Wednesday, October 13, 2010

With Friends Like These

My son has some friends who are really bad news.

We call them the Doo Brothers. They have first names, but I can't keep track of them all. They have foul mouths. They drive too fast. They care about no one but themselves. They're always buying expensive cars, even though there's no way they're earning that money at the jobs I know about. They drink and smoke. They are not respectful to anybody. They take pride in their bad behavior.

They're everything I don't want my son to be. Yet they're part of him. An imaginary part. But a really loud imaginary part.

I guess most seventeen-year-olds have outgrown imaginary friends. Most seven-year-olds too, maybe. But it is one of the ... interesting things about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder that developmental levels are widely scattered, and there are parts of my tall, deep-voiced, hairy-faced teen guy that are still five years old and happy to hang with invisible buddies. And thank goodness those Doo boys are invisible, 'cause I bet they'd make a heck of a mess if they were corporeal.

The Doo Brothers started with just Scooby Doo, who shared a name and a voice with the cartoon dog but little else. For years, Scooby was my son's invisible buddy; then I started hearing about Scooby's many brothers, sort of like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Will rattles off a long list of imaginary siblings. The rowdy behavior has been building over these few years of high school right along with the rowdy behavior my son sees in his classmates.

The fact that my son's behavior has stayed relatively good -- remarkably so, really, considering the stress of harder work and a busier school schedule -- is, I think, at least partly to the credit of those disreputable Doos. That's the glory of imaginary friends; they can let you act out all sorts of antisocial impulses in a safe way, where nobody can hold anything against you. With my ear pressed against my son's bedroom door, I can hear the Doos berate him for any behavioral missteps, even as they act out his wildest impulses. They're good friends. They act up so he doesn't have to.

He's learned, thankfully, to interact with his imaginary buddies behind closed doors, which seems like an encouraging sign of maturity. He's less likely to talk to Scooby in front of people, or as Scooby, and that's an improvement. These developments (along with the fact that I learn a lot of secrets by eavesdropping on the Doos) lead me to worry less about a seventeen-year-old having invisible friends. As long as they continue to serve a purpose for him, I'm inclined to let them stick around. His real-life friends are sweeter, but them I have to clean up after.


Terri Mauro blogs at Parenting Special Needs and Parenting Isn't Pretty. She has two terrific kids, a 20-year-old with learning and language disabilities and a 17-year-old with FASD, both adopted from Russia in 1994.

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