When They Fall Apart

Yesterday afternoon a four year old fell apart in my arms.

Long face.

Real tears.

Cries of It’s not fair.

His older brother was off to yet another play date. A school friend. The big boys had abandoned him after playing here after school. The two eight year olds had been kind: they’d shared the Star Wars ships and Bakugans and video game controllers.

They’d graciously taken turns with my four year old, helping him across the backyard monkey bars, waiting for him to catch up on training wheels.

But when they left, he could no longer pretend that he was one of them. He was back to being the little kid.

My husband is a middle child. He identifies with our four year old and knows how it feels to be left behind.

His older brother going off to do big kid things while he watched from the bedroom window.

Both his brothers, more interested in sports than he ever was, trading baseball cards and tossing a ball in the yard.

My husband assures me that he’ll be fine. He has to learn how to cope, he tells me on the phone.

But as the oldest, I’ve never faced this particular kind of sadness. I’m experiencing it for the first time through my son’s eyes, and there’s no doubt about it: it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting him.

Some aspects of parenting are glorious.

The pride that swells when they reach a milestone.

The love rushed down the minute they were born.

But others, like the vicarious sting of little boy heartbreak, are almost too much to bear. 

As parents we all have a need to protect our kids, but we must weigh it against their need to learn lessons on their own.

To experience pain themselves.

To inoculate them from future heartbreak by introducing it one tear at a time.

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  1. This is a beautifully written post and hits so close to home. Explaining to my 4 year old why her older brother (5) gets to do things that she cannot. Hugs to you.
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    • Andre Stevenson says:

      I totally agree with you. Especially in the modern days where kids are exposed to TV, it is a bit tricky to try and stop them from doing things that they see on TV like everyday. The answer you will probably get when you stop them is “And why is it not wrong for those people (on TV) to do that”.
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  2. Oh…this has me in tears. I was a middle sandwich…left out a lot. I know that feeling. And the being stuck between big and little is so very hard, too. Beautiful, my friend.
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  3. Galit Breen says:

    Oh I so get this, you.

    The desire to bubble wrap them up and keep them safe from it all.

    (I’m so very sorry for your sweet little guy, and your mothering heart. Ouch.)
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  4. Fred says:

    I don’t know why but I felt sadness as I am reading this article. Poor little boy.
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  5. Jamie says:

    Spot on with me again M… I am the oldest but my Middle-man breaks me. For so many reasons but mostly because I can see and feel his pain in my core. I want to make it better and probably have tried too much to do so in the past. I forget hes only almost 4. Just 4.
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  6. Jester Queen says:

    Yeah. My little guy had a similar experience. My daughter and a friend were allowed to sit in a zoo train seat ALONE with the grown ups and little brothers two seats away. And Sam was CRUSHED. He did NOT want to be relegated to the little brother car, never mind that little brother #2 is a friend of his. He wanted to be a BIG kid and is absolutely not old enough to be trustworthy in his own seat.
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