I checked a book out from the library this week: "The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, 'Chronically Inflexible' Children." While Desmond isn't chronically inflexible, he's absolutely easily frustrated. I picked the book from the shelf on a day when his teacher stopped me in the school hallway. "Oh, good, I was looking for you," she said.
No need to fill in the details of the conversation. Suffice to say, we talk often.
So, the book.
I started somewhere in the middle, after flipping it open in the library. Once we got home, I got distracted by dinner and bath times and the nightly ritual and set it on the desk by my bed. Upside down.
The kids had off from school today, so after a trip to the coffee shop to eat treats and play chess, I retreated to my bedroom for some quiet computer time. Desmond wandered in after a spell, stood next to my bed and picked up the book. He gave me a wry smile and said, "I thought you got this about me."
"What did you think about the waffle episode?" he asked, laughing.
I didn't know what he was talking about. Turns out, it's the title of the first chapter and describes the story of an 11-year-old girl who flips out when her simple plan to eat three waffles one day and save three for the next is upended by her little brother.
"I started in the middle," I told him. "I didn't read that part yet."
So, Desmond started to read aloud, from the beginning. He read of oppositional behavior, vapor lock, meltdowns and I cannot tell you how surreal it was to hear him put voice to scenarios that play out weekly in this house.
"Of course, life isn't always so simple as 'I'm mad' anyway," he read. "If a child says, 'I'm mad,' the world- his parents, teachers, siblings, peers, soccer coaches - is bound to respond in some way. Then the child has some more thinking, feeling, and expressing to do. The trouble is, 'I'm mad' is all about some children can muster in the 'expressing your feelings' department. So if the world asks for clarification or a more sophisticated articulation of 'I'm mad' or demands additional thinking through, these children may become confused, disorganized, overwhelmed, and - you guessed it - frustrated."
The entire time he read, I was emailing Kent things like "Holy crap. This is a mind bend." I helped him sound out words like anxiety and benign, and I asked at intervals what he thought about what he just read.
"I think that children have different minds," he told me. "And they act differently when they get mad." He looked up from the book and smiled. "I don't get as frustrated as easily as the people in this book do."
To wit, he went on to read from a conversation the author has with a father and mother about their son, George.
"Me: Thinking back, has George ever responded to frustration in the adaptive way?
Father: Now that you mention it, no.
Mother: But it was never this bad.
Me: How do you mean?
Mother: When he was smaller, he didn't swear at us like he does now.
Me: What did he do instead?
Mother: Well, instead of screaming things like 'Fuck you!'"
[AND THAT'S WHEN THE RECORD SCREECHED TO A HALT!]
I closed the book and started laughing.
"What?" Desmond asked.
I laughed uncomfortably because I honestly couldn't think of any better way to respond.
"What does fuck you mean?"
"It's not nice at all. You don't want to say it."
"I didn't say it!" he said.
Well, right. I scooched him ahead several chapters and restarted him there. He lost interest after a while then went to play in his room where he remains, no doubt busy processing what he's read. I'm still trying to process it all too.