I live with what basically amounts to the human version of Oscar the Grouch. He’s a creature of habit, and heaven help anyone who messes with his routine — or anyone who happens to be around for the aftermath.
Wake him up a minute too soon, and prepare for a rain cloud of grump to descend on the household. He vastly prefers solitude, because generally, people “bother” him. And if you ask how his day went, you’re likely to get an answer along the lines of “terrible” or “worst day ever.”
But this crotchety Eeyore of a person isn’t a cane-waving, get-off-my-lawn grandpa: I’m referring to my son, and for the entirety of his 11 years, he’s been exactly this way. I like to tease him that he’s an old man in training (to which, predictably, he huffs and rolls his eyes).
He isn’t depressed. He isn’t suffering. He isn’t surrounded by a family full of negative people; in fact, we try our best to be positive role models — always attempting to shine light into his gloomy outlook. But despite our best efforts to elevate his mood, he naturally defaults to his prickly, unenthusiastic state.
We’re born with certain predispositions, inherent temperaments, just the same as we’re destined to have dark skin or blonde hair or be left- or right-handed. And just like my son got blue eyes and a knack for computer programming, he was dealt a disposition that’s, well, not exactly on the sunny side. Even as an infant, he was fairly somber, a rosy-cheeked cherub whose gummy grins were all the more precious because they were few and far between.
I can’t imagine being as perpetually crabby as he seems to be, but he owns it, equipped with an unflappable sense of self and an enviable level of satisfaction with who he is. Still, I try to infuse each day with an upbeat attitude at every opportunity because that’s how I am. “Look at this beautiful morning!” I trill, opening his shades.
“I like it better when it’s raining,” he says flatly.
And that’s how it goes. Me, trying to point out the positives, encouraging him to tell me the things he liked best about his day; him, offering up unfulfilling one-word answers and “hmmph”-ing softly through his nose.
But trying to change him is impossible. He’s a morning person and a lover of spicy foods, and he’s also a grump. It’s in his bones, and he is completely okay with being that way — and if anyone has a problem with it, he’d rather be alone. He is unapologetically, authentically himself, no matter how different he may be than his cheerier peers.
He’s at home in his own (thick, curmudgeonly) skin. And like Oscar the Grouch in his beloved trash can, he can’t be encouraged or pep-rallied out of who he is. No one on Sesame Street ever looked at Oscar and worried that he was despondent and in need of psychological rescue. They looked at him and realized that he was happy to be unhappy. He was great when he could gripe. And though they couldn’t fully understand why, they just let him be and loved him anyway.
As long as my son isn’t being mean to others or hurting himself (no and no), he can revel in his crabbiness all he wants.
Would our daily routine be easier if my son were chipper and optimistic? I’m almost sure it would be. But if he were that way, he would be a different version of my son, the boy whose frown I’ve learned to appreciate just as much as his smile.