It is the tender hearted moments like this that tug so at my mama heartstrings. Yesterday my sweet littles had their first concert in German. Leading up to the day there were questions like, "How many days until the concert?" and, "How many songs will we be singing?" But I never felt any hints of anxiety until we were about to leave the house. This is my sweet little guy getting his shoes on. He's really concentrating. On shoes. That he's put on hundreds of times.
In my attempt to allay fears of the unknown, I'd told the kids all that I knew; the concert was being held in the town next door, pictures were at 1330, the concert started at 1400. They would be the first ones on stage and then when they were done they could come back and sit with mama to watch the other children. I even found the songs they were singing on iTunes and purchased them so we could practice at home. Good job, mama, on preparing them for the day. Right? Hmmpphh.
Before the concert we went to a fest in another neighboring town. My son, usually a joyful soul, was a bit off his game. He seemed easily frustrated and ill-tempered. As we got in the car to head to the concert I looked in his eyes and asked him if he was OK, and it wasn't long before my sweet boy, with tears in his eyes, said "Mama, I'm feeling really anxious about the concert." As we explored how he was feeling I came to realize that he was anxious because he didn't know all the words to the songs (learning a song in a language other than your mother tongue, with words you don't understand or for which you have no context, is not such an easy feat). So we talked about what he could do if he forgot some of the words while he was singing, and then we practiced all the way to the concert. When we arrived, I sang softly to him as we sat and waited for their turn to go on stage (a clear example of kids being their own unique people is this, his twin sister didn't appear bothered at all and spent her extra time at the concert hall playing with a friend from Kindergarten).
And then it was time. I brought them to the stage door where they met their teachers and fellow students, and the next thing I knew, they were singing and dancing and smiling as wide as could be. And in a blink, it was over.
As I collected the kids after their performance, my son happily shared that he'd had a great time, and that it wasn't at all what he'd expected. For instance, he didn't know they would be playing the music for them to sing to (well duh, mom, why didn't you tell him THAT?) and he didn't know the teachers and other students would be singing WITH them (I'd said they would be going first, and in his mind that meant they would be alone). It wasn't a total mama fail, I get that, but I could have done better. And what if my son hadn't been able to express his feelings of anxiety? As it often does with kids, it could have spilled out as anger or aggression (it already had come out as frustration and crabbiness at the fest). What if I hadn't asked the question, and then REALLY listened to the answer?
We parents have so many opportunities to help our kiddos navigate their worlds more effectively. Perhaps the biggest ways we can help are by giving them the words to match their emotions, by allowing them space to express themselves and guiding them by asking questions when we find they need help, by aiding them in finding solutions to life's challenges, and, perhaps most of all, by really listening and being present when we're with them. We can't get it right all the time, but life with littles is so much better when we do.