I can’t begin to imagine where they got it from – probably their father’s side – but I have some rather dramatic children. We still laugh about the time we told 5 year old Noah to put a book away and he contorted his face into a picture of agony, lifted the book above his head and bellowed, “noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!” like a super-hero villain whose plans had been thwarted again.
Just last week, my 4 year old was telling me all about how he wasn’t going to do what I said, he’s going to do what he wants to do and there’s nothing I can do to stop him, humph. Whilst I was escorting him to his room to reconsider his stance, he tried grabbing the banister and corners and anything he could grasp to try and stop me. When he came alarmingly close to tipping me over, I gave him a swat on the behind. Now, I’m not much good at spanking. I am completely certain that if I hit a housefly the way I occasionally swat a child’s behind, the fly would be OK. It might be dazed for a second or two, but it would fly away unharmed by the encounter. However, my child, not having the tough constitution of a housefly, began shrieking, “Help – I need immediate medical attention”. He’s a delicate soul.
His slightly less dramatic sister went through a phase where she would come to me crying because she was afraid that I might die. I get that sort of sensitive imagination – I am hoping to use all the crying I’ve done while imagining my mom dying as credits towards the actual event. Sort of an emotional pre-payment plan I made up in my own head. After a few weeks, however, this daughter told me, “remember how I was really scared that you were going to die? I realized that if you died I would be able to do whatever I want. So I’m not worried about you dying anymore.” Gotta respect a kid who keeps her eyes on the important things in life like that.
And poor Olivia. Every night through her early years we experienced a living, breathing demonstration of a child whose very life was in danger of being taken as we lovingly held her and sang to her and restrained her attempts to kick, bite, claw and headbutt us in order to obtain release from imminent sleep. I think her perspective was that life is great except every night when she was hunted down and help captive by foes who responded to her desperate pleas for help with song and laughter. I mean, it’s hard for a toddler out there.
But I have one child who takes the cake not only for her dramatics, but for the quality of her dramatics. This is a child who once got banned from the St. Croix River by a lifeguard for repeatedly pretending to drown. Not only did she put on an attention grabbing show of the process of going under – she had practiced holding her breath so that she could stay under long enough to make everyone think that maybe she really had drown in 3 feet of water. “To make it more realistic,” she explained. I had already removed her from the water twice for this show and was getting ready to pack us up and leave when the lifeguard saved me the trouble of being the heavy. The kid thought we were just being a bunch of stick-in-the-muds.
For years this child screamed like her leg had just been cut off each time she bumped herself. I tried being non-reactive. I tried matching the drama and making a big deal out of it. I knew that punishing or seriously reprimanding her for her over-the-top behavior meant starting a new drama series titled, “help – I’m scarred for life because my mother is unfair to me. It really did hurt that bad.” I would have complimented her any time she bumped herself and didn’t freak out, but that never happened in my presence.
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and just went for the shame jugular: “you know, I think you’re being a big baby about this.”
To which the child responded, “but I have sensitive skin!”
I had to explain to her that sensitive skin means she’s more prone to break out in a rash. Not that her skin hurt more than everyone else’s when it got hurt. Her reaction was the result of her inability to tolerate even mild discomfort. Just like a baby. At some point you grow up and learn to reserve your freak-outs for really big things like the guy who turns too slowly in front of you. Not for petty crap like bumping your shin. And then as soon as she was gone, I called my mother to share the “I have sensitive skin” story. Because I’m sensitive to my kid’s pain like that.
My kids aren’t faking it. In the heat of the moment they genuinely feel like life will never be OK if I don’t “make him stop singing that awful song RIGHT NOW because I can feel my ears starting to bleed.” And although they won’t come right out and say it, their expectation is that I will administer harsh justice to the party who caused them such agony as well.
Often a thought occurs to me as I’m dealing with the latest round of “she broke my pretend pinwheel – on purpose! – and now the new one I imagined is the wrong color.” We must be an awful lot like this to God. And just like with my kids – we’re not faking it. We genuinely do experience our hurts and slights against us and challenges in front of us as being that bad. And just like with our own kids, the only real answer is for us to grow up. Get some perspective. Learn that a stubbed toe is not a severed limb. And if it was, screaming like that would just make you bleed out and die faster anyways.
My drama queen has finally found a way to keep it all in perspective. Every time she’s about to get upset (and complain and complain and complain) about something she reminds herself of just how lucky she really is. You see, the dear girl learned about the existence of Goliath Chicken Spiders (they eat birds as big as chickens, doncha know). We live in the great northern tundras of the United States which doesn’t have a climate suitable for Goliath Chicken Spiders. So whatever is going on in her world it’s better than living with the possibility that there could be a Goliath Chicken Spider in the backyard. It’s the only good thing about living here she tells me.
“Unless you become as a little child . . . “