It was the middle of bedtime, and he was playing with the food processor.
“Grandma,” H had exclaimed, popping up in bed and pointing at the bedroom door. “Grandma!”
He had heard the front door unlock, open, and close, and he would not be distracted into lying back down. He wanted to say goodnight to grandma. We got out of bed and found her in the kitchen.
Somehow in the course of saying goodnight, H became so engrossed with the stem of the food processor’s grating and slicing disc that I could not attract his attention. He inserted the stem on the food processor base and twisted it around so that it dropped into place. He took it off and put it back on again. Put. Twist. Drop. Put. Twist. Drop. He did it repetitively, without the novelty seeming to wear off, until he noticed the plug.
“Plug. In. Plug. In,” he said. His big hazel eyes beseeched me to move the food processor closer to an outlet.
“It’s time to get back in bed, sweet pea. Please put the cord back on the shelf,” I said to him.
“Cord. Plug. Plug. In. Plug. In,” he said, averting his gaze, as if not looking at me meant not hearing me.
I tried a dozen different gentle ways to get him to put the plug away on his own accord, and finally, reluctantly he did. He tucked the plug inside the pocket made by the upturned fabric cover hiding the food processor bowl and assorted parts, pushed the shelf in, closed the cabinet door, and crawled into my arms. We started back to bed.
Somewhere between the kitchen and the bedroom, H became upset. He twisted in my arms, making his body heavy to let me know that he wanted to be put down, and he cried. He gestured back toward the way we had come and said something that sounded vaguely like, “That. That.”
We stood in the dark of the bedroom together, H still in my arms despite his protests.
“You were having fun playing with the food processor,” I said to him. “It’s so fun to figure out how things work, isn’t it? Then you wanted to plug it in, and mama said it was time for bed. H said, ‘I want to plug the food processor in.’ And mama said, ‘It’s time for bed.’ H said, ‘Plug in.’ And mama said, ‘Bed.’ It can be so hard to stop in the middle of a project. I don’t like it either. Are you sad?”
“Angry,” he said through his tears.
Stunned, I pressed him closer. Could he really understand the difference between angry and sad at such a young age?
“Angry. You are angry,” I said. We stayed where we were, swaying together.
“Yeah. Yeah,” he nodded, and I felt the tension drain from his body. He quieted and said that he was ready for more milk, so we climbed back in bed together, and it wasn’t before long that he fell asleep, peacefully, nursing. I stayed a while longer, my cheek against his still silken hair, hoping that he will always trust me with his feelings, even the ones that he will undoubtedly be told someday by someone are bad or unacceptable, that he will never experience the burn of shame at feeling anger, that he will learn how to appropriately channel his anger so that he does not turn it back on himself. I hoped that he would know and be comfortable with all of his feelings, that he would have the ability to watch them arise and fall away without letting them sweep him away, that he would know through it all that he is okay.
I closed my eyes and wished these things for H and for the rest of us, too.