Sitting cross-legged in my bed tonight, I’m staring at my computer screen while my 7 year old is sleeps right next to me. This last week he’s had trouble sleeping in his own bed, which is on the other side of our apartment. I’m not sure what’s causing his dis-ease, I just know I’m doing my best to help him find peaceful rest and security. If I had to guess, I’d say there are two things on his mind:
- A scary cartoon he watched without permission last week. This I take full responsibility for, I was distracted and didn’t realize he had floated from something authorized to something that might frighten him.
- Loneliness. He was an only child for 6 years before Kid 2 came along, and it’s tough being the Big Brother. There are times he feels (and is) brushed aside a bit because baby screams are priority. He misses his time with his Daddy and me. Exacerbating this, his room is clear on the other side of the apartment from ours, so I’d imagine it feels a little uncomfortable for him to make the long trek over there, be tucked in and kissed goodnight, and then watch the rest of the family go back to the other side of the living space.
I am not an expert Mommy. I do not always get it right. In fact, I screw up on the daily. It does not feel good, but I do the best I can to keep moving forward. To be totally honest most of the time I feel like a trapeze artist who is working without a net. My parents didn’t teach me how to parent (which is a blog series for another day). Basically what I say, how I act, what I’m aware of, it’s all guesswork. Every bit of it of every decision I make comes down to equal parts research (thanks, internet and Mom Bloggers), what I imagine I would want or need emotionally if I were in the situation as a 7 year old, and blindly attempting to calculate the most logical answer to whatever scenario we are currently knee-deep in.
All of that said, I do have compassion in spades and with a sensitive child like mine, it’s basically my super power. In this tender moment between my son and I, a question formed in my mind: What is courage?
The word courage brings to mind many different images, from soldiers fighting in battle, to patients who battle diseases like cancer, all the way to Mel Gibson’s blue-painted face in the movie Braveheart, in which he portrayed the great warrior and freedom fighter William Wallace, who was willing to give his life for his ideals and his people.
What if courage manifests in other ways? I mean, what does courage look like to a 7 year old? Well, for a child this age, courage might look something like jumping off the monkey bars, or standing up to a friend who is being a bully. Maybe, though, courage is having the guts to verbalize fear and ask for help when you can’t sleep and you’ve tried thinking positive thoughts and now you really don’t know what to do. Maybe courage is walking out of the room and risking chastisement in order to escape a yucky situation.
Yep, I think for my boy to pour out his heart to us and then ask to not be left alone tonight took some serious guts. I mean, let’s be honest, many of us adults have trouble doing this! I’m proud of him for speaking up.
So on nights like tonight, when it’s been a long day and we all just want rest and the dishes can wait because my hip is hurting and I still have an article to write, when my husband texts me from the living room to say “he is out of bed again and refusing to go back”, I have to get this right. I have to match this courage with benevolence.
This consideration – the idea that kids are people, too – is something I think about fairly often in my job as Mommy, mainly because it’s not something I was given as a child. On one hand, I don’t want my son to think he’s too delicate to face minor challenges. On the other hand, I refuse to invalidate his feelings just because he’s 7. They’re his feelings, and they are real to him.
I walk quietly into the living room, around the sleeping baby, and take my oldest boy’s hand. We walk to his bed, where I plop down cross-legged and begin to investigate (as moms do). He is in tears before I can ask the first question, so I change tactics and just hold him for a while. A few moments later, I try again. He says he’s not sure what’s wrong, but he doesn’t want to sleep by himself tonight. “That’s ok”, I say without hesitation, “you don’t have to”. I continue to speak life to his little spirit, saying what I believe are helpful statements like, “it’s alright to feel afraid” and “you are safe here”. I don’t know if this is right, but I’m trying my best, against the loud sighs coming from my husband, who has been working to keep his annoyance hidden while we get this sorted out.
((Side note: My husband is not a man who thinks guys have to be “macho”. Thank goodness, he doesn’t say things like “boys don’t cry”. He is, however, a man who works very long hours at a demanding job and greatly values his rest time, so the quicker this gets resolved, the better.))
We arrive at the bed that my son and I will now share this evening, him promptly crawling beneath the covers and me grappling with the idea of being kicked, punched, and snored at all night. I know this is right, I tell my husband. I know that when I was a child and I was afraid, all I wanted was for someone to tell me I was safe. I wanted someone to say “you don’t have to be alone”, someone to validate my feelings and not force me to lie in bed, terrified of whatever thought was tormenting me at the time. Being a kid is tough enough without having your protectors leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable.
When my son thinks back over his life, and when he remembers our relationship and what kind of mom I was, so much of it won’t matter. It won’t matter what we had for dinner tonight, but it will matter that I cooked and we all sat at the table and talked and laughed and connected. It won’t matter what kind of car I drove, as much as it will matter that I was there every afternoon after school, happy to see him. It won’t matter one bit that this apartment is not always clean and sometimes (ok, at ALL times) there are clothes and toys strewn about, but it will matter that this place felt like home to him. It will matter that he felt safe here. It will matter that he had (and for as long as I’m living, he will have) a place he can go and just shake the world off. A place where he doesn’t have to live up to anything, he never needs to feel embarrassed, a place where he’s not pressured to fit into someone else’s idea of who he should be or what he should think or feel. It will matter that he didn’t have to question whether he was part of our tribe.
Deep in the depths of my soul, I want that. As a mother, it is what I strive for above anything else.
Again, I ask: What is courage? Courage is the soldier, the cancer patient, and William Wallace. Yes, all those people are brave, possibly beyond measure. But in MY life, in MY circumstance, what is courage? For a mom like me, courage is the willingness to give my boy what his soul thirsts for, even if no one else understands it. Courage is parenting him and him only, without stopping to think about what other moms (even my own) might think. Courage is stepping away from traditional beliefs and from how I was raised in order to do it better, in order to raise a whole individual, fully functional and free from emotional baggage.
So tonight, clacking away at my old laptop with my firstborn snoring next to me, I rejoice in this budding courage – his and mine – and in the knowing that this time, I got it right.