Not having spent a lot of time with children before I had my own, I am continually surprised by their emotional complexity.
With a day that goes: eat, play, watch SpongeBob, mix, and repeat, you’d think you could produce a pretty consistently satisfied little customer. But I have drastically underestimated the inner world of a five-year old. Mine, who has always been on the sensitive side (goodness knows who he got that from) has regular, deeply painful, emotional crises.
During the most recent of these, after a day of inexplicable moodiness and madly frustrating bouts of sudden tears, we were able to extract, piece by painful piece, the latest question walloping his brain. And these crises do wallop him – as he describes them: “my thoughts are beating each other up and I don’t know how to make the voices stop!” Oh, my stricken mother heart. The subject of this junior existential crisis is his stuffed monkey, Oo-oo, a baby gift that has gone with him everywhere he’s been since he became mobile. He tells us that he’s decided, as a boy who’s starting kindergarten in the fall, that he is too old for his monkey. One side of his brain is convinced he must “dis-adopt” Oo-oo to a younger cousin. However, the on other side of his brain is a little boy who adores his monkey. We reassure him that he is not too old to have a stuffie – Mummy, in fact, still has hers – a homemade frayed unidentifiable sock-monster thingie – but he insists he is. We ask if another child (or grown-up) has made a disparaging comment about his monkey; he assures us they have not. We suggest putting Oo-oo on a shelf, under a bed, sending him on a holiday to Grandma’s – something less drastic than giving him away. None of these are acceptable options, Oo-oo must go. But when we tentatively suggest potential cousins who could possibly foster Oo-oo, the storms of tears worsen. The poor bunny actually bangs his head with palms of his hands in frustration. My husband, not for the first time, stays my hand from speed-dialing a child psychologist.
Finally, My husband tells Jack that he, Daddy, is not ready to say good-bye to Oo-oo after nearly six years. Oo-oo has a big place in his own heart, and he asks if he could keep Oo-oo in his room for a while longer. And here we reach some sort of peace. But I know the next crisis is around the corner, and I don’t know that I’m any more prepared.
Who knew children came complete with multi-dimensional little psyches? And how is a mother to cope??