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#56 Family Matters Things that go Clump in the Night

In These Times by Dr. Jody Kussin, May 9, 2020


You know that feeling, deep in your stomach, that serves as a warning signal to your brain, but a sign that your brain cannot always de-code? Sometimes it’s a ‘hey you, I’m nervous’ and sometimes it’s a “hi up there, my feelings are hurt’ and sometimes it’s ‘may day may day, something is wrong but I have no idea what’ and occasionally, it’s ‘I’m hangry, please feed me!’ We also ‘feel feelings’ in other parts of our body. We tend to want to connect the dots between feelings and what caused them, but, that’s not always possible.


(By the way, fun fact, “mayday" started in 1923 as an international stress call and was officially adopted in 1948….the term was used because it sounded like the French word m'aider, which means “help me.")


When my youngest was little, say about 23 years ago, give or take (he’s 28 now, or maybe 27 or 29, hard to say given our new concept of timelessness,) he was a serious and intense kid. He played with his older brother and sister and never complained that he was always the one injured – roller hockey in the street, basketball in the backyard, puppet theater in the den….


We did not know if he had an ear infection until he spiked a fever so high, we finally went to the pediatrician or vet, whoever had the earliest opening. We were lucky we realized when he’d broken a bone (on at least two occasions – flying off a teeter totter once and flying off a skateboard another time.) He was and remains our ‘fly below the radar’ self-reliant and self-sufficient child.


One year, his kindergarten teacher let us know that on a ‘secret wish list’ assignment, he’d included “Someday I would like to have clothes with tags on them.” Apparently having an entire wardrobe of handmedowns from both gendered older sibs was wearing on him. (So, we took him to The Gap and let him try things on and buy brand new jeans and overalls with the tags on them and he was happy as could be and essentially has not been all that interested in purchasing new clothes since.)


Another year he told us, after we lightly interrogated him to try to figure out what was wrong, “I’m worried we will be homeless.” We were/are blessed to never have to worry about homelessness, and we sat down and wrote out a list of all the families and friends who would let us live with them should we end up without a house. We hung the list in his room, and it was there for months until one day we noticed he’d taken it down.


There was also the time in first grade when he popped out of his bed around 10 pm to whisper, “Mom, I don’t know why, and I don’t mean to complain, but, for some reason, there is a clump in my throat.” He sat on his father’s lap and tears silently fell down his cheeks. He described a general sense of ‘feeling bad, feeling sad, feeling scared’ without being able to identify ‘any reason for any of it.’ We sat and talked and also were silent with him for about 15 minutes, which is a long while for a six-year old. He said, ‘it’s deep down in my heart.’ We went upstairs and put him back to bed and he let me sing a few songs and tickle his back before he fell asleep. By then my heart was sad deep down as well. I could not fix his angst and I had a clump, or maybe twelve.


We then went to sleep, uneasily. At 4:30 am we felt a third body in our bed. Sometime during the night, a body and heart seeking comfort silently snuggled in with us.


We do not have all the answers these days, or actually, any days. As they get older, we cannot just ‘kiss it and make it better.’ We just have to do our best to keep our attention on matters that really deserve it and be emotionally available for the unexpected moments when they need us. We’re pretty good at being there for the moments requiring discipline or eliciting laughter. Let’s up our game of accessibility for the feelings.


In these times, we need to make sure we can be there to sit, chat, and listen to our kids and their clumps. Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

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