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Roxane Salonen, Published February 24 2009

Feelings difficult to discern in kids

Recently, a friend and new mother confided that she longs for the day her baby can talk so she’ll know why he’s sad.

I had the same yearning back when I was a new mother and everything about my baby seemed a mystery. It will be so much easier someday when he can just tell me what’s wrong.

Thirteen years later, my children are as verbally adept as needed for their respective ages. But ask me if I’ve come any closer to finding out what’s wrong and I’ll be honest: The mystery remains.

Granted, if any of my children has a physical ailment these days they can point to the exact spot that hurts and say, “Right there.” It does make some things easier.

But emotional aches are a different matter. And while processing my friend’s desire for easier communication with her child, the realization hit me that I’m still just as perplexed at how to “make it all better” now as I was then.

When my 3-year-old falls into the throes of a full-blown tantrum, my mind works overtime to meet him where he’s at to coax him out of his blues. I seldom succeed.

It’s sometimes easier with his 6-year-old brother. And yet, he views the world largely in black and white, and I struggle helping him see the grays.

My daughters, 8 and 11, are rarely at a loss for words in sharing details of their day. Still, over time I’ve come to see that much of their dramatic retellings are simply a disguise to keep me befuddled about what’s really going on inside. Getting to the heart of the matter can be like winding through a hay-bale maze without ever reaching the middle.

As for their older brother, 13, it’s about as easy to draw emotions out of him as liquid from an open pop can that’s been sitting in the Sahara for months.

Not to make light of my friend’s agony, because I get it. The good news is the physical part should become easier in time. She’ll feel the relief of knowing what hurts, where it hurts and what can be done about it.

As for the rest, it won’t be so easy, but she can take heart knowing her job as translator and fixer is limited by design.

I credit my father for teaching me this years before parenthood was on my horizon. I came to him over some drama of my own relating to a soured friendship, to which he responded: “Friends will come in and out of your life, but your mother and I will always be here.”

It was a rather shocking idea back when my main goal was to distance myself from my parents, but one I never forgot.

There will be days my new-mommy friend will be able to reach into her medicine cabinet, pick out a neon-colored bandage and fix the boo-boo.

Other times, listening through the sadness will be all that’s necessary, or possible, to soothe the hurt.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and husband Troy are parents to five children. She also has a blog, www.areavoices.com/peacegarden