You're Scaring Me
I turn around, not surprised to see Jason standing in the door of our home office. This is about the tenth time he's gotten out of bed--to go to the bathroom (twice), to tell us something, to get a kiss from where he bonked his head, or any other excuse he could think of. At 10:30, it's long since past the time when he should have been asleep.
"You need to go to sleep," I say.
"I can't go to sleep because I'm scared with my music turned off," he says.
"Then turn it back on."
"I don't know how to turn it on."
I stand up and walk him back to his room. "You need to get in your bed and stop getting up," I say. He jumps onto his bed, flopping sideways atop a pile of blankets and stuffed animals.
Flicking on the light, I see that the little CD player on his shelf has been turned off. "Yes, I see that it's off," I say, "and nobody else was in here, so that means you must have done it. That's not OK, Jason." I speak sternly, but not harshly, and I do not raise my voice as I hit the button to restart the CD.
"You're scaring me," he says in a quiet voice.
"You're scaring me and you're making me sad."
I just look at him for a second. I know that this is just what he says when he doesn't like what I tell him, that he is not actually scared of me. I know that the tears welling up in his eyes are from frustration, not fear. He doesn't know how much his words cut me.
"I'm sorry, but you need to go to sleep right now."
"I don't know how to go to sleep!" he insists.
"Close your eyes and go to sleep," I say, closing the door.
"I'm sad and I'm not tired!" I hear him shout, and then he begins to wail. I know that he is tired, that he needs to sleep. I know that he will be out in a matter of minutes. I know that I have to say these things to him, that I have to set limits and boundaries, that it is what he really needs. I know that I am being firm but not mean, that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.
He doesn't know what it means to me when he says I scare him, or that I make him cry. He doesn't know that I have seen men rage and been afraid, or how much it matters to me that I never become a figure of fear to my children, that I never have and never will raise my hand to them in anger.
I don't know how not to feel like a failure when he accuses me. But I know that I do the best I can, and that has to be enough.
Our kids know how to cut to our hearts and play upon our deepest fears, don't they?
This one made me tear up. I felt exactly the same way about you and Karl, not wanting to refuse you anything or make you unhappy, but knowing I had to sometimes in order to protect you and teach you. (Though I probably did speak harshly to you when you came out of your room for the 12th time when you were supposed to be sleeping.) You and Juliette are such good parents, and these chronicles of your daily lives will be a wonderful gift for your children when they are grown and become parents themselves.