He delights in torture, but he holds my hand, and never shields me. Because the best shield is to accept the pain. Then what can really destroy me? Let me close my eyes and lie invisible, and perhaps the clouds will pass through me.
But they’re not. The clouds aren’t passing through. I am in the fog, the fog of The Boy, and trying to understand how I can make him happy again. Because at the moment, every day is a struggle, and although there are brief shards of light and laughter, they only throw the dark clouds into greater relief.
He doesn’t want to go to school. Every morning, it’s the same. The moodiness, the sulkiness, the deliberately slow act of getting dressed, sniping at The Girl, storming ahead of us up the driveway. Silence most of the way to school. Once The Girl’s been dropped off, I try and talk to him, to try and cheer him up. Sometimes it works. Some days he goes in happily. More often it doesn’t, and so I embrace him at the school gates, feeling the sense of resignation coming from him in waves, my heart heavy with unconditional love as he trudges slowly into the playground, looking back at me just before he goes round the corner, and making the heart gesture with his hands.
I’ve tried talking to him. The school have tried talking to him. I’ve tried talking to the school. But there’s nothing, no obvious cause. He’s not being bullied, he’s popular, his work is good, he seems happy in class. He’s eating normally, sleeping normally. But the hour before we say goodbye is the longest hour of the day. And once home, any reminder of school sets him off into either a silent sulk, or an explosion of temper. Sometimes he leaves notes for me to find ‘I’m not going to school tomorrow Mum, please don’t make me, I love you, I miss you too much when I’m at school so I’m not going.’ He’ll talk to me openly about it, when no one else is around, which I tell myself is a good thing. At least he’s talking. At least he’s being honest. At least he’s not ashamed of feeling how he does. He’s not trying to keep dark thoughts hidden.
But I can’t help him. I can support. I can alleviate. I can distract. I can reassure. But I can’t help him; I can’t fix what’s going on in his head. I can’t change the way his mind works. And what I see is me. My failings, my flaws, my fears writ large that I see reflected in him. Because I know I felt the same way when I was his age. The only difference is that I kept my thoughts to myself.
And it terrifies me. If he’s thinking this way, feeling this way, just as I did, then what does the future hold for him? My beautiful boy, the baby who would turn his head when he heard someone laugh, assuming that anything funny somehow involved him? The toddler who would reach out and gently touch every child he passed, as a sign of affection, friendship, warmth? The Boy who falls over laughing at some of my terrible jokes? The Boy who cried last week because he accidentally tripped his sister up and she hurt herself? The Boy who told me he was crying because he felt stupid and useless…
It doesn’t seem to matter what I say or do, or how much I keep telling him of his good qualities. That he’s kind, gentle, thoughtful, caring, polite. Every teacher he’s ever had has praised him again and again for his sensitivity. ‘He’s such a nice boy.’ Even a stranger on a plane this summer praised me for my good fortune in having such a sweet and funny boy. Every day I tell him to believe in himself, that I believe in him, that I love him, that he matters, not just to me, but to plenty of other people too. But none of it seems to make any difference.
I’m his mother. I should be able to make things better for him. But I can’t. All I can do is be there and hold his hand for as long as he wants me to. And it breaks me. On a daily basis. To see my son hurting, to see him struggle with the fear inside him. I do so much to help. But I can only do so much. And so much is not enough.