Brave Little Heart

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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My Gentle Warrior
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Feeling Too Much

What is an Empath?

I am an Empath.

There, hope that clears it all up.

(kidding.)

An Empath, depending on what you believe, is either a name or description someone made up (totally bogus) to describe someone who cries too much, is a drama queen, is anti-social, etc. – OR – An Empath, sometimes called an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person, is someone born with the gift of feeling.  Google dictionary defines Empath as “a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual”.

Don’t let the word “paranormal” throw you.  Empaths aren’t evil, ghosts, spirits, witches, or make-believe.  They are real, flesh-and-blood people like you, good reader, who feel on a level much higher than most.  When I describe this to others, I like to say “mine goes to 11” and I also reference E.T. and Eliot.  (If you do not understand those references, get off my blog now. Seriously. Quit. Bye.)

My ability shows up in little ways in my life.  Quirky things, like not being able to watch blood-and-guts movies.  I have a visceral reaction to … well, viscera. I also can’t handle lots of loud explosions.  Honestly my favorite types of films are happy ending, Disney-style, boy-gets-girl ones.  I tend to insert myself into the film, and feel emotions even as I watch, as if the story were real, and it hurts (physically, hurts in my chest) when I have to watch tragic things.  So I avoid them.  My sweet husband is wonderfully accommodating with me on movie dates, even if it means we see something rated PG or animated.   Another way it shows up is in thinking so strongly about someone that they call (or show up), or dreaming about someone, asking if they are alright, and having them respond with “how did you know?”

In addition to having stronger experiences emotionally, Empaths can often “read” other people, or feel the emotions of the people around them.  This is true in my case.  (Remember Deanna Troy in Star Trek?  She had this ability.) As you can imagine, this makes trips to places like the mall and crowded restaurants uncomfortable.  Often, it makes me tired, and I experience sensory overload.  The talking, the music, the clanging, the smells, and on top of that, the anger/depression/worry soaking into my pores usually gives me  headaches and a strong need to nap.  Empaths love to love people, and have a strong desire to avoid confrontation at all costs. (I have a shirt that says “Lover, Not a Fighter” on it.  That pretty much sums it up.)

Some people say that Empaths are not really gifted, they are just people who get their feelings hurt easily.  I am writing to say that 1) That’s a lie, and 2) People who call others “too sensitive” just don’t want to feel guilty for acting like jerks.  Now, it is true my feelings get hurt easily.  But I also love easily and deeply, feel compassion and – of course – empathy in a way that most others don’t, and when I’m happy it’s an ecstasy that most people don’t get to experience.

Most Empaths are gifted in more than one way.  Some can see auras, some have visions in dreams.  In a crowd, they usually go unnoticed, sitting in a corner somewhere watching quietly.  But they are valuable members of society, the “bleeding hearts” who have a tremendous ability to love their fellow man, generosity beyond measure, and an appreciation for people of all shapes, sizes, and creeds.

Mother Teresa is believed to have been an Empath, as well as actor Keanu Reeves, who is famously reclusive, shy, and kind.  Empaths are extremely good listeners, will quite literally hand over the coat on their back for someone else, and do well in creative careers like writing (hello) and painting.

Do  you know an Empath?  Are you Empathic?  I’d like to hear about your experiences.  If you would like to take an Empath test, try here: http://www.empathtest.com/ or here: http://themindunleashed.org/2013/10/30-traits-of-empath.html

If you love an Empath or HSP or want to know how to love them best, please read: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/15-tips-help-you-love-empath.html  AND  http://www.selfhealingexpressions.com/famous_empaths.shtml  AND https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/awake-the-wheel/201305/feel-live-the-secret-life-empath .