Tag Archives: kids

Parenting, Helplessness, and a Brand New Adventure

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Master Nine came home from school one day in February and burst into tears. “No one likes me,” he said. “Everyone’s mean to me.”

My heart froze. I would do anything to have my children avoid the type of bullying I went through as a child. And yet here he was, saying the exact words that I remember saying at his age. I wanted to scream and shout and wrap my arms around him and never let him go. But before I did anything, I took a deep breath. It was possible — only possible, mind you — that I was overreacting.

After all, he was eight. And it’s developmentally normal for children his age to go through a period where they feel like no one likes them; where they feel like they have no friends as they take place in normal social push-and-pull power plays.

So I listened to him, and I gave him a hug, and l I told him it would be all right.

I was wrong.

By the end of March, Master Nine no longer wanted to go to school.  He no longer wanted to go anywhere. He was scared. All the time. Of school, yes, but also of everything else. He was terrified of familiar stories; of movies he’d seen a hundred times; of the thoughts in his head; of new people and old friends and leaving the house. He couldn’t get to sleep. And when he finally did, collapsing from exhaustion, he’d be woken by nightmares once, twice, three times a night.

Every night.

By April, he was suffering panic attacks every night. He’d lie in bed thinking about having to go to school the next day, and then stagger out, hours later, whimpering and struggling to breathe. I’d put a hand on his chest and feel his heartbeat, like fluttering hummingbird wings inside his chest, then hold his ice-cold hands while I helped him calm down; breathing with him, in and out, and gently reassuring him that he was okay. Eventually, he’d collapse against me and sob himself into a restless sleep, and I’d carry him back to bed.

One day in mid-April, when I was encouraging Master Nine (yet again) to tell the teacher if someone made him feel upset or uncomfortable, he looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do to stop them. Not even the teachers can stop them. There’s no point trying.”

I cried.

I cried for his pain. I cried for my own. I cried for eight-year-old me who felt exactly like the same way, and desperately wanted an adult to step in and make everything better. I cried for current-day me, because now I was that adult. And I still didn’t know what to do.

I thought I’d felt helpless as a child. But being a parent, watching you child feeling helpless, and still being helpless yourself? Helplnessness to the power of infinity.

We need help, like quick, on the double

One morning in late April, Master Nine snuck into my bedroom and said, “Mummy, I think I need to go to the doctor.”

“Okay, Sweetheart. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. But everybody hates me, so something must be wrong with me. If we go to the doctor, she can give me some medicine to make me normal.”

Once upon a time, about six months ago, Master Nine was a confident young man who didn’t hesitate to talk to people — whether adults or children — and wouldn’t let me go with him into doctor’s offices. So on the day that we went to the doctor — after many hugs and reassurances from me that he is not only normal but perfect just the way he is — I realised just how much he’d changed.

He flat-out refused to talk tot he doctor without me, clinging to my arm like a tired two-year-old and not making eye contact with anyone else in the waiting room. When we went into the doctor’s office, he hunched his shoulders over and hid behind my back, then collapsed into a chair, pulled his knees up to his chest, and pulled the hood of his hoodie up over his head so he could hide in its shadows. Over the next ten minutes, Master Nine answered the doctor’s questions in whispered monosyllables . He said only one full sentence during that visit; one full sentence in response to a question about what makes him feel happy: “I don’t remember what it feels like to be happy.”

We didn’t get magic medicine. But we did get a referral to a child psychologist.

At his first appointment, I took Master Nine into the psychologist’s office and waited for him to be engrossed in an activity before quietly making my way back out to the waiting room. The psychologist talked to Master Nine for almost an hour, and then called me in. “He’s highly intelligent, isn’t he?” was the first thing she said to me. “Such a conceptual thinker.”

In the psychologist’s opinion, Master Nine had a healthy attachment to me and the rest of the family, felt completely secure and at ease at home, but was struggling to deal with the trauma of the bullying he’d endured. Her biggest concern was that he’d lost confidence in his own ability to tell friend from foe — he’d developed trust issues. She suggested he start a new social activity — one completely unrelated to his school or anyone he already knew — to get some social “wins” on the board, and taught me some relaxation exercises to use to help him with his sleeping.

Things started to improve a little. But only a little. The relaxation exercises helped him sleep, and nightmares became less frequent. But he still hated school. His reading ability was getting worse and worse, and he was too scared he’d get a question wrong to practice any maths. I started to get concerned not only about his emotional wellbeing, but also about how his emotional wellbeing was affecting his learning. And then, towards the end of May, he started telling me that he couldn’t remember whole chunks of time. A particular example that stayed with me was the time he remembered going into class, then the teacher raising her voice. The next thing he remembered, the teacher was crouched in front of him, gently suggesting he go out to lunch. That’s when he realised the class was over, and all the other kids had already gone outside.

Decision-making is hard

I started thinking about pulling Master Nine out of school back in March — back when his anxiety symptoms were starting to worry me. But I persevered, trying to make things work out. I probably did so for far too long, in retrospect; not trusting myself to make the right decision. I second, third, and fourth-guessed myself.

  • Was I projecting? Did I think things were worse than they really were because of what I’d been through as a child?
  • Was I being over-protective? Was this something he needed to experience to help him grow? Would removing him from the situation stunt his emotional growth?
  • Was this experience something that would pass? Was it a storm in a teacup?
  • Was this experience teaching him resilience and courage? If I removed him from the situation, would that just teach him to run away when things got hard?

I didn’t trust myself to make the decision. And so no decision was made. Right up until a day came when I tried to drop Master Nine off at school and he literally couldn’t get out of the car. Every time he put his feet on the ground, he started shaking and retching convulsively. His skin had turned a distressing shade of grey, and his hands were freezing cold. I closed the car door, got back in, and drove away.

We saw his psychologist later that day. She listened to me describe what had happened, talked to him for an hour, then told me exactly what I didn’t want (but needed) to hear: “He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms. You need to get him out of that environment. Now.”

I withdraw him that afternoon.

Playing the blame game…

The first instinct of people on hearing about something like this is to cast about for who to blame. Well, here’s what I think: Playing the blame game is counter-productive, unhelpful, and irrelevant. And I have no interest in doing it.

I don’t blame the children who bullied him. Firstly, because they’re good kids — I’ve known most of them since they were five years old. And while their behaviour led Master Nine to a place of trauma, it hasn’t (to my knowledge) had the same effect on the other children. Besides, children will inevitably push boundaries and see what happens. It’s how they learn about the world.  They need guidance to help them develop empathy and socially acceptable behaviour. If they don’t get that guidance… well, we’ve all read Lord of the Flies, haven’t we?

But I certainly don’t blame the parents. Again, I’ve known most of them for years. They’re all wonderful, loving, generous, kind people, doing everything they can to raise their children to be just as wonderful, loving, generous, and kind.

It would be easy to blame the school, but easy isn’t the same as right. I do believe there were some systemic issues that contributed to the situation, however as soon as I spoke to the staff about them, changes were made. The teachers and admin staff were responsive and open and caring. They did everything they could to change and manage and improve things for Master Nine. And I thank them for that.

If I was forced to lay the blame somewhere, however, I would lay it at the feet of our society as a whole, which simultaneously condemns and endorses bullying. But that’s a discussion for another day.

New Adventures, Dead Ahead!

Since the day I told Master Nine that he didn’t have to go back to that school, he’s been getting better. It’s a slow process, and sometimes it feels like two steps forward, seventeen steps back, but we’re getting there. We celebrate the little milestones along the way: A week without nightmares. Two weeks without a panic attack. Talking to a shopkeeper. Attending social activities by himself.

Our Homeschool Emblem

Our Homeschool Emblem

And on Monday we start our next grand adventure.

For the next six months (at least) I will be homeschooling him. It’s not something I expected to be doing, and I am heartbroken about the events that brought us to this point, but I’m excited for the future. And that, my friends, is the lesson I hope Master Nine takes away from this. Not that bullies can’t be beaten, or that running away is the solution, but that all hard times come to an end, and the future shines bright.



Filed under Life With Kids

Conversations with Children: When I Grow Up I’ll Be Rich

Dollar Sign

“It would be really cool to be a robber, wouldn’t it?.”

We’re in the car, on our way home from dance class, and Big Brother is thinking out loud.

“When I grow up, I’ll be a robber. Then I’ll be rich. Right, Mummy?”

“Yep,” I say. “You’ll be rich right up until they put you in jail.”

He thinks for a minute and then says, “No, it’s okay. I’ll be a Good Guy robber. And first I’ll tell the police that I’m going to help them.”

I have to admit, I’m intrigued. But I don’t quite understand the difference between a Bad Guy Robber and a Good Guy Robber. “How do you be a Good Guy robber?”

“Well… I’ll only rob from Bad Guys.”

He pauses, and I let him work out his plan.

“Bad robbers only rob people at night. Because they’re bad. So I’ll wait until the morning when the Bad robbers will have to be asleep, and then I’ll sneak into their secret hideouts and I’ll steal all their gold and money and jewels and crystals.”

I can’t help it. I have to ask. “And what will you do with the money you steal?”

He doesn’t even hesitate. “I’ll give it to other people.”

Awww… That’s lovely. “Anyone in particular?”

I glance in the rear-view mirror to see him shrug. “Anyone who needs to money.”

“Okay,” I say. “That’s really nice. And you think the police will be okay with that?”

“Oh, yes,” he says confidently. “Because then I’ll sneak into the police station and I’ll tell them where the Bad Guy Robbers have their secret hideouts. And then the police can go and arrest them.”

“But they won’t arrest you?”

“No. I’m a Good Guy.”

I’m glad he’s got it all worked out. But there’s one thing I’m still confused about.

“So, let me get this straight,” I say. “You’re going to wait until morning–”

“So the Bad Guys are asleep,” he interrupts.

“–so the Bad Guy Robbers are asleep. Then you’re going to sneak into the bad guy’s hideout and steal all the money and jewels they’ve stolen from other people–”

“And crystals!”

“–and crystals. Sorry. Then you’re going to tell the police where to find the Bad Guys, and you’re going to give all the money away to other people. Right?”


“So how is this going to make you rich?” I ask.

He sighs. That long-suffering five-year-old sigh I know so well.

“Oh, Mummy. I’m going to give all the money away to people who need it. But I’m going to keep the crystals. You know, like diamonds and rubies and emeralds…”


“Do you understand now?”

Oh yes, I understand. But we may need to move to a bigger house to accommodate his Merry Men.

And his “crystals”.



Filed under Life With Kids

What Colour is Skin Colour?

New Crayons

There are certain questions that our children ask that we’re ready for. And then there’s the other 99%.

That’s not to say these questions are entirely unexpected. Just that they’re unexpected in the moment.

And so you um and er and babble a bit while you desperately try to figure out the right thing to say. Because, above all, you don’t want to say the wrong thing and horribly scar your child for life, dooming him to a sad and degenerate life of poverty and drug-use.

Because one not-quite-perfect answer is bound to do that. Right?

Anyway, I had one of those questions the other day.

One of those questions that means nothing to the child, but hits a social or political nerve with the adults around him.

“Mummy?” Big Brother asked, not even looking up from the picture he was colouring in. “What colour is skin colour?”

“Um,” I answered eloquently. “It’s… um…”

My impressive non-answer got his attention and he looked up at me, all big blue eyes and trusting expression. Because Mummy knows everything, right?

Yeah. Right.

“Well…” I said, my brain running on overdrive. “What colour do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why I asked you.”

Mutter mutter smarty pants mutter mutter.

“Well…” I said again. Then a moment of inspiration. “What colour skin do your friends at school have?”

He thought for a few seconds. “All different colours,” he said. “Some have blonde skin like me. And some have brown skin. And all sorts of different colours.”

He went quiet, and then looked at me with the intensity that says he’s just made some kind of intuitive leap of logic. “Can I look at your arm?”

I nodded and moved closer.

He put his arm next to mine. “Mmmm…” he said. “Your skin and my skin are a bit different.”

Then his little face lit up. He knew the answer. “Everyone’s skin colour is different!” he announced.

I smiled and nodded. I wouldn’t have thought of that answer myself, but it’s true. And you can always rely on a five-year-old to see what’s in front of him.

“Why did you ask?” I said.

He picked up a crayon and looked back at his picture. The conversation was done. “I just wanted to know which crayon to use for the boy’s skin.”

“Well, I guess you can use any colour you’d like,” I said.

And that’s why we have a picture of a blue-skinned boy on the wall.

Have you ever felt put on the spot by a child’s question?




Filed under Life With Kids

It’s Only Cute the First Seven Hundred Times

Big BrotherAs a parent, there are several milestones you look forward to on your child’s journey to adulthood. Learning how to walk, for example. Or, in the case of boys, managing to use the toilet without peeing all over the floor (and walls, towels, spare toilet paper, etc). Maybe even that magical day when your child finally moves out of home.

But I digress.

One of the biggest, most magical milestones of all is when your little bundle of joy starts to talk.

Both of my boys have been what we in the parenting business refer to as “late talkers”. That’s to say that, unlike my friends’ children who were saying real words by eight months old, my boys didn’t say their first words until well after they turned one.

(But I can assure you, they quickly made up for it by talking incessantly.)

Regardless of when it happens, though, there’s a magical moment when your child looks up at you and calls you Mummy. And your heart melts.

In most cases, Mummy is a child’s first word. Sometimes the second word if they choose to say Daddy first.

Have I mentioned before that my kids aren’t like other kids?

Big Brother’s first word was ‘cheese’. This was followed quickly by ‘car’, ‘tyre’, and then ‘Mummy’. (‘Daddy’ didn’t come until after he’d mastered ‘truck’, ‘shoe’, ‘train’, and ‘sky’.)

So on that wonderous day, when Big Brother smiled at me and said, “Mum,” I stated with absolute certainty that I would never, even get sick of hearing him say my name.

Little Brother was a bit different. His first word was ‘Ta’. Which was nice. And then ‘Mummy’.

See, look how cute he is:

Dear non-parents,

This is not cute.

I mean, it is. But…

Do you know how long my “I’ll never get sick of hearing Big Brother say my name” resolution lasted? Less than a week. It may have even been less than a day.


Okay, I’d like you to do something for me. I’d like you to watch that video of Little Brother again. It goes for 15 seconds, so I want you to listen to it four times in a row. That’s what it’s like to experience one minute of my life.

Now listen to it 240 times in a row. That’s roughly one hour.

Still think it’s cute?

Ah well, there’s always the next major milestone to look forward to.

How old do kids have to be before they can move out of home?

Did you make any crazy, impossible to keep resolutions before or soon after you became a parent?


Filed under Life With Kids

Dramatic Tension Runs in the Family

Big Brother is five years old, and is a born storyteller if ever there was one. He makes up stories to tell to his brother. He makes up stories to tell to us. But his favourite thing is to create “puppet shows” where he can set the stage with his toys and then use them to make up a story. Then, it’s the toys who have the starring role.

Some days it’s a joy to listen to.

This is one of those days.


His story today went something like this:

Sir Silver and Sir Black are facing off on the top of a tower. There’s a dragon nearby, and a T-Rex across the river.

Sir Silver: You’ll never get away with this!

Sir Black: Haha! Yes I will! And now I’m going to kill you for NO REASON!

Sir Silver: Noooo! I’m going to hit you on the head as hard as I can! *bash*

Sir Black: *crying* What did you do that for?

Sir Silver: Because you said you were going to kill me.

Sir Black: But I was only playing a game. I wasn’t really going to kill you.

Sir Silver: Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were playing a game. Do you want to be friends?

Sir Black: Okay.

…and that’s when the horde of zombies attacked.

Do your children delight you with their storytelling abilities?


Filed under Life With Kids

It’s Funny Because it’s True

Building Blocks

“Mummy?” called five-year-old Big Brother.


“Can you come and look at my building?”

I sighed, but abandoned the sink full of dirty dishes, shook my hands free of most of the soapy water, and walked to the playroom. Big Brother had built an impressive tower of blocks. “That’s great!” I said. Enthusiastically.

“Thanks,” he said, already paying more attention to his building than to me.

I returned to the kitchen.

Two minutes of silence.



“Come have a look at it now.”

“I’ll be there in just a minute,” I said, trying to get just one more plate clean.

“Okay, but don’t be long.”

One… one thousand… two… one thousand … three …

“Are you coming?”

“Coming!” I shook my hands again and returned to the playroom. There were an additional four blocks on the tower. “Looking good,” I said.


Return to the kitchen. Stick hands in water.

“Mummy? Come have a look now!”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I said. Seriously, he hadn’t even had time to do anything yet!

“Okay. Are you coming now?”

“In just a minute.”

Two-year-old Little Brother wandered past me into the playroom. I sighed and followed. This could only end in tears. (Probably mine.) In the past, the only reason Little Brother ever wanted to go near the building blocks was so he could destroy whatever his brother was working on.

But not this time.

By the time I got there, Little Brother had stacked a few blocks on top of each other. “Brother!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “Brother!”

“Yes?” said Big Brother.

“Look! Look!”

Big Brother looked up from his building and nodded, “That’s good, Little Brother.” Then he looked at me. “Look at my building, Mummy!”

He’d added another half-dozen blocks. In all fairness, it was pretty awesome. “You’re doing a great job,” I said. “What’s the bit on the side?”

“A stable for the horses.”

“Great job.”

Then I returned to the kitchen.

One… one thousand… two…

Little Brother’s shrill voice. “Brother! Brother! Brother! Look!”

Big Brother. “That’s good.”


Little Brother again. “Brother! Look! Brother! Look!”

“That’s good, Little Brother. Mummy! Come look at my building!”

I sighed. I knew it was too good to last. “Coming,” I called.

I walked into the playroom to see Little Brother proudly waving his hand in front of his older brother’s face and pointing to his own building. “Big Brother! Look! Look! Look!”

With a frustrated sigh, Big Brother stared at him. “Little Brother, you don’t have to show me every single thing you build, you know.”

Ah, sweet irony.

I don’t think either of them understood why I collapsed into near-hysterical laughter.



Filed under Life With Kids