Woody, more than anyone else in the family, seems to need to know what is coming next. Sometimes he will pepper me with questions about everything that a given day is to entail, or plans for meals weeks in advance. Seriously, as we’ve left on vacation he’s asked what our meals will be the days immediately after we have arrived home.
I try to take these lines of questioning in stride, understanding that it’s his nature, but sometimes they totally exasperate me. I mean, really…dinner a week and a half from now after we roll in from vacation? Two words: no idea. I like to have a good idea of what is (or what should be) coming next, but still. Too far is too far.
A need for structure
When I think about it, Woody’s need for this information, for this mental planning, absolutely fits in with his personality. He’s the one who needs more structure in general. He’s the one who really needs planned activities in the summer and the rigid desk rules for homework. Woody needs that illusion of control over his surroundings, and the structure helps him maintain that illusion, which in turns helps him maintain self-control. This is in contrast to Alfs, who seems to need more looking up and watching the clouds go by time.
The constant questioning about what is next or what else will be happening sometimes impedes his hearing the responses. He’ll ask me the same or similar questions repeatedly in a short period of time. This tells me he’s feeling stressed about something else, about something he feels he has no control. Perhaps he doesn’t always need to know himself what that next or soon happening is, but he needs to know that somebody knows, that somebody has a handle, that somebody has control. He does not like it at all when my answer to his inquiries is, “I don’t know.”
As much as I want to (and really, must!) respect this aspect of Woody’s personality, I also want to help him let go a bit more and understand that the illusion of control is just that: an illusion. We can make plans and lists and all that, but we do not have that absolute control. That can be a scary realization, even when you’re an adult.
Making it a game
When Woody starts in on fifty questions about our day, our week, our month, I first try to answer simply while waiting to see how far it goes. If it keeps going, I try to turn it into a bit of a game. If we’re in the car and he wants to know exactly how many more minutes until we are home, and what exit did we just pass, I try to turn it into a math game. “Well,” I say, “We just passed exit 14, and we get off at exit 11, and that is about 13 miles from here, and we are traveling at 62 miles per hour, how long do you think it will take us to get there?” and we work out the math. Sometimes I ask other questions back at him to help him deduce the answers.
If it keeps going beyond that, I try a bit of reassurance. I try to reassure him that it’s okay not to have every answer all the time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes I do get a bit exasperated.
Woody’s need for control, while frustrating at times, is understandable, too. It’s a big, scary, unknown world out there, and I think we all like to feel like we have a little bit of control over our realms.