A Story About Story


In my last post, I mentioned a story I wanted to tell. It’s a story about Story.

About a week ago, Story had a huge crying meltdown that lasted for a while due to her disappointment over not getting to play Nerf football in the rec room with the boys during a break from homeschool. Evidently, Story had been planning to take her break when they did so she could play with them, but none of us knew that. I knew the boys really wanted some time to play by themselves, so that is what I decided should happen.

When Story has an emotional response like she had that day, my typical response is simply to get her to stop or send her away to her room until she can have self-control and stop being upset. What is not typical is for me to try to engage with her about her feelings or to acknowledge that I understand how she’s feeling. I just want to stop the feelings. I feel nothing and I want her to feel nothing.

I did not feel moved to compassion in that moment, not even a tiny bit. I think I should feel compassion, and I don’t think I should have to try to feel it - I just want it to be there for me to access when the situation calls for it. But what do I do if it’s not?

I am grateful that I didn’t blow up or act angry or be mean toward Story during this episode, but there was still very little I offered her in the way of emotional nurturance. Now that I have the Holy Spirit, and Mr. Rogers, I think I might be able to progress past neutral territory into something new.

While Story was back in her room trying to calm down, I took a few minutes to sit outside in the sun and pray. Then I went to her room, where she still sat crying, and tried to be a tiny bit more encouraging and engaging. I sat on the edge of her bed, not even sure what to say. But then Story asked me to sing “It’s You I Like,” so it was obvious to me in that moment that she craves my affection.

After having that moment of connection with Story by singing the first few lines of the song, I made myself learn the rest of the song by heart so I could sing it to her each night before bed. It is a miracle how these words are changing my heart.

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A few days ago I was journaling on these lines from Running on Empty:

“Looking at emotional health through the lens of attachment theory, we can identify three essential emotional skills in parents:

1) The parent feels an emotional connection to the child.”

I didn’t write down the other two skills just then because I needed to think about this one first. I asked myself a bunch of questions: On the day of Story’s meltdown, why did I not feel this emotional connection that I think a mother should feel? Am I such a machine that I’ve literally shut down those places inside of me? And what do I do in the meantime? Or what if I never feel it as easily or naturally as I wish for? What if this is something I carry bravely instead of asking my children to carry it for me?

For now, a few things are saving me:

1-The listening ear of TJ. I process very little with TJ on the swirling thoughts in my head about these types of emotion-related things, but I’m starting to trust him with my story and lean on his strength and ask for his wisdom.

2-A couple close friends that I know love me and love my children. I know they are praying for me and cheering me on. They let me tell them stories and they are the ones who would pick up the three hundred pound phone on the day I need to talk.

3-Obviously, the Mr. Rogers’ song. I have already noticed that singing “It’s You I Like” to Story is one way to feel something positive toward her. I don’t know if I would call it compassion as much as the feeling of my heart not being a cold hard stone but having a little warmth and a little life. More than an intention, it is a seed of feeling, a beginning at last.

4-Maybe not so obviously, but #4 is my child self. I also realized through journaling that in a moment of frustration or annoyance or lack of feeling toward a child, if I can look at the child in front of me as if I am looking at Little Ginger (myself as a child), I can feel what I think I would truly call compassion. I find it interesting that I would feel compassion for myself as a little child before I would feel compassion for my own children, but I am not being picky about where I find compassion these days.

My prayer, again and again, lately is from Isaiah 6: That I would have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand, and that I would turn and be healed.

We pay attention, listen, open our hearts. How could those be enough?...Everything slows down when we stop trying to fix the unfixable. We end up looking into other people’s eyes...This connections slips past the armor like water past stones. Being slow and softened, even for a few minutes or seconds, gives sneaky grace the chance to enter.
— Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway