Tuesday, January 2, 2018

When do you quit playing along with your child's fantasy?


Max is moving to Jamaica. He's been telling us this for the last few days; it started right before we headed home. We'd had a wonderful vacation, and none of us were eager to return to 14-degree weather. Except Max decided he wasn't having any of it ever again.

"I'm moving to Jamaica!" he'd regularly say to me and Dave. At first, we indulged him. They Googled homes there and Max landed on this one. "It's very big!" he said, and I agreed. He has excellent taste in real estate.

After that, he started saying "Ewwww!" every time we mentioned our town and state.

"Max, I like where we live," I'd tell him. I was getting cautious about playing along; I know how obsessive Max can get about stuff, and it can switch quickly. As of last month, he was going to move to Las Vegas following that trip. But he'd decided Jamaica was more his thing.

"Ewwwww!" he'd say. "When are we moving?"

His plan was for Dave and Benjamin to come along; he kept wavering on whether Sabrina or I should.

I said it was possible we could return to Jamaica next year for another vacation. But that wouldn't do.
"It's my new home!" he said.

"Max, what about school?" I asked as we sat at the breakfast buffet on Sunday morning, our last day there.

He pointed out there are schools in Jamaica.

"Won't you miss school and your friends?" I asked.

He told me he could visit them. Then he started asking about buying boxes for his move.

"Home Depot," he informed me, helpfully.

He started crying shortly thereafter about leaving Jamaica. In between sniffles, he'd say, "I'm moving!"

Over the years, Dave and I have gone along with Max's whims and fascinations. Sure, we'll go through the car wash two times in a row. Want purple everything in your life? No prob. Spaghetti for breakfast? Sure! Of course, we will refer to you as Purple Car Wash Spaghetti Max! Need to watch Cars 2 repeatedly and basically own all the merchandise? Fine.

When Max grew an interest in becoming a firefighter several years ago, we gladly took him to the local fire stations and began calling him Fireman Max, as he wished. He has long known that he would not be one to drive the fire truck or climb ladders; he has repeatedly told us he will sit in the back of the fire truck and he can help hold the hose, and we haven't had the heart to let him down. Perhaps there will be a way for him to start volunteering locally; we're going to start putting out feelers this year.

But it just seemed wrong to support Max's intention of moving to Jamaica. This belief that he can do such things is part of the way his brain works. But I know he is capable of more mature thinking, and getting his hopes up does him no good. This wasn't just a fantasy—Max truly believed he could move.

Max, Dave and Sabrina were sitting across the aisle from me and Ben on the ride home. After the plane took off, Max began crying again. He leaned over Dave and told me, "I'm moving to Jamaica!"

"Mmmm-hmmmm," I said, which is what I always say when I won't give an answer. It drives my family nuts.

"No mmmm-hmmm!" wailed Max.

He eventually calmed down, and was amazingly chill as we were in the car headed home from the airport.

"I'm moving to Jamaica," he informed the Uber driver.

Max has kept it up. Yesterday morning, he pointed out objects that he wanted to move to Jamaica, including our living room TV and assorted family photos (perhaps so he will remember me). He asked Dave to take the shirt he was wearing, one of Max's favorites. He opened the website with his new home on his iPad so he could show it to his teacher. He developed a hand motion to go along with the word "move"—it looks like he's making the motion of a wave.

In the afternoon, everyone headed to the mall as I unpacked, did a bazillion loads of laundry and dealt with a basement flood. Sabrina tried to do damage control, because she was getting tired of hearing Max talk about Jamaica.

"I asked Max if he would miss you and Benjamin," she reported when they came back home.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He said no, because he could call you," she answered.

Oh.

"But then I told him that around March it would start getting warmer and that wasn't so far off!" she continued.

"And what did Max say?" I asked.

"He thought about it," she said.

A bit later, Max asked Dave what time they'd be flying to Jamaica when they moved.

Dave and I spoke about it last evening.

"This can't go on, it isn't good for him," I said.

"I know, I was thinking about that," Dave said.

We're hoping that returning to school and getting back into the swing of routines will help. Maybe I'll start planning a new trip to distract him, although knowing Max, he won't be letting go of this for some time. I don't blame Max for not wanting to live in the tundra. But sometimes, facing the cold reality is the way to go.

Image: Jamaica Villas/Canoe Cove 

10 comments:

  1. Wow - I wish I had some really great advice to offer you, but unfortunately I don't. It's hard when our kids get an idea stuck in their head, isn't it? - Alyssa

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    1. It's challenging for sure, especially when it's something unrealistic. An amazing blogger/advocate I know, Cara Liebowitz from That Crazy Crippled Chick, suggested on Facebook that I note to him that he could move when he grew up. Just as we both suspected, Max said no—but he drew an interesting parallel that I moved to our house when I was pregnant with him. I am going to keep chipping away at this.

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    2. That is a good parallel Max made and a sign of a big change in your life and in his.

      Yes - it's hard to be the person with an idea in your head too. An idea which maybe should or shouldn't be there, but it is going to be there just the same.

      And there are some of us with dream countries that we never really leave and don't leave us. It can have the force of destiny. And teenagers and quests and destiny...

      Good on you Cara.

      And Sabrina too - even though Spring Break is so very tempting for students and for others.

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  2. As an observer, I think you and Dave are right. How to handle it is a whole different story. When you write things like this about Max, I often wonder if Luke was verbal would he be similar? I already know he is addicted to sidewalk chalk. It sounds innocent until you see the amount of chalk dust that gets into the house.

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    1. I can't even imagine! Where does he draw with it? What does he love to draw? I was randomly reading up yesterday on wipe-off crayons that you can use to draw on windows, would that be up his alley? Janet, what sort of communication device does Luke use?

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    2. Hi Janet,

      Gel markers/pastels are really great as well. People draw on windows and on walls all over.

      The dust; the dust; especially when you press hard and grind on them. And the dust is a whole lot like glitter.

      Was hoping no member of your family was allergic to the stuff.

      I don't know that it's about being verbal or non-verbal. If your brain goes that way it goes that way [though look at how Max changed from Las Vegas to Jamaica - he might even be an island-hopper knowing the Greater and Lesser Antilles and their attractions].

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  3. I think it's important to be realistic with Max while also respecting him.

    What would you do if Sabrina came to you (maybe a few years ago) with an idea you knew was over the top? Maybe you'd play along for a time, but eventually she'd have to face reality. You would sit her down and explain to her why her dream can't happen right now.

    Max deserves the same consideration and the same honesty. Figure out how much it costs to live in Jamaica. Then when he tells you he is moving, ask him if he has a job right now. Because he will need X amount to live in Jamaica. (If he says you / Daddy will come with him, tell him "No, we live here.") Next time, he says, "I'm moving to Jamaica, say something like, "I know, you like Jamaica!" Or "I know you want to move to Jamaica, but that can't happen because you don't have X amount of dollars and Daddy and I live here, so we can't come with you / pay for things."

    Get Sabrina and whoever else on the same page with you, so that Max hears this consistently. Talk about how nice it was to be there and all the fun things you did as a family but be sure to tell Max the truth if he tells you he is moving there.

    Keep in mind too that cold weather and CP do not like each other. It completely makes sense and is valid that Max would want to move somewhere it's warm all the time. In addition to all the other fun things he got to do there, it's possible Max was more relaxed and could move easier there than he can where it's cold.

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    1. Hi, Tonia. I hadn't considered that his body might feel better/more relaxed in Jamaica, that's a good point. One thing we did realize when he was there and got a massage is that we should definitely look into that for him. Have you ever tried therapeutic massage? Yep, agreed, reality is the way to go. I really like your idea of talking about costs, because we have been working on getting Max to better understand money. I'll discuss the cost of the house he's interested in with him.

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  4. Six months ago this Foreign Correspondent programme was about Jamaica. It is called "One Love".

    The programme is all about things like dancehall and murder music - things a lot of people think about when they go or visit or think about Jamaica - includes transcript and some gory and gritty stuff like homophobia and gully gutters.

    A Tanya Stephens mix gets people in the mood and the groove.

    And in August 2017 there was a deadline for a Disneyworld cruise - supported trips and visits - which includes Falmouth, Jamaica as one of the ports.

    And here I was thinking that Jamaica was part of New York and not the one in the Caribbean.

    I remember dreaming up so many trips and itineraries when I was 14 and 15 and into my 20s.

    Wanted to share this Jamaica thing with a friend who loves reggae and Rastafarians as part of the trance he does.

    And last year you told these great stories about your travels, Ellen, especially in the West Indies and the Caribbean, like the Dominican Republic.

    Does Max have any West Indian friends/carers/workers/teachers in his life now or in the past who could tell him about their country?

    Yes - it is hard - especially when Max's contemporaries are going to youth hostels and being exchange students and financing their trips in weird wild and wonderful ways that we all thought were fantasy when we were their age.

    Max is exploring his identity without his family - what he can take with him and what he can leave behind. This is a sign of mature thinking.

    Once he fulfilled his Vegas dream it was probably inevitable.

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  5. I would echo Tonia's advice about discussing the practical needs and barriers to something like this. Obviously, simply laying out the facts may not work at first, but it's a good habit for any teen to start learning. You might also be able to gradually develop the idea of there being a difference between indulgences that are easy for Max and your family to go with, and bigger, multi-step goals that are not simply a matter of will on Max's part, or willingness on your part. None of them are impossible, but you need years to plan a move to Jamaica, while it's relatively simple to decide to eat at Smashburger tonight ... or not as the case may be. I wish you well!

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Thanks for sharing!



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