Monday, April 5, 2010

Keep Talking

meandluc3 My eldest child doesn’t talk.  Oh sure, I get the occasional grunt or head nod but when it comes to a full sentence about something of the slightest importance there is nothing but silence.  Most answers from him to me are mumbled, “I don’t know.” It’s not new—Duke has never talked. 
When he was 2 I overheard him in his crib say, “bunny” and then he hugged his bunny. I ran in, my up-until-then-silent-child had said a word! I shrieked, “Duke! You said BUNNY!” He smiled at me and when I asked him to repeat it his lips remained tightly shut. I begged him again for weeks but he would only look at me with his giant blue eyes and  smile with lips pressed tightly together. He didn’t really speak until he was at least 4 and even then it was only to me or his father in the comfort and privacy of our own home. He’s now 12 and finally speaking in school.  I see him hesitate if an adult asks him a question when I’m around.  I know that Duke would prefer I answered for him.  That was always how we did it—people asked him a question, he would smile, point to me, and  I would answer.  Some people were offended by this but it wasn’t personal. He wanted to speak—he couldn’t.
I am always watching him from afar, scanning his face, concerned about how he feels.  There is a nagging fear that you don’t pay enough attention and someday something horrific happens and everyone points at you saying, “how could you not know?” 
I try my best to talk with Duke, even though the responses are so limited. My hope is to keep the door open for him to eventually talk to me—if he should ever choose to.  So I take what I get and use the world around him to figure out what’s going on in his life. If he expresses an interest in something I jump at the opportunity hoping that this will be the thing that will give him the confidence he needs. A few years ago he came home saying that he wanted to try lacrosse. I was surprised at the choice—lacrosse is a rather rough contact sport.  I never imagined this docile child who loved to sit quietly reading books wanting to play a game where you hit each other with sticks. We tried it and he loved it. I’ve seen how it helped him.  The aggressiveness helped all that was bottled up have an outlet. He went from the kid staying away from the pack to someone who jumps in to get the ball and sometimes gets checked so hard I see his entire body fly into the air.
I don’t crowd Duke—I give him space. When I drop him at practice I stay back so there is no pressure for him of his mother watching over him.  I watch him with his teammates. They do not interact with him. There is limited communication. Sometimes during a game I see that he’s open and it crushes me when his teammates won’t pass the ball to him. The boys on his team are very tight with each other and they are nothing like my son.  They are all 11 and 12 years old and speak with deep authoritative voices, already walking with bow legs, and faces  held tight like men going into battle.  Duke walks down to the field to practice with his face loose, a slight smile, excited to play a game he adores. 
One week ago Duke came home excited to tell me that the Long Island Lizards (a major league lacrosse team) were holding tryouts for their junior team. I tried to discourage him.  I said, “It’s highly competitive honey.” My husband and I gave Duke the speech about not getting too excited. He was trying out against a LOT of kids and it was bound to be stiff competition. We told him the story of Michael Jordan being cut from the high school team. We pulled out all the clich├ęs. He asked me, “but isn’t it a good thing to get excited about something you want?” He was right and I was sure that he understood what the risks were and was incredibly proud that he was willing to stick his neck out there.   I registered him for the event. 
The tryouts happened to fall on the same day as his first game of the season.  I emailed the director and said he was caught up at a game—could he be late? They said yes. Husband raced Duke to tryouts immediately after the game. Other kids had 2 hours, Duke had 30 minutes. 
A few days ago I received an email from the coach of the Jr Lizards saying my son had done well at tryouts and was offered a position on the team.  Finally, someone else could see the boy that I see—a boy with potential and all-out love of the sport.
Duke went to practice tonight and told some of the team members about making Jr Lizard team. They first accused him of lying—because they all had a game that day.  Then he assured him he had gone they said he’d probably be given a water boy position.  As he told me this we sat at a red light on the way home from practice. I could feel the heat in my face rise as his voice trembled and he picked nervously at his shoelaces. My hands gripped the steering wheel tighter and I stared hard at the traffic light above.
meandlucI make them wear seat belts, helmets, and know where they are at all times. I would not call myself a helicopter mom—I definitely give my kids a pretty long leash. There’s a fine line between protecting injury and preventing injury. I could say, “never ever climb trees”  but, then I’d miss out on a cell phone call from my giggling 6-year-old 30 feet up in a tree.  They’re going to do it anyway—I’d rather know about it (and have time to get to the bottom of the tree making sure the descent is as uneventful as the climb). I feel I protect them as well as I can. But there are times I want to prevent injury because there are some wounds that a trip to the ER will not repair.
I could have told him they were just jealous. I could have told him they were just kids and didn’t know how to be nice sometimes.  I could have said that maybe they were annoyed that their parents didn’t feel the need to race 50 miles to let them tryout as well. But instead, I looked at him and his big blue eyes looked back at me, lips held tightly together, his hair slightly in his eyes as he blinked.  And in my best mother-of-the-year voice offered this platitude,  “ You know what Duke? FUCK them.”

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24 comments:

Frugal Kiwi said...

What can I say Claudine? You are an awesome mom, that's what! Good luck to the kiddo. Sounds like he's got what it takes, even if he isn't likely to talk about it.

ruth pennebaker said...

Love it! Sometimes, it's the only word that suffices. You're my kind of mom.

Steph Auteri said...

I love this, Claudine. I was once the kid whose parents worried because she never spoke. And, in junior high and high school, I definitely drew my share of adolescent meanness. It made me withdraw. It made me less sure of myself. And, sometimes, it made me cry.

My mom, of course, gave me the usual spiel about how the other kids were just jealous. It didn't help. And so I love that you were so raw and honest with your son. :) But I did eventually grow past it all.

Let me assure you: Despite the abuse he may suffer at the hands of his classmates/teammates, he will blossom. In fact, he may even become stronger because of it.

Kris said...

I homeschool my kids and I always laughed when disapproving people told me my kids wouldn't learn to deal with difficult people if I kept them out of school. Yeah, right. As your post proves, kids will run into difficult people wherever they go - it doesn't take a school yard. I think it's fabulous that your son made the team.

Claudine M. Jalajas said...

Thank you thank you thank you. Means so much to have so many understand.

Kara said...

Oh my goodness, did you REALLY say that? You are my HEROINE! and I am going to keep this story in my back pocket to use as needed in the coming years. Thank you for sharing your (beautifully written) story. Go Duke!

Claudine M. Jalajas said...

Kara, Oh.. I most definitely did.. ;)

Jennifer Margulis said...

First of all, kudos to Duke for trying out and making the team. Of course his teammates WERE/ARE just incredibly jealous and trying to bring him down. It's fantastic that he not only tried out but that HE'S ON THE TEAM. Second of all, I totally agree with your reaction. Fuck them. (Wondering what Duke said when you said that? My kids HATE it when I swear!).

You go girl. And you go Duke!

Claudine M. Jalajas said...

Actually it's funny that you ask Jennifer. My kids have heard me swear before but not like this and not to them that's for sure. But I could see by his face (that I've learned to read) that he was shocked and then somewhat pleased. I think he could see how angry I was about the whole thing. I took that opportunity (after my initial outburst) to talk about how some people peak at 12, some in high school, and then go no where. He would be climbing for a long time (not just in lacrosse--In lots of things) and would be climbing for a long time. This might be all these kids have--playing lacrosse for your town and then your high school. So--they are protective and whether they realize it or not, might not like a kid who seems so well-rounded (lacrosse, yes.. but does well in a lot of other things too). Anyway..I managed to get a few things out of him afterward and it was nice to hear his voice tell me what he thought--not just read his body language.

marthaandme said...

I've said virtually the same thing to my kids at certain times too. It sounds like he is doing great and they aren't going to stop him. What's nice is he is telling what is going on.

Sheryl Kraft said...

Good for you and good for Duke for pursuing in spite of the mean kids. My older son used to come home and collapse in a heap of tears because of the teasing he'd get. Some kids - the sensitive ones - are ripe for the picking, unfortunately. But Duke will get through it and so will you. It sounds like he's one determined kid!

Susan Johnston said...

Claudine: I love the punchline!! My dad would have said, "don't let the bastards grind you down." Kids can be cruel sometimes, but at least Duke has the satisfaction of knowing he made the team. When I did community theater all through middle school and high school, my classmates in choir and drama class could be mean when I missed a rehearsal or whatnot, but I'm glad I did it, because I loved theater and music so much and it gave me the creative outlet I craved.

Donna Hull said...

Claudine, your post brought back so many memories of my own children being on the receiving end of cruel remarks from their peers. In fact, it brought back memories of my own childhood. Good for you for writing about it. Awesome job of mothering.

Amy C said...

Good for you! And good for him for trying and making it!!!!

Christine said...

It felt so good to hear you say that at the end of the story of what those awful kids did! You're just the mom Duke needs - good for you!

Melanie Haiken said...

I second the "you're a great mom" comments. Bullying and meanness among kids isn't new, but it seems somehow to have more power than it used to. Those recent suicides have been so tragic.... I hope these kids learn something someday, and that yours can plug his ears and not let it get to him.

Angeline said...

You're my hero! No one can ask for a better mom. I hope I can be as courageous as you to my little guy.

landguppy said...

You go girl, and you go Duke. And yeah, fuck the rest of them!

The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

One of the things I admire very much about this blog is the honesty in how you share about being a mother.

sarah henry said...

Oh, I do believe you're my kind of mom, Claudine.

My heart goes out to you having a son who isn't a talker; during challenging times it's the one thing I can count on with my boy, his need to chat. (Check back during the teens years to see if this stands.)

Regardless, you reveal in this post what a wonderful bond you and your boy have -- and how a few, well-chosen words can say so much;)

Donna Hull said...

What a wonderful post. Kids can be mean. I remember very well how I felt when my children were on the receiving end. I can also remember how felt as a teenager when people made fun of me for having curly hair and making A's. I think teens and tweens are intimidated by anyone who seems different from them. I applaud your mother lioness reaction.

Alexandra Grabbe said...

Loved this post. Reminds me of when my son, who will be 40 next week, absolutely wanted to try out for the local soccer team in France, where we lived. I had my doubts, but he made it and a whole other world opened up for him. Being on that team made him so happy. As parents, we need to follow their lead and give support. Duke's lucky to have you as his mom!

Marj said...

Love this blog post. My dad used to say "Jackasses don't knew any better, they just bray"

Claudine M. Jalajas said...

Thanks Marj! :)

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