There has been a sea change in Lyle, my five-year old. I’ve written before about what a sensitive little soul he is, how easily thrown off kilter he can become at times. He’s required a lot of stability and emotional processing to maintain his sense of equilibrium. And a lot of me.
Throughout the past few years, everyone who knows him would say that he’s a serious “Mama’s Boy”, and if they were being honest they’d have described him as very “clingy” to me. From the time he was an infant, he wanted ME ME ME and let everyone know it. (In fact, due to his articulation difficulties when he was a toddler, his pronunciation of “Mommy” was actually “Mimi”, which was apt.) For a couple of years now, if I was around, no one else would do – not Daddy, not beloved grandparents or favorite aunts and uncles. In fact, one of our biggest challenges has been that he would be very rude to those people in his denial of their overtures, especially to Matt. If there was a story to be read, Mommy had to read it and if there was tucking-in to do, well then, that would be done by Mommy, too. This is not uncommon as a childhood phase; as a way of life, it’s something altogether different. When Mommy and Daddy didn’t buy into this, the insults would fly in Daddy’s direction. Interestingly, he’s always been fine when I’m not here. That’s not to say that my walking out the door was ever easy for him, but once I was out of the picture I could be gone all day or even most of a week and he’d cheerfully let other adults care for him without any concerns about me, so that’s been a blessing. But obviously the situation hasn’t been ideal.
He knew that the rudeness toward others didn’t fly with me. I made it clear that it hurt my feelings as well as theirs when he rejected people so harshly, and quite a few times he lost privileges and I refused to put him to bed at night because he’d acted rude towards Matt. Although those reactions stung, they didn’t take care of the problem. I used to try to figure out how to improve upon his relationship with Matt, but the part that didn’t make sense was that they were fine together when I wasn’t around, so I didn’t actually think that was the problem. Eventually I realized that the problem had to lie somewhere within his relationship with me.
I started out by telling him that if he had mean thoughts about other adults, it was okay to talk to me about that in private so that no one else heard those hurtful words. He took to that immediately, and after an initial spurt of whispering horrifying insults about others in my ear at bedtime, he actually stopped altogether. At the same time I tried a new tactic with him, which was to work on shifting his expressions of adoration for me in different directions. This seemed counter-intuitive because he was expressing this all day long – it’s just that his means weren’t all that pleasant. I realized that his clinginess and whining didn’t pull me towards him, but rather made me want to run in the opposite direction much of the time, and so he probably wasn’t getting what he needed in the end, which I guessed was exacerbating the problem. I told him that he can always tell me how much he loves me, he can ask for snuggles any time he wanted, and he could always ask nicely for me to play with him or read to him and I would as soon as I was available. It might seem obvious, but sometimes a small child needs to hear these things spelled out for him. I made myself extra available for all of that during the period when I was really working on it with him.
Sure enough, over time things improved greatly. His expressions of love and adoration for me continue to range from notable to over the top. He is still absolutely a Mama’s boy. After all, this is the child who came out of his room crying the other night after I’d put him to bed, sobbing, “I can’t sleep! I just can’t stop thinking about you!” (I look forward to telling him that when he’s about 14.) He prefers that I brush his teeth, read him his story, and snuggle with him before he goes to sleep. He wishes me sweet dreams every night, and asks me how my day was in the evening. At dinner when we say what we’re grateful for every night he thanks me for “the delicious dinner” even if it’s something he won’t eat, and he’s prone to suddenly grabbing my arm and hugging it with all his might while we’re eating. He will often come and tell me he needs a “snuggle”, and we spend a few minutes cuddling on the couch together before he moves on again. The other day I noticed marker stripes on his fingers and asked what he’d been doing at school. “We colored with markers in art,” he informed me. I asked what he’d drawn, and he said, “It was a note for you, Mommy, telling you how much I love you!” and sure enough, this was in his backpack:
Lyle has decided he won’t go to college because he has seen that some kids leave home for college – and he’s never leaving home. He recently mentioned a girl in his class whom he admires, and became very giggly and silly when talking about her. I saw her for the first time last week – she is the only girl in his class with my long, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin. I almost laughed out loud when I saw her. Of course!
It’s like living with the world’s sappiest boyfriend, but the difference is marked: now he can ask for what he wants, get a few minutes of time with me, and then move on happily to the rest of his life. His interactions with Matt are very pleasant.
Once in a while, for a few hours or a couple of days, Lyle will transfer his overflowing love to his special doll, Baby (in the photo above), or a favorite stuffed animal. I know that someday he’ll move on from me, and believe me, I’ll be fine with that. But for now I am incredibly relieved that he’s been able to make this switch to expressing his love for his Mama in ways that are more positive, and that don’t exclude others.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I need a snuggle.