My disapproval carries no weight and he's too big (and too fast) to wallop. The only thing he cares about is football and if I try and deprive him of that I'm interfering with the passion he shares with Beloved. I'm stumped.
Before I had kids I'd always imagined that I would be one of those parents with natural authority ... all I'd ever have to do was raise an eyebrow - never a voice or, heaven forfend, a hand. Even when, while making a radio programme, I had to be rescued from a class of six-year-olds who had me backed up against the climbing frame, I clung to the notion that when I had kids of my own things would be different.
But I gave up on that idea by the time Buster was four and had me cowering under the table like it was an Anderson shelter while he threw things off the top shelf of the dresser.
Since then I've listened to every shade of opinion about how to handle my volatile little treasure, from the "lock him in the coal hole for six weeks" to the "terrible things will happen if you impede the free expression of his anger" (come to think of it, impeding his anger is just what he wants me to do ... since all words and objects get thrown at me). And at one stage or another I've acted on all of it from zero tolerance (look at me like that again and you're grounded for four months) to total tolerance (I'm sure you didn't really mean to kick me in the leg). And nothing has ever worked. He's not much nearer to controlling his temper now at 10 than he was at four.
The only difference is that now he has lots of very articulate self-justification to back it up and lots of charming apology when he's calmed down. Of course all the anger he's stored up at his parents for getting divorced isn't helping, poor little soul.
I guess my problem with him is that I know how he feels. He's got the gene for Celtic rage and melancholia. And he got it from me. I'm totally familiar with those internal storms that make you want to run amok with a flame-thrower. At around Buster's age I smashed two doors, three windows, a fridge, a bathroom cabinet, a vacuum cleaner and went around with a permanent bump on my head where I cracked it against my bedroom wall in fury. I'm not a lot better now: I slam doors, use language that would make a trooper blush and occasionally throw things. Who am I to tell him not to lose his temper when I lose it over him at least twice a day?
When I see him at the breakfast table with his eyebrows drawn like curtains because there isn't any Weetabix left in the packet, I know there's nothing I can do: it's not the lack of Weetabix itself that matters, what's upsetting is that it is indicative of the hopelessness of his life and his futile struggle against the forces of darkness. No good trying to comfort him and offer him pancakes instead: he sees himself as doomed, unworthy of alternative sources of nourishment or the succour of human comfort. (It's a bummer being a Celt sometimes. No wonder our ancestors ran about painted blue and killing each other. No Weetabix any morning in those days. Don't anybody let a Celt in the White House, we'd hit that Button the first time it was a gloomy Tuesday in February.) Trying to suggest that I have some insight into the race memory tragedy of No Cereal For Brekky is perhaps the unkindest cut of all ... it denies the unique nature of his experience.
I sometimes think that the most help I could be to Buster would be to resign from being his parent. Because I react to stuff just the way he does I can't give him an alternative view. Unwittingly, I do exactly the wrong things and then get paranoid about his future mental health. Other parents worry if their kids will get to university or get a job; I worry if my son will get to 20. Listening to a therapist friend over dinner the other night talking about the sundry Primrose Paths to bonkersness, I worked out that I'm leading Buster along at least three of them.
So maybe I should just give up trying to steer Buster in any direction and let him grow up unguided. So long as I never keep firearms in the house and blunt all my knives this could be okay. Then I could put my efforts instead into a Therapy Fund for him, ready for him to use when he wants. Because no matter what I do, it's like the joke about the psychiatrists: how many shrinks does it take to change the light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.
- Stevie MorganReuse content