growing a voice
10 March 2004

An example of remaining weakness: Last Thursday, a bunch of kids were hanging out at school after class was over. Some are typical kids in the aftercare program, others are having floor time sessions with their therapists (excuse me, specialists). They were all outside, taking turns dancing. Damian refused. He ran off by himself. This is something I saw the previous Thursday too: his buddies playing together, Damian off by himself. Disengaged. He enjoys these two boys much of the time but when something triggers a withdrawal, off he goes.

Later during the same session last week, the kids were back inside a classroom, playing a pretend American Idol. Damian decided to tell a ghost story. Which was great, but he has a soft voice. Apparently it was hard to hear him. And the story he told? Not scary. Which is understandable, he’s only five and a half and developmentally probably younger. But the other kids disengaged; they wandered off. He had virtually no audience.

This makes me sad to hear. Damian doesn’t know how to engage in a group activity, doesn’t know how to gauge his audience and stay focused. And his personal power, his voice and affect, are not strong enough to bring the other children into his orbit. It’s all part of the same issue: self-confidence. He disengages when he feels out of his element. He withdraws when his confidence is shaken. Not a good sign for a good elementary school experience in a school with typical kids who run over each other’s words and know how to fight for attention.

An example of growing strength: Damian and Dan were playing a froggie game. Damian’s mouse imprisoned Dan’s two frogs. Dan’s frogs called for help. A policeman with a sword came along to rescue them (Dan). The mouse got a sword and battled the cop, vanquishing him. A larger frog came along to rescue the prisoners (also Dan). Damian’s mouse got a truck to try and run the frog over. When that didn’t work, he got a (bigger) bulldozer. When that didn’t work, he got a bigger frog even than Dan’s. Dan’s frog pointed out that they should be on the same side since they were all frogs. Damian’s frog agreed. He ate the mouse and freed the little frogs.

This makes me happy to hear. He’s problem solving, thinking on his feet. All good. But he’s also playing the bad guy, the powerful mouse who imprisons the hapless froggies, who overpowers the police officer and stands his ground with a bulldozer. Then he becomes the biggest frog of all, the hero rescuer who eats the bad guy. This is progress. He’s taking on the role of aggressor, of the big one with the big voice. He’s owning his power.

It starts here, at home. Small, with the toys. He still doesn’t pretend to be the big frog or the lion or the monster. He still doesn’t talk in a normal voice consistently, even with us. His voice rises up into his throat. He squeaks, high and small. Or he speaks quietly, almost but not quite a whisper. The whisper that was his exclusive voice three years ago. This lack of confidence, this fear of being known, it's been with him a long time.

I think it comes from his underlying neurological issues, the sensory dysfunctions that made things harder to fathom, harder to process. He couldn’t trust his body to do what he wanted, couldn’t trust his response time, couldn’t trust his senses to be accurate. He’s infinitely better now, far more integrated body and mind, but I think the insecurity lingers the longest. If you injure yourself so bad that every step is painful, you have to walk with a limp, you have to twist your body or else you’ll hurt worse, you learn to compensate. You also learn to wince in anticipated pain every time you step normally by accident. Even long after the wound has healed, you’re still compensating. Still expecting it to hurt. I think this is like that. He’s still expecting that his body won’t be fast enough, sure enough, that he can’t trust himself enough. And so he talks softly and plays with tiny frogs and unassuming mice and doesn’t take charge. Yet. But bit by bit he begins to experiment with being the boss, the leader, the guy with the big voice. Bit by bit by bit. And really, that’s all we can ask.

If you don't read my blog, you may be interested in my ongoing investigation into elementary schools for next year. Or maybe not. I've written four entries so far: Kindergarten Here We Come, More on Kindergarten, Schools Revisited, and Kindergarten is Complicated. I expect to write more. If you're not interested in the rest of my blog (that's fine, I don't care)(but you're missing out), you might still like to read my cute kid and parenting issues category pages (the four entries are all in the latter).

That is all. For now.

last // home // next

current log / Damian essay archive / other essays archive / what's all this, then?

copyright 2004 Tamar