As we drove home from the Children's Museum today, I amused myself comparing our family to different characters from Star Trek. I have a lot in common with Kathryn Janeway, particularly her appreciation for coffee (the finest organic suspension ever devised), love of spontaneous exploration (stopping to look at every insignificant little nebula or gaseous anomaly out there...), and a rather inconvenient conscience that focuses somewhat obsessively on my ideals.
I see Carlos as Captain Picard: extremely intelligent, well-spoken, a natural leader, interested in ancient civilizations and cultures. He has a lot of Spock, particularly in his reliance on logic and dry wit. There is also a bit of Commander Chakotay in him, and a rather striking physical resemblance there, too.
Joelito is harder to tell. Maybe Captian Kirk? He definitely has the charm, love of adventure and confidence at risk-taking (not to mention the occasional rule-breaking...). Elena is too small to say much, although I am reasonably sure that she is part Klingon (just try to take away something she wants and you'll be grateful that she doesn't swing a bat'leth).
Ariana, however, is unquestionably an empath. (She loves chocolate just as much as Deanna Troi, too). She soaks up the emotions of the people around her like a sponge. Even as a baby and toddler, she was remarkably attuned to other people's feelings. There are times when I delight in her sensitivity. Other times, like today, my heart breaks for her.
She had been looking forward to our trip for days. She counted down the time left every night. At first, she was enjoying it tremendously. Her abuelitos joined us, and we were having a great time exploring. She went through the store, chose her produce and ice cream and checked it out. We played on the spider web and then the playground. She was all smiles.
Then, in the archeology section, a little girl got in trouble and was given a time out. I am unaware of the offense that prompted it, but at least the parents weren't hitting her or screaming or being overtly cruel. The little girl began to cry, though, and Ariana grew more and more distressed until she was crying, too. We comforted her and moved to a different section, but to no avail. She stopped crying quickly, but was downcast for the rest of our time there. Every few minutes she would look at me with pain-filled eyes and whisper, "I want to go home".
How do you respond to something like that? When asked what was wrong, she just told me that she felt so sad for the little girl. I told her that I thought that the little girl was probably happy now and having fun. She was too scared to go back to the area we had left. For the rest of our time at the museum, she was sad.
Part of me wants her to develop callouses. To protect her heart and emotions more and be less sensitive. Yes, we have tried to teach and model caring and compassion for others, but we need some balance here! I've noticed at home that she will give in to whatever her siblings want rather than risk them getting upset. Even when it isn't verbalized, she has an acute awareness of the emotional climate around her.
I really need some help here, because I don't know what to do. If you or others that you are close to have that kind of exceptional sensitivity, how do you develop healthy boundaries or release the burdens that you take on from others? Are there any books you would recommend? I have always been naturally self-centered enough to distance myself when necessary, but she doesn't seem to have any protective mechanisms yet. I know that she has an amazing gift in her tenderness towards others, but how do we help nurture her so that she isn't torn to shreds because of it?