Boundary Lessons

Yesterday: a lesson in boundaries.

Couple of things about this: First, I am going to be talking about my son’s discovery of Pokemon.

If you are not a parent who is dealing with Pokemon, you may not know the obsession I was facing, but you have dealt with something similar, no doubt. When someone you love has totally lost their shit in a can’t-see-the(ahem)forest-for-the-trees obsession and can’t hear “no.”

Second, I really believe in good, kind, solid boundaries as the key to good love. Not too many! The ones that count, held with kindness and resilience.

And third, sometimes no matter how good, how worthy and valid the boundary is, it’s worth breaking.

So. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. Yesterday afternoon, in fact. Forest had just bought his first Pokemon deck. (Yes, I am taking condolences.) And, awesome, supportive mom that I am, I had been talking about Pokemon with him, on and off, for three hours as he rotated the following questions without ceasing:

·      Mom, what’s your favorite Pokemon?

·      Mom, what other questions do you have about Pokemon?

·      Mom, what’s your favorite Pokemon?

For three hours, I had been pulling particle after particle of loving parental curiosity out of my ass.

And suddenly, I was done. So done.

So I did as I have learned to do. I announced my done-ness. I said to Forest, “Honey, I need a break. Please go play in your room while I make lunch.”

This sounds kinder than “Leave me the fuck alone!”

At this point, I need to make the mother disclaimer. I love my son. So much. Like my ribs being pried open much. And also, I am sometimes exhausted by him, and I know that this is not really the maternal ideal. Endless patience is more like the expectation. I will never forget the time when Forest was about 22 months old, very fast and no impulse control. I was on the phone with my father and at my wit’s end and I said to him, “Dad, I feel like I am a butler to a chimpanzee with a personality disorder.” Long, long silence. Then, “But you love him, right?” Sigh. “Yes, Dad. I love him.”

So. The mother disclaimer.

But, honestly, these days are so different. I have more resources. More patience with myself and with him. More allies and more self-love. Plus, now he can read! And talk! And some of what he says is so hilarious. Like yesterday morning, when I was dosing both of us for our colds and he looked at me and said “Mom, too many vitamins at once makes my mouth sting and feel like rotten potatoes at the same time.”

Or last week, when he told me his pants had gotten too small by telling me his jeans were “as small as a pebble.”

Or last year when, after asking me when his grandma was going to die and when I was going to die – I replied to both with “I don’t know but I hope not for a long, long time,” – he thought for a while, and then looked at me and said “Mama, my great great great great great great great great great grandmother is mother earth, and she will never die.”

(Pause for effect.)

But also, these days are not different. I mean, this boy can talk. He can talk and talk and talk. He is an extrovert. He is a social creature and sometimes it feels like his talking is sucking the life out of me, because I, on the other hand, am squarely on the fence. I am an extro/introvert. I need both and when I go too long without my introvert time, say by being around an extremely verbal seven year old with a brand new pack of Pokemon cards, I can become quite cranky.

So, I have learned to take breaks. I have learned that if I take these breaks and feed my introvert, I can turn things around before I want to scream “Leave me the fuck alone!”

Which brings us back to today. At which point I was eight hours into non-stop interaction and a solid three into Pokemon patience.

And I just didn’t have anything left.

But Forest was so excited. And he came into the kitchen, a second time. “Mama, what’s your favorite Pokemon card?”

“Honey, I need a break. I need you to stay out of the kitchen until I’m done making lunch.”

 Then, again. The Pokemon question. I’m standing in front of the open refrigerator and he asks me a third time and I replied, “Forest. I need you to not interrupt me now.” Little bit of steel in my voice.

To which he replied:  “Mama, could you please tell me what I am doing right instead of what I am doing wrong?”

Boy oh boy.

I mean, on the one hand, I know this looks like maybe Olympic level manipulation, right?  Have I mentioned that my son is a bit theatrical? You should have seen the innocence shining out of his limpid blue eyes. 

But, that’s cynical hindsight. If you’d been there, if you’d seen him, you wouldn’t have thought that. And neither did I. Not even for a moment. His words washed over me like such clear water. I swear it wasn’t the air from the open refrigerator. Suddenly, I was awake and he looked like he had been doused in light. I wasn’t suspicious and I wasn’t tired anymore. I want to say I was proud of him, but that makes too much of me. I was amazed by him, showing me what a good boundary looks like. He said it with all this love just flowing out.

You should have seen the innocence shining out of his limpid blue eyes.

Goddess, motherhood has taught me so much… about being my best self by knowing what I actually need and then being willing to ask, about asking with very clear words and a very kind tone, about giving all that I have to give and still stopping before I fall off the cliff. About trying to be my best self and do all that and fucking it up and knowing that I have to keep trying anyway.

I looked at him. I had asked for a break. I had needed it. That was my boundary.

But maybe I’ve had enough practice at this boundary thing that I don’t have to be rigid anymore, don’t have to be in a fearful defense of the way I felt before... Because now, looking down at my son, with his heart in his eyes, bare to me, totally trusting, I didn’t need a break anymore.

“Yes, honey. I would be happy to do that,” I said. “That’s a very good idea,” I said. “Come here,” I said, and I gave him a hug, and a little cuddle, and then he did go play in his room, and I stood there in the cool blast of the still open refrigerator door and breathed in, all that I know and don’t know and love about this boy.

If that moment was a Pokemon card, it would have had, like, 150 energy points and a special attack: rolling heart blow, with a magnitude of X 30.

What other questions do you have about Pokemon?