Wednesday, February 15, 2012

First Love, Lost

"I feel so empty" Ethan wails, sobs racking his lithe body. "I will never, EVER be happy again."

"Oh, babe, I know. Loss hurts. But there will be others, really, you have to believe that." I try to soothe with my feeble, old, mom-wisdom.

"No, not like this one, it will never be the same, it was PERFECT. My first!" Ethan is the picture of abject misery, poster child for a broken heart. So deeply teenagerish, how could he only be nine?

"I know honey, you are sad and disappointed. this hurts, this sucks." I am doing this by the book: first the empathy and mirroring, then the (as yet futile) attempt to incite perspective. 

"I hate her, I hate her, she was so wrong to do this, she needs to pay!"

I want to join him in his wrath, want to rain down fire upon the person responsible for my son's pain and loss, his inconsolable sadness. But I know it is my job to steer him clear of these dark waters, to be the cooler head at the table.

"Nothing lasts forever, honey."

"But this was my first, it was PERFECT."

"Yes, babe, it seems that way now, but you WILL be able to love another, I'm sure."

"Nooooooo! No basketball will ever be the same, that one was THE ONE!"


We're talking about my son's first, dearly beloved full size basketball, a Wilson; the one he got this past spring, almost a year ago now, carried around with him nearly every day of his life, ever since.

His one true love.

What, did you really think we were talking about a girl?

Please. He's only nine.

And yet, the feelings, the words? A lost first love, for sure.

Startling in their intensity, but then my son is, ever, intense.

And now, you may be wondering how did his life-love, his perfect first ball disappear?  

What happened was this:

In the schoolyard that morning, waiting for the teachers to emerge and ferry their charges to classrooms, A Rule was broken. While balls may be played with in the yard at pick-up time, morning line-up time needs to be more orderly, less chaotic, so balls must be stowed or held, quiescent in still hands. Otherwise, temporary confiscation is the penalty.

But 9 year-olds are 9 year-olds and the sight of an unoccupied ball drives them to frenzy. They often get played with. Even if Ethan is trying to be obedient, a friend of his will come up, knock the ball out of his hands, and start to toss it about. Cries of protest will go unheeded. Fun will ensue.

But, it must be said, regular reminder letters sent from the Assistant Principal to the contrary. enforcement of such rule is lax, haphazard and spotty. And in all the years of ball-carrying, Ethan had never suffered a confiscation until now.

And thus he wasn't quite sure of the way of it: who actually held the ball, and how and when could he ask for it back.

When I arrived that evening to pick Ethan up from afterschool (with Jacob in tow this day, of course, just to complicate matters), I found a wide eyed Ethan with trembling lip, telling me that no one could find his ball, nor had any idea where it was.

Sure I could quickly resolve this, we began to investigate. We chased a lot of wild geese, up and down the stairs of the school, Ethan growing ever and ever more despondent with each dead end.

Finally, we spoke to the principal, who was still in the main office, and she suggested it was best to throw in the towel for the night, resume investigations during school hours the next day, when the confiscating aide (the "She" of Ethan's vowed vengeance) would be present.

But then, on our way out the door, someone confided in us that it's not the first time a ball has gone missing and that we shouldn't get our hopes up, it was likely gone.

And thus started the full on breaking of Ethan's heart.

And it did not help, in any way shape or form, that Jacob was with us that night, as Ethan howled out his pain on the sidewalk. Because Jake was being Jake: excited and engaged by Ethan's sadness and upsetness, alternating between empathy and laughing delight. Both reactions exceedingly annoying to his brother.

Not only was Jacob enjoying Ethan's big emotions, he was also narrating them. Loudly.

Nothing a nine year-old boy wants to hear when he is trying to keep it together, in his autistic brother's piercing voice: "Ethan is CRYING, Mom! (big giggle) Ethan is SAD!"

And Jake's attempts at "help" even worse: "Take a DEEP breath Ethan! Calm down, Ethan! It's OK Ethan!" Yikes!

Eventually, there was calmness. Bargains were made. In spite of the late hour and still as yet unfed children, we trudged to the nearby Models to see if we could purchase a replacement ball only to find nary a Wilson in a sea of Spaldings and Nikes.

Then we found out that, well, yeah, Ethan's true love WAS a super special, only rarely available model, and it had been a special purchase at the time we'd gotten it.

A different ball was finally deemed acceptable and purchased. Back home Ethan's equilibrium returned, with only occasional declarations of "I still feel empty" interspersed with evening business as usual.

And it all blew over in a few days. (Especially as the original ball was eventually located at the school.)

But I have to say the reaction, the extreme over-reaction? Did give me pause. Not one to let things roll off his back, he feels deeply, this boy of mine.

And I know this is just a slim preview of what is coming, the first actual girl to break his heart. The earth will quake, a lake of tears will be shed, I have not the slightest doubt. And I will be sorely pressed to control my urge to clock her one.

And then, this, really gave me pause:

When I had tried to console him with the idea that it could be worse, that his ball could have rolled into the street and been squashed dead, absolutely gone forever? He countered that THAT would actually have been better, a clean break.

And added that a big part of his pain was in the knowing that: "My ball is out there, but someone else is playing with it. It still exists, my perfect ball, but NOT for me. Someone else gets its perfect bounce, gets to shoot hoops with it. I just HATE thinking of MY ball in someone else's hands."

Hmmm... just change "it" to "her" and... well, it gets kinds creepy.

Time for a little talk about what makes healthy relationships.

I want to make sure he really understands that the "better dead than in someone else's hands" concept is NOT okay when applied to human beings. Capiche? 

So, on that romantic note: Happy Valentine's Day folks!

(Yes, this is my Valentine's post. I know it's a day late. I have a bad cold & feel like crap. At least it's about love. Unlike last year, when I wrote Not a Valentine's Day Post)

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