I could write for hours and it wouldn't be enough time to describe this journey that I'm on with my eldest son. They are all dealing with this life transition in their own ways, but it's always most evident with number one (NO).
He is so angry and defiant some of the time. But just some of the time. And he can go back and forth from obstinate and fiercely apathetic (that does make any sense, it's not necessarily contradictory) to good-natured and cooperative in seconds. I picked the boys up from their father's house around 2:00 after working until then. They were all in good spirits. It was another spectacularly beautiful crisp sunny fall day here. We've had a good line up of them. We got home and I told the boys the plan for the remainder of the day. I was hoping that we could have a family movie night (before a school night bedtime), and that it could happen if we accomplished the following: homework, haircuts, fresh air exercise, dinner, and rooms picked up. Sounds like a long list, but it needn't be. I just wanted to squeeze in 20 minutes of exercise on their bikes. They had about 15 minutes of homework. Haircuts happen at home. Rooms shouldn't take more than 5 minutes, and I had a super easy dinner planned. My NO, who had been asking for a family movie night, immediately quipped that it wasn't possible. He wasn't even going to try it because he knew he would just end up losing it. So self-defeating. Drives me crazy. He flipped back and forth all afternoon and evening between rallying and cooperating and loudly asserting that he wasn't going to do anything because it wasn't even possible. In the end, we did just about everything. Haircuts, check. Dinner, check. Homework, check. A short bike ride around the neighborhood, check. Picked up rooms, check. Then I asked him to come downstairs and help me for two minutes, to make up for the fact that he had been so defiant and unwilling to help with so many of the other steps in toy pick up, dinner prep, dinner clean-up. I just wanted him to work with me for about 2 minutes picking up some toys and stuff in the kitchen. We weren't early enough for a movie at this point, but we were early enough that I was going to let them have 30 minutes of TV. Come on NO, help me for 2 minutes and then you can watch TV and then we'll still have time for a proper tuck in with stories and everything.
"NOOOOOOOO! I won't do it. I don't care. I can't. It's not possible."
I started to get frustrated with him, but thankfully I got emotionally analytical instead.
He was on the floor, with his back intentionally to me. I got down on the floor to talk to him quietly. He turned around to put his back to me again. I sat down behind him and talked for a bit about how I get it. Shared some thoughts with him to see if any of them resonated with him, including the following.
I get it kiddo. I think I understand how you're feeling. Sometimes when you're unhappy about everything in your life, do you sort of want to make sure that everything stays bad. It's like you don't want to succeed at anything because then something would be right and then you'd have to feel good about that and right now you just want to be mad about how wrong and bad everything is?
"Yeah," he agreed.
I talked with him about grief and my memories of other times of grief in my life and the roller coaster that one experiences when you have a happy moment and then you feel badly about the happy moment because it seems to dishonor your grief which causes you to come crashing down out of the happy moment. This journey is kind of like that sometimes. He agreed.
Somewhere along the conversation he allowed me to snuggle up next to him and hug him from behind. We sat there on the kitchen floor for awhile talking. Mostly me talking and him listening, but it was clear from his non-verbals that he was relating to what I was saying.
At one point he said he wishes he could just go back to three years ago. "Why three years ago," I asked. Before any of this happened, he explained. "But this wasn't happening three years ago," I said. "Yeah, ok, then one year ago," he responded.
"Or really, six months ago for you," I said, "you didn't really know until then did you?"
He said that he didn't really know until last spring, but that he felt like something was different last winter. He didn't know what it was, but something was wrong. I don't know if he's saying that now just because I've since told him that the problem as I was aware of it started last fall or if he really did sense the difference. Or perhaps it's a combination. He might not have thought anything of it at the time but in retrospect saw the significance of certain things. I feel so badly at the thought of him carrying around concern without being able to lighten that burden by talking to me. I told him as much. I told him that I'm sorry that he had to go through that alone, that he shouldn't have had to. If I had had any idea how things would have turned out, I would have been more honest. But then again, maybe I wouldn't. I don't know what was right or wrong or how much of his memories are altered by retrospective vision.
In any case, I think he felt heard and understood, and for a moment, not trapped in this failure to succeed or be happy pattern that he's been in. Poor kid. He's got so much weighing on this heart.
I put the boys to bed and instead of reading to him I pulled out the siddur and sang Adon Olam. I love that song when life seems bleak. It's a reminder of God's power and strength when we need it most. NO needed it. He seemed to thoroughly appreciate the snuggle and song at bedtime. And the MC, who had already been read to and snuggled with, nearly threw a fit that I was "singing from the prayer book" for his big brother and he didn't get that. Who would have guessed he would want that when he usually acts like he's not paying attention. He's such a complicated little guy.