Tucking my 7yo A into bed tonight I was reminded of a Saturday we shared last summer, and a lesson it taught me.
It seemed like a fine day – we ran errands in the morning and played games and did art projects in the afternoon while the baby napped. But she was cranky. Quick to cry. Clingy and stand-offish at the same time.
And my gut response was to dismiss this annoying behavior. To roll my eyes behind her back. She’s a real pain today, I thought. Hmph. But then: full-blown meltdown. Screaming. Tears. Snot. I don’t even remember what set her off.
And as angry words hurled at me, something in my brain opened up and I didn’t see a demon child trying to make me miserable, which is how I usually see her when she acts this way. Instead, I saw a sad-sack little person in need. So I looked at her and said, “I think we should go and get Big Olaf.” Softening. A smile. Peace.
A couple of weeks before, at Target, we had seen this enormous stuffed Olaf. She wanted it in the way that 6yo girls want soft adorable things: fiercely. But I’m not one to just buy them stuff, so I told her that she could not have the big Olaf. She took it well, but in the following weeks she mentioned Olaf MANY times. And each time I said, “not today” or “maybe for Chanukah” or some such thing and though she still yearned for it, she was able to let it go. (Pun intended, heh.)
On that darkening Saturday I saw my little girl’s sadness and the only thing I could think to do was to drive to Target and get that big Olaf and darnit he was going to make it all better.
And he did.
I don’t know why she needed something special that day. Maybe she felt I was paying too much attention to the baby. Maybe she felt left out by JR and 9yo N who had gone somewhere together. She probably felt both – the classic middle child. Or maybe she was out of sorts because we were soon moving to a new house. I don’t know. But she was 6 and she needed some extra love. Buying her a $20-but-priceless Olaf, perhaps because I never ever buy her anything on a whim, turned out to be an expression of my love that she would hold in her little hands and truly feel.
Though it would seem that the moral of this story is “buy your kids stuff and they’ll shut up,” I assure you I learned something deeper. That day I was reminded that my kids speak in need code. They don’t look at me and say, “Mommy I’m feeling isolated and unsure of myself today.” When they are having an off day they mope or whine or fight. They test me. And it’s not to piss me off (usually)! It’s because they don’t know how to ask for what they need. And sometimes, in these situations, I need to put aside my huffy impatience and find within myself a big-Olaf-sized dose of love instead.