“I think I like being at school better than being at home.”

Those were the words out of my 8 year old Gerry’s mouth the other night.  I was wrestling with his younger brothers, getting them ready for the shower, when he tossed that bomb out at me.

It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except for the fact that he is usually complaining about how much he hates school and wishes he could just stay home.  So this…this was a total twist.

But not a surprise.

I’ve waited a while to write about it, suffering some from writer’s block because the emotions and tears get in the way.  However, this week I’ve been reading A Diary Of A Mom’s spotlight on siblings and her amazing stories of her two daughters have reminded me that I need to put my spotlight back on Gerry.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

But I couldn’t get past the empty page – I couldn’t figure out how to put the right words down.

So I got some advice from an amazing new friend : “Start in the middle.  Don’t look for a beginning.  Don’t worry about structure.  Start with what hurts.  Then write.”

What I said back was this: “You’re right, of course. Except when it comes to watching my oldest struggle, it all hurts. It’s weird, I can write fairly easily about Howie. Watching him struggle with what he does is painful, but for some reason it doesn’t hit my core of motherhood like it does when I write about what a hard time my 8 yr old is having lately. Maybe because I have come to expect things to be hard for my 4 yr old. I just don’t know how to reach Gerry at all.”

I guess I’ll start with that.

In the past month or so, we’ve seen quite a change in Gerry’s behavior at home.  I hate to even write that.   First, he’s a good kid.  An AMAZING kid.  I’ve written so much about him before – he’s the kind of kid that parents want their kids to be friends with.  I can trust him to know right from wrong.  He’s an excellent student and continues to amaze his teachers with his ability to soak up information and his desire to learn more.  He is wise beyond his years and can carry on conversations with his dad that I long to understand.  He is an incredible big brother, tolerant and understanding and patient.

Usually.  Lately, however, not so much.

He is becoming increasingly less tolerant of Howie and his behaviors.  In the past, he’s been able to somewhat ignore the vocal stimming, the loud outbursts, the constant need for attention.  Gerry could play his Lego Star Wars game on the Wii and tune out the noise and chaos around him.  He can’t anymore.  Everything Howie does annoys him.  We’ve been eating in shifts for dinner because Gerry says the noise from Howie chewing with him mouth open is “so annoying I can’t hear myself think!!”

(The sensory avoider does not fall far from the sensory avoiding tree…)

We’ve done our best to control and help the situation.  We’ve told Howie that his babbling and outbursts can happen in our toy room area, but not near the TV or at the dinner table.  We’ve tried all sorts of bribes to get Howie to chew more quietly (I must say my husband’s recent “Jedi kids have to eat quietly in order to sneak up on the stormtroopers” worked well last night).  But we’ve also tried to explain to Gerry that we have to understand that there are things that Howie can’t control, and while we’re working helping him, we all have to be patient and understanding about it.

In addition, he’s worrying about Howie constantly.  He’s asked me many times about what kindergarten will look like for Howie – will he have an aide?  Will he take the bus or the van?  Who will help him?  The statement behind the question here is, of course, will it have to be him helping his brother?  Again, we’ve tried to explain to Gerry that it’s not his job to worry – that his dad and I will work it out with the school to make sure Howie is fine in kindergarten.

His response?  “I am the school.  This affects me.”

Of course, because he’s so wise beyond his years, we talk to him like he should understand.  Like he’s an adult.  But he’s not.  He’s still eight years old.

As his coping mechanism, Gerry spends a lot of time alone.  He does his homework alone up at Tim’s desk in our room.  He rides his bike outside alone.  He retreats to his safe spot – his room – to play with his Legos.  He reads alone, showers alone, watches TV alone.

It breaks my heart.  But it’s why his “I like school better than home” comment makes sense.  Can you blame him?

I’ve spent countless hours these past weeks trying to figure out why things are so different recently.  Was it the new school year?  Third grade and a new teacher and new friends have brought new stresses and pressure for Gerry.  And for the first time, he’s in a class with a few special needs students and their aides.  Is it the fact that he uses up all his strength, tolerance and understanding in the classroom and has none left for his brother?  Or is this just a “normal” sibling thing?  Has he just reached his breaking point, like we all do? All of the above?  None of the above?

Go ahead.  I know what you’re thinking.  Why didn’t I just ask him?

It’s because he and I never get any time just us.

We used to have it.  Before his brother was born, we had almost 4 years when it was just us everyday.  And even after Howie was born, we’d manage to have some time together – trips to the supermarket, time outside alone, reading books to each other.  We even went to New York City for my cousin’s wedding before Lewis was born.  We went to the top of the Empire State Building and watched it snow, wandered through FAO Schwartz in amazement, and saw the Statute of Liberty.

Where did that special time go? Hiding somewhere behind the chaos of our everyday lives. Pushed out by the meltdowns, the tantrums, the need to get dinner on the table before the house falls apart.

Gerry and I need to get that time back.

Starting this weekend.

Last night, after I got Howie to sleep, I climbed into bed with Gerry and told him my new plan.  Breakfasts with Mom.  Just he and I.  At the local diner – one weekend morning a week.  I told him we could talk, or not talk.  Eat blueberry muffins and drink hot chocolate and figure out if the table jukebox works.

Spotlight back on Gerry.

That light needs to be on ALL my kids, so no one is left alone in the shadows of this family.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a mother, a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long, long way from my home” – Motherless Child (spiritual)