Monday, April 30, 2012

Not quite a walk in the park

We had a few sad moments in our little green house yesterday.

The day had been full, punctuated by two long, wonderful bike rides. Sunshine and warmer temperatures were a big improvement from the day before when the weather kept us inside pretty much all day. After dinner I dashed outside to get some gardening work done while everyone else was unwinding: Sami with a library-borrowed episode of Bonanza, Oliver with the iPad and Nik with the Economist. But as I worked I heard Oliver through the open window growing more and more vocally distressed. At one point I even came inside to see what was going on only to find him on the couch still with the iPad and not looking all that upset. So I returned to my garden. Sometimes it is hard to know. What sounds like distress might be something else entirely. Years of relying solely on these clues from Oliver have made me pretty attuned to his emotional state, but for a boy who laughs and giggles equally when he is happy as when he is anxious, sometimes it is just hard to know.

Soon, however, it became apparent that Oliver was, indeed, quite upset. Big crocodile tears and sobs to make your heart break told us how he was feeling but not why. And despite the fact that Oliver is now relatively conversant with pen and paper, it surprises me how many moments like the one I'm describing still occur. How do you shove a pen and paper in the hands of sobbing nine year old and get him to focus on explaining himself? How do you know that there is something on his mind, something bothering him, something that will lead to this kind of upset without asking him all the time? Figuring all this out is part of the process. After so many years of hoping that Oliver would learn to communicate, I guess I just imagined that when he did a lot of these problems would somehow also be magically solved. So I find it surprising now to find ourselves in this odd state of being -- between what we were and what we're becoming.

Later, after Oliver had taken a shower and dressed in his favorite pajamas, I did ask.

"Oliver," I wrote, "Why were you crying earlier?"
To which he answered: "I wanted to go to the park."
Me: What Park?
Oliver: Waterman.
Me: Why didn't you tell us?
Oliver: I can't talk!
Me: But you CAN write, Oliver!
Oliver: Yes.
Me: So why didn't you bring a paper and pen to tell us?
Oliver: I couldn't do that every time!
Me: Yes you can! And I will listen every time, Oliver!
Oliver: OK.

I don't know how hard writing is for Oliver. It certainly seems very easy for him from where I'm standing. It almost appears to be without effort. Although maybe that is because I still find it so surprising that he can do it at all. He has told me that it is hard for him but not why -- is it the physical part? Anxiety? Confidence? I hope I'll understand more one day so I can help make it easier for him. I hope he'll soon learn that his words have incredible meaning and power.

In the meantime, pen and paper now litter every table and counter in the house. And the stacks of scribbled conversations grow taller by the day proving, my friends, that anything can happen.


  1. oh my heart is breaking. I never considered how big this transition must be for Oliver. How hard it would be after all these years, to realize that he has the power to just go get his mom or dad or brother's attention and tell you what he wants. You'll all figure it out.

  2. What a heart-wrenching post and also a wonderful one ... a few short months ago, you weren't blessed by struggling with this problem. :-) Kudos to you for being such an attuned and loving mom. I really admire that about you ... I tend to shut down and turn off ... all too often ... around my kids.

  3. Thanks Gretchen and Stephanie for your words!! I think we WILL figure it out. In fact, I feel pretty sure of it!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your blog with us! I had no idea you were doing this. I love it. You are so talented at putting things into words on paper- must be where Oliver gets it : )