I see you, bouncing your baby on your hip as you wait in line at Starbucks. No matter what you do, your baby won’t stop shrieking, and loudly — angry red blotches starting to sprout up right under his eyes. I see you looking around at everyone, apologizing without saying a word. But I know what you’re thinking.
You want everyone to know that your baby is just like this sometimes, without rhyme or reason. And you’re trying, really trying, though it may look like you’re not trying hard enough. It’s just hard. So hard. No matter what you do, he just cries. And cries. Most of the time, you’re crying right along with him because you feel so defeated and exhausted.
And you would leave the store right now, but gosh darn it, you really need that cup of coffee.
I see you again, a few years later, trying to wrangle your toddler into his car seat. When he’s upset, he will. not. sit. in. his. car. seat. His tiny 25-pound body becomes the strongest force on earth; he wrangles out of the car seat like a wrestler. You’ve bribed him with the iPad, the promise of a trip to the park later, and even those last few chocolate kisses smushed at the bottom of your purse. But no, he is in that place where he’s so deep into his emotions that he simply can’t let it go.
So I watch you, pressing down his little body into his seat, tears stinging your eyes. It’s that look that I saw years before when he was a baby. That look that says, “Who is this person, with the smallest body, but the fiercest soul? Did I do something to make him this way? Is this just who he is? And why?”
And then I see you again, many years later, walking him into your house after school. The thud of his backpack hitting the floor. A few minutes later, the thud of his body as he falls down screaming, his fists pounding the floor. I hear you talking to him softly, offering him a snack (you know he’s starving), trying to reason with him however you can.
But when he spirals into it, there’s no way out, at least for a while. So you just sit with him in that little room, watching his body convulse with sobs, those little blotches under his eyes — the same ones that would pop up when he was a baby — dancing all over his cheeks, and even near his lips.
I know the narrative that pops into your head now: “Aren’t 7-year-olds supposed to be over this sort of thing by now? Is my child the only one who has these after-school breakdowns? When will it end?”
Oh, mama. It’s so hard, isn’t it?
I want you to know that I see you. I know who you are.
You are the mom of a difficult child. A sensitive child. One who has been this way since birth. As a baby, yours was the high-needs baby, the Velcro-baby, the one who needed constant attention, cried all the time, and could never, ever be put down. Yours was the toddler prone to tantrums. Yours was not the child who could be redirected, distracted, or quelled with the promise of something fun. And punishments? Time-outs? They never worked for your kid, at least not in the way they worked for most kids.
Nothing did. Because when your child has an emotion — oh boy. Your child feels things, deeply, and cannot be distracted out of feeling them. Even now, as an older child, a tween, a teen. Your child is not like the others. Your child does not hold back. Your child does not make nice. There is no choice there. This is just who your child is.
But listen: I see the other side of this all. I see a child who loves with a passion, whose interests are rich, thought-provoking, and always, always authentic. This is a child who excels at creativity, uses their inborn sensitivities to latch on to an idea, and go with it. This child perseveres and is dedicated beyond belief to whatever they pursue.
With you, this child is a pain in the ass and probably always will be. With you, it all hangs out. Because you are the safe place. You are the haven. This child is always going to have all the feelings — the deepest feelings, the ones that will come pouring out at inopportune times.
When you’re in it with this child, it can be so hard to see beyond that moment. It can be so hard to see beyond the emotion-explosion your child is in. But that is largely because we live in a world that doesn’t honor BIG FEELINGS.
Damnit, though: Some of us just become consumed by our emotions and can’t (and won’t) hold back. (Word to the wise: All of us sensitive adults were kids once, and probably freaked the hell out of our parents too).
So hang in there, mama. I see you. I’m with you. I am you. And I know that child who gives you hell — the one you’re afraid will turn into a delinquent, a misfit, someone who just can’t function. But that’s just not true. Before you know it, this child is going to be something. I’m not sure what. But I know it’s going to be beautiful, damn special. This child is going to dazzle the universe with that spirit, that authenticity, that truth.
So wait a bit, muster up all the patience you can, and have faith that you are raising the most incredible child, a child who is a true gift to this world.