I’ve been hearing this a lot lately from Dylan: “Riley’s going to be better at that than me.” There isn’t a lot of emotion attached to it. In other words, he doesn’t seem upset or envious; rather, it’s a just statement of fact. Maybe.
Just last week Riley learned how to buckle his seat belt in the car all by himself. Every time I hear the click, I say, “Yay Riley!” Dylan can do it, too, but Riley’s three and Dylan was much older when he figured it out. Riley also opens and closes the car door, dresses himself, takes care of business in the bathroom, and opens Babybel cheese snacks on his own. Again, Dylan does these things, too, but he wasn’t doing them when he was Riley’s age.
The truth is that Riley’s seemingly early independence is a measure (and a reminder) of how delayed Dylan was at mastering some of these skills. His sensory issues caused fine motor delays, so reaching the seat belt across his body and pulling the red wax off of a Babybel were difficult. Other tasks, though, like putting a shirt over his head, were more about a lack of confidence. He feared change, which made growing up a scary proposition. As a result, he held on for dear life every time we tried to push him forward. So, what did I do? I buckled him up. I peeled his cheese. I put the shirt over his head. I babied him.
Since finishing occupational therapy, Dylan’s accomplishments have been miraculous. He fears less, he tries new things, and he’s finally embraced his independence. Still, like most kids, sometimes he regresses. Last night, he wanted to watch Star Wars V. He asked me to put the DVD in for him, but I was busy and said, “In a minute.” By the time I walked in the room to help, he’d put the DVD in himself. I said, “Good job!” and then I picked up the remote and pressed play.
He. Flipped. Out.
He cried and screamed because he wanted to press the button. I said I was sorry, which caused him to cry and scream louder. I tried to fix it by going back to the main menu so he could press the button, but I couldn’t do it and had to shut the DVD player off and turn it on again. The delay only brought on more crying and screaming. At that point, I very calmly told him to go to his room because his behavior was inappropriate, and he cried and screamed all the way there.
After I got the DVD back to the main menu, I went to his room to talk to him about his meltdown and ask for an apology because I was only trying to help. When I got just outside his door, I heard him yelling, “What am I six, or am I a baby!” He repeated it a few more times in between sobbing. I thought he was talking out loud to himself. I thought he was mad at himself for acting like a baby and having a tantrum over a button. I thought he was confused about his internal struggle to grow up. It broke my heart.
I thought wrong.
I walked into his room expecting to hug him and tell him everything would be okay, but instead he looked straight at me and said (without crying), “Why do you treat me like a baby? I’m six! Why won’t you let me press the buttons? I’m a big kid. I should be pressing the buttons.” I was floored. He was right.
To say this was an a-ha moment would be an understatement. Earlier that evening, my sister-in-law, who teaches fourth grade, told me a story about a mother in her class who carries her son’s backpack into school each morning. I told her with a giggle, “I hope I’m not that mom!”
I push Dylan every single day to do things for himself, I praise him every time he helps me or his little brother, and each time he says, “Riley’s going to be better at that than me,” I say, “No way! You do it great, too!” But old habits die hard. I put on his socks and sneakers (sometimes). I help him wash his hair. I pull clothes from his drawers to wear. I carry his backpack to and from the car (but not into school!). I press buttons on the remote control. I baby him.
I asked Dylan to apologize for the tantrum, and he did. Then I apologized to him for pressing the button. I told him he was old enough to press the buttons on his own and I wouldn’t do it again. Then I squeezed my baby tight. He acted immature sometimes, but he was six all of the time, and I needed to embrace that just as much as him.
p.s. I’m not that mom. Am I?