I die inside as I see him through the chain-link fence. He’s on the inside and I peer in from the outside.
He’s sobbing and he doesn’t want to set foot inside school today. Panic registers in his eyes as he realizes his friends are fast approaching. He doesn’t want them to see his tears or his red, puffy face. The extra panic adds more angst which brings even more tears.
The bell rings and he’s still facing my direction, his back turned away from his classmates and the entry door. His eyes are begging for me to come and save him. I want to run through the gate, grab his hand and march triumphantly back home. I want grab his shaking body, hug him and whisper, “It’s okay. You can skip another day of school. We’ll just head home and hang out, just you and me.”
I want to rescue him, but I don’t.
That would not help him in the long run. Instead, I try to smile as I tell him, “You can do it. It will be alright. You are brave.”
I’m fighting back my own tears now.
I have an overly sensitive child.
Overly is the wrong word. That implies there is too much. His sensitivity is his greatest strength and there can never be too much strength. Highly, greatly, exceedingly, extremely, immensely. Those are better descriptors.
Jack is exceedingly sensitive.
He excels in this area, but you see, he lives in a world that devalues sensitivity, especially in boys. All the messages are telling him that those tears, the sadness and despair, are markers of weakness. The preaching on toughness has no room for tears.
Lies. Those messages deceive.
This morning’s routine had changed. With the weather change, we walked to school instead of driving. Altered plans trigger Jack’s sensitivity. I could have prevented this hardship. With the hustle of morning chores, showers and packing up backpacks I forgot to tell him, until the last minute. The two second warning threw him.
Transitions are hard too. Sunday nights and Monday mornings are rough. He mourns the end of two full days of family time. He loves his friends and mostly likes school, but the shifting of gears is difficult. I get it. Starting the work week is hard for most adults. I hate changes in plans too. Attachments to foreseen events and planned out agendas brings comfort. I understand it all because I too have to mentally prep social inundation. The craziness of school must be jolting after a peaceful quiet weekend.
The difference between Jack and I is that I have had more time to develop coping skills. I know that flexibility is also an important skill. I have learned ways to push down the anxiety when plans change. Jack is just starting to be introduced to an environment where some bending is necessary. There is nothing wrong with favoring routines and plans, but we live in a world with others who are not like us. Sometimes sticking to the plan can be selfish and self-serving. Flexibility forces one to look outside of themself. Both flexibility and routine are needed, but there has to be a balance.
The morning all makes sense. He was sick and had already stayed home the previous day. His throat was still scratchy and starting the school week pushed him over the edge. He felt all the feelings and his life was crumbling to pieces. On the walk to school, I could see it coming. It started with the slow, dragging footsteps. His lower lip trembled when he told me it was just too windy out today. The tears started to fall and, “I’m just so tired, Mom.” His blues were attacking. When the sobs came he stopped, dead in his tracks. “I don’t want my friends to see me crying.” And it snowballed from there.
I didn’t tell him he shouldn’t cry or shouldn’t feel sad. No one has the right to boss his feelings around. The “You shouldn’t feel ______,” undermines his sensitivity. And remember, that is one of his strengths. I can’t take it away from him. I don’t want to squash it. He needs it; the world needs more sensitive ones. Others may devalue that great quality, but Tim and I don’t.
Our world needs people who feel. It’s when the numbness arrives that tragedy occurs. We need more little boys who grow up to be men who don’t stuff down the feelings. We can’t just suck it up all the time. We’ve deceived ourselves in thinking that strength is being numb.
Think about all the progress we’ve made as human beings. The kickstarters felt that something was not quite right. When they felt, they used it to spur on action. They let themselves sink down into the despair, then they rose up and ushered in change.
Jack’s sensitivity is powerful, but it puts up road blocks at times. It paralyzed him this morning.
After years of teaching, I know the cut-and-run strategy works. The child continues to cry, spiral downward and won’t transition until the parent leaves. But it is so hard to do as a parent. I want him to know that I support him, but I also want him to develop skills to survive in this ever changing domain. I want him to learn how to successfully accommodate change. I want him to understand how to effectively transition. All these things are vital, but that great sensitivity cannot be lost in the process.
I know he will be fine once he walks into that school door. It will take a while to calm the flutters. The day will continue on and he will bounce out the exit door at the end of the day, chatting it up with his buddies. Every time he gets anxious, it always happens that way. The more he conquers, the more he’ll understand that he will make it through. I hope he pauses and acknowledges that the sadness is important too, just as important as marching into the school building.
The one two combo of sensitivity and bravery will take him far. I hope he becomes a man who sees strength and importance in both. He will change this world for good. He’s already changed me. He’s taught me that what others perceive as weakness can be our greatest ability. I am proud of who Jack is becoming and I am proud to call myself his mom.