The boy wept after his grandmother passed away. Being far too young to touch the delicate fabric of mortality, the death of a family member served as a jarring affront to the endless stream of time that reached out to greet him. I didn't know, nor did I dare to ask, how she fell ill and when the family came to terms with her scheduled demise. But for a child to accept that all the people they love will eventually perish, even to accept that a single life has its limits, they must be dragged through hell until their innocence ceases to paint all landscapes with an indefatigable glow; a promise that stifles cynicism and nurtures imagination.
He cried again, this time in my company rather than in his father's more familiar presence. I let him be alone and after all the sadness drained from his body I went to buy ice cream. As much as the loss itself provoked grief for the boy, the struggle to comprehend it provoked anger, which revealed itself in the intermittent wails of a bedroom under siege.
Childhood turns to adulthood in a subtle manner, and one of the most taxing parts of the transformation is the belated realisation that you have been robbed blind. The illusion of permanence disappears overnight and in its place dread builds and builds until it is the beating pulse of all decisions. Any fruitless endeavour becomes a waste of time rather than an adventure and the search for purpose drives the mind to breaking point, not because it isn't a noble objective but because people pursue it in straight jackets, filled with rigidity by their conviction that any misstep is a catastrophe and any respite is a sycophantic act of hedonism, rather than a healthy display of bottled up yearning.
The trouble with such an outburst in front of a person whose respect matters is that it leaves one feeling vulnerable and driven to reassert themselves however possible, and to a reasonable extent you must let them claw back old ground to restore the delicate balance of power. It's a push-pull cycle of behaviour that is difficult to escape once it starts and takes great stoicism to handle appropriately.
Yesterday, the boy went out of his way to reject every single one of my requests, and every time I acquiesced I felt my authority wince, yet taking the alternative course of action - keeping him in a headlock of expectations hardly justified on a Friday afternoon following an entire week of directives - would have been detrimental to our relationship in the long term.
Progress in this area is not the linear process that I'm accustomed to. It is sporadic, it shifts in all directions, somersaults and reverses, throwing itself through time and space with the thrust of a dozen oxen. No child of his age wants an interloper in their home laying down the law.
My responsibility, then, is to deliver results without harming the autonomy of the boy. The only viable means to achieve this is to disguise orders as habits and expectations as facts of life, to naturalise structure and turn resistance into automatic acceptance. In this construct I am an assistant rather than an enforcer, available to make studying and chores as seamless as possible and inhabit the favourable position of 'big brother'.