“Aidan, didn’t your dad tell you to go read a book?” I asked the other night, putting my hands on my hips in that age-old “mom” pose. “So why are you watching TV?”
I had discovered him curled up in his pajamas, freshly showered and watching television on our bed.
He immediately looked guilty, turned off the TV, and went to get ready for bed. That’s the routine—shower, brush teeth, read, bedtime. It’s nice that he’s so independent. He doesn’t need a prompt for every small step. (Except when he does. He's only 9, after all.)
I found him in the bathroom a few minutes later, trying not to cry while he flossed his teeth.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, surprised.
“I’m sorry to be so difficult, Mom,” he choked out.
“Difficult? What do you mean, difficult?” My eyebrows shot up.
“I disobeyed you and I’m sorry that I’m so difficult,” he replied with tears in his eyes.
“Difficult? You’re not difficult. Your brother, he’s difficult. You, you’re easy-peasy, like a little butterfly,” I said.
“As a matter of fact, I’m going to call you that from now on. My little butterfly.” I tried to tickle him, but he brushed my hand away.
Seriously, I thought to myself. What kid doesn’t sneak off to watch TV when he’s supposed to be reading?
Ok, I didn’t, but I’m a dork. I love reading. And I feared the wrath of Fran. (That’s my mom, if you haven’t guessed.)
“Don’t call me that, Mom,” he said. “I’m a boulder. I’m difficult. I’m hard as a rock. I’m a tough kid.”
No, you’re not, I thought to myself. You’re my little butterfly.
Right now, Aidan IS an easy kid. But I stopped reassuring him.
So, of course, I have spent the last few weeks mulling this over in my tiny, addled brain.
Does he want to be difficult, so he can get as much attention as his disabled brother?
Let’s face it, his brother gets A LOT of attention, for both good AND bad behavior. Conor’s therapist, his 1:1 aids, teachers, family friends, and, of course, his parents all cheer every little achievement Conor makes. The bad behavior, of course, is nearly impossible to ignore.
(What about me? Aidan asks sometimes when we praise his brother for a seemingly inane act.
Am I a good traveler too? Am I being patient?
Did you like my piece of art?
I throw the ball pretty hard too.
I can help set the table. Let me help, he says, I want to help.)
What does his desire to be considered “difficult” mean? Does Aidan desperately not want to be difficult but is struggling to achieve an ideal perfection that is, ultimately, totally NOT achievable by any human being? You know, to not make any waves since he comprehends the stress that my husband and I are under? But what kid can do that, behave like an angel all the time? That’s not normal. Is he seeking a level playing field with his brother or does this signal some sort of self-esteem problem that I need to start addressing?
My father says I’m over-analyzing the whole thing.
Alisa - you are not over-analyzing this issue! It is very real and our 20 year old daughter finally gave us some insight into trying to be the "perfect" child so we could deal with the stress of her very disabled brother. It is too much of a (perceived) burden for kids to carry. We should chat soon - Austin is coming home on Tuesday......
Good luck! Hope the homecoming goes smoothly.
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