It’s really amazing to look back and see how much growing up Travis has done in the last year. Some of it has come as 1 step forward, 3 steps back. Much of it has been very loud. And there continue to be contradictions along the way. But there’s lots of movement in the right direction and it’s fun to get to know the young man who is emerging.
For the past year or more, Travis has been desperately wanting to be heard, to have control, to be independent–to be treated like a big kid or a grownup. But more frequently than not he demonstrates this need for autonomy through whining, being demanding, and throwing “temper fits.”
Travis wants some control over things, and I understand and respect that. But while he’s getting better at it, he’s still not able to give others the attention and respect that he so desperately wants for himself. He’ll read you the riot act if you interrupt his 15-minute diatribe on the travails of being a six-year-old who no one loves and who has no one standing up for him. But wait him out patiently, and try to respond, and you might get in 7 words before he’s back on his soapbox again.
Back when Travis was taking group piano lessons and things were starting to get rocky, both Mark and I had some big, breakthrough conversations with Travis. He spewed forth a hurricane of ideas, and I was glad to feel I was connecting with him over a challenge much the same way I often have with Hallie. I always try to listen, but I have to admit it’s exhausting tuning in to everything he has to say. Especially since he often says the same thing several different ways (I’ve just realized what he’s doing–he’s filibustering!), or does all his thinking out loud before he gets to the point he’s trying to make.
We’re also working with Travis a lot on taking responsibility. His first instinct whenever anything goes wrong is to blame someone else. If he breaks a Lego toy he’s carrying, he’ll say, “You made me break that toy because you told me to move it out of the den!” Or we’ll hear, “Daddy made me knock over that bag behind my bicycle because he was the one who put my bicycle in that spot last week!” To his credit, I’ve heard much less of this lately. Let’s hope he stays on that track!
Lately one of Travis’s frequent complaints is that because he’s the youngest, he gets treated differently and no one is ever on his side. When he’s upset about something he’ll lie moaning on the couch, saying “Why don’t you just spend a day thinking about what it’s like to be six years old!” I try to honor his concerns and listen to what exactly bothers him. But I also reinforce that how he behaves has a huge impact on how he gets treated. And from my perspective, this is more about the drama of the moment than about how he’s actually being treated. In truth, he is treated much more like an older kid than Hallie was at that age. It’s true that Hallie has more sleepovers and exchanges more playdates with other kids than he does. But that’s more a factor of his friends being younger and not doing as much of that yet. I expect that will come in time. I’ve often wondered why it doesn’t bother Hallie that we treat the two of them pretty much the same as far as bedtime, activities, etc. Fortunately, it hasn’t occurred to her to be bothered by this.
One thing I’ve really noticed this summer is that Travis can be a kid of extremes. When we camped at Grayson Highlands this summer he woke up declaring, “I’m so excited about our hike!” He was bursting with enthusiasm about it until about 1/4 mile in, at which point he wanted to sit down or go home. We we were able to urge him far enough along to explain that we were halfway through the circuit and it would be a longer walk if he turned around. Shortly after that, he got all charged up and spent the rest of the hike leading us back at a good pace.
We saw the same dynamic with our Creeper Trail bike ride. He was poking along at some points, but when he’d get a burst of energy, he’d be the most enthusiastic rider you’ve ever seen. A lot of this has to do with his position. His energy level soars when he gets to be the leader, and when he’s not out in front he can be a bit of a pill. Fortunately Hallie’s a good sport about this, but we want to make sure she doesn’t pay the price and that she still gets her turn to lead, no matter how Travis reacts. I think we’ll have to do some planning about this before our SJI trip because I hope to do a lot of hiking, and towing him along much of the way isn’t part of my plan!
Extreme behavior shows up at home, too. Most of the time getting Travis to be ready on time or to clean his room or to get some chore done is like pulling teeth. I get so sick of nagging that I hate to ask him to do things (I know, that’s part of his master plan, isn’t it?). But everyone once in a while he shifts into Manic Mr. Helpful mode, where he zooms through all his stuff cackling maniacally about how much fun it is to clean and isn’t his room going to look great and why does this usually take so long etc. etc. It makes my head spin! If we could only bottle that positive energy, we’d have it made!
One place where it’s really been clear how much Travis has matured over the last year is at the pool. Last summer Travis was a fully independent swimmer, but he wasn’t handling the dynamics with other kids well. He’d either swim around with his snorkel doing his own thing, which was fine. Or he’d play with other kids and almost always end up in tears. Lots of the kids from swim team play together after practice. Last summer, Travis would often be the youngest. When they’d all race after a dive toy, he’d always be last. And often he’d get kicked or bumped accidentally. He’d immediately start wailing or reacting to the other kids and I’d have to intervene–and usually entertain him until Hallie was ready to go home.
This summer has been so different! I watched nervously after the first few practices. But Travis played beautifully with the other kids. I watched him shake off bumps or collisions. He didn’t overreact to things. And he’d be happy (most days) staying just as long as Hallie. After the first few days, I found myself able to relax. Suddenly I was one of those parents chatting with friends or reading books–the parents I thought I would never become! It was really nice!
Travis has shown several times this summer what a big heart he has. He was delighted by our recent visit to sort eggs at the Food Bank. And I loved the initiative he showed making his paper wolves for the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. I’ll keep looking for ways to encourage that kindness and creativity.
I remember how many things seemed unfair when I was kid. And despite his impression to the contrary, I really do spend time trying to think what it is like to be a six year old. Maybe if one day I can get Travis to sit down and think about what it’s like to be a parent we’ll find some middle ground that satisfies us both. In the meantime, I’ll keep assuring him that he’s loved and trust that if he’s a daddy one day (or even if he’s not) he’ll look back and know that he really, truly was.