“Remember you’ve got science club after school,” I said to DS1’s back as he hurried off into the playground with his customary ignorance of the pleasantries of saying “goodbye”.
“I’m not going,” he shouted over his shoulder.
What? We’d had this discussion the previous evening: the fact that he’d asked to do science club; the fact that I wouldn’t have forked out some hard-earned and signed him up for it if he didn’t want to do it; the fact that it would be fun.
Admittedly, he hadn’t sounded enthused, but I took his silence to mean he had accepted that he had asked to do it and that he would go – he was just a bit anxious.
Still, some form of intervention was needed. I spoke to the school and asked if his teacher could talk to him about it – and encourage him to go, if she could – but to let me know either way so I knew what time to come and pick him up.
An hour later, I got the call – the man from Year 5 (couldn’t get anything appropriate to rhyme with Del Monte), he says “yes”.
A seething young man greeted me when I picked him up (actually, scrap that, there was no greeting as such).
“I said I didn’t want to go,” he spat.
“But I spoke to the school and your teacher told me you said you did.”
“But why would she say you said yes if you hadn’t?”
“She made me go.”
“I’m sure she didn’t force you to go. If you really didn’t want to go, she would have told me.”
“I went out into the playground [after school], and she made me go back in.”
“Oh. But did you enjoy it? What did you do?”
“I just stared at the wall.”
Money well spent, it seems.
I looked at the pot he was clutching. “It looks like you made some sherbet,” I observed. “How did you do that?”
“I’m not talking.”
At least that would stop the pent-up anger being released in my direction. Every cloud…
The silence didn’t last long, though. But it didn’t end in the way I had expected; in fact he opened up, telling me enthusiastically about how they made the sherbet, although he’d taken no part in that obviously. He did admit to adding a few drops of flavouring at the end of the process, though.
He continued with this happier demeanour once we were home, chatting away while munching on the white powder… I’m assuming it was sherbet.
This was a mystery that needed solving – not the properties of the white powder, but the did he say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ conundrum.
The following day I spoke to his teacher. Funnily enough, her version of events were slightly different.
She explained that initially he had said ‘no’, but after a little bit more discussion a ‘maybe’ slipped out. Then, when he realised some other kids from his class would be in the club too, he said ‘yes’.
However, when the end-of-school bell had sounded, he’d made his way outside. His teacher caught up with him and gently reminded him he had science club and steered him back inside.
He had stalled in the corridor leading to the room were the club was taking place but she managed to reassure him and coaxed him into the hall.
She went back a few times to check how he was getting on. The first time, she said he was standing away from the group and “he still had his backpack on”, but she got the OK from the boffins that it was all under control.
The next time she poked her head around the door he seemed more engaged, and the chief scientist gave her the thumbs up.
That sounded like a more promising version of events, but I needed more evidence to close the case.
No means no, even when it means yes
I called the science lady to see if she could shed further light on the matter. It transpires DS1 had engaged a lot more than he had made out.
She told me that, while he had been a bit detached to begin with, he had gradually integrated, especially once she worked out who else he knew in the group and had paired him up with them.
She had received plenty of eye contact (now that was unexpected) and he had answered some questions, had taken part in some blindfolded taste tests and made the sherbet.
We discussed what was happening in next week’s lesson, so I could prepare him for what was going to happen. Something we did try to do for the first one, but unfortunately the order of things on the information sheet didn’t match what they had actually done. A lesson learned there – always check beforehand.
But would he go this week?
An ice cream bribe in hand, his “whatever” responses I’d had so far on the way home from school, turned. A smile returned. We talked about all sort of things, including the fact that he had volunteered (yes, volunteered, actually stuck his hand up saying ‘pick me’) to play in a school tennis tournament offsite – he can’t hit a ball to save his life.
Given this startling revelation I felt confident enough to drop science club into the conversation. It was as if last week had never happened, as we chatted away about ‘touch’ and what experiments that could involve.
So, it seems, your honour, that he had enjoyed science club. He had just wanted to make out that he hadn’t because he’d said he didn’t want to go and, therefore, had to stick to the story.
Breakfast in head
I may have mentioned before (once or twice) that anxiety plays a massive part in DS1’s life. Consequently, he needs to feel in control, and at these times needs routine.
When his anxiety is through the roof, he rails against everyday things – stuff that he has taken in his stride previously. He cries at the drop of a hat, believes everyone is ruining his life, that he’s a failure, that I’m an idiot and the worst dad in the world. He becomes extremely defiant. We lose control.
But it’s not these daily obstacles that are the real problem at the moment, there’s something else worrying him that is much deeper and, as yet, unknown – to us certainly… maybe not consciously even to him.
We have theories: the upcoming residential trip, the transition into Year 6 in September, maybe even secondary school is playing on his mind – or even all three of these. Or it may just be that a minor change occurred in school and it has completely messed with his equilibrium.
Two weeks at home, not going out, over the holidays should have restored this, but if anything it got worse. And this time of year is when he is usually at his best – he has settled into the school year and has yet to concern himself with what happens in the next one.
The need for routine and everything being in its place has come to the fore – even if this is a mess of Match Attax strewn across the dining room floor that absolutely have to be there and can’t possibly be moved or the world will end.
We are subjected to set meals on set days – toad in the hole on Monday, fish fingers on Tuesday, sausage and mash on Wednesday, gammon on Sunday, ‘normal’ (which is now down to just five items – ham sandwich, four mini sausages, peperami, salt and vinegar crisps and yellow pepper) on the other days of the week. Breakfast is four rashers of bacon, every day – two in a sandwich, two on the side. And woe betide you if they aren’t crispy enough.
He’s still sleeping under his bed, fenced in by hanging sheets. He has to have a blanket wrapped around him and a pillow when he sits on the sofa (I finally managed to stop him transporting two other pillows and his duvet downstairs as well). The dining room chairs have been rearranged and beware the consequences should you dare to move them. They effectively box him into the sofa. But he needs them – “one is for a pillow, one for food and one for my story [that he was writing]”. His language towards us is aggressive and insulting. I am currently a “moron”. I know not why (keep quiet at the back).
He’s hurting, struggling to make his way through this confusing minefield of a world.
Yes, it’s hard, it’s ‘challenging’ and I admit I’ve been in a downward spiral of not being able to cope. But I’ve been making it all about me and how I’m feeling – just think how he is feeling. He is experiencing this every second of his life – and he doesn’t yet understand it. I certainly can’t pretend to understand how that feels.
But despite this, he is still a lovely, funny little boy.
“Don’t forget to eat your breakfast and get dressed,” I reminded him this morning as he sat wrapped in his blanket on the sofa, his bacon sandwich lying on the ‘food chair’ untouched.
A minute later he appeared in the kitchen. “Like this Dad?”
I burst out laughing – he had his trousers between his teeth and a rasher of bacon perched on his head.