Last night at 8:17pm, my son hollared “DAMN IT” and slammed his door.
Right before that we replied, “Oh, no! So sorry! No. We forgot.”
And right before that he asked if we remembered the Thing He Wanted to Do which was at 7:30pm.
And right before that he said, “SHIT. I forgot the Thing I Wanted to Do at 7:30pm and now it’s 8:17 and I’m TOO LATE.”
It was Too Late, and he did miss the Thing, which is bad enough for any Human with FOMO (which this Particular Child has in spades) but is infinitely worse when your brother and your friends did not forget the Thing and so participated without you.
He responded the way anyone would to disappointment by turning up up UP the volume of his music and pounding furiously on his keyboard. And I sighed, feeling sad for him and also worried because, whether or not the Leaving Out is intentional, we mommies worry, don’t we? We long for community and connection for our children, more than we may even for ourselves, because we’ve known from time to time what it’s like not to have it and we don’t wish that loneliness on anyone, much less our babies for whom we want light and joy and a deep, obstinate understanding of their own infinite worth.
I went to bed sixteen minutes later, at midnight. Greg tells me it wasn’t midnight at all but only 8:33pm, but I stand by my reporting. I was too weary for it to be merely 8:33pm, and this is the difference between accuracy and Deeper Truth. Was it technically accurate to say it was 8:33pm? Well, sure. But the Deeper Truth of the Long Day–and the ache in my heart, and the weird, tight lump in my left butt cheek, and the strain of my muscles, and the creek of my joints, and the peppered, popping thoughts pestering me with all the Things Left Undone Which I Had Really, Really, IMeanItThisTime Planned to Do Today–was that it was midnight, and I was Done.
As I shuffled toward my room, I pondered checking on the child. I wanted to. Of course I did. I wanted to know how his heart was and whether there was anything his mommy could do to soothe it. But also, I did not want to because, when it is Midnight and I am Done, I have Nothing Left to give. I am a husk. An empty vessel. A grubby shirt turned inside out. And every parent of a hurt teenager knows that Anger is the most frequent manifestation of disappointment and frustration and pain and that the parent is the perfect lightning rod at which to target that energy. I felt very Unable to Can, knowing that if I knocked on the door and gained entry and asked the question–are you OK?–I may very well receive the Lashing Out. And I’ve been doing this parenting gig long enough not to take that personally. Or, rather, I’ve been doing this parenting gig long enough to take it very personally, understanding that being the Lightning Rod is a compliment because the child trusts you with their Feelings which are Big and Overwhelming and Confusing even for those of us with long experience, and even more for newly minted adults who don’t know quite yet how to channel the hormone-addled Rage. So it’s not so much that I couldn’t handle the Lashing Out. I’ve learned how to be a gentle mirror, reflecting back kindness when the Lashing happens, because it turns out kindness and compassion and understanding are the only Lash Defusers out there, and our children’s behaviours are only communication, after all. If we can suss out what they’re saying without words, we’re miles and miles ahead on soothing the pain.
No, it’s not so much that I couldn’t handle the Lashing Out. It’s more that I was just So Tired. Weary. Sore. And this Particular Child has All the Words. And his mommy is an introvert, so Words at Midnight–even the nice ones–are papercuts that slice and sting.
I went to bed.
I was Unable to Can, and it was Midnight, and if I went to check on the child, I’d be pouring from an empty vessel.
But my kid was hurting, and for a hurting child we’ll Can even when we’re Unable, and we’ll rip the empty vessel to pieces to scrape any residue we missed the first million times we poured from it. FYI, there wasn’t any. No residue. Not even a molecule. I had the vessel analyzed at a lab, and there was nothing left. No Thing. So I did what mommies have done from time immemorial and I conjured a scrap of energy from nothing. I magicked it to life.
I got out of bed. I muttered to all the mommies in the dark, “Those of us who are about to die salute you.” And I knocked on my kid’s door.
We talked. He didn’t Lash Out. I rubbed his shoulders. He said he was bummed. I said, “I know you are. I’m so sorry.” He said, “Thanks for checking.” And I said, “Of course. Always.”
Because of course.
Even when I’m Unable to Can. For you? I will. Of course. Always.
Image Credit: Jonathan Bowers