Growing Safely

On first glance at my kids, it would seem very obvious that Will is a harder kid to parent. And in a lot of ways, he is. He is more temperamental than Eli ever was. He’s more prone to public (and private) tantrums. He has had a lot of health issues and he continues to be a less than ideal sleeper. And I adore him, just as I do his brother. But as Eli grows, I’m starting to see that while Will is in a tough season of life, Eli seems likely to be more challenging for me to parent.

Eli is extremely sensitive. I see so very much of myself in him, which is not necessarily a good thing.

He hates getting in trouble and he will lie, to your face, to avoid it. Not in a devious, trying to get away with being poorly behaved way, but in a, will do anything to avoid having adults be upset with him kind of way. He will ask, several times a day if we are happy, which is his 4 year old way of asking if we’re mad at him. And if we are frustrated with him, he gets incredibly upset.

But it’s more than that. He’s not shy, he will talk to any person on the earth without any concept of whether he’s interrupting their lives (so basically he’s a 4 year old), but he is self-conscious. He loves to sing, but if we try to record him singing, or if we stop singing, he will also stop. He worries about what his friends will think of him and if someone isn’t kind to him, it breaks his tiny little heart. He tells us he’s “feeling a little bit sad” at least once a day, as a result of something someone has said/done towards him. Granted, not all of this is significant in nature, today his daycare teacher made him feel a little bit sad because she wouldn’t let him push Will off a swing, but still. Lots of sad.

And this presents a huge challenge to me. Because I am that person. I hate getting in trouble, I live in fear that I’ll get fired from my job despite the fact that I work my ass off to be a good employee. I got in a disagreement with someone on social media this week about something I said and it ruined my entire day. Like Eli, I care deeply, WAY too deeply about what other people think about me. And I think it was my sensitivity and my tendency to let my hurt feelings show, that contributed significantly to my being bullied, heavily, in elementary school. When I say heavily, I mean to the point that I had to change schools after 2 excruciating years.

And that’s why it’s really tough for me to not “bully proof” Eli. I try to buy him clothes that fit in with other kids, sometimes accidentally pushing him away from his inclinations towards more “socially acceptable” things. I didn’t want to let him wear Sesame Street socks to school last week because I’m not sure that it’s still something the kids in his class like (but I did anyway). I want to make sure he speaks in a way that is age appropriate. I just, I have to stop myself, almost daily, because I want so badly to protect him from what I experienced as a child, but I know that doing that squashes his personality, which is arguably even worse. It’s hard for me to imagine sending him to kindergarten next year because I feel like I’m sending him to the wolves and I’m so scared that his incredible, gentle heart will be broken.

It ends up that while Will tests my patience daily, Eli tests my heart as often, if not more. I struggle more with how to help him grow up as himself, safely, than I do with all of William’s tantrums combined. I always heard that parenting was hard on the heart, but I never fully grasped the depths of that truth. I do now. I understand a small part of what it is to send your heart out the door, knowing fully that someday it will be crushed by someone else’s words. I understand the desire to wrap your child in metaphorical bubble wrap to keep them safe, even at the expense of fully experiencing life.

I realize that the issue here isn’t Elijah, it’s me. But I sense that this struggle, the need to keep him happy and safe while also allowing him to be fully himself, is going to span many years of our lives. I’m thrilled that I get to be his mother, the one who lives this struggle, because he is more than worth it and I adore this boy more than words could ever fully capture. I can’t wait to watch him grow up and grow into who he wants to be, even if it’s harder on my heart than I ever knew it could be.

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