learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Tag: coping

A Complicated Dance

This year, particularly the past several months, have been a complicated dance for J. He has taken steps backward that have at times overwhelmed us, then taken steps forward that are major victories what feels like moments later.

The pattern has been there his whole life. It is currently amplified by loss and recovery from said loss, but it is the existing pattern that is how J grows. The gains make that clear, but the steps backward are sometimes quite scary to witness.

When J was 2, his main method of play was not play as most would recognize it in children. He lined up his toys across the room, sometimes attempting to do so across the entire apartment. There were trains, cars, whatever was around just got lined up. You did not mess with the lines. Lines were love, lines were good… We left them alone, and we let him find his peace and order in them. It took him a lot of time, encouragement and work to learn that letting lines go was okay. He could return to them whenever he needed their comfort, but they did not have to exist all the time. He built his confidence and his skills and slowly, lines were no longer a major part of our lives.

The lines have returned. They creep in slowly, created with boxes or trains with an odd other toy or two thrown in. There is no moving these lines without his involvement. The fearful rigidity is not there but the anxiety is still palpable. Now, they involve elaborate scenes invented in his own mine integrating beloved cartoons and songs, but the main purpose is the same: comfort and predictability.

The first time I noticed their return I have to admit I was sad. It is easy to take something that seems a deeper sign of regression as bad news. The longer I watch and listen, allowing him to show me what he is doing the more things are falling into place. I have to understand the framework for the behavior. This isn’t a loss of hard-fought skills but a return to a safe place, when life was different and there was no heartache. This is like him bringing out Miss Kitty or any other stuffie… it is just behavior rather than items.

He uses these behaviors as a safe place; a sanctuary in which he can recover his peace. When that peace is felt, he is able to reach out and work on new skills, new adventures and new strengths. He has learned to read not one but two words, “go” and “stop”. When at home, he is stringing more and more words together with increasing confidence. We are able to sometimes even work on simple abstracts like what we feel occasionally which is huge for a little boy who is very, very concrete in his thinking.

It has always been firmly believed by all of us that he knows more than he imparts easily to most people. This all reinforces this belief. The full comprehension of what has happened may not be there, but he understands enough of how he feels about it to cope. He understands that this half of the year has been a lot of change and some of it quite upsetting and scary, yet he sought out a way to cope and created his own calm. It is not always a lasting peace and we have a lot still to work on to help him make it last, but it is a start.

He, with the help of the world that surrounds him, is laying a strong foundation on which to build up from in the year(s) to come. He is taking that which was taught to him in his earliest days and applying it. It’s a wonder to behold and I feel very, very lucky to be a part of his winding, crazy adventure as it unfolds. Yes, our hearts were sorely and unfairly broken but most of all his sweet, determined spirit remains intact.

I am so, so proud of my boy.

Gentle Giant and Troubling Behaviors

J is a big boy. He just turned 3 this past June and is already 39″ or so tall and 36lbs of boy. He seems like such a little scarecrow to me given how lean he is but when I pick him up I am quickly reminded just how solid that deceptively scrawny body of his is.

He has this natural gentleness to him that has consistently surprised me. There has only been one true instance in his whole life where he swatted at another child intentionally. It happened at Early Intervention group and the moment it happened I separated him from the moment, told him “no” and that we do not hit, and sent him back to play. I was nervous that it might be a sign of emerging aggression yet the aggression never came. The episode never repeated and though he can be as rough and tumble as children his age generally are this behavior has stayed at bay.

The gentleness disappears when it comes to himself. It would be unfaithful to the truth of our story if I did not tell the bad with the good. Within the past few months he has taken to hitting himself in the head or hitting his head off things when he is frustrated with something. The situations that bring out this behavior are nearly always within the home and seem to all be related to him being told “no” when he is already kind of tapped out or tired, but it’s hard to say whether or not he does it outside the home. I am definitely going to ask his team to keep watch for the behavior but overall… I can’t describe how it makes me feel.

I guess in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter how it makes me feel because the focus truly needs to be on finding out the root source of why he does it. I have some empathy for him when he gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand why he might be being told no, or being diverted, or being asked to get ready to transition. He seems like he is overwhelmed with things in that given moment and he has no proper output. Today, after a careful transition out of playing a game on the Yogibo with me he walked into the kitchen, knelt down on the runner and banged his head off the hard tile floor. I was so upset I just couldn’t even act. He realized quite fast that wasn’t a great plan on his part but then proceeded to keep smashing his head and face into the Yogibo til I managed to work him away from being on it and got him focused on dinner.

This is likely very convoluted but this is very difficult. I want to help him cope, to give him tools to help ease whatever is making him feel that actions like these are the only outlets, but how do I do that? I use my words. Words aren’t going to be his outlet, not yet, maybe not ever. I know the people he works with always have great suggestions but man. It breaks a mother’s heart to realize that her sweet, loving, gentle giant of a boy is having a hard time being that way with himself at so young an age. I can only wrap him up in my arms and remind him he’s okay and everything’s alright so many times. I always remind him he needs to be gentle with himself and to “play in a gentle way” (thanks Ni Hao, Kai-lan!) with his body but man do I ever feel useless.

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