Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Real Tears

Seeing pain in your child's eyes and being helpless to fix it is one of the hardest moments parents face.  As we grow with our children, we quickly learn to look past the pouting, temper tantrums, and upsets over missing toys.  Hopefully we teach them to understand and deal with disappointment that comes with growing up-- from losing games to losing friends, it is our job to help our children understand how to grow from those experiences.  As with every other task that comes with parenting, we continually become more adept at these moments until moving our children through them becomes close to second nature.

What we aren't prepared for are those first, real tears.  The tears that speak to the realization of the sadness that can come with being human.  The gradual loss of innocence that begins from birth is sped up in these experiences and the child's heartache that accompanies this painful part of growing up is even more heart-wrenching for the mom watching it unfold.

While I was cooking dinner tonight, Gage was quietly playing alone upstairs.  I was hearing the Leap Frog learning pad and the Lincoln Logs, but eventually he was quietly reading a book we checked out from the library earlier this week.  This book was an afterthought, a book that Gage crammed into the stack as I was diligently looking for level 1 readers for him.  The cover must have caught his eye-- brilliantly illustrated in deep blues and greens with a lone hippo floating in the ocean.  As I added it to our books, I didn't know how much it would impact us.

It is mostly a picture book, with the only word being "mama," but in those pictures, a poignant story is told.  One of love and loss, one that changes perspectives and brings understanding as a hippo family is separated in the Indonesian tsumani of 2004 and the baby hippo finds a new "mama" in a 130 year old turtle.
I was finishing dinner when Pacey told me that Gage was crying upstairs, and I frustratedly thought, "what now?!"  Lately, they have been in a phase of arguing and hurt feelings, so I was sure that I didn't want to hear whatever it was that had brought about the tears this time.  When Gage wouldn't reply to my calls, I went up the stairs to see what had happened.  I found him curled on the couch in the loft, the book by his side, tears silently leaving tracks on his cheeks.

As I held him and let him cry for over an hour, I realized what he had come to understand.  The loss that is inherent in life, the fear of being without a loved one, the mortality we constantly evade.  My tears chased his as he looked pleadingly at me, his eyes questioning mine, imploring me to take back what he had discovered.  I knew I could do nothing but let him cry in my arms, for that moment a safe haven.  As I held him, I saw the baby he once was.  The little line of peach fuzz on his nose, adjacent to the red mark on his nostril.  His legs curled into his stomach.  His lips soft and round.  His eyelashes long and thick.  The only difference was a fear in his eyes that I haven't seen before, a fear that I have known well.  I was 6 when I started worrying about my grandma dying and would cry in her bed at night as she stroked my forehead like I was stroking his.  With each motion, his eyes started to drift off.  I felt his body relax and twitch as he gave into the fatigue that an hour of crying can bring.  I held him there, still running my fingers through his silky hair until bedtime when I carried him upstairs to tuck him in.  He choked out a few sleepy sobs and as I covered him up with his favorite blanket, he seemed to take comfort in an old, familiar friend.

I came back downstairs and cried at the harsh reality of love and loss.  If we let it, life will pass us by in a flurry of activity and forgotten tasks. If we are lucky, we find occasional reminders for gratitude and awareness. When we are open to it, the chance to live in the moment with our loved ones presents itself. 

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