Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The terrible twos

When Isaiah was between two and three he would occasionally rip Carolann and me from our sleep with bloodcurdling screams that Stephen King might imagine. To me it sounded like our grandson was being mauled by some great beast.

Bolting from our bed and across the hall to his room, we would find him thrashing, screaming as if he was being dismembered and then going literally rigid. He was living, panting, trembling rigor mortis. We could not awaken him. We could only hold him and wait for it to pass. Eventually, it did.

The clinical term is “pavor nocturnus” – “Night Terror.” It can afflict anybody but fortunately children are usually spared more than a few of these episodes between the ages of two and six. Only fifteen percent have them at all and then they stop. Nobody really understands why.

But I think I do.

Yesterday I was given my very favorite gift: an invitation to stay with my youngest grandson, Tyler, while his mom and dad worked. Tyler and I have always had a grand time together. I push him on the swing outside and we sing and giggle together. I play with him and his Thomas Train. We read books, we watch Little Einsteins on TV. I feed him junk. I tickle him. He laughs. Tyler loves playing with his grandpa.

Until yesterday.

“NO GRANDPA!!!….NO!!!!!

He not only pushed me away, he was pissed! And who can blame him? When your life is still counted in months you don’t have the communication skills to express fears and frustrations beyond your understanding. Yelling and kicking is about the only choice you have and that’s what Tyler did. He swung wildly, beating on my arms with woefully tiny fists as I gently took him from my son. He thrashed left and right, kicking and screaming, reaching out for his father.

“DADDY!!!! DADDY HOLD YOU!!!!!!”

My son was wracked with guilt for leaving him, even with me. I understood and gently urged him to leave us alone. He left but I know it was killing him.

Tyler is pushing three. He’s a senior toddler. His world is bursting with a 24/7 nonstop fireworks display of new confusions, new reason, new ways of processing information and the incessant assault of new ideas on his fresh sponge of a brain. Everything is a new experience, fascinating but potentially overwhelming. Imagine yourself strapped down on a mad scientist’s lab table with some sort of data super injector lashed to your head. That’s what my grandson is going through. At times it’s a carnival, at other times it’s a bad acid trip. It’s a virtual avalanche of sensory downloads, a cacophony of weird and terrifying celestial music, hard rock, and dazzling flashes of brilliant, shocking colors. This, in itself, is not new to him, it’s the mental state of all human beings at birth. What is different now is that Tyler has arrived at the age of reason and it’s emotional shadow, fear.

Tyler’s instinct is teaching him insecurity. It’s a horribly lonesome journey into a black jungle of faceless threats. And, of course, it is the only path that eventually leads to self-sufficiency. The job of parents and grandpas is to let go. Sometimes, by force.

I had similar experiences, of course, when Jeremy was Tyler’s age. For all of the bumps and hard times I’ve suffered, nothing was as hard as having to walk away from my son and not looking back while hearing him behind me screaming, “Daddy!” However long I live I would rather suffer anything before having to push my child away from me again. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, thankful that the time was behind me. What never occurred to me until yesterday was that I would someday have to watch my child let go of his.

Jeremy tore himself away and went to work, leaving his son in a heart-wrenching fit. I calmly, quietly, repeatedly, reassuringly asked Tyler to let me push him on the swing or play with the wooden Thomas Train or watch Einsteins but he spurned all invitations. I never tried to pick him up because a mere, gentle touch of his head would set him off again. I just let him finish his work. Finally, after a half hour of lying on the floor punctuating his soft crying with occasional angry screams and kicking, when he finally began to tire of it all – I smelled something.

“Tyler,” I asked softly, “do you want Grandpa to change your pants?”

He didn’t look at me but calmly said, “Okay.”

I picked him up. He didn’t kick. He laid his exhausted head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. After I wiped his tears and nose; after changing his pants, I turned on the TV, put him in his favorite rocking chair, and I sat down on the couch. A moment later he got out of the rocker and came to sit next to me. He snuggled under my arm.

We were fine.

Next time somebody tells you about his kid’s “terrible twos” gently suggest he try to imagine it from the child’s perspective.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Prattling

I have a dog behind my butt.

That’s not something I would normally mention but I’ve had a severe case of writers’ block lately and that’s what “they” tell you to do, try to break the mental logjam by just writing about any ole thing that pops into your head. And believe me, when you have a dog sleeping behind your butt, forcing you to sit on the front edge of an office chair it’s a front-of-mind thing. Especially when there is nothing else going on in your mind.

(Sigh…)

I have nothing to say. That’s what it is, really. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I believe in “writer’s laziness,” “writer’s apathy,” and a few other similar afflictions which really amount to neither more nor less than the most dreaded and shameful of literary afflictions, writer’s insecurity.

I have nothing to say. Wait, I just said that. And it’s not exactly accurate. I have plenty to say but no compelling reason to say it. Who cares what I think about anything? There, I’ve said it! That’s the heart of the problem, right there. Why should anybody find anything I have to say either interesting or useful? Why would anybody even read such drivel as this?

The dog just jumped down and left the room. I rest my case

In our book, The Aging of Aquarius, I think I mentioned how my father ruined me for talk radio long before I ever got into the business. When I was a young teenager, fourteen or fifteen maybe, he told me, “Everybody says you have a right to your opinion. That’s only half true. You have a right to an INFORMED opinion and if you don’t have all the facts you can’t form an opinion.”

What the hell was he thinking? What kind of country would we be living in today if everybody realized he couldn’t possibly know all the facts and should maybe just shut the hell up? We’d have nothing to do but smile and listen and nod in approval or, at least, in earnest fascination. Instead, we’re all too busy thinking of what we’re going to say to listen to the person speaking. Besides, we have talk radio and TV news to tell us what to think and how to feel. Oh, don’t kid yourself. That’s exactly what they do! That’s what everybody is doing if you think about it.

Text messaging. No, I’m not digressing, just taking a short trip around the block. You know what text messaging is? It’s a marvelous new technology that has made it possible for us to express our ill-informed opinions and half-baked ideas without being challenged, questioned or opposed! Think about it. Now you can phone somebody and tell them what you want to say without having to listen to and feign interest in any response! That’s what the kids are doing. In essence they’re saying, “I have something to tell you…don’t care what you think.”

And, we have blogs. Ugh. I hate the word. “Blog.” It sounds like some vile vat of I-don’t-want-to-know-what boiled over a wood stove and served with a fatty piece of rat gristle at some pagan medieval feast.

The dog just returned. She’s looking at me with keen interest.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe the fact that every teenaged, barely sentient hominid with ten fingers and a Best Buy gift card can fire off missives and proclamations to the future is a good way for society to blow off steam. Maybe blogging and My Space and Facebook will save the world by turning the next Osama bin Laden into a mutant nerdbot before he has a legitimate feeling and becomes dangerous.

‘Scuze me. I need to slide down to the very edge of the chair and arch my back over the slumbering Yorkie for a moment. Oh! That’s better.

But here’s the thing: I write these words and push a couple of buttons and like magic they’re on the WORLDWIDE WEB! So the “f” what? Excuse my implied profanity. Who fricking cares? Who notices? It pops up on my screen just like it was when I wrote it except now I know that anybody in the world can read it! Will they? Why would they? Why should they?

See my problem?

And please, as much as I know you mean well, please don’t send a comment to this essay telling me how much you enjoy my writing. Seriously, if anybody does that I will be doubly embarrassed because I know it will just be a pity compliment. So, don’t.

See what my wife has to put up with?

PS. I don’t think this stream-of-consciousness thing works too well, do you?

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

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