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02/17/2011

Second person singular

The thing is, you feel like an asshole.  Your kid has spent the last six years sliding bonelessly out of his chair at mealtimes, and while you're generally mild about it, you remind him at every meal, interrupting the conversation with an unremitting punctuation of murmurs: Slide your bottom back, kiddo.  You need to sit up.

And If you don't get your shoulder back under your seat belt, I'll have to stop the car.  And If he doesn't get off the mud room floor I am going to run amok.

No matter how mild you've managed to sound, you're annoyed every time.  Okay, not every time — but the fifth time you say it at dinner, the third time you say it in the crowded back hall, which has become a confusion of hats, coats, a toddler, and a six-year-old basically making angels in the dirt and slush that have sluiced off the family's boots.

And then: "He has some large motor issues.  He has difficulty sitting cross-legged, keeping up with the class while walking.  He finds it difficult to sit on the carpet, in a chair, to stand to do his work."  Seeing it in print instead of hearing it in your head, you think, So it's not that he won't, he can't.

Or.  And.  The misbehavior flummoxes you, but you gamely try to reshape it.  Empathy.  Rewind-and-redo.  Ever-mindful modeling.  Positive reinforcement.  Talking — God, the talking.  Time-ins.  And although you are mostly patient, you sometimes feel a flare of That shit's not going to fly, kid, so also: time-outs, warnings, privileges lost, a voice raised.  "Go up to your room.  I don't want to be around you when you behave this way."

Without much frame of reference, not knowing too many six-year-olds, you don't spend a lot of time wondering.  You think it's some flavor of normal, maybe, merely a phase or a stage, and while you doubt your abilities mightily, daily, you don't really know your course needs checking.

And then: "He has difficulty with self-control, following adult directions and transitions.  His response is an outburst of frustration, often followed by refusal and arguing.  Social interactions are often fraught, with him feeling disappointed, angry, and frustrated."  And you see that even if it is some flavor of normal, it's a phase or stage of note.

Having your own observations -- because none of this is news -- spontaneously echoed by the people who see your child every day is, in a way, somewhat comforting.  You can sigh, Oh, good, we're not crazy.  Well, not the blind kind of crazy.    But it's also fairly awful, this independent confirmation.  It's an invitation -- no, not an invitation, which can, after all, be declined; this is more like a summons -- to feel bad about yourself as a parent.

It's not that you didn't recognize, at the back of your mind, that something was up.  It's not that you haven't sought help.  There's none of the wracking guilt associated with not noticing, not acting, not properly looking after your child when you've managed to miss the signs.  No, you might feel good about taking steps.  You do.  You should!  It's what's going on inside.

When you start to mull over Can't not won't, things change.  You think of not the three reminders gently given in a way that made him chortle, but the fifth one, a sharp "Sit up."  Be honest: you know you rolled your eyes and lectured him not to complain when he said he was tired of walking after just a block.  You acknowledge the times you've sent him out, not to help him learn but to let yourself breathe.  You feel your exasperation welling up even remembering the tantrum more becoming to a toddler than a boy nearly six-and-a-half.  You feel like an asshole for your impatience, your annoyance, for your simple, imperfect humanness when, really, he deserves more.

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