I can’t begin to imagine where they got it from – probably their father’s side – but I have some rather dramatic children. We still laugh about the time we told 5 year old Noah to put a book away and he contorted his face into a picture of agony, lifted the book above his head and bellowed, “noooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!” like a super-hero villian whose plans had been thwarted again.
Just last week, one of my daughters was telling me all about how she wasn’t going to do what I said, she’s going to do what she wants to do and there’s nothing I can do to stop her, humph. Whilst I was escorting her to her room, she tried grabbing the bannister and corners and anything she could grasp to try and stop me. So I gave her a swat on the behind. Now, I’m not much good at spanking. I am completely certain that if I hit a housefly the way I occasionally swat a child’s behind, the fly would be OK. It might be dazed for a second or two, but it would fly away unharmed by the encounter. However, my daughter, not having the tough constitution of a housefly, began shrieking “Help – I need immediate medical attention”. She’s a delicate soul.
Her slightly less dramatic sister went through a phase where she came to me crying because she was afraid that I might die. I get that sort of sensitive imagination – I am hoping to use all the crying I’ve done while imagining my mom dying as credits towards the actual event. Sort of an emotional pre-payment plan I made up in my own head. Later this daughter came and told me, “remember how I was really scared that you were going to die? I realized that if you died I would be able to do whatever I want. So I’m not worried about you dying anymore.”
And poor Olivia. Every night we experienced a living breathing demonstration of a child whose very life was in danger of being taken as we lovingly held her and sang to her and restrained her attempts to kick, claw and bite us in order to obtain release from imminent sleep. I think her perspective was that life is great except every night when she’s hunted down and help captive by foes who respond to her desperate pleas for help with song and laughter. I mean, it’s hard for a toddler out there.
But I have one son who takes the cake not only for his dramatics, but for the quality of his dramatics. This is a child who once got banned from the St. Croix River by a lifeguard for repeatedly pretending to drown. Not only did he put on an attention grabbing show of the process of going under – he practiced holding his breath so that he could stay under long enough to make everyone think that maybe he really had drown in 3 feet of water. “To make it more realistic,” he explained. I had already removed him from the water twice for this show and was getting ready to pack us up and leave when the lifeguard saved me the trouble of being the heavy. The boy thought we were just being a bunch of stick-in-the-muds.
For years this child screamed like his leg had just been cut off each time he bumped himself. The stress of repeated shriek induced heart-attacks contributed to my husband having some sort of breakdown of his own, I’m sure. I knew that punishing or seriously reprimanding him for his over-the-top behavior meant starting a new drama series titled, “help – I’m scarred for life because my mother is unfair to me. It really did hurt that bad.” I tried being non-reactive. I tried matching the drama and making a big deal out of it. I would have complimented him any time he bumped himself and didn’t freak out, but that never happened in my presence.
Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and just went for the shame jugular; “you know, I think you’re being a big baby about this.”
To which the boy responded, “but I have sensitive skin!”
I had to explain to him that sensitive skin means he’s more prone to break out in a rash. Not that his skin hurt more than everyone else’s when it got hurt. His reaction was the result of his inability to tolerate even mild discomfort. Just like a baby. At some point you grow up and learn to reserve your freak-outs for really big things like the guy who turns too slowly in front of you. Not for petty crap like bumping your shin. And then I called everyone I knew to share the “I have sensitive skin” story. Because I’m sensitive to my kid’s pain like that.
My kids aren’t faking it. In the heat of the moment they genuinely feel like life will never be OK if I don’t “make her stop singing that awful song RIGHT NOW because I can feel my ears starting to bleed.” And although they won’t come right out and say it, their expectation is that I will administer harsh justice to the party who caused them such agony as well.
Often a thought occurs to me as I’m dealing with the latest round of “she broke my pretend pinwheel – on purpose! – and now it’s the wrong color.” We must be an awful lot like this to God. And just like with my kids – we’re not faking it. We genuinely do experience our hurts and slights against us and challenges in front of us as being that bad. And just like with our own kids, the only real answer is for us to grow up. Get some perspective. Learn that a stubbed toe is not a severed limb. And if it was, screaming like that would just make you bleed out and die faster anyways.
My drama king has finally found a way to keep it all in perspective. Every time he’s about to get upset (and complain and complain and complain) about something he reminds himself of just how lucky he really is. You see, the dear boy learned about Goliath Chicken Spiders (they eat birds as big as chickens, you see). We live in the great northern tundras of the United States which don’t have a climate suitable for Goliath Chicken Spiders. So whatever is going on in his world it’s better than living with the possibility that there could be a Goliath Chicken Spider in the backyard. It’s the only good thing about living here he tells me.
“Unless you become as a little child . . . “