Monday, January 30, 2012

The Balancing Act I Do

She came home from school in a mood the other day. She cried a little too easily, got a little too irritated with things, her feelings all on the outside. This is the flip side of that shiny coin of intensity that makes her so bright, so funny, so cheerful and magnanimous. These are the darker sides of those very same traits.

"What's wrong, baby? Why are you so sad? Did something happen at school today?"
"No. I'm fine." A stomp, and a swirl of skirts. Clearly she's fine.
"OK. Let me know if you want to talk about it." She doesn't want to talk about it. She's fine. I don't want to push it, I'm vigilant.

Another outburst. Screaming, sobbing over Legos. "Honey, take a  deep breath. This seems a little extreme."
Deep breath in, and on the exhale it all comes tumbling out: "Mama! Abby had such a rough day at school today and I felt so bad for her and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt bad. It made me grumpy and Hannah didn't care. I wanted Hannah to feel bad too, so I snapped at her. I know I shouldn't have done that and now I feel awful. I feel like she shouldn't even want to be my friend." This is between sobs and wails and deep breaths and nose blows. I hand her a tissue and wonder where to begin.

"Tell me about Abby's bad day." A tale of second grade woe: forgotten homework, a good student finding herself in a "bad" position, embarrassed. My jBird feels her pain keenly. These things are important. She knows how she would feel in the same spot and it bothers her.
"Is Abby OK now?" Abby got over it. She is, after all, seven. There are faeries to imagine, math problems to do, butterflies to chase. I choose my words carefully for once. It's a balancing act I do.

"One of the things I love best about you is your great big heart. You care about people. You understand that people are hurting and that bothers you. That's called empathy and it's a good thing to have." This prompts more wails from her.

We both take deep breaths and carry on. "Do you think Abby is still crying over her forgotten homework? But you are still crying for her. What do you think about that?" This is where it gets treacherous for me. One toe out of place, one false start... the balancing act I do.

"I think it's kind of silly." She heaves.
"Well, I don't know if I'd call it silly. It's not silly to care about people. That's important. It's also important to care about yourself, though."
"I do care about myself!" She does, too.
"I know you do, sweetie. But part of how we learn to care about ourselves is to not give too much of our hearts away." I can speak with authority on this subject. "It's nice that it touches you, but does it need to touch you that deeply for the rest of the day? Some things are worth all of this emotional energy, some things are not. For the things that are not, you need to take care of yourself by learning to guard your heart a little bit. You have to choose what will be a big deal, what will be sad, but not that big a deal." It is not my place to tell her what is a big deal and what isn't. The big deals of seven-year-olds frequently go unnoticed by adults. I remember this right now. There are many days that I don't remember this and dismiss her and tell her to stop yelling at her brother. This is the balancing act I do.

"How do I do it, Mom? How do I guard my heart? I can't help what I feel." Ahh. Busted. Therein lies the rub, doesn't it? How, indeed? I am still learning this. I fail at this miserably. But now I must explain what I know, but not what I always do. This is the balancing act I do.

"Well, your feelings come. They are automatic. They are essentially chemical reactions in your brain to a situation." I can talk like this to her. She's used to it. "We can't help those, they just happen. What we can help is what we do with them. It's up to you what labels you give them: anger, fear, sadness, love. Does that make sense?" It does. We've talked about this before.

"Oh! It's like the train coming into the station, right? I don't have to get on?" Yes, it's exactly like that. "But sometimes I forget and I'm on the train before I realize it." She loves a metaphor as much as her Mama does.

"Yes, that happens. We all do that. But you can choose to get off, apologize if you need to. Forgive yourself and move on." These are words that I say to her. I think she knows I don't fully understand them. I wait. She blows her nose.

"Sometimes I can't forgive myself." Her voice is small and tired and I blow my nose, because I know. This strange heredity that keeps me up at night. Did she just come that way? Something in my DNA that passed on to her like alcoholism or depression? Or have I taught her this through my actions? Both are terrifying and I find them unforgivable. You see why this is tricky for me. This is the balancing act I do.

She crawls on my lap, all long legs and angles where baby pudge used to be. She buries her head in my chest like she's done since her first hour on earth. We quietly sit and cry together over the things we can't forgive. I don't have practical answers for her. I have only my fear and my forgiveness and my love for her.

"We'll work on this together, OK?"

27 comments:

  1. She sounds like an adorable, tender hearted, old souled little 7 year old. I love her!!

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    1. Thank you, Judy. She is all of those things and more. I am constantly amazed by her.

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  2. I think you handled it very well .. that balancing act you do.

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    1. Thank you. I think I handled it well... that time. Sometimes the balancing act fails and I fall spectacularly, or I forget to even try. It's unrelenting, this parenting thing.

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  3. Oh, that is so hard to learn. Lucky for her, she has a wise mamma who can help her along!

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    1. Sometimes she has a wise Mama. Sometimes she has a tired Mama who yells.

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  4. "Sometimes I can't forgive myself." Her voice is small and tired and I blow my nose, because I know.

    And now I'm blowing MY nose because I know.

    I nodded and nodded and winced and nodded through this entire post.

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    1. I had the exact same reaction. I think children are fortunate when their parents understand them, and more importantly accept them. That's all one can ask for. Excellent guidance helps too, though.

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    2. Thanks ladies. It's always amazing to me to find the common things that we all share. I have a conversation with my daughter, write about it, and then I suddenly am connected to people all over the place who understand why that conversation means something. It's enriching and reassuring.
      Cdnkaro - I agree, acceptance is so important. I fear I have a harder time with that than I should sometimes.

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  5. That brought tears to my eyes. You both sound lovely.

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    1. Thank you, I really appreciate your kind words.

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  6. You're a fantastic mom and a wonderful writer.
    Your jBird is beautiful and very, very fortunate. <3

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    1. You are kind to say so. She is indeed beautiful. I'm the fortunate one to have been graced with this magical little person.

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  7. Your daughter has an incredible heart and passing this on to her by DNA or example is a gift. There is nothing as amazing as a mother willing to lay her flaws and gifts out to her children for their benefit.
    I teared up when she said she couldn't forgive herself sometimes. It's a place I've been many times. Sometimes it's harder to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others. Lori is right you are a wonderful mother with an amazing little girl. Pretty good balancing imho

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    1. I am with you, I can forgive someone else anything. Not so much myself. When she said that, I vowed to work on my own self-forgiveness so that she could see it in action. That's what they really learn from.

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  8. It's so hard to see them hurt and harder still when we see so much of ourselves in them. I think jBird has an amazing gift in a mom who has such a way with words (and hearts).

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    1. Wow. Thank you. I wish I could remember that way with words (besides "Knock it off!") more often.

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  9. I'm with MM here - it is so hard to see yourself in your offspring. I've been known to apologize to both of my children but especially to Sonny Boy. He has always had too much of me in him for his own good.....He tells me he is happy with ALL that he got from me. Wait til he has his own kids.
    I have always been one like your jBird who feels too much - and so is Sonny Boy. I would see it in his face when someone else was hurting and it made me sad that he couldn't "guard his heart" more. But then neither could I.

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    1. I have not mastered the art of heart guarding, either. It's rough, but I think our kids have a better chance of it. I also try to remind myself that even though they have traits that are similar to mine, they are actually their traits that they will deal with in their own ways.

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  10. I'm mentally sending you a balancing act kit. Enclosed, please find one umbrella, a unicycle, a very long pole, an acrobatic body in case you've always wanted one, a leotard and metaphors galore. Handle with care...they're for special people.

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    1. Oh! Thank you! I really need a new leotard!

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  11. Even if having a big heart can hurt from time to time, it is, in my opinion, a wonderful thing to have.

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    1. This is the conclusion I have come to, as well. I'd rather hurt sometimes than be cold all the time. It's just hard to see my wee girl hurt, but I know it's just one of those side effects of living.

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  12. That's the thing about communication, open and sincere, from an early age. Even if a child doesn't fully capture the concept on the first go around, there is always the second and the third, and a child's mind sorts and classifies. There is so much overlapping, that the pieces of the jigsaw begin to fill in the picture. And then the little mind completes the mosaic on her own, choosing a path that may or may not mirror that of Mom/Dad. All a mom/dad can do is listen and respond accordingly. A very poignant piece of writing.

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    1. Thank you, Mark. You have so eloquently summed up a large part of my parenting philosophy. I don't understand the notion of treating children like idiots - loud, baby talk voices, inane entertainment, etc. - when they are little sentient beings. No, they don't understand everything, but like you say, I believe if you just layer it on they will eventually get it and use it the way they see fit. But what do I know, really? I'm relatively new at this parenting thing and somewhat insane.

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  13. Sounds like your little Jbird is lucky to have you!

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    1. Thank you. I believe I am the lucky one in that situation.

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