Yesterday morning or a little earlier it finally clicked with me a possible reason why Little Fayoumis is often so excellently well-behaved with me, and sometimes not with others, generally when the others are having a tough day because they're zonked.
I noticed early on that I had two modes of interacting with him: normal, where I would be gentle with normal kid-things, though pointing them out, and sleep-depped/stressed, where I would jump on each and every little thing. I realized that if I kept that up, he'd be confused with me too much, and wouldn't know which way to jump. That would be bad.
When you're working a job from hell and going to school and babysitting a 4-year-old, you can't really do much about the sleep-dep and stress. What you can do, and what I did, would be give the kid tools to understand it. I explained that some days I was grouchy because I didn't get enough sleep (just like he got grouchy), and some days I was not grouchy because I got the sleep I needed. Days I was not grouchy, everything was fine. Days I was grouchy, I would be grouchy, and anything he did that was in the least out of line or bothering me, I would be, duh, grouchy about!
Then, I proceeded to inform him of which days my grouchy days were. And he picked up on it very fast, and would often ask me outright, "Are you... grouchy today?" if he was being boisterous and I was calling him on it and having him chill way down, especially if I was doing so a little snappishly. He learned that there were two sets of rules for behaving, and how he could have fun on normal days, and how he could (quietly and non-invasively) have fun on grouchy days.
I felt it important to stress that there was a reason why being noisy was okay on some days, and not on others, and it was through no hidden fault of his, no hidden standard he wasn't living up to, that he got busted for more things on grouchy days if he didn't toe the line with exactness.
I haven't had that job in over a year, and my stress level has gone way down. Also, it's become unnecessary to watch him every blessed minute; if I'm all that tired and watching him, I can take a nap if I need to. So I haven't needed to tell him that I've been grouchy today, in general, in the longest time.
Little Fayoumis's teacher has been worried about his self-esteem. He's a very bright boy, it's just that he has no faith in his ability to do anything right, and it shows.
And for whatever reason, I thought of the grouchy thing with Marx. Little Fayoumis is used to playing with him, the sort of playing that involves lots of being held upside down and tickling. That's when he's not exhausted. When he is exhausted, which is a lot these days, sometimes it seems like Little Fayoumis is bad for him all the time, and can't do a thing right. And it seems that some of it is for actual things that need work, and some of it might be dealt with a little less grumpily if he weren't so exhausted. With me, Little Fayoumis is used to being told firmly but not grouchily what to do and what not to do; after I realized just how lousy he must feel at being sniped at when he'd really just been acting like a kid at the wrong time, I consciously tried to remove the sharp edge from my voice when dealing with him when grouchy, leaving that for when he'd actually done something wrong wrong. So being talked to with that grouchy edge on the voice on a regular basis must be... disheartening.
So yesterday morning, I reminded Little Fayoumis of the "grouchy" thing. I reminded him how I was when I was grouchy, how he had to be extra-good and things that were okay when I was not grouchy were out of the question when I was grouchy. Then I reminded him that Marx was grouchy a lot, and when Marx was grouchy, he should be extra-good for him.
It was a lightbulb-above-head moment for him if I've ever seen one. He knows grouchy and not-grouchy. He's a bright kid, but he's not so good at putting things into the proper context by themselves without someone giving him examples first. Ideally, no one in the household would be exhausted and sick and grouchy. However, with two college students and a working mom, that's just not happening. But as long as we put it into the proper context, grouchy/not-grouchy, he'll behave accordingly, because there are two different sets of rules. Without that context, he's going to stay confused and thinking it's all his fault that sometimes when he does some things it's okay and encouraged because he's playing and it's silly and fun, and other times when he tries the same thing, it's a bad thing and he shouldn't do it.
When I came home after shopping yesterday, Marx remarked to me that for some reason, Little Fayoumis had been extra-good, very well-behaved.
They've got the goofy play bond that I'll never have. It makes me regretful, sometimes, that they can be hyper and play like that, because I just don't have the mindset to do much kid-play anymore. When I was 12 I started listening to the grown-ups, because kid-play was pointless for me. But I know which way the Little Fayoumis jumps, because I've been around him so long. I speak his language. Someone else can say something and get a blank with him, but I know the way to phrase stuff to make that lightbulb turn on a good percentage of the time.