We went out to celebrate the end of the school year this past Tuesday night by going to see Toy Story 3 in 3D. The first two Toy Story movies are much-loved family favourites and the third instalment of Woody and Buzz Lightyear has been greatly anticipated by the whole clan.
We wanted to mark the end of the school year because it has been such a difficult one for a variety of reasons; the stress of our house being on the market both in the fall and winter, the physical assault on Michael by his teacher and the ensuing Children’s Aid Society investigation, moving to our new house in March, settling into a new life in April and then coming to grips with Michael’s ADHD diagnosis and treatment regimen over the past eight weeks. Simon and I felt that we wanted to do something special for the kids to celebrate and acknowledge the fact that we had all made it through in one piece and were a stronger family for having survived such a tough year. In addition, Max had graduated from Grade 5 and Zachary from Senior Kindergarten the previous day and we wanted to commemorate those two significant milestones.
The movie was delightful and we all had a great evening. When we got home it was way past bedtime and the kids were extremely tired. Unbeknownst to me, Michael had decided to tidy up the toys in the Family Room as a surprise for me while I was in the bathroom brushing Zachary’s teeth. I burst into the Family Room before Michael had finished and unintentionally ruined his surprise. He was so disappointed and upset he stormed from the room in tears yelling; “nothing ever works out for me, my life sucks…thanks a lot Mommy”. I followed him upstairs and found him draped across his bed weeping inconsolably.
Michael’s emotional volatility is akin to a simmering volcano. Once he erupts there is no stemming the flow of dangerously hot lava. Shortly following an eruption the only thing we can do is damage control; try to minimize the explosion and get people out of his way quickly while trying not to get sucked into his path. It can be a tricky and dangerous business to navigate around Michael during meltdown. To the untrained eye it would be easy to see Michael’s eruptions as self-indulgent tantrums, but I believe they are actually caused by frustration, sadness and despair. I have to coach myself relentlessly during one of Michael’s tirades not to get pulled into an anger response as it just sends him further ‘down the tube’. Sometimes I simply cannot control my own reaction and lose patience in the first few seconds which, needless to say, is disastrous for us both. On this particular occasion I kept my wits about me and was able to deal with Michael’s explosion patiently and lovingly. As I gently approached him on the bed he angrily pushed me away and continued to sob as if his heart was breaking.
I still vividly remember the years when I could not touch Michael. Snuggling before bedtime meant lying beside him in his bed but never touching. If ever I gently laid my hand on his back his little hand would gently but firmly lift it off. Even though he now loves to be touched there are still vestiges of his earlier aversion to physical contact when he is upset. As Michael lay on his bed the other night and wept bitterly I knew intuitively that if I tried to touch him I would push him further into his misery. I just lay beside him on the bed and allowed him to settle into my calm vibration. Michael is so energetically sensitive that he will be drawn to the dominant energy in a room; if it is frenetic he will respond accordingly and spin higher out of control, if it is calm and centred he will eventually regain his emotional balance. As his parent, the trick is to be patient and give him all the time and space he needs while he is coming down. Unfortunately, sometimes that is more easily said than done (hot magma is an unpredictable and tricky substance after all).
Michael did eventually begin to calm and as he did an anguished tirade poured forth from his mouth; “Max is the one who can do anything he wants and is good at everything. Zach is the baby and is so cute and little that everyone loves him. I can’t do anything right and no one wants me around. When Max plays with his friends they think Zach is so cute that he is allowed to play with them but I am not cute and too tall and I get left out. I can’t get anything right and no one likes me best. I am just the kid stuck in the stupid middle of the family. I hate my life!”
Michael’s outpouring of despair went on and on and with every word I had to resist the urge to deny his truth. I wanted to assure him that he is absolutely adorable and one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever known. I wanted to tell him that he has an endearingly infectious laugh and the most delightful grin that lights up everything around him. I wanted to tell him that he is a stunningly gifted dancer and that to watch him feel music deep in his body is one of the most charming things I have ever witnessed. I wanted to remind him that he tells jokes like a stand-up comedian and that he has the most wonderfully puckish sense of humour.
I wanted to sell Michael all his best qualities and force him to buy into my version of the truth while adamantly denying his.
It took everything I had to lie beside Michael and listen to his painful outpouring. As I lay there and quietly listened, I coached myself on my role in Michael’s life. I reminded myself that my role is not to shift Michael’s perspective as much as I truly wanted to; rather, it is to hold his perspective and allow him to be where he is at any given time. I knew that my reflex to give him a lengthy list of all his remarkable gifts and to remind him that he is our ‘Magic Child’ would only drive him further away and make him feel more alone.
We call Michael our ‘Magic Child’ because he has gifts and abilities that I have never seen before in a child. Michael can read the energy in a room faster and more accurately than anyone I have ever known. If he is on the third floor and I happen to be crying in the kitchen he will suddenly materialise at my side wishing to know what has upset me. He can also reach inside my mind and accurately read my thoughts. Even though it has been happening for years it still shocks me when he will question me about something inside my head; he will say; “why are you talking about…” because he has no idea that I am not talking about it but actually thinking about it. He can also read physical pain and I have felt him moving energy in my body with his hands; if I have a headache he will put his hand on my head and alter the intensity like an intuitive healer.
Michael’s most remarkable ability is that he tunes into all the ‘channels’ around him. Michael’s ability to tune-in this way is both an asset and a liability and perhaps more the latter as he goes through childhood (especially in the classroom). In the classroom Michael will tune into the teacher’s voice, her mood, her thoughts, the voices of every child in the room, the energy of every child in the room, the hum of the fluorescent lights, the activity and emotional timbre out in the hall, the sound of the wind in the trees outside the window and anything going on out in the street. Once Michael learns to control this ability he will grow into a remarkably intuitive and gifted man. In the meantime we must help him navigate his way through childhood while being constantly flooded with multi-sensory information twenty-four hours a day.
As a parent it is physically painful to see Michael through his own eyes. I wonder at what point his version and my version will begin to come together. I worry every day that maybe there will be too much damage to his delicate self-image by the time he is able to perceive how truly gifted he is.
How do I stand by and watch him suffer his insecurities, frustration and self-loathing without trying to sell him another bill of goods? How do I allow him to see a version of himself that is simply not true? The answer is painfully simple but some days hard to live by; it is not my job to change anything about Michael. My job is not to force him into my way of seeing the world and himself. My job is not to shelter him from pain or sadness as much as I want to. My job is to walk beside him and hold his hand when he reaches out for me and needs a little help. My job is to hold him when he cries and dry the tears that will fall. My job is to stay out of his way and allow the process to unfold as it will.
At times I find it almost impossible to trust that Michael does not need me to shelter him from the big, wide world. Most days I want to wrap him in a tight and protective cocoon that would allow him to rest quietly away from all the noise and strife of the busy world. But I know that being wrapped up and protected would not serve him. On my worst days when I start to falter, my guardian angels stand by me and remind me that Michael is not broken and doesn’t need fixing. They lovingly inform me that my role is to continue to hold space for Michael to grow and mature into a ‘Magic Man’. They gently remind me to trust that when the time is exactly right he will emerge from his chrysalis and soar with divine grace and stunning beauty. The butterfly doesn’t need help with her miracle of transformation and neither does Michael.
In the meantime I stand by with an ache in my heart and my fingers crossed that there is enough magic around us to get through the days that are the hardest.