After an epic tantrum because our little homebody didn’t want to go grocery shopping, a brief post-meltdown nap in the car, and some food, Isaiah and I hung in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and talked about four simple guidelines for life:
- It’s okay to feel angry.
- People can’t hear you when you scream at them.
- People can hear you when you stay calm and use words.
- Sometimes, you just gotta’ do things you don’t want to. And that’s okay, because we’re all in the same boat.
And then, a caveat talk about peer pressure, the differences between obeying mommy and daddy versus strangers and desire versus danger, and a reminder to scream at the top of his lungs if someone ever tries to take him.
That last part feels fuzzy in my head because I was also having an internal dialogue about whether or not I should complicate matters, but then thinking that there are important distinctions to make and I want him to have the self-awareness/groundedness/good sense/compassion/skepticism/courage/independence to stand up for himself and for others, even if it means going against the prevailing powers. But he’s five, and how much of this can I distill into four-word concepts powered by a mnemonic device or some other trigger so that he can actually remember or it becomes a part of his DNA? And how much is one parking lot conversation going to matter? No, it matters a lot, because it’s these small moments that make up the fabric of his life and understanding, that form who he becomes.
Hard not to feel overwhelmed.
Safety is so much more than light sockets and hard corners.
Living in fear isn’t an option. For me, or for my child.
Thankful for a community of parents who I know are thinking and wrestling and having similar conversations, and that I’m not the only one feeding him positive messages. It’s not Giehl and I against the world (it’s not even me against Giehl). Isaiah has friends whose parents will see and seize similar opportunities, who reject the idea that since Isaiah isn’t their biological offspring, he’s “none of their business.” Thank God for those men and women (and children, too, who also do their fair share of teaching).
Last night, I cried while I stood next to Isaiah’s bed and he drifted off to sleep. I was feeling the weight of what it means to be a parent. Fretting over the lifelong implications of behavior patterns he establishes now. Sure that a rocky week in Kindergarten foretells teenage hooliganism, succumbing to peer pressure, and drunk driving.
Tonight, it was Isaiah’s turn to cry while he went to sleep…well, while he started to think about going to sleep anyway. Since the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, Isaiah was also distraught about Really Big Things. The questions and comments came fast and furious, his little brow furrowed and his little body restless:
- “I’m just really sad because I’ll never be a dog and be able to curl up like a dog.”
- “When people die, do they become dogs?”
- “Why didn’t you and daddy make me a dog?”
- “How did you and daddy make me?”
- “Are there heroes in heaven?”
- “Where do heroes live? Do heroes live in your heart?”
- “If nobody gets hurt in heaven, are there heroes and ninjas?”
- “Will I die when I’m twenty?”
- “What happens when we die?”
- “I just really wish I was a baby. I wish I never had a birthday.”
- “I wish we had a baby.”
- “I just really like dogs and cats and babies because they’re so cute. Kids aren’t cute. I wish I was never a kid.”
Golly, dude. I’m sorry. Nights like these, I stand there in the dark, stroking Isaiah’s back, singing a song (here’s our current favorite lullaby), and remember my dad coming into my bedroom, sitting by my bed, singing to me, urging me to stop thinking, to close my eyes, keep still, and let myself drift off to sleep. The baby books tell you that “sleep begets sleep.” And I’m pretty sure in those list of begats in the Bible, somewhere it says, “And insomnia begat insomnia.”
The album description of our lullaby (Stay Close) says: “Our journey with Jesus often contains stretches of doubt, alienation, and loneliness…This song is a petition to be renewed and for a rich sense of God’s immanence to remain during a difficult season.” I think somewhere, deep inside, I’m desperately hoping that Isaiah doesn’t battle the same demons of depression that I face…and that, if he does, the plea from this song will fuse to that depressed DNA that I passed along, giving him a fighting chance for peaceful nights.