One thing I love about bedtime is the honesty that comes out of my son. It’s usually after his sister is asleep that I head into his dark, quiet room and we lay on his bed giggling and cuddling. Tired and sucking his thumb, he thoughtfully reflects on the day, which at age four, make me realize how fast he is growing up. They are typically light hearted regarding the daily musings from the playground, but tonight was different.
“Why was she so brave?” he whispered holding back some tears.
“You mean why didn't your sister cry when she got her shot?”
He nodded, “I wasn't brave like she was. I want to be brave. I'm not brave.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Damn, he is really growing up. He's not just concerned about where his favorite toy is or complaining about the direction of his Band-Aid over his not so real boo boo. He's starting to remember and process things. Events, stories, moments, his feelings…
“I'm not brave.”
Those words immediately made me realize how much I need to grow as a parent. In a split second my mind races in a million directions: Did he really just say that? He's only four! How the hell do I answer this? Am I brave enough to handle what he may say next?
As much as he wants to cry about not feeling as brave as the superhero he pretends to be every day, I want to cry for not being prepared for this conversation. The words that I respond with should not only ease his worry, but also have a lasting impression on him, and I really don’t want to mess it up. I want him to feel comforted- not only so he will feel better now, but also so that he’ll be encouraged to continue to talk to me about his feelings as he gets older.
I want to support him in all he does – not just as his number one cheerleader as he learns to play soccer or color within the lines – but I want to be his backbone as he begins to realize his potential. I want to help him learn to identify what he is feeling and work through it. But… how do I do that?
I decide to simply answer him with honesty and love. I tend to overthink – and therefore over complicate – many things in my life. Parenting is complicated enough; sometimes these little ones really just need a hug and some major TLC. So I went with that.
I hugged him, and in the simplest way I could, I explained how his sister doesn't quite understand what a shot is and that she can easily be distracted. I told him that he is older than she is and so he remembers more – like what it feels like to get a shot. I explained how it's ok to be scared and that it doesn’t mean you are not brave. Superheroes get scared fighting the bad guys. Daddy is scared of roller coasters. Everyone is scared of something. But we’re each really brave in many different ways, too. We all wear an invisible cape because we are all brave like superheroes in some way, shape, or form.
And with that I tucked in my little man in his superman pajamas, and held him as he drifted off to sleep – hopefully with enough ease and bravery to take on whatever his dreams have in store for him tonight.