We’ve been on vacation in Maui for the last two weeks, and as we’re about to head home, I wanted to write down something I learned last week that was really difficult, both so that I’ll remember it, and so maybe you can learn from my error.
We were staying at a nice place, with a waterslide that led to one of the pools. We ended up here because we thought that J might like the waterslide, since he’s shown so much recent affection for pools and water. It turned out, he was really opposed to trying it, and really scared by it. Because this was really similar to his reaction to going to a pool, at first, I thought it would be good to get him to go on it at least once, and if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have to try it again. After much coaxing, he finally went, and he had fun, but didn’t want to go on it again.
The second-to-last day we were at the place, I was tired and irritable, but we were going down to the pool to go for a swim. I thought, “This is the last day we’re likely to go swimming, maybe we should go on the water slide one more time.” So, I asked J if he wanted to go, and he said “no”. I followed that up with a “Come on, the way we get into the pool is by going down the water slide.” That led to a weird standoff, because I didn’t remember the earlier interaction, where that one trip down the slide we’d told him he wouldn’t have to go again. He got confused, and upset – “I just want to go swimming!”, and I thought at the time that he was just being obstinate – after all, he’d enjoyed the time down the slide before, and he was safe – clearly (to me, at the time), he was just being that reflexive scared of doing new things, and I didn’t want to give in to that.
So it became, “If you want to swim, go down the slide or we’re going back in.” The confused look on his face clearly came from the fact that he remembered the earlier interaction, and didn’t understand what was happening. “Okay, we’re going back in. Let’s go,” and I grabbed his hand, and started walking back to the room.
He pulled away, and retreated into himself, and said, “No more dad.”
I can’t describe, accurately, how heartbreaking it is to remember that moment. At the time, I didn’t understand what his motivation was, and I was irritated because he was being “chicken”. But I was wrong, and instead, he just didn’t want to go, and we’d *told* him he wouldn’t have to go, and *I* was the one who was completely fucking things up, and I was in a foul mood.
“No more dad.”
I ended up negotiating with him that we could feed the fish and go swimming tomorrow morning if he promised he’d go down the slide. He promised, and we went back to the pool, played wholeheartedly, and had a wonderful time. One of those kinds of times I’ll always remember, with big laughs, and excitement, and playing until we’re both exhausted.
Later that evening, Ei-Nyung said something that reminded me of the agreement the week before. J had long since gone to sleep, but the rest of the night, I kept going over our whole exchange, and realized how wrong I’d been. I was miserable. How could I have been so *wrong*, and more, so mean about it?
The next morning, when J woke up, I talked to him – just him and me – and told him that I had forgotten that he didn’t have to go down the slide again, and that while I appreciated that he’d promised to do it, he wouldn’t have to, and we’d still go feed the fish and go swimming. He was happy he’d get to do the things, and that was that. We fed the fish, went back to the pool, and had a great time.
But I will never in my life forget the moment he said, “No more dad,” and I hope that I’ll never do that again. I think one of the things to take away from it is that my reading of his reactions isn’t always right. He has a long memory, and an accurate one, and throwaway comments can have a great deal of meaning to him. He can’t always express *why* something is upsetting him, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t legitimate, or that there isn’t a clear causality – he just can’t express it yet. He’s so articulate that it’s hard to remember sometimes that he’s still just a kid, and sometimes he feels things he can’t yet say.