July 13, 2005

sadness transferred

For the past few months, Damian has been playing a long running game he's devised. I don’t know all the parameters, but I do know there are a whole hell of a lot of bad guys for the main character to fight. When this game began, he kept interrupting himself to come out and show me yet another bad guy (a toy lizard, snake, or frog, usually – the good guys in this case are mostly small plastic aliens).

I found the theology in this game rather intriguing: when good guys die, they become bad guys. And when bad guys die, they become ghosts and apparently (if I'm getting this right), when a whole bunch of bad guy ghosts are hanging (or is that floating?) around, they coalesce and turn back into one good guy. Mostly, though, I think this elaborate structure is just an excuse for a whole lot of fighting.

Shortly after Damian began this epic game, he announced that it was a chapter game and that it would end when we leave Los Angeles and move to New Jersey. Okay, whatever. Sounds fine, right? But shortly after we got back from our latest trip east, he started getting morose. Why? "I'm sad because I'm thinking about this game ending."

Now, when I say morose, I mean really, chin-quivering, eyes-watering melancholy. A powerful sadness.

"Well, then why end it?" we asked, "You can keep playing once we get to New Jersey." No, that wasn't going to work. "Why not?" It just wasn't. Take his word for it.

It keeps coming up, this sadness. Coming on him in a flood of emotion, only receding after we discuss all the possible permutations of games ending and games transmuting into other games and leaving games behind as you grow and games becoming… well, isn't it obvious? Game becomes an extended, deeply felt metaphor.

What you have to understand is that this is a boy who says he has no regrets about moving. Who shrugs and smiles when we tell him about snow and cold and humidity and how it's not going to be an extended vacation, who says, "Yes but it'll be better than here." Who asked me one night while we were at the Jersey Shore to list the reasons New York (including New Jersey) is better than LA and when I'd enumerated every reason I could conjure that makes it a better place for us as a family, added one of his own: "New York is more fun." He's right. For us, it is. Our life is more full there. He, like us, feels a little empty and isolated here. And knows it. When we arrived back in LA a week and a half ago, we stood by the plexiglass window in the terminal, watching the workers take the baggage off the plane we'd just disembarked. Damian gave a great big sigh. "I miss New York." Five minutes back in LA and he missed his to-be new home.

In other words, this child is deeply committed to this move. To wanting this to happen. And yet, I think, he has these feelings. Feelings of sadness at leaving. But he can't allow himself to admit it, though we've tried: we've encouraged him to express all his feelings and we've talked about how you can feel two things at once. But he doesn’t want to go there. Maybe it's too hard. Maybe it's too much. I don't know. But Dan and I both suspect that this unusual sadness over ending a game – an ending he completely controls – is really his way of expressing and feeling the sadness that's there under the surface. Leaving home. Uprooting. Transplanting. It's a good thing but also an emotionally difficult one. Especially, I think, for him. It's got to be. Dan and I have roots in New York. Memories. It's home for us, profoundly so. But Damian was born here. In the land of palm trees and red tile Moorish rooftops, of warm winter evenings and wild Santa Ana winds in autumn. This is his home turf. The only thing he really knows. Can this move really be as emotionally straightforward as he makes it sound? I doubt it. Thus this sadness. Over a game.

Posted by Tamar at July 13, 2005 10:27 PM | TrackBack

I'd been sort of waiting for this. A move like this is about as profound a shift as exists for D -- whose old diagnosis, at any level, tended to include massive resistance to even amall changes. Y'all have done a brilliant job at preparing him, and he's chosen your mode -- storytelling -- for dealing with it. Still, the more appropriate word for what he's feeling, and processing here, is grief.

That theology, btw, is fascinating.

Posted by: Chris at July 14, 2005 03:20 AM

Sadness, "over a game", but nonetheless felt, and recognised, and made room for; and parents who understand it, and will do what they can to help it. Not bad at all.

Posted by: Baba Yaga at July 14, 2005 11:17 AM

So interesting, how he's handling it, and terrific that you and Dan understand the underlying emotions.

I wonder... I wonder if it would be possible to entice him into a new rule, one where the good guys, when they win, get to go defend NY from its bad guys. Or something like that... some way of pulling NY into the game in a trasitional way? Dunno, just a thought.

Posted by: toni at July 14, 2005 08:59 PM

There's a mighty big age difference between Damian and I, but I know that I feel that strange tug between two emotions. I decided to move from Montreal to Halifax, and that should be taking place very soon. I'm excited and happy, yes, but at the same time, there's this terrible fear and sadness too. Of course, I'm leaving all of my ties behind, but still. It's been very confusing and this play between opposing feelings is responsible for putting off this move over and over again - basically, I just didn't know how to deal with wanting to go but feeling so sad to do so.

Posted by: Amanda at July 19, 2005 10:21 AM
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