Fix You

According to the stereotype, men are fixers. They tell you what you should do before you even think to ask for advice. They are ready with a solution before you've fully articulated the problem.

Etc. Etc.

I admit, I've found this to be somewhat true.

But if men can sometimes be the Air Force of fixing, streaking across the sky searching for large scale targets, women - especially moms -  are often like some stealth force from the Navy, the submarines of fixing. We lurk beneath the surface, nearly invisible but constantly ready for the first sign of a threat to our loved one's happiness. We move in, quietly smooth things over as best we can and then disappear again beneath the water.

Do we all, on some level, want our loved ones to always be happy, safe, content? How can we sit by and watch hard feelings unfold without, on some level, wanting to FIX IT NOW.

When Z was a baby, her cry sounded like a constant alarm going off inside my skull and all I could think was FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT. Today, a baby's needs seem so tangible and fixable - a wet diaper, a hungry belly, a tired baby - but I remember there were many times when there seemed to be no clear solution and all I could do was sit (or stand or rock or walk) with her in my arms and listen to the useless chorus in my head, somehow audible above the crying, FIXITFIXITFIXITFIXIT.

Six years later, I still battle that mantra. Z is struggling to adjust to first grade, her new school, riding the bus, all of it, and I want so much to help her. I feel that same old desperation to FIX IT, though her needs are so different now, much less binary, much less clear. Now if by chance there is an obvious thing to fix, it's tempting to try, just to make it easier on all of us, even if making it easier comes at the cost of her learning an important lesson.

Z had a play date on Saturday with a new friend from school. That morning, she decided she NEEDED to find a little plastic flip flop key chain to show to her friend or the day would be ruined. This particularly Beloved Item of Desperation (for it was only one in a long time of things that must be found NOW OR THE WORLD WILL END) had not been seen for some time. As the hour of the play date approached and with Z still carrying on loudly and at length with impressive stamina and lung power,  CG and I wound up discussing the relative merits of zipping out to buy another of these plastic doohickies and clandestinely putting it in her path. OH LOOKY! IT'S RIGHT HERE! ALL BETTER NOW!


In the end, we didn't buy another flip-flop key chain. But just the fact that we entertained the idea shows just how much power we give to the fluctuating emotional state of our older daughter.

Instead, I sat down with her and told her that I could see how sad she was, how much she really wanted to find this flip flop and show it to her friend. I asked her if she was nervous about hosting this new friend and had her come up with ideas to make her feel welcome that had nothing to do with a key-chain. Mostly I voiced many variations on the theme of: It's okay to be sad. I can see how disappointed you are and I'm here to give you a hug and let you be sad.

Feeling empathy for her is easy for me. Getting down on her level and really engaging in the act of being empathetic - sitting with her sadness and frustration, without giving advice or feeling motivation to FIX IT - is another.

Her emotions can get big and scary and seemingly out of proportion. It's tempting to try to argue her down, show her the facts, convince her it's really not that bad lest she spin out into some outer space of upset. I fight this urge and work very hard to not give any advice until she's calmed down and open to it.

It's not easy.

I did eventually, after her tears were mostly gone and her breathing had slowed, challenge her 6 year old logic with the radical thought that her new friend was not coming over to play with a plastic flip flop key chain but with a fun, funny, fabulous friend. 

Did I give her too much time to cry? Was I allowing her to wallow in her sadness too much? Or was I too heavy-handed in my advice? Did I allow her feelings enough space while still helping her move through them with the benefit of some outside perspective?

I really don't know.

At the end of the day it comes down to this: I fight the urge to fix her, whether with overt advice or submarine key-chain buying, because I don't ever want her to feel broken.

It's okay to be sad.

(I think.)


Ding Dong!

Saturday morning, over breakfast.

"What are we doing this afternoon, Mommy?"

"Well, you're going to hang out with Daddy because I'm going to volunteer for -------. I'll be knocking on people's doors asking if they are supporting him. If you want to know the truth, I'm pretty nervous about it."


"Because I have a hard time talking to new people. I don't know what to say and I think about it too much and by the time I've figured out what to say, I think they are looking at me funny and then I start sweating and then I say something too silly or too fast and then I feel bad about myself."

"So why are you doing it?"

GOOD QUESTION. "Because I believe in ------, and this is going to be a tight election, especially in our state. I want to feel like I've done all I can to support him."

"You'll do great Mommy. I know how it feels to feel shy. Just take a deep breath."

"Thanks, sweatheart. Will do."


On Saturday afternoon, I went canvassing in a neighborhood not too far from my own, ringing doorbells and talking to people I don't know. ABOUT POLITICS.

Ding Dong! It's your socially awkward neighborhood canvasser!

It probably goes without saying at this point but this kind of activity is officially WAY outside the long term parking lot of the airport near my comfort zone. 

I am surprised to say that though I sweated and trembled throughout the two hours that I canvassed, it wasn't totally awful. When I didn't think too much about what I was doing, the adrenaline was almost energizing, even when people were less than thrilled by my appearance on their doorstep.

I felt proud and, though I wouldn't claim that I changed anyone's mind (I clearly DIDN'T), it was also clear I was doing something I believed in.

Even more surprising: talking to new people is apparently a habit that one can learn.  (WHO KNEW?) It got easier as I went along and when CG and I went out for dinner that night, I carried myself differently, a little more confidently. I wondered if I would run into anyone I had talked to that day and instead of feeling nervous about that, I actually felt more open, more confident.

Yeah, I don't pretend to understand how that works.

Sunday, at an outdoor art festival, instead of lurking around the art trying to check it out without having to engage the artist in awkward pleasantries, which is my usual M.O., I actually found myself enjoying talking with artists about their work. I wasn't trying to convince them to vote for anyone! It was positively PLEASANT.


Saturday night, bedtime.

"Mom? What will happen if the other guy gets elected? Will we get hurt? Will we have to leave the country?"

"What? No. NO. We will NOT have to leave the country. We will be just fine. One of the very cool things about our country is that elections happen and the losers are good sports and no one gets hurt or has to leave the country."

"Then why is it so important to you that people vote for -------?"

"I agree with a lot of his ideas and policies. I think there are a lot of hard decisions to be made but, in my mind, his ideas are the most fair, the most just and the most likely to work for most people."

"Okay. Can I walk with you next time, Mommy?"

"Um... next time?"


About yesterday

Yesterday, when Z came home from school, she told me about a friend who wet her pants and another whose "bee got turned upside down" which is, apparently, a very very bad thing. But she didn't mention anything about planes or terrorists or anything.

She didn't mention anything about September 11th

It occurred to me yesterday morning, after she had left for school, that she might hear about what happened 11 years ago. That someone might say something, a classmate, her teacher or maybe there'd even be a lesson on it, who knows. This is first grade. This is public school. This is new territory.

This is the real world.

But if anybody said anything, she didn't mention it yesterday afternoon, and I think she would have, she's that kind of kid. My sensitive girl would have asked me what it meant, why it happened, if it could happen again.

As a sensitive mother of a sensitive child, I shelter her. We don't watch the news. We don't listen to NPR when she's around. I cover any scary photos on the front page of the newspaper. She and her three year old sister watch the same TV shows; she only recently stopped leaving the room when Swiper appears to momentarily disrupt Dora's plans. While many of her fellow six year olds have watched Star Wars and High School Musical and Beetlejuice, she skips animated Disney movies for fear of "bad people" and "scary stuff."

That's fine. She doesn't want to see it and I don't really want her to see it.  I want her to have a childhood, to really be a kid, for as long as possible. This "getting older younger" stuff? SUCKS.

But what about when the scary stuff is real? She will need to learn about these things someday and if it's not from us, who knows what she'll hear from other kids.

How can I explain September 11th to her? Ever?

The truth is, whenever she hears about it, however old she is, it will be a difficult and sad conversation.

I'm just glad she may have another year to mature before we have that conversation.


Week Two

When she got off the bus yesterday afternoon, I was only halfway to the bus stop. Her little sister had napped and insisted, in that indignant-three-year-old-post-nap way, on walking at her own pace so we were a little bit late. I saw the bus pull away and heard her friends cooing "It's okay, she'll be here soon."

I quickened my pace and she came into view.

Her face.

She thought I had forgotten her.

Her frown turned into a smile when she finally saw me but before we could talk about it, her friends were making plans to play and invited her. She turned to me, hopeful.

Unlike last week I said yes, she could play.  Maybe it was guilt that she had felt forgotten at the bus stop. Maybe I was thinking that she could handle it, this time, this week, even thought it's only the second week of full day school and I knew without thinking about it that she was still adjusting, still struggling to hold it all together at school all day.

They came to our house and took over our basement in an American Girl overload.  For awhile they were bossing each other around, no one really listening, everyone trying to lead.

Then it became clear that one of them wasn't handling these disagreements so well. 

She was shouting "No!" a lot and sounding more and more aggrieved so I intervened and that's when it happened. She started yelling at me, that she hated me, that I was the worst mother ever, that she would never ever forgive me if I sent her friends home.

She was wild, eyes unfocused, limbs thrashing. I tried to grab hold of her arms, to get her look at me but she was too far gone. Her friends stood still and stared at the ground.

I quietly walked her friends to the door, ignoring her wails in the background. I apologized for it ending badly and thanked them for coming.

Then I took a breath and turned back toward her.

I was embarrassed. I was scared for her. This scene had played into every one of my fears and triggers. I wanted to stop her behavior. I wanted to control it. I wanted her to calm down NOW.

And I could do none of that.

I let her wail some more, invited her to the calm down corner, talked and hugged and talked some more about how she was feeling.

That night, we role-played how to handle frustration and disagreement with friends. We talked at length about strategies for coping with anger and sadness. She knows it all. She's got the tools. She's still learning how to use them. And I have to help her learn, to let her learn, in this messy, uncomfortable, two-steps forward-one-step-back way.

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