Lest people think that things are all roses and birds here at the Hillhouse, I would like all to know that as I write Elihu is in an absolute frenzy. It is after nine, and it is bedtime. Usually, I’d say 99% of the time these days it’s a smooth affair. But tonight, as he was finishing his bath, I told him – as I do many such nights – that I had to go and shut the chickens in. He wanted to go with me. As it was late, raining and also a school night, I said no. He launched into a tirade. A half an hour later he is still begging me to see the chickens. He yells to me he’s tired, and he’s ready to fall asleep but he ‘needs to see his chickens.’ It goes on, at top volume. Now he’s bargaining with me. He has modified his request to simply see the baby chicks that reside in the basement brooder. I am trying so hard to keep my anger at bay. This is a time when I question my treating him so much as a peer. Maybe I’ve blurred the line. Maybe I’ve put too much on him. Usually he’s very reasonable. Not tonight.
I’m not sure how this will turn out. He’s making threats now. He’ll says he’ll throw something. He says he’ll damage something if I don’t let him see the chicks. I told him no he could not see them, and that he was to stay in bed. I told him that was the last I was saying to him on the subject, and told him good night. I’m tempted to respond to him as his protests mount, but I stay myself. Something inside me tells me to hang on. Be strong. Ride it out. And I remember all the nights when he was a baby, a toddler, an angry, strangely possessed creature. Often he would have nightmares long after I’d pulled him from his crib and brought him into the light and into my arms; he’d be flailing his arms at some imagined monsters while I was talking to him, holding him close. At eight he is still afraid to go to the basement on his own. If he’s outside he needs to call to me if he gets out of visual range. I reflect on this. Is tonight about sheer anger at his world? Fatigue? Hidden anxiety? Is is that I haven’t been firm enough with him? Nurture or nature? I understand that he can’t see me when he’s more than twenty feet away. I understand that it’s still tricky to know he has half siblings that don’t live with us, and that daddy lives with two of them – instead of with us. I understand there’s a lot of emotional chaos under the calm waters. I also know that I’ve always respected his thoughts and desires. I’ve always let him express himself. I’ve listened. Have I given too much? Is this the product of my giving him so much of a say in things? Why is he behaving like this tonight? Maybe it’s just time. We’ve had such smooth sailing, and for so long, that perhaps it’s just due. I don’t know. But thankfully, in the short time it’s taken me to write this little bit, he’s quieted. I’ll wait.
Many minutes later, all is still quiet. I’ll wait until I’m sure. I don’t want to start this all over again by checking on him before he’s out. And he can sometimes take hours to be out. Some nights, when I’m beyond cajoling and prompting I’ll just fall asleep on my bed, waiting for him to finish his bedtime routine. I’ll awake an hour later to find him at his desk, drawing birds. He’ll be happy, relieved to finally see me, and he’ll readily climb into bed with me there to read to him. He is a tough one to figure some days.
He’s out. And my laundry lies in an enormous mound on my bed, just waiting. I too am a little angry I suppose. Nights like this I wonder how different it might be if I had a partner to help bear the burden. I could easily succumb to my own temper right now. I imagine that my laundry would be folded by now if I’d had some help tonight. I wonder if there would even have been an episode at all if we were a family with dad present. But I do realize this is just one night of many. I know that every family has nights like this. I guess I probably have it pretty good for the most part. So for now I’ll pull out a Gilmore Girls DVD, enjoy a moment alone and get this laundry folded and put away.