Internet Explorer users may need to widen their browser windows to span all three columns. Or download Firefox.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

The world too much with us:
break out the sprinkles.


Last Sunday, my second-grader came in the door crying. He and his big brother were tearing across the yard, when he tripped over a tree root and fell, most unhumorously, on his funny bone. I ran his arm through a series of highly scientific wiggle tests, and applied an ice pack, but when he was still crying after twenty minutes, and unmoved by his big brother's entreaties every five minutes to "come see this!," I decided a trip to the emergency room was in order. It wasn't like him to stay down for so long. Maybe he had a hairline fracture.

This is my stealth child. Where the other two are open books set in big print, my middle son is not so easily read. "A mystery, wrapped in an enigma," Patrick used to say about me when we were first getting to know each other. And while this is the child who most nearly resembles his father physically, he takes after his mother on the inside.

"You have many rooms in your house, Kyran," my Mom observed about my interior life once. "And not all of them are open." Her tone was wistful. And now, as the mother of a child who frequently hangs the "do not disturb" sign over the knob, I understand how difficult it must have been for her sometimes to live with a daughter who could disappear from her without ever leaving the dinner table.

What probably took my open-hearted, emotionally resilient mom years to understand, and what I get innately about my son, is that his ability to draw so completely into himself is one borne of self-preservation.

He is extremely sensitive to all input, sensory or otherwise. Sounds are louder, tastes are stronger, smells are smellier, feelings are, well, feelier. Everything is more. I hear stories all the time about other kids like this who have a lot of problems mangaging daily life, and whose parents have a terrible time right alongside them. Something I love and admire about my son is how well he takes care of himself in a world that is sometimes too much. He has learned how to take his space when it presses in too closely on him, even when he can't physically wander away.

I don't take credit for this, any more than I do for any of my children's gifts. The greatest blessing of having more than one child is how swiftly it corrected my over-inflated measure of my own influence on their personalities. But I do think it has helped my ultra-sensitive child that I have always validated his experience, and trusted his instinctual ways of processing it. I don't fight him on food issues, for example. If it "tastes funny," it tastes funny. He has somehow grown into an average size, if fine-boned, seven-year-old on a diet that is 85 per cent beige.

Once when he was a toddler, I heard cries from the bath as he was getting his hair washed, and ran up to investigate.

"It's too hot," he was crying, as Patrick was rinsing.

Patrick was bewildered. "Feel this," he said. "It's not hot."

"It is to him," I said, turning the faucet.

I guess some old-school types might call this coddling. I call it respect.

I can't change who my son is, or how he takes life in. I can validate his feelings, offer perspective, and try to teach outer-world skills that don't come easily or naturally to someone who lives from a place so deep inside.

Sitting in the hospital examination room, waiting for an x-ray order, afforded us some rare one-on-one time. I struggled to keep something like a conversation going, never a problem with my two chatterbox children. I asked him about his arm, and where he was running in such a hurry, and how school was going. While he was setting off eagerly each morning, I knew it was taking him a little longer to find his place than it did his brothers.

His answers were typically brief and non-committal. He was bending and flexing his arm freely, but I still read pain on his face.

"Honey, you look so sad," I said finally. "Are you sad?"

He shrugged. "Not really, I guess."

Just like the kids have learned that Mommy's "maybe" means "probably", and Daddy's "maybe" means "unlikely", I have learned that my son's "I guess" means "you guess."

"Are your feelings hurt about something?"


"Are you missing something or somebody?"

"I guess."

It didn't take a full round of twenty questions to find out that he was grieving for his best buddy from his old school. The boys have seen each other over the summer, but a new classroom, a new playground and a new lunch table really brought it home how things have changed.

My guy cried quietly into some tissue as I stroked his hair and tried to tell him what I know about friendship and life changes, which is that sometimes it's really hard, and you cry.

The elbow was completely healed. I was never so grateful to have wasted an hour on a Sunday afternoon in E.R. Who knows how long my child would have held that grief inside?

Me, me. I do.

A very long time.

I know so well the muteness that strikes as the immensity of Everything bears down. I know the secret hiding places where you can curl into yourself so compactly, no one can pry you out. As Patrick and my mother have learned with me, as I know with my son, nothing is ever won by force from either of us. But there's a sweet spot somewhere between backing off and standing by, where we come out into the open.

Sometimes I meet my son there.

I put my arm around him while he wept. I promised we'd call his buddy when we got home, and that I not only understood his feeling sad, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if he felt mad at us for making him change schools.

I felt him uncurl. He twisted a damp piece of tissue in his hands.

"Better?" I said.

"Yeah, but there's just one more thing."

When a child like my child is about to give you something of himself, of his own accord, you sit very still and you breathe very carefully.

"What, honey?"

"I wanted to buy the house we looked at that had the playroom."

Oh, the things we hold onto, the lengths we hold on. His mother's son for sure.

There's so much I can't teach him, because I'm still learning it myself. Trusting the people closest to me with my true feelings; admitting when I am disappointed, angry, or hurt; not leaving people to guess what's going on with me when I withdraw. Not having to steal space in secret, but to simply take it, honestly and openly, when it's what I need (and lately, I find I need more of it than ever before). To have faith that some relationships can survive big changes.

All I know is to offer him the things I want most for myself from the people I love and who love me: acceptance for who he is, faith in who he is becoming.

And great big bowls of ice cream.



Blogger Ellen Di Giosia said...

You know how everybody says you shouldn't ask kids yes/no questions about their day? That we should be specific, draw it out? When I do that with my kindergartner, I get no response. But when I leave her alone and just hang out with her, she'll tell me in her own sweet time. Here's to knowing your own kid. And here's to your son, who somehow knows how to articulate things that a lot of kids his age wouldn't be able to.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

That was a wonderful bit of writing. Good Housekeeping is a great start, and, if there is any justice in the world, someday you will have a syndicated column appearing in every newspaper in North America.

So... how is the little guy's arm?

1:35 PM  
Blogger amy turn sharp of doobleh-vay said...

that was so lovely. Sometimes in my head I imagine a perfect little writers group I would have. It would be many things to me, but inspiration first- and in my mind yr always sitting in the circle... thank you for that. I needed it today.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Shelley said...

Beautiful writing that touched a part of motherhood that can be so intense...too often I really think I know what's going on inside their heads and then they take me by surprise. It illuminates that they are their own being and that makes me so proud at the same time as it humbles me.

2:20 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

simply beautiful, being present for children is the greatest gift we can give them.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Beautifully written...I share this temperment with you and your son...yet I live in a house of chatterbox is a wonderfully journey...we each must
travel at our own pace...

2:23 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

I was sitting in the doctor's office last week with my own son, and as we talked about his new school, he said, "It's like no one even sees me." This was after he had been in school for three weeks, and hadn't said anything negative about it.

So yes, your son is very familiar to me. Thanks for the story.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amazing bit of writing... so enjoyed reading that! We have one of those in our house too ... nice to read how you tread lightly.

5:16 PM  
Blogger The Other Laura said...

I have to echo that this was a beautiful piece of writing.


5:27 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

geoff, I don't know about syndication, but I do believe in justice in this world....stay tuned. ;-)

the arm was one hundred per cent cured before we left the hospital.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

What a lovely exchange, and such that he can feel open to share it with you.

It's nice to have those times alone with our children when everything seems chaotic.

It's centers them. And I think it centers us too.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

That was intimate and moving. I wanted to soothe your son while reading... you too. Sometimes it's painful to watch certain people feel.

Glad his arm is "cured".

8:44 PM  
Blogger Jessica @ A Bushel and a Peck said...

Regardless of topic, your writing is always beautiful. Its lovely that you are able to understand your son so well...what a gift for both of you.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautifully written. i am the open book, but i tend to date enigmas and have learned that meeting in that space where they are willing and i am patient is not only important, but essential. we all deal with the overwhelming world differently, and whose to say that one way is better than another? different is what makes us beautiful.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Alicia Mason said...

It took 35 years, hundreds of panic attacks, and finanally therapy for me to figure out that I need my space and am super sensitive (or highly sensate). I have a guest room that I retreat to to read or just sit with a quilt and look out the window. My husband tries to understand but often feels that I am pulling away and want to keep him at arms length. So, great job noticing this for your child and yourself. Maybe this sensitivity and self-awareness is what makes you such a great writer. I like the way you notice little things and chew on them a bit. I very much enjoy visiting your blog.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Leigh said...

Kyran, Your writing is beautiful. I'm so glad I found your blog early this summer. With regard to your son and missing his best friend. My daughter had a similar situation last year when she started middle school and her close friend wasn't in any of her classes nor did they share their lunch hour. I invited the friend to come home after school with my daughter one day a week every week. Her mother and I agreed on Mondays. I can't tell you how much that helped. My daughter knew that she was going to be able to spend time with her friend every week and this gave her enough security to open up to all the new girls in her classes. Also, it helped her not be jealous of the new friends her old friend was making. In the end both of them are as close if not closer than ever and both have many new friends that they share with each other as well.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Wow. What a great mom.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Teresa Tebbe said...

I thoroughly enjoyed that. Tears and all. Thank you for that reminder.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Mrs. G. said...

I'm sure it's been mentioned before that you are one of the best writers in the blogosphere.

2:22 PM  
Blogger island sweet said...


4:32 PM  
Blogger karen said...

You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. To be reminded that this is exactly how my son processes.

"It is to him" Beautiful.

Thanks Kyran. I will be coming back to read this post again and again.

6:07 PM  
Blogger what's her bucket said...

You are a wonderful Mom. Thanks for the beautiful story.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quietly, spectacularly good. And reminding me of the virtuosity of silence.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Sally across the pond said...


4:56 PM  
Blogger Julie @ Letter9 said...

Thanks, Kyran.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Tracey said...

Oh, sweet Patrick...

That was a lovely piece. Very moving and revealing about yourself and your son. Thank you for sharing...

3:07 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Wow. Just lovely. this, "I don't take credit for this, any more than I do for any of my children's gifts. The greatest blessing of having more than one child is how swiftly it corrected my over-inflated measure of my own influence on their personalities." has been my meditation as of late. The bit about validation too. And the complexities of each child, reflected in the complexities of mama too...Parenting mindfully is a tough job. Reading something like this is a much needed deep breath. So happy to have found your blog. If you return the visit, skip down below the poop post, or you'll deem me shallow and unworthy:)

9:59 AM  

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

<< Home