"I want to be a 'real' boy!"
We are nearly done with the Jr. High extracurricular nightmare. This week will be a challenge yet and then we can coast. This weekend had three symphony rehearsals, one all day wrestling championship, a symphony performance, and a worship band rehearsal---all of this for one kid! He missed one of the symphony rehearsals because it is impossible to be in two cities at the same time, and he got in trouble for it at the concert. But he still hit all his cues while the other horn player missed some of them. (She claims that counting out the rest measures isn't necessary.) Oops, just slipped into petty mother behavior.
In addition to all of those things the other child who still lives at home had a nasty gastro-intestinal virus so we were tag team parenting. Since my husband had farm work that couldn't wait I did a lot of the traveling, so he was worn out from trying to work and care for a demanding child that was pretty sick half the time and begging to eat a lot and play outside the other half of the time.
After watching my son's final wrestling match I decided I don't like wrestling. If you win it is great because you only had yourself to rely on and you were successful. You took on a hard opponent and you prevailed. When you lose, you don't share that loss with anyone. It is only yours. When you are out on the mat and the other guy has you down and you can't get up, there is no one to turn to. You are alone.
My son still likes wrestling. He likes the individual effort, the testing himself to the limit of his strength and agility.
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My other son is working at becoming a real boy. As in Pinocchio. Real instead of fake. Today was a good day.
Much of the time he is convinced that no one will like him the way he is. He thinks he might not even like himself the way he is. So he doesn't spend any time on being himself. He looks at a group of people and tries to assess what kind of person would get their attention---a funny person? a smart person? a tough person?
Attention is a pretty important factor in the mix. Since he doesn't know if he is likable he has to be able to find that in the faces of others. He is rarely able to be part of a group. He very much needs to be the center of attention. He talks at least 50 percent of the time in groups, no matter how many people are present. He is always the one with his hand in the air during a class discussion. If people are looking at him, that means he is important. Because he doesn't know if he is important, or even worse, believes he probably isn't important, it is essential to find ways to be important.
Getting things is the other necessity. If you ask for things and people give them to you, that means that they like you, that you are important to them. So my son asks for things a lot. When he is not asking for things he is asking for people to do things for or with him. There is a lot of fear involved in this. If he stops asking and no one ever gives him anything, what will that say about him? Will that mean that no one loves him? It's a terrifying proposition.
The hard part is this: if you give him the attention or the stuff or the activity, he ends up not really knowing if he got it because he asked for it or because you really like him. So he has to keep asking for more, grabbing more. He doesn't give you the opportunity to care for him just because he exists and is valuable.
The crazy part is how long it has taken me to figure this out. He is already 13!
So we have talked about this. I have told him that I almost don't know who he is because I hardly ever see the real him. On the few occasions when I do see the real him, I like him. But I don't think he likes him. Or maybe he doesn't know what he is like and he's afraid he won't like himself when he finds out.
What I do know is that other people don't know who he is, but they do know that they don't like all the asking for stuff and the attention getting behavior. And that is sad, because he ends up not having friends. And that is sad because he is working so terribly hard at not being himself just to get friends and it isn't working for him at all.
So we are trying something new.
- Never ask for anything. Trust me and his dad to take care of his needs.
- Stop talking in groups for a while. Listen and get interested in other people and relax about whether they like you or not.
- Don't offer to do things that will get attention---like read your poems to the class, or sing a solo, or start a school newspaper, etc. Find out what you like to do when you aren't trying to get attention. Do you like writing when no one is reading your stuff? Do you sing when you are alone just because you love to?
But today there was a pay off. Today he was 'real' nearly the whole evening. We had 'real' conversations about things we were interested in and he wasn't trying to impress me, he was just being himself. He talked about feelings without sensationalizing them. We watched a movie together and once he got over the panic about letting me choose for him (so that he would not be able to measure his worth by whether he could be in charge of it) he relaxed. He just enjoyed it.
So often he can't do that. He is up and down through the movie, checking out whether there is something better to do or to ask for, worrying about whether he would feel more liked if he asked for something else.
I know there aren't quick fixes and that tomorrow he will feel scared again and take some backward steps. But it is great to get a glimpse of what could be someday.