"Nobody likes me. No one wants to play with me." When he begins those words with a gradually increasing quiver in his voice, my entire being shatters. Eventually, he moves on to other things and that loud, overpowering laughter and zest for life takes over. For him. I find myself up at all hours of the night, feeling his pain and sorrow over every ounce of my body and wishing I could will it away.
In so many ways, he is so much like me. (I'm wincing as I type that.) Throughout my entire pregnancy, I wished he may wind up a little bit more like his father in terms of resiliency and confidence and the ability to not be ripped to shreds over someone else's bad day. Instead, as it would turn out, he is just like me. ("I don't want to go to a regular college where they do math, like the one daddy went to," he told me the other day. "I want to go to an art college and write stories and poems and paint.")
Today I dropped him off at school and he clutched my hand for the first time in weeks. "Come with me on the playground," he said. "You'll be the only one who likes me and wants to play with me." I resisted the urge to shatter into a million shards of devastation and instead followed him to the playground -- where four children ran up and engulfed him in hugs. "There's my hug monster," one shouted with a giggle in her voice. "Oh boy," he said. "I'm just so much fun to hug," he explained to me with a glimmer in his eyes. "Want to play with me?" asked another girl from another class, grabbing his hand before he could even happily accept. "You can go, mommy," he yelled as he and his new friend ran across the playground. I tried to convince myself to leave without stopping his teacher and pleading with her to assure me that he is as well liked as this morning proved. I have no willpower, but she assured me that he is well loved.
If I try hard enough, I can still remember being a kid and hoping with all my might that no one would speak to me for the duration of the school day. Ethan longs to be included but lacks the confidence to ask for inclusion -- and, boy, so I understand his apprehension. (And irrationality, and falling to pieces, and so on.) As we approach this phase in parenthood -- this new, shiny end to infancy and at-all-times protection -- I'm trying to find in myself the confidence that I lacked through every phase of my own life until now. Now it is up to me to find it, confidence, and wear it like an armor to shield my own child from the same struggles and troubles that plagued me when I was in his shoes. And while I may not be able to protect him entirely from those struggles and troubles or prevent them from happening, I can simply remain conscious to not dismiss them and give him the best tools to push on through the fog. We are stronger together, the two of us, and may that bond be one he carries forever as close to his heart as I do.