He’d been rehearsing his line for a good week, had it down pat, counting down the days until the Palm Sunday school liturgy when he would get to say it in front of the whole school. Then the morning of, my six year old had a meltdown about his socks (‘too wrinkly’) and refused to leave the house. By the time I convinced / bribed / forced him to get into the car and off to school, it was too late. We bolted across an empty playground to the hall just as Year One took to the stage, a classmate stepping in to hold my son’s green paper palm leaf. No amount of cajoling was going to get him up there.
Then the tears came. From me, not him. My little boy was working hard at an air of nonchalance, stuffing his feelings down. “I didn’t want to do it anyway”, he insisted with false bravado which only made me feel worse. I was crying for the disappointment I knew he felt even though he wouldn’t admit it, for missing out on this moment he’d been so looking forward to. And I cried because I blamed myself.
Sure, it was the socks’ fault, but if we’d woken earlier or if I’d made their sandwiches the night before, scheduling wriggle room for ill-fitting socks, or if I was a better mother, this wouldn’t have happened.
You’re pretty conspicuous when you cry in the playground. Most parents huddle with their morning smiles and chit chat. I hid behind my sunglasses, glad for the excuse to tie my boy’s shoelaces, trying hard not to be noticed. But I was. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “It feels big now, but it’s not, really”, said a fellow school mum. “It’s just another moment, a blip on the radar. It will pass. It won’t mean anything in the big scheme of things”.
Because without even realising it, I had made this moment mean everything. My six year old missing his Palm Sunday liturgy, his first solo public performance, felt like a life defining event that he might carry with him forever, shaping his view of the world, himself and of me. I’ve done enough therapy to know that the happenings of our childhood – or what we make them mean – stay with us, consciously or unconsciously, forming neural pathways like highways of entrenched belief, and I didn’t want this to be one of them for my son. All this was running through my mind in the playground that morning as proud parents buzzed around, buoyed by their kids pulling of their parts: the fear that he might shut down a part of himself – the part that lets him anticipate or dream big – to guard against disappointment, like the kind he’d just felt.
It felt big not just because he missed his moment, but because of what he might make that mean.
Until this mum’s words snapped me out of my grand catastrophising. It feels big now but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just another random moment of childhood that will blend in with all the others, none more impactful than any other.
I repeated it in my mind, trying it on for good measure. “It feels big now”. But is it really? Maybe he’ll forget about it altogether (probably already has) or in time fashion it into folklore – that time he missed his stage debut because his socks were too big. He’s got more chance of being able to do that if his mother didn’t cry in the playground.
I’ve been reverting to this philosophy in the weeks since. As parents, we’re all mindful of the impact on our kids, hyper alert to the many occasions which might impact their malleable young minds, but it feels particularly prevalent as a single parent where it seems there’s so much room for error: favoured toys left at the other parent’s house, alternate Christmases, so much missing out. So much conspicuousness. Now I’m trying to see it all as the necessary stuff of childhood, the stuff that will shape them for the better. Not big, just different.
This article first appeared on kidspot.com.au