Over the last few posts, I have spent a lot of time on my parents and the struggles with “parenting” them. But don’t forget…I am also the single parent to three children. Each one is different…very different. My oldest is a self-proclaimed pacifist who is level-headed and kind. He was born with an old soul and he shares my love of philosophy and deep thinking. My youngest is an adventurous toddler who already has an innate need for order in her life. I find her “organizing” her toys and my magazines, along with anything else she perceives to be out of order.
Then there is my six year old, Jack. He is a sensitive, inquisitive boy who challenges me, his teachers and anyone else he encounters. Most kids his age look for the “why” behind things. And he is no exception. He won’t accept any answer given to him. He needs the proof. He enjoys learning about science, especially the weather…and he has enough Legos to recreate a life-sized replica of the Great Wall of China .
And his favorite movie of all time is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Most people find it a bit odd that a six year old would have a strong fondness to such a different movie. For one, it’s almost 3 hours in length. It’s a character study, not an action flick. It’s not like Transformers or Harry Potter. In many ways, it’s not even “kid-friendly” but he loves it. I cannot tell you how many times he has watched it. Ironically, he seems to understand the plot. He seems to get the fantasy behind it (a man born old who ages in reverse) but he also gets the reality behind it. He seems to comprehend the meaning of it all, understanding Benjamin’s curse is watching those around him grow old, as he grows young.
He just gets it.
I sometimes forget just how sensitive he is. On any given day, he is bouncing off the walls, talking a mile a minute, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. But this child of mine…my middle child…is a deep and sensitive soul. And sometimes it’s a real challenge to parent such an empathetic, feeling child.
I remember a conversation we had while waiting in the drive-thru at the local Chick Fil-A, his favorite place to eat. It was the week my mother died. He asked where I was going at night. I told him I was going to see Grandma at the hospital. He said, “Why do you have to go to the hospital to be with Grandma?” I told him that Grandma was not doing well, and that I needed to be there for her. That didn’t satisfy him. He asked further, “what’s wrong with her?” I decided to be truthful with him, “Honey, Grandma is very sick and she is dying.”
He was silent. I recall looking in the backseat to see tears pouring down his face. I felt like such a terrible mother. I should have said it differently. I should have told him in a different setting, where I could have sat down with him, hugged him, reassured him. But the exhaustion of being in a hospital every night had drained me of my good sense. It was too late….I’d said it. (And as long I live, I will never forget looking back and seeing him cry like that.)
Through the tears, he choked out another question, “Why is Grandma dying? What are you going to do to help her at the hospital?”
At this point, I felt like a parental failure. Mother of the year. But I pulled myself together and said, “Grandma is getting ready to go to heaven. I need to be there for her to make sure she’s ready, to make sure she knows how much we love her.”
He seemed satisfied with the answer. And we went on with our evening. He spent the night with one of my friends and I went to the hospital. The next night, Mom died. I was careful about how I broke the news to him. I made sure we were in a place where he could cry…where I could hug him…where we could take a minute to process it all.
He didn’t seem that upset. I think he had somehow come to terms with her death, before her death. I didn’t bring him to the funeral. I felt like it may be too much for him to process…seeing her in the open casket. I felt like he had coped in his own way and bringing him there may open the wound.
So just this weekend, we were watching “Benjamin Button” once again. I was busy doing housework, sitting with him as I folded laundry. And then I realized that he needed me to sit with him, give him my full attention, give the movie my attention and just enjoy this time together. So I left the towels in the basket and snuggled close to my boy.
We watched one of the final scenes, when Benjamin reverts back to infancy. Daisy is holding him as he looks at her and dies in her arms. Jack crawled onto my lap and we hugged in silence. Both of us crying. Both of us reconciling the death of my mother. Both of us grieving together, in our own way. I needed that time with him. We were meant to share that moment. It was as if somehow he knew I needed to watch the movie.
I have so much to learn from my sweet boy. My little boy with the big name (after his strong and stoic Great-Grandfathers) My little boy who can make the biggest messes known to Western civilization. My little boy with the big questions about life.
My little boy who is destined for great things.