One of the most exciting aspects of parenting is watching your kids grow into tiny people with their own unique personalities. It’s especially striking when your kid starts school, and you hear from their teachers about how they interact with others in your absence. I’m the parent who heads home from parent/teacher conferences every year with a confused look on my face after hearing from my son’s teachers that he is always “the sweetest kid.”
But the strangers at the grocery store who have witnessed one of my son’s epic meltdowns would surely tell a different story. One where I looked like a crazed, sleepless, anxious lunatic with a kid who is completely out of control and very dramatically cycling through each of the six stages of grief after being denied a candy bar in the checkout line.
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Every year I ask teachers if they witness any of those behaviors at school, and every year, I get the same baffled look in return because, apparently, they don’t see that version of him. Like, ever.
But truly knowing and loving my son involves deep acceptance of those extremes.
He is the sweetest of my three kids in that he is hypersensitive to others’ emotions and has immense empathy. He is the first to ask if someone is okay when they’re upset. He’s the kid who runs to get an ice pack or a Band-Aid when his little sister takes a spill on her bike. He’s also the first to offer help if he sees someone struggling. He will bring me coffee in the morning and rub my cheek when he wakes up in the middle of the night to help him fall back asleep.
But he’s also the wildly unpredictable kid. The explosive kid. And the kid who can tear me apart with mere words alone. He’s the child that isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind… with zero filters.
His intense emotions make his reactions to those feelings just as intense at times. He can go from making me a microwaved pancake (a breakfast skill he mastered after the stove became off-limits) adorned with a face of fruit and whipped cream hair, to screaming at the top of his lungs how “stupid everything is” and “I hate this place!” within the same hour, and only because he was reminded he had to finish his chores before he could go outside and play.
He will smother me with love when he’s in an affectionate mood, but drown me out with angry screams if he feels slighted—slamming doors and stomping around the house to make sure we all know precisely how he’s feeling.
It’s a trade-off that, as a parent, I’m happy to take. Even though his personality can lead to some incredibly confusing (and frustrating and embarrassing) outbursts at times, it’s also what makes him unique. He’s far more adventurous than my other two kids. He doesn’t mind getting dirty and is always up for learning a new task. He likes to help out around the house (a parent’s dream) because he gets great satisfaction from his accomplishments.
He’s also thoughtful and generous. One day we had dropped off his older brother at baseball practice, and he saw a man on the side of the road holding a sign that read, “Need money for food. Please help.” When we returned, he asked me to stop, and he jumped out to deliver the man a tiny fistful of change. Apparently, in between drop-off and pick-up, while I was making dinner, he went around the house and gathered up any loose change he could find so that if the man was still there, he could give it to him.
While the knock-down, drag-out (literally, me dragging him out of the store kicking and screaming after saying no to buying a pack of gum or a $10 trinket) tantrums we’ve experienced in the past felt earth-shattering at the moment they were happening, they seem far less memorable in the grand scheme of things.
What I remember most are the times he cleaned the house for me because I felt super sick. And when he crawled into bed with his sister and rubbed her back to help her fall back asleep after she had a nightmare. I remember when he laid his head in my lap and told me I was the best mommy in the whole world because I let him stay up for 15 extra minutes to finish watching a movie with me.
The strangers in the store might remember my kid for one of his epic meltdowns (or the frazzled mom trying to get some control over the situation). But I get to experience all of the amazing ways his extreme feelings have made him the considerate and kind-hearted kid he has grown to be.