Tonight, I laid down with my son to put him to sleep. We don’t often do this, but tonight was somehow different. I laid down next to him, and rubbed his back.
“Can you stay until I fall asleep?,” he asked.
“Well…I can stay for a few more minutes. But then I have to go do some work, ” I answered.
Why do you have to work? He wanted to know. Would I be working all the time if he and his sister weren’t around? He wanted to know.
“I might work more, yes. I have to help my patients. But since you and your sister are here, when we are together, I try not to work. And once you go back to sleep, I work a little more.” He shifted around, and settled again with his back towards me now. Our little dog jumped around the bed, scratching at the blankets, asking us to play.
“What kinds of problems do your patients have?,” he asked.
“Oh. Well…Some of my patients feel really sad, and some of my patients worry a lot, or have a difficult time thinking the way that they want to think. So, I help them, by talking with them, and sometimes by prescribing medicine.”
He paused for a long time, silent. His back rose and fell, rose and fell, with his slow breaths, tired, yet not asleep. “You know, mommy, I worry sometimes too. I don’t know about what exactly. But I feel worried. Sometimes it happens in the morning, sometimes at school, sometimes at night…and then I wait awhile or get distracted, and most of the time it goes away. But I don’t like the way it feels.”
In an instant, my heart ached for him. This little person, eight years old, was mostly a quiet, shy, reserved boy. He didn’t often talk about his feelings. Yet here he was, in the dark of the night, his back to me, sharing his inner experience.
I touched his hair, and let him know that he could always come to me when he felt worried. We could talk about it, if he wanted to. Or we could figure out things that might help him feel better, if he wanted to.
He nodded silently, almost imperceptibly, drifting off.
Soon, he was asleep, and I lay there a little longer, holding onto the unexpected moment that was at once painful and at once sacred. These in between, ordinary, unpredictable moments are often when our children’ hearts crack wide open. We can only hope to be present enough to receive what they have to offer.
Both the psychiatrist and mother in me wanted to rush in with arms full of skills and suggestions. Let’s meditate more! Let’s exercise more! Let’s play more! And while all of those things might very well help, the wiser part of me knew that the answer was perhaps right in what was unfolding in these minutes.
The answer wasn’t more, the answer was less.
Just be here. As hard as it is, as fragmented as I feel, put the phone down, shut my brain off, and instead lay down for a few minutes with this little boy. He won’t be little for too much longer. Let him speak and hear him, fully, with my eyes, ears, and soul.
Once he knows it is safe, he will show me what he needs.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in slowing down and noticing the little people in our lives. What are they showing and telling you they need?
With gratitude, Monisha