Boy is busy trying to catch up on the physical side.
Lately he’s been getting a wind in his sails and wanting to move more like a normal kid. I know that sounds terrible, like I don’t think he’s a normal kid but the fact is, he’s got his issues and they all go back to being a preemie. He is what the docs call “Low tone” or hypotonic which means his muscles are a little weak and it affects his coordination and motor skills. His balance isn’t very good, and he’s always been a strangely careful kid – feeling his way up and down stairs – carefully navigating bumps in the sidewalk I can hardly notice. His run has been an awkward fast walk and he doesn’t like challenges to the status quo – he has never been a kid who liked riding on shoulders or getting tossed in the air, at least not much or for long. He has always (of course) been this way but I didn’t think HE had much noticed it, he seemed so confident about who he was and what he wanted to do. He seemed like the poster child for sensitive-little-verbal-kids-who-just-aren’t-that-into-it. But lately I have this feeling like he’s thinking about and even worrying about it a little. We’ll be doing something together and he’ll say “I’m really strong” or “I’m going really fast!” We feed him images about being a big strong fast boy and believe me we are fairly stealthy about it – just trying drop in a lot of positive stuff about having fun using his body. But it’s dawning on him that he isn’t as easy in his body as kids who are even younger. He’s starting to notice and it bothers him.
He’ll say things like “I love riding my tricycle!” or “I like to go fast on my tricycle” but the fact is, I bought him this stupid little cheap tricycle a long time ago and he was really excited about it and hopped on it and went around the block pedaling (but with me pushing – killing myself bent over pushing this thing and remembering all the way that I didn’t buy the one with the big pushing stick attached to the back) and that was about it. He’s been out on it once or twice since then with really minor results and now almost always turns down any chance to get on it. When he does he just paddles along with his feet on the ground. So today with a whole day together, I was tossing about for something to do – and it’s always too easy to let the kid just hang around the house playing which is what he says he wants to do because to tell you the truth, I kind of feel like hanging around the house playing too. But damn it it’s a beautiful day and how many are left in this season? And for now it’s my job to get him out and moving. So I get this idea – “Let’s go back to Patty’s house and grab your tricycle and we’ll go to the park” and he was for it so we took off.
The park I had in mind is Magnussen, a former Naval base by Lake Washington with a couple of miles of flat walkways and tall poplar trees and abandoned sealed up military buildings and weeds up to your stomach. One of my favorites – I love scrubby old places with ruins, especially if they are down by the water. Now we get to the park and get his tricycle out and put his great silly helmet on and he sits on the trike & bursts into tears and says with this oddly confessional tone as if he was owning up to a crime: “I don’t know how to ride my tricycle! I don’t know how to go fast on my tricycle!”
He wasn’t angry, he was sad. He was acting like he’d let everybody down.
“You can learn, sweetie” I said “nobody knows how to ride till they learn.”
“But I can’t learn!” He wailed with huge tears falling “I can’t learn.”
For a moment I sort of blanched because I was shocked that this playful little guy I know so well had such complicated and dark feelings about anything: “I can’t learn?”
“You can learn” I brilliantly suggested.
“I can’t” he sobbed.
So instantly and intuitively I decided that the best thing I could do would be to lie to my son.
So I picked him up and cuddled him and I said, “Can I tell you a secret? When I was your age I felt exactly the way you do – I didn’t think I could learn to ride my tricycle and I felt terrible but my Mommy and Daddy worked with me and taught me and I learned to ride – it was a lot of work and I had to try really hard but I was so happy when I learned!” Maybe it wasn’t a lie, I have no idea.
Grimly and still crying he accompanied me to a very gentle little hill nearby and I put him on the tricycle and put his feet on the pedals and told him to push and he went downhill suddenly laughing happily – “I DO know how to ride my tricycle!”
Until he got to the bottom where gravity forced him to a stop again and the tears started all over. And this is the kind of moment where you just want to say “The hell with it” and let the kid off the hook – You see two roads – One where you are dragging a miserable kid through some big lesson because it’s “good for him” and another where you shrug off the implications of giving up and just tell him he doesn’t have to do it. And they both sort of suck.
But you DO have to do something.
So I talked him into going back 4 more times – each time at the bottom he was mad and frustrated – each time he was rolling downhill he was pedaling and happy – The last time he hopped off the tricycle happily called out “I’m all done!” and started to run off down the walkway. I shouldered the diaper bag, camera and discarded helmet and and tricycle and set off after him. Watching his little figure prancing along under the blue sky thinking about how he was meeting up with a new kind of problem – a conflict with himself.
The rest of the afternoon was very nice. I caught up with him and we reached a scrubby little apple orchard at the moment that an apple thunked to the ground. He was delighted and we practiced throwing fallen apples and chasing them – then to my surprise he got back on the tricycle again and practiced some more – he was so beat when we were done that he conked out in the car and stayed asleep even as I carried him inside and laid him on the bed.