When Joe-Henry was about three, we started talking about having "big feelings". It meant those hairy moments when you feel out of control emotionally (I've read about it - it never happens to me personally ;) ), and he's been bravely trying to get a handle on them ever since. He's had lots of big feelings because of our move, in addition to the normal social and emotional milestones of just being a six year old, but I always forget and after the fact, I wish I could have zapped myself into the future, instead of scratching my head in the middle of this emotional mud puddle wondering "WHY is he acting this way?"
Last week we watched "E.T. the Extraterrestrial". I had Tivo'd it because I thought he'd enjoy it. I was remembering how funny it was, rather than how achingly sad it was. He did enjoy watching it up until ET got sick and then, gulp, he died. Luckily, it was a movie, and of course, he came back to life and got to go home, but that moment where they are both on gurneys, and ET reaches out to touch Elliot and tell him "you stay here" just did my sweet, sensitive boy in. Now, mind you, we've watched all the requisite Disney movies where one of the parents die, and he hasn't really blinked. It might have brought up a question or two, but didn't make him cry or even sad, really. But this, this was awful. He was sitting in front of me on the floor, and he turned around and looked at me, his eyes screwed up and his face got red and he vaulted himself into my lap, weeping. I got him calmed down by telling him that it was just a movie and that ET was going to be okay, just you watch and see, but I felt like a complete sadist. How, when he is going through this huge fear of mommy dying thing, could I make him watch this? Well, I just forgot about the sad part, that's how. I had shoved it out of my aging brain to make room for more pertinent and relevent information like Library day and Trash day are both on Tuesday, the diabetic cat gets 2 ccs of insulin twice a day and this new brand of brown rice takes 25 minutes instead of 40 to cook. I am the one who needs to remember these things, and sometimes, honest to God, I feel like I could have strings on all ten of my fingers and I'd still be looking at three of them wondering what they are for.
But the big stuff - why did I not remember that? Why did I not, at the very least, breeze through the movie once myself first? I know, I know, lessons learned and all that. But I'm still the one responsible for this person, for his well being and growth. I realize it was probably not something that will harm him for life, but I still have that awful feeling that I caused him pain. I didn't purposely poke him in the eye or anything, but I wasn't watching out.
I guess that's the thing about parenting, the hard lesson that we, as parents, learn from day one. We will never be able to stop the bad stuff. We can just do our best to "safety proof" their worlds, we can be as vigilant as possible, but at the end of every day, there will always be one or two strings on our fingers reminding us of our failings. But hopefully we'll keep them alive and healthy and they'll learn to navigate a lot of these waters on their own, and if we can't prevent the catastrophes, they'll still trust us to provide some comfort after the fall.