Getting Better: Navigating My Son’s Growing Independence

This past spring, I wrote about an incident with Wil at the park. He would not leave and despite many tactics, he remained unmoving, so Katherine and I physically lifted him to the car. It was a very emotionally trying experience for all of us. That time stuck with me and I thought in my mind over and again how I could have done it differently if it were to happen again. Well yesterday it did.

The kids and I took a trip to Barnes & Noble. It’s one of our favorite places to browse. It has something for all of us. We wandered in and found our favorite places. The twins browsed teen books while Wil and I went over to the neighboring stacks to look at the multitude of games:

“Look, Mom! A shark game!”
“Oh, Squigz! I have Squigz!”
“Mom, see this!”

In-between looking at games Wil and I would wander over and see what books the twins were looking at. Katherine is into adventure so we read some book covers together to see what might be the most exciting read. Elizabeth is into drama, so we ventured over to that stack to see what held the most appeal. While Elizabeth and I were discussing some options, Wil started to badger Katherine. I knew we were getting close to the end of his patience level. I suggested Wil and I walk over to the young kid’s area where the Thomas the Train tracks are set up. The girls were close to making their selection so I asked them to find us at the train when they were ready.

Soon, Katherine and Elizabeth found Wil and I at the train, and with books in hand, we all made our way down to the first floor. Katherine and Elizabeth took the escalator down while Wil and I took the elevator (though Wil loves escalators, he won’t get on the Barnes & Noble escalator. It is out in the open and not enclosed by walls, so that may be the reason. Regardless, who doesn’t love getting to press the elevator button yourself and not having to share with your siblings). As Wil and I exited the elevator, we passed the music section. It is somewhat enclosed with one entrance and exit. I waved the twins over to indicate where we were going. Wil ran in the music area and started to look at all the DVDs. It was DVD heaven a mile high.

We all browsed the DVDs for awhile but soon Katherine and Elizabeth said they were ready to go to lunch. I had promised lunch at Panera bread.

“Ok, Wil, let’s go.” Katherine said.

“No!”

“Wil, come on, don’t you want Mac n Cheese at Panera? You love their Mac n Cheese.”

A few moments of consideration.

“No.” Then he sat down. Uh-oh.

“Hey, buddy,” I said, “come on, it’s lunchtime. We can sit outside, it will be fun.”

No response.

“Ok, 3 more minutes then it’s time to go.”

“Ok!” And he stood up again.

We browsed a few more minutes and I said it was now time to go. He responded by sitting back on the ground. We tried to coax him up but it was a no-go. Elizabeth offered a piggy-back ride which he usually accepts, but not today.

Like all of us, Wil needs to feel in control of his environment. At the park, we had a time crunch situation. We did not have that here, so I said, “Katherine and Elizabeth, I know we are all ready for lunch, but let’s give him some time like we did at Hidden Lake Gardens. We all like to feel in control of our environment. When he feels in control of his space, I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.” (Last summer, Wil was tired on a nature walk at Hidden Lake Gardens and decided he was done walking in the middle of a trail. When Katherine, Elizabeth and I could not coax him up, we gave him some space. We walked ahead, just far enough so he could not see us, but we could see him through the trees. After a few moments, he got up and willingly walked the trail, staying a few feet behind us, then eventually met with us on his own terms and we all ran down the hill together at the end of the trail.)

I had a coupon for the coffee shop, so I gave the coupon and some money to Katherine and Elizabeth.

“Why don’t you girls go to the coffee shop and buy a latte or iced tea, and I’ll give Wil some time and meet you at the coffee shop.”

“But aren’t we going to Panera?” Elizabeth asked, worried that we were now going to miss out on lunch.

“Yes, honey, we are. I just want to give him some time so he feels back in control of his space. You know how that feels. Just get a drink now, and we’ll have lunch at Panera in a few minutes.”

“Do you want me to get you a coffee Mom?” Elizabeth asked. I love that girl!!

“Thanks, honey, I’ll get one at Panera, you go ahead and get what you want and I’ll meet you in a minute.”

I watched Katherine and Elizabeth walk off together, chatting about what they were going to get. They sure are growing up. I’m very proud of all they take in stride.

Wil was still sitting on the ground. I said to him, “Wil, I’m going to the coffee shop to meet your sisters. When you are ready, you can find us there. See you in a little bit, Buddy.”

Thankful there was only one entrance and exit to the music area in this situation, I walked out of the enclosed music area and stood just behind a book stack waiting for Wil to exit. In only a few minutes, Wil walked through the music area into the main bookstore and looked for the coffee shop. I didn’t want him to see me right away because I knew he needed this independent time to feel in control of his situation or he’d be right back on the floor unmoving. I followed him to the coffee area and there he exclaimed, “Sisters!” and walked over to his sisters and gave them a hug.

“Great job, Wil! Are you ready to go to lunch now?”

“Uh-huh!” He was so proud of himself for making this trek on his own.

Hooray, success!! As Wil gets older he wants more and more independence and he deserves more independence. It’s important for his confidence and his development into becoming a young man. But there are certain dangers that he does not comprehend and I need to be there at an arms-length distance. I’m thankful in this situation I was able to do both.

Back at the park, I knew I could have done better, I just didn’t know at the time what that better was. I pondered that incident and realized what I didn’t give Wil was time and space. In fact, that’s what we all need; time and space. It’s just in different doses. Since I was in a time crunch at the park, carpooling kids and needing to pick Elizabeth up at a certain time, I placed that time crunch on Wil. We tend to focus on very few options when there is stress involved. Yet, there are always more options than we allow ourselves to see at the time. Having the benefit of hindsight, I promised myself if a similar situation were to happen again, I would take a deep breath and think of more options.

There is this quote that I love by Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Yesterday I was thankful for the opportunity to do better. To find options that gave Wil the time and space he needed while also giving Katherine and Elizabeth the time and space they needed. Seeing my three kids hugging in the coffee shop, I knew that day, I did better. That is a wonderful feeling, indeed!

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