Today was a particularly difficult day with Dan, full of tantrums and defiance and rudeness. And at one point he shouted at me, as he sometimes does when he gets in trouble for this kind of stuff, "I'm stupid! That's why I do this stuff!" No, you're not. "Yes, I am! I'm the stupidest person in the world! I don't know anything!"
Later, when I tried to ask him about the "stupid" business, he insisted that he feels like he really is stupid, and that there's all kinds of stuff ("like, school stuff, like math") he should know and be able to do, and he doesn't or can't. Which is patently untrue, but he wasn't listening. But just the other night, he had a nightmare that left him panicky, speechless and nauseous; the nightmare had been about feeling stupid and like his head was full of wrong answers.
So I worried my way through the evening about raising an out-of-control child with anxiety and self-esteem issues.
As I tucked him into bed tonight, I whispered, "I know that you're really trying hard to be good. But it's hard sometimes, isn't it?"
"But I know you're trying," I said, adding, "And I'm trying hard to be a good mom. It's hard for me, too."
He nodded again. Then he spoke. "You know the other night, Mom, when I said I was dumb?"
"I think it was because people were like, "What's 564 + 655? Give us the answer in five seconds, or else we'll shoot you!"
"You were getting really hard problems, and you couldn't answer them?"
"Maybe you feel like you're being asked to do something that's too hard for you."
A thoughtful nod.
"Do you feel like it's too hard to control your temper and do all the things you're supposed to?"
A shrug and a "not really" face. Hmm.
"Do you feel like school is too hard?"
"Maybe you feel like what you're doing for drum lessons is too hard?" Kind of a stretch, but he does complain about that sometimes.
No, not really.
Then, "You know what's really hard at school, Mom?"
Here it comes, I think. Get ready to listen.
"What's hard at school, sweetie?"
"Whenever we do partner work and it's time to choose partners? Like, half the class wants to be my partner and I'm like, 'What? I can't be everybody's partner!' and I'm all, like, stressed. And then I choose one person, and someone else will like, start to cry and stuff."
Huh. Not quite what I'd expected, but okay, let's go with it: "Wow, that's tough. You must feel bad about having to say no to people."
"Yeah. They're like, 'I said it first!' 'No, I said it first!" and really, they said it at the same time. I mean, how am I supposed to pick when there's so many?"
"It's like hundreds of people are surrounding me doing rock-paper-scissors for me, and I'm like..." He sighs rolls his eyes. "It's probably because I'm so good at writing and math and stuff."
"Could be. Or maybe it's because you're a nice person."
"Yeah, maybe...probably both."
"Yeah, probably both."
"Anyway, it's really hard."
Yeah, it must suck to be popular. He may be struggling with his temper and power/control issues, but his self-esteem seems to be intact.
Not that I don't feel for him; he's actually had this problem since kindergarten--kids fight to sit next to him, fight to hold his hand in line, and by making a choice, he feels like he has to hurt someone's feelings. "I'm going to be R's partner now, but I'll sit next to you at lunch if you want" is small comfort for a kid who wants to be his partner now. It's not like the hordes he describes/ imagines--more like two or three kids. Still, it's positively bizarre, considering what nerds his parents have always been.