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A Christmas Story or How Carter Found Out He Needs Love

Posted by Jen on December 23, 2008 at 9:47 AM in HolidaysJenRaising Boys
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big kiss

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.
Carter: Okay.

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.


Tina writes...

Your children are so amazing. You are a fabulous mama. Your stories always make me feel warm.

karen writes...

This is wonderful - simply wonderful. I can see these two grown up - way down the line - on their own, calling one another for support through life's curve balls. Saying, "do you remember when ...?" Ps. We're ALWAYS out of milk, too. Especially in the morning when I'm making my coffee. It disappears overnight ...

Naomi writes...

Oh Jen ... beautifully written ... thanks for sharing.

(We're never out of milk, because we have to buy it 4 gallons at a time.... ridiculousness!)

catherine writes...

It is almost Christmas and here I am feeling sorry for myself once again, that I am alone and wishing.......this, that and everything. I am at the car dealer waiting for new tires to be put on my car. I brought my macbook and decided to go to for some inspiration. Wow did I get it!!! I am sitting here in the waiting room trying not to ball my eyes out as I read your conversation with Carter. That is the absolute essence of life, so wonderfully captured in your interaction with him. Thank goodness you married one of my relatives. Life would not be nearly as rich without you Jen, and all that you bring to us. I love you Carter, Madeleine, Jen and Dave. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best forever and ever.

Terry writes...

This is such a true story--I mean, it has all this truth just shining out of it. I love truth stories. Why can't we have more of them out there? Thanks for telling yours...

Kirsten writes...


What I love about this story so much is how Carter shows us that love and respect and all the rest of it are as important as cereal and milk. I think as adults we tend to separate these needs, but for him it is still so clear that all these needs need to be filled equally. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Chris writes...

Wow. That got me, right smack dab in the center of my heart. I'm all weepy now. It's a good weepy, though! What a great lesson for all.

vickie writes...

thanks for helping me to figure out what to say to validate their feelings. when my 6 year old says he "hates daddy" or "hate my sister" i'm a little bewildered as to what to say, knowing that he is just feeling deeply and needing something... now i have some ideas.

thank you!

kayla writes...

Carter is a genius

(because of his mom, ofcourse!)

Ellen writes...

I know that I can ALWAYS come to you for what I call, "church". Thank you for that.

I love your parenting style, and even with 17 and 20 year olds, this approach works.

All my best thoughts and hugs to you and your family during this season....

Rhiannon writes...

What a gorgeous post. I especially loved the "What's respect again......" and how he follows straight on to cereal and milk. Thanks for sharing this :)

wilsonian writes...

This is so beautiful, it makes me fall apart in a thousand different ways.

liz elayne writes...

this story makes me think of the velveteen rabbit and what being real truly means...

thank you for sharing your family with us.

Emma writes...

This is so beautiful. I'm totally identifying with Carter...

Heather writes...

What a great story, and a great teachable moment. Bless you!

deb writes...

Lovely, lovely story. He needs love and respects and cereal and sleep. He and I are a lot alike.

Erin writes...

Isnt it amazing how a child's words can warm our hearts?
We all need love, plain and simple.
Thanks for sharing your lovely story with us, peace and joy to you and yours this holiday season.!Erin

Troy writes...

Oh that touched my heart. It reminds me that I have so much to learn, to let in and out, what should be just normal stuff. I repeatedly see that I have a lot to learn from children.

Thank you for writing that, and so well.

Paula writes...

You totally made me cry with this story. Your children are amazing and lovely. And isn't it so true that siblings often don't quite get what the other person needs, because they're busy trying to fulfill their own needs?

I am enjoying your trust cards SO much--they have helped me through the stresses of the holiday season.

And one final note, if you can get your kids to take to the slightly different taste of it, Parmalat (shelf-stable milk) is a wonderful thing. Saves the day when you go to make coffee or pour cereal and realize there's just a teeny drop of milk left in the carton.

Brené writes...

my favorite part: Carter, what exactly do you need from Madeleine?

i'm not sure there's a better gift to give our children!

you rock!

Mary Ellen writes...

I can completely relate to Carter as I do the holiday visiting to the in-laws. Carter gets it, I know.

tracey writes...

oh my word. that is precious. of course, i can't help but think of steve martin in 'the jerk'...all i need is this ashtray. and this thermos. and this lunchbox.
carter is a boy after my own heart. i cannot think clearly until i have had my cereal with milk.
this is such a sweet story and you are an amazingly insightful mommy.

Monica writes...

love. love. love. all of it. i wish every moment as a mom held this kind of clarity and compassion. thanks for the reminder.

Susan writes...

Thank you...your beautiful story rang so true with some painful stuff I'm dealing with in my life with some adults. It helped me gain a little perspective...gosh even as adults we don't always shake that feeling that Carter described.

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