“What is the future?” Graham asked.
This came right on the heels of yesterday night’s bedtime when he asked in the middle of storytime, “What is inside the earth? How did the earth get made? And how did space get made?”
Five years old at our house has a lot of big questions. I don’t mind the big questions. What scares me isn’t explaining the future but looking at our road ahead.
We talked of the future and the past and time moving forwards.
Then we came home and it fell apart all because of 8.
These big things we can do, I find a way to talk about them and he finds a way to understand. But then we hit a small thing like 8 and we hit a wall.
“I cannot write an 8,” he cried.
“Okay,” I said, “let’s practice so you can make an 8.”
“You do it,” he said.
“Graham, I’m not going to do your homework for you,” I said. “I will help you practice an 8, though.”
“But I’ve already practiced an 8 so many times!”
“It’s okay, we can keep working on it.”
“No, we can’t! You just do it!”
It continued like that. If you’re a parent, you know. If you were ever a kid, you know.
Graham was a perfectionist since he was a baby. Things must be just so and if they’re not his anxiety kicks in. As we’re starting to look at reading and writing and these big important new skills, he’s running into his perfectionist issues in a big way. He doesn’t want to try to sound out words, he doesn’t want to try to write things down, he’s afraid to do anything because he’s so afraid to fail.
It’s the future, it’s the problem we will have to solve over and over again for years and years to come. And it’s beginning right now.
I have to teach him to try. He doesn’t want to. And suddenly it is a battle of wills.
The kid digs in and refuses to budge. The parent digs in and refuses to budge. These are the moments as a parent where you find your zen place and disengage and wait it out.
These are the moments as a kid where you start bringing out the big guns.
“I don’t love you,” he said. That was first.
A while later came “I don’t like you.” He’s a smart kid to realize that’s a separate offense.
And finally, the worst one, a card that has never been played but will most likely make regular appearances for the next 13 years:
“I don’t want to live with you anymore.”
This is a special card in the kids vs. parents deck that only children of divorced parents get to play. It hits us in our most vulnerable places.
Every week when they stay with me, at some point the kids ask, “When are we going to Daddy’s?” I tell them and they say, “Yay!” And every time I wonder, do they ask about when they’re going to come back to me? Do they get excited to see me again the way they do about their dad?
Of course, parenthood isn’t about getting your kids to like you. It’s inevitable that at some point they really won’t want to come to your house and they really won’t want to see you. That’s true whether they live at your house full-time or part-time. But.
It’s the future, it’s a tool he’s going to use again and he’s going to get better at it. I don’t know if I’m going to get any better at hearing it. I’m okay at the zen stuff, I’ve endured years of meltdowns so I’ve gotten used to it. But will I ever get used to this?
For years I’ve said I can’t wait for my kids to get older. People told me it would get harder. I’m still not sure that’s true. I still think I’m better at these older kid skills. After all, I’d rather have Graham’s breakdown over an 8 than Tessa’s breakdown over anything.
Tessa’s vocabulary is building every day. She often uses multi-word sentences and even though she’s hard to understand, she’s making great strides. But when she gets anywhere near wanting or needing or angry or upset, she stops speaking. She goes straight to a whine with no sign of a consonant or a word to be found.
Tessa’s breakdowns require a similar parental zen, except instead of ignoring her and waiting for her to calm down, I have to sit there and say, “I can’t understand you,” and “Tell me what you want,” and “Use words, please.” I am so tired of this. Having a child that won’t communicate has been my struggle for years and communication is everything to me.
I’d rather hear Graham tell me something mean than have Tessa tell me nothing at all.
That may not be normal, but that’s how it is.
But, of course, the future is never quite how you expect it to be when you get there. Just like I never see Graham’s big questions coming, or how to explain The Big Bang to a child whose Science curriculum is the Five Senses.
It’s never going to be easy, this parenting thing. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking to the future.