Posts tagged ‘friendship’

I am from Mars, but I’m moving to Venus

     C was sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen island the other night as I chopped vegetables for a recipe. We were talking about our upcoming move to North Carolina, and he once again expressed excitement about being somewhere new. Then he dropped this bombshell:

     “I’ll bet everyone will miss me. Everyone except S. He hates me.”

     C said this without affect or inflection in his voice. No clues to the emotions behind the words except the content of the words themselves.

     I stood there for a moment, waiting to see if he’d add anything else before I resorted to my usual “fixit” mode of being. You see, a long time ago I actually read the book Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus. Honestly? It perplexed me. Far more a “fixer” (Mars) than a “sympathizer” (Venus), I don’t really know how to do the sit and listen to a friend in need thing; I want to help her. I’m more about solutions and finding a way to make things work.

     Carefully, I spoke. “You know, C, a lot of times when people say they hate someone else, the person they really hate is themselves. S is probably very unhappy with who he is, and he’s taking that out on you. He probably doesn’t really hate you,” I said, matching C’s flat tone so as to calm any emotions that might be hiding beneath his words.

     Before I finished my thought, I saw the glazed look in his eye C gets when he’s done with a conversation. I vaguely knew, in that moment, that I had failed him with my response. Instead of just listening and asking C how he felt about S’s words, I tried to explain the situation to him. I tried to fix it; not S’s words, but C’s reaction to them.

      And that’s what I missed: C’s reaction. I blew it and missed my chance to have a real conversation about what it’s like to spend the day with someone who hates you, what it’s like to feel someone’s contempt simply because you have the nerve to exist, and what it’s actually like to be C. I won’t make that mistake again.

     The moment is over – it’s too late to go back and fix it now (yes, I get the irony here). But next time it comes up – and it will, I’m sure – I’m prepared to be all kinds of Venus.

November 9, 2010 at 6:38 am 10 comments

It’s a love-hate thing

     Today is the first day of school. I’ve been waiting for it since school adjourned two months ago. Not only is there not much to do around here in the summer – it’s too hot for anything but swimming, which we do daily – but for an only child with few friends, summer is long for both him and me.

     Yet this morning, I woke early – as I always do on the first day of school – filled with low-grade anxiety about the upcoming year. Every year I think it will get easier, and every year I am wrong. There are so many things to worry about, and I can worry with the best. My concerns are admittedly sometimes unfounded, but most of the time there’s a ring of reality and truth to them.

     This year, for the first time, I am worried about academics. Hyperlexic children tend to start struggling academically around this fourth grade year, and I saw glimmers of that struggle at the end of third grade. Word problems become more complex, reading becomes more of a subjective experience as plots thicken and subtleties in text become lost to the child, and writing is expected to be far more sophisticated.

     But there’s more, there’s always more. The academic issues don’t create the knot in my stomach the way the other things do. Things like having 31 kids in C’s class, none of whom are, at first glance, part of C’s small support system. Then there’s the fact that he really doesn’t want to go to school any longer; the excitement of school in general seems to have worn off, and we have many years left to go. Finally, there’s this little thing about social skills.

     Oh, how I have grown to hate those two little words. Long fuming at the school district for putting my kid in a “friendship skills” class when the little tyrants who are so mean to him are not, I wonder what he’s really learning about social skills at school. Given that C’s two best friends are a frienemy – who is as mean to him as often as he is nice – and another child with Asperger’s, I hardly think he’s picking up much in the way of useful social skills. Neither boy is a particularly good role model for C, but friends they are, and friends he needs.

     Sometimes I think if I had a brain cell left in my head I’d yank him right out of the public system and homeschool him. However, his isolation would then become more problematic as opportunities to interact with other children would grow less and less. He craves social interaction like I crave chocolate, and I imagine by the end of a school day at home both he and I might run screaming into the woods.

     So off I go again, exploring alternatives: online schools, charter schools, and private schools, in the search for the place that best suits him. And my biggest worry on this day is that I will never, ever find that place for him.

August 9, 2010 at 11:45 am 12 comments

Hold my hand

     I have long felt the frustration of knowing I need to teach C how to make it in this world while at the same time wanting to preserve and protect his unique personality. I’d like to think those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but sometimes, unfortunately, they just are. Caught between wanting to help him not stand out in what is considered a bad way and wishing kids would just mind their own business has left me frustrated and angry with the way of the world.

     A member of C’s team pulled me aside last week and said he’d been holding hands with his friend “T,” the boy I consider his first real friend. A truer Mutt and Jeff there never has been; T outweighs C by probably 50 pounds and is as tall as C is short. They are quite the pair, drawn together by their mutual love for Mario and T’s uncanny ability to just be C’s friend. 

     So why shouldn’t C hold T’s hand? Who cares, really? Apparently, the other kids do. I’m not sure if it was directed at the boys or if C just overheard someone talking, but he now knows what he calls “the ‘G’ word.” He knows “gay” is considered bad despite not really knowing what it means.

     I’m in a conundrum here, for many reasons. The first of which is that both Husband and I are fully supportive of gay rights, gay marriage, adoption by gay couples, you name it. That being said, we know it is not yet developmentally appropriate for C to know about sex and its relationship to the “G word.” So explaining what “gay” really means is something I don’t feel he’s ready for just yet. Quite frankly, if we even mentioned that men sometimes marry men, I’m pretty sure he’d ask T to marry him across his crowded classroom, and then there would be an entirely worse set of problems.

     Which brings me to my second conundrum. I am so tired of feeling as though we need to change C’s behavior and actions to match what other kids deem appropriate. His holding T’s hand is as innocent as it is sweet. Telling him holding hands with another boy is inappropriate makes me want to rebel against all that is deemed “normal” and “typical.” Yet at the same time, if we don’t help him with this, it will be just one more thing that makes him stand out from the crowd.

     I want C to stand out from the crowd – he always will no matter what he does, both in marvelous ways and in ways others find unsettling. The last thing I want to do is turn C into a generic clone, although I realize this will never be the case. And while there are some things I refuse to try to change about C, this is probably a situation where I should just go with the crowd. However, I’m hoping that down the road, we can go back to C and tell him that in fact some boys DO hold other boys’ hands, and that it is perfectly okay. But in the meantime, we’ll just have to go with that rule.

     I don’t like this new rule; I think it goes against not only my personal beliefs about people being allowed to love whomever they love, but it also takes away some of C’s innocence all for the sake of not standing out for something other kids say is wrong. So while Husband was back in C’s room tonight telling him that in 3rd grade, boys just don’t hold other boys’ hands, I was left feeling as though we have somehow sold out just a little bit.

November 23, 2009 at 5:35 am 6 comments

To all the girls he’s loved before…

     C loves the ladies. And they love him back. From his early days of charming grandmotherly types at the post office and calling every woman he saw a “pretty lady,” it’s always been about the girls. There’s a few he’s left behind; most notably the “it” girl of elementary school, if there is such a thing. He adored her from afar, and from not so afar, as he asked her every day the first few months of school if he could sit with her at lunch. Given that she said “no, thank you” every single time (at least she was polite, I suppose), I’m hoping he finally realized that some things just aren’t worth it. Silly girl – she doesn’t know what she missed.

     Yet there’s one girl C has left behind that tugs at my heartstrings. A non-verbal, special needs girl who was in his class last year. C worshipped her. Every day he would rush to school so he could play with her in the sand while waiting for the morning bell to ring. Hours upon hours added up of their sitting in the sand together at recess and before school. She never spoke save a few words in sign language, but I believe her love of him was as deep as his for her. They hugged each other dearly every morning when they first arrived.

     This year, however, she’s not in C’s class, and one member of his team suggested that it was good for him as he needed to move on from her. “He needs to grow beyond her instead of ‘hiding’ with her,” the team member said, and I knew she was right. But I also know why C loved her so; she was safe. Aside from being completely sweet and lovable herself, she never turned him down when he wanted to play with her, never said an unkind word, and always welcomed him with open arms. Who wouldn’t love that?

     C cried when he found out she wouldn’t be in his class this year as his little heart broke into a thousand pieces. He got over it as he settled into his new class and started making friends. Yet every morning when we walk onto the playground before school, she turns his way, her little face lighting up in the tiniest of ways. And unless I point her out, C just doesn’t see her anymore. He has moved on, which makes me both happy and sad at the same time.

November 9, 2009 at 4:40 pm 4 comments

Be careful what you wish for

     C has a friend. A best friend. A boy who shares his fanatical interests in silly noises and Mario. They talk on the phone endlessly, trade houses for playdates, and send each other notes home in their school folders. I’m so happy I could cry. It’s wonderful, really, that C finally has a real friend, and when he talks, it’s all “T” all the time.

     Yet with this grand first friendship unfortunately comes a grand drawback. Before C came along, T was inseparable with “R” for many years. Now R is on the outs. Worse, R has an autism diagnosis. Worst, C has never excluded anyone from anything. Until now.

     C and T are doing the usual when three’s a crowd; they are ganging up against the third. Yes, you heard right, my own sweet special needs boy is participating in the unhappiness of another special needs child. It’s not all the time as there are times at school when the three interact nicely together, but R has clearly been replaced in T’s world. C doesn’t know R has autism, and C doesn’t know he himself has autism. What C knows, I believe, is that for the first time ever, he has a best friend, and it feels good. I can’t begrudge him that.

     I suppose most parents would either ignore the behavior or talk generally with their child about being kind to everyone, and the behavior would continue or it would not. Neither of those options work for me. Given my natural protectiveness of children with special needs, I’m not sure which is more painful to me: that this particular child is being hurt or that it’s my child who is partly responsible for the hurting. I simply can’t just ignore the behavior, no matter how much I’d like to say this behavior is a natural part of growing up. C has been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior far too much to simply let it go when it comes from him. And talking generally with C about being kind is never going to sink in to the point he realizes I’m talking about how he treats R.

     So I had to go for something more dramatic, something C would not confuse or only partially hear. I pretty much read him the riot act, complete with telling C he wouldn’t be allowed to play with T on the weekends anymore if the two of them couldn’t figure out a way to be kind to R. I reminded C that he too had been left out of groups and how upset he was by it.

     What I realized, unfortunately too late, is that this approach didn’t work either. It became painfully obvious, after a particularly unproductive, mostly one-sided conversation, that I had blown it completely. C had no real idea what I was talking about. I figured on some level he knew he was being unkind, but he really didn’t. It simply did not occur to C that R was hurt. And that is what broke my heart most of all.

November 5, 2009 at 5:21 am 7 comments

The grass is never greener

     As I watched C on the first morning of school, I also watched the boys in his class greet each other with fist bumps and high fives. C stood alone by the side of his class line and completely shut down. No words, no smiles, just a death grip on my hand strong enough to make me wince, while he looked straight ahead and fingered the picture of our dog he had stashed away in his pocket.

     Last year, C seemed to figure out that girls are good and boys are sometimes mean. Blessedly he missed much of the teasing directed his way, but there was definitely some awareness that the boys weren’t always nice. I watched him throughout the year as he eventually stopped greeting many of the boys in his class altogether. He just gave up and stopped trying with them. Part of me was happy that he learned to stay away from those who hurt him, but the other part of me wished he didn’t even realize they hurt him. 

     Of course, if C didn’t recognize the pain of being shunned, I would have a completely different child than I do. I am thankful for how far C has come over the years, and I remind myself it wasn’t really all that long ago (although it seems a world away) that we were worried he’d never break out of his shell and lead the kind of life he’s leading now. This is a child who wants friends with a desperation that is enough to make me cry but rejoice at the same time. Far more a blessing than a curse, C’s awareness of other kids and his desire to have friends sometimes brings him sadness but also delivers the greatest joy. My single most important challenge as a parent is making sure those two emotions counter-balance each other.

August 13, 2009 at 5:16 am 6 comments

And so it begins

     On this morning of the first day of school, I find myself more anxious than usual about the new year. After one year of difficulties with boys, I thought it might be a fluke. After two years, I know it’s a pattern. So what will 3rd grade bring, and is there any way C can attend an all girls school?

     The elusive path to friendship with a peer boy eludes C. I worry that all the boys in his class will be gargantuan-sized athletic boys who understand the subtle ways to tease someone else and get away with it. I have visions of C sitting alone at the lunch table, trying not to cry into his rice milk. Will yet another year pass with the only party invitation being from the boy whose Mother makes him invite the whole class?    

     We’ve done everything we can to pave the way to a successful year. We explored the idea of holding him back to be with a “nicer” group of boys, but decided against it. I met with C’s new principal multiple times to ensure his placement with the teacher who would be the best match for him. I took C in to meet with said best-match-teacher (heretoforeveraftermore dubbed “Mrs. D”) last week, and, as per usual, he is smitten (so am I). It helps that Mrs. D resembles “Peach,” C’s favorite Mario character, and has dog pictures scattered around her room. 

     There is hope. C’s desk is next to a girl from his class last year who was delightfully kind to him. I’ve volunteered to be class Mom in the hopes that I can arrange some playdates with other kids. The new special education teacher seems to be a definite bright spot.

     I don’t want much. Just. One. Friend. Surely that’s not too much to ask.

August 10, 2009 at 5:11 am 11 comments

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