“The cow runs away from the storm while the buffalo charges directly toward it — and gets through it quicker.” ~Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation
I’ve been walking the kids to the park on the mornings when its cool enough. There’s a good amount of shade over the picnic table in the corner, which Penelope noticed. “Mama, can we bring our sandwiches tomorrow, so we can have lunch here?”
The next morning I packed them each their favorite sandwiches: hummus for Ciro, and cashew butter and jelly for Penelope. When it was time for lunch I reached for Penelope’s sandwich – but it was gone. As in, *poof!* vanished into thin air.
My mind started racing about where the heck her sandwich could have run off to, but after a little more searching I found it under a pile of playground wood chips. I looked over at Ciro, who loves digging and burying things, and it all made sense.
When Penelope saw her sandwich her face dropped. I didn’t tell her the truth of what I knew had happened, mainly because I didn’t want her getting angry with her toddler brother for something I know he didn’t purposely do. My white lie was that it fell out of the stroller. “I’m sorry, baby. We’ll have to go back home to eat lunch today.”
Cue the waterworks.
It’s not easy listening to a child cry. If it’s someone else’s child, you’ll probably go from mildly annoyed to OMG PLEASE MAKE IT STOP BEFORE I POKE MY OWN EYEBALLS OUT WITH THESE PLAYGROUND WOODCHIPS, depending on how long the episode ensues. If it’s your own child, you feel the same, but toss on top of that the pain of hearing your child’s heart break, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the reason.
Here’s the thing: it’s just a sandwich. We’d be home after a ten-minute walk and I ‘d make her a new one. Sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to explain that it’s not important, make her stop crying, help her get over it.
But on the days I can find patience, I don’t. Instead, I give her space to let her feelings out. I try to hold back from telling her to stop crying. Instead, I let her have a good cry and get to the other side of those feelings.
Today’s sandwich is tomorrow’s friendship woe, broken heart, job loss, or other major disappointment. It’s not my job as a parent to jump in, fix it, and make it go away. Or push it away, or make her feel shame for feeling this way. It’s my job to stay with her, acknowledge the mess, help her wade through those crappy feelings on her own, and on my best days, to do so with kindness and grace. To show her these big feelings are like clouds, raining while here, but ever-changing with the winds. The storm will pass. My job is to let her learn what it feels like to go through.
She is a force, this child. Confident and sociable, she has a genuine love for and curiosity about people. She remembers things – all the things – and has no shame in using her voice and asking for what she wants. Imagine all the wonderful qualities of a child. My child. Your child. You. Imagine she can learn to identify – and sit with – her feelings?
If I can teach her to work through the little problems, let herself feel things and get to the other side of those feelings, I am betting it will give her the tools to better work through the big ones that life will throw at her. Maybe she’ll even be kind to herself, not stuff her feelings down, or pick up an unhealthy habit to deal with it instead. Maybe she’ll set a healthy example for her buried-treasure-loving little brother to follow. At least, that’s the hope.
Because she’s not supposed to get over it. She’s not supposed to run away from it. She’s supposed to face it, feel it, and go through it. And know that she will be just fine.