A. Peevie turned twelve today. This is not a big surprise, since he turned eleven last year.
A. Peevie is a complicated boy. He is deep and thoughtful; he doesn't give an answer until he feels certain and confident. He always tells the truth, and he has a very tender conscience. He always has schemes going in his mind: ideas for game characters; plans for fort-building and club-making; stories waiting to be written.
A middle child, birth-ordered between two extroverts with big feelings and loud opinions, A. Peevie sometimes plays for hours in his own imagination. He lies in bed and invents stories in his mind in which he is the central character. He acts out the adventures of the character in his mind, with sound effects. We often hear shooting noises--"Tffffhhhhhh! Tfffhhh-tffffhh! Dzzhh! Dzzhh!"--coming from his room in the middle of the night.
One time, years ago, he let me watch him while he was playing in his imagination. (Nowadays he wants privacy for his imagination play.) He was making crashing noises, and thrashing around on the bed--up on his knees one moment, falling backward into a crumpled heap the next. I asked him what was going on in the story. A. Peevie was some kind of animal or creature, and there was a huge stone wall involved.
"Did you knock the wall down?" I asked him, taking a stab at interpreting the kinesthetics and audibles.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "The wall fell down on me."
"Ah," I said. "That must have hurt."
"Mm-hmm," he said seriously; and then he went back inside his imagination to continue the carnage.
My theory is that this imaginary play gives him the opportunity to be stronger, braver, and more heroic and successful than he feels in real life, which has presented him with more physical and emotional obstacles than your average 12-year-old faces. He takes meds for complex congenital heart defects; dangerous cardiac arrythmias that presented about four years ago; and hypothyroidism. Plus, he struggles with low self-esteem and a level of anxiety that makes Woody Allen seem like the poster child for self-confidence.
Mr. Peevie and I just want this boy to know how great he is, how much he is capable of accomplishing. He's smart, and kind, and funny. He's a great artist, and has a vivid, energetic imagination.
Tonight, when I was cuddling with him at bedtime, he was worrying about his schoolwork. Again. Still. He hadn't stopped worrying about it all day--even when we were eating pizza for his birthday dinner.
"A. Peevie," I told him, "I want you to do three things when you start to feel worried about school, or about anything.
"Number one: Pray. Just a short prayer, asking God for help. You can just say, 'Jesus, please help me.' God will answer that prayer.
"Number two: Remember this: Mom and dad will help you get through it. We will help you learn it, we will help you figure out how to do it, fix it, or get it done. We are on your side.
"And number three: Tell yourself, 'I am smart and strong, and I can do it.'" I cannot lie: I did think about Stuart Smalley when I said this.
He was quiet when I finished. I thought maybe he had fallen asleep.
"A. Peevie," I whispered. "Are you awake?"
"Mm-hmm," he whispered back.
"Can you do those three things?" I asked him.
"Mm-hmm," he said.
Half the time, Mr. Peevie and I throw our hands in the air because we feel clueless about how to parent this mysterious, imaginative, highly sensitive child.
Jesus, please help me.