My Dearest Sweet Funny Alexander-in-the-middle*,
You’re terribly two and struggling with all the feelings that you have about the world around you. You are incredibly mellow and sweet, and you’re incredibly unmellow and unsweet.
Lately your go-to phrases are “Making me sad” and “making me angry”. You’ll walk into the room and announce “GRAMPA MAKING ME SAD!” and I’ll say “Oh Alexander, I’m sorry you’re sad. What did Grampa do that made you sad?” and you’ll tell me that he said you couldn’t have ice cream or that he wouldn’t let you play in the dog’s water bowl. And I’ll confirm that is sad indeed. And that I know you’re upset. Then you’ll tell me MOMMY MAKING ME SAD! and I’ll ask why and you’ll just say “Alexander SAD.” and I’ll offer you a hug. You’ll collapse into my arms and hug me like your life depends on it, and I’ll hug you back like I know that it does. And then “ALEXANDER FEEL BETTER”, and off you’ll toddle to play with your brother.
Or sometimes you’ll be VERY ANGRY and will come over to me and tell me “I HIT MOMMY!” and you’ll swat me on the knee. I’ll say “Ouch! That hurt mommy. That makes me sad!” and you’ll pat me gently. Then I’ll say “Are you sad?” and you’ll say “NO I NOT SAD! I ANGRY!” and I’ll say “I can see you’re angry. What made you angry?” and you’ll tell me.
Sometimes you can talk it out. Sometimes you just need to be in a bad mood for a bit. Sometimes I’ll know something else is bothering you. I’m so very very happy that I don’t take these expressions of your emotions as “manipulation”. Yes. Sometimes you ask me to change what it is that is bothering you. Sometimes I do change it. Sometimes I can’t change it. But by respecting your feelings as feelings, you feel okay telling me what it is that you’re feeling so deeply and why.
Today everything was making you sad or angry. So I asked “Alexander, do you miss Gramma?” and you said “yes” in the saddest sweetest voice. “I know, Alexander. I miss Gramma too. I love Gramma very much too and I’m happy she’ll be back from vacation soon.”
It’s so easy to dismiss things as “terrible two’s” and to react to you as though you are simply being illogical when an easy answer can’t be found and when you don’t know what it is that’s happening inside of you or why. As your life becomes more complex and as you start school and have friendships and grow in all the different directions that a child grows in as they leave toddlerhood behind.. It will only become more difficult for me to know what it is that has you sad or angry or acting out.
You are not a bad person, Alexander. I know this now when you are two. I will hold this in my reactions to you from now through the rest of your life. When I don’t like how you’re acting I will remember that I like who you ARE, and I will understand that something is hurting you or making you sad and angry, even if I don’t know what it is and you’re not able to tell me.
When you are sick I don’t need to know the exact name of the virus that is causing the fever in order to know that you are sick. When you are sad or angry I don’t need to know the exact cause of the sad or angry to know that I can love you through it until you are ready or able to share.
I can’t promise that I will always be the epitome of patience, because sometimes things will be bothering me too. I’m human.
But I can say this: I understand. You’re human. I’m human. And we can be human together. Both the good and the less than good. And when I am not what you need in the moment, I will try to be ready with an apology so that you can learn by example that when we are not what we want to be, we can make acknowledge it, make amends and move forward together as a family.
Thank you for using your words to tell me how you feel. You have no idea what it means to me that you feel safe and comfortable with sharing those deep dark feelings with me. I remember being small and what it meant to trust someone with the difficult things that I dealt with.
I love you when you’re sad. I love you when you’re angry. I love it when you can tell me what you feel, and I love you when you can’t.
(* This letter applies to each of my children and not only to Alexander. The reason it is addressed to him and not to each of you, is because the story of the day comes from him. This is true of all of my letters. The things I feel for each of you come from the things that you have taught me. Each of you teach me new things, each of you make me feel new things. And each of you receives those feelings equally. I love each of you more through what your siblings have taught me.)