I am so very lucky to have a son who is extremely loving and sensitive. He has always been this way. When he was a baby, he loved to be cuddled, but infant massage was too much for him...it either hurt him because the pressure was too hard or it tickled him because the pressure was too soft. He loved to be held, but in very specific ways, so much so that Aaron often had to sleep sitting up with Andy resting tentatively on his chest. When we left him at preschool or Kindergarten, we needed to do so with very specific rituals, which included numerous kisses, love phrases, and squeezes. He is keenly aware of the energy and emotions of those around him. He can sense when someone is sad, and he is not just empathetic, he FEELS the same way. He is deeply and spiritually connected to dogs. He loves them with all his heart. He cannot handle it when a family member, especially a sister is hurt. He loves powerful things, because I think he can relate to them. Some people have experienced Andy as reactive, somewhat hyper, or even explosive. But this is his way of intensely responding and interacting with a situation.
In all of their endeavors, I hope for my children that they can learn new things about themselves and others, enjoy themselves, and expand their skills to the furthest extent they hope for. This is true for both sports and music, academics and art.
Our choice to use Attachment Parenting has been very important for Andy. When he is over-stimulated (emotionally or physically) he is calmed by close connection, empathy, reassurance, and a strong parental commitment to him, in whatever shape he is in. Of course we have struggled with many evenings of yelling and fighting, but generally with gentle and FIRM reassurance of our love, things get better. He has some difficulty regulating his emotions, and I truly believe that this is because he feels them deeper than others do in our family. People have varying pain tolerance, so doesn’t it also make sense for them to have varying emotional tolerance?
In sports, Andy has been fortunate to have two main coaches. The first was Aaron, who is a very skilled father, and very aware of Andy’s needs on and off the field. The second was our sweet friend Brad, who was also able to very gently encourage the best in Andy. Now we are faced with a hockey coach who is pushing him. Pushing him hard. Hard like making him cry. I try to explain to Andy that he is doing this because he wants to encourage Andy, that he wants Andy to get better, and he believes that Andy can get better. But he is humiliated, scared, and as a result, angry for the treatment he gets in training. This treatment spreads to the other members of the team, thus leaving Andy to feel more and more alienated. And then he gives up, not because he is “weak” but because he cannot stand the internal conflict it creates for him. In fact, this anger sometimes turns inward and becomes “I’m so stupid” and “Everybody hates me.”
I know that this is not the last experience we will have with coaches like this. I also know that this experience is far better than what could come in the future. I have seen coaches verbally abuse their children in inexcusable ways. So, how can I protect him from what he feels so deeply and intensely while preserving his ability to connect so intuitively with others? At the same time, how can I push him to be the best he can be without breaking part of his spirit that we hold so precious and true?
I often wonder how he will be able to make it in a world that values strong men, and even discourages sensitivity. I have seen him fight back tears in a group, try to prove himself adequately strong, and hide his true feelings about a situation. I am grateful that, despite machismo here, I have met very sweet and affectionate Colombian fathers, who seem to love deeply. I know these are models for him, as are his uncles and friends who understand him well. What more can we do to encourage him to be his real self, no matter how it may be received in society? What will we do when he falls in love? How can we protect him, but also give him the freedom to experience vulnerability and rise above it?
Andy is 10. In the coming years, we will celebrate his coming of age to manhood. I hope we can find some way to honor all of him, enough so that he will know that his powerful ability to love and connect to others is truly a gift, and not a curse. I want him to know that his investment in relationships and his intuitive emotional self has a welcomed place in this world.