My Little Emphatic Boy

How does one help a child that has inherited your ability to feel? My little man has emotions that are far too big for his little heart and soul to absorb. His feelings are huge, his tears are confused and his temper rages like the Incredible Hulk, only to quickly flame out, leaving him just as bewildered as the rest of us.

He started seeing a child psychologist. What little boy scratches his arms to keep from crying so that the other boys in his classroom don’t call him the “emotional one” when he cries? My little boy, that’s who. He has always been sensitive. Others have noticed. His father complains about it when I drop him off, saying, “He is just too sensitive, he needs to toughen up.” But why? Why can’t he be allowed to feel? He can’t stand to think that he has done something wrong. He has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which you can see clearly at school.

He is almost nine now and is still struggling. Instead of crying when someone corrected a simple mistake he started scratching. He said it helped to keep him from crying. He was confused about why I didn’t want him to do that, since it wasn’t hurting anyone but him. I scratched my arm lightly and he became very upset and grabbing my hands, saying, “Mommy, please don’t hurt yourself!” I didn’t, but then we talked about how sad and concerned that made him feel, and that is why Mommy is so sad when he does that to himself. He hasn’t done it since. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I was hoping to appeal to his softer nature, to show him that he was so very loved that it actually hurts other people when he hurts himself. I don’t know if he got it or not.

He is well-liked. He even has a “girlfriend” that follows him around saying, “I L-O-V-E Y-O-U” and makes him turn red. I guess spelling it is not the same as saying it? He is smart. He tested high in math. He struggles in reading, it can’t hold his attention. We have tried book after book, program after program and it is improving. It just hasn’t quite clicked yet. But when he doesn’t get his work done on time, or makes a mistake he has a melt down. The tears turned into scratching and have developed into anger. He will crunch his paper, toss his book, kick the wall. He never hurts another person, but he certainly is having a hard time.

Last week I went to pick him up and he was pacing between the desks… face red, tears flowing. He had his hands up on the sides of his face, his emotions sending him into a panicky mixture of anger and sadness. He had tossed an eraser at another boy. The boy was grinning when he said he had tossed a scissors at him. The teacher did not believe there was a scissors involved but he could not handle that anyone would think he might have done that and was having a complete meltdown. I helped him get ready, explained that I believed him, and loved him and took him home. He quickly calmed. But how do I help him self-soothe? I can’t be there at school all day. I can’t intervene when I am not with him?

His father is a bully with a drinking issue. He thinks that he is “making him tougher.” He doesn’t need to be tougher. The kid is almost nine and only a year and half away from being a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido. He is tough, physically. His emotions are soft. I want them to stay that way. Once his father pinned him down and hit him in the back, in play, but too rough. He wanted him to stop. His father told him that “wimps tap out” so he finally tapped out. His father stopped but called him a wimp. His father checked for bruises. If he was playing so rough that there was fear that he left a bruise then he was WAY out of line. There were no bruises but my son was sore for a few days. Unacceptable. Documented. Documented as well with the psychologist. He came home with a bruise on his buttocks. His father said that he kept sticking his butt in his face so he bit it. He left a bruise. My son was mad at him for several hours and came home wearing two pars of underwear. Unacceptable. Documented and documented with the psychologist.

I asked him if Daddy ever hit him, or hurt him in anger. He said no, never. He knows he can tell me. He always tells me. His father tells him that his Mommy doesn’t have a real job. My son gets upset and defensive. It is not right for him to put a child in the middle of his thoughts and to disparage me. He is a child, not a pawn. He is a human with emotions that don’t need to be played with or confused. I tried talking to him. He does not listen. He listens to Captain Morgan or Windsor or Jack. One day he is the nice man that I remembered and loved, the next he is a jackass that I would just as soon hit with my car than speak to. It all depends on which man I get that day. He loves his son. He just is not good at understanding emotions. Understood, given his history, but not an excuse and not okay. We left in a hurry for a reason when my son was only five months old.

I am scared. I don’t want my son to struggle. I am trying hard. We are using the tools from the psychologist. It is hard to be patient. It is hard not to be frustrated. I pray the tools work. I pray we get it right. I pray that his father’s dysfunction doesn’t cause my son issues as he grows up. I pray that he doesn’t have a problem with addiction. Alcohol is not a way of life that I want him seeing and believing in. I try to curb my thoughts from voicing my feelings when he tells me things that his father has said about me. I can’t make it stop so there is no point in getting upset. It is hard when others say things about you that are not true and you can’t defend yourself because it would involve placing a child in the middle. I just tell him how it really is. I ask him if he sees me going to work every day. He says yes. I explain that if he knows I go to work every day then he knows that my job is real. It seems to satisfy him. This is only one example of too many of these conversations. I focus more on him. I tell him that he is not too sensitive. I tell him how smart and wonderfully funny and strong he is. I tell him how proud of him that I am.

I support his activities, hauling him from here to there and making every program, every game, every belt testing, only to see his little face fall when his father misses yet another event. I just tell him, “maybe he will come next time.” He shows up for maybe one a year. Each time I see my son hoping it will be “this one.” But it never is. My son said, “I don’t know why we bother telling Daddy, he won’t come and not because he is busy. He loves my sister more than me.” (He has a half sister that lives with his father sometimes). I don’t know how to answer it. I tell him, “Daddy loves you.” We move on from it. He knows. He knows because he sees it. She gets things if they go shopping, the last time it was a basketball, a softball and a softball glove. My son got nothing. Not cool at that age. He didn’t say anything but it hurt his little heart and he told me again when he got home that “Daddy doesn’t love me. He goes to all of her games. He doesn’t come to mine unless he has to.” My heart breaks for him. Love is not material but at that age, it was very unfair to do that in front of him. This weekend is his weekend at his father’s. He has a tournament. I offered to come get him and to bring him back. His father said he would bring him. I hope that he does, otherwise I will go get him. He did this once last year and came but then was upset because he wanted to take his daughter to a batting cage during the tournament and it wasn’t open. My son heard him and his little heart was crushed.

I maintain discipline but he is kind of spoiled. The age difference between him and his siblings is 11 years. He is pretty much an only child.  I spoil him but I also make him work for his special things. He saved $42 and bought himself 1/2 of a refurbished chromebook so he could use his school programs at home. I agreed to pay half. I was very proud of him. He comes to work with me some weekends when I groom dogs and earns part of what I earn when he helps. If he doesn’t help he doesn’t get paid. It is easy work for him, holding the dryer, brushing a dog, getting the shampoo… but he needs to be involved to get his cut. I want him to have work ethic, to understand the value of money, to understand that the harder you work the more you make.

I can only hope and pray that as he grows he will keep his head on straight and see life for what it is… a whole lot of opportunities. Right now he wants to grow up to train police and military dogs. He could do it. He already trains service dogs with us. He is good at it. His father says that he can’t do that, that he needs a real job, that he needs to join the military. It is a pipe dream because he has asthma and probably wouldn’t get accepted, but his father plants the seed as often as he can. If he chooses the military ON HIS OWN I will support him. If he doesn’t, I WILL SUPPORT HIM. His father should be doing the same. Who knows where life will take him? Let him grow up and see who he is and what he wants to be.

Venting time is over……….. rambling thoughts are still tumbling but I think I have gotten most of them out for now….. thank you for listening.