Thursday, June 19, 2014

feathers and feelings

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waiting for your birthday can be hard. celebrating your baby sister's birthday while you're waiting for your birthday can be really hard. but it's a part of life – and it's a part we just experienced fully and i'm so thankful for it.

bonzo's turning five in july and to say the countdown is on would be an understatement.  he's so excited. not only is he turning five – five! – but we're also taking a family trip down to san diego to go to the zoo. on his actual birthday no less. so naturally, it's a frequented topic of conversation around here. another frequented topic revolves around how much longer we have to wait until we can go. mostly it just adds to the excitement and wonder about the new, fun experience that awaits us and we make a mental list of all the animals we want to see and things we want to do. but from time to time, the excitement and wonder gets eclipsed by impatience and frustration. birthdays bring up frustrations – it's not the first time and it won't be the last.

bonz was such a helper before (and during) mushy's party. he helped me bake the cupcakes and make the decorations and was generally pretty thrilled about her imminent birthday and all the merriment that went along with it. he didn't show any outward signs of jealousy or resentment – both of which would have been natural, i think, under the circumstances. but as i was tying twine around the party favors and attaching a feather and a name tag to each one, bonzo's behavior took on an edge and his voice took on a tone and i could tell there was something afoot.

he picked up the favor with his name on it and announced he didn't want that color feather, he wanted a different color. and in fact, he wanted three feathers, not just one. ah, here we go. i could tell that edge and tone i was getting from him was headed directly my way right then and there. i quickly and calmly told him that every child was getting one feather tied to their favor and that, to keep it fair, i wasn't going to put three feathers on his favor. he was adamant about three feathers, mad in fact. it escalated quickly, he was demanding three feathers, begging for three feathers, shouting for three feathers. he pushed and pushed, and i stayed – it was so clearly not about the feathers.

i could have tied three feathers onto his party favor and i'm sure it wouldn't have caused an uproar amongst the kids at the party. i could have tied three feathers onto his party favor and it may have stopped his crying and made him feel better. and it's possible that it may have stopped his crying – but i know it wouldn't have made him feel better. he needed a limit and giving him the feathers would be giving him the opposite.

as he was crying he found his way to my lap and just wailed for a minute or so. he wasn't talking about the feathers anymore – he was just in a heap in my arms. i try not to offer my take on his feelings so i don't cloud his process or plant a seed but, this time, i just said, "it's hard to wait for your birthday."

he picked up his head, looked at me in the eyes and cried for another few moments then matter-of-factly added, "it's hard to wait for my birthday when i've been waiting for so long already and it gets to be mushy's birthday first!"

then i just repeated it back, "you're so excited for it to be your birthday and now we're doing all this for mushy's birthday and it feels like you have to wait too long for yours to come."

he cried in my arms for another minute or two then stopped and just took a breath or two. then i think we giggled about something then got up and carried on. he never did bring up the feathers again.

the following day was the party day. he was so excited and engaged and happy to celebrate mushy. he joyfully handed each kid their favor and made sure they all knew they got to take home the little birdie figurine from their cupcake. he was so fully present and enjoying the party – no traces of resentment or frustration.

all this isn't to say that i'm pulling out the parenting pom-poms and doing a big cheer for myself any more than i'm saying that bonzo's behavior is pitch perfect day to day. parenting is a completely fluid process and we all bring our own thing to the table everyday. is my initial reaction to conflict patience and calm understanding every single time? it's not. are all bonzo's emotional upheavals that succinct and with a nice, tidy resolution? nope. but the longer i've walked on this parenting path that i've been traveling – that's just as much about me as it is my children – the more solid i feel in my choice of path, my footing and where it's taking us.

and every victory, however small or large over the years, has slowly laid a foundation that i'm pretty proud of. and this was a sweet little victory and i am pretty proud of my guy.

and forward we go.


Bridget said...

validation of feelings. it does a world of good. xoxo!

Jennifer said...

Yes -- YES. I thought of you today when I was holding a boundary with my guy (also turning five shortly) and how much stronger I felt knowing that it was truly what he needed. I could tell those feelings were building, and holding that boundary enabled him to let go and express them. Thank you for being a helpful, truthful and altogether rad beacon of light in this parenting gig!

Jax0582 said...

thank you for posting the limit pushing posts - i eat them up and love reading your advice and how you handled situations that I experience as well. Its reassurance and reminders - mushys bday party was adorable - we used that same 2 on my little ones cupcakes on his second : )

Unknown said...

What do I do when my son tries to hit or scratch or throw something during this type of interaction?

katiebug said...

oh, this is going to be me in a year or two... parallel lives my friend. i'm happy that you are FIRST! ;-) couldn't learn from a better momma!

sara said...

hopefully you'll click back over to see this! but if your son is trying to hit/scratch/throw, i would gently stop him from doing so and calmly let him know that you won't let him do it. the tone in your voice should be calm and supportive – like you're alleviating him of the burden of "having to" hit/scratch/throw and that you're there to help him ride out his feelings. you'll be right there during his feelings so if he raises his hand to hit, you can hold his hand and just calmly say, "i won't let you hit. and i'll be right here with you the whole time." that might make him cry harder – and that's good. stay with him, let him know you're hearing him without judgment or plans to fix things for him. hope that helps... xx