Snow days are wonderful things. There is an inherent coziness and joy that cloak our house on such momentous occasions. There will be hot cocoa. There will be Lego movies. And there will, of course, be sledding. But the last snow day at our house was paired with wailing and a lot of despair, and my parenting skills were sorely lacking on how to deal with it.
The day began with the heady joy that snow-day mornings bring. At 6:45 a.m., Charlie was lurking at my bedside, pestering me about the whereabouts of his snowsuit. He chattered on about sledding through a hasty breakfast as I nodded and sleepily poured more coffee, but I honored his enthusiasm. Our sledding hill is under two blocks away, and he was excitedly planning to meet a few friends there. As far as I was concerned it seemed like a great way to get some fresh air and friendship—some good, clean fun. I helped stuff Charlie into eighteen layers of clothing and sent him off with a grin and a hug. Snow-day awesomeness.
He was back in fewer than ten minutes.
It was difficult, at first, to discern what had happened, but it seemed that his sledding had been cut short by a few other boys who were throwing chunks of ice at him.
“They wouldn’t stop!” he sobbed. “I asked them to stop, more than a few times, and they just . . . would not.” His eyes welled again, and the more he sobbed, the more his tears made him angry. This is a trait that is sadly quite often demonstrated in his mother as well. We fear tears, so we respond with our only antidote: rage.
“This is the only day I had for sledding!” he sobbed, lobbing his boots in the direction of the basket by the door. “And now I am so cold! And the ice really hurt! It hit my face! And . . . and they were my friends.”
He shivered, took a breath, and said his worst: “I hate them!”
I sat down on the floor in front of him and hugged him. I was quiet. There was no lecture about using the word “hate.” I didn’t attempt to see the other side of it, or walk a mile in anyone else’s snow boots, or recommend forgiveness. I just sat on the floor, in a growing puddle of boot slush, and kept quiet. I had to. It’s what I do when I have a lot to say but none of my words are remotely logical. I have learned that when my brain starts sputtering, it’s best to wait it out. For example, my logical brain would have offered some sage advice on turning the other cheek (Bible), walking away (also Bible), and defusing the situation with snarky humor (Dana, and maybe the Bible? I’ll have to look that one up).
I didn’t attempt to see the other side of it, or walk a mile in anyone else’s snow boots, or recommend forgiveness. I just sat on the floor, in a growing puddle of boot slush, and kept quiet.
However, sputtery Dana would have trounced all of this with a humdinger like: “Who are they?! I need names, addresses, Social Security numbers! I shall smite thee.”
This was a first for both of us. He felt betrayed and a little sore, and I felt . . . rage? Perhaps rage is too strong a word. I felt useless. And then that made me feel rage. And so on.
It’s times like these that I am very glad I am married to an engineer because my brain was out of logic, and Brian is full of that sort of stuff. As much as I wanted to help Charlie, in this situation I was clearly at a loss since I was still (inwardly) planning revenge on some ten-year-olds. We all know this isn’t a good idea, so, I called the husband to tag in, and I grimly stood back and listened. And he was brilliant—which is kind of annoying, if I’m totally honest. I should have taken notes or something.
Brian started out by just hugging on Charlie and telling him how sorry he was. And then be offered up a story from his own childhood that nearly matched the scenario Charlie had faced. In fact, later, I did ask him, “That story you told? Was it, perhaps, you know . . . maybe embellished a bit? For Charlie’s sake?”
He shook his head. “Nope. All true. I was bullied quite a lot as a kid. It sticks with you. But at least it helped me today.” So then I hugged Brian while also inwardly planning how to find names and addresses of these adults who once messed with my husband. It’s possible I have a small problem in the smiting department.
Brian finished by telling Charlie how proud he was that he had just left the situation and that he was able to walk home and express his feelings to us both, minus the throwing of the snow boots. Charlie sat quietly and nodded a few times, and I watched him closely. Was he all better? Was this all fixed? No. It wasn’t. And that was the point.
It all has to do with end results. Brian didn’t go into this arena looking for a win. I would have. I wanted, “And we all lived happily ever after!” because sometimes I’m emotionally tethered to my kids like a codependent balloon. We all know what happens to balloons, by the way.
I have tried to explain these feelings to my husband. “I just want everyone to be happy, all the time,” I stated. It didn’t seem unreasonable.
To this, he just blinked at me and said, “Well. That’s really impossible,” in a tone that basically said, “You’re sort of crazy, aren’t you?” Then he went on doing whatever he was doing, and I became decidedly unhappy with him.
Let me be clear: Brian does love me and our children. The man would sacrifice all that he has for our well-being, but he can do it with a lot less angst and worry because he’s able to understand that well-being does not necessarily mean happiness. This knowledge is very healthy, and enviable, and annoying, all at the same time.
Brian was able to speak clearly and empathetically with our son, whereas I would have been mired in how to fix our son. And then he gave Charlie one more hug. “Talk to us, okay? If this happens again? Because honestly, kid, it might. People are human, and sometimes they hurt us.”
I looked at Charlie and back to Brian.
“And, you can always pray about it. Not to necessarily to fix it all, ’cause sometimes that’s hard. But to help you heal, you know? In fact, let’s pray right now.”
I bowed my head and tried to focus, but I was distracted by Brian’s words. IF this happens again? I would have had a battle plan with Lord of the Rings proportions to ensure it didn’t happen again. But Brian finished the prayer, hugged Charlie again, and then offered to make us all some hot cocoa, and I offered to find the marshmallows.
This is why parenting is so much easier in a partnership, folks. When you’re on fumes, the other one can step in and Save the Day. Or, not. And how to accept that. I have been a parent for ten years. And I am still just learning (and will continue to do so, I am sure) that Saving the Day is for the comic books. It’s one of the toughest lessons I have ever had to tackle with this parenting gig, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I don’t get to graduate from this curriculum, and I bet, as my children grow into preteens and beyond, it’s only going to get more intensive.
This is daunting. The hurt behind the sledding incident was not because it was random bullying or just mean people being mean. It was about hurt feelings and fractured friendships. This hurt was relational because Charlie and these boys had been friends, and that was the first time (and surely not the last) for him. In many ways, it made it sting worse. Loyalty is hugely important to Charlie.
It is also hugely important to me. I wanted to take the pain on for him and just mend it all. But then I think about what Brian told Charlie, and I tell myself the same things:
- Feelings don’t have to be fixed. We can feel them and then move on.
- We’ve all been there.
- Pray. Always pray.
- Hot cocoa helps. Especially if there are marshmallows.