I think what’s great about my daughter’s age right now, six and a half years old, is that her more nuanced personality traits and tendencies are starting to really blossom. She’s always been particularly empathic and feels deeply, if you will. But, I recently found out, she also seems to be a bit of a sentimentalist too. Am I a sentimentalist at heart? I wonder.
I’ve mentioned before that Vermont holds a special place in the hearts of both my husband and me. It almost feels like a secret, magical world up there, one that not too many people seem to know about. I think that’s why we love it so.
We’ve been going almost annually for many years now. We used to stay in Woodstock or Middlebury, but for the past few years we’ve been staying in Shelburne. We’ve taken our daughter up with us only once (she was about two) when we rented a house in Woodstock. We invited her grandparents up for that trip too. But since that time, we’ve been going to Shelburne (without our daughter or anyone else) for the past several Columbus Day weekends. It has become a tradition that seems to have solidified. It is our getaway of sorts and I look forward to it starting around November.
In 1998, we got engaged in Vermont. While we were up there during that long weekend, we took a day trip to Burlington. I bought this key chain at Danforth Pewter.
Last summer, after 15 years of nonstop use, the ring that attaches to the key ring broke. Unless it was re-soldered, it was useless. I was pretty bummed about it all, but just tucked it away in a drawer, unwilling to throw it away knowing that I bought it when we got engaged. Even though I’m not particularly sentimental about objects, I could not seem to part with this.
Before we left for our 2013 trip to Shelburne, I remembered the broken key chain and decided to bring it with me to see what Danforth Pewter might be able to do. When I got to the store, the clerk asked, “Well, we can either give you a brand new key chain or we can repair this one, if there is sentimental value to it.” The implication was, I think, that it wasn’t really worth the trouble and/or cost to fix this key chain given its original cost.
I chose to repair it. The thing is, I like all of its worn smoothness. I’m fond of the tiny nicks and notches it has acquired from banging against my keys for fifteen years. I like the worry stone properties it seems to have, allowing me to rub my thumb against the glass when I am nervous about something. This is the one I want. I am not willing to part with it.
About a month ago, I attempted to clean the kitchen sink window. I have a sun catcher on this window. Or at least I did. It was a stamped glass flower in a lovely shade of yellow that matches our kitchen walls. I bought it, not surprisingly, while in Burlington a few years ago, the same year that we remodeled our kitchen and chose the yellow paint color. I’m not a big souvenir person, but I did like this and thought it would look lovely over our sink, where I could remember our times in Vermont while washing dishes.
I wasn’t careful about the way I tried to take it off the suction cup before cleaning the window. In one swift motion it went from window down into the drain and broke in two. “Oh no!” I said out loud.
M came running in. “What happened, Mommy?” I showed her the broken pieces in my hand and we looked at them together.
I sighed. “I’m really sad. I liked that sun catcher. I bought it with Daddy up in Vermont. Oh well,” I said with a big sigh as I opened the trash drawer to throw the shards away. I wanted to get back to cleaning the window.
As I tossed them into the trash, M started getting upset. “No, Mommy! Don’t throw those away! It’s special to you!”
“But, M, they’re broken. I can’t fix this because it’s glass.” I looked at her to see if she understood. The concept of which things can and cannot be fixed is still gelling at this age.
“No! You can still keep them and remember it,” she said. She was visibly distraught and tears formed in her eyes. She went on to beg me to keep it.
I, on the other hand, while somewhat sad (though more angry at myself for my haste), knew that I could probably buy another one the next time we were up there. I didn’t understand why she was so sad.
But given her insistence that I keep it, I thought maybe she was on to something. Maybe she was more in tune with the sentimentality of this object than even I was. Is that possible? Perhaps.
And so . . .
Two pieces of glass sit upstairs in a drawer, not catching much sun anymore.
It’s all got me to thinking about my own level of sentimentality, especially given that I recently turned forty. Am I more jaded and care less because of it? Or do I care more because of my growing sense of mortality and the brevity of life? With the exception of photos and words set to paper, either by people I know and love (letters, cards) or by strangers (books), I am not overly sentimental these days when it comes to most other “things”. I don’t hang on to much that is not in active use.
I think about the material things that I cannot part with, but more so the why. I realize that I am perhaps not as sentimental as I once was, and I now wonder, based on this sun catcher incident, if I too often let my pragmatic side get in the way. I do not like clutter or wasting precious space in our humble little house. It’s why I have absolutely no problem donating away her baby toys and most of her books. Yet I do keep the books that have special meaning to us, and I cannot let go of some of the very early outfits she wore and loved.
It’s the sense of closeness to her, my husband, and a few other people that determines where on the sentimentality spectrum something might fall. But even more specifically, the closeness of a particular time or event with these loved ones. These kept objects and mementos have the very real effect of bringing me back to those specific days and the emotions I felt at the time. Yet, when balanced with my sometimes overly loud practical side, I think that’s why I didn’t think to throw away the key chain, but found it kind of silly to keep broken glass. Sentimentality and practicality are sometimes hard to reconcile.
Though, in the end, I did keep the sun catcher anyway because I wondered if she was wiser about something that I could not see for myself at the time. Given how unexpectedly happy I was to find it in a drawer this past Sunday, I know she was.
What’s sentimental to you? Is there anything you regret not holding onto? Are your children sentimental too?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
School vacation weeks can be tough on routine craving creatures like my daughter. The disruption in whatever patterns the school days tend to create for her and us as a family often send her into a tailspin for the first few days off. Everything, it seems, can induce hair trigger tears. Angry tears.
This weekend it was a fort. Her fort. A fort that lived in our living room for about five days. When we had to clean the house, I asked that she take it down and relocate it to her playroom, or just disassemble it altogether since I hadn’t seen her in it for at least a day.
My request led to a few tearful pleas to leave it up a while longer. Sensing this might be the thing that sent her into the aforementioned tailspin (which I did not have the wherewithal to deal with in that moment), I retreated a bit. I offered that she could either take it down now, or at the end of the day before bedtime, but reminding her that doing something hard like this usually results in tears if it is before bedtime. To say she was very attached to this makeshift dwelling is an understatement, so I implied that perhaps it would be easier to do it now instead of later.
The long and short of it after that was that she hemmed and hawed, took it down, and then immediately regretted her decision. Now having essentially wasted far too much time on this negotiation to begin with, I said that it could not go back up and she could build another one in her playroom, even offering my help for the future endeavor.
It was no longer about the fort. It was about not getting her way and regrettable decisions. She wasn’t merely upset. She was downright angry. And, naturally, virtually every window in our house was open so everyone within a stone’s throw also knew just how angry she was too. She screamed. She ranted. She charged up to her room (on her own volition) and wailed. Repeat same a few more times for the next hour, at least.
Every time she tried to come downstairs, the sight of me rekindled her rage. I explained to her (after a bit of the carrying on) that if she wanted to talk with me about what happened, that she would need to calm herself down first. I reminded her of the breathing exercises she knows.
It took a long while before she calmed down. A very long while.
But here’s the interesting, if not endearing, thing: while I thought she was merely screaming into the wind up in her room, she was drawing instead. Each time she came down the stairs in an attempt to move forward from this obviously sore spot, she handed me a drawing. Drawings that had expressions of love. Drawings of smiling faces. She did all of this while she was angry at me. It almost brought me to my knees.
I’m not sure if she was doing this in an attempt to remind herself (or me) that love and happiness are usually the stronger currents in our house. Or maybe she was doing it to make amends with me to compensate for her (over)reacting, not that I even got worked up about it.
I think children should be able to express their anger openly, no matter the target. But it is our job to teach them how to temper it, manage it and express it in constructive ways. I think we’ve done this fairly consistently ever since she was a toddler. What I did not teach her, however, was how to move through it and find calm within herself so that she could, eventually, let it go. She seems to have figured that one out all by herself.
About four hours later, I stumbled up on the scene in her room where she had colored herself through her anger. It seemed so peaceful now, and yet I could imagine how she must have looked sitting there, drawing through tears, with her beloved crayons around her. How she must have felt so alone for those moments, but still knowing that at the end of it all, there would still be love between us.
How do your children express and manage their anger? What if the anger is directed toward you? Do you squelch their open displays of anger or let them carry on at least for a bit? Have you taught them how to calm themselves down?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
It’s so interesting how far the pendulum swings sometimes, isn’t it? In less than ten hours I’ve gone from being amped up about seeing some photographs of strong women leaders that I admire, to hearing, with much disappointment, on the playground this morning just how far some people have to go when it comes to how we view and talk about girls and women.
Last night, 10PM, on the couch
While reading the April 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, I was struck by how inspired I felt after seeing the seventeen women noted in the photographic piece, “Lean In, Lead On.” Some of my favorite women were there, including Elizabeth Warren and Jane Goodall. I was happy to see the wide spectrum of ages, much less the diversity, both in race and professional background, of these women. I especially loved how they asked us to “bend the knee to the quiet bravura of Jane Goodall and Alice Waters, who have been leading by example for decades . . . .” I liked that particular description because it not only shows that there is something to be said for measured stamina in this kind of leadership, but that it does not have to be bold and loud to be effective. In fact, I think this might be my new favorite phrase. As an introvert myself, and as the mother of a young girl who also seems to veer more toward introversion, and is sensitive in ways that are seemingly profound, these kind of women make tremendous role models.
This morning, 7:50AM, on the playground
M was off on the monkey bars, completely by herself, but a huge smile on her face. It doesn’t seem to matter to her that she can only go from the starting point to the first rung—this is the essence of why I love her so much. She doesn’t get discouraged that almost everyone else who comes along to take a shot at the monkey bars can now go all the way across. M can still only do one. But it doesn’t get her down. It’s not a competition for her. At the sweet age of 6.5, this is how I want it to be. As I was standing there watching her from afar, I saw her take a tumble when she jumped down from the first rung. Sometimes, if she gets hurt or falls like that, it is an instant trigger for tears. I think mainly because I’m still on the periphery with the other parents; I don’t think she’s like that when I’m not around, but it’s hard to say. Where some kids might just pick themselves up and get back on, she can still give a good wail if she bangs a leg or jams a finger on the way down. But today, no tears. She laughed off the temporary bang-up and got back on.
As I was standing there watching her, this conversation then ensued with the mother of a boy in M’s class:
Parent: Wow! She’s always all smiles!
Me: Yes, usually. It’s great! But sometimes, like just now when she falls off, she might start crying. So I was just watching her to see whether that was going to happen since it can make or break a drop-off in the mornings, ha-ha!
Parent: Yeah, well that’s because she’s a girl.
Me: Well, I don’t know about that. I think it’s because she’s a sensitive soul and has been like that for a while. It’s so nice to see the sun, no?
I stood there trying to take in what she just said to me, waiting for the school bell to ring. I was astonished that this mother, obviously a female, would make such a stereotypical declaration (to another woman) about a girl. I was sad that she has a son who might be growing up in an environment where sensitivity—or, let’s be real, tears—is only expected from girls, as a rule. I was flabbergasted that assigning traits and characteristics by mere gender is still a thing that some parents of this millennium continue to do, much less openly so. I was trying to reconcile how we can have a list like the one in Vanity Fair and then pigeonhole girls on the playground simply because of their XX chromosomes.
Knowing that there are often reported differences between boys and girls doesn’t help either. That’s the problem with the studies: they forget the outliers and, in my opinion, end up perpetuating unhelpful or unnecessary stereotypes. They also don’t take into consideration the cultural reinforcement of stereotypes rather than the truly innate differences. It all makes me want to re-read Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain.
The gender assumptions and prejudices just don’t sit well with me anymore because now there is someone more at stake than just myself. Yet, at the end of the day, I am completely uncertain about how to handle them when confronted in the parking lot or during schoolyard chit chat with people I hardly know. Ignoring these statements doesn’t seem right, at least not if I want to see some forward progress. But confronting someone or getting on a soapbox in these venues doesn’t seem quite right either. So what’s the solution? I’m not sure yet. My only hope is that through even small push backs like mine this morning, it will help others at least take a pause before declaring someone’s child is (or is not) a certain way simply because he is a boy or she is a girl. Maybe that will be my quiet bravura.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
If you have a highly sensitive child, one that maybe feels things “more” than his or her peers, then maybe you will relate to this. Maybe you are like this too. I know I am.
Yesterday, I took M to see the movie Frozen. We met up with another friend and her mom. We had made these plans at Halloween while the girls were trick-or-treating. I know that M was excited about the movie, though she knew very little about it as she had seen the trailer only a week before (strategic planning on my part to reduce the nagging of “is it the movie day yet!?”). I think it was more about actually going to the movies with a friend than the actual movie itself. She’s only been to a theater two other times in her six short years. Well, three, actually, but one was at a birthday party when she was four and spent the better part of it running up and down the stairs. She’s a homebody, that one. Likes her movies at home barefoot on the couch, with us by her side.
Anyway, I’m not interested in reviewing the movie here. It was typical Disney fare and a cute way to spend a few hours in stillness and darkness during a frenzied time of year.
But something did strike me during the movie: M and I tear up almost always at the same time during certain movies, music or experiences. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. And she seems to be turning out that way too.
For me, the waterworks start during certain kinds of music, especially marching bands during parades, the Star Spangled Banner and violin-heavy classical music. If it’s a live show, of any kind of music, I cannot help but cry sometimes. I did it at the Elizabeth Mitchell concert this past summer. She’s not exactly dreary. With live music, I feel like I am levitating out of my seat and my heart swells in some magical, if not embarrassing, kind of way. The music almost feels like it is punctuating every single cell in my body. I’m sure some people think I might have some kind of tragic connection to the song that’s playing because quite often it’s not even a ballad. It’s like I’m being consumed by the music. I’ve noticed that M has had that kind of reaction a few times herself.
Some parts of movies? I am blubbering when everyone around me is seemingly cool and collected. It happened at the end of The Help. It happens during movies I’ve seen a million times over. It happened yesterday during one of the opening scenes of Frozen. I was dripping tears from my eyes, trying to keep it together in the dark, when M leaned over to me and said, with almost a surprise in her whisper, “Mommy, I can’t stop tearing up. I need a tissue.” It was like she didn’t understand why she was crying. She had a similar reaction to some other movies in the past couple of years too, to the point where we had to stop one for a while so that she (and I) could regain our composure.
Sunsets, a full moon, the clouds floating by on a bright summer day, a special gift that was obviously picked just for me (or her), acknowledging the brevity of life, hearing feel-good stories on the news . . . all triggers for tears.
Oh, my little heart. I know exactly how you feel. I’ve even written about it before.
I used to think it was a curse, this feeling things seemingly “more” than others. I mean, it certainly does not come in handy to be sniffling through a concert or a parade (even though I am elated) when everyone else around is smiling and giddy. It’s not really “normal” to be so visibly sensitive (just look at all the heat that John Boehner gets). It can make others feel uncomfortable. But as I get older, I embrace more and more that this is just who I am. And, because I am increasingly comfortable with what I now see as a positive trait rather than a detriment, I am able to understand the needs of M who seems very much like me in this regard. I will be able to show her, as she gets older, that this ability to perceive and receive the profundity in the seemingly mundane of everyday life, is a good thing, and not something to hide. Being highly sensitive allows someone to experience things often on another level; it’s managing the negative and allowing the positive to come forward that takes practice. I look forward to being M’s teacher (and, let’s face it, the student too) as she starts to encounter increasingly complex and emotionally charged stories both in fantasy and real life. It is just another way of appreciating life and all that it has to offer. Of course just thinking about it makes me tear up once again.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
The other night, right before I was about to head out the door to meet my neighbor for our weekly four mile walk, my daughter suggested to me that I take along a pair of gloves. There was a chill in the approaching New England dusk, so her advice was wise. But right after her suggestion, she added,
“You know, in case you and Abby* want to hold hands, your hands won’t be cold.”
After I conjured up a six year old’s way of thinking, I immediately understood what she was talking about. The sweetness of it brought tears to my eyes.
She genuinely thought that when I went walking with my female neighbor/friend, that we held hands. Just like she does with her own friends. The innocence of that assumption took my breath away.
It got me to thinking about children and holding hands. At first, we hold their hands to protect them from running off into the street or to help them keep pace while walking or just to keep them close to us. Of course, we also do it as a show of affection. But over time, and especially as they approach the ages of six and beyond, the need for holding hands to prevent wayward jaywalking diminishes sharply. Whatever is left—which, I’m finding, largely depends not only on the mood, but the child herself—is really just for comfort and affection.
M has always been a hand holder, and, at times, incessantly so. She loves to hold hands, both with us and with her friends, especially the girls. She is, almost always, the initiator. Sometimes it surprises me that she still wants to hold my hand in the mornings on the walk to school. I relish every day of it. I see the evidence before me in the older kids that it is not going to last forever.
Not all of her friends share her love of holding hands, but several do. I love to watch it happen. I think it is a magical sweetness that is so utterly pure and comes wholly from a place of love, comfort and friendship. I caught a glimpse of it in the spring concert when she laced her fingers with the girl next to her on the risers on stage. M swelled with the excitement of singing and found comfort before the large crowd in the warm grip of the friend next to her.
Just last week, I swooned as I watched her find security in the palm of a friend while they explored together the K-2 fall dance in the school gym, usually an overwhelming situation for M on her own (or even with us). They galloped hand in hand through the crowd, their joy and exuberance connected. This is what she thinks friends should do. This is was what informed her suggestion for my walk that chilly night.
I consider myself lucky that she still loves holding our hands. It is the one part of her that still feels small to me, though that is changing I know.
This photo was taken at the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton, MA, a property of the Trustees of Reservations. It’s a great place to take kids on a woodland walk, and to hold hands.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
* Not her real name
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