When a Six-Year-Old Cries

Fall_Images-117“You’re supposed to be spending the day with me,” Etani said, tears springing into his eyes. “Not talking to other people.”

Etani, who’s six, and I were walking along Siskiyou Boulevard. The baby was on my back, gurgling happily. I had picked him up from school at 1:30 p.m. and we spent the afternoon doing research for a food-related article I’m writing for the New York Times. Etani’s “research” included a Mt Fuji at a restaurant downtown: green tea ice cream with chocolate syrup, mandarin oranges, and whipped cream flecked with coconut flakes.

But now we were in a hurry. We had barely enough time to walk home so Etani could change into his soccer gear.

“We’re not even going to be on time for practice,” he spluttered.

When you live in a small town like Ashland you see a lot of familiar faces. We’ve had nothing but cold wet weather lately and today’s bright sunshine enticed people outside. So Etani and I couldn’t walk more than a block or two without running into someone: an editor friend and his son, Hesperus’s old French teacher. While I enjoyed talking to Madame, Etani waited by my side, silent but miserable. He was quiet and polite while I was chatting away but his feelings were so hurt that he burst into tears the second we were out of earshot.

I remember how frustrated I used to feel when my brother and I were with my mom at her work at Boston University and she would talk to everyone (except us) for what felt like hours.

I don’t want my son to feel like his mother is more interested in other people than in him.

“I’m sorry,” I said as we turned onto our street and started up the hill. “I didn’t mean to talk for so long.”

Then I suggested the Question Game. Wiping his wet face with a grubby hand, Etani agreed.

I asked my first question: “If you could spend the day doing anything you want with anyone you want, what would you do and with whom?”

Then: “What are your three favorite sports?”

And: “If you could travel on an airplane anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?”

Finally: “What are three things you like about being six?”

Busy talking, we walked up the hill in record time. Even though Etani had some business in the bathroom and I needed to leave a note for the girls, fill a water bottle, grab my computer, and buckle the baby into the car, we made it to practice with two minutes to spare.

I still feel badly that I hurt his feelings. I wonder what my son will remember when he thinks of his childhood. The interminable wait for his mother to stop talking to other people when she was supposed to be having Alone Time with him or the Mt Fuji, the brilliant sunshine, and our long discussion (”I would go to Yogurt Hut, the mall, and the ball place. Let’s see, who would buy me lots of stuff at the mall? You’re not the kind of person who would let me have whatever I want, Mommy, so I think I would want to go with Grandma Suzy…”)?

What about you? How do you handle spending time with your children (or your spouse, for that matter) when you run into people you want to talk to? Do you tend to remember the happy times or the sad times from your childhood? Do you worry what your children will remember from theirs?

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10 thoughts on “When a Six-Year-Old Cries”

  1. Loved the questions. I think moms always think in retrospect of what they could have done better. For instance, my son, at six, started playing soccer. He was on a local team for years, and I only went to one soccer game he was in. I felt it was his father’s role somehow. Now I regret that.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Where Ahab Would Have Loved To Eat …. =-.

  2. Ah, I worry they’ll remember the times I yelled. The times I was frustrated. The times I was a mean mom. I HOPE they’ll remember the times we played the question game, too.

  3. Perhaps…… he will remember walking with you and baby on your back, he will remember biciclying with you around town, he would remember that…..you were busy and you had time to get him something delicious for a treat and took him to his soccer practice and got there on time. He would also wonder how mom did all she did and still had the time to walk with me and play the question game?????

    That is my guess:)

  4. That’s been a big issue for me; I fear being rude so much I’ll keep chatting, even though I’m upsetting my kids or boyfriend. It’s something I’m working on because when you think about it, the feelings of family members should matter more.

  5. Sometimes, if I’m at the Santa Fe Baking Company or the Chocolate Maven having special time with Honor̩e, and a friend comes up, I’ll say, “Hi, So-and-So! So great to see you! Honor̩e and I are having a Special Mama-Daughter Tea Date.” They get it after that–but I can imagine that it would be harder to do something similar on a walk.

  6. I think our children have to learn about frustration and complicated emotions such as hurt feelings. It isn’t realistic for 100% of our attention to be on one person. Sometimes we hurt each others feeling and we have to learn to navigate through that. I work from home, and know that our kids get tired of us being in unavailable-even-though-we-are just-in-the-other-room-mode.

    I do believe in special dates with my three year old, to help her know that I want to make time to just be with her. I don’t avoid other interactions when I’m on special outings because I want her to know that while she is special to me, there is also a large wide world full of other people too! It helps that she loves to chat and often sparks up the conversation with others herself.

  7. I’m somewhat antisocial, so this isn’t much of an issue for me. But I have tried to teach my daughter patience. If I want to talk with someone for a while, I like knowing that she is developing the ability to wait patiently. It’s not a bad skill for her to learn. That said, I try to strike that balance where she feels listened to, heard and paid attention to. I think you can still do that while chatting with grownups. I don’t think you need to be your child’s entire world. It’s a matter of being 100 percent present in the right moments–such as when you could tell he was upset. That’s what he’s going to remember: that you were there for him when he needed you to be.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..How to Tell if Your Relationship Can Be Salvaged =-.

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