Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cautionary Tale

Calder had orientation for his kindergarten today. While the rest of his buddies undoubtedly couldn’t wait to bounce off the big-kid walls and slide down the big-kid slide, ol’ lightning rod here woke up chattering about how important it was for him to show me that the school bus — which he had taken a “practice” ride on during the last days of pre-school — didn’t have any seatbelts. “Mom, can you believe it?” he yelled to me from one of the little half-windows, “we’re totally DANGEROUS in here.”

Calder’s a cautious kid.

I remember when he was 6 months old or so, lots of other moms I knew who had kids his age were starting to stock up on cabinet latches, outlet covers, foam corner bumpers, toilet-seat locks (which are so flipping impossible to get open that they, in turn, necessitate mom and dad stocking up on Depends), door alarms…if there’s the slightest potential that your child could eat it, stick something in it, bonk his or her head on it, open it, close it, fall down it, smear it on the walls, or so much as touch it, there’s a flimsy plastic item for $9.99 at Babies-R-Us that will make parents feel safe for the whole 20 minutes it takes for junior to figure out how to operate, break, or gnaw the thing apart. The One Step Ahead catalog is like crack for new parents who can’t afford the Hammacher Schlemmer Invisababy Force Field. (No, really, I read about it in SkyMall once). Matt and I never really needed any of that stuff. Sure, we plugged the outlets and turned on the baby monitor, but for the most part, the stuff we declared off-limits to Calder, he left alone. Good boy.

Now that Calder is almost five, his cautiousness is still very much a part of him. He’s shy. He doesn’t warm up to people very quickly. He never ventures out into the street without waiting for me to hold his hand. If I start the car and his seatbelt isn’t yet fastened, he makes sure I know. If he’s told to wait a few minutes until his dinner cools off, it’s time for bed before he dares to take a bite. Most of the time I think this is totally charming and sweet, and I am grateful for fewer trips to the emergency room than most of my friends. Recently, however, his hesitance has made me a little sad for him. He has tons of good friends, but lately when we go to the playground, he feels left out because the other kids can all climb to the top of the monkey bars and he’s afraid to try. When we go to the pool or the beach, he gets frantic if water gets in his face, or if I leave his side. I took him out on the basketball court the other day to goof around, and when I gave him the ball and asked him to take a shot, he got upset and said he didn’t even want to try because he was afraid he would miss. It broke my heart. Not because he might not ever be good at basketball, but because I fear that much of his reticence is due to the mess his parents are in.

The only remaining issue on the table right now is where Calder will go to Kindergarten. There are two options:
1) He can go in the town where he has lived his whole life. He will be among friends. He has been to the school, has met the teachers, and knows his way around. He will have access to excellent occupational therapy, which has been recommended for him. He will live in a town that is familiar to him. The parent he will live with has job flexibility that will allow them to put Calder on the bus in the morning, and meet him off the bus in the afternoon. There are many friends and family in the town that can be counted on in an emergency.
2) He can go to school in a new town. He won’t know anyone and will have to make new friends. He doesn’t yet know where he will live in that town, the parent he will live with hasn’t yet established residency in that town (but intends to). It will be new and unfamiliar. His parent in that town will be able to put him on the bus in the morning, but will not meet the bus in the afternoon; instead, Calder will either be met by a babysitter or will attend a day-care until that parent gets home from work. There are family members in the area who can be counted on in an emergency.

Both schools are excellent. Both towns are safe and clean and full of families with children. The only real difference is stability for Calder; whether it’s better for him, in this year of enormous transition, where both parents have moved away from their homes and into new spaces, to keep as much of his life the same as it was before, with familiar faces and places, or whether it is better to start completely over in a brand-new place. I know what I think. I know what Matt thinks. I know what the child psychology textbooks say. I know what Child Services thinks. The judge won’t tell us what he thinks.

I know whatever happens, we will make the best of it, but for now, it’s all up in the air. And that seems like the unkindest thing of all.

Cautious kids — is it better to shake them up until they snap out of it, or is it better to give them a solid place where they can feel safe until the tempest is over?

Would you tell me what you think?


Karen said...

I think that, no matter what you think, no matter how it goes, no matter where it is, that you will stay with and support him in this, you will hear his fears and not try to convince him otherwise, that you will prove to him that no matter what, his mommy stands with and by him and lets him feel what he feels. Everyone feels afraid, but not everyone feels that it's OK to be afraid. That's what I think, and that's what I know you'll do. Calder is that lucky.

minutemen1775 said...

I have no experience raising a child, but I remember pretty clearly BEING the child in the middle of divorce. I have two observations that seem relevant here. First, it was critically important to ME to remain in my school system for all the reasons you mention. I was a latchkey kid before we had that term, but the stability of familiar surroundings, supportive teachers, and the relationships I had made with other kids that remained INTACT undoubtedly helped me achieve a new equilibrium. Secondly, my mom moved us to Scotland cold turkey when I was 15, about 3 years post-divorce. That experience undoubtedly helped me to push my boundaries, to overcome my natural shyness and my own overgrown sense of caution. The sudden, jolting dislocation eventually served me well, but only because it happened after I had come to peace with the new status quo with respect to my parents. If the two had been simultaneous, I don't know how I would have processed it.
Regardless of the outcome, I think Karen is dead-on with respect to her comments about the importance of your demonstration of love and support. You'll have to push him out of the nest one day, but I do not believe that day is at hand.
I'll keep my finders crossed for your next court session!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

The choice seems like a no-brainer. He has so much change in his life that the familiarity of the school does seem important.

As for his cautiousness--this is what I believe. We cannot change our children's basic temperament. BUT, we can influence how intense a characteristic like cautiousness is. My daughter was very cautious. I would allow her time to adjust to and just watch a situation--get the lay of the land so to speak. Then I would encourage her to join in. I talked to her about the fun she would miss if she never took a chance.

The monkey bar thing--I would take him to a park to practice when no one was around. My daughter would not do swim lessons (she didn't have enough trust in a teacher that was a stranger to her), so I taught her to swim myself.

I think that by the time my daughter was 6 or 7 her over-cautious nature had turned into one that was just sensible. Today (at 13) she would never say no to a new experience based on fear.

Good luck!

Have the T-Shirt said...

First of all, this:

“we’re totally DANGEROUS in here.”


And I agree with him. We make a mantra of "buckle up" and then slap em on a school bus with no seat belts. No wonder they question our judgement the rest of their lives!

I'm no expert, but my maternal instincts tell me that Calder needs whatever stability and familiarity he can get right now. It's hard when so much changes at once. So I would say the IDEAL would be for him to go to the school he is familiar with.

Having said that, one thing I know for sure is that children are incredibly resilent. I know that we don't want them to have to resort to resilency, but if the powers that be put Calder in a situation that isn't the IDEAL, please know that he. will. be. fine.

He will be fine because, no matter what else, he has a Mommy (and a Daddy) who love him and care about him.

There is nothing more valuable than that.

Farrell said...

I agree with the above comments.
My daughter too is cautious and it's just her temperment. Just encourage him but recognize that that's who he is. Make him feel safe, and eventually he'll try.

cassee01 said...

I can't imagine a judge thinking your X's idea is better.

l said...

It's a hard spot my friend. My experience with the boys has been that I was the key element they needed to remain consistent. Even during the times that I was depressed.

They needed to know I was available. You are full of grace in such an ungraceful time.

wrap yourself in knowing that while you weather the rough.