People often ask “How old is he?”.
Simple question? No, not it’s not a simple question at all.
In any of the given hours in the day we live with a 5yr old, 10yr old & a 17yr old. Who we’re dealing with varies according to any number of factors, medication, sugar, weather, emotional state, recent events, anxiety or quite simply attitude. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, exhausting. It manifests itself in any number of ways, from cute to annoying, clingy to cuddly, to obstinate and defiant, it’s the russian roulette of child behaviours.
The 17yr old likes to question everything, answer back and challenge every command, he’s the master in semantics and is quickly learning some of our more dryer humour and cynicism, he’ll be a gem with his peers when he’s older, now, in this house, not so much.
The 10 yr old is probably by far the best and most complacent to live with, he’s the one content with his reading and writing, rattling off facts from school and asking a million questions about the world. We like the 10 yr old, he’s probably our favourite.
The 5 yr old, well, he’s something else. He will babble, squeal & yell. He’s impulsive and loud, craving attention and wanting everything, your typical 5 yr old really.
The simple task of sitting and watching a movie is sometimes nothing short of a marathon. During a 5yr old day he will start on the couch, end up squatting on the floor, 5 minutes later he’s standing inches away from the television screen. I enter the room again 5 minutes later and his head is on the floor beside the couch, his bum sticking up in the air, knees tucked under himself and his head poking out through his armpit peering at the screen, all the while the noises echo through the house;
“Boom, tck tck tick tick haha!!”
“Wssshh! Zap! Bang! haha!”
*Insert hysterical indecipherable laughter here*
This becomes a challenging task, what do you do?
So many people have had their opinion,
“He’s just a kid, let him be”
But the reality is we’re tasked with helping him adjust to the normality of a social environment he’s never been able to function in before and with high school fast approaching it’s a necessity. Previous efforts from youth workers, departmental hacks and various others have always been to take the path of least resistance, allowing the behaviours and really focussing on not triggering behaviour meltdowns, without ever really introducing reasoning and consequences. Where the ball has been dropped, we have to pick it up and continue and the only strategy seems to be repetition, and so commences our daily reminders;
“Mate, are you acting like a 5yr old or a 10yr old?”
“What do you need to stop doing?”
“Why is that important?”
We have to have the discussions about age appropriate behaviour, because it’s vitally important for his social development. Reactive Attachment Disorder, a complicated condition he has developed as a young child, impedes social development skills and it’s our battle to help him overcome it and be capable of co-existing with his peers to avoid being ostracised and excluded, which can only serve to worsen his self esteem.
At school, quite simply, he has no friends.
This is a harsh reality that we’ve had to sit and discuss with him, through years of bad behaviour and his limited capacity to socialize with kids his own age appropriately the other children in his school have kept their distance. In almost 2 years we haven’t had invitations to birthday parties or social occasions from classmates, the other parents know his story and look on with sympathy but keep their distance and it’s tough, really tough. He knows it, we see it it in every bit of behaviour, because when he does something, there’s a reason to it and it all generally ties in with those common themes, rejection, failure and wanting people to like him.
For us when we get the call from school or meet with the principal in the afternoon it’s always a discussion and investigation in to why exactly he did something.
For example, on a day where he runs out of the classroom, yells and kicks a bin over.
The teacher was firm with him for not completing a task.
This may seem rather straight forward, but with Flash, it never is. You see the teacher was firm, but there were other kids around and when he knew they could hear her and they turned to look at him he feared they would think he was dumb and would hate him.
So he gives up and runs away because he doesn’t feel like they can like him anyway, he kicks the bin in anger at himself, because he feels that he is worthless and can’t do anything right.
On the scale of bad days, thats a relatively simple one.
But the one question that hounds us throughout the day and night, from 5yr old to 17yr old, is quite simple
“Do you love me?”
Back in the early days before he moved in, as we commenced our transition process and began more and more time together, we were having visits which eventually led to overnight stays. We progressed from one night to two as the weeks wore on until it was time for the big jump. But as the days wore on between visits he was as anxious to see us again as we were to see him, soon we were “allowed” phone calls. I’ll never forget the first time that little voice was on the other end of the phone when I answered, taking no time to breathlessly relay every moment of time that had passed since we last saw each other.
But more so I’ll never forget as we were nearing the end of one of those first phone calls that he plucked up the courage to tell me something;
“Ummm I just wanted to say that I ah, really miss you guys”
“And we miss you too mate”
“Ummm and there’s one more thing….
“Umm I think I love you, both of you… umm is that ok?”
I giggled inside as I smiled from ear to ear
“Yes mate that is definitely ok, we love you too”
Whether or not he’s emotionally developed the capacity to actually love yet we can’t quite know, it is still something that plays in his mind day in and day out. He tells us every day, morning and night, we are hounded for hugs and affection so that he can convey the message again, seeking our response and affirmation to help him feel safe.
This idea that he can be loved, the idea that he deserves to be loved and the idea that no matter what, we do and always will love him. Its still not locked down in his head tight, there’s a battle that goes on in there that lets itself out quite often.
In any given day, mainly on the 5 yr old days, we will be asked 20? 30 times?
“Do you love me?”
Mostly it’s just this inquisitive little chirp, in the same manner you’d ask someone to pass you the salt, as though it was some after thought that just drifted through his mind as he played with his toys. Other times it’s a desperate affirmation, after a consequence of being sent to his room or if he’s been in trouble, the question changes to “Do you still love me?”.
The least entertaining is the opposite “You hate me!”, generally reserved for those 17yr old days where the world hates him and there is no justice and we of course are the devil incarnate.
But it’s the constant war that rages in his head. How can I be loved? Why should I be loved? Why do I deserve to be loved? If my own parents couldn’t love me enough to keep me why would anyone else?
Our response is always the same, whether he’s been suspended from school or playing with his trucks in the yard.
“Yes, no matter what you do, we will always love you.”