10 year-olds, developmentally, are supposed to be a rather cheerful lot.
That was not my experience on Saturday.
My day was spent driving Eleanor to a string of activities: horseback riding lessons; a skating birthday party; and pictures for her upcoming ballet recital. On paper the events stacked one neatly after the other. In reality it meant rush, leave, hurry, return, eat, change, go.
(As you roll your eyes and laugh at how over-scheduled the day was…trust me, I know. We will not be repeating that.)
At each of her three events nothing went perfectly, because in real life nothing ever does. The riding lesson? She wanted to stay longer–never mind that she’d already been graciously allowed an extra hour by her instructor. The birthday party? She forgot her brand-new roller blades and had to wear the decades-old rental ones. The ballet pictures? We arrived 15 minutes early to get changed, but there were girls there even earlier which meant she felt panicked and rushed.
To sum up the day from her perspective, each one of these was all my fault. All of them. All day long. Mother’s Day? That was so last weekend.
So Sunday morning, still in my pj’s, in the dark grey of dawn, I crawled under the covers with her. And we talked. About the difference between pain, the emotion you feel, and suffering, the story you tell.
Pain: For the girl who would sleep every night in the barn if she could, leaving her lessons is always a loss. Suffering: Mom always makes me leave before I want to go. It’s her fault.
Pain: For the girl who was so excited to try her new skates at the rink for the very first time, forgetting them at home was disappointing. Suffering: If Mom would’ve only reminded me, I’d have my skates. It’s her fault.
Pain: For the girl who was anxious to be dressed and make-uped and in line early, walking in and seeing the others turned her into an instant nervous wreck. Suffering: I’d be here and ready if only Mom hadn’t made us late. It’s her fault.
By the end of the day she was pretty much convinced (and I know this because she yelled it extra loudly to ensure that I, and the entire neighborhood, heard) that
- a) it was all my fault that nothing had gone right that day
- b) I never loved her to begin with and
- c) we actually never wanted her to be born into our family anyway.
It’s tough being 10.
It’s tough being 10+10+10+10+ a couple of 1’s.
Pain is hard for all of us. And when we are in pain, it is hard not to suffer.
We think the story we tell is a buffer, a way to protect ourselves. Because when we think “she always” or “he never” then we think it isn’t about us. But the secret ninja move of suffering is that while it looks like it is about someone else, it actually makes it about us even more.
Pain is a sentence. I feel _________. Suffering is chapter and verse. How I’ve been wronged. How it always happens to me. How if only fate didn’t conspire against me…It goes on and on and on. And that means it prolongs the pain. Instead of allowing the pain to well up and then flow away, suffering holds us under stagnant water.
Emotions are designed like an ocean wave: to build, wash through us, then recede.
But if we are stuck in suffering? We drown.
So Sunday morning Eleanor and I talked about stopping the stories. We talked about how, when it hurts, we can ask: what is my pain? and how am I suffering?
Do I think I’ll never be blamed again? Ha. This is real life parenting, not perfection. But I do hope that she’ll start to see how the stories we tell make things worse instead of better. That suffering grips pain too tightly. That it masks any joy—the trot of a horse, the celebration of a friend, the smile of a dancer. Saturday had some great moments. I hope, someday, she sees them.
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It’s tough being 1 or 10, or 10+10+10+ or – a bunch of 1’s. What stories do you tell? Are you suffering? How can you stop and see the joy? And if it feels too stuck? I’m always here. Hanging out in my office. Ready to talk about it with you (but I promise, not in my pj’s.)