Just a Little... Different: Part One
“Tyto, get down off the kitchen table! That's the third time I've had to ask you. What's gotten into you today?” I shouted exasperatedly at my baby Grarrl as he stood on our yellow wooden kitchen table, the tablecloth tied around his neck like a cape as he banged together a pair of metal pots he'd hijacked from the cupboards that were low enough for him to reach.
Danby, my baby Shoyru, tugged on my trouser leg, one paw clasped to the side of his head as he winced and hollered, “Papa, what's the matter with Tyto today?”
“I have no idea!” I shouted back. “Where are Shasta and Lucy?”
My baby Ogrin and Kacheek had disappeared a while ago due to the ruckus their usually docile little brother was causing.
Tyto, meanwhile, dropped the pots, putting an end to the agonising clanging, and proceeded to jump the four feet from the kitchen table to the linoleum floor and dash out the door to the nursery.
I, however, was too quick for him, and snagged his tablecloth cape as he ran past. Picking him up and carrying him to the sofa, I sat him firmly in my lap as Danby scooted away.
I sighed exasperatedly. “Tyto, what in the world has gotten into you today? You're usually so quiet and calm; you never give me any trouble. What's going on?”
But all I got was a snarl that I think was supposed to be terrifying, but sounded more like a Spyder had swallowed a Kadoatie, and the same phrase he'd been repeating ever since he got home from nursery school that day;
“I'm a strong, terrifying Grarrl! I don't listen to anybody!”
With that, he squirmed his way out of my grip and scuttled off upstairs, where I heard more ominous banging and crashing.
I was more than a little worried: This little boy had never been terribly concerned about the stereotypes of his species before, and that was a good thing, because he cried on a neopoint, played with plushies, was scared of his own shadow, and sucked his thumb.
Even if he was still a baby, it had always been obvious to me that Tyto was a little... different, from most other Grarrls, and I wondered what he'd seen or heard at nursery school that day that would make him behave like this.
It was nearing seven o'clock when I started running the bath, and upon hearing the water running, my kids ran obediently into the bathroom and lined up as they did every night. But as I turned around to get the yellow JubJub sponge sitting by the sink, I noticed I was one short.
“Where's Tyto?” I asked.
Lucy scowled, flicking her tiny purple Kacheek tail back and forth with irritation. “He's busy tyin' up all our plushies with his Kougra-tail skipping rope. Don' worry, though.” She smiled smugly. “I hid Twinkle, so he can't find her.”
Twinkle was Lucy's baby Uni plushie, one to which she was very firmly attached, so it didn't surprise me that she'd taken the time to hide her.
I scowled, concerned, as I exited the bathroom to locate my little Angelpuss-turned-Grarrg. Indeed, as I stepped into the kids' room, I was immediately tripped up by a purple Ruki skipping rope – that had been tied to the radiator at one end of the room, stretched across the doorway, and attached firmly to Shasta's cot at the other end – and landed flat on my face, narrowly avoiding a painful confrontation with a pile of baby Bruce blocks strewn over the carpet.
Picking myself up gingerly, I groaned, rubbing my injured left elbow gently.
“Tyto,” I said slowly as my eyes flicked about the room and took in the mess of toys littering the once-tidy floor, “what in the world are you doing? Look at this mess. It's almost time for bed, little one; what were you thinking?”
I sighed and shook my head wearily as I picked myself up off the floor with effort. “Come on, then, we'll clean this up tomorrow. Right now it's time for your bath.”
But Tyto, who was busy balancing on the window sill, brandishing his glowing toy sword dangerously in one paw and dangling his poor baby Grarrl plushie Gareth upside down by his tail in the other, merely laughed in a harsh, grating manner that sounded more like a taunt than a laugh, and said gleefully, “Big brave ferocious Grarrls don't take baths, an' they never do what their papas tell them!”
With that, he leapt off the sill, scrambled away down the hall, and dove under my bed, where he met Norman, Shasta's timid little Boween, who had taken cover there when the ruckus began nearly four hours ago that afternoon.
I was tired and fed up, and I had three other kids waiting in the bathroom for me, so I got down on my hands and knees and peered under the bed to see a pair of enormous green eyes grinning impishly at me from the dark.
“Tyto,” I began firmly, “you come out of there right now and have your bath, or you're not getting a bedtime story tonight, understand?”
For a moment the eyes flashed with fear, and then, slowly, Tyto crawled out from under the bed, just as I knew he would; if there was one thing Tyto wouldn't pass up, it was his bedtime story.
Eventually I managed to get my kids bathed and dressed in their pyjamas, and soon enough we were all settled down on the blue sofa in the nursery.
“Alright, guys,whose turn is it to choose, tonight? Tyto, I think it's you,” I said, looking down at my now much calmer son as he sat at my side, not nestling into me as he usually did, but perched erect, with an odd look of defiant independence about him.
Tyto slid down off the sofa and made his way to the brown bookshelf in the corner, skipping past the baby books we normally read from on the bottom shelf, eventually dragging back a heavy brown novel with a tattered cover.
Picking it up curiously, I read the title, Grarrl Mythology. I glanced at him as he struggled back onto the sofa.
“Tyto,” I said, “do you even know what this book is about?”
He shook his head. “Nope,” he said, “But it had a picture of a Grarrl on the front, so I knew it must be good.”
“I dunno,” I said uncertainly. “I don't think you'll like this one very much, little one; it's for grownups.”
But Tyto was defiant. “But you said it was my turn to pick,” he whined.
I threw up my hands in defeat. “Alright, fine, little one, if this is really what you want. Do you want me to wait a minute while you go get your blankie?” I asked. Tyto never listened to a story without his blue security blanket, and I noticed he hadn't brought it down with him this time.
Tyto shook his head. “No, I don't need it. Big strong Grarrls don't need blankies.”
I shrugged, too tired to question him anymore, and opened the enormous dusty volume.
As I had suspected, it didn't take long for the long, tedious sentences and words with so many syllables even I couldn't pronounce them to put my kids to sleep, and by about page four, they had all drifted off and were leaning on one another, out like lights.
I smiled softly as I shifted slowly off the sofa to replace the book on the shelf, then picked up Lucy in one arm, Shasta in the other, and carried them both upstairs.
When I returned to fetch Tyto and Danby, I had to chuckle lightly; throughout the story, Tyto had been steadfastly sitting on his hands, I could only presume to keep his thumb out of his mouth, since that was where it usually ended up any time he wasn't actively engaged in something, and even more so when he was sleepy. However, it seemed that he had lost the battle as sleep overtook him, and that thumb was now planted firmly as ever in his mouth, and he sighed softly.
As I put him and his brother to bed that night, and watched as Tyto unconsciously snuggled up to his blankie, nestling his face in it, I had to wonder again what had brought about this sudden and dramatic change, and if and when the phase would pass.
At breakfast that morning, it was evident that Tyto's odd behaviour still hadn't worn off. He knocked his bowl of Wheat Flakes to the floor, complaining that they were too soggy, then proceeded to steal Danby's box of raisins and flick them into Lucy's Pumpkin baby food.
The last straw came when my little Grarrl unscrewed the lid from his Bruce bottle and tipped its contents over the head of poor Norman, who was sitting under the kids' chairs waiting for scraps.
Norman squeaked indignantly and scurried under the table, dripping milk from his blue fur as he did so.
I jumped up from my chair, almost knocking it over. “Tyto, what in the world do you think you're doing? What's the matter with you?!”
Tyto looked at me, a defiant sneer crossing his face that I knew was fake only by the fear flashing in his eyes. I picked him up roughly and held him by the waist in one arm.
“I don't know what's gotten into you these past couple of days, but you know better than this, Tyto. I'm disappointed in you. You're going to stay in your room until we're ready to leave for nursery school, understand?”
I expected Tyto to cry, but he didn't; he just hung limply in my arm and remained silent, keeping his steely gaze locked on the stairs as we ascended them.
I took the toys out of Tyto's cot and put them on the shelf before depositing my son in his bed, then walked out, shutting the door firmly behind me.
Suddenly feeling a little guilty, I glanced at my watch to be sure I wasn't about to leave him alone in there for half an hour or more. But I needn't have worried; we only had ten minutes before we had to leave, and he'd be fine for that long.
I returned to the kitchen and fished Norman out from under the table, carrying him gingerly to the sink as I proceeded to hose him off. Once I had sufficiently rid the Boween's fur of dried milk, I started mopping up the floor, feeling the silent gaze of my other three kids on me as I worked.
Eventually Danby piped up. “Papa,” he said quietly, “I-I think I know why Tyto's been actin' so weird.”
I looked up from where I knelt on the floor with my paper towels. “Why, Danby? What's going on?”
Danby looked away and proceeded to twist his yellow onesie through his paws nervously. “Well,” he began slowly, “Yesterday at school Miss Ellie read us The Grarrl who Crushed Tyrannia all about this big scary Grarrl who wrecked the whole village an' ate everything an' stuff, an' all the other Grarrls thought he was real cool, a-an' I think that's what's wrong with Tyto. I think he feels like he's not a real Grarrl. I think he feels... different.”
I stopped, surprised. It had never occurred to me that any of my kids were old enough to recognise differences in people. Apparently Tyto had. Not only was he self-aware enough to see he wasn't like the other Grarrls in Neopia, or like any of the other kids in his nursery school for that matter, but he understood the implications of that, and was doing his best to, as he perceived it, “fix” himself, and I knew it was going to take a lot more than a few convincing words and a hug to change his mind this time.
That didn't stop me from trying, though: We walked to school that morning, me holding Tyto firmly in my arms despite his protests – because he had managed to dash out into the street three times before we even left our block – and I attempted to talk to him.
“You know, Tyto,” I said as my baby swiped at a passing butterfly, “it's okay not to be like everyone else. You're very special you know.”
For the first time in two days, Tyto gazed at me with solemnity, and for an instant, I could just see his sensitive old self starting to show through.
He sighed. “It's not okay, Papa. It's not okay to be different; all the other kids tease me 'cause I'm too scared to play on the rocking Uni, an' I cry when we play tag an' I fall down, an' I'm too shy an' won't talk to anybody, an' they say I get upset too easy when Miss Ellie reads us sad stories, an' they laugh at me 'cause I suck my thumb. It's not okay to be different. Y'know, when I started actin' like a real Grarrl yesterday, all the other kids loved it; they finally played with me, an' they di'n't say anything mean or anything.”
I bit my lip, trying to quell the feeling of sorrow rising within me. I wanted to say something, but by the time I figured out what it was, Grarrg was back, and Tyto had disappeared into the shadows.
I dropped my kids off and watched them scatter amongst their friends. Pulling Ellie aside quickly, I murmured, “I wonder if I might have a word?”
Ellie looked surprised, but nodded and followed me to the hall where no one could hear us.
I sighed and began, “Okay, you know that story you read the kids yesterday about the Grarrl who ate everything?”
The nursery teacher nodded and I continued, “Well, apparently Tyto took it a little too to heart, if you know what I mean.”
She gave me a blank stare and I tried again. “Well, you must have noticed yesterday that he was acting a little... different, more wild and crazy, didn't seem to care about following the rules, didn't really seem like, well, you know... Tyto.” I bit my lip nervously; she probably thought I was crazy, rambling absently the way I was.
To my relief, she nodded. “Yes,” Ellie began, furrowing her brow with concern. “You know, I did notice that; we went outside to play after the story, and Tyto was very active, climbing all over the jungle gym, which he never does because he's afraid of heights, then he got all the other kids to play tag with him. I thought it was nice that he was finally getting involved. He is such a quiet, withdrawn little boy, you know; most days he just sits and plays by himself, even when Dylan is around. He just never seemed to have much interest in playing with the other kids before.”
I nodded. Dylan, the little Scorchio who was Tyto's best friend, often complained about how little my Grarrl was willing to do with him out of fear.
Biting my lower lip anxiously, I sighed as I relayed to her all the mischievous antics my usually docile son got up to last night, then I explained that Danby seemed to think it was because Tyto felt different, like he didn't fit in somehow.
Ellie frowned. “Well, I'm sorry about that, Adrian; I'll just have to be more careful about the stories I choose from now on. I'll keep a close eye on him, though, and let you know how things go, alright?”
I nodded and thanked her as I walked out the door, curious as to what the day's events would bring.
After spending the entire day worrying about Tyto, and all the trouble he might get up to now that he was convinced he had to misbehave to be “normal”, I made my way slowly down to the nursery school, and was greeted by a very tired looking Ellie, and a furious Tyto perched on a yellow chair facing the corner of the room.
“What's going on?” I demanded as my other kids scurried up to greet me.
Ellie sighed. “I think we're going to have to do something about this, Adrian, and soon.” She glanced at Tyto, who still hadn't come out of the corner.
“He got sent to timeout three times today, once for disrupting our song during circle time, once for stealing another child's neo crackers at snack, and again for – would you believe it – fighting! Jamie,” she indicated the baby Kau whose mother was picking him up, “was just minding his own business, when out of nowhere Tyto came up and pushed him right out of the beanbag he was using! So, of course, a tussle ensued, and I must say, Tyto seems to have gotten much stronger since I last saw him; he managed to get Jamie pinned to the ground before I could rescue him.”
Ellie shook her head wearily. “What are we going to do, Adrian? Your little boy used to be such a sweetheart, but whatever beliefs he has about what he ought to be to 'fit in' have taken that right out of him.”
I bit my lip anxiously; this was getting serious. Sighing, I rounded up my kids and thanked Ellie, then went to retrieve Tyto from his chair.
Walking up to his teacher as he squirmed in my arms, I said, “Tyto, don't you think you'd better say you're sorry to Miss Ellie? You caused her a lot of trouble today.”
Tyto just scowled and stared at the ground.
“Go on,” I prodded. “We're not going home until you do.”
The tension was palpable as everyone stood in awkward silence for several minutes. Finally Tyto sighed and mumbled, “Sorry, Miss Ellie.”
Ellie smiled sadly. “That's alright, Tyto, maybe we'll have a better day tomorrow.”
Tyto shrugged, still staring at the floor. Having said all he was going to, he struggled to get free of my grasp again, so I put him down and we headed out the door.
To be continued...