Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it – the complexity of my son. He is at once a child filled with innocence and wonder, and a young man contemplating the world if da Vinci had never been born.
He is of an age where most of his friends have abandoned the frivolity of youth, no longer believing in such abstract things as Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. But my son holds fast to these dreams. He wholly embraces the joy of fictitious characters coming in the dark of night to leave gifts, even pondering the ways in which they gain entry or work their way around the world to greet each sleeping child.
I love the excitement in his eyes as he wonders and imagines. Then my heart feels heavy as I picture the way he might have his childhood bubble burst. Will it be a trusted friend laughing at the ridiculousness of his belief? Will it be a careless comment from a random adult – or worse, from me?
I’ve described my son to others as something of a time line. His chronological age is near the middle, his social/emotional age equivalent a couple of years behind and his intellectual equivalent a couple of years ahead. It seemed an easy way to help others understand the imbalance in his life that becomes the source of many of our struggles – meltdowns, misunderstanding, and irrational outbursts. He is living at two ends of the same line, bouncing back and forth as situations draw more from his intellect or from his emotions. We’ve walked this wobbly path together for many years now. It’s just a fact of our life.
But, every now and then, the lack of balance strikes me like a lightening bolt. Earlier this week he refused to eat dinner because the pasta I used to make macaroni and cheese was the wrong shape. It wasn’t just a selfish temper tantrum. It was a complete inability to accept the look of the pasta. It was wrong and he couldn’t move past “wrong” to even try something different. He was trembling, sobbing – he never did eat. The thought of food of any kind after that was just not possible for him. It was almost as if he was afraid of what food might be placed in front of him next. The safer choice was to avoid all food. So he did. He spent the rest of that night silently curled up on the couch, finally drifting off to a restless sleep. Today he spoke frequently (and randomly) with joy about the Easter Bunny and where he might find his basket in the morning or how the bunny gets into our house, and whether we should leave a snack for the bunny (we did). He got very upset with me in the afternoon for having a hat on. It was keeping my hair out of my face while I was working around the house. But, to him, it signaled that I might be leaving. That made him very uneasy. I would take it off for while, then forget and put it back on. He ran to me and clutched my leg at one point, asking me to please stay. Then I remembered the hat and took it off. The immaturity struck me. Just a couple of days ago he was asking me how to look up archeological colleges on the computer and telling me some of his theories about developing alternative fuels for vehicles. How can this be the same child?
Often I’m not sure which part of him is stronger at the moment – the younger, emotional side or the older, intellectual side. I try to stay on my toes and be ready for whichever is thrown at me. By now, we’ve learned (together) what some triggers are for the challenging times. We talk about some things more – in order to prepare. I know the only way to get him near his bike is bribery. I know taking him to a store with me will take every ounce of my patience. I know he will refuse and beg not to go to every birthday party, but if I can just be stronger than him and get him there he’ll have fun. Still, at times, I am surprised by reactions. Like the pasta and the hat. Those are the times that I feel like a failure as a parent. Those are the times that are hardest. I should know my son. I should be able to help him cope with the uneasiness of his world, not add to his fear.
Tonight was a big homework struggle. We’ve been struggling all through the school break – we’re out of time to “try again later.” He was giving me the “I can’t do it” speech (which drives me nuts!). Tonight I was able to stay very calm through all the tears and anger, torn tissues and slammed pencils. I’m not always able to stay to calm when he gives up without really trying. It’s hard. Much of school comes easy to him, so when he has to work at something he tends to give up quickly. We never did get the homework done tonight. But, he didn’t go to bed saying “I hate you” either. So, it’s a good night.
The bunny has dropped off a basket for him, so the innocence can continue. For now.
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