Monday, December 26, 2011

A scared, little big boy

Early on Christmas morning, I had a rare moment alone with my oldest son, Josh. We were eating breakfast together, and everyone else was upstairs. At that point, the older boys had opened only their stockings and one Santa gift; the rest was on hold until Mommy came downstairs.

To understand this scene, it helps to know Josh. He's a beautiful boy, but he's not a great communicator. My wife and I struggle to get anything out of him. We have almost no idea what he does in school (second grade). We have almost no idea what he thinks most of the time. He often talks to himself, reciting movie and TV lines while going through his day.

But every once in a while, Josh actually comes out and says something. It happens randomly, and you never see it coming. Because it's so rare, we stop everything and listen. What he reveals is often mesmerizing.

That's where I found myself Christmas morning. I was probing to see if Josh was excited about Christmas. I was asking if he was excited about all the presents to open ... no response. What about all the people coming over, and all the presents they'd be bringing ... no response. And then he spoke.

"Everybody who comes over just wants to see Colin," he said, talking about his youngest brother, the 2 1/2-year-old battling a genetic disorder. "They always bring presents to Colin. They never brings presents to me."

I was momentarily stunned.

"Who does that?" I asked.

"Everyone. They always brings presents to Colin, and they play with him, and they tell him how cute he is and how adorable he is, and they hug him ... They always come to see Colin."

A day later, I'm still trying to make sense of what he said. It's not true – that Colin gets all the attention – but that doesn't matter. In Josh's mind, it's true, and I think it opens a real window into his soul. My beautiful, first-born son was showered with attention from the moment he arrived. He was the first grandson of two families, the star in everyone's eyes.

Today, he's a "big boy." He's actually huge for his age – nearly 80 pounds in second grade. Everyone tells him, "you're such a big boy." Well, that big boy doesn't get hugs like he used to. He doesn't get called "cute" anymore. He's not "adorable" anymore. He's not the center of attention. He's not the star he used to be. In a house where the middle boy is magnetically charming, and the youngest boy gets three home visits per week and a constant rotation of caregivers (in Josh's mind, people coming over to see Colin while Josh goes off to school), Josh struggles for attention.

Our 60-second conversation yesterday reminded me that Josh can't always be the "big boy." Sometimes he needs to be the baby again, the first-born, the star in everyone's eyes. That big boy is probably scared of growing up. I know I was for most of my childhood.

So I'll end this post now without a big hurrah. I've written six different endings, trying to uncover the grand truth behind Josh's words, but I can't seem to get the words right. I just know I love that kid so much it hurts, and I want to know more about him. I'll just wait patiently until he tells me a little bit more.


  1. With 3 boys, I know this story well. During some of their toughest years, the boys said very little on how they felt.

    But boys love games.

    Just before bedtime, we played 'Game Honesty'. It is a game I had to invent to get the boys to open up to gauge how they felt when Jim was sick. It effectively encouraged them to talk about what they knew/feared. Game Honesty has a sports component that only includes WINNING.

    The game goes like this.

    Each person asks a question and it has to be answered honestly. Explain that in the rules, and use the world 'honesty' alot. When an entire round is done, everyone wins if they have been honest.They will because boys like to win, and what better game to win than the honesty game? Don't ever mention losing, the game will lose its luster.

    Keep in mind the game is also designed to allow them to *ask honest questions, questions they may not ordinarily ask- unless a win is at stake.

    This was particularly helpful with gauging their level of stress and concern. It was a fun game, and questions ranged from who they ate lunch with, to; Could you ever eat a worm if you had to? ..and other things.

    It was when I was asked if candy was free in heaven that I realized *exactly where their unspoken fears were. My youngest asked me that almost every day outside of Game Honesty from that point on. I was honest in my answer: "Every kind of candy is free in heaven!"

    Hospice also played the game, and took it with them when they left the house for good.

    Game Honesty opens up a dialogue, but you can add anything, a roll of dice, an honesty scroll, made and rolled up and tied by the boys to pass along to person to person as it is their turn.

  2. And he'll prrobably go through his entire life craving that star did. It's the mark of a first born, always feeling like you have to be the star..the golden boy, and really it's all in your head. Now that you have children you know that they're all loved and all have special gifts. The key is helping them find their special gifts. Praise him for being a kind, honest and loving person...not just for their accomplishments.