The Importance of Being an Onion

I said to a friend last week that I still don’t know who the Little Monster is.

This is because the Little Monster himself doesn’t know who he is. He was too many things to too many people for the first two-thirds of his life, and now for the last third of his life he’s something different for us. He wears too many labels. He has a 2000-page case history documenting what he is and how he got to be that way. But it says nothing about who he is.

As his Momster, my job is—as much as is possible amidst the constant “use a spoon instead of your finger” guidance—to stay out of his way as he discovers himself. The essential Little Monster at his core. Not whether he wants to grow up to be a fireman or a pole dancer, but his true nature.

The first year with us, just one word summed him up: ANGRY. But that’s no longer true.

I could say that he is loving, cheerful, and eager to please. But is that who he is? I believe it is, but perhaps it’s another survival cape that he wears. Perhaps he’ll shuck it someday (likely when he’s a teenager) just as he did the anger.

I also think stubborn is a trait that’s likely to stick.

My father describes my mother and her forebears as stubborn (not framed as a compliment or an insult, but as a simple fact), so LM could easily be my genetic offspring with that characteristic, which I’ve learned to see in myself as positive. I was stubborn enough to stick with the Little Monster during that ANGER year, for instance.

But I see glimpses and glimmers of the blue-blooded prince beneath his confused camouflage.

Like the other day, I packed him off to school with the Christmas goodies that Tutu once again supplied me with to thank the teachers, therapists, camp counselors, neighbors, and social workers who helped this family to become forever.

This year I got lazy and labeled all of the macadamia nut goodies myself, whereas I usually have the Little Monster address them—an arduous, painstaking task that can seem more painful and longlasting than a bladder infection. I think sitting down to address the gifts, like making homemade cards, at least causes him to consider the notion of gratefulness—as much as any child is capable of feeling gratitude when all they really care about is what’s under the tree with their name on it. Doesn’t matter who it’s from and how it got there.

I’ve also helped him distribute the gifts into school mailboxes in the past. But this year I asked him if he was okay to pass out the chocolates himself, and he said yes. I thought, well, there’s going to be a boy throwing up in school today after eating fourteen boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

But when he came home that night and I searched his backpack, as I always do, I found a list, handwritten in pencil on a piece of folder paper, entitled:


Under which he had copied out a list of the names from the candy labels. He had used his recess to hand deliver each box, checking off his list as he went.

So there I was doing my usual spot check on what he might have stolen. Perhaps expecting crinkled mac nut wrappers.

What he stole was my heart.

With what earnestness he had completed his task. Until that moment, EARNEST would not have occurred to me as a word to describe him. But the word loomed up in front of me as clear as DISTRIBUTION.

He’s an onion.

With each layer that peels back as he becomes comfortable and secure enough to become himself, he makes me cry.

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