Perceptions of A Childhood
My son Aidan, the 18 year old, recently said something to me. We were standing in the kitchen in the middle of a Halloween pumpkin carving party and he says, "my childhood sucked. I was such a loser." Instantly I felt my heart literally break in two and tears filled my eyes. It was like all the things I said to him as a small boy and all the traditions and things we made sure we did for fun as a family were in vain. It slapped me right in the face. I thought, are all my efforts for nothing? Do I really have no control as a parent over how my kids will remember their childhood? He thought his comment wasn't a big deal. "Don't worry about it. I'm totally fine now, mom." He told me.
Of all my kids, my Aidan, has always reminded me the most of myself as a child. Well, in some ways. He was so introverted. Even at 2 years old during play dates he'd gather up the toys he wanted and find a quiet little spot to play. He wanted to be left alone to play by himself in his own little world. He didn't want to engage with the other kids in a group game. He didn't talk a lot in group settings and was extremely shy. Being in social situations was uncomfortable enough for him but, to then have any attention on him, was excruciating. I could see it. I could feel it. I hated it for him. I pushed a little and listened when my mommy-tuition told me to step back.
It reminded me of myself as a small girl in school. My name is Mykin. Not the most common name or the easiest to pronounce, I suppose. I can remember sitting in my desk on pins and needles every time we had a substitute teacher. I remember being in those feelings, being so uncomfortable and anxious. Inevitably, during the roll, the teacher would mispronounce my name. I would sit on pins and needles waiting to hear it. As soon as whatever version of my name was called I would quickly throw my hand up and quietly say, "here". I wouldn't even correct the teacher as how to pronounce my name correctly. Luckily, there is always some kid in class who is a complete extrovert and not afraid of yelling out loud, "her name is Mykin!" Oh, man!! This story makes me laugh even as it makes me cringe. Thankfully I pushed myself out of my comfort zone enough as an early adult that these things don't cause me near as much anxiety, but I still feel a little bit uncomfortable speaking out. The difference is I just make myself do it anyway. You can imagine how much writing my feelings down and opening myself up to criticism makes me feel. Every new post gives me anxiety, haha. I do it in hopes that I can release those feeling and hope that someone might relate to them.
I tried to gently ease him out of his comfort zone as much as I could. I would encourage play with friends. I asked who he played with at school, and there was always someone so I wasn't overly worried. I tried setting up play dates with his school friends, encouraged him to have birthdayparties...that's a whole other story in and of itself. Let's just say one of the only times I could get him to have one, I think his 8th birthday, only two kids came. I was devastated for him. He seemed relived actually, but I cried. We had a blast anyway as a family. As he got older he had a few good friends he would hang out with. They all seemed to be the quiet kids in the neighborhood so unfortunately, it wasn't regularly, but he talked about them frequently. He went on Boy Scout camp outs and would come home in a good mood with fun stories. He'd always had a great time! A couple other moms and I would talk and try to encourage our boys to hang out more but they were all such introverts.
Was there something I could've or should've done differently? Should I have taken him to a therapist to help him with his social anxiety? Should I have forced him to play group sports and engage in more group settings? Should I have ignored his feelings of comfort and forced him into more situations he hated? The answer is, I just don't know! I followed my heart and pushed until I felt it would be detrimental and backed off when I felt I needed to for his piece of mind and spirit. He never seemed sad or upset at missing out on certain things. He didn't WANT them. He never seemed unhappy. I wanted to let him be who he was. So, I pushed the things he needed to learn to do for him to succeed in life, and let the others go.
I would never have thought he wasn't having a normal, happy childhood. I'm sure he has negative memories, as we all do, but overall I remember his childhood quite differently.
So here is my perception: I look back and see a gorgeous little guy with round cheeks, and wide brown eyes fringed with the thickest, longest, blackest eyelashes you ever did see! (So not fair!) I remember a sweet smiling face, when I'd ask, "how come you're so cute?" and kiss the splatter of freckles on his nose. A little boy with a quick, mischievous side smile as he whispered some joke or other, to his little brother, under his breath. I remember a boy who would get in trouble for misbehaving but would then lock eyes with me as I explained why he couldn't or should do whatever it was that had landed him in trouble. He'd always listen and internalize the lesson. (Wish some of the others were more that way!) I see a sensitive, sweet boy who was enthralled at the age of five with his newborn sister and her small fingers, toes and little tongue when she'd stick it out of her mouth.
I remember a small toddler playing with his Dino-nuggets at lunch time, all in his own little prehistoric world. He always had an amazing and creative imagination and ability to really live in whatever world he created in his mind. Bribes made of Hot Wheels cars weekly to get him to the store with me for errands. Promises of track suits as his outfit of the day to get him out of bed and dressed for kindergarten. The kid was a homebody from the time he was teeny-weeny!
I have loving memories of Super heroes, Cowboys, and the Mario Brothers running through the family room on all sorts of adventures to save the world. I saw LEGO world's slowly fill bedrooms, along with the click-clacking of all the pieces as they dug to find just the right one to complete their creation. Then I remember visiting two little boys to make sure they were okay as they spent hours upon hours living in LEGOland.
I remember my light fixture flickering to sounds of jumping, giggles and yelling. I saw the sliver of light behind the closed bedroom door at bedtime quickly going out with the sound of running feet and whispers when they thought we didn't know. The sounds of cartoons playing quietly in the dark as if we didn't know they were watching from their beds instead of sleeping.
I knew an incredibly smart, inquisitive little boy who would dismantle toy after toy and then moved on to old
I remember my sweet boy who'd let me hug and squish him, up to a certain age, as much as I wanted. (Dang you Year 12!) One who was always the peace. He wanted everyone to stay happy and thrived on calm in the house. Which, really to tell the truth isn't reality around here. Most of us are high strung, loud individuals! He was my boy who'd reprimand his older sister during her most sassy teenage years to be respectful. I overheard him, when he didn't know I could hear, telling her, "I don't like it when you talk to mom like that." Ah, my heart!!
I watched two little boys, 2 1/2 years apart in age, learn to share a room, share toys and bond. I watched them become the best of friends. God just knew Aidan would need a little brother, I think. I am so thankful that Ian was the 3rd child! They needed each other. They still do. I saw them become sidekicks and partner's in crime. I saw them fight, and make up and help each other learn the world around them. Over the year's I've watched them become each other best friend. I hear them contemplating life and the world in long meaningful discussions. I hear them up and about all night, laughing and, thanks to Life 360 app, watch them leave on joy rides to McDonald's in the middle of the night while we are all asleep for sustenance for their middle of the night video game marathons.
So, outside the house, Aidan might've felt "like a loser", but here he had a safe spot to be who he was. A place where his parents tried to make sure that he was pushed enough to learn and grow but not so far it was detrimental to who he was, in his soul. A place he could learn and discover his passions, likes and dislikes, and become the person God intended him to be. I hope it was a place he felt he could share his real self without worry of what others would think of him.
Our Aidan has come a long way in his 18 years, though. He still hates being the center of attention in anyway including his birthday. He'd probably love if we let the day pass by putting a gift on his bed and going on as usual. Too bad for him birthdays are a big dang deal in this family of 9! I am all about celebrating each of my babies as individuals and giving them a day it's all about them. I do make concessions for him, well and some others, I try hard to learn them each individually and try and not put them into too many situations they are uncomfortable in. He graduated high school and is getting ready for his new adventure in college. He's looking forward to starting classes in civil engineering. He's had a job and worked hard since he was 14. He now has a gorgeous, sweet girlfriend we all love and he has a few great buds besides his brother he sometimes has fun with. He loves cars, motorcycles, and music, mostly classic rock. He taught himself guitar, which he's never played for me, though I've begged and begged. That's that uncomfortable side of him not wanting to fail in front of someone, I guess. He's a fantastic big brother and a really great human. I am so proud of him. He unknowingly was my hero. I've always looked up to the way that he always seemed comfortable in his own skin. Being who he was and liking what he like regardless of what others liked or did. He's always seemed so self-assured oddly enough. It's strange that although he didn't like being in uncomfortable situations that he was never uncomfortable with himself.
Perception is a funny thing. My version of his childhood is decisively different than his. I remember being his age. I remember the time when childhood felt like it wasn't so far in the past. I can remember still being able to FEEL the feelings from that time. The awkwardness, sadness at being left out, the thoughts that maybe you just weren't enough. As a parent I hoped that I could shelter my kids from those feelings. That they'd know that they were amazing enough here in our family that those feelings wouldn't stick. Maybe that was unrealistic. Maybe my job is just to be here with my perception when they need it. To share with them that eventually, as you mature, those feelings, residual from childhood, can fade if you work at them. To help them understand that if you tell yourself you aren't those feelings, that you do matter and you are great, just the way you are, that with maturity and time you will slowly start to believe them.
So, someday, I hope as he grows and matures he slowly loses the memories of when he felt bad, uncomfortable and left out. That his main memories won't be the times he felt not good enough. Instead I hope he realizes that having a large group of friends, being the kid that is out going and extroverted doesn't make a successful childhood experience. I hope instead he starts seeing the good things that I remember. I hope that they become his great memories of his childhood. I pray mostly that he remember that no matter what, here at home, he was loved. He was allowed to be him, 100%. That who he is is celebrated and that we thank God everyday for him as an individual.
Aidan, I want you to know that YOU are the kid who made me really hone my mothering. You taught me how to accept each of you for who God designed you to be. I am so thankful for you and all the things you taught me about being a boy mom, about how to be a sensitive parent, and for the lessons on allowing people to be just who they are without exception. I adore you, then, now and always. I cant wait to see where you go!!
Also, sometimes I really miss Spidey and Venom running through my family room.