Jeff’s son, the Xman, sometimes really, truly, absolutely makes me lose my mind.
I know I shouldn’t get so frustrated. I know I should be patient. The sweet boy is only five-years-old, and up until a year ago, he had a very coddled life. And to his credit, he’s grown remarkably over the past year, proving that he was capable of everything I – and now his dad, too – expect from him. Except, if I’m being honest, there are times the learning curve is so steep where it should be level that I wonder if we don’t need to have him tested for some sort of learning disability.
For example, one of the areas where the Xman hasn’t grown is verbal commands. If it’s a one-step instruction, and it’s something he’s done before, he’s fine. Especially if it’s action-oriented, I’ve noticed. If it involves reasoning or some sort of verbal response, we’re sunk. If the request involves more than two steps, we’re sunk. If it’s something the Xman is unfamiliar with, we can ask all we want, but we’re going to have to show him what we mean. That last one I’m a bit more okay with; the others are more along the lines of 3- or 4-year-old milestones.
It’s the same with sequencing. If we ask what happened in the story we just read, he does better if it’s one we’ve read a thousand times. But even those books, he can’t tell you what happened first, second, and last.
It worries me. Especially because there are real-world implications.
Last weekend when we had the kiddos all together (my favorite weekends!), and Bee had gone to get ready for church. Usually Jeff or I will prompt the Xman to go get dressed around 9 a.m., giving the girls time to get ready if it’s a Sunday and they’re going to church. And usually I’ll keep an eye on whether Bee has finished getting dressed so I can step in and stop Jeff from telling the Xman to get dressed if Bee’s still in their room. [Bee and the Xman share a room because we only have a full house every other weekend – it seems silly to have the girls bunk up for two weeks in a row when the Xman is only home for weekends and his room would sit empty the rest of the time.] But that morning I must have been otherwise occupied because Jeff sent the Xman to get dressed without first checking to see whether Bee had finished. And she hadn’t. The Xman walked in on her and she was so. embarrassed. Not that we’re modest people, you understand, and not that the Xman is even old enough to care or get it. But I wasn’t going to tell her she shouldn’t – or normally wouldn’t – feel that way. So after I reminded Jeff that he needs to check on such things first, he sat down to explain to the Xman that if the door to their room was closed, he had to knock first to make sure no one was getting dressed. And the Xman couldn’t understand for the life of him. Jeff broke it down into simple steps. If the door is closed, what do you do? Knock. After you knock, what do you do? Wait for them to say it’s okay. If they say okay, what do you do? Go in. We couldn’t even move on to what happens if they scream and yell to go away, they’re naked because the Xman couldn’t process it. He couldn’t get it right. And Jeff and I were tearing our hair out. Three steps you guys. He’s five. I was convinced something was wrong. He can tell you what happened with any of the 239842039482 actions and outcomes in his video games, but learning something new you tell him in real life that’s longer than one step? Forget it.
It happened again this past weekend. The Xman had on his Harvard pullover hoodie (and looked adorable! I could’ve died!) and was trying to take it off. Mostly the Xman wears zippered hoodies, so he was flummoxed. No zipper, so he had no idea how to approach it. He tried pulling his arm out of his neck. Then he’d put his arm back in the arm hole. He tried again, contorting the sweatshirt this way and that. Whining had definitely entered the game, and a full-blown tantrum was in the wings. Jeff had started giving him verbal instructions: “It’s like a shirt, Xman. Take it off like you would take off a shirt. Or your jammies.” “No, grab your sleeve and pull your arm out.” “No, not through your neck, put your arm down, all the way down.” “NO! DON’T PUT IT IN YOUR SLEEVE AGAIN!” I entered the fray to try to help: “Pull your arm out! Good! No put it out the bottom. No, the bottom of your shirt. Where’s the bottom, Xman? Reach for your toes. No! Where’s your belly?” The Xman put his arm back in his sleeve so many times I wanted to cut the dang shirt off. Jeff kept reaching over to “help” and I kept yelling at him to keep his hands off. The Xman should be able to take a hoodie off just like his does his shirt, and “helping” would just prevent him from learning. We were sitting there all afternoon if we needed to. After both of us were literally yelling (into our hands, not at Xman) in frustration, we paced the kitchen and an idea struck. I walked over to Xman and sat down on the chair so I was at his eye-level. “Xman, hold your sleeve and pull your hand out, just like your jammies.” I showed him on my shirt as I said the words, and the Xman mirrored me. “Now put your arm out the bottom of your shirt.” I exaggerated my movements and made my hand come out the bottom of my shirt. The Xman did the same for the first time in 29382309 tries. “Now lift your hand up right in front of your face and all the way up to the sky!” I was practically disrobing; good thing I had a tank top on. But Xman did it! Then I was able to talk him through the next steps: pull the hoodie over his head, and pull the other sleeve off. GOOD GOD.
So some good came out of all of this. The Xman doesn’t understand verbal commands, especially in new situations. This is going to be super tough in school, unless he catches up at some point. I still think we need to have him tested once he’s in school. But now we know what does work: mirroring. Visual cues don’t always work, because the Xman only sometimes remembers them when he has to execute. But if he’s doing it at the same time as someone else, he’s okay. If we had role-played the “What do you do if the door is closed?” scenario, I think it would have worked a whole lot better.
So now we know what we have to do. And that is the key to everyone having a much better day!