Sunday, 19 January 2020

A good boy.

Today in the supermarket I saw a good boy. Well, I think we all did — heard him, anyway.

He stood two checkouts away, with his mother. His head was about the height of the counter-top, and he was a sturdy little kid, so I guess he was maybe two-and-a-half. 

With concentrated anguish, through tears, loudly and with increasing desperation his head turning slowly to right and left but his eyes fixing on nothing because his interior world had entirely overwhelmed him he kept grinding out insistently that he was a good boy.

His mother, ignoring him studiedly, stood in determinedly relaxed mode beside him, chatting to the cashier. She looked as if she had been here many times before, the veteran of a never-ending series of outbursts and meltdowns. 

He didn't fall to the floor, and though his wails were full of despair and his eyes full of tears, he held it together enough to use words — as, in our family, my daughter always reminds her own son to do. I think this little lad was probably using every ounce of strength he had to convince his mother in the supermarket that he was a good boy. "Nevertheless she persisted", not listening.

I wonder what had happened. 

I guess he saw something he wanted and couldn't have. Maybe he'd been promised a treat if he would be a good boy. In the world of grown-ups, a good boy is quiet, patient, responsive, obedient, waiting quietly and following on, standing aside, standing back, standing . . . standing . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . What no boy ever has been by nature, especially at two-and-a-half, under pressure of the universal stimuli of a supermarket.

I guess his mother ran out of patience, and when his behaviour failed to conform to requirements, the treat was withheld, put back on the shelf. Or maybe he just wanted some sweets and he'd already had his allocated amount for the day.

He reminded me of my grandson, who melts down similarly in anguished tears. I remember the day his mother was struggling to preach in our chapel while he larked about and got into a fight with another child over which one of them got to play with her visual aid. I took it away. He was distraught. He summoned all his control to ask for it back politely — and I said, no. So he curled up on a chair next to his mother (nevertheless persisting with her sermon) tears streaming down his face, glaring at me in helpless rage. And I glared back. I am the wrong kind of adult for this kind of child. I am implacable. So is he. Even so we love each other, and respect each other immensely — it's just, neither of us ever gives in. I believe in it as a strategy, and I think I may be completely wrong.

Today in the supermarket, as I listened to the futile protests with their concentrated misery, "I'm a good boy . . . I'm a good boy . . . I'm a good boy . . .", my heart hurt for him. And for his mother. For all humankind.

On the way home, I thought about how they say God is our Father, and I wondered how this played out with me and Him. I cannot imagine myself insisting, before an implacable God, that I am good. I don't feel good; nor bad, either, particularly. Most of the time I am just afraid — of losing Him if I take my eyes off Him for one second, of automatic doors closing between us and shutting me out, of losing hold of His hand in the crowd. Am I a good girl? How the hell would I know? I am only lost without Him, because I belong to Him, I have nowhere else to go.

I prayed for the little boy on the way home from the supermarket. God agreed with him, he is a good boy; but he is a good boy with ADHD or ASD or something, in a world swirling with traffic and sugar and tempting, brightly coloured mass-produced plastic objects — a world where it's no longer safe for a little boy to roam and run free. I prayed for God to help him out, to bring some kind of a positive outcome from a miserable afternoon.

God bless that good boy. I bless him with the love of the Lord. Please give him a break, Father. Please help his mother. Please give them both what they need. And may both of them, their whole life long, manage to hold on to a firm belief in their own goodness.


Julie B. said...

My heart goes out to both of them too. Thank you for telling us about these two. I wish I knew their names, but I will pray for them. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

All around the world, we can pray for them. May their lives fill with love like a bowl of happy light.

Suzan said...

My hear breaks. I have been there with my son. He tired and still tries to be the good boy and choose the right. He fails. Thislast week we have had discussions about aggression not meaning just physical violence...yes the poor dear is in trouble at work and cannot see why.

I pray for this family and yours.

greta said...

when i am out and about, i often come across distressing scenes like the one you described. it can be heartbreaking. literally. when we open our hearts to that pain, just as you did, not turning away but taking it in and praying we offer healing to the world. let us break our hearts open so that love can pour out into the world. bless you for your heartfelt prayers. i will add mine to yours and julie's.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Suzan — I think the world becomes instantly a more encouraging place if we recognise that, regardless of the results, people are generally speaking doing the best they can, given what they know and what their capacities are. May your son be blessed and his path be eased.

Hi Greta — A question my mother often asks, with increasing puzzlement as she becomes senile, is "Whose fault is it?" (about any problem under discussion). I often explain to her that whatever has come about is not anyone's fault, that there is no need to blame anybody, this is just the way it is. But her question — "Whose fault is it?" — is ingrained in me because she brought me up. When I see difficult relational dynamics out and about, like that kiddie in the supermarket, my go-to inclination is to work out whether it's the parent or the child doing it wrong. I think I need to grasp that they are both doing their best, but that doesn't always make it work well because life just isn't easy.

LuciePayne said...

Dear Pen, heartbreaking because I’ve been there, loving my son so much but his angry behaviour left me feeling ashamed and a ‘bad mother’ under pressure from other mothers at the school gate to have a perfect little darling. I hate myself for putting the social shame ahead of my sons needs, and can easily see how this mother may have felt the same. She set her limits. 30 years later is too late to recognise it as, to pick up Greta’s theme, I can see it is ‘no ones fault’ but a dynamic between two human beings. I grieve for the lost opportunity with my son to have been a better mother, less anxious and worried, but the experience I have now is a result of the accumulation of all my mothering and I can only hope it makes me a better person now. My son is marked by that time-our whole family was under under stress then - my constant prayer is that he knows he is loved. I can only hope it helps.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

My prayers for them both.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Lucie — I think, for me, a *huge* difference between when I was raising my own family, and today, is the modern de-emphasis on obedience and control. Sometimes it is the same old thing re-designated into different vocabulary, but I do see in my daughter a willingness to just let her children be what they are — where I felt the need to make them be what I thought they should be. In my childhood (and I carried it over into my mothering) there was a strong emphasis on behaviour. Of course behaviour is an external. My daughter places a greater emphasis on the *child's* perspective, from which 'behaviour' is merely a result.
For the time we were in, both the home I grew up in and the home life of my children were remarkably open and free, receptive to dialogue and to respecting the child's point of view. Even so, I (like my mother) had definite and inflexible standards for when we were out and about. And of course, the stakes have been raised with regard to the challenges of neurological diversity now we all have Roundup in our bread and frankenwheat to deal with.

Hi Elizabeth — waving!

LuciePayne said...

Dear Pen, thank you as always for understanding and going to the heart of the matter. You put it absolutely perfectly by saying ‘behaviour’ is an external. As a young mother, I wanted to pound and push my children’s natural behaviour into perceived ‘good’ behaviour. My sister and I were raised to never make a fuss, to be seen and not heard, to be polite above all else. We are still battling 60 years later to confront rudeness or express ourselves. But the lost opportunity of listening and encouraging my children when they were young has gone, though luckily, some natural resilience seems to have been planted none the less and they are pretty articulate in the face of the world! Blessing and my prayers to all children and adults still grappling with becoming themselves with joy and light.

Pen Wilcock said...

Amen! x