Monday, December 18, 2006

rising competencies

I have to get back to work, typing up comments for my boss on her book (so far, she's not mad at me. So far.), but first I found this: Catherine Newman! The SIL used to send me particularly good columns of hers, and the current one is rather timely.

I've been thinking a lot about the exposure of children, how fragile their psyches become, more or less as they grow physically more competent. Last year, the Eldest learned to swing a mean bat, but was dumbfounded by the bully in his classroom. (Said bully hugged me today, and based on this and other evidence can now be declared a non-bully. But still, a force to be reckoned with. Which is fine.) This year, he's wavering between his own, independant spirit and the allure of the guidance offered by a wise classmate.

He's on the cusp of the time when children start learning about the great divide: those who Fit In and those who are Different. I was different, with my nose in a book, my clothes unfashionable, and hanging out with the lone kid from the projects. Not, mind you, because I was a saintly child, but because the kid from the projects was a really, really great person. Still is.

So far, the Eldest doesn't mind being different. He doesn't mind having rice flour waffles when everyone else has pancakes from a box, he's fine with eating tofu instead of cheese, and he doesn't mind having Daddy's cookies when the birthday cake comes around. So far. And last week, for show and tell, he took a box of his clotting factor. He showed the kids how to assemble the syringe, how to connect the syringe to the factor bottle, and how to mix factor. Mind you, at $500+ a pop, he took an empty, used bottle, but the kids had fun.

He came home with this sign, that he'd made to explain his exhibit:
AVERYBODY (as in, everybody can use this kit)
Happy, happy boy. Proud to share, proud to demonstrate.

He's a strong, resilient soul in a joyful, energetic body, but sometimes his own nature betrays him. Right now, he's caught in a social triad with the sage and another boy. The three of them together get "a little wild," he tells me. They play games: squshy-mushy (dogpile), zo-zo (a sort of modified Red Rover), trying to shape their happy, careless aggression into a form acceptable to the grown folk, who require laws and boundaries.

Shai happily hugs his friends so hard they fall over ("but I only hugged him, Mummy!"), plays zo-zo and only every plays squshy-mushy by accident. Honest. And occasionally, he finds it's all too much.

This past week, he was very upset about the turn his interactions had taken with his friends. There's hitting and slapping and kicking, he told me. I, having seen him doling out some of that hitting while in a rage, nodded my head ruefully. We talked about using words to ask them to stop, we talked about asking grown-folk to help. He admitted that sometimes he's having fun, and doesn't realize he *should* stop until he's sad or angry. So he wrote them a letter:

Dear [person],

You are my friend. Please do not hit me, slap me, or kick me.

Carefully, he folded the letter, helped me address them. Torn, I agreed to send them off, enclosing a quick note to indicate that I did not think that my own child was blameless in this matter, but did think it important to support his expression of his wishes to his friends. Anxious, I'm waiting to see what the other parents say.

It's astonishing to me that, physically, he can learn that something hurts, and avoid it. But socially, he gets drawn in, time after time. His body says, 'fun!' and his brain says 'whee!' and then the happy little bodies roll around on the floor until someone cries. Does he do it to Fit In? Or does he do it because his enthusiasm hitches itself to the most likely prospect, and pulls him along?

We're lucky that his hemophilia is managed enough that this is a social problem - so far. After four days treating a mysterious bleed in his left wrist, though, I do wonder... Still, I'm calling this a social issue for him, since now it begins. He doesn't have to avoid physical play because he's Different. He needs to learn to avoid it because he's an individual who finds the end results painful, and because at this age and stage, the boys can't find endings other than the Grownup Made Us Stop, or The Other Kid Cried.

But he has to do it. I can't do it for him, I can't make him choose to walk away.



dykewife said...

empathies and sympathies. watching a child grow wings and attempt to sort out their social life away from home is enormously difficult. however, with some guidance and patience on your part, i'm pretty certain that things will work out. i'm glad you're there for your son. that makes a world of difference.

mama o' the matrices said...

Thanks, dw. Although my perspective is different: I think that the good bit isn't my being there, it's my not wading in and shaking the bejeezus out of the little buggers. The kid, mind you, included.

Anonymous said...

I am SO PROUD of eldest son's show and tell!

:-D <-- me beaming w/pride

The more his peers understand hemophilia they start to understand he's really NOT that different than his peers (just the fact he has to infuse).

That young man is wise beyond his year...reflects good raising by parents. Hang in there mom!

Happy Hanukkah!