It’s meltdown season. It’s come later this year, must be down to that global warming. They are not all full on, though – more daily wobbles.
Having said that, his teaching assistant (TA) accosted me after school and handed me a form that said he had been involved in an incident that had resulted in him hurting his head. Under ‘Other relevant notes’, it stated: “[DS1] headbutted another child.”
“Oh.” Well, what else can you say?
She explained that they had been lining up at the end of the day. The other boy had still been writing something on the white board and DS1 had just butted him.
DS1, who was listening in, completely denied it.
“I didn’t,” he beseeched, grabbing the slip of paper out of my hand and screwing it into a ball.
“Do you know why?” I asked the TA.
As far as she could tell, it was entirely “unprovoked”.
“Has anything changed that could have set him off?”
“There was a student teacher in the class today. It could be that.”
DS1 has remained in complete denial, and any attempts to decipher his actions have been met with repeated requests to “Shut up”.
The previous evening had been every bit as fraught. Once we’d had the fun and games of locating his toothbrush, which he’d hidden (but pleaded innocence as to knowing its whereabouts) to try and avoid bushing his teeth, it culminated with him throwing his plastic pirate coins (and believe me there are a lot of them) at his bedroom wall, while I was trying to read his bedtime story. Once he’d exhausted his supply, he was down the bunk-bed ladder to collect them all up again and repeat the exercise.
“Why are you doing that?” I asked.
“Because I need to,” he replied.
“Is your head feeling busy?”
When we managed to unpick the problem, it transpired he was worried that he would not finish the Brazilian headdress he was making at school in time for the carnival his class was to act out.
I offered to talk to his teacher to tell her his concerns so she could make sure that he had enough time to complete the task. Happy with this, he fell asleep.
Simple. It’s just the getting to that point that isn’t.
Jumping back a bit slightly – there’s a point to this, honest. The Saturday before Halloween I was out and about when I got a text from the wife. It read: “He wants me to buy him a winter coat.”
“He won’t wear it,” I replied.
“He says he will if I get a size bigger so it doesn’t feel horrible on his body.”
This was not the only revelation that week. “He seems keen to go to Grannie’s for Christmas,” she texted. He has refused to visit Grannie all year.
There was more: “And he wants to go to the fireworks again, but wearing socks this time.” The previous year he had refused to wear any, and funnily enough his feet had got cold.
“What has happened to our child?” the wife enquired.
Later, he hadn’t settled and had got out of bed for the umpteenth time.
“Bed,” encouraged the wife loudly. “I won’t tell you again.”
He reappeared shortly after.
“GO TO BED!”
“You said you wouldn’t tell me again,” he chortled.
The witching hour
Halloween proved to be a bit of a conundrum. We’re not fans of that trick or treat nonsense, but if he wants to do it, fine. After all, it means he’s getting out and about, interacting with peers and neighbours and building his confidence.
However, he’s never shown any real interest in taking part. Indeed, on the way home from school that day, one of his friend’s mum’s asked if he was going trick or treating.
Obviously, he didn’t answer. I repeated the question to him, so that he might respond to me.
“Why would I want to do that?” he snapped.
He was in a bit of a two and eight that evening, and the two of us came to verbal blows. I had no clue as to the reason for his agitation.
After a semblance of calm returned, he perched himself on his window ledge and kept an eye on the street as trick-or-treaters walked up and down demanding sweets from old people.
We have this system in our road that if you want to participate you put a pumpkin in your window. No pumpkin, no knocking on the door.
“Dad, I’ve just seen two Year Sixes”; “Dad, there’s Edward”; “Dad, there’s Howard and BK” and so on.
As if from nowhere, things became a bit fraught again, and the wife bundled me out the door to go and watch the Chelsea in the pub. I didn’t object.
She texted me later (didn’t she realise there was a game on?): “He’s OK now. He wants to go trick or treating next year.”
So that was what it was all about. He felt left out over Halloween. Although he’d told me he didn’t want to do it, clearly he did.
“He’s been talking about [trick or treating] all day at school,” the wife’s text informed me. “He wanted to know why he doesn’t do it, because he did it with Joanne when he was 4. Why haven’t we got a pumpkin?”
Why couldn’t he have told us earlier? Well, we know why (sort of). Perhaps more to the point, why didn’t we realise? We could have avoided all this.
Skip forward to Bonfire Night. The boy who still won’t wear a jumper wrapped himself up in a hoodie, two coats and two scarfs. With DS1 looking like a mini Michelin man, we set off for the town’s fireworks display.
How things had changed in the space of a week. Seven days earlier the wife had bitten the bullet and bought him a winter coat, as he had requested (see, there was a point to setting the scene earlier) – one size too big and yellow, as chosen by him. No problems about him wearing it then… but, we’d been there before with his still unused cycle helmet.
A few days later, when I was on my way home from work (I’m not always in the pub, you know), I received a picture message showing the boy wearing his new coat. Miracles do happen.
“He’s even done it up,” she wrote. “It helps with eczema when it’s less than 15 degrees you see.”
He suffers from eczema, which had recently flared up again – it seems to go hand in hand with his level of anxiety. To convince him to don the garment, the wife ‘enlightened’ him that his skin rash got worse as the temperature drops and wearing a coat would help it. It’s a tangled web we weave.
Cut to the previous day, however, when the parcel containing his coat had arrived – and it was fireworks of a different kind.
“Your autumn/winter coat has arrived, mate.”
The wife had forewarned me that she’d told him it was “an autumn/winter coat”, otherwise “he’ll refuse to wear it until 1 December when winter [in his eyes, officially] starts”.
“No it hasn’t. That is not my coat,” he shouted as he eyed the package.
He was clearly agitated and he began manically switching lights on and off. On, off, on, off, on, off, on, off… you get the idea. I managed to distract him from this annoying pastime, but he was still in a state of flux and he tried to snatch my glasses off my face.
Failing with that little venture he grabbed his spelling book, took off downstairs and shut himself in the toilet.
I feared what state that book was going to be in when he came out, and warned him that it had better come back dry and in one piece.
He returned, all sweetness and light, and had even done some of his homework.
Then just as quickly the mosquito returned. He was determined to squash the parcel and he tried to grab kitchen utensils with which to smash it.
I know this because he said: “I’m going to smash it,” as he tried to grab some kitchen utensils.
I removed the package from harm’s way and put it on a shelf out of reach.
He repeatedly jumped at me, squishing me against a cupboard. Getting nowhere, he turned his attention back to the package. He fetched his stool and then grabbed a ladle with which he tried to hook the parcel off the shelf.
“I don’t want that coat,” he screamed.
“But you chose it. And we got it a size bigger so that it doesn’t feel too tight on you,” I reasoned.
“It’s a 45-year-old’s size. It’s not mine.”
Ah, was it the fact that the parcel was addressed to the wife, not him – therefore it wasn’t his coat – that was the problem?
Giving up on the package, he picked up a glass. “Let’s smash this,” he announced.
“Let’s not,” I screamed, snatching it off him.
He took a carving knife out of the drawer and waved it around. “I’m going to chop you in half,” he told me.
I knew he wouldn’t and he wasn’t wielding it in a threatening manner, but, all the same, I removed the knife from his hand.
He then grabbed the kitchen roll and ripped it to shreds, leaving a pile of torn paper over the kitchen floor.
The tornado was starting to blow out. Exhausted, he took himself off. I slumped against the worktop. He wasn’t the only one that was drained.
A bit later he sought me out and ruffled my hair, then snuggled into me and talked football.
His way of saying sorry.
Stop press: The headbutt incident was all a misunderstanding. His TA had managed to ascertain that the boys had been high-fiving. DS1 has a tendency, for reasons unknown to us, to use his head to complete his side of the bargain, and instead of butting James’s hand he had got his angles wrong and cracked him on the head. So, all perfectly reasonable really.