Good parents avoid labels such as ‘Henry, our little athlete, Mary our little mother, Poppy our little jokester.’
There are so many reasons why it is a mistake to label our children. Once they’ve been cast, they often strive to meet those expectations. Even when they are mis-labeled, the effect can still be profound. Parents can miss a whole slew of information because they’re not looking for it. If the ‘mother’ child makes a joke, the parent fails to notice, because that isn’t the jokey child. If the jokey child runs a four minute mile, no-one notices. We see what we expect to see, we miss anything and everything that doesn’t fit into our preconceived perspective. Or maybe that’s just me?
“I’ll make an appointment as soon as they’re open dear.” “Now?” “No at 9:00, they open at nine.” “What time is it now?” “Er….7:21,” I scurry after him like a jogging buddy even though I am terminally allergic to any form of exercise. “How many minutes?” “Er…….99.” “How many seconds?” “Er…………………..five hundred……five hundred and forty, I think?” “I will have a different pill?” He has lost the ‘non-verbal’ part of his label. I have lost my marbles. “Maybe, or perhaps a smaller one. Do you remember the doctor showed you the three sizes of pills” “Yes. It is the pill that gives me the headache?” “Yes I think so.”
As we chat, he moves. My slow lugubrious, laborious, lethargic 8 year old marches swiftly around the house and I follow in his wake. When I say 'march,' I mean exactly that. Instead of walking on his tippy, tippy toes, digits splayed, he has his heels on the ground, a rare and quite startling alteration, but only one of so many. His hands touch the furniture in time to the band of his feet, but his head flicks towards me at regular intervals. “As you were saying….” he says, which nearly makes me trip over my own feet. “I was? What was I saying?” “You were saying about tummy aches.” “I was?” “Yes. You said that they weren’t as bad as headaches.” Where has my recall gone? “Ah yes. Well I don’t really know, but I think that headaches are so bad that you can’t do anything, just lie down in bed, but with tummy aches you can keep going.” However, I’m not really sure that I can keep going? It is only 7:22 in the morning. The pill has been in his system 40 minutes and I am already completely out of my depth, trotting behind my son, trying to catch every word. I am so muddled and befuddled.
I have been told that most people are already set in their ways by their early 30's rather than their 40's. We become incapable of adopting a major change. At best, we can hope to alter less than 5% of our character, behaviour and opinions. Imagine that! A titchy little 5%. The only caveat to this research is where a person has a life altering catastrophe, such a near death experience. Those individuals cast off the shackles of the past and are reborn. I had accepted this fact as truth. The idiom 'old stick in the mud,' could have been tattooed on my forehead, but now, evidence to the contrary blasts me on a daily basis.
“Wait up! I’ll be right back.” He lifts a hand in a parting farewell gesture as his body shifts into super fast gear and whizzes out of the kitchen. I scramble after him, through the galley, past the utility room, into the garage, out of the door, down the path I scamper after the galloping, sneaker covered, feet of my son.
This isn’t my runner. This isn’t my Houdini, the energizer bunny that spins into the path of oncoming traffic. This is my dormouse, the sleepy, gentle child curled in a teapot.
This is the wrong son doing the wrong thing. I hear the traffic and see my shambolic boy, as he widens the gap between us. I run. I see the traffic. I run faster. I hear the hoot, the blare of a horn. I fly, dressing gown gaping to rugby tackle him to the ground.
It only seems a few seconds ago that I was too scared to correct his speech, fearful that the few words that he spoke voluntarily, would dry up. This is all so new, relatively. I’ve been reluctant to risk correction, short of rephrasing and repeating the right version. Far to scared to extinguish the spark.
“What are you doing mum?” he asks slightly dazed, sprawled on the concrete. I squeeze him tight and run an eye over him to see how much damage I’ve caused. “It’s o.k. mum, I’m not hurt, er hurted, I mean hurt, I was right the first time!” “Oh.” “What is it, what’s wrong, why are you crying? I only went to get the newspaper for you! Here, it’s got a great picture on the front!”
Post script - please do not rush out to your paediatrician based on this post. There is a huge downside that I've not had a chance to compose, other than the OCD. There is no such thing as a free lunch.