B is only four years old (soon to be five in July). But out of those first five years, four of them were really hard. In truth, the easiest year of B’s life was his first one, and even that started to change around 10 months of age, when the screaming and lack of communication began. Since then, I have vented and written and agonized over B’s behaviors over and over again. The patterns have come and go in waves, and changed as B has gotten older. I have met with my pediatrician, met with my pediatrician’s built-in counselor (but wow, she was terrible. Just saying.), have brought my concerns to the internet, to friends, to family…you get the point.
As I’ve told many people before, my rock bottom parenting moment with B was two summers ago, when he had just turned three. I had a few weeks old baby, and I was taking all three kids to the beach by myself, to meet up with my wonderful teaching partners, plus some other colleagues as well. B was a good year and a half into massive, epic meltdowns multiple times a day, and this morning was no exception. The memory of that morning will likely stick around forever, and since then, I’ve learned so many things about the way B works. But even though I know his little “triggers” – one of the major ones being hunger – B was still SO hard that third year. So much screaming, so much hitting. He was a miserable child who hated life, but didn’t even have the words to tell me that. He sought negative reinforcement when I only wanted to give the positive. He took his aggression out on his sister because he knew it would get me upset REAL fast, and he sought out that reaction in me. It was just the worst.
But now it appears as we round the corner to 5, things are really, finally, better. I hesitate to even say it, because I know B is who he is. He will always have a short temper and no patience. He will always have little triggers that set him off, but I hope as he gets older he uses strategies to help himself. He still lacks independence, and has zero desire to become more independent. He still can be not hungry one minute and so hungry the next that his body is on the floor and he’s rolling around and screaming as I sometimes force a bite of food into his mouth – and then of course, he’s good to go. He still needs to have things “just so” at certain times of the day – again, meal times are the worst. He’s a perfectionist. And he’s anxious.
BUT. He’s finally started to develop his own passions, and those have changed everything.
When B first turned four, I took him to Easter Seals for a full evaluation from a psychologist. It took a few sessions and then results didn’t come back for months. I just got them a few weeks ago, and they were pretty interesting. B was tested in a number of different areas, including ADHD and Autism. Both were negative. He does have some anxiety, as I already know. But also, B was given the label of “Twice Exceptional” – something I had never heard of. “Twice Exceptional” is when you’re gifted and have a delay at the same time (I think). B was given the “gifted” label in a few areas academically, mostly with vocabulary, thinking, memory and reading. B can’t read yet, nor does he seem to want to, and he’s not too into fiction books at the moment. But he can think his way out of things and has a ridiculous memory from years gone by, down to the tiniest detail. He’s got an engineer’s brain for sure. He’s smart, and I knew that already. It’s always been his biggest strength. The delay was in “processing”. He is barely in the normal range. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around what a processing problem looks like, but I guess shouting at him to “go put your shoes on” five times in a row isn’t exactly going to make things better when you need time to process.
The doctor made many notes in his write-up, and the biggest takeaway for me was that B’s behaviors will flare up when he’s not being challenged, essentially. The doctor recommends I do my best to make sure his education as he gets older keeps him challenged mentally. He needs to be thinking, problem solving, using hands-on materials. Or he’ll be bored. And will act out. I know this kind of student very well. And it makes total sense – B does what he wants. No amount of “because I said so” works for him. If it makes sense, he does it. End of story. He doesn’t care if I make a rule and he breaks it. He doesn’t care if he loses privileges or treats. He doesn’t care, and that has always been the hardest part. I’ve spent so much time trying to be a “strong parent”, asserting my authority with a child who does not care. (I read an amazing book a few months ago that helped as well – asserting your authority kind of – well, sucks. And in my son’s case, doesn’t work at all. Which is good, because I wasn’t good at it either.) Writing will be a struggle, the doctor said. He won’t want to elaborate. Yes, as a public school teacher, I know this kind of student. Knows all the answers and doesn’t want to put in any effort. And it’s hard to keep that kind of kid challenged with limited resources and a tight curriculum. So we’re going to wait and see for now – he’s in the best place he can be at the moment in a Montessori preschool. And he’s got one more year there, as I’m not starting the twins in kindergarten until they’re six. But as he goes through elementary school – if he can’t get it together, there are other types of schools that would be better for him out there. We know what they are. The problem is, they wouldn’t be the right place for C, and I hate to split up my twins. We’ve got a few years to go there.
The Easter Seals report was interesting and eye-opening, and we’ll keep those results in our back pockets down the road, but what has really changed B’s behaviors in the past four or so months is his sudden passions in astronomy, geography, and art.
He’s obsessed. Absolutely obsessed. He reads and watches videos on many non-fiction topics, but he keeps coming back to outer space, landforms (like volcanoes), storms (like hurricanes), and the geography of Earth. A recent gift of a world map displayed on their playroom wall was the best thing that ever happened to him. He knows almost every country in the world by heart, and it’s only been a few weeks. Does it help that my husband works as an engineer designing parts for rockets, and that he himself loved geography as a kid and was even in his middle school geography bee? Yes it does. Academically, B is his father’s son. But even so – getting resources into his hands to learn about these topics has changed him. He’s not seeking out the negative anymore. He’s too busy learning.
As for art – it’s his go-to. It’s his calm down. He and his sister absolutely LOVE art. They are such indoor cats. No climbing the walls and sports for these two, lol. They’d rather be coloring. They color, and do stencils, and paint, and use stickers – I’d say between 5-8 times a day.
It’s so nice that he has found these areas of interest that take up his brain space now. He’s found his passions and I’m more than happy to cultivate them if it keeps him focused and challenged. As I said, I THINK we’ve really, finally turned a corner. A happy B = a happy Mommy.