He is tiny, wailing in my arms until he settles down to nurse; we both sigh as we land on that island of bliss. He yanks at my long hair as he sucks, before I decide to have it cut.
He’s a toddler in a Batman t-shirt, pounding painted pegs with a little wooden hammer into a wooden cobbler’s bench. It’s a good way to get his anger out, but why does he have so much of it?
On his first day of kindergarten, he walks close to me. He looks uneasy, apprehensive. Several weeks later I go in to help on a Friday, a day when I don’t take the train to the city to work, and find him sitting in the corner, scowling, on the “time out” chair. The teacher says that he just wouldn’t settle down, and then he shoved another boy. She doesn’t seem all that concerned, but I am troubled, mortified.
We read parenting books and take parenting classes, my worried, goodhearted husband and I. Neither of us had parents who raised us the way we’d like to raise our son—we were yelled at daily, sometimes hit—and we haven’t absorbed the skills naturally. We try to be firm and consistent and always calm with him. We argue at times about what we should do. We love him so much, and bringing him up is far harder than we ever imagined it would be.
He is eight, in a fit of hilarity as our dog tries to catch his remote controlled car in our back yard. He stops to pet her, and he and his dad and a boy from his school who’s come over to play take turns throwing a ball for her to fetch. Later, when I remind him to fill her water dish, he shouts, I will! Leave me alone! but never does; I finally do it myself.
At our third-grade school conference, the teacher smiles sadly as she tells us he’s frequently “wearing his cranky pants.” He’s volatile. He’s bright, but he’s scattered; he often won’t sit still and focus on his work. These are things we’ve heard before, the last two years, and seen ourselves. Have you thought about taking him to see someone? she asks.
The woman we take him to tells us, after meeting with him a dozen times, that she doesn’t see pathology, just temperament. You’re going to have an interesting ride, she says. If we want, we could go for full neuropsych testing. It would be a big expense; our insurance doesn’t cover it. We talk about it, put it off.
He is eleven, banging on the drum set that he begged for and we bought for him, his hair flopping into his eyes. Overall, he’s doing well in school this year; he has a good teacher. Perhaps he’s growing out of it.
He is thirteen, and sullen. He won’t start his homework; he won’t go to bed. He’s addicted to computer games. If we didn’t limit screen time, he’d play constantly. But he is getting mostly “B’s” in middle school, and he has some friends.
As a sophomore in high school, he comes home looking dazed and blank, and shuts himself into his room. When he eats with us, he barely speaks. If we even try to talk to him, he yells at us. His grades on tests and papers range from “A’s” to “D’s.” A friend of mine calls to say, with a quaver in her voice, that her daughter reports he’s in a group of kids who smoke pot every day, both after school and at lunchtime; they sneak away.
When we take him to someone else for help, he gives one-word answers to all the man’s questions, whether we are there or not. He won’t talk, and he won’t take diagnostic tests.
We just don’t know what else to do. We hear about a therapeutic boarding school. They aren’t really mean to the kids, we’re told. It’s tough love. Just the thing he needs. It really turned our son around. It’s extremely expensive. We’ll have to get a second mortgage on the house.
He is in the back seat. The hood of his sweatshirt is over his head; he looks like a gray turtle. He screamed, I’m not going! and Screw you! and worse, but then he got into the car. We’re glad we didn’t have to have him dragged out of the house by force.
And then, at a red light, he opens the door that wasn’t locked, darts into traffic, runs away. By the time we pull over, he’s nowhere in sight.
I am desperate, frantic. More than I have ever wanted anything, I want for him to not be gone.
I hope when he found a place to walk onto the tracks and saw the train bearing down on him, he felt defiant, brave and strong. Or suddenly peaceful. Or angry and bitter. Anything but terrified.
He’s a baby, sleeping in his crib. His eyelashes make smudgy shadows on his luminous round cheeks.
He’s three, barreling down the playground slide while I wait at the bottom with open arms. He is smiling, laughing, squinting at the sun that shines into his eyes.
About the Author: Cynthia Dorfman lives in Berkeley, California. Until recently, she worked as an investigating attorney for the state’s judicial conduct board, while leading a double life as a fiction writer. Another of her short-short stories was recognized in Glimmer Train’s very short fiction contest. She is at work on a new novel.