ninanevermore: (Bite Me)
[personal profile] ninanevermore
I took my 6-year-old son to see the animated film Rio last weekend. There was one line in the movie that made me laugh to the point that I almost fell out of my seat, but it didn’t strike the rest of the audience as all that funny. When I realized I was the only one laughing, I tried to keep quiet, but my shoulders still shook with silent laughter as I sank down in my seat with my hand clasped tightly over my mouth so that no sound would escape.

In case you don't know, the movie centers around tropical birds in Brazil. The main character is a blue macaw name Blu. Due to misadventure, in the scene in question Blu’s leg is chained to the leg of a female blue macaw named Jewel. They are trying to escape from bird smugglers and wind up on the edge of the rain forest, where they are surrounded by a band of baby toucans that tie them up and surround them. One of the little toucans begins pulling out their feathers with his beak when the father toucan (voiced by George Lopez) chases them off and tells all the baby toucans to leave the macaws alone.

Blu, his voice incredulous, asks, “What’s the thing with the feathers?”

The papa toucan looks to the side, puts his wing over his beak and whispers, “We don’t know. We’re having him tested.”

To me, this was one of the funniest lines in the movie, but I quickly realized that no one around me was laughing out loud the way I was. Life has a way of making certain jokes funnier to you (sometimes to you, and you alone).

Most days are fine. The last big incident that Sweet Pea had was at his older half-brother’s birthday celebration a few weeks ago when he punched his brother's mom in the stomach. This took me by surprise, because he does not generally assault adults who are not teachers or school administrators.

We were at my stepson Matt’s maternal grandparents’ house, which is in an upscale neighborhood close to where I work and decorated to look like something out of a magazine. My stepson was opening his gifts, and the tradition in the family is to pass whatever is opened (gifts, cards, etc.) around for everyone to admire, which we were doing when the commotion started. Sweet Pea has slipped out of the crowded living room to follow the grandmother’s three dogs (she rescues West Highland White terriers) and take pictures of them with his digital camera. The dogs had moved to the master bedroom, and Sweet Pea had followed them there. My stepson’s mother, Lisa, had also gone to the master bedroom, and when she saw Sweet Pea in her parents' room she ordered him to leave.

“Oh my God! You little Brat! I don’t believe you punched me in the stomach!”

I wasn’t sure who had shouted that at first, but I had a very good idea who the brat in question was. I made a beeline toward the sound of the angry voice.

“What happened?” I asked.

Lisa irately told me that she had asked Sweet Pea to get out of the room and that he hit her in the stomach.

“I don’t believe he had the gall to hit an adult! Considering how much bigger I am than him! What a little...” I don’t recall what she called my son at that point. I told her I would take care of it.

Sweet Pea was red faced and stiff as a board. He does not hit me or his father, but he will ball his fists up and his whole body goes rigid with rage. His face darkens like a storm cloud and the cords in his little neck stand out. Whoever first made the observation that dynamite comes in small packages described my son to a T; his 41-pound body can detonate into 500 pounds of anger without warning.

After Lisa left the room, Sweet Pea did not want to talk to me. I spoke to him in a calm voice and tried to get him to tell me what happened. Not much, really. He was content in taking pictures of the dogs when Lisa barged in on his comfortable solitude and told him to stop doing what he was doing (transitions are not something he handles very well). He got mad and he punched her. End of story.

When these things happen, I get self-conscious about what the other adults expect from me. I can sense their disapproval at how I handle Sweet Pea. They want to see swift punishment, and see my talking to him calmly as coddling him. Screw them. I learned a long time ago that if I yell, Sweet Pea’s agitation will escalate and it will be an hour or more before the screaming stops. If I were to spank or strike him the way some people think I should, all of the rage that was making his body so stiff would be unleashed and all hell would break lose. Not to mention he would be violent with other people for the next month or so after that; it's as if the laws of his own nature dictate that any blows to his own flesh echo back out onto the flesh of people around him.

This isn’t me assuming what would happen. I’ve tried that stuff. I know how the game ends when I use those tactics. Rather than opt for what people think I should do, I do what experience has shown me actually works.

I keep my cool. I talk calmly to calm him in order calm him down. I make him apologize to whoever is owned an apology, which will be uttered though clenched teeth and will not sound very sincere to the person it is directed at. That is not the point. To Sweet Pea, apologizing to someone who has angered him feels like punishment. He is a perfectionist, and saying he’s sorry forces him to admit publicly that he done something wrong. It stings much more than the spanking people think I should give him. I then remove him from the situation, even if he is screaming in protest that he does not want to go! It’s not fair! It’s not fair! I want to stay! If you make me leave I will hate you and run away from home and I won’t ever want to see you again! You will not be my mom anymore!

My stepson took his little brother out in the backyard to look at the koi in the beautifully landscaped pool back there. Matt had very similar problems as a child growing up, and his presence calms Sweet Pea. I apologized to Lisa and told her I would make Sweet Pea apologize to her, as well, and then we would leave.

“We’re having him tested,” I said, “But no one we've taken him to can give us any answers. I don’t know why he does these things. I'm really, really sorry.”

“He does them because you let him get away with everything he wants to,” Lisa said. Her face and her voice were hard and cold. The other adults in the room stayed quiet and were watching the drama unfold like they were in the audience to a play, and Lisa and I were actors executing a very intense scene.

I looked her in the eye and clenched my teeth. She is a bit rough around the edges, but her parents are very upper middle-class and proper. I try to make a point to keep a civil tongue in my mouth in their home, especially since I am an auxiliary to the family rather than an actual member of it. But sometimes a little incivility is called for.

“Bull. Shit,” I said slowly. “You don’t live with that child. You have no idea what we are dealing with.” I turned and walked outside to retrieve my son before she could reply.

The thing that pissed me off was that she did have an idea. She knew better. When her son was small he was even more volatile than Sweet Pea is now. I have only learned all of this in recent years. Jeff did not share much information about his firstborn son with me, and sometimes a year or more would pass between the times I would see Matt. Like Sweet Pea, when Matt is calm, he is very, very calm. His underlying nature is sweet and good natured. But when something lights his fuse (or so I’ve heard; I have never witnessed it) that fuse is short and the explosion can be massive.

Before we left, Lisa apologized to me. She is bipolar and off of her meds, she told me. She shared with me some of the things that Matt had done as a child that made Sweet Pea look manageable by comparison. I accepted her apology and her hug (I think it was the first hug we have exchanged in the 22 years we have known each other) and bit my tongue.

“We moms should stick together and support each other,” she said, her arm around my shoulder in a show of camaraderie.

I nodded and smiled wanly. I really didn’t have anything I wanted to say to her at that point, and her comment was still a burr in my saddle. We left, though Sweet Pea protested because he so seldom sees Matt (who lives about 70 miles from us) that he did not want to leave and that he would not want me as his mother anymore if I made him go.

By the time we made the 20 mile trip home, he was calm and normal again. I put the incident in the back of my mind, with all of the other incidents that make raising a Wild Blue-Eyed Sweet Pea such a challenge.

When I took Sweet Pea to see Rio and I got to hear George Lopez utter that line so like the ones I have spoken to so many people before was unexpectedly delightful to me. I needed that laugh, even if no one else in the theater that day got the joke. Across the country in other theaters, I suspect there were plenty of other parents in the same “been there, done that” boat as me who found it hilarious as well.

Some jokes just aren't funny until you've seen them played out in real life.

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April 2017


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