Allowing Our Children To Cry

A few months back, I had a conversation with my 5-year-old son that was so tender, sensitive and mature that it made me both extremely proud of the person he is becoming and rather humbled by the fresh awareness it gave me of the awesome responsibility of raising a healthy, balanced human being.

It happened back when we were still in the throes of what I can only hope will be our most difficult move. We were stuck in Jackson trying to sell the house and pack up for the move. Daddy had been gone in Austin for nearly 3 months and, although Aiden was old enough to understand somewhat, he still hadn’t developed the right boxes with which to categorize his emotions. I know he felt abandoned, confused, angry, sad – all mixed in with his normal everyday happy. The world around him, as he’d always known it, was changing. Everything familiar that he loved was being crammed into boxes and stacked against walls. His preschool year was over and he was transferred, temporarily to a new day care until the house sold. His Mama, who was his lifeline, was stressed out of her mind and barely holding it together. And our daily face time conversations with Daddy, although important for maintaining connection, only seemed to dredge up these emotions and bring them to the surface. Sometimes he was so excited to tell Daddy something about his day, only to see his face and clam up and withdraw.

It was after one such conversation that Aiden disappeared into his room. Being somewhat introverted, he often does this to take some time to himself. But when I checked on him a little while later, he was crying. I went to him and quietly scooped him into my arms. He weightily sank into the embrace and shook as he cried. It took everything in me not to try, again, to “fix” it and tell him all the reasons it was really okay and he didn’t need to be sad and… blah… blah… blah. But I held my tongue and held my son and let him cry. Then, without someone talking over his emotions, or trying to explain them away, he filled the silence himself –

Aiden: “Hey, Mama, sometimes when I’m sad, I just go to my room and close the door really quiet so no one will hear and climb in my bed with a toy. And I just cry while I hold the toy.”
Me: “Does that help you feel better?”
Aiden: “No.”
Me: “Does it help you feel better to hold me instead of a toy?”
Aiden (nodding meekly): “A little. But sometimes I still feel sad.”
Me: “That’s okay, buddy. It’s okay to feel sad and to cry. And it’s okay to need help working through it. You just have to ask me and I will hold you while you cry. And if you don’t want to talk about it, just tell me and I will hold you quietly.”
Aiden: “Okay…   Hey, Mama…   I love you.”
Me: “I love you too sweet man!”

Sometimes kids just need to cry and know that it is okay – that they are still loved and accepted.

One of the most achingly poignant parts of this conversation was the revelation that he tries to hide when he’s sad, closing the door really quietly so no one will hear him. But, craving embrace, he holds a toy, which he readily admitted doesn’t help. How often do we, as parents, label every emotion that our kids can’t control as “bad”? Every episode of crying as a “fit”? Every poor expression of frustration as a “tantrum”? And our response to these immature expressions of emotion is, too often, to send them to their rooms to deal with it… alone. There is better way. We need to teach them that what they’re feeling is okay, that we understand it even if we don’t like its expression, and that there are healthier ways to express even the worst emotions. That it is okay to take time to yourself if you want it, but it is also okay to ask to be held and even to ask that we not talk about it if crying quietly in the safety of love is all you need in that moment. In this way, we will avoid teaching our children to bottle up emotions, seal them tightly with a cork, and wait for the pressure to get so great that it one day explodes. I have experienced the explosion, and I’d rather not lead my children down that road.

I am so thankful for a son who teaches me how to be a good mother while I teach him how to be a good man. I will always cherish this conversation.

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Photo taken by Aiden’s Aunt Gigi, aka Jenniffer Allgaier

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The Mama Workout

Every now and then, someone asks me if I exercise regularly in order to maintain my girlish figure (HA!). This question does not usually come from a mother of small boys. She would not ask such a question because she knows. For those of you who aren’t in the know, here’s a small sampling of my daily “exercise routine” at the gym… er… house:

Stair-stepper: 50 reps up, 50 reps down (at least)

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Weight lifting: 30 to 40 lb dead-lifts (of the boy variety) – 50 reps (on a slow day)

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Leg Presses: 30 to 40 lb weights (of the boy variety) – 30 reps (did I mention PER BOY!)

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Cardio (Including, but not limited to):

  • Running (aka chasing)
  • Aerobics (aka bending, twisting, lifting (of the non-boy variety such as laundry, toys, books, etc.))

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  • Wrestling (aka superhero play, or any play with boys)

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Keep in mind, this is only a sampling of my workout routine, which varies a great deal from day to day, but is never less rigorous than what I’ve described. So the next time you look at someone and think to yourself, “How does she stay in shape? She doesn’t even exercise!” Think again! If the “she” in question is a mama, she may not go to the gym or yoga class or out on the trails, but she MOST DEFINITELY exercises.

An Early Lesson In Loss

I find myself struck, once again, by the profundity with which small children can handle the serious things of life. The most recent example of this in our home was both heart breaking and faith restoring in the same moment.

Little people can form big attachments. Whether it is the lovey they’ve slept with since they were too small to remember, or the footy pj’s they’ve only been wearing since the weather turned chilly, they throw their whole being, without reserve, into loving someone or something because they have no reason to not trust. They are open and vulnerable. Incredibly strong but weak enough to need protection. Their naiveté is both an asset and a liability that can lead to hurt. And each time the end result is hurt, they inch a little closer to adulthood. These early lessons that teach them that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand are key building blocks that determine whether their adulthood will be clouded with cynicism or embraced by hope. What a powerful witness we bear to these extraordinary little lives! What a grave responsibility to guide them well.

My eldest son, Aiden, got his little black cat, Charlie, when he had just turned one. He is four and a half now and doesn’t remember a time when Charlie was not a special part of his life. They grew up together, really, and Charlie would let Aiden drag him around like a rag doll in a way that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. When Aiden was diagnosed with allergies and asthma, Charlie went to live outside (or in the garage on particularly cold nights). But if Aiden was outside, you can be sure that Charlie was not too far away. They were buddies.

When the family went to dinner two days before Christmas, that all changed in the blink of an eye. Charlie had been hiding on top of the open garage door and became entangled on the outside when the door came down. We were called by our neighbor who was working with Animal Control to take care of the situation before we came home to discover it. I cried through most of the dinner but I did my best to hide it until we could decide how and when to tell Aiden. The timing couldn’t be worse, but we decided to trust him with the truth and let the happiness of Christmas follow this sad news rather than the other way around. After putting Owen to bed, we sat down with Aiden and told him that his little friend wasn’t going to be with us any more. That he had died.

He did not lose control or freak out. He was clearly shaken, but he stayed calm and asked lots of questions. “But, where did he go?” The animal control people took his body, but no one knows exactly what happens to the life inside the body when it stops living. “Will he ever come back?” No, baby, he won’t come back. But the time he spent with you will always be part of your life. “What if we got another black cat and named him Charlie?” Another cat would be a new relationship, a new adventure, but it would not be Charlie again even if we gave him the same name. “What did the animal people do with his body?” They will bury it in the ground and, even though his life ended, it will help other things grow. “Do we have a picture of him?” We found a picture and he slept with it and carried it around for days. The next morning he tried to explain the whole thing to his one year old little brother while shoving the picture in his face. “Charlie DIED, Owen! He’s gone, gone. He can’t come back.” Owen ran around squealing, as always, with no idea what his brother was talking about. Aiden desperately wanted him to take the news as seriously as he, himself, felt it. He came back to me and said, “Mama, Owen won’t listen. He doesn’t care.” He didn’t love Charlie the same way you did, baby. You had a special relationship with him, so it’s OK that you care more. And Owen is a too little to really understand.

Now, we can talk about Charlie together without it being sad. We remember the good stuff – like how he was the only cat I’d ever known that would go for walks with his family; or how he liked to stalk and eat cicadas in the summer, no matter how hard Aiden tried to rescue them. Aiden always smiles when we talk about him. He is a brave boy with enough love to withstand even this early lesson in loss. I am so proud of him. I may not be able to shield him from the hurt, but I can help guide him as he weathers it. And he can help me learn to weather it better.

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Disconnected Thoughts On Connection

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If you do not know yourself first, no matter what partner you choose, you will end up living their life along side of them instead of your own life with them.

Don’t fool yourself into living someone else’s life. You’ve only got one. Make it your own.

You can’t mix and match qualities to create the perfect partner. You can, however, mix and match them to create the perfect you – or as close to it as you can muster. That’s the goal.

Rather than searching for the perfect person to make you happy, create yourself to be the person you’d want to be with. Then you may find that this is where happiness comes from, not from outside yourself.

It is fruitless to build yourself up into the person you want to be only to keep it to yourself. Lives are made for sharing. Open yourself up so that others can view the artwork that is you.

Vulnerability is both the hardest and most fulfilling quality you can cultivate. It is the birthplace of connection.

When you do find someone worth sacrificing for, it won’t feel like as much of a sacrifice. (Most of the time.)

If you sacrifice an important part of yourself for someone else, that sacrifice should be made with full awareness and intentionality and should be understood to be temporary. Integral parts of yourself should not be lost, but rather set aside for a time if the needs of another come first.

Falling in love happens too you, staying in love you make happen.

There IS such a thing as love at first sight, although, most of the time, the person in your sights is very, very tiny.

There’s a First Time in Everything

There is nothing quite like watching your children experience things for the first time… or the first time they remember… or the umpteenth time with the enthusiasm of a first-timer. There is magic in childhood and, if we let it, it rubs off on us. How many times have we been through the same holiday traditions; the same transitions between seasons; the same tasks of everyday life? Too often we let their repetition entrance us into a certain apathy, where we go through the motions because… well… it’s what we do this time of year, and we check them off our to-do lists without ever having really done them in spirit.

But children change all that. They make us see the enchantment in things we’ve done a thousand times. They inspire us to dream up new ways to make old traditions special again. They remind us with wide eyes and huge grins that lighted faces carved out of pumpkins really are amazing.

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That the very first maple leaf to turn red is a treasure worth saving.

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That cupcakes make everything better…

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And a roller coaster conquered is worth every ounce of fear felt along the way.

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That sometimes, the sixteenth trip down the slide really is the BEST one of all.

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That friends and family are always what make any event special.

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And that, no matter how much water life seems to dump on you, sometimes you just need to go with the flow, kick of your shoes, get a little wet!

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