This has been a really fun week with my kids so far, and it’s Tuesday, so I think that’s saying quite a lot. Between sledding and Jake’s thoughtful Shel Silverstein library book selection, I’ve really been enjoying the best parts of being a mom. And yet… Jake said a few things that are weighing heavily on my heart and I’m not quite sure how to handle them. (Consider this a plea for parenting advice, and feel free to interject any ideas down in the comments.)
This story all started late last week, when the whole family was sitting around in the living room, loosely watching television and working on various projects. Ever so casually, Jake mentioned that his friend Luke was really curious why he [Jake] wasn’t invited to a mutual friend’s birthday party, when everyone else had been. His tone was very matter of fact, and though he nonchalantly threw this at me, I could catch what he was throwing. He did not even concede the slightest hint of disappointment in his statement. I focused my efforts on not reacting to his statement, hoping desperately in my mind that Jake’s Asperger’s tendencies would become useful and he would be immune to the potential slight. I returned an equally matter of fact banter. “And what did you tell him?”
Jake responded something very generic about not being able to read his friend’s mind, so “how should [he] know?”, and he quickly changed the subject. I decided to follow Jake’s lead and let the subject rest. Later, while tucking the boys into bed, I decided to crawl into bed next to him and cuddle him, just as I used to do when he was younger. I played with his hair and talked to him about all the reasons I love him. As we were getting really comfortable, I asked him if he was upset about not having been invited to the birthday party. He reluctantly admitted that it had hurt his feelings. And frankly, who could blame him?
I tried to reassure him that birthday parties these days are rather expensive, and I was quite sure his friend’s mother and father had probably set a specific limit to the amount of people that could be invited. I hypothesized with him that if his friend could have, he probably would’ve invited all of his friends, and maybe even the whole school! But… since that isn’t a very realistic idea, inviting a whole school, his friend probably had a really tough job trying to decide just who should go. And, very likely, his friend was probably just as bummed that he couldn’t invite Jake as Jake was not to receive an invitation.
Then, I reminded Jake that last year, when he had his birthday party, I would only allow him to invite one friend for each year of his life. He could not invite everyone he would’ve liked, and when all was said and done, he was just as upset as his little friend Sam had been that he couldn’t have more people than he did. And Jake got a little teary when he remembered how upset Sam had been. And I thought it had really eased his mind.
So, fast forward to this week, Jake and I were sitting on the couch together again, working on our various projects. I could tell something was on his mind, so I asked him if he had heard how the party went. His response almost sounded angry. He told me that all he had heard was his friends cheering, about what sounded like an inside joke. I asked him very honestly if he felt left out, and he acknowledged that he did. My heart broke a little when he admitted that, but I felt like it would still be healthy to talk about. So, I continued to remind him that these things happen in life and he really needed to try not to take it personal.
And then, Jake dropped a bomb that felt like an anvil crushing my heart. He told me that he’s pretty sure that he was left out because of how he looks. He said that he thinks when people look at him, they think he looks weird. And when he looks at himself in the mirror, he only sees a warthog. I asked him why he would say such a thing, (did someone say this, or is this self-loathing a new hobby….) but I couldn’t really get a good answer. Nor could I think of a good answer to return.
Eventually, I ended up asking him if he thought I looked like a warthog. He decided that I was pretty, sort of. (In a mom kind of way, apparently.) I tried to convey to him that I thought he was very handsome, and people tell me all the time that he looks just like I do. I also told him that every time someone tells me that they can see our resemblance, I am flattered, because I love being associated with such a handsome little guy. And that’s the truth. I think he is very handsome, I definitely see the resemblance in our faces, and I feel blessed every time I look at him. But sadly, the resemblance does not end on a superficial level. I believe he has inherited his self doubt and self conscious thinking patterns from me. Though as I age I’m getting slightly more comfortable in my own skin, I too have always looked in the mirror and found more flaws than beauty. And I feel a sinking pit in the bottom of my stomach worrying that Jake has to waste any of his time feeling as terrible as I have over the years.
I know that rejection, learning to deal with rejection and self appreciation skills are part of life lessons that we all have to experience to grow into the amazing people we will become. And yet, I’m still at a loss for how to deal with this, other than smother him in adoration, which I fear may be counterproductive. I’d welcome any stories and thoughts anyone might have to share.