Since the day he was born, my youngest child has marched to the beat of his own drum. Last year, we learned the hard way that this doesn’t always make for a smooth school career. This year though, he seems to be sailing along pretty well. He’s grown up a bit, learned to play the game if you will. That, combined with two well-matched teachers have made for a much better year than we lived through last year.
Until this morning. Today is Halloween parade day at school and he picked out an Iron SpiderMan costume a few weeks ago that has been hanging in his closet waiting for its debut. He tried it on last night and declared he wasn’t trick or treating.
I kind of left it alone, figuring he’d come around. He’s always had some sensitivity to clothes so I figured the costume, which is like a giant body-size pantyhose, bothered him. He’s also not real keen on the dark, so he’d probably realized that the trick or treating would happen in the dark and his anxiety reared its ugly head. I thought time might ease the worries and we’d be back on track for treats.
This morning I came downstairs to find him in jeans and a t-shirt telling me he was going as himself for Halloween. Oh, and he still wasn’t trick or treating. The older children made it abundantly clear how they felt (he’s weird and they would not be sharing one single piece of their candy with him no matter how nicely he asked) and he stood firm on his decision to stay home and pass out candy.
This is one of those moments as a parent where I’m faced with not just one but about six forks in the road. Do I force him to dress up and trick or treat in anticipation of him being so upset if he missed out? Do I let him make his own decisions, trusting his eight year old soul enough to know himself? Do I just stay silent and let the whole thing play out knowing he could change his mind 14 times before Halloween night? Do I bury my head in my pillow and sing la-la-la-la trying desperately to remember when my decisions did not affect the future lives and potential mental health of other people?
I’d like to choose the last one. But I won’t. I’ll obsess over the decision over the next 24 hours and ultimately I will probably let him decide in the end because that is my way. For better or worse, I try very hard to get out of the way of my kids learning to know about themselves and than champion for what they feel they need. I say try because there are very many decisions that I make around here because I am the mom and no other reason. Sometimes, I know best. It’s that simple. I’m pretty old school like that.
In this case though, it’s really not going to hurt anyone if he trick or treats or not. He may have to deal with some teasing at school today if he doesn’t dress, but I figure he’ll learn the consequences of being different and he can decide if that’s worth it. I will be here to pick up whatever pieces need mending when he gets home.
The upside is that by allowing him to know and assert himself, I am helping to shape him into a confident advocate in the future. After all, my job is to grow good adults and sometimes that means stepping back and letting them feel what it’s like to be just that.
Here’s hoping it feels better than a scratchy costume and fear of the dark.
Cristie Ritz-King is the co-founder of JMB. She currently finishing a master’s degree in crisis counseling which will likely come in handy at a home full of children and pets. You can read more over at Reinvention Girl.