When Toby is afraid (like when Walt needs to apply his ear medicine), or when he's in trouble (like when he loses his mind and chases a cat), he runs manic laps in the yard. It's clear he's not in control of himself, but has been taken over by some energy force that drives him so hard he literally skids around the turns.
Calling him does no good. He might stop for a moment, and I can even see him intend to obey, but then his body takes over and he's off all over again. Eventually he wears himself out and allows himself to be taken prisoner. He always looks as sorry as it's possible for a golden retriever to look - and I don't think any being can look sorrier than that.
On Tuesday I got a glimpse with my kids of the human version of Toby's madness.
The morning had gone well. The day was on track to be an easy happy productive one. Until I went to pick the class up in the cafeteria after lunch. Three of my boys were sitting alone at three different empty tables, looking for all the world like Toby about to surrender. The assistant in charge of our table made a bee-line for me.
Usually when she comes to talk to me, it's to tell me how much she appreciates how well-behaved my kids are. It's what I expect to hear. On Tuesday, however, she shared that the kids would not stop talking, that even after moving those boys and three stern warnings, they were still "up in her face."
The walk back to the classroom was as quiet and sober as a walk can be. There were no smiles or hands held or funny faces. There were only worried kids and a very disappointed teacher.
We spent some time trying to problem solve, but nothing really seemed to fit. They suggested assigned seats - boy/girl - until someone pointed out that wouldn't stop the talking. They suggested losing a whole week's worth of recess until I pointed out that would punish me. Someone even offered no silent ball for a week, but no one liked that idea at all.
I said I needed to think about what I wanted to happen, and we'd talk about it the next day. I gave them the standard disappointment - this is not best third grade behavior - talk. I promised that I wouldn't be able to take them into any public places if I couldn't trust their behavior (five field trips of various purposes in the next five weeks). And then I proceeded with the work of the afternoon.
They proceeded to fall apart completely. They would not stop talking. I think they could not. They laughed hysterically at things that weren't even marginally funny. Usually when I give them the Shucka look, they'll settle down. Not happening. They were up out of their seats in a restless whirlwind of nervous energy. When I let them in from last recess, they were shouting so loud it hurt my ears. I tried every single tool in my settling-kids-down tool kit. Not one of them worked. Even during silent ball, they got into so many arguments about the referee's calls, the game came to a screeching (literally) halt.
Finally, I got my voice over theirs, told them all to sit, to put their heads down, and not to speak again until I dismissed them. Like Toby at the end of one of his rips around the yard, they settled into their seats with a combination of relief, resignation, and remorse.
I went home Tuesday ready to call in sick for the rest of the year. Until I made the connection with Toby's behavior. I'm not sure what exactly triggered their insanity - the coming full moon, retrograde Mercury, the winding down of the year. I may never know. But somehow understanding they truly could not control themselves, that they would have if they could have, helped me go back yesterday with a fresh heart.
And it was a much better day. Today was lovely as well, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow - at school with my kids.
photo from Flickr