I'm not entirely sure how to explain to a child so full of life that the lenses he sees this world through are clouded - and wrong.
This is an ongoing thing with him; He is convinced he has no friends. He laughs and plays and that's perhaps why I find his meltdowns into No One Likes Me Land at the tender age of 7 to be altogether bothersome and concerning. Chase is socially anxious to the point that today he explained through tears that sometimes he eats his lunch alone. Something he mentioned in passing before that I chalked up to drama. No. He does. I can see it now.
He lives at the intersection of fearful and happy. It's all very likely that he as himself, in his worrisome little heart triggered just enough stress to send his brain aflame when he seized a year ago. It's a life of glass floors in the mind of this boy. Floors I'm slowly noticing.
I look at pictures of Chase before the seizure - well - between seizures. I need to remind myself that "before", when we thought he was safe and his birth story was all a peculiar incident, a mere blip on his Life Radar, those hopes and thoughts were wrong.
We lived in the now under the false pretense that he would never have to deal with the seizure word again.
In those pictures exists a child that is apprehensive, but still jumps. A little boy with sunshine pouring from his heart. I see my happy son.
After his seizure, his nerves became bound and sensitive. It feels like my son is in there - scared - and afraid to speak.
I watched a few Fridays ago as Chase struggled with a water bottle across the field during his team's halftime break. He tried to open a new bottle of water, could not, got up, and began to follow his coach around. Said coach was busy with another child, and Chase being the polite and scared-crapless person he is, did not interrupt.
I waited. I knew how this would go.
Coach lapped the child, and positioned himself in a way that wasn't welcoming (body language style) to Chase. And Chase's response? Defeat. He knew he would have to say his Coach's name loudly, perhaps even touch the man or possibly even wave, and that was simply not at option. Not having water during his only major break, which is timed and nearly up, after 25 minutes of running his butt off... and Chase can't bring himself to ask a single soul to assist him. He sat down as I stood up, cleared the field, opened the bottle, looked him dead in the eyes and said "You may feel small, but your voice will always be important. Ask for help - if not from an adult, then find a friend. Ok?"
Tears began - and a meek "yes ma'am" followed.
His teammate (he's surrounded by 2 boys) pitched in a "I would have opened it!". I know without a doubt they would. This boy is loved and he lives in a place where he is pretty consistently surrounded by those who encourage him.
And that's the problem. He doesn't deem anyone willing or able to help him during any level of distress. To Chase, Chase is not important. To him, his voice is shaky, fragile and doesn't hold weight. In his eyes, his presence is unfelt. He considers himself part of the shadow.
That crushes me. To know he is physically spacing himself away from his beloved peers - we are talking good children from great homes with a terrific teacher and fabulous school who all express verbally that they love him and accept him - is too much. He is too young for this to matter to him. He is far too small to feel so small.
It's all the more confusing to me as a parent to know that he's unable to socialize properly when I see differently at home. At home, he is generally a go-lucky dude who loves to draw (but not color), sing and dance, Lego for hours upon hours, and is always down for a round of Minecraft swords with his brother and/or step-sister. He can read far above his grade level, and chooses to do so leisurely pretty much every day. Chase loves his cat and dog, a rousing game of trains, and collects Hot Wheels.
He will always collect Hot Wheels.
He gets upset and mad and angry and sad and all of the normal things that 7-year-old males do. But he also deals with something deeper.
Tonight, he and I talked more about how he has been eating alone at lunch - too afraid to ask his friends to save him a seat, and too physically small to push his way into the front of the line (something I witnessed myself while visiting him last week).
"You have to promise me that you will always say something. You will never go silent. You fight through whatever inside you says to stay quiet (he shook his head yes here hard - he got me), and you will take all of your words and jam them together in a word ball, and get the courage to push those words out. You matter. We want to hear you."
He cried. He said it was hard to get his words out. Him forcing that out was painful for both of us.
I don't have the answer here. But I did challenge him tonight. I told him that tomorrow, he needs to ask for someone to save him a seat at the lunch table. He reluctantly agreed.
Tomorrow he will try.