This morning we weathered a storm together. I’m still learning what that should look like. To help you make it through an emotional storm in the healthiest way possible. My instincts are not reliable here, because a part of me still views anger and sadness as frightening. The enemy. Something to be avoided and controlled and stuffed in favor of the brighter emotions. When you become angry or sad, my knee-jerk reaction is to stop the noise. Squelch the discomfort. Redirect the energy. This does not work well with you, my love. And for this I am actually grateful. Because it forces me to search out a better way.
This morning, it was time to do our math routines for school. I asked you and Jubilee to stand up and get ready. You lay down in the floor instead, giggling. It was your turn to choose the counting pattern/physical activity. I asked you a second time to stand up so we could get started and you told me no. So instead of you getting to choose first, I asked Jubilee to choose. She chose counting by 10’s and running around the kitchen island. You jumped up and joined in, but halfway through you slowed down and an angry shadow crossed your face. When her chosen activity was done, I asked you to choose. You stomped your feet and growled at me. “It was my turn to choose first!!!” you cried indignantly. “That’s true. But I asked you twice to get up so we could get started and you told me no. That’s okay, but we needed to move on with our school work, so I let Jubilee choose first.” Angry tears began to fall from your eyes. And because I’m still coming to terms with making space for anger and sadness, I first tried to cajole you to snap out of it. I told you that if you couldn’t shake it off and participate, you would need to go to your room. You cried harder. I told you I would count to five and if you couldn’t stand up and choose your activity, Jubilee would choose and we would move on. You took a deep breath and chose your activity, but as the two of you went through the motions, it was clear to me that the joy of it was gone for you. For the next 20 minutes, every school attempt I suggested was met with angry resistance, tears and foot stomping. Every fiber of my being wanted to shout at you to STOP being so obstinate. To go to your room so I didn’t have to watch. To DRY IT UP so we could get on with our day.
But you, my darling boy, simply could not pull it together. And as I looked into your eyes, I saw beyond the stomping feet and the red face into your soul, where an immense sadness and grief was swirling and raging. And I internally stepped past my hang-ups and need for control and asked you to come to me.
I saw the battle raging in your heart and mind. A part of you wanted nothing more than to collapse into my arms, but another part of you didn’t trust me. I had just been angry with you for being sad and tried to talk you out of your feelings by declaring that we had no time for them. I saw you drawn by my invitation while simultaneously fighting the urge to run away from me. So I didn’t push. I simply opened my arms. Told you I could see how sad you were. Asked if you wanted me to hold you for a while.
And so we paused in our all important schedule. We stopped the work of learning and moving forward. Your little body crashed into my bigger one and you let the floodgates open. You sobbed and you railed about how it wasn’t fair that you didn’t get to go first. How it was your turn. My own sense of justice wanted to remind you that you missed your turn because you chose not to obey me. But in that moment, I realized that in the midst of a grief storm, you can’t hear my reasoning. You simply need to ride the wave until you wash up on the shore, spent and calmer. So I held you as you cried. I reflected your words. “It doesn’t feel fair. You didn’t get to go first. You really wanted to go first. Now you won’t get to go first until next time. You’re sad and angry because Jubilee got to go first instead. I’m sorry, buddy.”
You continued to cry and moan for what seemed like forever. As I felt impatience begin to rise in myself, I chose deep breaths. I chose to picture my own warmth and the peace in my heart oozing into your body as it pressed against my own. And slowly you began to calm and relax. You were quiet, but you didn’t let go of me. I asked if you wanted to get back to school, but you grabbed on tighter, squeezed your eyes shut and shook your head no. So we sat in silence for probably 10 more minutes just rocking and me rubbing your back. When you were spent, you slowly stepped down and sat back in your own chair, smiled at me and asked what to do on your worksheet. You were back to “normal.” And we finished our work without further angst.
I will admit that I am learning as I go. But what I learned from you this morning is priceless to me.
1. When the storm of emotion hits, the trigger doesn’t matter. Reason is useless in that moment. And I waste a lot of time trying to convince you that you have nothing to be upset about because you caused the injustice by your actions. It’s like arguing that a driver should have made different choices before a crash while standing beside his burning car as he screams for help from amongst the flames. My admonitions and arguments are irrelevant.
2. My feelings that we have no time to deal with your storm are not rational. Because if we don’t stop and take the time, all attempts at productive activity until we do will be wasted. Something that normally takes us 5 minutes to complete will take 30, and we will both be constantly frustrated in the effort. I can either choose to spend the time to work through your feelings with you, or choose to waste time ignoring them. Time passes either way.
3. You may have mixed emotions because you sense my discomfort with anger. It is my job to make myself available and allow you to move through however you feel most comfortable. It is my job to create the space you need to feel what you need to feel.
Thank you for deciding to trust me with your sadness and anger today. Thank you for teaching me how to be uncomfortable for a cause. Because as I learn to create space for your feelings, I also learn to hold space for my own. I don’t want to toughen you up and teach you to stuff it. Our world will try to teach you that just by your living in it. I want to teach you to stop and be angry. To stop and be sad. To ride out the storm to the other side and to learn any lessons after you’ve moved through the hurt. I’m so thankful that God chose me to mother a sensitive and tenderhearted little boy like you. I’m sorry I’m not a faster learner. But my messy attempts at doing better are heartfelt, I promise. And you, my sweet little man, are so worth it.