Have you been quietly, patiently waiting for the next season of This is Us to begin? Eagerly taking in the little bits and pieces they have released the past few weeks? I have a strong feeling it isn’t just me — goodness we have needed the Pearson family. I have thought about how a television show can resonate so strongly, so widely. My thought is so many can see a part of their story or even multiple stories within the narratives woven between the characters.
I was thrilled when Sterling K. Brown won an Emmy for his portrayal of Randall. While I didn’t get to watch it live, he posted a video later and his joy simply radiated. Beyond being happy he won, I was grateful for the episodes that were written for him as he unraveled — his brilliantly raw depiction of a grown, accomplished man breaking from all the weight on him, the weight of the world, that he shouldered since childhood. My gratitude was not simply admiration for his acting or the incredible writing, but something deeper…
I am raising a Randall.
One of my four-pack is a noticer of all the details, he takes everything in and catalogs it. He describes events and places by their smells, sounds, and tastes. Once when he was about preschool age, he vividly explained his feelings in color, it was simultaneously spectacular and unexpected, a resonating moment.
On Mondays when he has piano lessons, as his brothers eagerly anticipate playing in their piano teacher’s super fun basement while they wait their turn, he too cannot wait to join in the fun, but on his way up to their door will comment on the new flowers they planted or the porch swing being the perfect spot to watch the rain. He sees what the rest of us sometimes run past. His words bring the world to life.
It is truly a marvel, the way he sees the world, as if we stepped into Wonkaland where everything was dialed up a few notches — snozberries actually tasting like snozberries. He sees and feels in high definition, his awareness heightened. My sweet boy has a smile that lights his eyes, a sense of humor that sends us into fits of laughter, and a reserve of empathy far beyond his years. Upon arriving home from the school day, he can tell you who sat alone, who was upset, and who was kind, as typical observations.
For all of the beautiful ways I can describe him, there is the underside of being so in tune with the world around him. He feels big and deep, a physical component to his disappointment, almost as though words actually hurt him. His fears can seem irrational but are in line with his incredible imagination and insight beyond his years. He carries an underbelly of wounded anger, followed by shame and remorse after he lashes out in despair. He can be a case of extremes.
My son crashes up against the waves of anxiety.
And, remarkably, after forty-one years, I have finally come to understand that I do too.
A story my parents loved to tell was of my sleepless night before the first day of the school year, early in my elementary years. I was beside myself as our school supply lists distinctly mentioned having number two pencils. My pencils did not have this marking, and I was concerned, tossing, turning, and unable to sleep.
As a mother, I can hear this story and laugh at what seems to be a silly childhood moment, but as the child I remember wondering why no one seemed to understand why it was so important to me. I wanted to believe the marking didn’t matter, but I just could not rationalize it. I wanted to follow the rules and do what was asked of me. In the end my mom did buy me those number two pencils, but I still feel foolish for it.
I have come to understand through many years of not knowing what I was experiencing myself, that this heightened level of awareness, this fine tuning, has a beautiful gift hidden inside when you can understand its duality. The flipside of the worry, concern, an anxious thoughts is the ability to experience deep joy and resonating happiness. It is within those moments I feel freer than free, and I know my son does too, describing how it feels to finally be, even for a fleeting handful of minutes, airy and carefree. One summer he wore his good vibes only t-shirt almost daily in an attempt to keep the anxiety monsters at bay. I understand the feeling to just will it all away. To give anything to stay on the mountaintop of freedom, and when he is in this place, the wattage of his smile is incomparable, when his heart is free, his joy is immeasurable, when his mind is light, he lives within the full width of the moment.
When his yoke is easy to bear and his burden light (Matthew 11:30, NLT), he is fully alive.
It is why the scene from This Is Us wrecked me, reached off the screen to our hearts. We could feel the weight, the suffocation, the building intensity, and while all of the situations for Randall were very real, they were also not ultimately, solely his to bear. Yet being the responsible, highly achieving, father, son, husband, and brother he was, he tried to keep the burdens light of the ones he loved, and take it all on himself. This is the dangerous veil of anxiety, it transposes things, makes the ground shaky, blinds truths, chokes creativity, makes you question everything — you know you are more than capable and strong, but with anxiety you feel the vibe being put out is weakness, incompetence, helplessness.
In that extraordinary scene last season, we see Kevin drop everything, quite literally, and run to his brother. He sat with him and held him as he had not done before — not fixing, not blaming, not judging, not ignoring, just sitting with him and holding him, anchoring him. It was stunningly beautiful because it was love in action, a lifeline.
So just how do we hold an anxious child?
We open our hearts to understand that they didn’t ask to feel this way. We understand their inner turmoil in already feeling like they don’t fit in or are different from others. Children can sense this early on. And we realize they are already fighting all the giants. We don’t tell them not to worry, because they still will. We refrain from dismissing it, because they won’t. We open ourselves to a world of more than what we see.
We start by holding them and we listen, we really, truly listen, with eyes we haven’t used before.