Wednesday, April 18, 2012

High Five!

I was driving with G and a sleeping Z the other day and the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” came on and I told G, “You have to know this song. It’s one of the songs of our people.” The internal litany of my fears for his teenage-period drenched my brain instantaneously. As I sometimes do -- since my stated position vis-à-vis worrying is Against -- I proactively reviewed my mental checklist of the tribes that might protectively accompany G through his teen years: Dungeons and Dragons and other gaming groups, dorky smart kids, lonely Goths, Drama Club, the Society for Creative Anachronism folks (sensing some overlap here?)…Then I started to actually listen to the long-familiar lyrics of the song I had instructed him to follow (


“Never mind the song, buddy,” I said, hitting the scan button pronto. Anyway, who am I to decide which people my son will affiliate with? Maybe I am erroneously offering him the signifiers for particular alternative tribes while he is or will be drawn to a completely different subgroup. Still, I hope he will be able to discern and master those actions and items that we use to recognize others “like us” – whatever and whoever they may be.

For now, he’s really digging on “The Black Sabbaths.” One of his signature communiqués involves growling, especially if he thinks anyone is teasing him. Another is his jig of joy, hands and feet flapping, a big goofy grin on his face. Sometimes, during the latter, he trips himself.

I’m not sure I ever quite got the signals just right…but I still have some friends. One time my dear friend Bob  ( was out on a run and passed by my house and I happened to be outside. We had a nice long conversation about aspergers syndrome and how both of us identify as neurologically different and aspergian although we remain undiagnosed. Then, when he was about to leave, we tried to high five…and missed.

Z will have her choice of tribe. She will wear a glitter sock with a thrifted ‘70s hiking boot (real-life example) and the cool kids will think it is cool and the anti-cool kids will think it is anti-cool. My urge with her is more to de-commercialize/de-massify, to offer choices that allow her to go inside and see who she is -- not in-relation but in Herself. 

As things stand, she prefers to be surrounded by acolytes at all times.  The phrase, “I need space” feels useful to many of us because it has a certain neutrality. It sounds better than, say, “I don’t want to play with you,” or “I don’t like you.”

Not to Z.

Recently, my resilient girl was uncharacteristically devastated by two different friends using this phrase with her to, well, get some space.  When, after the second incident, we had a talk about “needing space,” she shared that being told someone “needs space” felt very hurtful, but she also said it was “hard to understand.” Because of the latter, she found the request difficult to honor and exacerbated both situations.

Not knowing what else to do -- and aware I was not being entirely truthful -- I told her, “Mama will never need space from you;” I grabbed her and made her walk around clutched (by me) to my leg for an afternoon, much to her delight.

These “need space” incidents notwithstanding, Z will undoubtedly be able to attract an endless stream of people to her side and she will understand and manipulate their diverse cultural signals and signifiers with ease.  My hope is that she will feel fully worthwhile when alone. I hope she will learn to take “I need space” – in whatever form it is expressed – as, if not a totally positive thing, something that she can at least comprehend...and respect.

Another beloved friend – always a teacher, and variously a dean, headmaster, and minister -- once asked me if I thought that perhaps G and Z in some sense constitute and intensify one another’s differences. He wrote, “I wonder if Z's most challenging explorations to the left sometimes encourage G to the right, sort of like a couple that can afford for either [one] to have a tantrum or ‘break down’ but not both simultaneously.” At times, it does seem to happen in this way; other times, the opposite seems true and they seem to symbiotically draw one another closer.

Despite their seeming to occupy very different spots on a Full Spectrum I have to allow room for these two children to grow in their own unique ways, perhaps even to grow closer to “normal,” and therefore also more similar to each other.

I have to let my children be themselves. But one of them – guess which -- will probably miss high fives a lot of the time.

Most adults, at least, know the proper response to such goofiness: So what?

High five!
Full Spectrum Mama


  1. So much goodness here. You are such a wonderful parent.

  2. Look who's talkin' - and I know we would miss on a high five! Yay!


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