This is Carter when he was a little boy, when he still had all his baby teeth, when he was too shy to let his tears out, before he had learned how to cry.
Now he is seven and he is finding words for his feelings. He knows how to say when something is off. He knows how to be curious when he has no idea what could possibly be wrong.
The other night we were having dinner with friends when we heard a horrible wail coming from upstairs. Carter was crying, and Dave and I both instinctively jumped from our seats to see what was going on. We found a very repentant Madeleine talking to Carter gently, our friend's bewildered son and Carter nearly shrieking, saying over and over again, "I am NOT a baby."
I wish I had a dollar for every time Carter cried his eyes out over being called a crybaby. The irony is too sweet. The best we can do is scoop him up in our arms and silently smile.
Since it was already way too late, I decided to take Carter home and put him to bed. The ride home sounded like this.
Carter: I hate Madeleine. I HATE HER. I wish I were an only child.
Me: I'm so sorry, buddy. I know the only people who can really hurt your feelings badly are the ones you love so much. And I know you love Madeleine so much for you to feel this sad right now. I'm so, so sorry.
Carter: I hate her. (sobbing) I really, really hate her. And she's so, so mean to me. I can't take it anymore.
Me: I know you have been very patient with Madeleine when she wants to play rough. And I know you really hate that kind of playing, right? It's not your way, right?
Carter: It's not. And I hate it. I really, really hate it.
Me: Buddy, I'm wondering what it is you need from Madeleine exactly. Do you need her to be kind to you? Or more gentle? Do you need more respect?
Carter (very quiet): I need kindness. I really need kindness. And I need respect.
Me: I know it. You DO need kindness and respect. Everybody needs it so, so much.
Carter: What's respect again? I know I need it, but I forget what it means.
Me: Respect is when someone listens to you very deeply and takes you seriously and believes you when you say what's important to you.
Carter: I need respect.
Me: You do.
Carter (now wailing again): And I need LOVE. I need kindness and respect and LOVE. I really need love.
Me: You do, buddy. You need love. And you have to have it. You can't be okay without love. You really need that.
Carter (still crying): That's true. I HAVE TO HAVE IT.
And I need cereal. And milk. Do we have any milk?
(we are always out of milk)
Me: We can go get milk right now. Right now.
We wander around Safeway in silence, me and Carter, looking for milk, holding out for love, wondering what can be done about this request and this Madeleine who loves Carter so fiercely that sometimes it hurts.
Me (walking back to the car with Carter trailing behind): What do you think you can do about Madeleine?
Carter: I think I can write her a letter.
Me: That sounds good.
Carter: But I have to eat my cereal first.
Me: Fair enough.
We go home, eat cereal and Carter passes out--long before the still worried Madeleine comes home to find out where she stands. There is no letter, no conversation, no resolution really. But the next morning? I can feel the kindness and the very real understanding that you can't be okay without love. Whether you're the crybaby or the one who always plays a little bit too rough. Not even a little bit okay.
And for now that is more than enough.