Little Kids and Their Great Big Enormous Feelings

Next week, Mary Tyler Son will wrap up two years at the beloved school both he and Donna attended.  Come fall, he will step into the much larger Chicago Public School system.  I have many, many feelings about this. Many feelings . . .  Turns out, though, that five year old Mary Tyler Son does, too.

He said to me the other day that he wished time would just stop because it kept passing him by so quickly.  This from a five year old.  He definitely has the Irish sentimentalist in him, just like his mom.  He has also been working on a picture story that involves a “mysterious door to a magical world” where there is no sickness.  Originally, there was just one key that could only be used once by one person.  Naturally, the key was for him.  When it dawned on him that he would be all alone in that magical and healthy world, other keys started to pop up — enough keys so that he could be in that perfect place with me and his Dad and brother and his favorite playmate.

There are lots of feelings going on with the boy right now.

Some of the time the feelings are coming out in these profound ways that I’ve described above where I can beam with pride and exclaim, “My Son!”  Most of the time, though, the feelings he is feeling are spilling out in ways that aren’t nearly so charming or prophetic or acceptable in polite company.  Once they came out in a way that hurt his baby brother and that required some swift discipline.

When I hold my baby, it is so simple.  He is this darling creature that I project all my hopes on and there he is, just sort of absorbing those hopes and projections of mine, happily.  But with a five year old, well, they are more apt to be doing their own thing in their own way.  There is lots less that I can so easily project on to my boy, because with each passing day, it is clearer and clearer that he is very much his own boy.

Part of being your own person is experiencing your own feelings your own way.  As I mom, this is what I am working for with my kiddos, right?  That they have the self-possession and confidence to feel all the feelings.

Imagine a five year old trying to sort this all out . . .
Imagine a five year old trying to sort this all out . . .

Turns out, though, that a five year old feeling all the feelings is hard.  Like really hard.  Feelings are nuanced and complicated and sometimes contradictory.  They confuse me, a woman in her forties with a Master’s degree in clinical social work, and as I watch all the feelings overwhelm my boy at times and there I am, Ms. Clinical Social Worker, shaking my head about how to help him, well, I don’t feel like I’ll be nominated for any Mom of the Year awards anytime soon.

It’s humbling and confusing and makes me feel a wee bit useless.  Sheesh, if I am struggling with the needs of my five year old, how I going to handle 10 and 15 and all those other years in between?

The answer is one day at a time to the best of my ability.

This morning I spoke about all of this with my son’s teacher.  Lordy, will I miss her calm wisdom next year.  Mary Tyler Dad and I have had more than a few conversations about these big feelings from such a little boy, too.  The thinking and talking and considering have helped me, at least, and I think with me feeling calmer and more settled, I hope some of that trickles down to the boy.

In the end, with many of the things our children face — even cancer — so much of what a parent does is just stick with them.  See them through, keep them company, hold their hand or offer a hug.  That seems simple, but in the midst of these big feelings that part of me just wants to regulate already, sitting and holding and making room for all of that is deceptively hard.

Today, in this moment, I feel calm.  That calm is what I will try to connect to the next time my lovely, sweet, charming, boy flies off the handle when it is time to leave the park or is told that the only snack in the car is a graham cracker and his response is as if his favorite pet bunny was just decapitated right in front of him.  Oh the misery of only graham crackers for snack time!  

I will try to keep my cool. not escalate an already escalating situation, and find the empathy of five when little things seemed awfully BIG and feelings are sometimes more complicated and powerful than your ability to express them.

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