Boys, Boundaries, and Blue Balloons

communicating with your five-year-old

To explain the stress there’s been in the house the last couple of weeks… well, I could, but I need to hold it close and protect it, or at least disguise it in prose. And by it I mean him — our brave, defiant, demanding, turbulent, tender boy.

Limits have been being pushed. Or is it boundaries? Whatever they are, they’ve been pushed. Also, buttons.

Pushing towards the outer edges of safety and comfort — his, ours. Setting out on adventures without us — some planned, others that started with anger, edged toward panic, ended in tears of relief — his, ours.

Pulling us back in, pushing us back out. Twisting my head and heart and stomach in knots. Making me feel like I’m green at this again. (Green is his favorite color.)

I’m pushing him along, to do better, to hear me. Pulling him in close when he’ll let me, away from the ledges (metaphorical and not), up and out of the chaos.

A small fist — though getting less so — clenches and cries out to be heard, seen, given. Little feet drive him through life, through crowds between us, through crowds without us. A mouth used to do and say things his head knows (?) it shouldn’t, to get what his head wants, at all costs. A mouth is using words beyond his years and comprehension, to do battle against a towering, unfair father. But really against a towering, unfair world. Too big for him to reach all he wants and sees, too small to contain his energy and imagination.

I try to find the words to reach him. I try to hold him still so he will hear, brushing away anything that might catch his eye or ear — which is everything. Fathers taking turns, bearing each other and the weight of it all to make him hear, see, be aware, and to share. With others, with us, of himself. But it all seems so fragmented and futile and forced. He’s weary. I’m weary.

But there is a balloon with a goofy face drawn on with a silver marker. A balloon fought over and won in one of the struggles that led us here. It sits on the floor in the corner, staring at us and the space between us with its crazed grin — also not hearing, seeing, or aware. Its persistence is rewarded, and my son notices the silly, smiling, blue balloon and swats it into the air, looking to see where it lands; at me to see how I react.

I hit it back — thump it rather, out of annoyance for this interrupting pest. But my son doesn’t see my face or hear my sigh. All he sees is that the game is afoot. That he’s successfully engaged me on his terms. That the talking and asking and explaining — for now — has fallen away as the balloon bounces into the air, off the light on the ceiling, off of the table’s edge, nearing the floor.

He uses all he has — body, energy, might — to tap the blue face up and away from the striped, molten lava, buoyed up further by the breeze created by his effort and his effortless laughter. They cause it to drift back down to me, and the smile hits my face and the balloon hits my hand, and we push and we pull. We pull and we push.

Back and forth, father and son, struggles and frustrations melted away by lava and giggles as we struggle together to rescue our charge, and make this go on as long as we can.

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