In my Grandfather’s book, The Empty Hourglass, I see a persistent theme throughout the book; a man who desperately wants to reconnect with his own little child, to reassure him that he’s ok to be who is is…as a child.
I think a lot of us grow up without ever being able to allow our inner child to be who they are, as well as manifest in our daily lives as adults. Some people grow up and feel like they never had a childhood, because they were busy parenting their parent(s).
Earlier this year, I was sitting with Atlas to read a few books. He seemed a bit hyper and I did my best to redirect his attention to the book. One page turned, and the next thing I knew, Atlas was running away from me and our book.
Initially, I wanted to bring him back to the story and continue our reading. Then, he looked back at me. On his face, he had the sweetest smile and expression – framed in an expression of innocent mischief. Atlas wanted to play.
“You just want to be a kid!” I exclaimed.
I put the book down and raced over the pick him him, throwing him over my shoulder and bouncing him up in the air while he squealed with joy. He both laughed, played and rolled around with each other until we were both out of breath and ready to sit down and read again.
I’ve thought a lot about this moment, specifically as it pertains to giving Atlas what he needs at this point in his life. More than anything, Atlas needs to be a little kid and loved as he is. I want him to feel safe to be who is, as well as feel safe when he’s around me.
When you’re raising a small child, it’s the little things that really add up to become big things.
In the case of my Opa, I think that he had a lot of moments in his life where he didn’t feel like it was safe to be a kid.
When he was just four years old, he thought it was funny to drain the air of of his step-dad’s bicycle tires, which often threw the man into a fit of rage unfit to show a small child. Opa never liked the man, and made it a game to find ways to get under his skin.
One day, it was too much.
It was morning, and his step-dad (who doesn’t deserve a name) was getting ready to go to work. Little Opa took the opportunity to smear the man’s bicycle seat with motor oil, making a huge stain on his pants.
That was the last straw, and the fit of rage that followed was strong enough to send Opa and his little brother to an orphanage, where they would spend the next 13 years of their lives.
It hurts me to write that story, because I cannot imagine what kind of a person could make the decision to send a child to an orphanage for such an infraction, and I wrestle with the anger that comes from the injustice of the scenario.
No child is equipped to lose a parent, go to an orphanage or grow up being passed around like a football.
Kids just want to be kids.
As an adult, I wrestle to find my own peace and joy. My life has been stripped from the things that I once looked forward to with hope. A wedding, baby shower, happy home, pictures on the wall of a family, happy moments together, and the most painful blow of all – becoming a single parent.
I recently spoke to the mother of a child with special needs. Additionally, the boy’s Dad disappeared from his life before he was able to crawl. The mom shared her experiences as both a single mother and one responsible for child with special needs, voicing the difficulty she had on a daily basis.
As she spoke, I had to remind myself that people in her situation (as well as mine) aren’t somehow born better equipped to be a parent of a child with disabilities, or to be a single parent. There isn’t any ‘superhero’ gene that parents with difficult situations somehow are born with. Rather, they’re people who once hoped that they would experience their own sense of normal, and now live in a life quite different than their hopes.
It’s hard, really hard not to take a very jaded view of the world when your hopes and dreams are smashed. It’s hard when your hopes for a family are instead ripped to shreds and your legal rights to parent your child have been relinquished to the government – which can’t even fix our roads properly.
When adults fail to be adults, they deprive children of the right they have to be a child, because every room needs at least one adult…and the child tries to fill that void – and thus, they perpetuate the pain cycle that the parent experienced as a child, because a child can never do the job of being the parent – especially when they don’t have a working model of what a healthy adult looks like.