The First Time It Clicked
"When you get stressed, I get stressed."
That’s what her tiny mouth said to me. The mouth that still has more baby teeth than adult ones.
She said it as her little feet were submerged in a tub of warm, swirling water, her body scooted forward on the leather chair – the kind that would later make her shake with giggles as it massaged her back – just so she could reach the soothing foot bath. She said it to me weeks ago, her freckled face completely matter-of-fact, more matter-of-fact than eight-year-olds tend to be.
More matter-of-fact, in fact, than she’d ever been with me. And that brief moment is locked in my brain, leaving a sour but somehow magical memory of the first time it clicked with me.
It was a simple enough day. A Saturday. We did normal Saturday stuff before me and my two daughters went to meet my mom for pedicures, a periodic indulgence that we usually find time for when the invite arrives. We made appointments, and agreed to meet at our “normal place.”
Except, I’m horrible with directions or really knowing where things are. After following directions to get to a place, I almost always have to google how to get out. Or, ask my daughter which way we turned to get there. I just wasn’t really born with an internal compass.
So, I was turned around. I checked every corner of the intersection, driving through lots and quietly cursing the fact that every intersection looked the same in our city. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find the “normal place,” until I realize I’d been told the wrong intersection. That’s pretty crucial.
Problem solved. Air cleared. We were late, but we found the place. That minute-or-so of confused stress was gone.
“Ah,” I exhaled as I looked over at my youngest, my feet being massaged by water jets. “Aren’t you so relaxed?”
And, that’s when she shook her head. I made some dorky joke about the potential source of her stress, and that’s when she enlightened me.
Gut punch. Yeah, she feels everything. Every kid does. Even when we think they aren’t watching or hearing or seeing. They are and they feel it. Even if they don’t talk about it. I've always known that, like the concept, but now I really knew it.
Maybe that’s why that perfectly plain, but emotionally explosive sentence struck me the way it did. Because, I know there are other times that she, and her siblings, felt the stress that I was enduring.
While it was always my goal to shield them from all the ugly things, an intangible, stressful energy isn’t really something I could shove under a layer of socks, and tuck away at the back of a drawer. There were days with tears, and frustration and fear, especially the day I was told my home would go to auction. This is what happens when things change, permanently.
She overheard that call. She saw my defeat. And, she walked up to me, her two hands outstretched holding everything she could shake out of her piggy bank.
“Here,” she said, coming in for a hug. “You can use this.”
While that didn’t help me stop crying – at all – it did remind me that they know. They always know more than we think they know. Her saying the words more than a year after the piggy bank exchange, giving them to me as plainly as I needed to hear them in that moment, anchored that lesson with me.
They feel us. And, we’re not perfect. But we can be aware. They feel us when we worry, when we argue, when we mourn, when we’re confused, when we’re scared and when we’re just done. And most times they won't say anything.
They feel how people talk to us and how they treat us, and they feel how we respond – in good and bad exchanges. And now that life is better, I’m holding onto that knowledge, that they feel the good, too.
And when they feel the bad, we can tell them everything will be okay, even if we don’t know in that moment that it will. Or how it will.
I knew I’d find the nail salon. It was just one of those moments of frustration that everyone experiences. Like, all the time.
Looking at her wrinkled dollars and orphaned nickel, I didn’t know in that moment how it would be okay. I couldn’t see it. But, I knew it would be. And it is. It’s better than okay. It’s just plain better. Way better.
But, carrying the weight of that moment in that moment was beyond me knowing how to get there. I guess, they don’t really need to know how things will get fixed. They just need to hear that they will. I mean, that's what I'm guessing, since I'm no pro.
So, next time I’m lost, I’ll let them know I’m asking for directions.