Chastain Park. Baseball fields. A spring evening at dusk. Every other kid on the team has been picked up. The coach assumed everyone had a ride home so he didn’t wait around. Suddenly, there’s no one else in sight. It’s just me: 8-years-old. Baseball glove in one hand; bat in the other hand. Giant tears welling up in my eyes as my worst fear comes to life. I am alone.
No one will come get me. No one will help me; they’ll all keep telling me my parents will be here soon…Even when I am 50 years old, people will still be patting me on the head and saying, “Mommy and Daddy will be here soon. Quit worrying so much!” Maybe I’ll find my way back home, but it won’t do me any good: My family will be gone without a hint as to where they’ve gone. IT has happened. I am alone in the universe.
This situation played out in my head ad nauseam throughout childhood. It wasn’t always (or just) baseball practice. It was school and Sunday school and friends’ houses and the basement of my house and, well, everywhere. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. When I remember being a child, this is what I remember: Fear of being abandoned.
My parents never did anything to make me suspect that they were actually planning to rid themselves of me in this manner. Shoot, they were rarely even late to pick me up. The fear had very little to do with reality and very much to do with OCD. Every kid is afraid that s/he’ll be abandoned, but not every kid keeps thinking about it all day every day forever. This is why it’s called a “disorder” – not because it’s something no one else thinks about, but because it’s something other people can quit thinking about after a few seconds. My brain never let it go. It still hasn’t; it just looks different now.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you might remember the post I wrote about Taylor Swift’s song “Never Grow Up.” The basic gist is this: When my daughter played this beautiful song a few months ago, I spent the entire day balling my eyes out for all sorts of reasons. One of the primary people I was crying over was the little boy I used to be who tried to shoulder the weight of the world from the time he was aware of the world.
My Taylor-Swift-Day-O-Crying included a long, slow drive around the various parts of Atlanta where I had grown up. I drove past a couple of the homes I had lived in and just sat reminiscing about the various losses of innocence that happened in those particular spots. I ate at the restaurant that has been a part of my life, at least once a week, for the past fifteen years (Willy’s, for you Atlanta folks). And I drove past the Chastain Park baseball fields, where I used to be so preoccupied with my fear of abandonment that I eventually let the fear have its first major victory of my life and quit doing something I thoroughly enjoyed – playing baseball. I sat there for a while. Crying, of course. Imagining that little boy standing there alone, abandoned.
In therapeutic terms, this concept is called “re-parenting the inner child.” The little boy at Chastain Park is my inner child…it’s the image I return to when I need to realize that it’s okay to hurt and to feel and to be wounded and to be scared. I would never fault that little boy for his fears, but I almost always fault the 39-year-old man who still feels the same way. It’s hard to be kind and compassionate and tender toward the grown man who is often needy and hard to understand and inconsistent and a bit of a “moving target” (as one friend was so kind as to point out recently).
But the little boy is much easier to be patient with. Kids are inconsistent and needy and moving targets and all sorts of other confusing things. Trust me; I have 2, and I have yet to spend more than an hour with them where things went according to plan or where one of them didn’t cry over something that seemed obnoxiously silly to me.
But I give them grace because they are children. And so am I – a little boy who, at least in an emotional sense, never grew up all the way. I’m still the little boy standing by the baseball fields waiting to get picked up, afraid that no one will ever pick me up. When I see my inner self in that way, it’s much easier to be patient and kind with myself.
Recently, I have suggested this same concept to two of my friends. Both of their reactions were visceral. One immediately got teary-eyed; the other got a look of shock on her face and said, “It’s just too sad for me to imagine myself that way. I can’t do it.”
But if that’s your reaction, maybe it’s the thing you need to do most of all. It hurt me to watch my friends’ pained expressions when I suggested this “re-parenting” technique. I know how hard it is to look back at the little child who, for whatever reason, grew up too fast. I know what it’s like to want to wrap that child in your arms and make them feel safe forever. I know what it’s like for your heart to break that you can’t actually go rescue that little boy or girl.
But you can still rescue that child in one sense: You can re-parent that little boy or girl inside of yourself. You can give yourself grace for your particular fears and wounds and struggles. You can tell that child it’s okay to be afraid. You can tell the child that you’ll hold her hand as she walks through the scary parts of life…which might be all of them. You can take him by the hand and let him know that you’ll walk as slowly or as quickly as you need to past all the monsters and mean kids. You can sit and cry with that kid for as long as needed.
Every child needs to be taken care of. Every human with a heart can feel compassion for a child more easily than for an adult. And we are all still children in some way or other. So rather than beating yourself up for all your needs and wants and insecurities, develop an image of yourself as a scared little boy or girl with those same needs and wants and insecurities. Treat your adult self as you would treat that child because, at the end of the day, that’s still what all of us are.
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