When Liam and Caleb were little, they both loved Going on a Bear Hunt. Remember that?
Going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared!
And then there’s the long tall grass to get through, swishy-swashy; and the mud, squelch-squerch…and pretty much every other obstacle known to human kind, each with its own sound effect.
And the refrain, of course is “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it… oh no! We’ve got to go through it!”
They do get through it, find a bear, are afraid of the bear, run back through all that crap, and climb into bed with the covers over their heads. Very satisfying. Except for the poor bear, who is left alone to wander the seashore.
I’m thinking about bear hunts these days as older son tries to adjust to his new school. It’s his second new school in six months–not easy to do, by a long shot, I know–and he’s pretty clear that we’ve ruined his life. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he’s only eleven. The life-ruining hasn’t even begun. Wait till he’s sixteen and I show up at some party where he’s all cool with the hair gel and the soccer jersey and then I trill from the front hall that it’s time to come home and practice the euphonium. That will be life-ruining.
He has forgotten the lesson of the bear hunt. He can’t believe that he won’t be in the middle of a rocky transition forever. As far as he’s concerned, his new school is an abysmal failure, a prison, a nightmare from which he will never, ever awake. And we’ve ruined his life.
School is stupid and British spelling is stupid and English history is stupid and oh by the way, we ruined his life.
Here’s the thing about Liam: he hates not knowing. He’s a perfectionist in pretty much everything and as a result of that (says moi, armchair shrink), when he explodes because of all the pressure he puts on himself, he explodes BIG and DRAMATICAL and WITH BAD WORDS. Let’s keep in mind that his mamma is a card carrying member of the Good Enough Club and Husband aims for perfection but then he can’t ever remember where he put it, so we’re both quite puzzled about Liam’s need to be perfect. Fortunately–or unfortunately–he often comes quite close: perfect report cards; chosen for this honor or that selective program or that elite soccer squad. He works hard; he pushes himself; he’ll kill himself trying to get something right. And also manages to be goofy and silly and dance around in his underpants to Kesha songs.
“Passionate” is the word I always use for Liam and I am reminded again, in these past few weeks, that passion is a double-edged emotion. The highs are really, really high, and the lows are cataclysmic. He’s in a cataclysmic low right now as he tries to suss out the new system, tries to remember that gray is now grey, and color is now colour. There have been sinkers–not quite as epic as when we first arrived in Abu Dhabi, but close–and as usual, I try to deal with them with some ad hoc mixture of empathy, firmness, listening, berating, whispers, shouts, hugs, threats, and bribes.
Yes. My parenting has lacked consistency lately. Thanks for that insight. And Husband and I aren’t always on the same parenting page at the same time, which adds a whole ‘nother level of wonderfulness to the situation: he wants to cajole when I want to be firm; he berates when I want to offer hugs. I don’t know if we’re complementing each other or just muddying the already swirling waters.
I am trying to remember my own bear hunt lessons, oh yes I am. I tell myself we’ve just got to get through all this swishy-swashy grass–and my sister (so wise and yet…younger. How can that be?) reminds me (and I then remind Liam) that it won’t be like this forever. But. When your adorable boy in his navy blue blazer is whisper-screaming at you that you’re an idiot and (say it with me) you’ve ruined his life–in the elevator of our building–with other people on the elevator- AT 6:50 IN THE MORNING…well, let’s just say it’s hard to hang on.
For a brief nano-second I thought, what if I just smacked him? Just flipped his cheek with my hand to jolt him out of his hysteria?
I didn’t flip his cheek. In a triumph of will over emotion, I hugged him close and told him it wouldn’t be like this forever.
I am not sure he believes me. I am, after all, the woman who has ruined his life.
Going through it. That’s the thing that sucks, about life and bear hunts, both.
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