Ray’s guidance counselor described it perfectly the other day as we were determining the need for a 504 Plan for him. ”If you’re working this hard to keep everything ok, perhaps we should document it.”
There’s a phrase that goes something like this “Be like the duck- Calm on the surface and paddling like hell underneath“. Yes. And oh yes.
Here’s the thing- things ARE “ok”. Ray is getting Bs in school,he’s got a few really good friends, and life is not a series of dramatic challenges. And we’re working really, really, really hard to manage the environment so that he’s doing all right. When I describe how things are, I get a lot of “Oh, that’s him being 9!… Sounds like he’s being a boy!… Ease up on him, Mom!…”
I have come to realize that his anxiety disorder has created one in me. Every time we leave the house- to go to the movies, to go to eat, to go to the beach, it’s resistance. He doesn’t want to leave the house. Ever. If we force him, however, he goes. He doesn’t throw a screaming, hysterical fit. What he does do is get mean and ugly and “irritable”. But he goes. He either relaxes and we have a good time or he doesn’t, and manages to ruin it with his “hmphing”s and growlings and nasty comments. Until the next time we leave the house again and it never gets easier. Never. My husband and I have discussions “Is this worth the fight we’re going to have?” Every single time, it’s a fight. And the simplest of errands becomes a battle of wills.
We pick our battles carefully, because it’s important to be consistent. It’s important to win the important ones, “Yes, you have to go to your cousin’s wedding.. yes, you have to eat three pieces of spinach” and give choices in the unimportant ones, “Do you want to go see ‘The Return of the Titans’?… Do you want spaghetti or tacos tonight?”. And then there are the “Is this worth the scene it’s going to cause?” issues. Should we force him to do a sport? Should we ignore the incessant dribbling basketball in the house? Should we provide incentives for him to sleep in his room when he wants to sleep in the living room or at the door to our room? Should we …? Every thing we do, we have to plan out with the forethought of a general- “What choices can we provide? Is this worth the battle it’s going to be? What is causing this resistance and how do we work with this?” We have to steel ourselves to being stronger and more positive than he is going to be. Every time. Except when he’s not. And we’re tired. We’re so tired.
The thing that gets me is that these issues are not unique to Ray. I know 9-year boys. I taught 9 and 10-year old boys for years. They are contrary, wonderful, on-the-brink-of-teenagers-but still rational and snuggly. It’s not the types of challenges- it’s the intensity of challenge that he poses. I often feel like a whiny, paranoid parent, because these are not unusual issues. I constantly have to judge- “Is this MY problem or Ray’s problem?”
But then there are the “Things are just not right” moments. Today, as I took him to the doctor for a bronchitis diagnosis, and I watched him with his arms wrapped completely around himself, rocking with anxiety, avoiding eye contact, and growling at me when the doctor or I tried to talk to him, my heart broke a little bit, but I feel validated that “No, it’s not just me”. There’s a strong-willed child, and then, there’s… this. When things are not “right”, he retreats into his own area of misery, rocking and growling and losing his language. And getting things right is constant juggling, balancing, paddling like hell.
I haven’t been blogging about this because I’ve been very carefully constructing his environment and planning the battles. He’s hanging in there. He’s getting Bs because he gets 100s when things are well-balanced, or he gets 20s when something is off. He has a few friends and their families tell me how sweet and nice he is. He’s polite. Teachers tell me they don’t see any real behavior problems other than he’s a little active. He’s not aggressive and has never hurt himself, anyone or anything. But I haven’t been able to blog because it feels like it would be a continual litany of “This is so hard… this is so hard… this is so hard…” and I can’t go there. I can’t let myself sink into the morass of sadness and frustration and depression that lurks- under the surface of “Everything’s ok”.
But I’m tired after this year of keeping things as even as possible, as managed as possible and as positive as I can be.
To hear the guidance counselor support the work that we’ve been doing felt good. I cried when I heard someone recognize that although things look calm on the surface, we’re paddling like hell underneath.