Sylvie supervises the movers…
Almost twenty years ago, the clay was enthusiastically prodded and pushed by small fingers into its rough bowl shape. A teacher scrawled a name into its underside. When it came home, exclamations were made. Admiration bestowed. It was delivered carefully, pridefully, into my hands for safe keeping.
I curled my fingers around it, knew it was a treasure.
For years, it would appear at the end of December. The boys would race excitedly around the house, searching for small bits of fluff, string, and stray feathers to line it and transform it into a fine nest for our Christmas mouse. They would decide on a special spot for her, usually by the fireplace, to keep her warm. And then, on December 21, by magic, the mouse and her nest would disappear. Come morning, the boys would hunt for her because when found, her nest would hold a tiny gift for one of them.
Sometimes you have a treasure for so long, you forget it’s a treasure. You pick it up and think of something else. You don’t remember to curl your fingers carefully around its rough sides. You let it slip, fall to the floor…
…and break your heart.
As you may recall, we have a long-standing tradition here at casa McD-Harper called “Keep, Sell or Give Away”. This holiday season, I took precious time from tree-trimming and creche-arranging to put each chick in a headlock and not let go until he sat in judgment over his possessions. Today was Eliot’s turn.
As he was sorting through the ginormous pile of papers stuffed in his file drawers, he suddenly stopped and said, “Hey Mom, there’s something of yours here.”
“Awwww, ” I thought, secretly pleased that he had been sentimental enough to save something I had given him.
And then he handed it to me…
In our house, Quinn was the king of tantrums. His meltdowns were epic: loud, impassioned, relentless.
There was one phrase he clearly felt bore repeating – to me.
“I hate you!”
“I HATE you!”
“I hate YOU!”
“I HATE YOU!”
I am not, alas, exaggerating when I say this went on for months. It felt like years.
Tears. Shrieks. Flailing arms. And always with the “I hate you!”s.
“Quinny”, I said one day in the car, channeling the nursery school director, “it is OK for you to tell me how you feel. You can feel angry at me. You can feel mad at me. You just cannot keep saying “I hate you!”
“Ah,” I thought, “Finally we’re getting somewhere.”
And then, from way in the back…
“OK, I FEEL I hate you.”
And. It. Went. On. Time-outs were had. Consequences were meted out. Doors were closed on raging sobs. Did I mention they were loud?
Nothing worked. I despaired.
And then one day, when he was crying so hard he could barely breathe and yet still found a way to shriek, “I HATE you!”, I knelt down in front of him and said, “Quinny, you know when you say, ‘I hate you’ to me?”
He glared at me, but he was listening.
“I think what you really might mean is, ‘You don’t love me.’
He gave one of those between-the sob-hiccups.
“I think sometimes you feel that I don’t love you as much as your brothers. And I do. I LOVE you.”
He never said “I hate you” again.
Quinny is the middle child, a birth order position that, he will happily you, sucks. And during all those tantruming months we definitely got caught in the any-attention-is-better-than-no-attention trap. But we were stuck there because his little five-year-old self didn’t feel loved. By me.
Makes me sad to think of it, all these years hence.
But a wise friend once told to me that it’s not when the “I love you’s” are being exchanged that children end up feeling loved. They end up feeling loved if you can somehow find a way, while dodging the “I hate you”s, for your love to get through.