I remember junior high school. It was a very difficult time for me, awkward and painful in many ways. Now our son is going through junior high school, and it's just as awkward and painful for him. So much to aspire to, so much to learn, so much to figure out, so many, many ways to fall short socially. Safety Guy is in the throes of early teen angst and anxiety, and it's been a long haul through 7th grade. Just two weeks to go, and Safety Guy is fraying at the edges, and trying not to fall apart.
Junior high sucks. Who's popular, who's a freak, who's a geek, who's cool, who's who is a never-ending social obstacle course. For a young man with Aspergers it's a daily minefield. Some days there are no explosions. Some days nothing goes right and he gets hurt. Most days are a mixed bag. No wonder he sometimes loses his temper and wants to vent or lash out when he gets home. No wonder he sometimes shoots off his mouth at school or acts out and gets the consequences.
I'm honored and humbled that Safety Guy will talk with me about his emotional life. I know he can't see it, but he's come so very far over the past few years. He's too close to the situation - I was at that age too. We all were. In the middle of the trees you can't see the forest. There's no perspective. I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to help him see the bigger picture. Frankly, I'm amazed at how well he can verbalize his emotions and talk about what's bothering him. For a young man with AS, that's pretty unusual, I gather.
Safety Guy's favorite time to talk is in the evening, after his sister is in bed. He'll come downstairs and we'll talk. Some nights it's just a running monologue about his current obsession, sometimes it's about a current event that's caught his interest, and often the talk winds around to school and relationships. Lately I've fielded questions ranging from, "What car do you think I'll have for my first car?" to "What do girls like in a guy?" (My answer to that was, "They like a guy who's clean and kind, smart and funny, nice and interesting." Can you tell that hygiene is an ongoing issue with my typical-in-this-respect young teen boy?) Tonight eventually blew up when he asked me, "Why am I such a FREAK?!"
What do you say to that? I did my best. I told him that he's NOT a freak - he's just another young man trying to find his place in school, and make choices for his future. Seventh grade isn't the whole world - it's just a time and place that will not be repeated. He won't be with these same people forever. He will be able to choose who to associate with much more as he gets older. Everyone at this age feels awkward and strange, and very few really are secure in themselves and feel okay all the time. Sure, he's different with his AS. But everyone is different, and those who put him down are just as insecure as he is, just as weirded out by their changing bodies, just as frustrated by being stuck with everyone else with few options to get away from the people who bother them.
We talked more. I encouraged him, and tried to help him see that his future is hopeful and that life will get better as he continues to do his best and make good choices. He seemed to be on an even keel when he finally went to bed.
Now I'm exhausted.
Just two more weeks in 7th grade, and I'm praying he doesn't have a big meltdown at school before the last day. Grades are important, but I'm more concerned about his emotional well-being at the moment. He isn't depressed, but I can see the spectre of that issue on the horizon, and we'll keep a close eye on him as he goes through these teen years. And pray. A lot.