When the kids were littler (like 3 and 5), I'd frequently lump them together in my parenting. Same bedtime, same toys, letting them both alone to play while I did housework or took a shower. I expected (without thinking it through) that he could cognitively, physically and emotionally be able to follow along with his older sister.
I was reminded more often than I cared to that Joey needed to be watched more. Toys down the toilet, soap all over the floor, pushing his screens out the window -- followed by all his toys, books and bedding. Thank Goddess not himself.
Perhaps this is cognitive and social delay, ADHD, or just personality differences between the two children -- because Aubrey never did any of this. Or if she did, it was as a follower to him as ring leader.
But today I am reminded of the seriousness of whatever this 'spiritedness' is of Joey's.
We arrived at Tae Kwon Do class and parked behind the building. Aubrey and I filled the parking meter. She fished coins out of her silver purse, sequins the size of quarters sewn onto the fabric.
"I'm going in," Joey said. I looked to where he was standing. Less than four feet away.
"No! We all walk together. Wait for us," I said. I turned back to the parking meter and Aubrey painstakingly looking through her bag for "silver ones."
"I just wanna peek around the corner." He means the alley. We have to walk down the alley to get to the front of the building on Willamette Street. He usually remembers to peek slowly around the corner before barreling into the alley-used-as-often-as-a-street. I paused.
"OK. Don't go farther than that pole." And I pointed. Did he see me? I was looking at the pole.
I finished with Aubrey and the meter and turned to the pole. Not there. I didn't panic but quickened my pace to a trot. Sometimes he hides behind the wall and "boos" around the corner, giggling. I turned the corner. Not there.
I glanced up the alley and saw him standing at the corner talking to someone. My initial reaction was irritation.
"JOE!" I bellowed. Then I noticed he is with a man; large and dressed a little dingy. I quickened my pace.
"Come here!" What if he'd been kidnapped?! The man looked at me and I felt ashamed at my second reaction. I don't want the man, if he's harmless, to think I've prejudged him. Which, of course, I have.
"You were supposed to wait for me back here." I hoped this softened my prejudice to the man, at least to his ears. It assuaged my guilt -- but only temporarily.
I don't want my children to grow up thinking that street people, whether they are homeless or not, are dangerous. I don't want my children thinking that all strangers are dangerous. But how to tell the difference? Even I, as an adult, come up with the wrong interpretations of someone's motives sometimes. Or get a feeling about someone and have it be totally inaccurate later.
Who am I to teach them about ... vibes? Shouldn't they be left to decipher that themselves? I don't want my prejudices to rub off on them -- not when I try so hard to not have them myself. I pride myself on not being racist or prejudiced in any way, but obviously that can't be true if I worry that just because some man is talking to my son that he wants to do him harm. And that the only reason he didn't carry through with it was because I thwarted his plans by coming around the corner!
When I reached the corner, holding firmly to Joey's hand now, the amiable -- though dusty and patchworked -- man smiled and said, "I like that boy. He's smart. He's a good-lookin' kid." He waved and walked off.
Before he did, I returned the smile and said, "Thank you." If I take apart his statement, eeww. I'm terrified. "I like that boy ... he's good-lookin'"?! All is well though. I was here. Joey's safe. This is what I'm telling myself, but what I say out-loud is different.
When I turned the corner, I continued my nasty asides to Joey about not trusting him and having to now hold his hand ALL THE TIME. Even as I did it I hated the sound of my voice. I knew it was from fear that my voice goes evil like that, but how did Joey feel?
Looked from his perspective the encounter might have been something like this: bored of waiting, can't stand still too long -- it hurts to do that (or maybe creates panic or anxiety for him to be still -- thinking ADHD here), I'll just go to class, so excited about class, here I go, Mom and Aubrey are behind me, skipping through the sun, bare feet on concrete feels neat, 'oh hi nice smiling man that would never hurt me, how are you?' JOE! uh oh, Mom's mad, why?, sadness, I never do anything right, she's always yelling at me.
I feel so completely ill-equipped to take this job of mom. I hopelessly make things worse for my children, when I only want to protect them and guide them into compassionate, soulful human beings. When I stop to think "They are compassionate, soulful human beings," I hold my breath with the crushing fear that I'm ruining it for them. Ruining them for them. I make it all worse.
So who is the vulnerable one here? Is it Joey, who is seven and trusts openly, and doesn't think it is wrong to try and walk home from a public school without telling anyone, just because he thought it was time to go home? Or walked out of the bathroom and out of the school building during the middle of the day to wait for me to pick him up, when I never pick him up at that time, or on that side of the school. He didn't tell anyone where he was going and he was lost for twenty minutes.
(The principal called us after he was found. When I questioned her about that she said, " ... if we called every time a child was missing and then turned up ten minutes later, we'd be on the phone a lot and scaring a lot of parents." There was SO MUCH of this conversation that horrified me .. but that is another story.)
Or am I the vulnerable one? Because I worry so much and feel guilty so much. And feel like such a bad parent so much. I know that 'no one's perfect' --
-- but it's always so astonishing when I'm not.