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.
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!
(FIX IT. FIXITFIXITFIXITFIXIT.)
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.