We took Jack to the pediatrician for his well-child visit. He just turned seven. She looked him over from top to toe, asked him about his summer, and about his feelings about starting second grade in the fall. She showed him where he was plotted on the growth chart, squarely in the 56 percentile.
Peering into his mouth with her bright otoscope, she exclaimed, “Well, Jack! You haven’t lost a single tooth yet!” She looked at my husband and me, and we shrugged. Just that day at lunch, Jack had bemoaned his full mouth of “baby” teeth. He begged me to tell him when he would lose a tooth.
His pediatrician thought for a moment, then said to Jack, “Maybe you’re a late bloomer.”
I’m sure it was the last thing my big boy wanted to hear, but for me, it was a kind of “Ah-hah!” moment.
In many ways, Jack is intellectually advanced. He is unreasonably bright, has always had a huge vocabulary, and can converse with adults with poise. Emotionally, on the other hand, he seems to be lagging about three years behind. He becomes emotionally dysregulated with an ease and frequency that confounds us, has five-alarm tantrums at least once or twice a week, and can become aggressive and destructive if not handled with finesse.
It exhausts us, but it must also be really hard to be Jack, to feel like people are constantly frustrated and upset with you, to feel like some days you can’t do anything right.
We believe part of his emotional sensitivity is due to anxiety, which the poor guy probably inherited from me. Some kids get the clingy, whiney variety of anxiety where they cry and look wide-eyed with terror. Other kids, like our Jack, get the brand of anxiety which manifests as rigidity, irritability, and quickness to anger. It looks like he is being explosive and disruptive, but he is really just having a terrible time managing transitions and demands.
Jack probably would have been fine if we had allowed him to remain an only child. He does awesome one on one, craves physical touch and affection, and loves to learn. We had his sister when he was four and a quarter, and his love of life as an only child had been firmly established. It’s been almost three years since Emily joined our family, but there are days Jack still seems to be groping for his position in the pecking order. He is hyper-sensitive to any indication he is being criticized. Even asking him to wash his hands can trigger an explosion. Many days, despite all the attention and adoration we give him, he still seems insecure, and the insecurity seems to trigger his anxiety.
The fact that Jack was verbal enough at 18 months to tell us full stories kind of worked against him. I think we expected way too much from him, emotionally and behaviorally. Our frustration and intolerance for his antics may have actually exacerbated the situation.
Combine all the anxiety, intelligence, and inflexibility with his uncomfortable allergies and tender tummy and you have a recipe for a very grumpy little Jack.
The doc went on to chat with us about how it must be hard for Jack, what with his August birthday and all, to be among the youngest in his class each year. I asked her if his allergies and stomach complaints could factor into his emotional lability. She agreed this might be possible, adding, “He’s also very young.”
My son has always seemed larger than life to me. Even when I was pregnant with him, he seemed enormous and legendary. Sometimes I look at him, really look at him, and I am shocked to remember how little he actually is.
His doctor mentioned the expectations for kids in school are huge, and when you sit a newly seven-year-old boy next to a girl who may be nearly eight, the boy looks almost helplessly immature. She went on to voice exactly how I feel about homework for kids in the early grades— that it is a developmentally inappropriate, unrealistic expectation, and that kids should be running and playing outside after school as opposed to sitting still doing homework.
Jack did pretty well overall in first grade. It was marginally better than the rude transitional year of kindergarten. But many days, he came home like a ticking time bomb after sitting for six hours with barely a break to eat or wiggle. He is already stressing about having the mean teacher for second grade, and how hard it will be. It was reassuring to know we had the support and understanding of our beloved pediatrician.
After his appointment, I thought about the first time we met his doctor, when Jack was still living under my ribs. She was the first and only doctor we interviewed and I am infinitely glad we stuck with her. She has been supportive and encouraging through all my breastfeeding traumas, and is part of the reason I was able to persevere on my breastfeeding journey with my babies. “What a nice doctor we picked for you, Jack,” I said with a smile.
Looking at Jack as a late, little bloomer helped me to put a lot into perspective, and also helped me to remember how little this guy really is.
Several weeks later, Jack woke us up before dawn. “Guess what!” he exclaimed, entering our bedroom. “I think I am going to lose a tooth because I have a tooth growing behind a tooth!”
When I was able to focus my bleary eyes, I peeked into his mouth. Sure enough, there were two little white flecks behind his bottom baby teeth. I remembered seeing two similar white flecks in his gummy, infant mouth with a similar sense of bewilderment. I gingerly touched his tooth and was able to wiggle it slightly.
So, it looks like my late bloomer is about to hit another milestone at his own, amazing pace.