I thought it was about the ponies. The birthday party. A child's version of the dream vacation.

And it was one of those parenting memories that I would rather forget.

A 4-year old birthday party. At the local lovely Wilson Park. My son Rob. Bursting out of his carseat with excitement.

The birthday party. A child’s version of the dream vacation. Cake. Friends from school actually seen on a Saturday. Running around, screaming. Bouncing. Chasing. Sliding.

Ponies were there to ride. I saw the sign.  “Ponies. Here from 1:00 to 1:30.”

“Rob, do you want to ride the ponies first? They are only here for the next 30 minutes.”

Why I thought a 4 year-old, squealing at the sight of the birthday boy, was paying attention to me, I will never know.

“Not now.” And he sped off.

A few hello’s later, I called to my now ruddy-cheeked, laughing, all-over-everywhere son. “Rob, time to ride ponies!”

“Just a minute Mommy!”

He was having a great time. So I let it go.

Big mistake.

Suddenly I looked up. The ponies were being led to their trailers.

“Could you wait a minute, please? My son hasn’t gotten a chance to ride.”

“Sorry ma’am. We’ve got another party to go to.”

I saw him running. He had seen the impending departure as well.

“Mommy, I want to ride the ponies now.” His hazel eyes were filling with tears.

“Rob, I’m so sorry. They have to go.”

What followed next was a torrent of emotion that I had never witnessed. He was inconsolable. He sunk down on the curb, head bowed. Shoulders shaking.

I reached out to comfort him. His little head raised suddenly. And split my lip wide open. Blood spurted everywhere.

I had become Mount Vesuvius.

Others were watching this scenario with empathy. My ever-present self-conscious self whispered only disdain of course. “Look at the psychologist. Not only did she not manage the time so her dear sweet son could ride the ponies, now she’s bleeding all over him. Tisk tisk.”

Someone came over and offered Kleenex. For Rob. And for my lip.

He was so upset I could not calm him down. I thought I might need stitches. I made the decision to leave, swooping the still sobbing Rob up in my arms. Very quick thank-you to the host Mom, who stared at my swelling bloody face. “No… go. I completely understand.” Probably thanked her lucky stars that we exited the scene.

I didn’t need stitches. Not even plastic surgery. And Rob calmed down after we got home.

I promised a pony ride soon.

Remember that a child's perspective is completely  different than yours.Fast forward. 14 years later. I was laughing about the event with same son, all grown up. Reminiscing about the particular domino effect of ponies, tears and lips.

“Mom, I wasn’t crying about the ponies.”

What? I didn’t understand. How could it not be about that?

“It wasn’t about the ponies at all. It was about, at that moment, I realized you could not fix everything for me. You could not make the ponies turn around. You weren’t all powerful.”

I was floored. I had completely missed it. The deeper meaning of that moment for my son. It made all the sense in the world and actually made the intensity of his reaction much more understandable.

And wow. Just wow.

You never know. What children are thinking. What they are processing. What their tears might be about.

[tweetthis]You might not know who your child is becoming – right in front of you.[/tweetthis]

It’s a good thing to remember. That their perspective is completely different than yours. And that your actions are having a tremendous effect on them, whether you are aware of it or not. That every child is learning how to handle complicated feelings and thoughts.

It makes me wonder how he survived other things.

When I found out he could roll over. Because he had fallen off his changing table.

When I forgot that I had stored my face cleaner in a plastic baby medicine bottle. Delivered a teaspoon to him, believing it was liquid Ibuprofen. Until I smelled the alcohol in it.  I watched him like a hawk all night, sure that I might have killed him.

He slept well.

When I way over-compensated for my mother’s over-protectiveness. Didn’t notice danger as he was racing down our driveway on his trike and hitting the concrete wall. Giggling with glee. Until I saw the horror on my aunt’s face. “Don’t you think he needs a helmet?” she asked, somewhat timidly. I paled. Rushed out to slam the thing on his surprised little head.

Probably did that over-compensation thing more than once.

When I… when I…

No telling how he processed all that. Mental relapses. Plain old mistakes. Good decisions thrown in there.

What I learned is that he probably doesn’t remember it like I do. It meant something different to him than me. One of these days I will have to ask him.

Now he’s grown. At college.

He doesn’t need me to fix his problems. Just some advice from time to time. That’s a good thing.

Sometimes, I still wish I could. Fix things.

Make the ponies come back.



You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!

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