When Liam and Caleb were little, they both loved Going on a Bear Hunt. Remember that?
Going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared!
And then there’s the long tall grass to get through, swishy-swashy; and the mud, squelch-squerch…and pretty much every other obstacle known to human kind, each with its own sound effect.
And the refrain, of course is “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it… oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”
They do get through it, find a bear, are afraid of the bear, run back through all that crap, and climb into bed with the covers over their heads. Very satisfying. Except for the poor bear, who is left alone to wander the seashore.
I’m thinking about bear hunts these days as older son tries to adjust to his new school. It’s his second new school in six months–not easy to do, by a long shot, I know–and he’s pretty clear that we’ve ruined his life. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he’s only eleven. The life-ruining hasn’t even begun. Wait till he’s sixteen and I show up at some party where he’s all cool with the hair gel and the soccer jersey and then I trill from the front hall that it’s time to come home and practice the euphonium. That will be life-ruining.
He has forgotten the lesson of the bear hunt. He can’t believe that he won’t be in the middle of a rocky transition forever. As far as he’s concerned, his new school is an abysmal failure, a prison, a nightmare from which he will never, ever awake. And we’ve ruined his life.
School is stupid and British spelling is stupid and English history is stupid and oh by the way, we ruined his life.
Here’s the thing about Liam: he hates not knowing. He’s a perfectionist in pretty much everything and as a result of that (says moi, armchair shrink), when he explodes because of all the pressure he puts on himself, he explodes BIG and DRAMATICAL and WITH BAD WORDS. Let’s keep in mind that his mamma is a card carrying member of the Good Enough Club and Husband aims for perfection but then he can’t ever remember where he put it, so we’re both quite puzzled about Liam’s need to be perfect. Fortunately–or unfortunately–he often comes quite close: perfect report cards; chosen for this honor or that selective program or that elite soccer squad. He works hard; he pushes himself; he’ll kill himself trying to get something right. And also manages to be goofy and silly and dance around in his underpants to Kesha songs.
“Passionate” is the word I always use for Liam and I am reminded again, in these past few weeks, that passion is a double-edged emotion. The highs are really, really high, and the lows are cataclysmic. He’s in a cataclysmic low right now as he tries to suss out the new system, tries to remember that gray is now grey, and color is now colour. There have been sinkers–not quite as epic as when we first arrived in Abu Dhabi, but close–and as usual, I try to deal with them with some ad hoc mixture of empathy, firmness, listening, berating, whispers, shouts, hugs, threats, and bribes.
Yes. My parenting has lacked consistency lately. Thanks for that insight. And Husband and I aren’t always on the same parenting page at the same time, which adds a whole ‘nother level of wonderfulness to the situation: he wants to cajole when I want to be firm; he berates when I want to offer hugs. I don’t know if we’re complementing each other or just muddying the already swirling waters.
I am trying to remember my own bear hunt lessons, oh yes I am. I tell myself we’ve just got to get through all this swishy-swashy grass–and my sister (so wise and yet…younger. How can that be?) reminds me (and I then remind Liam) that it won’t be like this forever. But. When your adorable boy in his navy blue blazer is whisper-screaming at you that you’re an idiot and (say it with me) you’ve ruined his life–in the elevator of our building–with other people on the elevator- AT 6:50 IN THE MORNING…well, let’s just say it’s hard to hang on.
For a brief nano-second I thought, what if I just smacked him? Just flipped his cheek with my hand to jolt him out of his hysteria?
I didn’t flip his cheek. In a triumph of will over emotion, I hugged him close and told him it wouldn’t be like this forever.
I am not sure he believes me. I am, after all, the woman who has ruined his life.
Going through it. That’s the thing that sucks, about life and bear hunts, both.
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This: “an ad hoc mixture of empathy, firmness, listening, berating, whispers, shouts, hugs, threats, and bribes” Do you have a video spy camera installed in my house? Cause you’ve just nailed my parenting “style” down cold. Hugs to you through the squelch-squerch.
I think you are waaaaay more patient and empathic than you give yourself credit for. I read between the lines of your blog, lady; you’ve got the patience of god’s own angels, is what. If it weren’t so exhausting it would be funny, watching myself try first this strategy, then that strategy, then this other thing that my friend suggested, then that weird article I read at the doctor’s office yeah let’s try THAT…. only to watch as the situation slips out of my grasp… Where oh where is our spa vacation, Varda???
You could not pay me to be 11 again.
But I’d rather be 11 than 16. Just saying.
Oh, tough! I teach high school students, and rarely, if ever, do they believe that what they are experiencing is not the end of the world. That’s the beauty of growing up. They will realize this eventually, will understand that you did not, in fact, ruin their life, and will learn from their experiences. I hope.
Well, I figure that if nothing else, I am giving older son fodder for therapy, right? I remember so clearly that sense that I was the ONLY ONE who felt this way or that way…and the startled silence in my head when someone would say “yeah. me too.” So here’s hoping that happens with m’boy, before we both keel over with exhaustion.
He’s going to love you if he finds out that you wrote about him acting goofy and silly while dance around around in his underpants to Kesha songs. Haha. ;^)
Tell him what my dad used to tell me every time I hopped on the boo-hoo train… “Life’s rough and then you die!” Okay, don’t tell him that. Bad idea. You’re doing good. He will soon realize that you and your husband, in fact, did not ruin his life.
Oh honey, I have so been there done that, although I say the uglier version: life sucks and then you die, champ. He was singularly unimpressed and said “MOOOOOOMMMMMM HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT?” At which point I began to bang my head slowly against the wall.
this too shall pass? good luck to you all, and yes, i am all for reminding him of all the ways it could totally be worse!
as a friend of mine pointed out, I should just be glad he’s not twins. lifted my spirits tremendously (sorry all you twin moms!)
“passion is a double-edged emotion. The highs are really, really high, and the lows are cataclysmic” — Oh, I know all about this. It’s my Thing One to a tee.
Sometimes I wish that I had a way to moderate his world. But then it wouldn’t be HIS world. Best I can do? Help him navigate the peaks and valleys. Sounds like you’re headed that way as well.
Hope things get better soon. 🙁
Ah yes, the desire to moderate his world (or at least his behavior). I suppose that his energy and passion are going to serve him well, in the long run. But in the short run? I’d settle for a kid who is happy watching reruns of scooby-doo at the moment, frankly.
The bear hunt reference, perfect. For both you and your boys. I won’t lie, I’m not looking forward to teenage years. Not.at.all.
Good luck to Liam.
Scary thing is…Liam is ELEVEN! I thought my consolation prize for having boys and not girls is that I wouldn’t go through all this emotional sturm-und-drang. HA. Think again.
Oh Deborah, this must be so hard for all of you! Like you say it won’t be like this forever but it doesn’t make the moments any easier. It’s also that much more difficult when you and your hubs aren’t in the same parenting page…we go through this with more of The kids medical decisions than I care to admit and the layer that it adds makes it so much harder, maybe because I never thought we would disagree on such major decisions or maybe to just have that added heaviness amplifies the whole situation. I hope it gets better and until then squish squish squish….We are all along side you.
Thank you! what a lovely comment. Liam takes growth hormone and so there’s always this thing, every night (or for six nights–he gets one night off), where it’s like okay so sorry you’re sad and sobbing and puffy-eyed um now I have to plunge a needle into your thigh.
Yeah. that’s just great. Thank god they sell wine in this muslim country, that’s ALL I have to say!!
It will get better! For both him and you. We’re nomadic. My daughter is 8 and is in her third school. It sucks for her, but she adapts after a while. Kids are way more resiliant than we give them credit for.
Yes, that’s the whole thing. WE know it will get better. He, alas, does not. He doesn’t remember (or so he claims) how hard it was for him in the fall…so it’s just hard to watch him send himself into a tizzy. sigh. He is not aware that he’s resilient…
Maybe be a little easier on yourself? I say this as I run down all the things I can be more consistent with in my parenting. And watching your kids go through changes is downright painful, especially if you feel responsible. I go through this every transition day. . .Fridays and Mondays. . .because the girls go to their dad’s on the weekends. My younger daughter still has issues after six years. Not wanting to go, wanting to go, missing me, missing him, not wanting to pack, calling and yelling because there were things forgotten that didn’t make it into the suitcase. . . In the end, even if they require some therapy along the way, they’ll understand that they are loved. And that’s the most powerful and healing thing.
That sounds hard…transition days. I do tell Liam every day to remember that he is loved–I hope that on some level it’s sinking in! I also tell myself that instead of a college fund, I’m starting my kids a therapy fund. I figure there are always scholarships for college – but ain’t no one giving away therapy! 🙂
You can’t see me, but I’m nodding. Not because I can relate from a parental capacity (mine is only two and please, oh, please can’t she stay that age forever?) but because I remember my own teen and tween years all too well. The “going through it” is the hard part – especially during those formative years, when passion truly is a double-edged sword. And looking back in hindsight from the safety of the warm, cozy bed that is my current place in life, I see now that you DO eventually get through it. But try telling anyone that at the time. So, what do you do? Exactly what you did – just swallow your emotions and hug him close. He’ll thank you for it one day – after he’s stopped thinking you ruined his life.
Thank you for that! I am now nodding backatcha–because I do hug him and sometimes think I’m hugging my own 6th grade self, too. God the heartache of that age – the huge emotions, the uncertainty…ugh. I just thought (now, as a parent) that by virtue of having boys, I would be spared all the melodrama. Guess not… It seems a case of that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Which is what my mother would call “cold comfort” …thanks for the note.
Those kids on the bear hunt might have had a cool adventure (in the memory, that is–not in the moment), but not as cool as trying out different spellings and soccer fields in Abu Dhabi!! I think that Liam should keep his own blog for the rest of the year so we can hear these wonderful stories from his point of view. Was he whisper-yelling “You’re an idiot” while secretly thinking “and yet I love you SO much mom. I say you’ve ruined my life, but I am really so grateful to you and I don’t know how to express it!” (let’s imagine yes) (then again, maybe not yes. Maybe he shouldn’t write his own blog).
Keep the stories coming! Love them!!
yeah, no way am I giving that kid a public forum. nope, nope, nope. I like to think that when he’s about thirty he’ll say thank you and then apologize for giving me such grief (as I did to my mom, actually) but I’m not holding my breath.