Yesterday, we were at the pool, and my son was sitting on his faded white pool chair sobbing. A lens had fallen out of his brand new goggles and gotten lost, and he now he couldn’t “do a cannonball because water will get in my eyes!” Sob.
The thought flitted across my mind.
I wish he weren’t so sensitive.
I didn’t say it out loud, thank goodness. I pushed the thought away and tried to encourage my son. I get that feeling of disappointment when you want something to work and it won’t, and when something you’ve just bought is already broken. But I also kind of felt like he was crying over spilt milk. I mean, it was just goggles.
Then I think about all the things I’ve cried over, and some of them were as unimportant as goggles. When my hair doesn’t cooperate. Clothes that don’t fit anymore. Having to take out the trash one. more. time. A thoughtless remark from a mom just as frazzled as I am. Though for me, most of the time, I cry because there is an undercurrent of something else beneath: I feel like a failure, or I feel rejected, or I feel unseen.
And maybe that’s where my son was yesterday, too. He lives in the shadow of his older sister, who can do almost everything better and faster than he can. They’ve been in swim lessons this week, and she’s in the group above him, and yesterday she passed her swim test, which means she can swim in the deep end of the pool, and he still can’t. So maybe that barrage of tears wasn’t really about a stupid plastic lens. Maybe he felt like a failure. Maybe it was that he had suddenly lost the one thing he could do to show off for me, the one thing he could do to be proud of himself: a cannonball into the pool.
Yet we never stop to think about those things, do we? We just immediately tell boys to stop crying and man up.
It won’t be long before he’ll start hearing those words from everyone around him – teachers, coaches, friends. Be a man. Don’t be a pussy. Don’t cry. Be strong. Those words will teach him to hide emotion and passion. Those words will teach him to hide himself. Those words will change him, harden him.
I don’t want to be the one to say those things to him. I don’t want to do that to him.
My son is not sensitive. My son feels, and he feels deeply. His delight flows as strongly as his sadness; his disappointments are deep, and his love for discovery is contagious.
He knows pain, and he doesn’t push it away or bottle it up like most of us adults do: he sits with it. He lets it wash over him.
He knows joy, and he jumps into it with his whole body, laughing his own dreams into life, while I hack away mindlessly on my computer, pretending that Facebook is real joy.
The fact that my son feels so deeply means that one day, he will love someone wildly and authentically (without ideas about possession and using her), and he will be able to tell her why. He will share his secrets with someone on the back porch one starry night, and he won’t be afraid. He won’t be ashamed to cry when his son is born, or when his daughter starts kindergarten. One day, when the doubts and concerns get heavy, he’ll be able to tell someone he loves, rather than yell in anger because that’s the only emotion he’s ever been allowed to have. He will be able to listen and understand others; he’ll be able to empathize with their happiness and their grief. He’ll be able to use his emotions creatively; he’ll acknowledge them and transform them into something life-giving for the world.
The fact that my son feels so deeply means that he won’t miss out on the sacred, painful beauty of life.
So no, I will not call my son sensitive.
I am not worried about whether or not my son “becomes a man.” I just want him to fully experience being human.
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For further reading on this topic, read “5 Reasons I Don’t Say Man Up” from the Good Men Project.
Or watch this video called “The Mask You Live In” by The Representation Project.
Or watch this TEDex Talk by Joe Ehrmann