race car brains with bicycle brakes

Tolliver turned six and a half this summer. We made a little deal out of the day. Mostly because it seems that we can’t do much else right, and he feels compelled to complain about lots of things: The specific t-shirt he wants to wear isn’t clean. The music in the car is too loud, the television is not loud enough. I didn’t bring the right snack for him. Or the right towel! His water bottle is not cold enough. He doesn’t want to go out for dinner — he’d rather stay home and ride bikes. The tape isn't sticking right, the Legos aren't clicking right, the watermelon is cut the wrong way.

Most people who know Tolliver well also know the story, from several years ago, of the front porch flowers versus the umbrella.
We had a similar situation last week, on a day when temperatures neared ninety degrees. Tollie sat in the shade for over an hour, watching his brothers play with other children in the fountains. He could not participate because I had not packed the right swimming trunks for him, and he did not want get his clothes wet.

I wonder if he came with red hair as some sort of warning label? Of course he’s a super charming, charismatic, polite boy most of the time. And it’s really just us, his parents, who are on the receiving end of his negativity. His mood at home is still mostly analogous to a slot machine - we don't always know when we’ll be lucky enough to win cherries and cheerfulness. We are eager to learn how best to respond to his moods so that we don’t add fuel to the fire, and so we can navigate this phase with humor and understanding.

Sometimes I'm able to detect a faint shift in his face and know religiousness has overtaken him, so I try not to give him anything to push back against. He will invent arguments if he is feeling belligerent enough. Like yesterday, seriously, he DID NOT wake up Tucker at too early o'clock, he WAS JUST ASKING TUCKER A QUESTION. NOT WAKING HIM UP!

Harsh words have the predictable effect of heightening Tollie's boldness, almost in defiance of them. His voice becomes louder, laden with panic and frustration, his anger a larger revolt against the loss of control or the humiliation of being wrong or the increased pressure of responsibility. He has an underdeveloped brain, and at six years old, an overdeveloped desire to be in charge, to court danger.

Recently one grandmother explained that Tollie's brain is developing at such a quick rate, the ‘wiring’ and functionality may be temporarily defunct, the neurological workings unsettled as they adjust to the growth. She asked me to try to see my six and  half year old in the same light that I see my toddler. When my toddler is cranky, I don’t get mad at him, I try to figure out why he’s cranky. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s hungry, maybe he’s been in the car too long and he is restless. Maybe my school-age child is too.
There are lots of developing brains around here. Including my own.

Tolliver put together a putting green challenge in the basement the other day, and built a golf club out of Lego bricks. I helped, supplying materials and testing the course, watching him create and encouraging his ideas. I think attention might be the purest form of generosity. He thinks pizza and a consta-clean favorite shirt are. I stocked up on extra pepperoni and laundry detergent and am doing my best to keep his love tank full.


Poppy John said...

Jenni Baby,

Thank you for this post...I believe it will be beneficial in helping me cope with Sandy.


rht said...

It's not just you and Andy... it's just that he's with you most of the time. Tols ordered a can of juice to drink with lunch at the Works the other day, while Tucker ordered a cup for lemonade. I thought there might be drama when it came time for refills, but decided to let it be a learning experience. Soon, we discovered that you can ask for a small cup for water for free. But it's not lemonade, and once you've got that cup, it's all about the honor system. After lunch Tollie cheerfully helped someone find just the right part for the car she was building... and his cup overfloweth again. His family -- and Ms. B -- just keep filling it up!

Kristy Grachek said...

I feel like you’re writing our future with said 14 month old. But damn aren’t we so lucky?! XOXO