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Posts Tagged ‘Beliefs’

My son has always been an “I can handle it myself” kinda kid.  From the early days, if he could get himself a snack he would do so.  He was dressing himself as soon as he was able.  He wanted to do his homework on his own from the start, and he did not want help memorizing his spelling words or geograpy.  He gritted his teeth when I taught him how to ride a bike–it took a few times for him to admit he kinda needed me at the start.

It’s a great quality to have, this independence and self-reliance, and I have always supported and encouraged it myself or by making sure he participated in organizations that did the same, such as attending Montessori for preschool and kindergarten.

Still, I often felt like I was missing out on some of the “mommy” stuff I always accepted–and looked forward to–as coming along with having kids.

“I can do it, Mommy,” he always said.

“I know you can,” was my standard reply.  “But there’s nothing wrong with asking for help every now and then.”

The last time I was able to help him with school issues, without seriously damaging his relationship with me, was in 4th grade, when he was being asked to learn the “New” Long Division, which wanted you to divide by starting from the right and going left instead of starting at the left and moving right.  He and I looked at it over and over and over….we went on YouTube and watched videos of this insane process, talked to other parents, who were having just as much trouble….Finally, I taught him the “normal” way to do long division and, when he got it in under a minute and said, “This actually makes sense! Why the hell are they teaching us this other way?” (I allowed the obscenity; it was used in context and I’d been using it plenty myself that night), I wrote a note to his teacher explaining the New Math was against our religion.

His teacher, a lovely lady who knew me well enough to know that she wasn’t going to win this fight anyway, just laughed when she got my note.

But that year was probably the last year my son even allowed me to see his homework, much less advocate for him.

I have learned, through conversations my son and I have had since his father and I divorced, that for the last five years, there was so much tension and animosity going on between me and his dad, my son just stopped asking for help.  He never knew when it would trigger something, either one of his dad’s moods or what seemed to him neverending anger from me, and he also felt like he was adding to the weight I carried: his dad was not happy.  My son knew that, he knew I was trying to help, even if I wasn’t doing a good job of it, and I had him and his sister to take care of, too.

He just dug in his heels and built up that bone-deep independence even more, telling himself, whenever an issue arose, “You can handle this yourself.”

He barely passed his Advanced Algebra course in 7th grade because of this, and he managed to pull off a D in Advanced Geometry by watching YouTube videos.

The mixture of pride and heartbreak that rose in me when he admitted this was a bittersweet tidalwave.

I had failed him, undoubtedly.  And yet….he had found his own way out.

“Thank you,” I said, the only words I could think of to say. “But I’m stronger now.  Let me help you.  When you need it.”

“It’s OK, Mom,” he replied.  “I’m OK.”

And I was resigned to accepting that, while I had somehow managed to be blessed with this child who pulled his own weight in a crisis, I would also never get the chance to let him lean on me as he had allowed me to lean on him.

But as I’m learning, I don’t really know what will happen.

My son has a knee condition with a long Latin name which I forgot a long time ago. Basically, his kneecaps are not growing in pace with the muscles and bones in his legs, and sometimes his knees will slip out of track.  A couple years of Physical Therapy and orthopedic shoes have helped, but there’s not anything permanent we can do until he stops growing. He manages it now, with patience and regular exercise and body awareness.  But running is a huge trigger.

In January, he started P.E., and the curriculum requires running the mile once a week. The second week (“I can do it, Mom; let me handle it”), he was in so much pain he could barely make it to my truck three blocks from school. He finally agreed to go see his Physical Therapist so we could get a note releasing him from the mile run,

His regular PT was already booked, and I could see, as his appontment progressed, that whatever the interim PT was saying to him, it wasn’t good.  At the end of the appointment, she came out with a cheery smile to talk to me “about his treatment.”

On the way to PT, my son and I had discussed the situation, and we agreed he didn’t need to get back into regular treatment.  He had been taking four mile long walks around the neighborhood for the last year without any problems, and he was fully able to get through a karate workout without any problems.  He just needed a note to get out of the mile run.

“So, we should probably schedule two sessions a week for about six months, is what I’m thinking,” said the cheerful PT.  “His hamstrings are tight and his hips are tight and …..” She droned on.

I spared a glance at my son, who was glowering in the dark way only half-grown men can glower. “Hang on, ” I said to her.  To him, “Go outside.  I’ll handle this.”

“Mom–”

“Out,” I said, handing him the keys to the truck.  Then I turned back to the cheerful PT and gave her a smile of my own.

Fifteen minutes later, my son returned.

“Excellent, all righty then, Liam, it was great to meet you,” said Cheerful.  “I’ll see you in six weeks?”

Outside, my son turned to me, “Geez, Mom. You should negotiate hostage situations for the cops.  I left with two appointments a week for six months.  I come back and I have one appointment in six months?”

“They just need to be able to say without a doubt you are under their care.”

“Yeah, I get it, but…geez, Mom.  You didn’t get mad.  When did you get so calm?”

I used to be calm.  I was never the most patient person, but when I became a mother, I felt settled, calm.  Long days would pass and, while I won’t deny I didn’t get stircrazy, I wallowed in the time I spent with him watching trucks rattle down our street or birds at the bird feeders.  I loved lying on the couch and watching him roll his cars over the carpet, where I’d created hills out of pillows. We took walks on the beach and talked about nothing and everything.  When he got mad, I never felt the need to get mad back.

Then his sister was born, and his dad wasn’t happy, and I felt like I was a hostage in my own home, in my own life. I lost my calm, and my impatience came back: the sooner I got through the day, the sooner I could go to sleep and wake up, hopefully start over.  Every day had the possibility to be a new day, a better day.  Soon I was steamrolling through our days together, my days with my husband, my friendships, anger the tide that drove me, waiting for the day when things would be…different.

It wasn’t even about having or not having the courage to leave my children’s father.  It was about me, believing I could fix it, believing I could find my way out of the mess I was only half responsible for, without looking around to see who might be able to help me. “I can do it, Mom,” I used to say to my own mother, long ago.  “I can do it on my own.”

Now I smiled.  I put an arm around my son’s broad back and gave him as much of a hug as an almost-15 year old will allow out in public.  “That’s what I’m here for,” I said.  It was all I needed to say.

“Yeah,” he said.  “OK, then.”

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You don’t often hear that one word in combination with that one name.  But I couldn’t help but feel like I was repeating myself earlier this week when I had to have the “ZIP IT” conversation with my son in regards to his recent epiphanies about Santa.

My son loves knowledge. No matter how heartbreaking or sad or pitiful the subject might be to his personal world-views or the world in general, he absorbs it, finds it enlightening, longs to spread the word with anyone who will listen.

Most of the time, we encourage his desire to teach the world. It can’t hurt to know the facts and figures associated with the Battle of Normandy, or the back story to the Stargate TV series, or the reasons why some physics theorems will never work. But some knowledge CAN hurt. Or at least, maim a little bit.

Both Santa and sex fall into this category for me.

I was twelve when I found out about Santa. It was by accident–my father assumed I knew, and who can blame him? I was twelve–but it still dropped me off a precipice and changed forever the way I saw the world, my parents, and life in general.

I felt the same way when I found out about sex.

My son, having the voracious appetite for knowledge that he does, has suffered no such issues.

He did writhe and moan and gag and fake-vomit for several minutes when he learned about sex for the first time, but when he was done, he was cool about it all. We went on to discuss the responsibility of such information, and how it wasn’t necessarily something he needed to share with his friends or his sister in any situation unless they asked. And if his sister did ask, he should choose his words carefully and forward her to me.

Last week, I found myself saying similar words when he finally stopped using the air quotes he’s been using around Santa Claus’s name and outright announced in a room of others exactly what he knew to be true regarding this tradition.

“Hey,” I said. “Come here for a minute.”

“Huh? Why? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the room where it happened.”

“You’re not in trouble. I just want to talk to you about something.”

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “Can’t I just say I’m sorry and move on?”

(Really, he’s a very well-behaved child and doesn’t get into trouble nearly enough to warrant his fears)

He wouldn’t budge off the couch, so I sat next to him and whispered, “Remember how we talked about some information being for everyone, and some information being private, or at least only for certain situations?”

“Uh-huh,” he nodded.

“Santa is that kind of information. Everyone deserves to decide for themselves when they’re ready to know some things,” I said.

His eyes went wide with understanding and he nodded. “Like, you know,” he said. “Sex and stuff.”

“Exactly,” I said, a little sad that he’d reached this threshold, but relieved, too, that it’s apparently painless for him, in regards to both topics.

It should go without saying that I did come to accept the facts about the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say the same about Santa.

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I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy until I was twelve. I swear. Sure, there were rumblings about them not being real from as early as first or second grade, but I resolutely refused to buy into the rumor. When my friends entered into blatant, bold discussions about their parents being involved in the ruse, I simply did not join in. It was obvious to me that they had their truths, and I had mine. Of course, doubt occasionally surfaced in my mind–the older we got it seemed like everyone I knew no longer believed, so maybe there was something to the gossip. But I never saw any evidence to support their claims. I probably wasn’t looking very hard, but I never saw any evidence to support my own beliefs, either. True believers don’t need evidence. They simply believe, through every corner of their being, without question.

The year I was twelve, my dad asked me if I wanted to help with the wrapping of the Santa presents. While neither he nor my mom and I had ever had a discussion about the reality of Santa, in his defense–I was twelve (almost thirteen would be closer to the mark). My sister was nine, and she was one of those kids on the other side of the fence already. So he probably figured my belief was just a facade for my little brother.

It wasn’t, and I will never forget that moment when my belief system came crumbling down upon me like the very earth itself. Dramatic, yes, but that’s how I felt. I can still see myself, standing in the living room, right before the stairs, with my dad saying those words and then flashing me a conspiratorial grin as he jogged upstairs, off to commit fraud with wrapping paper and “Love, Santa” labels.

From that day forward, I looked forward to having my own children, so that I might relive the true spirit of Christmas and Easter and losing teeth through them.

Instead, the god of Desire was up to its usual mischief, because my first child has been wisely wary of the whole Mysterious Midnight Visitors since Day One.

My son was one and a half when Santa started freaking him out. He didn’t like the idea that Santa would come down our chimney, while he was sleeping. I know; you say, “He was only 20 months. Did he really understand?” Trust me. He understood. The only way we were able to stop his rising hysterics that Christmas Eve was to promise we’d get Santa to leave the presents on the doorstep, outside, and not to come in the house. Thankfully, my son was young enough not to question exactly when we brought the presents inside the next morning, so it was a good Christmas despite his fears.

We decided it was just some free-floating anxiety, and it wouldn’t happen the next year.

We were wrong. The following Christmas Eve, when he was two and a half, we had to perform several almost-OCD-like checks on the windows, doors and fireplace grate before he went to bed–to make sure Santa wouldn’t be getting in no way, no how.

I began to wonder if he’d been murdered by red-velvet wearing burglars in a past life.

My son’s anxieties have lessened as he got older, and when he was five we were even able to “let” Santa come down the chimney. Having a little sister has definitely helped: while his serious doubt about magic and Santa’s ability to exceed the speed of light proves he doesn’t completely buy into the whole Santa deal, he definitely puts on a good front for Little Sis. I’m also convinced he’s accepted Santa’s existence, for now, because of the end result: all those pretty presents underneath the tree.

But absolute belief? Down deep life sustaining belief? Not for my boy.

Strangely, the Easter Bunny and, later, the Tooth Fairy, have not disturbed him nearly as much. While he’s not real sure what the heck a Fairy would want with a bunch of teeth, he apparently puts it down to her business, and is OK with her sneaking into his bedroom and leaving money underneath his pillow. He was, in fact, very excited for his first Tooth Fairy visit, and while he has questioned her ability to fly, as a tiny creature, with a big bag of teeth or heavy coins, nothing much has come of it. He likes money, maybe even more than gift-wrapped presents, so he’s apparently made his peace.

As for the Easter Bunny? I like to think–imagine, my husband says–that I have enjoyed at least a little of that absolute, down deep life sustaining belief in the Easter Bunny. Easter has always excited him, and we never saw any anxiety about the giant bunny hopping into our house in the middle of the night. I suppose a giant bunny sneaking into your house is more benign then an actual man–red-velvet wearing or otherwise–sneaking into your house. After all, CNN never reports about giant bunnies murdering people in their sleep.

Last year my son did spend a few hours ruminating on the Easter Bunny’s ability to hop so fast he could hide eggs all over the place in one night, and he did question the Bunny’s storage capacity for carrying all the candy needed. But these were merely theoretical musings, and we as a family came up with several creative ways this could be possible, if we did away with a few rules of physics (if we’re ruminating with my son and my husband, the rules of physics are always taken seriously, and they view my motto, “Anything is possible” as sheer heresy).

For the few weeks before Easter this year, my son has been talking about staying up late to catch the Easter Bunny, or setting a trap to catch him in the act. I laughed and played along with trap variations until Good Friday, when my curiosity got the better of me. “What,” I said, “exactly will you do with the Easter Bunny if you catch him?” “Prove he’s real,” my son said. “Or prove he’s just a man in a bunny suit.” “Why?” I asked him. “Who’s been saying he’s not real?” “Well,” my son said. “Some of my classmates don’t believe in other life forms outside of this universe.”

Not sure we’d heard him correctly, my husband and I both said, almost simultaneously, “What do other life forms have to do with the Easter Bunny?”

Then my son gave us the preview of his teenage “You are such idiots” look, opening his wide eyes even wider and sort of rolling them at us, dropping his jaw and throwing back his shoulders. “He’s a Giant Bunny,” my son said, “who lays eggs and hops around the world delivering candy. There’s no life form like that on this planet. He can’t be from Earth! He’s got to be of alien origin!”

For the first time, I have hope that little twelve year old diehard believer did live on in him, a little bit–that he didn’t get all of his dad’s black-and-white views on life. He’s thinking harder and better then I ever did, but…there’s nothing wrong with a little skepticism to balance out the dogma .

The world might be a better place, if we all thought long and hard about our own down deep life sustaining beliefs and didn’t just naively follow our convictions.

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