Whoa, what a night we had tonight.
Owen had this great idea about racing some plastic dragons around the house; that's how it all started. He had a sign-up sheet, and so we all signed up to race the dragons. It was really cute to see him so excited, and his excitement really was infectious.
All was going well. He won the first two heats, and then we reached the semifinals, which is where Owen's little world fell apart. We've seen it before, when winning is so important to him that he would rather quit, or fall, or even feign injury than lose.
And, pretty much all of those things happened tonight in the semifinal races – finally Ben and I called off the competition. Owen went into the bathroom to get ready for bed (as we directed; he would never have done this on his own), crying of course, and Luke came and sat down on the couch with me. He looked really sad. When I asked what was on his mind, here is what he said:
"Well, a few nights ago Owen told me that he wished I wasn't alive anymore."
This hit me like a bomb. It was totally unexpected; I nearly started crying on the spot. To cover my shock I asked Luke why Owen might've said that? He replied that, though he couldn't remember Owen's exact words, the gist was that Owen felt like he was always in Luke's shadow.
Luke continued, sharing that he tried to influence tonight's dragon races so that Owen felt like he was part of Luke's team, in other words, not in direct competition with Luke.
He said that he did this so that maybe Owen wouldn't feel that way anymore. So that Owen wouldn't wish him dead. I am crying now, as I write this.
Sometimes, I forget how mindful Luke is. I can't imagine him even thinking that he wished someone wasn't alive anymore because he seems inherently to know how horrible, how much of an anathema, the thought is. Maybe that's why it was such a shock to hear this coming from Owen. I just thought they both understood.
Plus, it was such a raw statement: wishing someone was dead.
I tried to reassure Luke by explaining that many people, children and adults alike, say things that they regret when they are angry. I pointed out that Owen's feelings stem more from his belief that he can't keep up with his big brother. I tried to explain that this really had to do with Owen's feelings about himself. I hope it helped.
And then, a conversation with Owen needed to take place. I wanted him to know that it is okay to have feelings like this; I asked him to come talk to me or Daddy if he feels that way again, because I think one of the worst things that might happen is that he feels bad about his own thoughts, like they only make everybody else angry and sad. Better, I think, that he doesn't squash down negative feelings but instead tries to figure out where they come from – I know he'll have to be much older before he can truly do this. But tonight did seem like the place to start.
I went on to try and help him understand about regretting things that you've said, feeling sorry that you've hurt somebody – and I think he truly understood how much he had hurt his brother.
Finally, I wanted to help Owen grasp that his frustration comes of being not as practiced at things as Luke is, for the sole reason that Luke is four years older. I wanted to try and separate the two negative feelings, jealousy and hatred, so that he understands that they are in fact two separate feelings. And, I'm not really sure if that worked; I guess time will tell.
Of course, there were lots and lots of tears as this conversation played itself out tonight. We ended on two good points, though:
1) As a family, we are resolved to play more noncompetitive games.
2) I remembered the picture that Owen drew for Luke just the other night. He made us each a picture, in fact, with characters from The Magic Pickle on one side, and a picture of each of us on the other.
He made us those pictures because he loves us.
And love endures.