He runs down the sidewalk, away from me, his small body bursting with the energy and effort of hurtling itself forward. Every few seconds he turns back to look at me, just to make sure I am still there. My eyes stay glued to him; my heart quickens as he approaches the corner. I know he knows to stop, but in his joy of running free will he? Or will his devil-may-care impulses win over his mother-imparted fear of fast cars and careless drivers? “Stop!” I yell. He does. On a dime. Way better than he did in the red light, green light game in Lil’ Kickers.
We hold hands to cross. On the other side, with my permission, he takes off again. He is just getting the hang of this running thing - he falls often, his scarred knees are a testament to the learning curve. His running is awkward - imagine Igor from Frankenstein doing something between a lope, a gallop and a sprint. Instead of pumping, arms bent at the elbow, his arms hang and swing by his sides. I’m astonished that he remains upright. He has not yet had the big fall that will skin up his face – the fear of falling, something he has plenty of time to develop, for now is absent. He couldn’t be happier with the secure freedom of running under Mama’s gaze.
Back in the confines of our house, Riley looms large. He is the Home Despot. If he is in a good mood, we all are. When he is angry or in the throes of one of his - as I call it - operaerobic meltdowns, no one in the house breathes, except maybe his little sister, Aria. My husband and I bend over backwards to prevent tantrums by following the Riley Doctrine as closely as we can. At the same time, we strive to instill in him discipline, manners and respect for our family and home. Like most parents, the needs of our children are the biggest cause in our lives.
But outside, this little boy who rules my world is tiny, dwarfed by big storefronts and buildings, adults and vehicles. How HUGE the world must seem to him, full of wonders to explore and big, frightening things to avoid. All the things he wants to do, to master right now, and can’t.
How frustrating to the core this must be.
How maddening not to be able to do all the simple things that grown ups do like turning on faucets, lights and machines. Things you could do if you could reach higher or press harder! What a pain not to be permitted do the simplest things for yourself, like open the kitchen cabinet to get yourself some crackers, or get a game you want to play from a high shelf (like the one with the marbles you or your baby sister could choke on). Why can’t you taste the coffee you help your dad brew, or have a tiny of sip the wine your parents have with dinner? And you know you would be great at driving, vacuuming, washing the dishes and handling money if only your silly parents would give you the chance!
Naturally all these things are not so great once you have to do them for yourself. Of course all these things keep a child safe, clean, and healthy, not to mention alive. But to a child these no-can-dos are a cage, a prison. “Too many rules!” Riley often screams.
I understand why Riley is so happy and free outside, and ready for a meltdown at any given moment inside. I see plenty for Riley to busy himself with at home, but he manages to focus on the closed doors. Not surprising, because what is out of reach is exactly what we want. As a freelancer, I gave up most of my jobs so that I could have more time with my children.
Which means our coffers are not so full.
I have a great life but manage to focus on the clothes, vacation, car, home and leisure time I don’t have. I don’t have big meltdowns every other day, just small ones that I subdue with food, wine, sometimes exercise, and a good venting session with my girlfriends. Imagine dealing with these daily disappointments, the rules, the you-can’t-haves with the raw, developing emotions of a two year old. Now there’s a world you’d want to get off!
So when Riley has his next big meltdown, I’ll try to put myself in his little shoes. I’ll remind myself he’s just a little guy trying to assert himself in this big picture. And I’ll sit right next to him, helpless, similarly struggling to find ground in the deep, deep soul of my little boy.