When Malcolm was two, he would sometimes spend the first hour or two of the day screaming. Walking around while crying and screaming. It’s almost hard to remember now.
How much easier communication is now that he is an articulate six-year-old.
Now Malcolm tells me: “The house is too quiet. Our house is always too quiet.”
I’ve spent years turning off the radio when my husband leaves in the morning. I LOVE quiet. I want to hear the birds outside the windows, even when the windows are closed.
Now Malcolm sits on the couch and asks me to turn music on. He would like to have music on all the time. He loves music, talking, noise, company.
A few days ago, we were talking at the dinner table. Maybe it was the moment when we were saying our gratitudes for the day.
I said, perhaps at the very end of my turn: “I’m so glad I’m getting enough sleep these days. Sometimes I still go to bed too late, but when I think back on when you were smaller, I remember how tired and grumpy I was all the time. Sometimes you would scream all morning and then I would scream back at you to stop.”
Malcolm looks delighted by this. “I think I must have loved that,” he says.
I’m incredulous. “Really? Do you think you were screaming because our house was too quiet?” I ask him. He grins, nodding.
This seems too good to be true. But I am relieved that he remembers it that way.
It is such a gift to find a window into his perception of the world.
Malcolm sometimes reminds me of my maternal grandmother. Her feelings were always out in the open, in a way that I couldn’t imagine for myself at the time. She embraced, cried, scolded. I was guarded, cautious, shy. I tried to contain my big feelings, not to let them spill out.
Now, living with my extroverted child, I’m inspired. I’ve learned to reach back to my own earlier child energy, which was always there, hiding somewhere behind seriousness. I feel myself bouncing like he does when he’s happy; I throw my arms around people I love. I can see now how that is possible. I’ve always loved deeply; but now it’s no longer a part of myself I need to guard.
Lachlan, who is now nine, has also challenged me and taught me. He speaks his boundaries clearly; he speaks when he feels injustice; he looks around and sees the patterns around him. He is learning to temper honesty with kindness, but I admire his honouring of the truth. I am also seeing how that is possible: to speak the truth, peacefully. Even sometimes with wry humour, like Lachlan does. To trust that the world won’t end because of it; that people can handle it; that my concerns will be addressed.
When you have a child, a stranger is dropped into the centre of your life, even right into your body; a stranger who you love fiercely and inexplicably, but you don’t necessarily understand.
Whatever you thought was your subjective self, your individuality, becomes more permeable. When someone is living inside your body, where do you end and they begin? When your body is their lifeline, their means of survival, how do you untangle your own point of view?
But once they’re out in the world, separate from you; well, your body might be your own again, but your heart needs to continue to grow. To fit into it that expanding perspective that’s not the same as yours.
And once you stretch your heart, once you learn – even just a little – to see the world through your child’s eyes, then seeing the world through other people’s eyes becomes that much more possible.
It’s an opening, a window, a tantalizing glimpse into the possibility of understanding.
That’s one thing that my children have taught me.