Peanut’s birthday party was this weekend, and he had a good time. He taught one of his friends, the only close friend he’s made in school, how to bowl. He held her hand while they watched her bowl bounce off the bumpers and slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y down the lane.
Spouse’s brother flew into town and Peanut gave his uncle the biggest, sweetest, most sincere hug I’ve ever seen him give a non-parent.
And when the party didn’t go as Peanut had planned, and presents had to be opened at home, he lost it in the way only a tired, overstimulated four-year old can.
So a good time was had by all.
But the most touching moment in the weekend came at the preschool potluck that night. After two hours of play and great food, a professional puppet show (one-man show of seriously high quality) enraptured all 40+ kids and parents who came. The intro, a classic slapstick comedic lead-in by one puppet, had the kids roaring. Peanut got into it and was laughing along with everyone else. Until the main show: a four puppet version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Peanut is a sensitive dude from whom we generally keep such stories because the threat of danger does not suit him well. Empathetic, eager to please, very keyed to structure and rules, he also does not like stories about misbehavior. So when the puppet boy played a trick on his puppet dad and pretended there was a wolf, Peanut was visibly upset. The other kids laughed and egged on the boy puppet, but our son was amazed that anyone would willfully trick someone else. He repeatedly shook his head and mouthed “no.”
And when the real (not at all real friendly looking puppet) wolf arrived, Peanut was terrified.
I moved to the door so he could see me; he glanced over every ten seconds and I repeatedly signed that it was okay. He screamed in terror when the wolf chased the boy and when the wolf chased the lamb. Genuine terror. Finally, he couldn’t take it any more and came to sit with me, which was much better for both of us. His heart was pounding through his shirt and he was shaking. I held him tightly and told him we could leave if he wanted, that the show was pretend, and that I knew everything would work out in the end of the story. And it did. And the awesome puppeteer came out after the show and demonstrated how all the puppets worked, revealing the stagecraft and dropping my child’s blood pressure significantly.
It was so sweet to watch him laugh at his first puppet show. And so moving to see him just terrified of a story (he gets freaked out at books, too, and articulates his fears gorgeously, but this was just too much for him). It was gratifying to be there, to know in advance that he might be distressed, to offer support if he needed it, and to give it to him when he finally could take no more. And it helped him immeasurably when I told him that he never has to stay listening if something scares him or makes him sad. There is no rule about listening when your feelings get too big; you can always leave or sit with Mom or find a friend to hold hands with.
No nightmares that night, for the first time in a long time. I thought we’d be up with him all night, but he went to sleep easily and slept as hard as he ever has.
It was a long, good not-quite birthday. Happy new year, little guy.