There was a time when Matthew got the best of me more often than I would have liked to admit. We weren’t always so in-tuned to one another. And I can remember all too often in the very early days of his toddlerhood, standing back, watching him, and frankly not knowing, I mean, at all, what to do next.
There weren’t a lot of things I went into parenthood feeling strongly about. Attachment parenting, co-sleeping, character endorsement on products and clothing,… I really wasn’t so die-hard about any one direction that I couldn’t leave room for a little first hand trialing and error. Matthew was my first, after all, and to be perfectly honest, I knew that I was treading unpredictable territory anyway. I figured I’d get by with a pure heart and the best of intentions long enough to get my feet wet, learn a thing or two from experience, and then I’d take it from there. A day at a time, that was my theory.
It sounded good. Solid. Practical. Realistic. What it really was, was kind of a mess.
Even when he was the youngest of the lot, he was the runt at daycare that snatched toys and pushed older kids and ran away when he was being spoken to. He flung himself to the floor when he was upset and he kicked at me when I tried to put on his shoes. I remember him never wanting to eat his vegetables, as far back as the highchair, and learning at an absurd age to negotiate 4 sugary snacks out of his father for every one bite of produce he did agree to swallow. Naturally, I blamed myself. If I weren’t such a shit parent, my son wouldn’t be such a hellion.
Except that, when he was good, he was exceptional at being good. Almost as soon as he learned to talk, he knew how to say not only please and thank you, but I’m sorry, and even excuse me. Which is why I had such a hard time figuring out where exactly Spencer and I were screwing up.
Sometime after he turned two, it came to our attention that he was probably gifted. I started pre-schooling him from home in a very, very laidback way, just to get an idea of where his ability actually was. Then, over the summer, we gave it a rest. The line between what he was capable of doing with a little encouragement and what was just plainly over his head was becoming blurred, and frankly, I was as in over my head as anybody. They say that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, so balancing this whole giftedness thing was a little like dancing on a tightrope. On the one hand I knew that over stimulating a gifted child risked robbing them of the only childhood they’ll ever have. While on the other hand, under-stimulating them risked a complete system shut-down, which is the theory behind why gifted children tend to be such crumby test-takers. After all, what’s the fun in knowing all the answers?
Fearful that I was going to somehow damage him emotionally or something, we took the summer to learn normal things like how to swim independently with a pair of water-wings and how to pedal a bike, while I took that time to privately assess how I wanted to approach teaching him when we picked back up with our academics in the fall.
As far as his behavior was concerned, it turned on a dime when we started occupying him with learning to read and write. It was night and day. Days at a time without needing to stand in the corner for talking back, months without melting down. Likewise, toward the middle of August, it started to backslide. Finding this niche of his was like the answer to all of our parenting despair. Not because we had an excuse for his behavior, but because we had an actual SOLUTION for it. As long as he was being stimulated enough throughout the day, both physically and mentally, he was an angel. A docile, compassionate, sweet-hearted angel, even after the books were put away.
And this was good to know because last week, he threw a wedding gift for my friend clear across The Hallmark Store because I wouldn’t let him out of the stroller. I WONDER WHY, GENIUS.
After a 3 month hiatus, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away on Monday when I pulled out the old backpack and started a refresher play course with him at the table. Well, as is the trend in my life, I was wrong. I mean, I was really, really wrong.
He read. He wrote. And he got to the bottom of every puzzle I placed in front of him like he was eating it for breakfast. He rattled off words I held in front of him like he was telling me his name. TREE. BOY. ELEPHANT. DOG. CHIMPANZEE. IT. PARK. WAS. DINOSAUR. We did a puzzle where you match a picture in one column that starts with a certain letter to another picture in a second column that starts with the same letter. In three minutes flat he did not only all twenty-six of those, but he traced every letter of the alphabet with the accuracy of an adult. It was unbelievable, even to me.
I decided that it was time. I took out a book that he was familiar with and I asked him to read it to me. He opened the first page. IT WAS DARK. IT WAS STORMY. IT WAS NIGHT. He turned the page. M-M-ME?… M-M-MEL-VIN! HAD A FLAT TIRE. He turned the next page. HE PULLED INTO A SPO-OOOKY JUNK-YARD. He turned the page again. MELVIN FOUND A NEW TIRE. MELVIN HAD A STINKY BUTT. MELVIN POOPED ON A DOG!
He erupted into laughter. His older sister fell to the floor, hardly able to breathe. Matthew rolled on top of her shouting POOPED ON A DOG, POOPED ON A DOG. MARY AND MELVIN POOPED ON A DOG!
Closing the book, I suddenly found myself in a familiar place. Standing back, watching him… watching him be so innately, wonderfully, Matthew, and not knowing at all what to do next. Because more than I want to nurture in him a love of literacy and academics, and more than I want him not to throw merchandise across The Hallmark Store (Though, I’m not gonna lie, that would be stupendous.), I want to preserve in him that innate Matthew-ness he has right now, rolling on the floor like a goon with his sister, utterly unaware of how extraordinary he is. And I know that that is the biggest challenge involved.
I guess the only thing I can really know for sure is that this boy, he will always give me a run for my money. I may never stop feeling both ill prepared and intimidated by the echoing void of answers I have regarding how I’ll to raise this spirited little boy to be a great and steady man. I guess neither good intentions or a solid practical plan will always be enough. I guess we can expect that sometimes, along the road, even reality will warp into something we don’t recognize. And I guess that I should just get comfortable coming from a place of just not always knowing, when it comes to this journey I’m on with my son.
But looking ahead, lost as I am in all of this, all I can do is laugh alongside him.
Because, after all, where’s the fun in knowing all the answers, anyway? Right?