Sunday, November 6, 2011

Welcome Rejection (Babble)

(Quinn organizing his trick-or-treat haul.)

I think the kids are about at the end of their Halloween candy.  We try to have them just eat it and be done with it as early as possible, but Mona is oddly good at delayed gratification and she still had some candy saved from Fourth of July that she mixed into her bucket, so it’s hard to know for sure.  My kids stash stuff in weird places, like squirrels, so I really don’t know at this point.

But the Halloween decorations came down this weekend, and the pumpkins are gone, which is my cue to start preparing for birthday season.  I can’t believe Quinn is going to be five this month.  When I started this blog he was still two (back in the days when he did map puzzles), and it amazes me how much he can still be my baby and such a big kid at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about all the things that have changed in the past year, what’s different and what isn’t.  I honestly believe that now, more than a year since Ian returned from Iraq, that Quinn doesn’t remember the deployment.  It’s just too long ago in proportion to his relatively short life so far, and there are too many new things each day crowding out old memories.  He’s not sure what we mean when we talk about possibly returning to Incrediroll, I don’t think he’d recognize anything in Chuck E Cheese at this point, and I would bet he has few memories of our old house.  So I really believe that the idea of his dad not being around all the time is foreign now.  Which is great.

Quinn is a stubborn little guy.  Very smart, very dear, but when he had it in his head that he didn’t like his dad when Ian returned from the last tour of duty, he stuck to that with a tenacity that was impressive.  The most disheartening manifestation of that was at the school pickup.  I maybe pick Quinn up after half-day kindergarten once or twice a week.  Usually it’s Ian.  All last year I was greeted with hugs and love and squeals and smiles.  Ian was greeted with silence on a good day and a tantrum on a bad one.  Quinn would slump when he saw his dad, and plod along slowly.

We decided on the days Ian picked up Quinn he should bring him something special, so we let our son pick out Pop Tarts at the store and Ian would have one along for a snack for the ride home after school.  If I picked up Quinn there would be no Pop Tart.  I figured at some point Quinn would associate his dad with Pop Tarts and be happy to see him and it would be a start.  A Pavlovian start, but something in the right direction at least.

But it didn’t seem to work.  All last year Quinn stuck to his guns and would never say it was good to see his dad.  His behavior improved toward the end, but was never particularly positive.

This year has been better.  Since I work outside of the house more often than Ian does, he’s still the main stay at home parent and the kids are accustomed to having their dad around.  It’s so much better than having their dad be like some fictional character we talk about and pretend is a part of our lives I can’t even tell you.  I think back to that and still feel great relief that things now are so different.  But getting here has be gradual.  Which is good, especially when dealing with a smart and stubborn little boy.

Last week when Ian went to help out on a field trip with Aden’s class, I got to pick up Quinn at the half day and take him with me on errands.  We had a lovely time, returning things at the fabric store and picking up groceries and splitting a KitKat bar outside of Target.  But the best part was at the pickup itself.

Quinn bounced in the line when he spotted me on the playground, ran to me when he was finally released, gave me a huge hug with both his arms and legs and he laughed and he smiled and made me feel like the luckiest mom in the world.  Then as we started to walk away from the school Quinn went slumpy.  He still held my hand but he drooped and moved slowly.  I asked what was wrong, and he said sadly, “It’s just, I like it better when dad comes to get me.”

Part of me realized that I should be hurt, because what mom wants be feel rejected like that?  But I had to turn my head so Quinn wouldn’t see me smiling.  I loved hearing those words.  The amount of parental affection has been so lopsided that there is no sense of loss from my end if it shifts at all.  I’ve been waiting for it to even out for so long.
Because I couldn’t help it, I asked Quinn why he preferred his dad at the pickup.  (The girls are very clear that they’d rather have their dad get them at the end of the day because he lets them play outside there as long as they like.  I always have eighteen places to be and must leave so I am not the preferred parent in that scenario, either.)  Without hesitation Quinn said, “Pop Tart.”

So it did work.  It took a long time, and Quinn sees through the game a bit, but when he spots his dad after school it makes him happy.  I know at some point that will be true even without the promise of a Pop Tart.  I love my guys.  Life is good, and getting better.
(Although I did finally find the limit of my son’s love for me.  He draws it at Almond Joy bars, which when he was laying out all his Halloween candy he declared to me he would not share.  That rejection I take a little harder!)

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