My son is having a difficult summer. He finished at his preschool, he left his best friend and his keyworker, and he’ll never be with them every day again. He might never see his best friend again. At 4, he has no control over whether he ever visits his preschool again or sees any of those people again. He has no Facebook or mobile phone to keep in touch with them. And, having finished there, he has nothing with which to fill his days, nothing to fill him, just this big empty loss gaping inside. We are in limbo land, sitting around waiting for new preschool, watching telly, taking walks, going to the cafe for lunch. Every day he wakes up and he doesn’t know what’s coming. And the suddenness and completeness of his loss – that I imagine clarifies the complete lack of control he has over day to day.
It is so hard to be with him in his pain. He lashes out at me, at his dad – of course he does, we are the orchestrators of his loss, I am the one who chose that he would finish there, conversations his dad and I stop casually had, conversations I so casually had with other parents. He is part of a system he is a pawn within; I know he can’t stay there forever, I know the loss will come at some point, and I too am powerless, powerless to prevent that loss; at some point it comes and at some point we will all have to weather this storm. So now it is. Now I have chosen is the time he shall weather it.
What has surprised me is the amount I want to stop him. The amount I want to shut him up. The times I do attempt it. Don’t speak about, don’t speak about it, please stop crying and shouting and let’s pretend everything’s OK. Because when I don’t do that, when I allow his pain, I allow also the truth that this is my doing, that he is experiencing this through me. I want to pretend I’m a parent who doesn’t have to make tough choices. I want to pretend I’m a parent who never doubts my decisions, who never feels this remorse. Who never relives my own childhood losses, my own times of powerlessness.
So in this muddle I sit, listening to him rant and rave, feeling like a failure, trying to hold space for his emotions and provide some form of comfort, while doubting myself all the time about what that should be. Feeling every day a culture that equates childhood smiles with maternal success. In this muddle I want him to learn, it’s OK to feel like things aren’t OK, it’s OK to cry, big boys sorrow, big boys get hurt. It’s OK to feel like everything’s upside down. You can come out of this bigger and stronger through having lived it, through having not denied it.
But almost every day some attempt to manage his behaviour comes out of my mouth. Every day the way I want to behave and the way I actually behave are in conflict.
Just be quiet. Stop hitting. Stop feeling. Can you just be a little less, a little less, just today, from now on.
And I wonder, if we didn’t ask children to be quiet. What if we didn’t shush their tears. How many more poets would we have. How many more lovers. How many more activists, how many more preachers, how many more bringers of hope and waybearers through sorrow. How can we find that, how can we give that to a hurting world, when all we know is shush.