I can count on one hand the number of times in his entire almost-six-years my son has cried like this.
It took me a second to jolt out of my Family Movie Night, room-darkened, popcorn coma to realize he wasn't kidding. He climbed onto my lap, buried his face in my neck, and cried and cried and cried.
He begged us to turn off the movie. Insisted, over and over, that he didn't want to watch another minute, and please could we just go upstairs to read stories.
Were we watching Old Yeller, at the bit where the dog dies? Nope. Were we watching Finding Nemo, at the bit where Nemo gets flushed down into the sewer? We were not. Were we watching the super scary part in Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker battles both Darth Vader AND the Emperor, the part that still makes me pee my pants a little? NO.
Ramona and Beezus. That's what we were screening tonight. A fun family film, so innocuous that even Focus on the Family couldn't find fault.
But here's the thing: when I realized what was breaking my son's heart, it broke mine too.
Ramona, the middle sister in a family of 5 had decided she wasn't important in the family any more and was running away. Her mother, being the reasonable and clever parent that all movie moms are, had helped her pack, including one of Daddy's sweaters, "you know, since you'll be gone forever." The movie then pans over Ramona trudging through Portland neighborhoods, dragging a heavy-ass suitcase.
We hadn't gotten to the part where the family finds her, and insists they could never live without her. Lars really thought Ramona had left her family forever.
It is heart-shattering, to feel emotion that strongly. I watched the storm of sadness, identification, empathy and confusion pass over my boy's face and felt it as viscerally as watching a hurricane on the Atlantic coast. Raw emotion, with no filters. Just a child, knowing the hurts of another child.
In those few moments, before I was able to calm him to explain what might happen next, to reassure that really sweetie, I promise she's not headed for a life of prostitution, I felt I'd seen right to the bottom of the human heart. To the dark places in all of us that want to yell Turn it off! Turn it OFF! I just don't wanna feel that anymore!
Emotions aren't comfortable. But the only way through them is to live them. Just like a five year old.