I took this picture on the coast of Southern Africa on the shores of Cape St. Francis in the Eastern Cape. My sons were having a great time playing on the rocks but the tide was coming in and the waves were getting bigger. My tension too was increasing. As can be seen in the pictures below, the wave at one point almost envelopes my one son. Dr. James Dobson says that if you have sons, your priority for the first 18 years in purely to keep them alive. I attest to this fact, having two sons, both under the age of 18.
Up until this point, I was relatively calm. After this wave, however, everything changed. Perceptions became reality and danger was no more something that lurked at arm’s length. It was upon my son, in a real and consuming way. It got personal.
At times the danger is not as it may seem. Not a drop of water touched him.
I am a psychologist, a registered professional; expert in human behaviour. But when it comes to one’s own children the emotion of it all is quite different to the theory of it all. We know so much when we don’t have children. I thought, and have heard it said by others, “I was a child once, I know what I am talking about”. And perhaps they do. I have to say though that there are times when I don’t and I just cannot keep my cool. I too, rant and rage because of the frustration and emotion of it all.
There is love, so much love. We are a touchy feely kind of family. My father hugged me a lot, we kissed hello and goodbye to his dying day. My wife’s experience in the home is the same. So this influences my expectations around the expression of emotion. But somehow it’s okay when I do it, but not when my kids do it. I am aware of this on a cognitive level but in the moment, in the moment it seems not to make sense. And there are boundaries to all of the interactions and affection. Most families have these boundaries and my eldest son is starting to establish these now. No kissing goodbye at school anymore. I just chuckle and stop trying to kiss him to tease him because it now upsets him. He turned 11 last week and the boy is starting to ask questions. Thanks to Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) and some unsupervised TV watching, my wife and I were casually asked what a “gavina” was. He sometimes swopped letters around! Clearly, he did not take anything related to the many talks we have had about the birth of his baby brother and associated subject matter to heart. He is after all a boy and under 16. This is the same son who at the age of 3, when at the movies would loudly, requested POPCORN, and swap the P’s and C around. I mean, how do you handle something like that, especially when everyone glares at you, and as a result, you dash your hand over his mouth every time he is about to speak, from that moment on? Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but I rest in the fact that I am not alone.
The world is changing. This was no more evident than when he asked to imagine what it would be like if he could draw in five dimensions. Huh? How does a child of 11 think about drawing in five dimensions? On reflection, I told him that, that was what we call real life; human interaction. Yet everything inside of me said that that was not the interaction he was looking for. It’s easy to get into our box of comfort expression. Easy to disregard the imagination and contextualize things into something we know, understand or something we can experience. I caught myself asking my children to please think in-the-box the other day. I marvel at the creativity of their minds and as a consulting psychologist who works in business, I cringe at the narrowness of thinking in the workplace. I give workshops on creativity and abandoning the box and I live in an environment where I actually asked my children to think in-the-box, albeit fleetingly. It was amusing, honestly, I had to laugh at myself. If only we can laugh at ourselves more and see the paradox in what many of us say and do, I think life would be far easier to handle.
Some may ask why I write about my shortcomings and the emotions that I go through. I work with emotion all the time, and as someone who tries to present the authentic and rational (although they are poles apart at times), I think it is healthy to express oneself. Whether I should do it publicly is debatable. What do you think? Leave a comment, please.