This is about your child, who has come to see me, in my office, where I shine professional wisdom and method down onto him, or her…or so the story goes. There are many different styles and methods, so really, you just never know what you’re going to get, and as a parent, there is not much scarier than this—taking your child, whom you’ve loved every day of his or her life, even if that means you’ve messed up in every measurable way, to a stranger, for help. From outside.
She may be coming to me because she’s angry, or anxious, or woefully sad—so sad she can’t shine like she did when she was 2 or 3, even if it was in her own subdued and comfortable way. Maybe he’s so sad you see the saddest parts of your own heart reflected right back to you through his sweet, young, but already heavily-lidded eyes.
He might be so angry he won’t talk or listen or even cast those eyes your way. She might not even be angry at you; even worse, it’s all of life, the day, the sky, the night. She won’t let you in on that, though, because that is too big and too ugly, and it’s funny that way—the way she buries you in fuss, because she just doesn’t want to bury you in the truth.
She might be breaking things—walls and doors and mementos. Irreplaceable, beloved mementos. Or worse, her skin. Your heart. He might be pushing children over, biting them, even the ones he loves. Hitting, clenching his tiny jaw and fists. Being mean, and then suddenly, not.
There might be fear. Of the news, the air, the food, the looks, the weather, her face, her self, her future, her past. Of everyone. Of everything. She, or he, might be feeling too big, too small, too something or another, so much so that she, or he, feels lost. Out to sea, no compass, sharks all around, can’t breathe, everything is leaning in and there is nothing to lean on. Lost.
And you’ve brought her to me, because I’m a professional, and I’m trained, and I can therefore bring something to bear on the matter. You’ve brought her to me, for I have experience, and maybe that means I can help. She won’t let you help, you don’t know how to help, it’s all mixed up, and you are worrying for her safety, her vibrancy, her wholeness. He won’t tell you the truth, he won’t allow you to help, he is making mistakes. She, or he, protects you, infuriates you, provokes you.
Then that door closes, and you are out, in the waiting room, the car, or running errands to keep your mind occupied and your trembling hands distracted. You don’t know what she’ll say or what I’ll say. You don’t know if it will work. You hope, with all you’ve got, that it will work, and you don’t even know what that would look like. But something has got to work. Please. Something needs to look, and feel, different. You’re suffocating.
OK, there is something you should know. There is something your child would want you to know. What she would want you to know is that yes she’s hurting, but she’s not broken. She is incubating. He is carrying the load. They do not know how to drive the car, their brains, or their hearts. They are learning. They are messing up, and they know it.
Inside, on the other side of the door, she opens up a little pocket she saves for just the right occasion, and from deep inside, she vents a little steam, and a little sparkle. Takes a little something out. Brings it out, and shows it…to herself, and to me. It’s a little scary, to have that power in your pocket…that tiny, tiny flame. Gotta keep it safe.
I do not tell people how they feel. I help them tell themselves how they feel. I smear little tags, with words on them, over a counter top. I learned this from one of my mentors. I love this part. Of all the words on the little tags, she smiles, and picks “curiosity.” Then, she sits back, and says, “I don’t know why I picked curiosity, I think it’s because I really like Alice in Wonderland,” and then she settles into that. We, settle into that. We talk, about that. But really, we are talking about it all, and it’s easier, but it makes her tired.
He picks “tenacity.” Because, well, it’s hard. We all went through it. We all get it. We have been made strong by it. We are over it. Now, we are strong (sometimes). But we don’t like to see the “before” showing up, taunting us through their uncertain, overwhelmed, and unreasonably unskilled behaviors. Looks, postures, attitudes we have long since disallowed in ourselves. He has to keep pushing through, and through and through. Long way to go. Already tired. Can’t stop fighting.
So yes, if your daughter is seeing me, she may be dealing with things that are too hard, or carrying things that are too big, or feeling things that are too heavy. But when she’s with me, or her teachers, or her friends, she is still curious, underneath it all, and that is what she chooses. What she needs, is for you to be curious too. What he needs, is for you to step into your tenacity. We have to see them through. It is not our fight, it is their fight. We have our own, after all.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing magical about the professionals. At the end of the day, you are the keeper of the nest, and that is where the magic lies. You are the guiding force, and your home, your family home, is the incubator. There, all the hard things will percolate and even sometimes fester, and evolve into something beautiful, strong, and yet still curious, still tenacious. We, the helpers, are only brief resting spots, branches, if you will, where your child will roost a while, appreciate a new view, and fly on, keeping that which feeds her, and lifts her, and disregarding the rest.
We are a soft blanket, that catches you, when you have lost sight of your wonder, your confidence, and your patience. When the push has made YOU weary, and you need a fresh set of eyes, new words, and a little bit of holding. We are here. You are welcomed. We can’t all be Emperor penguins.
So tend your nest, the best you can, and keep it warm and hospitable, or at least warm and safe. Keep a tiny part of each day, to help your child, or children, look at the day’s gathered bits, or to at least look him, or her, in the eyes. And when they are too full, and yours are too full, at least look at that, and notice it, and breathe in the reality that it is too full. Know something soon will shift, and some of that will trickle free, and there will be room again.
Touch forehead to forehead, or shoulder to shoulder, or back to back, and take a little moment to just let that mess lie. It doesn’t need to be profound. Believe each day is a fresh start, and that when your child is out here, in the world, I can see you are doing it just about right—most of the time. The rest of it, well, that is the work we are all doing. Mending, reshaping, and pulling it together, bit by bit.