May 20, 2010

The Ladybug Incident

I have been struggling with insomnia the past couple of weeks (the up-till-4:00 a.m. kind), so forgive me if this rambles.

Awhile back I mentioned the difficulty Puppy has saying goodbye to certain people and objects and a few of you wrote to say your kids have similar intense reactions. I wanted to share bit of artwork he did with me, because it's such a clear example of how strongly he sometimes reacts when certain people/things leave and how he's growing in dealing with those feelings.

Several months ago, I was working out in the back yard. The kids were playing. Puppy had found a little ladybug that he was carrying around and carefully putting onto different leaves. He'd chatter about the ladybug with me, running off and then coming back to check on the ladybug again. The ladybug was no fool, and at some point ran off while the preschooler wasn't looking.

Puppy was so, so sad. Tears and wailing and wanting his friend to come back. All about a ladybug he had played with for all of twenty minutes--but who had left him. After my usual responses ("I saw how much you were enjoying the ladybug," "You sound very sad that it left," etc.) and doing some wishful thinking with him about finding the ladybug again one day (which always helps to calm him down), we went inside and sat down together to work on this (click to embiggen):

"I lost my best friend. She was great. We might find her again. Or I'll be very sad. I think we'll find her again. I hope we will."
He dictated the story to me and asked me to draw a picture according to his very specific instructions. He added the spots to the big ladybug and drew the one that looks a bit like an ant. The big ladybug is a mama bug carrying her babies on her back. The baby bug closest to the mama's head is his buggy best friend.

He was very focused while we worked. When we finished he kept coming back to talk about it for a couple of hours, then tucked it away behind a cabinet in his room (that's why it's crumpled) and said it was private. He didn't even want to show it to Todd that night. He continued to bring up the missing ladybug for quite awhile, especially when we'd go in the yard, but without the same intensity of emotion he's often had in the past in these sort of situations. Writing it out seemed to bring him back to equilibrium--like he had put all his emotions onto the paper, and because the paper continued to exist he didn't need to carry the emotions with him.

My gut tells me that watching special people/things leave will always be hard for Puppy. But as he's getting older, he's finding more helpful ways to express his emotions. And by "helpful," I mean helpful to him: tools to give himself a feeling of control in the situation and ways to channel his feelings. I was glad to see that he's figuring out it is okay for him to decide when and to who he wants to tell things, too.

No, this wasn't about adoption. And, yes, I noticed that his picture was of a mama carrying her babies with her so they would always be near. But when I think about talking with my kids about adoption, I do think about days like that one. Because I feel that one of my biggest jobs as a parent is giving him tools to wrangle with the complicated and emotional things in life--and adoption is one of those things for him. I know some people are going to say I was indulging him. Honestly, part of me wanted to roll my eyes and say, "Your 'best friend'? Are you kidding me? It's a bug. That you found less than an hour ago." But look at the payoff in taking his emotions about an insect seriously: he got practice in helpfully dealing with sadness and I got another chance to earn his trust.

I pulled out the paper from its hiding spot this week when I was cleaning. He was excited to see it. It was clear that he still considers the ladybug incident as a Very Significant Event. But now he wanted to show the paper to other people and talked about it freely and even cheerfully. Which is why I felt comfortable asking him if I could share it with you.


Meg said...

What an incredible Mama you are! I don't know many parents who know how to reflect their children's feelings like you've described.

Heather said...

@Meg - No credit to me. It's all from from the books. :)

Unknown said...

So reminds me of our bug/emotion story-
Last year my youngest screamed and I ran to her room. Unbeknowst to her- a summertime bee flew in our house and onto her bedroom floor. She sat on it.

Oh the grieve and guilt (and bee

We buried the bee and talked about the bee defending itself and the power of forgiveness. She told the bee (during the burial) that she forgave it (even named it!) and asked the bee to forgive her for killing it.

Oh, poor Bee-dee.

luna said...

love this story, love this post. what a sweet puppy that boy is.
you draw a good ladybug too.

Anonymous said...

No it's not all from the books - it's from a warm heart and considerate head.
You are such an insightful parent.

cynthia said...

Love those books. But agreed with anonymous- it takes a good parent. Nice work, ladybug.

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

It's amazing what events kids latch onto and become so important to them. Our daughter was given a balloon on a walk when she was a little younger than 2. Then 5 or 10 minutes later on the walk, it hit a tree and popped. She talked about it for WEEKS. "Balloon Pop..." repeated over and over. She didn't know very many words, but eventually her story went to Balloon. Pop. Ahhhhhh! We decided to make a little photo book about the story for her and make copies for her First Parents for Christmas. It was when we went to take pictures...with a new balloon as a prop...that we realized how much the pop had traumatized her. She was terrified of the balloon, so we ended up having to use Photoshop to add a balloon to the pics that needed it. She loved the finished story though, and it did wonders as "therapy" and she was able to enjoy balloons again after that.

Anonymous said...

That is so awesome! We've been doing little journals for our oldest two and it's amazing how attached they've gotten to them. LJ will sneak in to the kitchen where we keep them to write down little things that made him happy or sad. It's like if it's on paper, he doesn't have to stress about forgetting it. You're an awesome mommy!

Anonymous said...

What a sweet story--Puppy seems like such a sensitive soul.

Jessie said...

This is my favorite post, I'm reading it again and I still love it. I find it inspiring that you and your son were able to explore and process complicated feelings without a value judgement. Thank you for sharing! Jessie

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