Monday, June 24, 2013

Watching his heart break

“Hi! What’s your name?”

My two-year-old Quinn happily walks up to another little boy on playground, another prospective friend, to introduce himself. My sweet boy, so innocent, believes that everyone is as friendly as he is. I watch Q’s smile disappear and face crumble as the other boy returns pleasantries by shoving him as hard as he can.

Q is a little older and bigger than the other boy, so his balance is barely disrupted by the unexpected shove. But even though he’s not in any physical pain, I can see he is hurt.

His lower lip quivers. His eyes well up. “Why he do that, Mommy?” he asks me. I hug him hard. It’s never dawned on him before this moment to hit, kick or push another person, so someone doing anything like that to him is unfathomable. He feels stunned and confused…

… and sad…

… and rejected.

The other boy’s mom runs up bursting with apologies. “I’m sorry. He just started doing this. Out of the blue….” We walk away as Q muffles his whimpers into my shoulder, our hearts breaking in unison. In this moment, I would do anything to protect him, to take his pain away, to somehow make him unlearn what rejection feels like.

This is the burden of a mother – to watch her child’s heart break and not be able to fix it.

Situations like this are happening more often. Quinn will ask another child who has more than one toy if he will share. “I have that toy, please?” I’m so proud of him for asking nicely and relieved that he’s not ripping the toy out of the child’s hand, as he often does, but the knot in my stomach tightens. I pray that this positive, polite behavior I’m trying so hard to encourage will be rewarded.

But usually the other child doesn’t share because he’s still learning, too, and Quinn cries out in confusion. Sharing is a tough concept when you’re two-years-old. (Hell, I know grown-ups who are selfish jerks that suck at sharing.) Q doesn’t understand why he’s getting his feelings hurt even though he did everything right. 

I know toddlers just being toddlers are mini-heartbreaks, but they seem so big and devastating when you're two. 

Don’t get me wrong. Q also has a hard time sharing. He often takes toys from other kids or cries when another child starts playing with a toy that he wasn’t even playing with. But he’s learning. I see the wheels turning in his head, and his behavior is starting to change.

Quinn’s not physically aggressive, though. He’s never hauled off and hit or kicked another child or knocked someone over. He’s never intended to inflict pain on someone. He’s kind, innocent, naïve and sweet. His gentle soul warms my heart and often brings me to tears. As much as I adore all of these lovable qualities about my son, I’m not as naïve. I know it’s usually the gentlest of souls that endure the most pain.

I know I can’t protect Quinn from everything all the time. I know that experiencing disappointment and rejection and dealing with not-so-nice people are part of life. These tough situations will shape his character and make him a stronger person. I know this is just the beginning of the many heartbreaks Q will experience. 

Maybe a group of kids won’t play with him at school.

Maybe the coach won’t put him in the game, or maybe he won’t make the team at all.

Maybe his gentle nature will be mistaken for weakness and attract bullies. (And may Heaven help the bully [and the bully’s mother] who targets my son. I’ll try not to be that mom, but Mama Bear is fierce, and I make no promises.)

Maybe a girl won’t go to the dance with him.

Maybe he won’t get into the college he had his heart set on.

Maybe the woman he eventually gives his heart to won’t be kind with it.

And every time his heart breaks, mine will break, too.