I’ve made no secret of my son’s struggle with his temper and his behavior. I’m not radically opposed to counselling, I’m trying to get him to one, in fact, but I also had realized what led to his latest set of problems, what led him to lash out. I’ve had all kinds of people tell me you can only do so much, only do what you can, carry so much on your shoulders, but it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t see it that way. He just needed one night . . . one simple night where he got a portion of the attention, not when I was playing taxi to one kid, doctor to another or falling asleep because I can’t shake the illness that’s invaded my cells.
I agree with many of them, I couldn’t do much else, I had to drive his brother to my sister-in-law because he was sick. I had to get dinner made, had to clean up what messes there were left from the day before. All of these are necessities, I just didn’t stop to think what that neglect would do.
You see, he doesn’t care, this little 8-year-old boy, what the excuse or reality is. It’s not like he’s thinking about these things. It’s not even forefront of his mind. He is my son, I know how he acts and I should have seen that coming.
So now, after getting in trouble, readying for counselling, and going to the principal’s office, he’s gunshy. He looks at me with any piece of paper ready to see me believe the worst and not the best.
That’s what happened tonight before bed. Noah, the one who has dealt with this, came to me with a piece of paper in his hands, curled in a tube, almost, facing his sweatshirt, hardly wanting to come to me.
“Dad, I have to show you this.”
The way he was doing it I truly was bracing for the worst. He didn’t want to even show me the piece of paper.
“What is it, Monkey?”
“I swear, Dad, I’m not in trouble again, it’s not!”
“OK, kiddo, just show me, I believe you.”
Alright, maybe I didn’t, not fully, but I can’t tell him that. He has to trust his Dad, and after the last episode, I can see why he wouldn’t. He did all but scream “PAY ATTENTION TO ME YOU IDIOT, DAD!!!!” but I didn’t listen at all. He was arguing with his sister, I didn’t get it. He threw a toy across the room, I didn’t listen. He bounced his brother’s soccer ball in the house, a no-no, and I didn’t get it. What more did I need for God’s sake? Apparently a lot.
“Show me what it says, Noah, it’s OK.”
On the paper was no discipline notice, no problematic sheet, no grade problems, no fights, no injuries. It was a sheet asking if I would allow him to be an alternate in the school’s Math Bowl, an academic decathlon type of event. This wasn’t trouble, it was far from that. This was something to be very proud of.
I felt awful. I didn’t give him reason to believe I thought he was in trouble, but here he was, worried I’d just assume he got something wrong or was in need of another discipline notice. I had warned him that lashing out at school could get him suspended or just plain kicked out. Now, he’s so paranoid that any teacher note will get him in trouble he’s meek and shy to even show me.
But this is something he should be so very happy about. He’s only 8 and they want him to be part of the team. Whether it’s a big deal overall or not, it should be a big deal to him, for him. I was so mad at myself for not simply saying “what’s that you’ve got, kiddo?” that I didn’t give him a chance then to be proud of himself.
But I made sure to tell him how proud I was once I signed the paperwork saying he could practice after school and also go to the tournament as an alternate.
It’s easy to automatically assume that once your child is in trouble that’s the pattern. But it dawned on me that someone has to be his advocate, and it has to be his Dad. Who else would be? He doesn’t get angry for no reason, he reacts. He doesn’t ask for attention simply because he wants attention, he wants to be included.
He’s not a bad kid. So often we paint children with these broad strokes, large swipes of color that cover everything but don’t signify much.
Today I changed that. Yes, he needs help, and yes I’m getting it for him. But I also wanted him to know that he isn’t alone, somebody is there for him, backing him when he feels alone.
And he knows that no matter what, I’m proud of him, and I will love him.
As I’ve said a million times before, we’re stronger together than we ever were apart.