks her up at 7:15, less homework, less stress overall, and the morning battles have lessened a great deal as result.

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    • I’m so sorry your family had this experience. My reoccurring thought while reading your comment was that you must be a wonderful mother. Despite challenges, apathy, and the one dimensional thinking, you did what you needed to do for your daughter and continue to do what is best for your family. There must be a great and special love between you and her. Thank you for taking the time to write and share your story.

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  2. This sounds SO familiar. My son was tardy over 50 times in fifth grade, and much of it, I’m ashamed to say, was my fault. I was a single mom with a demanding schedule and neither of us were morning people. I didn’t let it get me down. Mostly, we just zenned out and got to school when we got to school. He turned out OK, graduated with honors from a top (and very expensive, lol) college and has Ph.D. interviews next month. Being late for elementary school did little to thwart his development. Who knows, maybe it helped him become more flexible or understanding of others’ needs. It’s so difficult to knwo what gets through their skulls at that age. Thanks for a nice essay. Cheers and have a great week.

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