Over the weekend, while I was visiting friends in Georgia, I observed the training of a four month old boy. He is loved, loved, loved by his parents. But they have certain ideas about what a child should or shouldn’t do, most of which I don’t agree with.
The first idea is that a child should make his parents happy. A child of this age can do this by smiling and being “good.” This child smiled quite often and also posed for photographs. He was very, very good. He also didn’t cry much at all.
I noticed that whenever he whimpered or started to cry both parents conveyed a sense of alarm. When this happened in the car his mother, who was in the back seat with him, began to entertain him in various ways. She offered him a cloth book to chew. She found a puppet on a string and made him dance while she sang a song. The boy looked and listened. She sang him songs without the puppet. And when that no longer worked, she shook a container of Tic Tacs so it sounded like a rattle and that held his attention for a long time. Whenever he started to look unhappy, she increased her efforts to stop him from crying.
Observing the repeated interruption of this child’s feelings, and even his attempts to suck his thumb, was a painful experience for me. I am a therapist who works mostly with adults who are struggling to find connection to their true feelings and their inner sense of self, things that I believe were disrupted long ago by being shushed and hushed by their moms and dads, as with this little boy.
I have a client who could not tell anyone how her older sister teased her mercilessly and dropped hot things on her. I have clients whose mothers denied their sexual abuse. I have clients who were not told the truth about their adoptions yet they sensed something was wrong in the family dynamics. I have clients who were told not to cry when their parents hurt them or not to cry when they felt upset. All these people are now ‘crying’ in my office. Not literally crying, but crying inside because they have lived so long in a life of emotional disconnection. Accessing their childhood experiences now, they discover that their feelings about their experiences were often denied or negated.
Art Linkletter famously wrote a book called Kids Say the Darndest Things. It is a wonderful book, catching children’s take on many situations. Art was able to convey in his light-hearted way how wonderfully perceptive children are. Their wonderful perception, however, is often what is not dealt with when it comes to a child’s real experience in his or her family.
Because I was feeling very upset about the four months old child’s experience, I was tuning in to all the other children’s experiences, as I saw them at the airport. I saw four siblings leashed together walking with their mom. I heard a baby crying loudly and being hushed tensely by his mother. And I saw a three year old boy sitting bored on his mother’s lap as she read messages on her phone.
I could do something about that, I thought! I could play catch with him while his mother read her emails. I jumped up to look for a ball at a store in the airport. I asked and was told there was a store that sold balls. I walked a long way and, finally, found it. Four types of balls were being sold-two very bouncy and small, one puzzle-like and easy to break apart and one soft and easy to catch. I stood in line to buy the soft ball. I was amazed at the price-$15.00 on sale. It was because, as I was told, it was a Pokémon ball. I bought it and ran back to the boy, who had since disappeared.
So, now I have a Pokémon ball. I will give it to the four month-old when he is bigger. I am sure his parents will roll the ball to him and that this will bring moments of happiness. That is what I can do there.
At home, in my office, I do much more than assuage the pain in people’s lives. I help them become clearer about their inner workings, more articulate in their communication with others and better able to navigate their lives.
If you have thoughts that bother you or difficulties in your relationships, you could avail yourself of my help. We could roll the Pokémon ball back and forth or talk about whatever is on your mind. I invite you to give me a call.