At his school's insistence, I brought my son to meet with a child psychiatrist. Did she open my eyes or close them? Now my son seems diminished. Nothing he does is innocent anymore.

Today he hung his empty ices wrapper on the fridge door with a magnet. He didn't say anything, and waited to see when someone would notice. I noticed as I was making dinner, and for a moment I was charmed by this unrestrained act of playfulness. Then the moment passed, and a harsh voice in my head cautioned me that his teachers will not find his antics so charming. I made him remove the wrapper and place it in the garbage bin. I explained that garbage is not art.

Nothing he does is innocent anymoreExcept that sometimes it is. Sometimes, people break rules, and for a moment, we learn a new way of looking at the world. Like sleepwalkers, who have been functioning without full awareness, we suddenly awake to a new vision. It is the rule-breakers who sound the alarm that wakes us all.

The question is when can rules be broken and why. I want to allow my son the right to ask this question. Instead the psychiatrist' words bind me like chains. "I will continue to be a part of your life." This freedom will come at a price.

I want to return to enjoying my child, without this intrusive awareness of how others will view him. Yet I have been warned. "Teach him social skills. Teach him the difference between normal and abnormal."

Today at lunch, he assembled his cut-up hotdog into the form of a house, using toothpicks to connect the walls. He explained that the hotdogs were bricks. Should I tell him that we don't build houses out of hotdogs? Should I tell him that only legos can be used to build houses and hotdogs cannot?

Where is the line between deviance and playfulness? How can he learn this difference except by testing it, and by occasionally going to far?

I remember having my own private world, a world I created as a small child which existed just below the radar of my parents' world. I remember the power of secret languages, and special codes. I remember the magic of believing that I possessed secret knowledge that adults did not.

I tell the psychiatrist that in our family we are all a bit weird. She seems taken aback by my openness. Perhaps she does not remember as clearly as I do what it means to be a child.

Until I was eight years old, I was terrified of my teachers in school. Even finishing first held no appeal if it meant standing out. I only wanted to be invisible.

At home, I prowled through our house, searching for hidden passages. I wrote stories in a notebook I kept hidden underneath the dresser.

The world seems so much more intolerant than when I was a childAs an adult I still write, except today I don't hide my notebooks. I am confident enough to publish my work. I have a brother who paints, and displays his artwork in galleries in SOHO.

I want my son to also have this confidence to tell his story. I want him to have the internal freedom to write his own story. Yet the world seems so much more intolerant than when I was a child. It is a world where boys cannot simply be boys, and must instead be evaluated.

Yet my son does not fit into a category in the DSM. He has tendencies, but not pathologies. He has bad moods, but not a consistent pattern of dysfunction.

As a parent, I am torn between my desire to protect him by insisting upon his right to be an individual, and my desire to protect him by teaching how not to stand out.

It is a question that cannot be answered easily. It is a question that will continue to be part of my life as I struggle for a middle ground.

It is not easy to be a parent. Yet I remember that feeling I had as a child of moving through a world populated by giants. This awareness helps me to recognize that it is also not easy to be a child.

As he grows up, I know my son will grapple with the value and the price of conformity he struggles to find his place in the world, but at least he will not struggle alone.