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Stories

Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

Maps

Jenifer DeMattia

My 4-year-old son has developed quite the obsession with maps. He draws them constantly. To someone who doesn’t know him, they would just assume it’s squiggles on a piece of paper. Perhaps the meaningless result of someone’s boredom. But I know what those lines mean. He is actually very serious about them. Today he was explaining one of his maps to me. This one in particular had very colorful lines.

“Are you listening?” He says in a very stern voice. He gets that from me. I now realize that’s how I speak to him sometimes. Because he rarely stands still, and I have difficulty getting him to focus so I am constantly asking if he is listening. Telling him to look me in the eye and listen to my words.  He then begins to explain where each line leads and what route the train or car will take, along with the mountain range it passes through. Today his small finger started on a line.

“Do you here me? This track leads to a junction.” Then he traced the line all the way to the bottom of the page where he continued moving his finger onto the table, then down the leg of the table to the floor. “We pass through the canyon.” He says. He keeps going to the sliding glass door. “Then to the icy bridge.” He moves up the door. “We have arrived at our destination. Do you see them?”

I answer right away. “Yes. I see the elves. We have arrived at the North Pole.” He smiles. I knew right away that this was a special map, courtesy of his obsession with the Polar Express. I wish raising him was this easy to figure out. Sometimes I wish he came with a map. A map that explained each morning how our day would go. It may explain why some days bring a smoother road than others. A map that explained why a day can go so wrong if key elements don’t happen in a certain order. It is clear to me that in his mind, he has things mapped out pretty well; he just doesn’t always clue me in until it’s too late.

I have a horrible sense of direction. Ever since I got my license on the second try, I have constantly gotten lost throughout my life. Getting from here to there without making the wrong turn or getting lost has never been my strong suit. And now, even with GPS, somehow I don’t always make it to where I’m going directly. I have often wondered why I am like that. I used to make “trial runs” before going to people’s homes or job interviews before the day they were planned just to save myself the anxiety of getting lost. Now I realize it was because I was unsure of myself. Always second-guessing. Kind of like my experience as a mom. I used to help families as a career before I stayed home full time with my boys. I used to provide tools for parents who had difficulties with their children. A map, per se, to better navigate through their daily struggles with their child’s behavior. To change their parenting style perhaps, to set better rules and limits, or to seek other outside resources. I felt confident in my work. That there were certain roads that could be traveled which lead to positive outcomes.

And now I have two children. I should be an expert at this. But honestly, sometimes I feel like I should have someone come help me learn what I used to teach. It’s hard when it’s your own child. It was easier when the emotion wasn’t there, like the direction was so much clearer. Sure we have positive days, but there is hardly ever a day where I don’t have a similar anxiety about taking my son somewhere crowded. I know now that when he gets over stimulated he becomes very over-active. I know that he struggles with what to do with his anger. And I know that he can get lost in his emotions sometimes. I implement things and make adjustments and teach him better skills but I struggle to keep my emotions out of it.  But when it all comes down to it, there is a road I never get lost on. Tonight I traced it with my finger.

“Are you listening?” I said to him in a calming voice.  “Do you hear me?” I said as I placed my finger on my stomach. Then moved along down to the mattress and over to his chest as he lay next to me. My finger stopped, right about where his tiny heart beats underneath. “This track leads to a junction.” Then my finger moved back down through the canyon formed between us. All the way to where my heart beats just like his. “I have arrived at my destination. Do you see it?” I asked.

“I don’t see anything”. He says in a curiously sweet voice.

“Of course you don’t. Because you can’t see love. But you can always find it.”

The truth is that as difficult as my son can be, I have never felt more like my life is going in the right direction. How can I feel lost when I have found so much love? So I will continue to travel down each road that leads to making him a confident and happy boy. One who learns how to follow down the streets he should and who also never looses the desire to take the ones less traveled. I never really followed maps anyway. But my son has truly shown me the excitement in drawing my own.