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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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.

Happily Ever After – Learning to Love the One You’ve Found

This is a blog about finding making your own happiness and learning to appreciate all the little things while they’re happening instead of waiting till they’re gone to fully grasp their worth. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought that I would share something I’ve been pondering lately. Brace yourself, you may not like it. When it comes to relationships, or anything really, there is no such thing “Happily Ever After”. I know this is not a new idea. Most of us outgrow our concept of ‘happily ever after’ very shortly after we think we’ve found it. We believe that we’re mature and self-aware and recognize that relationships take work. But deep down, after so much inundation through fairy-tales and films, self-help books and motivational seminars, billboards and commercials and ads, oh my, we cling to these ideals that breed doubt and plant seeds of resentment. They consistently whisper in our ears, “if this takes so much work, it must not be right.” Or perhaps they cause us to whisper in the ears of our friends who are struggling, in a genuine attempt to encourage or help them, “you just haven’t found the right person yet,” implying that once they do find the love of their life they’ll find happiness… forever after. These latent ideas, stuck deep in our subconscious, lead us to believe that struggle is bad – having to “work at it” is a sign of a problem, rather than a part of the solution. They insinuate that happiness is easy and, by definition, cannot co-exist with pain or struggle. This is poison. And, if it takes root in your thought life, it will lead to bitterness, which, if left to grow unchecked, will turn your relationship doubts into self-fulfilling prophesies. I am convinced that the divorce epidemic in our culture is as least partly due to the fact that people don’t expect happiness to be hard sometimes. Trust me, it is. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s gone. It usually means is growing.

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Too often we expect to find… hope to find… believe we have found (or begin to doubt whether we’ve really found) the “love of our life”, and we hope this discovery leads to remarkable, life-changing feelings of happiness that never take a sabbatical for growth and development. But, more and more, I am discovering that, in all different kinds of relationships, be they significant-others, spouses, or BFFs, it’s not about finding the love of your life. It’s about learning to love the one you’ve found. It’s always easy in the beginning. When everything is new and exciting and every time you turn around you learn something new about this person you’ve come to admire. But what about when everything is old news, surprises are hard to come by, and you know this person so well you can finish their sentences. Or life grows ever-increasingly intense with the addition of kids, a promotion (or job loss) requiring travel or ungodly hours, or the loss of someone close to you? What does love look like then? At this stage of the game, love doesn’t always come easily to you. Sometimes you have to give it for a while before you get it back. You have to study, not what is the most natural way for you to show love, but what is the most natural way for the person you are trying to give it to to receive it. What speaks most strongly to them? As our circumstances change and our lives and beliefs and inner-selves change, we have to re-learn how to love the person we easily loved in the beginning. Yes, we have to be mindful of our own needs and communicate them effectively, but we cannot allow them to be the primary focus of our attention. Self-focus breeds discontent. Other-focus breeds fulfillment. And loving someone who is constantly growing and changing, as healthy people should, requires that the love itself also grow and change to adapt to the person it’s bestowed upon. This is tricky business. And doesn’t always feel happy. But it always builds it.

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And what is the return on all this investment? Why put forth the effort to continually re-learn how to love? Why not just move on when love gets hard or the relationship requires too much work? It will be easy again at the beginning of the next one. I think the answer to that question lies in the immeasurable value of having someone who bears witness to the entirety of the artwork that is your life and having the privilege of being that witness for someone else. Loyalty and commitment afford the unique benefit of having someone who understands YOU not just through the lens of your current life circumstance, but with a broader understanding of who you have been in your weakest moments and how those moments have produced times of shining strength. They see all the layers upon layers of your glorious painting that many who just entered the picture can only see the surface of. They appreciate the light because it’s balanced by the shadow – that they walked through with you. Darkness is where light is born and it’s contrast makes it so much more radiant. I don’t know about you, but for this reward, I am willing to put in the work.

Making Music Happen

Most of you who know me personally know that music is a central theme in my family and our home. It was a huge part of my past (having worked for 6 years toward a guitar performance degree) and a significant part of what made me who I am today. Although I rarely play anymore, as life, work, and children have engulfed my time, it does give me a certain measure of credibility and experience in working with and alongside my husband in his ongoing and consistently driven musical efforts, and also in instilling musical passion in my children. I have discovered that the active practice of our life’s various loves often waxes and wanes as time marches on and our circumstances change with its beat. But just because we may not participate actively in the same passions throughout all stages of our lives, does not mean those passions have died. For whatever length of time we did practice them, we wrote them on our hearts and made them a part of whatever we choose to practice in the future – in my case, blogging, gardening, hosting book clubs, raising children, and supporting the passions of those I love (just to name a few). But I digress…

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This post is about music. And it has been quite a week for musical happenings in our home. The first and most minor event is that I restrung my classical for the first time in years! Given the above diatribe about life’s changing passions, I hope this does not cause any of you to immediately assume you will be hearing the classical renderings of Diana Scarborough (as last heard circa 2005) any time soon. But it is a step. A small step. It opens the window a crack so that if I feel the whim and decide to exercise my fingers a bit, at least it won’t sound like doo doo. (Did I just say doo doo? I’m such a MOM!) But the most pleasant side effect of this effort is that my hubs, who plays all the time, will now be able to play my guitar if he wants to. And it is a BEAUTIFUL instrument. I know that I am biased toward it in the much the same way parents are toward their children (OK, maybe not that much), but it really is lovely. This classical can sing. And it has been hanging on the wall, un-played, for far to long now.

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The second musical event is that our oldest son, Aiden, was given his first real instrument! From the time he was old enough to favor one instrument over another, drums have always been his biggest love. And the kid’s got rhythm. He doesn’t just beat around and make noise like most 4 year-olds would. He creates beats. He jams. He writes lyrics and melodies to accompany his playing and he gets after it. When a good friend saw him playing at a party recently, he was so taken with his ability and inspired by his passion that he determined then and there to buy him his first kit. The very next day, he did! It arrived in the mail a few days later and he has been playing every day since. Lessons will be soon to follow, but for now, we are just letting him revel in the excitement and joy of playing something his size that belongs to him and makes him feel proud.

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The last and most important event is that Jonathan (aka Hubs) has completed and self-released his first album – an accomplishment several years in the making. Music is easily his biggest passion and the thing he gains the most fulfillment from in life. He has labored for a long time to meticulously perfect and pour himself into these 11 song. Writing, performing, and producing every bit of it in our home studio in the sparse time that life, work, and children have left him to work on it. But he never gave up, even when he felt like it didn’t matter anymore. That it could never get done. That he could never find the time. He did. He pressed on and now he has something beautiful to show for it. The beginning of a legacy. I don’t know if thousands of people will hear it in his lifetime, but some will, and those who do will be changed by it. And now he has walked through that door, closed it, and is free to walk through the many that lay ahead. I am so proud of him. And if any of you would like to experience the reason for that pride, click his image below to hear a sample, download the album, or order an actual CD. It is surprising, unique, and full of life… just like he is. I am excited to share this piece of him with the world.

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