He walked out from the school, his backpack slung behind him looking sweetly melancholy or merely just exhausted. It was hard to tell in the dark.
Usually, my husband did this late night Hebrew school pick-up, but tonight he was working late. So at 8:10pm, I was in the car on a cold night with my two younger boys instead of in the middle of our stalling before bed routine, probably somewhere between whining for snacks and whining to brush teeth.
When he opened the car door, the noise of his brothers tackled him and he flung the door too hard and hit his hand on the car parked next to us. Not too bad, but enough to make him grimace. He didn’t cry. Instead, he decided to inflict some pain on his brothers. “You guys have nothing better to do than yell and play video games!” He lashed out at them. “Can’t you do anything else?”
“You okay?” I asked, a little concerned by the desperation in his voice.
He just nodded but didn’t say anything more.
Back in the house two minutes, he lost it again when his youngest brother complained that he pilfered one of his goldfish crackers. “You’re so sensitive!” he yelled and then stomped into his room.
Uh oh. Something was wrong and it wasn’t the hand.
I got the two younger boys in the shower and went in to see my oldest son. His room was dark and he was lying under his covers fully dressed, clutching a favorite old dinosaur toy, feigning sleep.
“Baby?” I questioned and rubbed his back soothingly. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” He muttered.
“I can tell something’s wrong. Please tell me.”
“Nothing’s wrong.” He insisted; his eyes squeezed closed so not to face me, his mouth twitching emotion.
I sat next to him in silence, studying his heartbreakingly sweet face obviously in the midst of some internal struggle. Do I respect his space or probe deeper? Where is that parenting book when you need it?
“Did you get in trouble in class?” I asked gently.
He shook his head.
“Did you get into a fight with someone?”
“Were you embarrassed or hurt in some way?” I persisted.
“Stop!” He almost cried, burying his face in his pillow. “You’re making it worse.”
I guess I should have chosen space.
“Okay.” I conceded. “I’m sorry. I just want to help.”
I rubbed his back a little longer; not wanting to leave him, dying to know what was upsetting him, but uncertain what to do. The idea that someone would put him in this emotionally vulnerable place was too much for me. No one was allowed to hurt my baby.
“You can’t help.” He said into his pillow.
What? Untrue! I can help! I need to help. I’ve always been able to help. Don’t shut me out, I wanted to cry. Instead, I left him to get the other boys into bed; the ones whose biggest problems were if I had pirate booty to give for snack the next day and if I could secure a good play date.
By the time I came back to his room, he was asleep.
But I would be up all night.