When Our Kids Hurt

16 Sep

The other day I was  on my walk with a friend and we ran into another. The look on her face was stricken. After the three of us completed a couple of loops around the park, she told us that her son, a college student, was having a rough time socially.  After she left, the other friend said: “When I saw her face I thought someone had died.” My friend was in deep pain because her son was.  I know in my body what that feels like.

When they fall down, our instinct is to pick them up, kiss the boo boo and make everything all right. We do this when they’re little, at college age, it’s just not so easy. Often it’s not even possible.

There are things that happen in your child’s life that you can’t fix.

A few weeks ago, toward the end of summer I came home and found Cliff and Baldwin having just finished dinner together.  They were laughing, teasing me about something, but I could look at her face and tell something was wrong. Had she been crying? Cliff recounted what they  had been talking about.  He had been telling her how proud he was of her because she had just ended a successful internship at the fashion website Pixie Market, where she did all their social media and a little modeling. She had just begun another internship with Prabal Gurung–a well-known fashion designer–where she’s doing all the grunt work most interns are expected to do, but getting a great inside look at the not-so glamorous fashion world.  Cliff was pointing out how all these things–and going to Paris for her junior year–are setting her up for the kind of career she wants to have. All good things right?

When he finished enumerating her accomplishments, she broke down in tears. Cliff was alarmed and tried to figure out what he’d said to upset her. She said that she just wanted to be able to share all this with her boyfriend, except that he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore. She said she missed her love.

It had been torture seeing her torn up by the breakup and not being able to do anything to make it better. All I could do was listen, hold her and let her know that the hurt will pass. Meanwhile, I was torn up inside and needed someone to rub my back, tell me it’d be okay and that this will pass.

She’s back at school now and busy with all that she has going on and says her work has been the best thing–she’s still sad, but distracted and moving on with her life.

Even though I know that we can’t fix everything for them and we shouldn’t, the impulse doesn’t go away. I know that we only cripple them when we do. Helping them learn to make their own decisions–which will not always be good ones–is a big part, a hard part, of being a parent.

I haven’t written much all summer. I wrote one blog, because my brain has been clogged by my emotions and duty. Helping Ford to navigate being 13, his last year of middle school and all the sociological stuff that adolescents go through; then add-on to that the Black boy factor and our anxiety about his safety. For the first time he’s playing on a baseball team where Cliff is not one of the coaches and he’s playing with all new kids. He’s been with some of same ones since he was six. Cliff has always been either the main coach or an assistant because he wanted to make sure Ford gets to play at prime positions and is treated well. I tell him to let Ford be coached by someone who isn’t his dad or by someone connected to him. They have to learn to deal with unfairness. In the long run this will make him stronger.

We spent a great restful Labor Day weekend in the Berkshires with our friends John and Hillary. She and I were driving to the market and were talking about the emotional ties we have to our children. (She also has two boys in college, whom I’ve known since pre-school.)

She said: “I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s because we carry them in our bodies and maybe they leave little cells behind, inside of us.”

Those “cells” are perhaps what compels us to get in the car and drive an hour or four or six when we get that teary phone call that says I’m hurting.

I hate it. I know it comes with the territory.

All I can do is be present, listen, advise when I’m asked or when I think its necessary to step in. My hope is that they develop resilience. Resilience is the key. I’m already seeing it in Baldwin and I’m unbelievably grateful.  Ford’s not there yet, but I’m hopeful.

We’re working with him and I’m working on me.


5 Responses to “When Our Kids Hurt”

  1. benniegirl September 16, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

    Beautiful Benilde. You’ve captured the moment(s) very well..

  2. Hillary September 17, 2014 at 1:24 am #


  3. Adrianne September 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    You know I know this all to well! thanks for sharing an letting me know I’m not the only one feeling this way!

  4. kim September 18, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    So true…

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