Sunday, 14 December 2008

Welcome to whiny middle class angst corner

My mother used to say that she felt an affinity with animals who eat their young. This was not, as it sounds, a comment on how vilely horrid we were and how very much she wanted to, you know, be rid of us. What in fact, she meant, was that she could understand the misguided impulse of the hamster to put its babies back in the only place where it knew they were safe. That often she wanted to be able to cushion us away from all the badness and sadness and disappointment in life.

I feel like that at the moment with Lashes, though God knows, I couldn't eat a whole one, he's bloody huge. But right now, he seems subdued and beleagured and out of sorts. We saw his teacher on Friday (whilst having one of those silent attrition style domestics, which was an added bonus), who said rather eerily, that though his behaviour had much improved (no more of that insubordinate colouring of things in the Wrong Colours that sent him so often to the Headmaster's Office, tsk tsk!) , he was now very quiet in class, no longer talked or asked questions, and seemed very solitary.

Now. I have had to adjust many of my wholly inaccurate but dearly held images of what my eldest son is "like" over the last couple of years. From my fey, thoughtful, pink loving three year old has grown a giant, defiant, contrary laddish creature. I thought he'd be reading at three or four, like me. He's six and a half and couldn't give a monkeys. He reads the odd word under pressure, sure, but he isn't desperate to be reading. Instead, he fires mind-melting mental arithmetic at us, usually when one of us is trying to park the car, or cook dinner. He no longer wears girls' hair accessories and even though he still loves lizards, he loves Pokémon more. So far so normal.

But the one thing I always felt I could count on was his absolute self-assurance, his constant talking and questioning and negociating. Apparently not. The soviet work camp style of the local school has apparently crushed his spirit. I can kind of see it in him myself. He comes home and he's floppy and disinterested in everything and barely has the energy to be more that mildly argumentative and annoying to his brother. He struggles through his homework with a sort of dull resignation. He drives the CFO crazy not listening. But I don't feel he can help it - it's as if he's barely there at all.

Every week I say to myself I need to spend some proper time with him, to try and find out what's going on in his head. I want to poke my fingers into his brain and try and understand him, the way I used to when he was tiny and it was all about saying "beetle beetle" as often as possible and hating sheep. To try and give him some of that confidence and fun back. To show the CFO, who seems to feel he's a ball of single-minded defiance, that the gorgeous, funny baby he adored is still in there and needs him more than ever. But every week life gets in the way and we just get through the days and the evenings and the weekends the best we can without the kind of "quality time" I delude myself would make all the difference. Fingers is clingy and demonstrative and funny and a bloody exhausting delight. Lashes just gets on with drawing monsters or watching tv and gets shouted at for normal acts of six year old daftness and doesn't really react, or defend himself. Occasionally it all escapes like on my birthday. I feel like he's being short changed, somehow. Like he's not getting what he deserves, from me, from school, from his dad, from anything.

Of course, guilt coming as naturally as breathing to most if not all parents, I wonder how moving country three times in two years and leaving his friends behind, being caught up in the maelstrom of my mum's death, and all the sturm und drang and general badness and madness that followed has affected him. And the tiny Oliver James that lives on my shoulder whispers that it is All My Fault. And Unicef tells me he's going to be emotionally damaged from all his time at nursery. And I want to put my head in my hands and just cry.

Maybe this is all a normal part of getting bigger. He's getting more distant, for sure, and perhaps I might as well get used to it now. In a few years I'll be grasping on to, and thankful for, any minute of interaction I can get from him. I talked to Katyboo about this recently, and her take on it was that keeping your children away from the ordinary cruelties and disappointments of daily life is akin to keeping them in a germ free bubble. You'll have let them go out into the wild at some point, and if they haven't built up their immune system from an early age, reality could be devastating. Better to allow them to discover this stuff when they are surrounded by love and support.

Maybe also my own vision of early childhood is pretty skewed; I spent my time as the only child in big groups of wonderful funny, entertaining, imaginative adults who indulged me hugely. At Lashes' age, my mother was reading me David Copperfield. Three or four different people had invented complex and lengthy story sagas for me (including my particular favourite from Prog Rock Step Dad, which featured the three blind mice and their used car garage). My halloween costume was a red devil borrowed from the University's medieval drama department. This was probably not 'normal' and it almost certainly set me up for crushing disappointment at various points in later life. But it did make me confident, and tremendously sure of my own self-worth, at least at that early age. Shouldn't all children be allowed to feel like that for a few years?

So, right now, I think I would just like to put him back inside me for a while. He's not going to like it - there's no Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, no Yu-Gi-Oh, no monsters. Not even any lizards as far as I know. But he can be himself, and find out who that self is without someone walking all over it in hobnailed boots. When I feel he's built an unassailable sense of self and knows how completely we love him perhaps then and only then I will let him back out.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm heading up to his bedroom and I'm going to eat him.


Anonymous said...

I love this post.

justme said...

Oh dear! It is so very hard when your children seem unhappy and you are not quite sure what to do for the best. And even worse if you and your sig other disagree about it...... but eating him seems a LITTLE extream........especially just before xmas.....?
Dont fret. He has lovely parents who adore him. Children go through phases. This will pass. And NO point at all in feeling either guilty or even responsible. They are adaptable creatures. Truely they are.

Leslie said...

Have you thought about looking at other schools? Sure, maybe - probably - it's just a phase, but it could be his teachers.

I'm not a big self-esteem nut. But if he's getting in trouble for coloring wrong, he could be getting the message that independent thought isn't valued or welcome.

I could be 100% off base. But since I teach at a totalitarian preschool, I'm hypersensitive to children who may be attending one. Save your children from me!

Pearl said...

If only you COULD eat him. And if only there weren't laws against that sort of thing...

The moving is difficult. The year I turned seven, four people in my family died, all three months apart: my brother, my sister, my aunt, and my grandfather. We then proceeded to move. Honestly, we never even left Minnesota, but we made big enough moves (13 different schools in 12 years) that I never really knew anyone. Anyone. I sincerely hope his spirit is not being crushed. It's far too soon, and he's far too precious for that. I believe, just from listening in (I read every time you post), that Lashes has what he'll need for this phase in his life.
It's all so nebulous.


Laura Jane said...

Ah yes, the eating of the child to protect them from the real world phenomenon.

Its completely understandable.

Hope your collective hearts are at rest soon. More anxiety is not required.

Thinking of you

DCup said...

Oh how identify with this. The Actor is being bullied at school and begs us to not intervene. It kills me because he feels somewhat friendless and adrift in 7th grade (an awful grade to begin with).

If only I could eat him up and keep him safe.

SUEB0B said...

Aw. That parenthood thing sounds so difficult. I can barely deal with my hound and you have to raise a person who is not totally a mess. I feel for you.

pinklea said...

My darling daughter's wonderfully independent spirit and self-confidence was almost crushed in Grades 6 and 7. Even though I was teaching at her school at the time, I had no idea how bad it was. Then she changed schools, met new kids, and blossomed again - and only then told me exactly how it had been for her. Not to say that Lashes should change schools, but just to say that this may be a phase and it will very likely pass. Just let him know that you love him no matter what, and that he is always safe with you.

Jane Henry said...

When my eldest was your son's age she was being picked on by the class bully. I won't use the oftused word bullying because I think it was more physical harrassment. Anyway, she didn't know how to deal with it, and as a first time mum neither did I. The school were utterly useless and kept saying tell the teacher who did precisely nothing. So in the end I told her to thump this boy back when he thumped her. That worked. Problem solved.

Since then I've watched her have a miserable time falling out with her best friend, and an even more miserable time transferring to secondary school. This time last year I'd have been with you on the eating thing. Watching your child being miserable is one of the worst things we can face as parents (as my mother always says, you don't want the wind to blow on them), but your friend is right, they do need to get out of that protective bubble. Your son may be very unhappy at the moment, or he may just be chugging along and not as unhappy as you fear. But it will pass, and he will get better because he clearly has a very loving supportive framework.

Just recently my third daughter did genuinely get bullied. It broke my heart to see her so unhappy, but we've got it sorted and she's fine now, and because I'm a little bit better at dealing with this stuff, I didn't feel guilty about it.

Guilt is a default position for mums, but we have to tell ourselves, it's not (always) our fault. Once our little darlings are out there in the world of school we can't control what happens to them, but we can pick up the pieces and put them back together and give them the confidence to go back in the fray again, which I'm sure is what you are doing.

If they told us it was like this, do you think any of use would ever have had children?

Ali said...

Oh god. This is such a familiar feeling to me. Recently my eldest (nearly 13) was causing me to fell much the same. We had just moved back to Oz from the UK and, although he seemed to settle okay at his new school, he seemed to have lost a spark.

We considered pulling him out of school all together for a time. In the end we just tried to muddle through, giving him a bit of extra attention and support. Also, extra-curricular activities helped.

I hope it turns around soon.

P.S. That school sounds like it may be a bit of a great big pile of arse by the way. I'd be doing some stern note writing for any child spirit crushing I heard about.

Jaywalker said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I promise not to eat him today.

Leslie - Belgian education does sound oddly like your school. The sad little story where the staff pretended to call the police! Hmm.

Also Leslie, Pinklea and Ali - I wonder about changing schoool lots and it is a definite possibility, but as Justme says, the CFO and I are not exactly in agreement on the topic, which makes it tricky.. And his brother likes it. Argh.

Jane - I think we wouldn't have believed them. It's an evolutionary cunning trick to ensure survival of the species.
Pearl - jesus, that is one shitty year. And you survived. My god, the human spirit is pretty amazing isn't it?

Completely Alienne said...

I don't think I would be happy with a school that criticised a 6 year old for using the wrong colour crayons and would be doing some serious complaining myself.

My two never had any particular problems with school itself but the younger has had a series of falling out with friend problems that meant she did not want to go to school and became withdrawn at times. All I could do was cuddle her, tell her it would blow over and she would either make up or make new friends, help her with coping strategies and encourage her to talk to me. Generally she would confide in and she always got over it in the end and is a tough little cookie now.

Good luck with him, however you choose to deal with it.

Potty Mummy said...

Oh the guilt of being a parent and wanting the best for your child. I'm sure he's fine, but thinking of you (and dreading when this happens in our family) anyway.

Persephone said...

Mum of two piping up here: Something in your post kept niggling at me and then I realized what it was. "Six and a half". Elder daughter went through a mind-boggling few months of yelling/defiance/fury/paranoia at that age, and I've heard from several parents who report the same. It did pass. (Younger daughter's current label is PDD/NOS, so all bets are off.)

The teacher's thinking he's "behaving" because he's no longer talking or asking questions (in school???) does worry me. Is this the whole damn school or just this teacher? You may be seeing the sun emerging behind the clouds in six months for two reasons: 1) he'll be seven; 2) he'll be out of this teacher's clutches.

Red Shoes said...

Whiny Middle Class Angst? You rang?? I have some too and I'm just self-centered enough that rather than try to console you about your dear son, I will seize upon your mention of learning to read at age 3 or 4 and turn the topic to myself and my own angst. I also learned to read at age 3, was college level by the time I was 7, and everyone was so impressed by my extraordinary brilliance as a child that I was impossibly set up for failure in the adult world. My genius wore off once my mom married my evil stepfather and now I am a sadly undereducated and undersuccessful, woeful perfectionist who can't stop thinking that if things had just been different, I could have cured cancer and won a Nobel Prize by now but instead I am an internet marketing grunt who can't afford decent gifts for Christmas, or a house, or to travel, or the invitro fertilization procedure that I really want in order to carry a baby that has my wife's genes and who has trouble mustering up the intellect to even write a proper blog post, instead resorting to expressing myself in the abbreviated medium of run on sentences in blog commentary.

Phew, that's out. Feeling much better now. Please return to the real topic at hand. Chances are, he is much more emotionally healthy than you think he is. It truly is about him having loving parents, you know? And he has. So he will be fine. Not to say he might not need some attention, but just please don't torture yourself with worry. OK?

Jaywalker said...

Persephone - I'll be hanging onto that shred of hope for a few months I can tell, so thank you. Truly. The school is slightly psycho but if he does hate it, he seems unable to articulate it. He's probably scared of what they might do to him.. I am sort of weighing up more upheaval vs 'no crayon is the wrong crayon you freaks!'. I promise to update on where I come out on all this..

RedShoes - there is still plenty of time for that cancer cure. Just, you know, start experimenting. There's some stuff in my fridge that would definitely make a good starting point. Your run on commentary is usually (always?) more interesting than the main post so please don't stop.

Z said...

My elder son had a teacher who treated him unfairly when he was six and it has coloured his life. I'd take it seriously. At the least, I'd tell him that he is right and that the teachers are wrong. Is there a theatre group or something where he would be encouraged to open out? Is it impossible for the boys to go to different schools? At any rate, show him how one can be subversive underneath, even if you have to play the corporate game in public.

A Confused Take That Fan said...

I read your post and let out a sigh because today at school I was asked if everything was ok with my eldest girl, she seemed withdrawn and clingy. Your heart sinks.
She is sensitive. She has a little sister who is cute and funny and every one makes a fuss of. I think she thinks, everyone thinks my little sister is cute and funny. they love her more than me. Of course this isn't the case. But at four and a half no amount of convincing seems to work. At school she has no special friend. She used to be 'friends with the whole class' now she says she feels lonely. My heart aches for her. But this is life. Sometimes we all feel lonely. Sometimes we all feel misunderstood. Sometimes we feel indifferent. Sometimes we feel unloved even when we are loved so much. Next week, Santa is coming and all will be alright with the world. Until she realises he didn't bring her Polly Pocket...
I'm glad you didn't eat him today.

A Confused Take That Fan said...

I read your post and let out a sigh because today at school I was asked if everything was ok with my eldest girl, she seemed withdrawn and clingy. Your heart sinks.
She is sensitive. She has a little sister who is cute and funny and every one makes a fuss of. I think she thinks, everyone thinks my little sister is cute and funny. they love her more than me. Of course this isn't the case. But at four and a half no amount of convincing seems to work. At school she has no special friend. She used to be 'friends with the whole class' now she says she feels lonely. My heart aches for her. But this is life. Sometimes we all feel lonely. Sometimes we all feel misunderstood. Sometimes we feel indifferent. Sometimes we feel unloved even when we are loved so much. Next week, Santa is coming and all will be alright with the world. Until she realises he didn't bring her Polly Pocket...
I'm glad you didn't eat him today.

Iheartfashion said...

I have an 8-year old son who thrived in his small private school last year and is now in a large-ish public school, in a 2nd grade class of 41 kids. I feel a bit the same as you do, that his creative, fun spirit is being crushed, and I'm at a loss as to what to do about it. His sister is in the same school, different teacher, and loves it, so it's tricky. I have no solutions. I just keep telling myself it will pass, and next year he may get a fantastic teacher. The thought of home schooling scares me almost as much. No answers here...

Jaywalker said...

Z - I am looking around and hoping to find some kind of solution, but in the mean time, I will definitely work on subversive.

CTTF - that sounds very familiar! I always say with feeling that it is hard being the eldest, but then the CFO says indignantly that it is hard being youngest.
Siblin ordur - iz in ur head colorin ur persepshun

Iheart - I'm sure somehow we'll work out what's best. Won't we? Please?

River said...

"Maybe this is all a normal part of getting bigger"
I don't think so. I think his school is a big part of the problem. Who in their right mind sena six year old to the principal for colouring the "wrong" colours, for heaven's sake. Six year olds are highly imaginative individuals and this should be rewarded. if, for instance, he wants to colour a giraffe pink and green, why should he not be allowed to? Take a look in any good children's story book, animals and even people are often all colours of the rainbow. Speak to the school principal. Change schools if you can. Shame on them for suppressing a child!

River said...

Forgot to mention the constant moving thing. It's probably not a problem. my ex was in the army here and we moved constantly. My four kids went to about six different primary schools and two of them attended three different high schools. As long as they made friends and their new teachers recognised past accomplishments, all was well. We struck trouble only once. A grade four teacher was insisting that my son learn to write in the exact same style as the rest of her students, in spite of the fact that his writing was perfectly legible and we were only going to be there for a few months. She picked and picked at him until this usually bubbly kid refused to go to school. I spoke to the principal who said that changing teachers (there were 3 other grade four rooms) was out of the question. He did go back to school, but the damage was done, he hated school for the rest of the year. Seemed to do okay at the next new school, but never really gave it 100% effort and left to get a job as soon as he was legally able. Don't let school do this to your boy.