Of Course You Can Always Be a Superhero

I began this morning excited about hunkering down once the kids were off to school and working on the numerous writing projects that I have in my head.

My excitement quickly faded once I realized that a two-year-old’s attention span is better developed than mine.

So what did I decide to do? You’re looking at it. Perhaps if I type some of this out, I can prioritize and move forward or at least get some the sludge that’s weighing me down out of my head.

I don’t know, you guys. I go through phases where I feel more action-oriented and productive, but lately I’m stuck in my head and feel like all I have the ability to do is the bare minimum. Now if I’m truly honest with myself, this is still a lot. In a given day, I get a good bit done — more than I ever dreamed possible in my life before children.

I’m afraid the problem is that I’m not getting the things done that I want to get done. I’m going through the motions and I’m feeling a lack of accomplishment. Do I need to reframe my thinking? Do I need to adjust my definition of the word accomplishment? I’m not sure.

I remember my wise therapist observing that I seemed edgier than usual and asked what I thought that was about, because don’t they just always do that? And isn’t it annoying? And don’t we all want to scream Please just tell me what it’s about and don’t ask me to flipping figure it out on my own!

Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I told her the normal stuff — I have too much in my head and I feel overwhelmed and I can’t seem to prioritize all the things that I need to do. It’s likely that none of this came out as succinctly as the above, but it was something of the sort — you get the idea.

She said that she has noticed that when this happens in her life, it often means that she hasn’t been practicing self-care and is overloaded with things she has to do and isn’t getting fed in return. She’s giving way more than she’s receiving, and the result is that she gets snappy.

Well, hello. Didn’t she pretty much just sum up parenting young children?

Yes. This has been my experience since giving birth to Piers in 2007. And it’s like every time I think I have a handle on things as a parent, I’m thrown another curve ball. There’s also the problem of me not being able to sit back and say —  Ahh, things are calm and okay right now — I think I’ll be grateful. 

Instead I’m all in my head — Holy sh*t! It’s too calm. The bottom is gonna fall out any minute. Things are NEVER this okay. Something’s going on that I don’t know about. OH MY GOD!!!

I’m in the process of setting up a meeting with Piers’ first grade teacher. He’s had a few behavior issues in the past two weeks, mostly “not following directions and not staying on task.”

I want to yell — He’s my kid. If you knew his father and me, you would totally get it. We’re the exact same way.

I struggle with deciding how much to tell them. Gil vows that I’m reading into things too much and he’s the one who looks at the notes from the teachers and ONLY notices the positive things they say.

Then there’s Wallace, my kindergartner. He’s exhibiting more and more signs of anxiety and almost obsessive tendencies. Last week he threw some sort of tantrum in the middle of class because he had to move on and wasn’t able to finish his artwork. His teacher insisted that he had adequate time to finish and that he didn’t appear to even start on it until two or three minutes before the class had to move on to the next activity. In other words he sat there formulating his vision in his head which left inadequate time to actually carry out what he wanted to do. I see this in him all the time andhave done this sort of thing my entire life — I think and analyze every possible way to do something and then once I get it the way I want it in my head, I often don’t have time to actually see the process through.

I totally understand that Wallace can’t throw fits in class — and for what it’s worth, his teacher began the conversation with “this is VERY out of character for him” but I can’t help but feel like there are some things that are good about this. I want to help him figure out what he wants to do and help him make it happen.

I’m trying. Both of my children are different and don’t seem to learn the way that schools expect them to learn. HOWEVER, before I jump too far into the schools aren’t nurturing my child’s gifts — I must say that I fully believe that children like mine thrive in a structured environment. At the same time, I recognize their need for downtime after being at school from 8-2 everyday.  It’s a tough balance, and I just want to help them through it.

I think all of this is weighing on my mind more than I realize. Gil and I had a very hard time scrunching our square-pegged selves into the round holes that we were expected to fit in as students. We managed. And many people say (my mother in particular) that we turned out fine and so will our kids. We may have “turned out fine” but both of us seriously struggle in the self-esteem department and THAT is what I don’t want for my own kids.

I don’t give two flips if they make straight A’s and if they score in the top percentiles on standardized tests. I want them to know that they are so much more than numbers on a piece of paper. I want them to have enthusiasm for the work they do in the world. I want them to be able to walk into any room and feel comfortable with themselves and know that they belong there.

Additionally, I want them to be kind, empathic and compassionate. I want them to notice the inequities of the world and be motivated to do something about them. I want them to be grateful for what they have and not rest until others have the same. I want them to have the confidence to speak up when they see someone being bullied or treated unfairly.

I want them to notice beauty in the world and I want them to be able to use their creativity constructively. Art is not only beautiful but in my opinion it is so necessary. My kids love music; they love drawing and creating characters and they’re enthusiastic and theatrical.

Unfortunately, I’m already seeing children who think this sort of self-expression is wrong and should be squelched. At seven and five my kids still spend a large amount of time pretending and I love it. As we were leaving a soccer game the other day the two of them began recreating some Star Wars-like scene, imaginary light sabers and all. It was great — they were running and jumping in a big open field — sound effects and all. I thought nothing of it, probably because I see this from them all the time. Another kid from Wallace’s team wandered up beside us with his parents. I chatted briefly with them but was perplexed when the dad asked, “What are they doing?”

I suspected he was asking because Wallace was way more enthusiastic and agile in his pretend world than he had just been during the soccer game.

“Feel free to join them,” I told Peyton. “They’re always happy to accommodate extra storm troopers.”

Peyton shifted nervously and walked over to my kids. Piers immediately assigned him a role, but Peyton said, “I’m not a storm trooper. I don’t want to do that.”

Wallace continued, “Well, you can be whatever you want to be — even Spiderman if you want!”

Peyton wouldn’t have it. “That’s weird.”

His parents didn’t seem to get it either, and while I’m old enough to not give a damn, I saw Wallace look at the ground self-consciously. He is very sensitive to the opinions of his peers (another concern of mine lately.) It just made me sad.

Piers wasn’t remotely deterred, so I’m hoping Wallace will grow out of this — Piers seemed more eager to please his friends last year in kindergarden. First grade has brought out a renewed confidence in him.

Wallace walked over to me and said Peyton was mean, which in Peyton’s defense, I didn’t see that he was saying what he said to be mean — he just had no clue how to interact in this way.

What kind of world do we live in if children in grade school are too old to pretend? Am I the weird one? Fortunately, my kids have plenty of friends who are thrilled to jump right in to fantasy mode. They just weren’t around that day, but it seems that it’s more the exception than the norm.

I suppose I’ve moved into a different stage of worrying about my children and I’m trying to figure out the best way to help them through the world. I have a lot more to say about this, but I need to wrap it up.

What do you guys think? Do your kids still play in this way? Maybe I need to do a better job finding activities where they can channel this part of themselves. Obviously, I have a lot on my mind in regards to my children.

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12 thoughts on “Of Course You Can Always Be a Superhero

  1. Pingback: View From the Couch | Grief Happens

  2. Hmmmm as we walked through our townhouse with our realtor, she paused in Matt’s room (our 29 year old) and said what’s with all the Star Wars, Lego and Super Hero books etc.? I was taken aback. That’s Matt. He has had a love of books and all of the above since forever. He’s known in school as Mr. Mattmann. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when he didn’t quite fit in and had teachers who didn’t quite get him, but he made it. Thank God his soon to be wife loves all things Marvel. Being an actress didn’t hurt either. As for not crossing things off your list… oh boy you and John!!! 🙂 I wish I knew how to upload a pic of my boys throwing a shit fit in Disney when they weren’t picked to go up on stage to be Storm Troopers. (They were 21 and 19)

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    • Mr. Mattmann!! I love it! It’s so good to hear stories like yours. Your kids seem so smart and interesting. I’ll own my weirdness — I rather like superheroes, too. I was all about the Incredible Hulk as a kid, and hello,Wonderwoman. My girlfriends always insisted on being princesses for Halloween, but I was Wonderwoman. All. The. Way.

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  3. I played pretend until I was about 12 years old! I mean, really! I am sad for the boy who was unable to be imaginative with your sons. Childhood is so much about imagination, dreaming, pretending and navigating the world through creativity. I’m glad your boys do it!

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    • Me too — so glad they use their imaginations. And yes, that kid made me so sad. I’m guessing his poor parents didn’t do much pretending as kids. They were were giving all of us the strangest looks. I should invite him over and let him loose in our costume closet. I think that’s what childhood is all about!

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  4. My kids always used their imaginations. I can’t remember when they began to think it was stupGid to pretend. The use their creativity from their young imaginations to enjoy their passions as adults. One regret I have had, I didn’t follow my gut about my youngest. I’m pretty positive he has dyslexia and ADHD. Neither diagnosed, but as an adult, we are both aware of is struggles. Now I’m trying to help him cope with the challenges he has to face.

    I say, give the kid a box, some duct tape, and some markers. It’s wonderful to see the castles and space ships they can create.

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    • Interesting on the dyslexia. I suspect something of the sort might be going on with Piers. And my kids are happiest when they are building space shuttles out of boxes and markers. I totally agree with your thoughts. Thanks!

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      • Not that I’m trying to be a Ms. Bossy Pants, but get him tested–outside of the school system. I listened to my youngest’s teachers, and while my gut told me it may be an issue, they disagreed and didn’t recommend testing. School could have been much easier for him. Today, as an adult, he is afraid of talking even among his friends because he gets words backwards, and his pronunciation of certain words aren’t as they should be. I’m trying to help him now.

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        • Oh my gosh, you’re not being a bossy pants at all. I LOVE hearing other people’s experiences, and this especially is SO helpful. You’re the third parent who has said this same thing — get him tested outside of the school system. My gut is telling me to do this anyway. While his teachers are good and supportive, the reality is that they have LOTS of other students, many that may not have the support from home that Piers does. Therefore to them, his problems don’t seem like that big a deal in comparison (which I truly understand) but as a kid who lived through the label “not living up to her potential” I feel like I HAVE to help him in every way I can. I know what you mean with your son. My husband is the same way and has had to work extra hard to overcome some issues with reading. I believe that he also has dyslexia. I’ve been reading a book called Overcoming Dyslexia that is helpful, but wow, it’s a lot to take in. Adhd and dyslexia have so many overlapping symptoms and often go together. Seriously, thank you so much for your input. I really appreciate it. 🙂

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  5. Your boys are definitely not too old to be playing pretend. I played make believe at that age and older. Boys did, too, although they started to play pretend war and such. Unfortunately, I think boys suffer from sexism, being taught by our culture and by their peers that being creative isn’t masculine. What a pity. It is wonderful that you let your boys have unstructured play time after school. The school day is demanding. My son needs down time when he gets home.

    As far as behavioral issues are concerned, you are doing a great job by working with their teachers. Their teachers are able to observe their behavior in the classroom and give you feedback. With our son’s teachers’ input, we intervened early to assist our son with impulse control issues, taking him to a child psychologist when he was four and a child psychiatrist when he was five. He is a fabulous adolescent now. Has been off stimulant medication for hyperactivity and impulsivity for a few years. He still is sensitive to external stimuli (noise, crowds, bright light, and heat) and suffers migraines. Luckily, in my husband’s family migraines grow less severe for the men as they mature. The women continue to struggle with them thoughout adulthood.

    Best of luck with your boys. Remember, too, that boys are more active than girls. It is harder for them to sit still and focus even if they are not diagnosable as ADHD.

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    • Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and helpful comment. My gut is telling me to move forward with early intervention, and I actually have a good relationship with a local psychologist who I think would be a great fit for my kids. It’s so helpful to hear others’ experiences. My husband gets very frustrated with me and says I don’t interact enough with non-mental health people — he thinks I read about various disorders and am quick to label our kids. I counter that he doesn’t do enough to help his own mental health, but that’s a whole other topic. My background is in psychology/social work and mental health AND I’ve certainly had my share of help from mental health professionals. Plus, he and I both have various diagnoses from reputable psychologists. I viewed my own diagnoses as a positive step in the right direction and accepting this has helped me move forward. In other words, it helped me understand myself better and allowed me to learn and make adaptations in a better way for my brain.

      Good point on the fact that boys are more active than girls — another reason I’m hesitant with running them to the psychologist since likely many things we’re dealing with ARE developmental. Having them just a grade apart in school has allowed me to observe this fairly easily. Piers is WAY more focused this year compared to last, and I’m seeing some of the exact tendencies in Wallace (the kindergardener) that I did last year when Piers was in kindergarden.

      Ultimately, I know the genetics in my family and in my husband’s which is why I feel that it’s best to move forward with early intervention. I’m not on board with medicating them (yet) but I think it would be helpful for their teachers to understand how they work best — to a degree — I realize they can’t accommodate every need for every student at every moment of the day, but I’d like for them to have an understanding that they’re not always simply being defiant. Certain things are genuinely harder for them — sitting still, following too many directions at once, etc.

      Anyway, sorry for the book, but writing this out is helping me process all of my thoughts better.

      Thanks again!

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      • No need to apologize. I, too, was once a mental health professional and have struggled with mental illness. My husband, too, dismissed the teachers’ feedback at first. I had to tell him, look, if the preschool director is giving us a pamphlet about children with behavior problems, she’s saying there is something wrong with our kid. The director has worked with lots of kids. But, that’s OUR story, not necessarilty YOURS.

        Just because we have diagnoses, doesn’t mean that our kids do, nor does it mean that they need meds. I chose that route based on the feedback I was receiving and because I was at the end of my rope in coping with my son’s behavior (hitting and kicking kids in preschool, trashing his bedroom, going after me with stick, running out of our subdivision alongside a busy street with me chasing him terrified that he’d get hit by a car, all as an extremely active preschooler). My son did MUCH better in a highly structured, academically challenging, quiet environment. As he aged, he matured, and his impulse control improved. Now he’s a quiet, gifted student, not on stimulants.

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