my favorite natural disaster
Buster turned 5 this week, which means that this is the last piece I’ll ever write about Buster the Fournado, the manic, whirling emotional storm that whips at high speed from sparkling exuberance to devastation to fart jokes to Batman to unconsciousness as soon as he hits the pillow.
He runs at 9,000 RPMs from the moment he wakes at 5:30 am and kicks open his bedroom door like the biker from Raising Arizona:
When he runs at 9,000 RPMs at my house, that’s fine. We have Buster-proofed our home with the cunning use of furniture anchors and industrial straps. I have a yard, and I’m not afraid to give that kid some laps to run him down.
The problem isn’t Buster at home. The problem is when he brings that BDE (Borderline Disaster Energy) to every other place on Earth.
As we dashed into the grocery store to pick up a single onion that we needed for the spaghetti sauce, Buster spied a book about trucks on a rotating display and screamed TRUCKS the way some people scream “FIRE.”
A nearby woman dropped her avocado. It was a ripe one, too. When the green grenade exploded all over the floor, Buster pointed and hollered, IS THAT GUACAMOLE I HATE GUACAMOLE THAT’S GROSS WHY DID SHE DO THAT and that’s when I decided to make mac and cheese instead.
Listen, kids love trucks! Babies love trucks and they point at trucks and accidentally say “fuck” and the passing nuns squeal in delight. Toddlers love trucks and they clap their sweet little patty-caking hands together and coo “truck” and Grandmas everywhere buy truck jam-jams from the heap at Costco.
Buster loves trucks and…
When Buster tries to play with his friend Toby at school, he wants to walk up and say “Hi Toby! Cool dinosaur.” Then he plugs that impulse into the Buster Fournado 9,000, and “greet and engage” comes out as “I’ve got missile lock.” That’s how we end up with my beefy bear cub of a kid running through three other kids like a bowling ball through ten-pins, to land one inch from Toby’s face and scream CARNIVORE!
Toby doesn’t know what that means, but it sounds like a threat.
Bless Toby, and even more bless Toby’s mom, who can see that my particular fournado has a heart of gold and is working overtime every day to try to contain his rushing storm of delight and urgency. Bless all the moms who can see the difference between Buster’s BDE - Borderline Disaster Energy - and an actual fucking disaster. Not everyone can see it.
As the mom of this child, who has been intense and funny and bright and expressive since the day he was born (although not really because kids on the day they’re born are like “I’m sleepy, this is weird, I just shit myself for the first time ever, literally laying that pipe right now, hope the system works as advertised”), I struggle every day to answer the question of how much I should intervene with his personality.
I want him to be who he is: Intense, funny, bright, expressive.
I also want him to be able to play with kids at school. I want his little friends to enjoy superhero-themed play dates, and then not wake up in a cold sweat after seeing Buster’s face float out of the darkness and whisper HERE COMES THE BATMAN.
I’m so in love with this kid that I don’t ever want to insinuate that he’s not exactly who he’s supposed to be. I’m so in love with this kid that I can’t let him be exactly who he is. It’s a paradox, for sure. Thank God for his teachers, who like him but aren’t in love with him, and have the ability to create social norms for him to operate within, so that I can do my job of creating a safe place where every day, multiple times a day, he will go into the bathroom to wash his hands and see the words I spelled out on the mirror in sticky letters: I like you just the way you are.
I had to walk Chicken through the same tailoring of self in order to fit into a community, but that does not make it easier to do the same thing with Buster. I wish I could tell you that it’s an act of selflessness, something I do for their own good and their own good alone. But the truth is that when a kid hits 9,000 RPMs over a truck book, people stare at his mom and wonder what she’s doing wrong.
They assume I’m a wimp, a pushover, a “cool mom,” who wants to be her child’s “best friend,” who would rather he and his friends eat fruit snacks at home where it’s safe, if they’re going to eat the fruit snacks. And honestly, they’re GOING to eat the fruit snacks. We did, when we were their age, right?
Yes, the judgment of strangers is a factor. When my kid’s exuberance overspills, sloshes out of his bucket, and splashes on the floor next to the avocado display, that’s not just a reflection on the kid’s character, but on my mothering as well.
Also important to note: I feel a responsibility to socialize my children that far outpaces my husband’s sense of urgency to do the same. It’s probably not ALL due to unconscious gender biases that place the lion’s share of invisible labor on women’s shoulders… right? Right, guys? Right, gals? Right, nonconforming pals?
I am the one on the play dates and at the store most of the time, which means I’m the one who gets the looks and sniffs and eyebrows and, “Got your hands full, there, don’t you” thinly veiled condemnations of my son’s “terrible character,” which is of course “my fault.” Sometimes, when I’m already feeling weak or insecure, I get angry at Buster for making me look like a failure, and then later, I get angry at myself for piling my own shit on my kid’s head.
All this leads me to my own private lightbulb moment: if it’s Buster’s job to take steps down the path to socialization, maybe it’s my job to retrace my steps on the way back to exuberance. Somewhere in the middle we will meet each other at a place where we’re still too loud for the lady at the avocado display, but just right for the people who love us, and who like us just the way we are.
Anyway, he’s 5 now. I’m sure 5 is easier than 4.
Right, my nonconforming pals?