From The King RD Bible
As the people were gathering around him, RD said, “The parent in today’s story seeks validation. He looks for a miraculous sign. But the only sign he will get is the sign of Lewis.”
After a great day with relatives at The Melbourne Museum, the bathroom’s a steamy noisy snapshot of our busy lives with Maki and Tyson making tsunamis in the bath and Archie and Lewis yelling enthusiastically at each other like two sopranos nude-fighting to the death in the shower.
The volume is expected and normal and registers no blip on my Dad-rader for bad or questionable behaviour but I am holding onto some anger from something that occurred earlier in the day.
During the ten minute walk from the Museum to the Tarago, Lewis, feeling aggrieved at the world for some reason – and noting that we were weakened and suffering under several responsibilities including a toddler and a three-year-old while negotiating thousands of holidaying families and a major roadway – pounced like a hyena on a wounded wildebeest. He lagged behind, antagonised his younger brothers, stayed beyond reach and responded to demands and pleading from his parents with facial expressions more suited to a tourette’s syndrome affected birthday clown.
There was a moment there when I felt the rise of that primitive and temporarily satisfying urge to rage-out but, as always, am relived to have navigated my way through a stand-off with one of my children while keeping my temper in check.
Right now, I’m tired to the point of feeling lobotomized, and this is probably the reason I make the crazy snap decision to add extra work to our regular evening bath-time routine.
‘I’m going to shampoo your hair first,’ I say to Archie and Lewis. ‘And then I’m going to condition it.’
‘What’s condition it?’ Archie asks.
‘Shampoo makes your hair clean,’ I say, as I pull Lewis forward of the water and start soaping his wet head like a gambler shakes a money-box for that last elusive coin, ‘and conditioner makes it…’ I lean down to look at the bottle at his feet and read the label, ‘…slick* and smooth.’
‘What’s slick?’ Lewis asks.
‘When I’m finished with your hair you’ll know what slick is. You’ll freak out at how it feels.’
I have one eye on Maki and Tyson in the bath as I utilise hundreds of shower lessons worth of skill, almost without thought. I counter Lewis’s child-like instinct to move his face away from the water by pushing the palm of one hand into his forehead – to keep him semi-submerged and screw-faced – while using the other hand to wash the conditioner from his hair.
‘Feel it now,’ I say.
‘Dad, it’s so smooth,’ Archie says, touching Lewis’s hair as well, and then emphasising his approval with three loud wet arm-farts.
‘I know,’ I say. ‘And now it’s time for you both to get out, get dried and get dressed so I can get focussed on your brothers.’
Two hours pass and Reservoir Mum and I have whipped up a mean dish of hair combing, pyjama matching, nappy pants applying and book reading to our four bed-avoiding saplings and finally Maki and Tyson are down for the night.
While RM heads out the back to give the dog a ten minute walk I tuck Archie in and ward off inquiries into his next chance to play Wii Skylanders as I give him a hug and kiss, and after answering this tricky question Dad, did you have any secrets you kept from people when you were a kid? I’m on my way to Lewis’s room.
Within the space of one thought, as I move two meters down the hall, I am aware of the past six years of Lewis’s life. My overwhelming love for him is the platform here, but the battles we’ve had with each other are riding atop for the moment and, as always, I worry about him at the same time that I feel some doubt about the approach RM and I have taken with his more challenging behaviours.
We have stood strong against suggestion and unsolicited advice that we should be more ‘old fashioned’ in our approach, that we should employ smacking, longer periods of isolation, the restriction of ALL toys and many privileges. We’ve rejected that idea and adopted an approach we hope is more appropriate for this boy we know so well.
I enter his room to find him sitting on his bed, the Footy Record from yesterday’s trip to the MCG sitting on his lap. He looks up at me and smiles. His conditioned hair is sporting sheen under the bedroom light.
‘Dad, can you read this to me?’ he asks.
‘Yeah,’ I say, sitting next to him draping an arm around.
When I separate myself from the doubt and the frustration and the tiredness I feel like things are going okay, that Lewis – now six – is becoming more stable and capable of controlling himself, but the worries will always be there. And they burn brighter in my mind following an episode like today’s meltdown at the Museum. I need to continue to remind myself that our rejection of heavy-handed parenting is correct for us and correct for Lewis. But tonight I feel I need validation from an outside source.
Many who have witnessed the ferocious tantrums from Lewis’s earlier life, his acting out behaviours, his frequent and spirited displays of defiance have labelled him as quickly as they were turning away – spoilt, undisciplined, a brat.
RM and I – who have been on the frontline from day one – have seen a very different person: a boy in possession of a whirlwind of emotions and fluctuating hormones that he has lacked the experience and maturity to regulate and express appropriately. A boy who loves very deeply and in looking for that love in return has frequently misinterpreted certain cues around him. When he’s been at his most difficult it’s because he’s felt hurt or left out, ignored, embarrassed, overlooked.
We’ve always thought it would be wrong to be overbearing and to punish him for being young and unskilled, or for feeling unloved. And the times we’ve lost our patience and gone that way have only reinforced his misinterpretations and caused his bad behaviours to escalate. We decided we needed to stay patient, to point towards what was appropriate, as we allowed him to mature at his own pace.
I’ve just ran through every player on the Geelong Football Club’s list and I’m pumped he’s developed a passion for footy and when I lay back on the pillow with him and turn off his bedside light I’m feeling a tired melancholy glow.
We do the usual squeeze routine for cuddles and after he releases my neck the air rushes back into my lungs and I say, ‘You’re hair smells so clean, Lewy.’
‘It’s slick,’ he says, spitting on me a little bid, and then, ‘Dad?’
‘I’m sorry I was bad today?’
‘When?’ I ask.
‘At the Museum,’ he says, whispering.
I take a moment to swallow some emotion down and do my best not to drift into euphoric imaginings of an all-knowing, all-powerful life force responding to my inner request for validation. Lewis has recognised, acknowledged, and apologised for his behavior today and that’s worth another squeeze.
‘Thanks mate,’ I say, letting the doubts slide for a nanosecond. ‘Thank you for saying that.’
* It was only while putting my head on the tube of conditioner that I noticed I had misread sleek as slick. I take full responsibility for this error.