We try hard to not mess up as parents, setting out with the best of intentions. The thing is we didn’t plan for the transitions and the way it all changes, as it should, after the switch from crawling to walking, preschool to backpacks and homework. The matrix gets simpler and infinitely more complicated at once.
It’s easy to miss an invitation to talk or a cry for help, like blink and you miss it easy. I’m not sure I’m getting any better at being ready for the quiet, “Mom, can we talk” questions. Between the very real effect of stress on my body and the equally real threat that they’ll stop turning to me, I have to figure out a way.
I found a quote early one morning as I searched for something for a client.
“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” Shannon L. Alder
I loved it, mostly because I can remember private messages, unexpected cards in the mail, and gentle smiles that found their way to me exactly when I needed them. It also seems that as we move through the election cycle the divisiveness creates a feeling of being alone, at least for me. I tucked the quote a way in my head to help me do more.
Briar and I were sitting in Sean’s truck after a whirlwind trip to the mall to find a last-minute replacement for Briar’s costume. Finley and Avery had already dashed upstairs ready to go from errands to playtime, and maybe to escape my post-mall frazzledness. I was gathering my wallet and phone and unbuckling my seatbelt when Briar said, “Mom, later on can I ask you about something?”
My throat caught. I try not to suffocate the girls with my propensity for leaping to the worst case scenario in my mind. “Sure, babe, in fact why not just ask me now? Your sisters aren’t here.” I set my things down and leaned back in the seat.
She took a breath. “It’s just that people kill people, and they hate, like really hate each other all over the world.” She stared ahead for a minute and then turned to me, “How can I help?”
My face flushed and I felt what has now become a familiar sensation of pride and heartache swirling together. Parenting has taught me about honesty and cushion, primarily that a lie will never offer an enduring buffer from pain, no matter how much I may want it to.
“Well, honey, this isn’t going to be a perfect answer, but in some ways I think just by asking me that you are helping. Your willingness to consider what is happening to other people and wanting to find a way to help when the situation doesn’t directly impact you is a sign of compassion and empathy.”
“Yes, but mom, it’s not fair. How can I be ok living and not helping?”
Another quote came to mind:
“The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” Susan Sontag
I pressed my lips together and trusted myself in spite of feeling like I am ill equipped to answer questions that I have myself. She watched me, her face still so much like it was when she was four, but her hair and posture reflecting the teenager she’ll soon be.
“It’s true we can only do so much, but we can do it every day with our whole heart. We have to start by being brave enough to say out loud what we believe, like the time you told the kids on the bus to stop teasing the girl about how much she weighed. That doesn’t seem like saving a life, but in that moment, on that bus, you were showing people that it wasn’t ok. You might have felt like they didn’t listen, but I bet your words stuck with them and with the kids who weren’t even teasing. When we show we aren’t afraid, others get a little bit more courage. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, thanks mom. Can I go up now?” I smiled and tousled her hair, “Go for it.” She had started the conversation and will probably come back to me for more at some point, but she was ready to be done.
I stayed in the car thinking about the opportunities that I have in life, with my kids and in the community. It can be scary to speak up and terrifying to think about all that is happening to people at the hands of other people. The conversation strengthened my resolve to do better and to care more.
We can all do that, can’t we?