My 7yo is, as they say, very sensitive. Her big eyes brim with tears as soon as a harsh word is landing her way. Conservatively speaking, she tears up 10 times a day.
Yesterday, after we got some food for lunch and sat down around a little table at Costco, my 7yo and soon to be 9yo had an elaborate discussion about hurt feelings.
My son loves putting ice cubes in his water. I had told my kids to not use ice cubes in their water, especially in winter, as it is not good for digestion. When my son got his free cups for water, he went to the beverage machine, put a generous amount of ice in both cups (one was for me), then set one of the cups down in the drain so that he could get water for the other cup. My 7yo saw all this, deduced two huge problems from what she saw, and started elucidating on this case of "what's wrong with this picture".
When my son came back with two cups of ice-cubed water and sat down next to her, the barrage of questions landed on him from my incredulous 7yo.
"Mom told you many times not to put ice in your water in winter time. Look at this! You put ice cubes in your water! And you even got her water with ice cubes! What were you thinking?"
My son shrugged his shoulders and started munching on his chicken bake.
"And you set the cup down in the drain! Now the outside of the cup is wet and dirty, and the cup could have tipped over. What were you thinking?" She questioned again.
"What's the big deal?" My son answered, and continued to chow down his food.
"Well, you should not be drinking iced water in winter time, it's not good for you!" She continued as she sipped on her smoothie.
"Well then you shouldn't be drinking a smoothie in winter either! That's cold too!" My son started to fight back.
She looked over to me for help, her eyes starting to shimmer a little. As an objective mediator I had to say, "that's true, your smoothie is blended with ice."
Two big tears emerged from the depth of her eyes and perched on her lashes precariously. "Nobody ever told me there's ice in a smoothie!"
"We make smoothies at home all the time and you know we put ice cubes in the smoothies."
"Well, you didn't tell me I couldn't drink a smoothie!" The tears fell, with fresh ones populating the empty spots immediately.
I cannot reproduce authentically the exchange that lasted afterwards for a good 10 minutes between my two younger children, while my 10yo sat next to me with her head buried in a book reading on, unperturbed by any of the drama that was unfolding around her. My 7yo's feelings were hurt, and she was expounding on how feelings are essential to the human species. I listened with lots of interest and intentions to help guide the conversation, and I tried to follow their exchange to the best of my abilities, but by minute 3, I was so baffled by the lack of logic from both sides that I had to retreat back into the role of an utterly and helplessly confused listener. Yet back and forth they went, each taking their turn without a pause, following the thread that seemed to make complete sense in their little bubble of sibling connection.
My 7yo mentioned words such as happy, sad, hurt, feelings, mommy, kisses, hug. My son at one point seemed to have suggested hugging mommy without feelings and with feelings at the same time.
When I couldn't take it anymore, I announced that I need to start shopping. My son had finished his chicken bake and iced water completely. My 7yo stood up, picked up her smoothie that she barely touched, said that she was done too, and walked away. When she came back empty-handed, I asked her if she had thrown away her smoothie, and she said yes.
"Why did you throw it away? If you didn't want it anymore, you could have given it to your brother!" I lamented the waste of the smoothie.
Big tears stood in my 7yo's eyes again. "Nobody ever told me they wanted it. I said I was done!"
I cannot fault her for the truth in her words. She might have stopped drinking it after realizing that the smoothie was blended with ice and it might not be good for her to drink in winter. Every time we question her action or intention, her world gets turned upside down. One minute she thinks she's doing the right thing, the next minute right turns wrong, and she can't handle that drama just yet. She also doesn't have a chill button on her. She's all in. She cares too much to let it go.
After dinner my husband suggested that we play cards, so we all sat down around the dinner table. There was a good football game going on, and my husband cared very much about the outcome of the game. The Cowboys, his arch enemy, must not win. For the first half of the card game, he left the football game on on the iPad. My 10yo and my son had both played flag football in the fall, so both of them were watching the game periodically with my husband. My 7yo was playing with a puzzle. My son was also practicing staring into space in between hands. The room was loud. Our dogs were circling our feet and my 10yo petted them constantly.
Everyone was very distracted by all that's happening simultaneously in the room. Suddenly my husband's voice rose dramatically: he was angry that the kids kept talking and ignored his shushing while he was trying to hear something on the screen. At that point he had switched to watching the game on his phone (when and why did he do that?), and the volume was fairly meagre in comparison to the ongoing chatters of the kids.
A discussion on doing one thing at a time ensued. I insisted that the issue at hand was because there was too much going on, and that he should watch his football game first, and then we play cards. He insisted that he could do both at the same time just perfectly, it is everyone else that was creating a problem, thank you very much. I suggested that he was creating tension for everyone by using an unnecessary pitch, he said that I was the one creating the tension by soliciting the kids' opinion on the matter. My 7yo, crying of course, told my husband that he was making her feel like she was in trouble and about to be sent upstairs to her room. My son started sobbing too, and confessed that he was indeed really stressed out now, enough already, let's just play cards. The pre-teen kept her cool and did not say a word. Finally, not seeing my husband back down from his insistence that he could multi-task perfectly and was in no way at fault in the current situation, I said, let's finish this round, and then I will stop playing cards because it is no longer enjoyable. That was taken as a threat. My husband was indignant that I used such low tactics, and started to comment on how I used to play cards with them, occupying 90% of me with other things, only sparing 10% of me in the card game, because that's all I needed to in order to play with them and beat them, that incompetent lot.
Very true, but not in this instance. Not at all. Just as abruptly as he started, he stopped pursuing that old hurt. We resumed our card game. The phone was turned off (it helps that the game ended). The toy was put away. And I did not walk away after that fateful round was over. We finished the game. My husband, calming down as the minutes ticked away, apologized 4 times: twice to all of us, and twice to me only. By the time we stood up from the card game, our hurt feelings were healed.
Lessons of the day:
Feelings are complicated. It is difficult to talk about feelings rationally, but we should not be afraid to talk about them, even if it doesn't make any sense at all. It is good to know from the mouth of a 7yo that feelings are essential to the human species.
Feelings can be drastically exaggerated in the heat of the moment. As such, they must not be equated to the worth of the human being whose feelings are hurt at that moment.
Old hurt feelings can surface at any moment without much of a notice, even if they are completely irrelevant to the current situation, logically speaking. Feelings are above logic, above our limited understanding of what they are and how they form.
Distractions create confusion, which can easily lead to hurt feelings. Focus on one thing at a time, and do not allow iPads, cellphones, and puzzles on the card table, no matter how much you think you can multi-task. Dogs are allowed though.
Apologies are not instant rice, instant noodles, or instant coffee. They take time to cook and brew, and they taste better on the tongue and sit better in the stomach when we take the time. So wait for them.
People can change. Not too long ago I would have been louder than my husband, angrier, storming off, licking my own wounds, pitying myself in utter frustration, and refusing to talk or apologize. But last night, I stayed, talked, and remained calm, until my husband apologized, 4 times. I'm NOT gloating at all. But I AM celebrating the fact that I saw the problem, addressed it as such, talked about it calmly, and used my words carefully, objectively. I held onto kindness in my heart the whole time. I WAS GOOD. I practiced non-violence.
Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the purchases I made at Costco yesterday was The Holy Bible. All 1116 pages of it, printed in the smallest font acceptable for reading. I've become more and more curious about this book. Google tells me that 3.9 billion copies of it have been sold in the last 50 years, claiming the top spot of any book ever sold to mankind by, let's just say, a distance that no other book could ever hope to catch up.
Clearly, God has been leading the way, and many, billions, have been listening and following. I feel like I've been missing out on this open secret. Back in college I had a brief encounter with a few American missionaries and almost got baptized accidentally in a bathtub, but I left and told them I would think about it. Today I'm still thinking about it. Everywhere I turn, everything I read these days, the word God seems to be everywhere, in every good person's life and heart. The word Jesus is on everyone's tongue, every single day. Sometimes His name is shortened to an affectionate Jeez. The words God and good are so close, and people often say, God is good.
In my search for GOOD I think I'll read about God. I think I'll join the throngs of people ahead of me and find out what lies in this book for me. Perhaps our journey would all eventually lead to the same place, a place of worship for something that makes this life worthy of all the hurt feelings.