His eyes are searching. His facial expression is one of contained alarm. He’s standing at the doorway in his military camouflage snow suit and winter gear, stopped in his tracks by an entirely different kind of storm. His search finally yields something:
“Renember how I told you…” he tries, only to have his words silenced by a new exchange of fire between us, his parents. I know exactly what he’s trying to say. He wants to remind me of last night’s proud victory. He thinks I may have forgotten how he, in his truly infinite wisdom, advised me the night before on how to treat his diaper-change and clothes refusing 18-month-old brother. And how I, big authority that I am, gave him the official seal of approval on his idea.
“Don’t be mad at him.”
He told me as I was getting frustrated over my inability to clothe my sick toddler, who insisted on running around sockless and naked after his bath. I explained the reasons for my frustration. He had the answer to my problem and knew exactly what he wanted to say, I could tell, but was struggling to formulate it. It’s almost like his preschool syntax was trying to catch up at that moment with his experienced soul and he finally told me,
“Leave him alone.” Pause. “When he doesn’t need you.” Longer pause. “He will come to you.” New sentence.
I grabbed him and embraced him ever so tightly. I told him that he is absolutely right and wise and that I’ve learned from him. I could see that it made him proud.
Now we’re standing at the doorway and he calls upon that victory from the previous night to come to his aid, but it’s failing him all of a sudden and he must be so confused. He sees Mama and Abba* shooting words at each other instead of speaking them. There’s fire and tears in their eyes and venom in their voices. I don’t want to be having this fight so early in the morning, least of all in front of him and his brother. I engage in that awkward one-man-band performance using a harsh octave for rebutting and attacking and a soft one for my attempted dialogue with him.
Whenever I look at him, whenever I lie down in bed with him to help him fall asleep, I’m amazed at the amount of space he takes up. I haven’t caught up with his biological age yet. Now I look at Four Year Old and see him for what he really is. I see a tiny, heart squeezing figure literally talking itself up, elevating itself into maturity but its contours are still so childish.
I spend the day broken, replaying his plea in my head over and over again: “Renember how I told you…” I trial and find myself guilty of breaking my son’s heart. When I pick him up at school he’s cheerful and carefree.
In the evening my husband and I talk and he, in his own infinite wisdom, tells me that this is not a bad thing. We don’t fight often. We don’t fight ugly. We are two only children who were raised by single moms. We find conflict intimidating and terrifying, we’re not equipped to deal with it. He will be different. He will learn from this that people fight and make up and fight again and it’s okay.
And in the grand scheme of things he is right, and I know it, but I’m so sorry, son, for not letting you celebrate your victory once again this morning.
* Abba – dad in Hebrew.
So that happened. And I’m still gutted. What do you do to avoid fighting in front of your kids?
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