Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I'm Not Your Pet!

One evening, riding home in the car, Tommy and Will perched in the middle seats of the minivan, I heard Tommy pestering the hell out of Will. "Please Will, Will you need to play Monopoly with me when we get home. Please Will, you have to Will. You need to Will. Please Will. Will, I am making you. You are going to play Monopoly with me when we get home. I am going to be the banker. We will set up the board as soon as we get home. Will, you are going to play with me Will!"

Tommy finally took a breath, and Will screamed out, "Tommy, I'm not your pet! You can't just make me do everything you want all the time."

And though it is true that Will is certainly not Tommy's pet, he is, in fact, Tommy's only real friend. Imagine the pressure of being someone's only friend, and yet that friend has the power an older brother has over you - an older bipolar brother at that. You love him, you feel sorry for him, you even have fun with him, but you feel controlled by him. He can be threatening and explosive, and you know how upsetting that is to the entire rest of the family. You are constantly caught between the obligation you feel to appease him and the momentary feeling of independence you get when you are finally fed up enough to scream, "I'm not your pet!"

Of course, my heart bleeds for Tommy. He has not developed socially the way Will has. Kids don't outwardly dislike him, they just kind of ignore him. Will plays very age appropriately with his friends, and he is very popular. It is hard to allow him to have play dates here. Tommy tries to hone in, does not connect, often erupts and causes a scene. Will gets angry because Tommy is spoiling things, and Tommy gets angry because someone else has taken Will away from him.

This balancing act is pretty hard to maintain. There are only so many times you can request to have the play date "over at your house." And Will's interests are much more varied than Tommy's. Tommy obsesses on one activity for days and weeks, while Will is much more balanced. He does not want to play Pokemon for the 50th time that week. I am ashamed to say, I have resorting to bribing Will into playing with Tommy at times. "I'll give you a dollar for every game of Yu-Gi-Oh you play with him, I swear." How shameful is that? Anything to get a moment's peace.

He used to have friends when he was younger. His disease had not developed enough to set him apart at that point, and four year-olds don't usually notice the quirkiness of others - they are too focused on themselves. But as his friends matured and progressed socially, he did not. He has been enrolled in two peer social skills classes. We give him constant feedback verbally on how other's might interpret his actions and words. We talk about it in therapy all the time. But, what ever magic switch is supposed to turn on, has not yet.

Earlier this week, his Psychiatrist said to me, "you know, some people are fine being alone. They never become terribly social." That terrified me and comforted me at the same time. I'm sure Ted Kaczynski had no friends either. And I don't see a child who is full of joy and happiness. I'm always thinking "maybe next year, he will connect with someone in class, maybe soon someone appropriate will move into the neighborhood."

On the other hand, maybe the shrink is right, and I just need to have more patience? If he never has friends, maybe he will grow successfully into that role? Meanwhile, I need to keep helping Will say "no" and helping Tommy accept the answer. And the bribes - gotta stop the bribing!

1 comment:

Nathan Fox said...

Ellena,
I'm very happy to see that you have started your blog online. It is sad to think about Tommy not being able to have friends but I think that he will begin to connect with other people once he is more clear about what needs can get met through social interaction. This may be another thing he has to learn.
See you later -Nathan