Catching the Moment

We were unloading the car after a shopping trip, and the boys got in a fight about who was going to carry what. The younger one wanted the bag with the toys. The older one already had it. I suggested that they switch halfway to the house. At the switching point the younger one got the bag, but some overflow from it ended up in his brother's hands. He was complaining about the injustice of it when we reached the steps, but I was out of fresh ideas at that point and anyhow, the deed was done. I couldn't fathom why he was so upset by a few yards of sidewalk and a plastic bag.

But I had no pressing business and his brother was immediately and totally engrossed in the new toy. So I took him in my lap, commenting that I noticed how upset he was about the bag--and he burst into tears.

It's always easier for me to listen to a child crying than a child complaining. At least it feels as if something useful is happening. Even if I don't understand exactly what is going on, I have this image of pressure being released, of pus being drained away from a wound. It feels healthy.

So he cried and I kept talking to him, trying to get closer to what was really hurting. I called to mind everything I knew about him, and used the intensity of his tears to gauge my accuracy. (It's like that children's game of guiding someone to a hidden object by telling them how cold or hot they are: "You're freezing cold... you're getting warmer... colder... warmer again...warmer... HOT!")

"You wanted to carry the bag and the toy?" (tears). It feels like things just don't go your way?" (more tears). It feels like your big brother gets what he wants and you don't?" (big nods and tears). "It feels like he's first? Like we put him first?" (convulsive sobs).

HOT! Here is the center of the hurt. I'm taken aback, and very sorry that this wonderful child feels that way, even for a minute. Yet I'm sure that this is the right thing for us at this moment. I hold him close and he cries and cries. He doesn't say a word, so I keep up both ends of the conversation. I talk about his part, about how hard it is to be the younger child, and my part, of how wonderful he is and how sorry I am he feels that way, and how much I love him.

Then he's done. Just as with a scraped knee, after a while the pain goes away. He's ready to check out this new purchase, and moves easily into play with his big brother.

Nobody is to blame, nothing must be corrected, nothing more needs to be said.

Lessons. Lessons. I'm always learning--and relearning--lessons. Things that seem little aren't little. Tears can heal. A wonderful opportunity may be at wait behind any free moment when we can choose to really pay attention.