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.