Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Saddest Boy on Earth

Last night, I got home from work a little late. I didn't leave the office until 5:30 and--after stopping at the store--it was after 6:00 before I walked in the door.

The usual cacophonous din seemed a little more pitched than normal, as though the molecules in the room where vibrating just a hair faster than they usually do. The house is always crazy when I get home. The boys have usually just gotten home and are unspooling from a long day at school, ditching shoes and stripping socks, dropping backpacks at the door, stomping off to the kitchen for a snack, bowls of Cheerios, chocolate milk, or idly. Maybe it wasn't any crazier than usual. Maybe it was just me.

When we sat down to dinner, the chaos continued. Since school started, dinners have not been the quiet, restorative affair we might want them to be. The times when we all sit down together, catching up on each other's days often disintegrate into fighting over who will give thanks, crying, name-calling, someone lying down in their chair or hiding under the table, dissections of the contents of their plates, refusing to eat, drinking all their milk then asking for water before eating anything, wiping ketchup on their clothes, arguments over eating vegetables, threats to withhold dessert. I don't think this is unusual for families with kids this age.

Peter's school day is long. I don't know how long the day is for kindergartners in the States, but Pete gets on the bus at 7:30, drives an hour to school, goes to class from 8:30 to 3:30, then gets home at 4:40. He has two "specials" a day which can include Indian Studies, Art, P.E., or Music. He has two snacks, three recesses, and lunch in any given day. No wonder he's tired. It makes me completely exhausted just typing it all out.

Add all this to the fact that he is often the first to rise. Pete gets up between 5:00 and 5:30. Many days I get up before him, but every once in awhile, I am woken by the sound of his opening the door to the downstairs or by the swish of him walking in his pull-up or by one of his tiny rooster sneezes.

But even though Pete's school day is long, he gets up early, he comes home exhausted, and he is often surly in the evening, last night, he was more surly than usual. I should have known something was wrong. He snapped at Clementine, "Shut up, baby!" Which, in and of itself, is, sadly, not uncommon, but he was snapping at everyone. He told me he hated me. He may have called me "old man".

Sam told us how annoying Pete is on the bus. Pete told us that Sam never sits next to him. The next thing we knew, Peter burst into tears, crying, "They say I eat off the floor!"

It hit me like a punch to the stomach...that moment when your son is hanging out there and all you want to do is protect him but can't.

One of the older boys teased Peter when he saw him pick something up off the bus floor that he had dropped. The fact that it happened at all makes me sick. Evidently, Sam saw the whole thing happen and didn't come to Pete's defense. We're not raising perfect children, but Sam caught an earful from his mother about what it means to be a big brother.

I didn't know what to say. Transported to having suffered through similar moments at a similar age, I was too stunned to say anything. All I wanted to do was hold Peter, but Elise made me snap out, telling me it wasn't going to do any good to feel sorry for Peter; we had to give him the tools to deal with these situations on his own.

She's right. Of course.

I may not have been the saddest boy on Earth, though sometimes it felt like it. I have to make sure the same fate doesn't befall Peter.

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