He had barely got the words out before he burst into tears, and my mom-authority, my conviction, just dissolved. He was sitting on my lap on his bed. We were discussing his punishment for poor behaviour. We stopped talking. We hugged.
I felt my own chest constricting, became aware of the hot tears in my eyes, aware of his little fingers wrapped around my neck, his heart beating against me. Children will come to their mother to seek comfort no matter what, even if the comfort they seek is a result of something their mother has done. They have no one else they trust to fill them back up, to mend them when they are broken, even if you are the one who broke them.
I took a deep breath and tightened my hug, ran my fingers through his hair and stroked his back. I stopped momsplaining and we cried together for a little.
This was certainly not the first time I had hurt Daoud’s feelings. How could it be? The boy is 4 and I am human. He had been punished, scolded, or ignored many times before. This was the first time he had articulated it so clearly, and the words had broken open something inside me. Stern mama was replaced by human, loving mama, by a mama who could suddenly see that her baby was getting bigger, and so could also see how truly small and helpless he was.
I wiped my eyes. I spoke in a whisper so as not to break out in fresh sobs. “I love you too. I never want to hurt your feelings. But you did something wrong and you hurt your brother’s feelings, and he’s still small so he couldn’t tell you that.”
We continued to discuss. Baba, finished with the baby’s bed time, came to join us; we hugged some more; we cuddled.
You could see the wheels churning in Daoud’s head, could see him alternately reveling in the outpour of concentrated attention he was getting, and then suddenly recalling his hurt feelings at being yelled at and sent to his room. His joy was pure and transparent, and so was his pain, and they interchanged with speed and ease.
It was my job to acknowledge the pain but focus on the joy, to bring him back around to all the goodness, and to reassure him that his punishment didn’t mean we didn’t love him, all while keeping it together. It was my job, it is my job, to keep him whole and happy, nevermind safe and kind and healthy and good. It is terrifying. Most days, I feel woefully unqualified.