This morning, Seth refused to hug me when I wanted to greet him at the start of the new day. This isn't the first time he's refused a hug, and I've tried to respond pretty casually because I get that he's not reacting to me nearly as much as he is to something going on inside of him. Usually when he's mad at me or struggling with something internally, he retreats from his attachment to me (in a classic adoption scenario of push-pull) and this is often one sign of how it manifests.
His passionate response to my hug overture: "Never!"
Like usual, I treated it lightly, ruffled his hair, and told him that when he was ready I'd be very happy to hug him. But inwardly I sighed.
Later in the morning, when I spontaneously reached out to hug Seth about something, he stopped me with his hand up in the air, palm out.
Seth: "Remember, no hugs."
Me: "That's OK. Though I have to say, Seth, that it feels a little unfair."
Me: "It doesn't seem fair that I can't hug you, but you can hug me if you feel like it. What if I said 'no hugging Mommy - would that feel fair to you?'"
Seth: "NO!! Not nice, Mommy. I not hug you because I mad. You not hug me yesterday."
Me: "What?? When? I think I hugged you lots yesterday, Seth."
Seth: "No, you not."
Me: "Seth, I can remember hugging you a bunch of times yesterday." (thinking hard). "Ohhh, do you mean yesterday evening?"
Seth: "Yes. At supper, you say you going in car. You say you home before my bed. You say you hug me before sleep. But you home after sleep. You not hug me."
Me: "And is that why you're not letting me hug you today?? Because I said I would be home before your bedtime and give you a hug before you went to sleep?"
Seth: "Yes!" (said with pain in his voice)
Me: "Ahhh...that makes so much sense to me Seth. I'm so glad you told me that. No wonder you're mad and don't want me to hug you. May I tell you what happened from my perspective?"
Me: "You're right Seth, that yesterday at supper, I did tell you that I would be home before your bedtime and that I would be home in time to give you a goodnight hug. And I wasn't actually gone for very long. But when I came home, before your bedtime, Daddy told me that you had gone to sleep early. I'm not sure why you went to bed early, but we could ask Daddy about that."
Seth: "I know why."
Seth: "Lizzie fell asleep soon. Fast. So Daddy lie down with me early and I sleeped.
Me: "So that's why you were sleeping before your usual bedtime?"
Me: "Well that makes sense. But Seth, you need to know that the first thing I did when I came home before your usual bedtime, was to head up the stairs to see you. I thought you would be starting to get ready for bed. But when I got upstairs, Daddy told me that you were already asleep. I'm terribly sorry, Seth, that I didn't hug you before you went to sleep."
Me: "I would love to give you a hug now, and maybe we could call that our yesterday's bedtime hug."
Without another word, Seth jumped (and I do mean jumped) into my lap and wrapped himself around me in a gigantic hug that lasted about five minutes. There was profound relief in his little body. I thanked him repeatedly for telling me what the problem was so that we could talk about it and fix it.
I'm so grateful that Seth seems to have an ability to understand his emotions pretty well...and often (not always!) a willingness to talk about them.
He and I spoke about this shortly before the incident above took place...
When we were on our mini-vacation last weekend, I asked Seth how he had enjoyed going down the water slide with Geoff. Here was our conversation as I recorded it immediately afterwards.
Seth: "Liked it. But Daddy screamed."
Me (laughing): "He did??"
Seth: "Yup. Loud."
Me: "Why was he screaming? Do you think he was excited or do you think he was scared?"
Seth: "He was scared!"
Me: "What about you? Did you scream when you went down the first time?"
Me: "Weren't you scared?"
Seth: "I scared on inside (holding his hand over his chest); but I not scream on outside."
Me: "Oh, so you were scared, but you didn't want to show that you were scared."
Seth: "I not scream on outside scared."
Me: "Does that happen often when you are scared on the inside but don't want to scream on the outside?"
Seth: "Sometimes. Sometimes I scream outside, too. But sometimes not show."
So profound for a boy of his age. And so helpful and amazing that he understands these things about himself. He's a complex little being and the more I get to know my middle child, the more I liken the process to peeling an onion.