My older son will turn 10 this Saturday. Double digits. How can this be? When he was 4, I read a book called Honey for a Child’s Heart, which provided ideas to use literature to teach one’s children. One of the titles recommended for boys exiting the “little kid” stage and entering adolescence was Winter Danger, by William O. Steele. All those years ago, I read that novel for myself. Afterwards, I wrote down that title on the list of books I’d read in 2010 with a notation beside it: “Great for the boys.”
I’ve been waiting for almost 6 years to purchase that book for my son. A second-hand copy of it now waits in my closet to be presented to him at his birthday party in a few days. And let me tell you, those years flew by like THAT.
Despite having known this boy for over 10 years (if you count those months he hiccuped and kicked and rolled around in my womb), I learned something new about him last week–something I feel surprised at how long it took me to grasp given the fact that he embraced drawing from a very early age.
When he feels upset, overwhelmed, stressed, or some other heavy emotion, he can have a hard time finding words to express himself. I think he wants me to know, but trying to explain could be as overwhelming as the emotions and the circumstances themselves. Many times have I asked how he felt when I could see how upset he looked, only to hear “I don’t know” in response. [This essentially applies to what happens in the aftermath of an argument that he and I have, or when I’ve been impatient or frustrated with him, particularly in our home school times. When I more or less know what went down, but I hope to hear him express to me HOW he feels hurt or angry or whatever…]
Last week, we had one of those times–his frustration at working a set of math problems wrong and realizing he’d have to re-do them, followed by my frustration at him for acting out in a way I found unpleasant, and all that followed by growing frustration on both our parts. In the end, we were decidedly NOT in fellowship with each other. But scattered around us I noticed paper, pencils, crayons. So I drew a frown-y face and asked if he felt that way. He took the pencil from me and then drew this:
I nodded and then drew another face mimicking the expression that he’d drawn, adding tears. “Do you feel this way, too?” I asked. He nodded, a few more tears leaking from his eyes.
I added slanted, angry eyebrows and asked if he also felt that way. “Maybe,” he answered. “What about this?” I questioned, drawing ears on the head and adding little wisps–but not too many–of steam coming from the ears. He giggled. Giggled. This child who’d clearly felt out of sorts and discouraged just moments before had giggled. He took the pencil and laughingly drew mighty gusts of steam coming from the ears. And things were better. I’d already apologized, already explained how I felt about his reaction, already taken responsibility for not coming alongside him to guide him through his lessons when he felt overwhelmed. I didn’t handle it well, and it’s my job as the parent to be more mature. So after he showed me–instead of telling me–how he felt, and we had a little laugh, it was better.
We had a little conflict in the grocery store 2 days following this interaction–he had tried to be funny, and I had perceived his humor as disrespectful. On a different, less hectic day, I’d have given him the grace to laugh along with his funny comment. Instead, I got frustrated; and he felt hurt. Later, I took paper and pen to where I found him sitting in the room he shares with his brother. “Show me how you feel,” I said. And he did. Not long afterwards, it was better.