Melting Down on a Hot Day

Why is it that my kids’ biggest (and most gut-wrenching) emotions hit at the most unexpected times? Birthday parties, last days of school – when they should be filled with sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, lemon drops – suddenly there are tears.

But I do remember how huge and important everything felt back then: the sting of an insult when you don’t know how to respond. Or not getting any candy from the pinata because you weren’t brave enough to dive into the insane-looking pile of writhing kids. Fighting with your parents in front of your friends. And how it felt when so-and-so at school told everyone what happened at the party this weekend.

To us grownups with our logical grownup brains it seems like no big deal. Just a fleeting moment that’s gone when we move onto the next thing. We can see that nobody else even noticed, or if they did, they will forget quickly. Or we have the adult capacity – and self-protection skills – to let go of the slights, make light of them, and move on without leaving a scar.

Pam would say “I cry every year on my birthday. It’s about letting go.” She has a way of making everything seem cleansing and natural instead of stressful and vomitous.

I remembered her words during all the emotional meltdowns this week. There was a birthday involved, but also the end of the school year. School’s out for summer! This. Is. AWESOME! So wait – What? Why are there tears?

It is about letting go – releasing what’s built up over a long time, and facing the new, unknown, and scary. And often those moments catch us unawares. We saw The Avengers last night as a last day of school celebration and I kept being struck at how easily they just jumped into the next battle. Hold up, don’t you have to process what just happened? And you’re not going to stop and think about it for a really long time before facing that next big scary thing?

Which is probably why superhero stories are so popular. You don’t always know what’s coming next, but you can be sure it’s scary. You like to think that you’ll be able to figure out the answer, perform perfectly, save the damsel, and win the battle with a witty quip. Never looking or feeling like a dork, and proving to the world that you’ve got what it takes (and you look super hot in your sexy costume to boot).

During these unexpected meltdowns I find myself struggling to deal with it as much as my kids. Which boy is it, how do I motivate him, what words do I say and not say, do I hug him or stand back, have we covered this topic before or is it new territory? Does he need to laugh it off or is this a real, serious one? Will I make him even more upset if I take it lightly? Will he just be annoyed and shut down if I take it too seriously? Do I talk, or shut up and let him talk?

There is a very brief window of opportunity in these moments, and if I make the wrong choice they are gone. Channeling my inner Black Widow…

And to top it all off, in the midst of all that processing, sometimes I have to turn my back and compose myself. I can’t let them see the tears I’m wiping from my eyes because to hear them sob crushes me. I have to put on the, “I’m here, you’re gonna be fine, let’s figure this out, and it’s OK to cry but don’t cry if you don’t want to, no pressure, we can work it out,” confident voice without letting it crack from my own emotions.

Damn, this mothering thing is hard.

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