I recently discovered a blog called Hyperbole and a Half that is really pretty wonderful — not only is the writing good but the blogger illustrates the posts with fun little scribble drawings that somehow capture the essence of everything in the post just perfectly. Today's post, "Menace", was all about how the blogger discovered the nature of power — and how addictive it could be — at age 4 by means of a dinosaur costume.
The story is fascinating to me at this particular moment because of a discussion I had with a friend, whose 8-year-old son is best buds with my 8-year-old son and a pseudo-big-bro to Eric, my D+ child.
[blogus interruptus: I mean "D+" to be "Diabetes-positive" which is a recent Thing I've adopted to try to rid the squirrel-y parts of my brain of negative thinking around diabetes. It's a mental word game — appending "diabetes" with "positive" is intended to reinforce to my emotional brain that I shouldn't feel bad when thinking about diabetes — get it? I started doing this when I was talking to a bunch of med students a few weeks ago about Eric's Dx and realized I was having to fight back tears over emotions I encountered half a decade ago. I'll let you know if it works when it is old enough to become habit. Onward with the blog post.]
So the story I was trying to tell, before I so rudely interrupted me, was this.
We had a wee difficulty with Eric at school a week ago. His teacher called to inform me that Eric had upset another student in his class by ... how shall I put this? ... expressing a desire to free himself of the burden of homework by Wile E. Coyote methods. Think about Acme and the various products it supplies to Mr. Coyote and you'll get the idea; Eric had conceived a fantasy plan to perform a Wile E. Coyote-style act against the school, with his loathing of homework cited as the rationale. The other kid reported this statement to the teacher, and as obligated by law, the teacher reported the "threat" to both me and the principal. Eric, needless to say, had a Firm Talking-To from his father and myself.
Now, Eric's distaste for homework is hardly a mystery to me. Homework time at our house goes like this:
Me: "Nate and Eric! come sit down and do homework."
Nate: "Sure, Mom!" [removes work from backpack, sits, completes it in about 15 minutes, with or without my help.]
Me: "Come do your homework. NOW."
Eric: "I don't want to do homework. It gives me a headache and makes my brain crooked."
Me: "Your other option is to go directly to bed, this instant."
Eric: "But Maaaaaah-aaaaahm..." [bursts into faux tears of anguish]
And so on and so forth. It usually takes about 20 minutes of insisting and vaguely threatening the loss of all he holds dear [Legos, generally] to get him to sit down. Actually DOING the homework takes about half that time, unless he decides to screw with me as I'm enforcing its completion:
"Here, Eric, write 'dock' on this paper."
"OK, Mom. [writes] D-I-C-"
I discussed this in brief with his teacher yesterday. I happened to be there picking him up for gymnastics class at the end of the school day, and he had to go to his class to get something he'd forgotten. Teacher and I had a short confab at the door — a preview of next week's parent-teacher conferences. The good news: Eric had made no further terrorist threats toward homework and all that contributes to it. The bad news: She made it clear in so many words that while she considers Eric a bright child, his performance is... somewhat less than she would expect of a child with his smarts. Long story short, he is what you might call "resistant to the educational process."
I know that Eric is bright. I also know that he takes great pleasure in hiding his abilities from those around him. When he reads one of the little first-grade level books sent home each night [of the "see Spot wag his tail" variety], he reads very slowly and stumbles over the words a lot, claiming he "doesn't know" a lot of words and phrases — which I know is an act put on for my benefit. Because when he's not being asked to "perform", he reads very well. At bedtime, when we read together because that's what one does at bedtime (meaning, it's not "for school") he reads very differently. And frequently, he will pick up a book or a movie and read the title or part of the cover text to me because he has a question about it. Often it includes words that I'm quite surprised he knows. He picked up my copy of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe recently and showed it to Mark: "Hey, Dad, look at this! It's The Restaurant at the End of the Universe! We should read this after we get done with The Hitchhiker's Guide."
[Clarification: The kids like to listen to the radio show version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Now, the phrase "restaurant at the end of the universe" is indeed mentioned in the show — but it's an audio-only version. Eric has, to my knowledge, never learned to READ the words "restaurant" or "universe" as part of his reading vocabulary.]
In other words, he picks up information quickly and easily — when he wants to. And therein lies the problem. When it comes to school, he just... doesn't want to.
In my discussion with the friend I mentioned back at the beginning, I developed a Theory. The short version goes like this: Eric's life is shaped by something over which he has no control — diabetes. He is obliged to take special steps so that other people can manage his condition, yet even these people don't really give him a sense that they're in control either — how can they? Even managing by the numbers as we do, there are outside forces that come along to rock the boat. Celebrations involving cupcakes that necessitate a call to Mom; inexplicable hyperglycemic episodes that mean a mid-day site change; explicable hyperglycemic episodes that mean an unscheduled 15-minute jog around the play yard with the nurse's aide. Kids love consistency; Eric doesn't get it, at least not as much of it as the other kids get. And a child who is subject to inconsistency will attempt to exert power over those factors that are within his ability to control. And what CAN Eric exert control over?
Learning. Or, more specifically, displaying what he has learned.
In short, he's the kind of kid who would deliberately give the wrong answers to all the test questions just because he wants to mess with you. You're going to test me? Fine, I'll make it so that you don't get any usable data by doing so. I fear his motto is going to be a variant of the "Don't Tread On Me" so beloved of our neighbors in New Hampshire — or maybe, the simpler version beloved of children everywhere: "You Can't Make Me"!
"I don't know" is a dinosaur costume Eric puts on to enable him to be in charge, to have a sense of power. He gets a kick out of causing frustrations in the adults who so frustrate him, by (as he perceives it) making his world uneasy and inconsistent. And more than just a kick — comfort. A sense of control.
I will, of course, discuss this with his teacher. Poor soul. It can't possibly be easy to find a way to work around a diabetes dinosaur.