Apparently right-brain dominant kids are prone to having anxiety at night. Their divergent thinking – the organic, free-form flowing from idea to idea – combined with their tendency to think in pictures and stories and metaphor, and their sense of “reality” as existing within their own minds…well, in the dark of the night that can lead to some intense, upsetting, and persistent thoughts, visions, and feelings. That’s T-Bear to a tee.
Our family has been immersed in a Lost marathon this week. The kids have been wandering in and out, sometimes following the stories, sometimes just checking in for a bit before going off to do something else. But they’re familiar with all of the characters, and one of the most endearing characters in this series is Charlie. Well, last night Charlie died. We all cried, because it was sad, especially when Hugo tells Claire that Charlie is gone and they cling to one another sobbing. Then the scene ended, the next scene began, and we were all fine. Until bedtime. Then, T-Bear got really upset. He started crying and couldn’t stop. It’s not unusual for him to get deeply immersed in upset feelings, and it’s difficult to help him get out of it. Explaining that it’s “just at TV show” and Charlie isn’t really dead because he’s not real doesn’t help. Convergent, logically sequenced thinking doesn’t work because that’s not how his mind works. Sometimes getting him to focus on other, more pleasant thoughts can help, but it’s hard to find a thought in the moment that is enticing enough to his mind to divert it. Mostly we just have to wait it out.
After reading the first part of Chapter Two, I’m beginning to understand that divergent-thinking kids think in pictures and stories. I suspect T-Bear got stuck in the picture of Charlie’s death (even though it wasn’t graphic, it was upsetting) and of Hugo and Claire’s grief, and the vision and emotional impact of it was so powerful and enticing to his mind, it wouldn’t let go. I’m beginning to understand that the best approach to help T-Bear out of his upset would have been to co-create an even more enticing story, one as wild and imaginative as possible, in which Charlie is magically saved and reunited with Claire and their friends. A purple mermaid swims in through the broken porthole, takes him off to her people who all live inside a giant golden sea snail’s shell, their magician (who is a brine shrimp) brings him back to life, Charlie charms them with an underwater concert backed up by a band of sea slugs, and they give him a blue walrus to saddle up and ride back to the beach. Giggles and a happy ending. And, hopefully, a good night’s sleep.
I’ve always tried to see through the eyes of our children in an effort to empathize with them and understand where they are coming from. I’m beginning to see now that even more than seeing through their eyes, I’m going to have to start seeing through their minds to gain more understanding of them as people. I’m going to have to learn divergent thinking, wildly irrational creativity, existing in timelessness, and how to be fluent in the metaphorical universe that they live in, if we are going to gain a deeper level of understanding of one another.
Parenting is a challenge beyond any other.