Like most people, I prefer it when everything runs smoothly.
That is why, if we were expressing this moment in interpretive dance, you’d see a small ineffective waif clinging to what remains of the status quo while angry imps, representing chaos and bad choices, hit her with mean words and dust mops embroidered with the word “WRONG”.
Those of us still plagued by old school ideas about raising and educating our kids consider them a set of guidelines that while sometimes suffocating are still better than any sort of idea we might come up with ourselves. They’re a necessary evil, and we tell our kids to buck up and get with the program so that the life machine can swallow them up a little easier when the school system spits them out the other side. And for a while, that worked here in our house as well.
Enter, the dragon. Or more specifically my third child. No core curriculum could interest him. No seat was big enough to contain his energy and more tragically no teacher could tame him enough to make him fit the confines of a classroom. At age four a preschool teacher deemed him “unteachable” and “a danger” and recommended an army of specialists with long lists of credentials. He confounded them all. People who shouted loudly and forcefully to discipline him harder had no real understanding of what they were dealing with, and made an already strained situation worse with their frustration. In the middle of all this frenetic grasping at straws and last chances up in smoke stood the kid who was the reason for it all, looking at all of us as if we were already dead but just too stupid to fall over.
Cut to six years later, all the educational buffoons and braying donkeys were wrong. The small boy, about whom someone once remarked “he’ll either burn down the world or rule it with an iron fist” is a thriving, intelligent, kindhearted person with limitless possibilities. I used to struggle with the upsettingly tremendous sense of burden I carried with me when making decisions about how to proceed academically, personally and parentally (not a word? FU spellcheck) with my third kid, but now the sigh of relief you hear is deafening. The endless disciplinary hearings and terrifying diagnoses that made up so much of my nightmare fuel back then are distant memories. They’ve been replaced by the pounding elegance and delicate savagery of a boy who made his own way, despite every odd being stacked against him, with sharpened wits and a broad field of vision that enables him to see where he’s going and how he’s going to get there.
I dare say, he’s my boldest creation.
So if you find yourself mired in a pit of parental despair, surrounded by angry “specialists” that just charged you ten thousand dollars for the pleasure of sitting down and discussing the somewhat questionable neuro/psych/edu. test results they got, and what it all means for your poor kids future, remember that from the ashes of this complete and utter bullshit can sometimes rise a little phoenix – and keep ahold of that while you take a deep breath.
So here I am again. Today I sit in an office across from another set of baffled educators trying to dissect my uproariously funny but hard to understand four year old. Should I tell them that they would have a better chance of unlocking the secrets of the universe than coming up with a comprehensive plan to control and track his behavior? No, professional person I have no idea why he has all the words to the Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer” memorized (that one is actually my fault). No, learned early childhood team, we didn’t let him see that inappropriate movie, he caught three seconds of the trailer on You Tube when his sister was researching something the other day and he committed those lines to memory in an instant.
Ahhh , a day in the life of a parent with a “difficult” child. I have trouble with that moniker because it says so little about someone with so much to give. This child is as likely to warm your heart with a loving insight as to drive you to drink with stubborn defiance. Such frustrating and fascinating individuals defy explanation and description. There are times that I suspect that those around me doling out advice have no idea what they are talking about as he seems to confound even the most seasoned professionals. Solutions can’t be put into action when he’s more than aware of the game plan and tries to beat you to the punch. Or worse, he switches gears and bats his long dark eyelashes at you while letting you know you are a wonderfully patient parent to put up with his nonsense. Still, he does not suffer fools well and tells you where to go (with directions) if you’ve gotten on his shit list.
I have often wondered if my third child is the anecdote to all those long days of deeply felt exhaustion that were mine to suffer through because of my inability to say no to a request. A people pleaser by nature I have spent too many precious hours doing the bidding of others, sometimes even against my will. Lifetimes of undenied requests lead to pent up hostility, a terrible martyr complex and an appalling lack of personal time. I feel like my third is the end result of all that congenial wish granting blowing up in my face producing a rebel child that refuses to please instead uttering phrases like “You need to do everything i say or I will push you into traffic” and “I don’t have to listen to you because NO ONE is the boss of me”. Most average people gasp at the sheer audacity of a four year old telling adults and children alike where to stick it, but for me it’s all in a day with id boy. Aside from the daily battles I fight to get him to comply with basic rules, I sometimes find myself sitting back and admiring the conviction and tenacity of a boy who will not give an inch. This is a child who once spent two days in a spaghetti western style showdown over the insistence that he use a red crayon to color. The perplexed early childhood expert finally called it quits and sprung him from his eternal time out but not before she gave him yet another admonishing. He responded by letting her know that next time she wanted to throw down she better bring her “A” game since he does not waste time with amateurs. Then he told her he wanted to hit her with a bowling pin, which was totally not psychotic since we had just gone to Strike Bethesda the day before. Notice though, he never used the red crayon. Victory.
What is the difference between charmingly stubborn and needing psychiatric intervention? Many people have come forward with advice and well meaning methods to get a handle on this sweet prince of id, but one simple solution seems far out of reach. No amount of finessing or manipulation remains effective for more than a day and we’ve exhausted every parenting method out there. There are some days we all throw our hands in the air in mock surrender, but deep down we will never give up. He may not be as pliable and easy to reason with as my first two but I love a challenge.
I sometimes wonder what the future holds for our lilliputian tyrant and hope that he uses his absolute power for the good of mankind. Perhaps he’s here to teach me that saying “no” isn’t such a difficult task and standing up for yourself (no matter how crazy you appear to be) is something to be commended, not an act that’s punishable by fifteen minutes alone in your room.
So, I shake my head in absolute agreement with my colleagues across the big mahogany desk and I tell them “yes” and “absolutely” when we all agree on a plan of action, but behind the black out blinds I’ve hung on tiny hinges over my glazed eyes I’m seeing an entirely different picture. No, I think I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this little guy along the way but I don’t want to see him change too much for that just wouldn’t suit him. After everyone has finished saying their peace and we’ve all parted ways, I’ll return home to help my little monarch off his throne to polish his tiny crown. It’s good to be the king.