Something happened at the library. There were a group of rambunctious kids, loud but harmless kids, probably a year or two older then Charlie, playing and running around. The kind of kids engaged in the kind of play that, in the wrong mood, one might look at their parent and think, ‘come on, you’re making this harder for all of us.’ But we were having fun and I really wasn’t feeling that bothered.
We started doing a puzzle, as is Charlies wont at almost all hours of the day these days, and he kept looking over at them. He was clearly intrigued, but they were quite active and loud and it was considerably difficult to understand what exactly it was that they were playing. I said, ‘do you wanna go over there and play with them, buddy?’ At first it was no and back to the puzzle. But soon he’d decided yes so he marched over and announced/asked ‘Hey, can I play with you guys?’.
So innocent and vulnerable with eyes wide and fully expecting the only answer he could conceive of. The kids didn’t know how to respond, or they didn’t hear, and he just started to play despite no response. I assumed the play would take care of anything left unsaid.
Almost immediately, he stepped awkwardly back from the group, subtly, and watched for a second, brow furrowed, looking for another entry point, wanting to be a part of the fun, but not being welcome, or at least not thinking himself so.
I felt a small and subtle punch in the part of my gut where I hide my unresolved issues. I have felt that exact way my whole life.
So he walked back to me and with quivering lip said, ‘he took the toy from me.’ He wouldn’t cry, which made it even harder to watch. I suppose I could have gone over and helped ease a transition, but I’m not great at leading by example in these things. I told him I was sorry they didn’t want to play with him and he went back to the puzzle. A minute or two passed and I asked him if he’d like to try again, or maybe run around the room a bit and he would just keep his head down and say ‘no.’ It was that kind of embarrassed, teenage, barely audible, clenched teeth kind of ‘no’.
I didn’t want him to feel like he felt, but the situation insisted he feel that way. He has no idea how much I get where he’s coming from.
These are the things that break my heart because they feel like he’s breaking a little. I feel broken in this same way, so perhaps I’m a bit more attuned to this particular style of breakage. It’s a feeling he can’t do anything with. It was a feeling I could never overcome. I couldn’t cry it away, complain it away, try really hard it away, brood and aloof it away and eventually I just held it for so long I started to think I was unwanted and uninvited. I hated being around me. I carried it with me everywhere for a long time.
Carrying such a thought around for so long does funny things. It makes you see things that confirm your fears everywhere you look. No amount of signs from the world telling me I was worthy were enough to break through this negative self assessment. Later on, as an adult, no amount of sadness, drinking or risky behavior ever killed me, but I wanted it to.
I realize that none of this is likely for Charlie. But that’s the thing with your kids. He is me. I know he may react to this with a deep misunderstanding that he can hide from everyone. It’s not likely, but I know more than any other outcome that its possible. It Killed me a little to see that lip quiver, to see him trying to hide his feelings.
But this is life. I’m familiar with my teeny tiny corner of it, a corner that was considerably brightened and made bigger when Karen and I pushed our corners together and planted our flag in our new shared corner. We’ve since made people to populate that teeny tiny corner and it shouldn’t surprise me that their perspective is similar to mine. How could it not be.
I KNOW that this is projecting feelings that are mine onto Charlie. That’s okay. Familial relationships are by definition overlapping and intertwined. I don’t own him, I’m merely raising him. I’m trying in the long run to provide him with as much as I can to make sure he becomes capable of staking out his own teeny tiny corner of life someday on his own.
To be properly prepared to do so he inevitably has to feel and process pain and rejection and disappointment. Just as he has to feel and process copious amounts of love and joy and optimism.
So this step of his toward a road I’ve traveled, on which I took some terrible wrong turns, is an opportunity for me to walk it again. This time I have the honored position of being his guide. We hold hands on this path as I shepherd him through the dark, aware of particular risks and potential bad choices. I hope to be able to protect him from the mistakes I made.
He is also guiding me to the demons that have so challenged me my whole life. Holding my hand, he is not only my charge, he is also my partner and he has given me the courage to slay them for the both of us as of late. Let’s hope I can return the favor.