Cycling through - FamilyEducation

Cycling through

June 08,2011

In the carpool line outside T.'s school yesterday L. asked me if we could do a craft when we got home.

I got excited. "Sure!"

As it turned out, L. wanted to make one of those tinfoil helmets people wear to ward off invasive radio signals and/or electromagnetic rays. I thought immediately about a scene in one of my favorite movies, when Morgan and Bo are seated side-by-side on the couch reading about alien abductions and wearing--of course--tinfoil hats.

I told him he'd have to do that craft on his own, thank you very much.

L. tends to cycle through a short list of obsessive interests. These are all-consuming things, around which he structures his days (sometimes nights), and his actions. He started obsessively focusing on interests about age 3, I think.  We haven't noticed any pattern to the cycle, but the interests themselves have been familiar. Here's the list: trains (not the wooden Thomas ones with the painted-on faces but the real, honest-to-goodness trains), space, Clone/Star Wars, computers, office supplies and catalogs, and Playmobil/Legos. Trains dropped off the list about three years ago, but he cycles through the other ones--picking one up from the list and absorbing himself fully in it before it drops off and another one is taken up again. The interest in computers was added about three years ago, and it's an important one for L. now.  Computers are not only interesting to him, but they represent security and soundness with the world. L. relies on things behaving and acting as they should. People are unpredictable, and he figured that out years ago. This is why, I think, he has trouble connecting with them. But computers do what they're supposed to, and seldom let you down. He's often told us that he "loves computers more than people" and while I'm not sure how he is defining the word "love" I do believe that computers represent something important and critical to him.

I have enjoyed all of L.'s interests through him. The one I liked the most was his interest in outer space and space science. I learned so much from him during that intense year when he lived and breathed all things space. In the morning, before school, he would eat his cereal in front of NASA TV (oh I miss those days) and there was always something exciting about doing mundane morning chores to the live sounds of a space walk.

We were thrilled when he became interested in Star Wars and then Clone Wars. For the first time, one of his interests intersected with the interests of his peers around him, and this happened at the start of his 4th grade year--one of his most socially-successful years since kindergarten.

I kind of liked the office supplies/office catalog stage, too, because, secretly, I like office supplies, too. I also like to visit office supply stores, and we had a lot of fun doing that. He still loves to go to the Office Max near us, but now that he's older, and isn't satisfied so readily by pencils and pens and notebook paper I have to limit our trips there. He almost, one time, convinced me to buy a laminating machine.

Lately, L.'s new obsessive interest, though, has been all about Doomsday 2012 theories about the end-of-the-world. We've had to come down hard on him to prevent him from browsing sites like this and trying instead to direct him to places like this, in the hopes that science and reason will win out in the end. He's been endlessly researching doomsday bunkers, too. I think, deep down, L. is scared about doomsday predictions and absorbing himself non-stop in all of it could be a way of coping. I'm not sure what to do about this latest obsession of his because unlike the others, this one has the potential to feed his anxiety, which is something we certainly don't want.  Even T. now has been asking questions about what's supposed to happen in 2012 and "the world is supposed to end" just isn't a comforting answer.

Unfortunately, the intensity of L.'s perseveration on an interest is difficult to switch off; it becomes, almost, an inextricable part of him for weeks, or months on end. But I'm not sure I like this one, or know what to do with it. I don't want to devalue his interest/worries about the end-of-the-world, either--his fears may seem unreasonable to us, but they feel very real to him. 

Do we make all discussions of doomsday forbidden? Do we play along, in the hopes that it will run its course?