KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Becoming Who He'll Be

NeilI’m going to like the adult my middle son Neil will become.

He’s 11 years old and in sixth grade now. That sounds so unremarkable, but it’s not.

His early childhood was very stressful, both for him and for my husband Ed and me. He has severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) and depression. The depression’s not surprising, considering how society treats round pegs who don’t fit the standard square holes, but it also may in part be genetic. Before we got his medications for both conditions and his classroom setting sorted out over the years, he was a frustrated, angry, sad child. In third grade, in a public-school classroom of 25, he’d get overwhelmed with all of the distractions and demands on his concentration and hide under his desk, sometimes refusing to come out. He’d misinterpret other children’s behaviors and be teased or bullied because of it.

He’s come so far since then, and I can see glimpses of the man he will be one day.

He occasionally fights with his 4-year-old brother, Jared, who sometimes deliberately provokes him and sometimes just overreacts because he doesn’t understand that Neil’s underdeveloped social finesse isn’t intentional. And then when Jared waits outside our house with me for Neil’s bus to drop him off after school, Neil will often leap off the bus and give his brother a bear hug, even picking him up and holding him. (And that can be funny, because Neil’s thin as a toothpick and of average height for his age, while Jared looks like a future linebacker and is as big as the average 6-year-old.)

Neil will initiate long, involved conversations with Ed and me about politics, poverty, hunger, and social injustices. Admittedly, he hears us talking about these issues, but he isn’t required to be interested in them. He’s very passionate about his stances on them and intends to work to make the world a better place one day.

Because he attends a public middle school for children with learning disabilities, he encounters children with autism and emotional disorders. This morning at breakfast, he asked me what bipolar disorder is. He wanted to understand a bus mate’s moods. He went on to explain that he thinks the boy is making progress in self-control and that he was glad that the boy could now safely join in the games in gym. He added that the boy “doesn’t feel very good about himself” and that he often gives him pep talks.

He still calls us Mommy and Daddy, not yet having felt the adolescent need to distance himself from us. And what touches me the most is that after all those early years, when his untreated AD/HD made it uncomfortable for him to stay still long enough for snuggling, he now will nestle up next to us on the couch or come into my office for kisses and hugs.

Puberty’s sneaking up on him, though. When there are mild sexual innuendos on a TV program that we’re all watching, he asks us if what he suspects is the meaning is correct, then laughs embarrassedly when it is. Of course, being the way we are, Ed and I use every teachable moment that comes up to explain issues about sexuality and gender identity and self-respect and respect for others. And Neil blushes and says, “Stop! They teach us about that stuff in school!” And we explain that we don’t depend on the school to do our job, that he needs to hear our stances. We tell him that we don’t want him to see sex as a scary or “dirty” or forbidden, and that we want him to know all of the facts.

His mind is filled with the inventions he’d like to produce when he grows up. He builds working lawn mowers and ball-and-socket joints and complex motorized gizmos with his K’Nex construction set. He dreams of finding a cure for AD/HD and for mental illnesses and cancer. He wants to be a rock star and has grudgingly acquiesced to our requirement that he learn to play the acoustic guitar before he buys himself an electric guitar with his saved-up allowance. He’s growing his hair long in anticipation of his future rock-god status.

He uses large cardboard boxes as bird-watching blinds. He'll sit motionless inside them for a half hour at a time, observing the sparrows, grackles, bluejays, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and mourning doves eating from our front-yard bird feeder or pecking at the seeds that fall to the ground from it. He's loved birds since he was very small. As a little toddler, he'd climb onto the bench by the front window in our kitchen, point excitedly as birds flew by, and shout, "Deet-deets, Mommy! Deet-deets!" Deet-deet was his baby word for both tweet-tweet, meaning bird, and tweet, tweet, the sound birds make. When he was 18 months old, I even embroidered a picture of many kinds of birds perched outside a cluster of species-specific birdhouses, because I knew that one day, he'd want to hang it in his own home, next to a pair of binoculars.

He’s sweet and gentle and serious and analytical. I think he’ll do just fine. And I adore him.



Anonymous said...

I am so happy to read about Neil. He has such a heart of gold and will grow to be a wonderful man. How could he not when he is surrounded by such love and respect?

erinberry said...

The "deet deets" part made me laugh, because my little brother said "deet deets" all the time when he was a toddler! Only he was referring to a certain type of crackers... even though the name of them had no relation to the sound "deet deet" :)

So glad you're son is doing well.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Baby words are so cute! I'm sure that within the year, you'll be hearing your own baby's special words, Erinberry.

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