Our youngest, almost eight, is sitting next to me. He’s in a nest next to our bed: piles of blankets, a sleeping bag, pillows, his stuffed dog (fur matted from years and years of love and lots of spins in the washing machine). Normally, E would be asleep by now, but he’s busy filling the pages of his sketchbook.
From this angle, I can see a two-page spread: on the left, a volcano erupts, spewing letters and lava; the heavy, dark clouds of a hurricane are beginning to fill the right side, and words rain down, letters inside of drops—“frustrated,” “angry,” “happy,” “sad.” This on the heels of a conversation about how he’s been experiencing many different emotions all at once and can’t always separate them. He tells me that emotions can be like waves crashing over you, like a tornado inside of you, like a volcano bursting out of you. (Guess who’s studying weather right now?).
He’s a pretty articulate kid, but the pages of his sketchbook have given him a space to express what he hasn’t always been able to capture in words. He has an entire series of drawings of a cartoonish coronavirus blob that crushes earth, that separates E from his cousins, that smashes school with a big fist. He has a great sense of metaphor, and is always looking for the just-right way of saying or drawing what he thinks and feels. He takes my breath away sometimes— actually, often. There is something tender and tough, young and wise, introspective and expressive, wide and deep in this precious human.
He has been one of my greatest teachers throughout this time. I watch how much he has come to understand about himself, the world, and his place in it. In this last year, he has grown in what he thinks about, in what he shares, in what he allows himself to feel. He used to really struggle against experiences and emotions of intensity, of conflict, of discomfort; he’s become much more adept at allowing the emotions to just be: he cries through sadness rather than hiding under the covers in his room, he tells me when he’s made a mistake, knowing that it’s not the end of the world, he gets angry in ways that he wouldn’t have permitted himself before: he tolerates, even steps into, a much broader range of experiences with a confidence that, despite the discomfort, he will be okay.
This evening, as he played around with these ideas of emotions as weather, he told me the waves of emotions weren’t like tsunamis, which would be one big emotion, flattening you to the ground, but more like a series of crashing waves in a storm, coming from many directions and different emotions, that you couldn’t avoid, just had to endure. When I asked him what he does when the waves are crashing over him, he thought for a moment and then showed me: he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and stood strong but relaxed. After a moment, his eyelids fluttered open and he smiled, his own island of calm within the storm.