We were rushing to leave for the National Geographic lecture. Because the boys had scouts as soon as we got home, we had to eat in the car on Fridays on our way to the lectures. My least son was cantankerous these days. The youngest in the family, in the neighborhood and in his class at school, he was always forced to compete with more than he could conquer, and he was suffering from ego-slippage. I had long accepted the fact that his problems were his own to conquer, but I tried to help by making home satisfactory.
On this particular day, I had gotten cherry smashes instead of coke for our car-lunch just for him because he loved them so. I tried to sneak them from the refrigerator to the car so he would be surprised, but his keen eyes caught a glimpse, and he declared, "Not cherry smashes, Mom!"
I felt like throwing them at him, but I restrained myself, figuring his day at school must have been even worse than usual. "You don't have to drink one if you don't want it," I patiently replied and put the drinks in the car. The rest of the lunch was in a bag which I also stashed away.
He was the first in the car, and immediately started rummaging through the lunch bag to see what was there. By then we were all climbing in, my husband tensing himself for the hurried drive downtown through the heavy traffic, my middle son still breathless from his rapid paper serving, and me ready to unwind from a heavy week of school-teaching, hoping to catch a brief nap before we arrived at the lecture.
Then he found the dessert. "Mom," he exclaimed, "why did you bring too much candy!" At that my second son and I looked at each other and burst into roaring laughter. This sturdy son had borne the brunt of the Tornado's negativism, and we had discussed the problem at times, trying to help each other deal with it.
This example was too much for us, and we simply had to laugh. The child was confused, of course, at our laughter and wanted to know what was funny. Since he asked, I thought he had a right to be told even though I didn't expect him to understand.
"It's your negativism," I replied, "it's just so extreme it's funny."
"What is negativism?" he asked suspiciously.
"It's when some one is against things all the time so he can get attention," I replied.
He was silent for a while, and then he turned back to the lunch bag.. Soon the brothers were squabbling over the distribution of its contents, and things seemed quite normal.
I was just about ready to nod into my nap when I noticed a crisis approaching. "Don't go straight here!" I exclaimed to my husband. "Remember the detour ahead?"
Who's driving?" he replied, but he obediently slowed down for the turn. Suddenly from the rear of the car, my most tender sprout popped up,
"You're negativistic!" he declared.
"No. That's not negativism," I said. "I really wanted Dad to turn here so we wouldn't be late for the lecture. Negativism is when you say 'no' to get attention."
So it went all afternoon. Each time some one said, "No," he was accused of negativism. All through the park where we searched for a place to leave the car, past the squirrels we always fed, into Constitution Hall where we sat in our favorite section and watched the panaroma of the world whirl by on the huge screen, down along the sidewalk curb where the boys released some of their pent-up energy with a jumping contest, back through the park, now dark, where we always pretended a wire knocked our head when we walked between two posts he listened for our "No's," and each time he heard one he charged negativism.
The next day was cub scout rally day, a monthly occurrence when all the dens in the pack got together for an activity. This month was a bowling party. My second son was "denner" - a position held by a boy scout who goes to den meetings to help the den mother with the program - in his brother's den. The den mother, in this case, did not particularly need help. This made his position in the group somewhat uncertain. He came running into the house in the middle of the morning declaring, "I'm not going to the bowling party this afternoon!"
"Nonsense! Of course you are," I replied, understanding his need to be reassured that he was included.
"That's negativism!" interjected my youngest son with real conviction in his voice this time. Indeed, it was a good example. All he needed was to see it in someone else before the concept was clear. Much to my amazement, this made a difference in his life. From that day on, he worked hard to overcome this undesirable habit. It did not fade easily, and I suppose he will always revert to it under stress, but improvement was definite and clear.
Over-protective, too concerned about his welfare, I have spent most of my time with my youngest son building walls between us so I could let him grow. Sometimes plants get too much water, and this doesn't do at all. If one knew all the elements involved in parenthood, one could scarcely dare to choose the state.