Milo: Mommy, which character in Frozen did you identify with?
Me: Hmm, that’s a tough question. Let me think about it. Which character did you identify with?
Milo: Duh. Elsa.
Milo: Because she’s so misunderstood. They think she’s a monster but really she just doesn’t know how to use her powers for good.
My mom came to visit just before the holiday season and took Milo to see the animated movie, “Frozen.” Milo was so enthralled that he insisted my husband and I see it with him again, the next weekend. He’s been mulling it over ever since. His occasional silence is broken by observations like, “I’m glad the old troll was able to leave her happy memories when he helped her forget that her sister had powers. I wish I only had my happy memories.” Or, “I was surprised that the act of true love that saved her was from her sister. I wonder if B would save me.”
Milo: mommy, I’ve figured out the 5 things I need to survive this life.
Me: what are they?
Milo: a house, you, Reese’s, music and superpowers.
The day after Christmas we saw “Saving Mr. Banks” and Milo’s interest stuck on “Mrs.” Travers’ contrarian attitude and how lonely she seemed. During our 2 and 1/2 hour drive to the beach the next day he asked a million questions about Walt Disney’s speech toward the end of the film, when he convinces Mrs. Travers to relinquish Mary Poppins, and let go of her past. Milo was clearly fascinated by the idea of letting go and how, according to the movie, the letting go allowed Mrs. Travers to be, well, happier, better connected to other people and to herself and, as Milo pointed out “with a lot more money!”
But on Christmas Day Milo was fighting the noise in his head, and it made him vulnerable and contrarian. He was holding on. We had friends over, and by the end of the evening Milo has standing before them, at full height and full volume declaring, “I have nothing but bad luck and bad days. Mostly what I want to do is die. I think about dying all of the time because I’m never, ever happy. I have to take pills so I won’t think about killing myself and THEY DON’T WORK.”
Our friends know him well. They weren’t shocked, but who wouldn’t be sad?
His days at the beach were mostly good. He likes searching for shells and walking for miles yammering on at me or his father about some complicated video game. Or, at times, Mrs. Travers’ childhood, or Elsa’s new life now that the happy ending of Frozen has been confirmed by the second viewing. He watched cable TV, tried out a treadmill and lifting weights, had a waffle each morning, swam in the indoor pool and even convinced the rest of us to sit in the outdoor hot tub under the winter stars. He slept well and laughed often.
His only outbursts happened when his sister provoked him. Sibling rivalry, disagreements, provocations, squabbles, it’s all part of childhood. We know this. But Milo has an exaggerated sense of shame, and when his sister shames him, which she does as often as sisters do, he loses his shit. To his credit he has learned to control himself physically during his outbursts, but there is ear-shattering screaming, which goes over badly at an indoor pool, surrounded by noise bouncing glass and full of giggling, happy sets of other siblings and their horrified parents.
I don’t know how other people get through these long school breaks. The lack of structure, the intense family togetherness, the endless buffets and sweets and stacks of gifts. If you travel, even for two days, it helps because at least you change the scenery, mess with the way time passes, even with how you see the physical world.
My first sustained encounter with the ocean was with the Pacific, in Oregon where the beach is just beneath the cliffs. The western edge of that state is green and hilly and textured and it rolls right down to the water. But near the Atlantic, the coast land is so flat and wet that if you stand on the beach and watch the line between the sand and the water, you can almost see the curve of the earth. I pointed this out to Milo and he nodded in agreement, “I get you Mommy.”
Milo left a New Year’s Eve party early because there were too many children making too much noise. It was confusing and overwhelming. He screeched, then took himself outside and calmly asked to go home so my husband took him. At midnight, Milo was asleep with my husband beside whim. My daughter was still at the party, kicking ass at a game called Mafia. And I was reading a novel.
On New Year’s Day we had friends over for bunch. There were several boys Milo’s age, sweet, quiet, understanding boys. And they did well, until something inexplicable spooked Milo and he screamed, slammed himself into his room, crawled under the covers and sobbed. Then, as our guests were preparing to leave, he came downstairs and said to me, in a giddy voice, “Mommy, if you loved me you would kill me.”
I wasn’t giddy but I was numbingly nonrepsonsive in my tone. “Okay Buddy, let’s go outside, I’ll kill you there.”
“Let me get my shoes.”
We stepped onto the porch and the chilly winter wait.
“How are you gonna kill me?”
“How do you want to go?”
“Hmmm, well, you know how we don’t ever leave you or B or O in the car with the windows up because we don’t want you to suffocate? Why don’t you climb into the minivan and wait. Eventually you’ll suffocate.”
So he climbed into the minivan and I went inside. About 5 minutes later Milo opened the front door, kicked off his shoes and asked what was for dinner. I said that Daddy would take him to his favorite restaurant.
I get you Milo. I get you.