Two of my nieces are staying with us for the week while my sister and brother-in-law are in Spain. As long as I have a few hours to myself every day, I love a busy house. Lunches, snacks, activity schedule, sleeping arrangements, laundry, I got it. My focus has been on the girls, that they feel comfortable, that they are not licked to death by the dog, so any humans who usually live here have had to fend for themselves.
And last night it caught up with Niko. I thought Jack was sensitive until I had Luke and I thought Luke was sensitive until I had Niko. Since he was a baby, I can see the panic that crosses his face when he starts to feel an intense emotion, like he is slipping down a dark hole and he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to climb out. He doesn’t just feel sad, he worries that he will become sadness.
So when he came downstairs with his I’m-really-sorry-about-this-sad-face sad face, I knew he needed some time with me. Manny put the girls to bed and I spent some time with my little love. As my boys get bigger it’s easy to forget that they are still so little. And so tender.
Niko loves animals. He wants to be a vet and before he could even talk he would make animal noises in his bed each morning to let me know he was awake. A few months ago on the way home from school he told me he needed to go to a different school, where people were kinder. A friend pushed in front of him to get a paper towel that morning and he was still upset about it.
I took a deep breath and looked toward inspiration to show me, finally, how to explain this to him in a way he would understand, and this is what came out.
Baby, you feel hurt because you have such a soft, beautiful heart. And it is not our job to find a school where you never feel sad. A school like that does not exist, love. Everywhere we go we will have things that happen that make us feel feelings. That is part of being human. The trick is learning how to deal with those feelings, not finding a place where they never happen. The feelings are like little animals who visit your heart. You feel sad right now, right? What kind of animal do you think that is?
Oh, a sweet, baby porcupine. It’s cute, but it hurts doesn’t it? It doesn’t even mean to. It’s just visiting, but it feels so sharp. You know what? You tell that little guy that it’s okay that he came to visit, but he is not allowed to stay.
You’ll have little visitors every day and some feel good and some feel bad, but none of them are allowed to stay. The only feeling that is allowed to live in your heart is love. And love is deeper and bigger and stronger than any of those feelings who come to visit. It’s always there, but sometimes you can’t feel it if your heart is filled up with those other little visitors.
You can’t control if they come to visit. They just show up, without warning, come in without knocking. Before you know it, they are there. But, you know what? They will only stay if you feed them. They will come and visit for only a few minutes, but if you feed them they will be there much longer. And, love, do you know how you feed them?
By telling them the story of how they got there. If you keep telling them the story then they stay. And stay and stay. And even a happy, excited animal…what one would that be?
Even a puppy feels so tiring after it has been visiting for a long time. A puppy visit feels so much better than a porcupine, but even it can’t stay forever. The only thing that gets to live in your heart is love. And love is hard to feel when you keep telling yourself a story over and over. Do you know why?
Because love is quiet. It whispers. It wants you to hear it, but it’s patient. It will only talk when you are really quiet and your heart is clear. And then you can really feel it.
So last night we cuddled and got ready for bed so slowly, and talked. And he told me that feeling really, really sad feels even different than a porcupine. Sorrow I told him. It’s darker. Yes, like a bat, he said.
And then I feel worried, because I wonder how he is going to manage these big feelings as he grows older and the world gets bigger. And I realize worry feels like a wolf to me, lurking in the darkness. I have other emotions that are even bigger and visit more commonly, like anger. That’s a dragon and I can easily storm into it and push it aside because we are very familiar. But, worry, it’s sneakier and I can’t see it clearly. It’s on the periphery, sort of behind me. So, I hug my boy close and smell his head, because there is no better smell in the world than the smell of this boy’s head. He smells salty and sweet, like a warm soft pretzel. And I whisper to my wolf, thanks for visiting, but you cannot live here.