Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A truly tender heart

I forget, sometimes, how powerful words really are.

Recently—say, in the past 4 months—my little boy and the old cat I’ve had for years have begun to be friends. Actual friends. I knew we were on our way when Sam gave Marcus a barely detectable head-butt on the shoulder well over a year ago. Their camaraderie has slowly but surely grown, and now, I am somewhat happy to report that the cat will try to jump on my son’s tiny lap just as readily as he will try leaping upon my own.

However. That happy little pal-ship brings its own annoyances. Whereas once, the kid and I could play happily on the floor and the mere presence of the boy would ward off the attention-seeking feline, these days we’re utterly at the cat’s mercy. Any Duplo, car, fire truck or train activity is accompanied by much purring, butting, and furry walk-throughs. It’s sweet and charming—but mostly, it just gets on your nerves after a bit.

Since the kid is one of us now, he too grows weary of the cat’s constant need for petting and warm laps. And today, as he sat on the couch, Sam once again leaped up and attempted to move in for a warm seat right next to Marcus. And my little boy, normally tolerant and loving with the cat, decided he was not in the mood. He pushed the cat away, not gently, and I chided him a bit.

“Honey, be nice to Kitty. He just wants to be close to you.”

“I don’t want him up here.” He continued to nudge the cat away with his foot.

“But he wants to be close to you; he loves you.” By now, the cat had been encouraged right off the couch and had given up; he was wandering toward the doorway, escaping no doubt to his favorite spot on the dining room floor next to the heater vent.

“Okay,” said Marcus. He scooted over a bit and made a space next to him on the couch. “He can come up here. Here, Kitty.” But the cat had left.

“He gave up, Honey. He went out to the other room; he’s sad and lonely. He doesn’t think you want him. He’ll be out there on the cold, hard floor.” I was half kidding, because Todd and I play this guilt game all the time with each other; we often remind each other of Sam's glory days, and how his role of lap-cat has slipped significantly since the boy arrived in our lives.

I looked over at Marcus as I finished speaking, and noticed that his mouth had an odd little twist to it. He blinked a couple times before I realized that look—the very same one that I wear when I’m holding back tears. And then, the floodgates burst. His eyes squeezed shut and sobs sprang forth—real sobs, heartfelt, broken cries—and he threw himself face down into the corner of the couch, weeping.

“Oh, Honey, I didn’t mean to make you cry. Kitty’s okay. He’s fine. He’s in his favorite spot. You don’t have to let him up if you don’t want to.” My calming logic made no impact whatsoever; I was still speaking to a small back that was wracked with sobs. “Do you want me to go get Kitty and bring him in here so he can sit with us?”

“Yes.” Sniff. Sniff again.

“Okay.” I did just that, went and found the old crotchety cat and carried him in so he could sit with us on the couch. We petted him, stroked him, scratched behind his ears—we generally made a big fuss over the beast. And my son’s tears dried, and the cat purred, and all was well again.

I must remember how tender-hearted is my sweet boy. And somehow, I must think of a way to keep him from the cruelty of the world—especially the cruelty of children. Is that possible?



Anonymous said...

Oh, that's so sweet, Mel (she says sniffing and blinking). God bless a sensitive child -- if only more adults retained some of that.

Facie said...

That made me cry!

Jordan and Sadie have this love-hate relationship. Sometimes all Jordan wants is for Sadie to be next to her; Jordan especially loves when Sadie licks away the tears (disgusting, sure).

But other times, Sadie wants to be right in the action, which is often lying in the middle of a board game or on top of the barbies. Then Jordan gets mad. But those are the times that I just can't resist Sadie, especially when she looks up with those loving/sad eyes.

I sometimes make Jordan cry with my comments like that. I forget that she is only five and takes everything seriously (I have got to stop the sarcasm around her!).

Mel said...

wow, evoking tears. I feel so powerful... well, not really. it made me tearful, too. I forget--like I said. I do recall a workshop for teaching, Facie, where the instructor made it very clear to all teachers in attendance that sarcasm was very damaging to young minds. they just don't get it--and when they do get it, it still hurts them sometimes. I need to remember that, too--esp. since I am a cynic at heart. but a heart can change!!! : )

Anonymous said...

No, you can't protect that tender heart forever. It will get broken and stomped on time and time again, until it either becomes less tender or the bearer learned to guard it with "barbed wire and land mines" as a friend of mine says of his own (carefully hidden and protected) soft spots. And being a boy, it will be even worse, as for some terrible reason tenderness in the male of the species is seen as a minus by much of our world. Tim is tenderhearted too, and struggles to hide it and gets angry when it somehow manages to break through.

I want them to keep it, both your and my boy, but it makes for a hard life at times.

Mel said...

all true, athelas. frankly, it makes for a hard life for a girl OR boy to be tender-hearted, I think. thank goodness I'm not terribly sentimental; I'd never get through a day without weeping.