Monday night while trick or treating my 8-year-old has asked me not to hold his hand. There were a lot of kids from school around and, unconsciously, as we walked down the street I had automatically reached out to keep him close. He said he wasn’t a little kid, and I didn’t need to hold onto him. I think all you parents will understand when I tell you that it broke my heart a little. This is not the first or last time that will happen while watching him grow, it has been a series of steps and leaps and bounds he has made since last June - some so huge that friends and family who haven’t seen him in more than a week or two remark to me how different he is, how he’s grown and changed.
As a parent, you celebrate your children’s successes, and this independence is a huge accomplishment for him because when he was in kindergarten, my son suffered trauma at a daycare center. For about 6 weeks, two older boys hurt him on a daily basis. It has radically altered his life and his ability to react in social situations, and to read the clues of others. He suffers from post-traumatic stress and is re-learning how to get along with children his age, to make friends, to fit in.
He is intelligent, bright, and funny to the point of being goofy. He has a very active imagination and is incredibly creative. He can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs. He can talk to adults, children younger than him and much older than him about anything and everything.
Sometimes though, he finds it hard to walk into a room of his peers. He would rather play by himself, or not go outside at all so he isn’t ignored or teased by boys his age. He can be incredibly angered by the smallest of incidents that trigger some memory of his own helplessness and fear.
He does make friends though, and is learning to trust in that. He likes to go to school now and see them. He is blossoming in new ways every day and I am grateful to watch it, and proud of his strength and courage to open himself to what could happen. The alternative is to be afraid and closed off, to be singular - and you can’t really live your life like that, can you?
He may never be part of the popular kids, engulfed by the masses, trying to fit in and do what everyone else does. But he will be himself, making his own choices out of what works for him. I'm not sure if I could be more proud of who he is.
A few weeks ago, he wore a hat to school, and some kids were teasing him about it. I told him that he had to make a choice to either wear it and understand that some kids wouldn’t like it and they may make fun of him over it, or to leave it at home and wear a different one knowing that teasing could happen, but understanding that it was okay to be who he is, and do what he wanted no matter what anyone else thought. He wore it to school the next day and dealt with the consequences.
Monday was one more example of him making choices. Sometimes I know that I hold on too tight because I have that lingering guilt that I didn’t protect him better, didn't see something wrong sooner. I live with knowing he had to grow up faster and harder because of what happened to him. I also know that I have to show him that trust is earned, and opening yourself to the lessons that happen in your life and still moving forward is important. I am trying daily to teach him this lesson - Oscar Wilde said it - “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
So Monday night, I swallowed hard, and opening my fingers, let him walk away.