Tender

Tender

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strength in the moment




I imagine a spirit, a wild, giant, savage thing, dancing like a flame. A spirit, beautiful and terrible. A spirit, accustomed to power and omnipotence, expecting to be free, suddenly finds itself trapped in a very small, helpless bio-mechanical container, unable to flow beyond it.

The spirit lies at the mercy of large and unintentionally brutish people with very specific expectations and confusing rules. Its body has demands and requirements for which it is entirely dependent. The spirit discovers itself subject to pain, discomfort, coercion and force. Its cries and thrashing are ineffective. It also experiences comfort, love, pleasure, wonder, curiosity. It leaps with joy when it recognizes itself. It rails against what it doesn't like. It has no idea why it's here.

My son's spirit made itself known yesterday morning. He tranced out in the bathtub, his eyes kind of staring while he squealed, not unlike a dolphin. Normally I ask him to stop when he gets into repetitive, grating noise. Yesterday we had a bit of time, so instead I caught his eyes and smiled encouragingly. He kept making high, keening noises with more confidence.

His squeals were strangely like the language of a frightened, questioning creature. Behind his eyes I sensed his spirit thrashing. I felt he was fighting to stop his body from just exploding out in force from every limb with the strength of what was inside. That spirit wanted out. And if it couldn't get out, it wanted to hit and bang and flail. I saw the tremendous strength he uses to keep it in. He couldn't hold still, but he was keeping it together.

It's no wonder he so often loses control. It's no wonder he seems so serious and stressed sometimes. Holding in such a spirit, all the time, with few acceptable outlets to clear the exuberant rushes and only four years of experience to work with. Maybe he even feels like my love might be conditional on success.  I know I get impatient with him, hush him, hold him to the highest expectations I think he can achieve in a moment. Does he interpret that as conditions for love? Does he live in fear of losing control of that spirit? Am I doing to him what I did to myself?

I put my hand on his arm. I continued to use my eyes to hold his, encouraging him, nodding as if his squeals were words. And they were, in a way. I heard his confusion with this world, his hope for my love. He turned slowly and his voice rose, his finger pointing to my daughter sitting in the tub beside him. I heard his rabid jealousy tearing him in two because of his love for her. I heard that he wanted to be my only love, that he didn't believe I could love him completely and love her as well.

My eyes filled with tears. "I love you," I said and held open my arms. He slumped forward across the tub, his cheek on my chest just above my heart and water dripping down between us. I held my daughter's hand in the water, and met her eyes while I stroked my son's head. They were quiet.

I lifted him out of the bath, standing him up, and he came back to himself. "I can dry myself, mom," he said insistently, taking the towel from my hands. And he did.



28 comments:

  1. This is a powerful description of a powerful moment. That you recognized it will truly help the rest of us, when we stand confused with our child's behavior. Now I know and will react differently, respecting the flame.

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  2. Thank you for saying that. I know this conceptualization helps me tremendously when I remember. I hope it helps other parents of exceptional challengers.

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  3. The ability to recognize and respond to your son as you do is amazing! I know that I was often confused by my kid's behavior as they were growing up. Sometimes I knew exactly what they were thinking but other times I was completely at a loss. I most connected when they were acting out as I had acted out. You remind us to listen with our hearts to our children and not react to quickly.

    But what I really read into this is a reflection of yourself ... your own feelings ... the sensitivity to him is only because it resonates with you. Yes, it makes you treat him exactly as he needs to be treated. But is it really you who needs this? Just sayin'.

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  4. Oh, yes. Certainly!I'm learning to parent myself more kindly as I parent them. Conceptualizations are my tools, to keep me present.

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  5. Although, Mike, I wouldn't use the word "only" - it's never one thing, my friend. it's one of the few almost absolutes.

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  6. I agree ... "only" did exclude all the other things that connect us ...

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  7. Oh no, I'm in a public place & crying. This is such a helpful reminder to listen to our own spirits & to our children's wild, bright, exuberant spirits. Thank you, gracias, thank you!

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  8. Mike, your question reminded me of the idea that I can't know another person's experience, only how I experience them in it.

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  9. Elizabeth, I'm sorry I made you cry in public but maybe you melted someone's heart a little who saw you.

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  10. Beautiful - and you express perfectly - how strength and openness are the same.

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  11. It seems I have this encounter with my children a lot. Many with my oldest -- she has a strong spirit that I try not to diminish while also holding to my own spirit... a delicate balance to be sure.

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  12. Oh, How beautiful this was. Pure mother love, coupled with that terrible frustration that twists the gut - I love the parallels: Him holding himself back, letting himself keen; you holding yourself back from sshing him, letting yourself feel your feelings.

    A powerful moment. Powerfully written.

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  13. Becky, thanks for saying that. Maybe we can help each other along the way.

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  14. Amy, thanks as always for getting what I'm doing and encouraging me!

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  15. Oh,Wow MrsWhich,

    This is a potent & powerful piece. Written straight and honest from your heart, I am feeling in awe and somewhat anxious as well. Strong message.

    You have a gift,not only for writing but in your brilliant perception - funny,I used almost those same words,yesterday,regarding a quote from your 3yo - not really surprising. You are teaching us sensitivity & respect for those with sensitive souls ( including ourselves )

    Thank you. Beautiful work, Beautiful life

    love to you #grateful for the blessing you are

    jo miller

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  16. Thanks so much, Jo - your words mean a lot to me.

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  17. Your words brought the feelings alive (and moved me to tears.) I always knew that I would never have the ability to parent more than one child, not because I couldn't love more than one, but because I didn't have the experience since I was raised as an only child. Now I have two grandchildren, both of whom I love dearly. But love isn't all that matters ~ you show that in this piece. Your ability to understand and fulfill his needs is amazing! I'm sure you are raising your children to be just who they were meant to be.

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  18. Really, you are sensitive and have powerful perception to understand the feelings that remain invisible/hidden.

    But, sometimes you go angry on yourself, just because you are too sensitive!!!

    I respect your feelings and love that you want to spread without being biased!!! you teach love by making your beloved "feel love"!!!

    God bless you!!!

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  19. Dani, thank you for saying that. We're working together to know each other and support each other. Parenting is an exceptional responsibility - I'll admit I had barely and inkling going in!

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  20. Pali - thank you for your kind words. You're right that I am hard on myself - I struggle between wanting to correct it, and seeing how it drives me to be better. I also want to be aware of how I model that for my kids. Maybe they can find a better balance.

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  21. You are such a beautiful mother, again and again I see it shining through. That you take the time to let this happen, that you see him as a beautiful spirit rather than a naughty boy, that you understand his spirit, all gifts.
    This made me smile with remembering times with my son when he was that age, times I miss.
    I wish I had been more like you, back then.

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  22. Thank you. I think that you were probably a younger mother of young children than I am. I'm 39. I don't think I could have been a very effective parent in my 20's. I had too much work to do on myself. I still do, but I hope to stay a step or two ahead until they can fly on their own.

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  23. I just experienced a Mother's love when I read this. Soul to soul. Trusting heart to trusting heart. Mutual respect. I'm quite moved.

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  24. What a beautiful thing to say, Jacque. Thank you.

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  25. Your description of this intimate moment opens up into a kind of essential mystery, to me, about us as humans. There's something kind of raw, to me, about the wild, giant, savage spirit of a child and the wild, giant, savage spirit of a parent, somehow, in fumbling-clumsy but excruciatingly-tender relationship with each other. How is it that we ever manage? How is it that we don't always mangle and damage each other? How is it that we do love, and genuinely connect, and nurture each other into who we might yet become, both child and parent?
    There's a fierce courage I see here, in you MrsWhich, as well as in your son. But your courage moves me more - your holding open the respect for his realness and your own realness both, simultaneously as you hold open the connection of intimacy between you.
    Similarly, I'm still thinking about how you brought a "different mommy" to the relational moment, and the same mix of courage, respect, and intimacy that it took.

    I don't have any children. Maybe I never thought I had enough of that fierce courage.

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  26. Wow, Karen, thank you. I'm living this out loud, however I can, because it is the most intense of experiences. I don't manage this kind of parenting every minute by any stretch, but I try to manage it every day, with each of them, more than once. It's demanding, and I think we tend to feel we can't say that. Thanks for witnessing.

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  27. This was so beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes. I believe I will listen better for having read it. Thank you.

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  28. Thank you, Rose. To know this fuels me to keep writing.

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