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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?”

More shaking.

“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.

Back when it was easy... sigh.

Back when it was easy… sigh.

About Ice Scream Mama

Mama to 3 boys, wife to Mr. Baseball and daughter of a sad man. I have a double scoop every day.

41 responses »

  1. it is so hard to be a parent at times, especially as they grow older, and you can’t solve things as easily. i have 3 daughters, now all grown, and i’ve thought about how the ‘many a day’ issues and their resolution seemed huge at times. as they grow up, the issues are less frequent, but the problems are bigger and more real world and at times it is hardest just to stand by and let them find their way. it is much easier to jump in and try to help and solve the problem, like when they were little. hang in there, and know there will be some days that are harder than others. it will be okay.

  2. Awh, I feel for you! I would be dying to know what was going on too. I guess my toddler and 4 yr old are easy in that respect!

  3. Oh gosh I so know this scene and I feel as helpless as you so beautifully describe. It’s so hard for me to just give my teen some space and let him know I’m here when he needs me. I want to dive in and help solve the problem, like I use to be able to do. I don’t always like this growing up thing!! Great post!!

  4. It’s always hard to know what to do. I can say what has worked for me is to go in his room like you did, but say nothing. Just be there and sometimes they will start chatting with you and open up (and sometimes they won’t) But your presence I am sure made him feel better

  5. Ugh…not being able to help. That sounds bad. Right now, with my daughter at 3, I usually can help. But that won’t last forever, huh?

  6. I think that something, growing up just plain sucks. And being a parent, watching all that sucky growing up has got to be the hardest job around. Hugs, mama.

  7. Noooooo!!!! I want him to be okay too. The helplessness of a mother is so gutwrenching. I hate it.

  8. I hope it’s nothing serious (overall, obviously it’s serious to him). I dread the day that my son stops telling me why he’s upset. My heart is aching thinking about you in this position and your son so upset.

  9. Poor guy, and poor mama. It’s instinct to want to swoop in and protect your child from everything, and it sucks when we’re unable to do so.

  10. Oh, that is tough. I hope he is able to sort out whatever it is, whether he just needs time or can work through it. You’re a good mama 🙂

  11. That is the worst feeling. 😦 SO helpless.

  12. Gulp. This is where the “letting go” gets tough. I would’ve been right there with you, mama.

  13. Parenting without the manual can be so scary. But with time we learn how to deal with the changes in our children which never end.

  14. At least you know when to stop asking questions. I haven’t learned that yet.

  15. We’re in that stage too and it is unnerving.

  16. Deanna Herrmann

    Poor mama and poor son! I had a knot in my throat just reading this and being concerned right along with you! I dread the day I have to let it be and leave my son to handle it on his own. I know we have to as parents, but that instinct to protect never dies. It’s strong and hard to push to the side. Hope you can rest soon.

  17. I love the verb “tackled” when the oldest son opens the van door. And I liked the last line of this piece. It reflects parenthood as the ongoing, relentless event it is.

  18. Ouch. It’s so hard when they start to grow up and think they don’t need their mamas any more. I feel your pain. Did you ever find out what was wrong? I hate seeing my babies hurt and not have some way to immediately fix it. It was so much easier when just slapping a bandaid on and getting a bowl of ice cream would fix everything!

    • i know! how can ice cream not fix everything. honestly i think he was overtired and just not having a great day, then he hit his hand and his brothers annoyed him.. he told me later on, it was just a bad feeling and he couldn’t explain it. i get that, but i see what’s coming.. ugh!

  19. Oh, this is hard. I go through it with my oldest. Boys don’t want to talk. They go from chatterboxes telling us every detail about Star Wars to clamming up when it gets to the truly important life stuff.

  20. I cannot see past diapers and goldfish crackers. Please, please, please tell me that he still allows you to hug him. I always think there’s nothing a cuddle can’t cure. Well, that and a good bribe, of course. In your case, it’s ice cream. In my household, it’s chocolate.

    • oh my oldest is the squooshiest!! he love love loves to hug!! no worries there. i do think it’s more a personality thing than age.. my middle son has always been less huggy – no matter how much i squeeze, he tries to squirm away. they are who they are..


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