What this time? I thought to myself, exasperated. My 5-year-old is having a hard time these days with her emotions. Tears seem to be a daily occurrence and the source usually has something to do with her older sister. They share a room, and while they get along famously and still play together on most days, they also get on each others’ nerves greatly; they both like to be in control.
I climbed the ladder to my daughter’s bunk and found her crumpled in the corner, wailing in misery as big crocodile tears ran down her face.
“What’s wrong, Sweet Girl?” I inquired at eye level.
Through heaving sobs, she managed to convey to me that her older sister had moved her babies’ crib out of the room and she wanted them to stay because she likes her babies to sleep in her room with her.
Assessing the situation before I uttered a word, I saw her twin doll babies lying at the foot of her bed, instead of situated in the monstrous double-decker crib, that as of a few moments ago, sat at the entrance of their bedroom, but now was nowhere to be found. The side-by-side double stroller that she’d been pushing throughout the house for the past few days was nowhere to be seen either. I questioned my older daughter with my eyes without uttering a word.
“There’s just not room in this small bedroom for all of your baby stuff and for both of us. I have to move the stroller from in front of my closet just so I can get dressed every day. And the crib is blocking the door from closing at night. They just have to go downstairs with the rest of our toys,” her big sister explained too her patiently.
Made sense to me. I didn’t need to intervene here, I told myself.
“It’s okay, babe. There’s no need to be upset. It’s not a big deal; we just need to move the baby stuff downstairs.”
As new tears rolled down her face, my baby girl whimpered, “But it’s a big deal to me!”
Stopped in my tracks. She was right. It was a big deal to her. It was my kindergartener’s entire world. Babies.
Although she has numerous dollies and strollers and play pack n plays and carriers, she’d demonstrated patience and restraint for the past year, saving her weekly family economy money from performing chores and meeting responsibilities, in order to buy twin bitty babies and a twin stroller. She’s talked about it every single day for the last year: what she’ll do with them, what she’ll name them, where she’ll take them, and how it will feel to have twins.
Over the weekend, she was overjoyed to open an early birthday gift of the coveted babies and stroller. She took no mind of the fact that one of the dolls, baby Elizabeth, was her own 10-year-old hand-me-down from her sister, of whom she’s been playing with for the past few years. She didn’t mind that the 2nd “twin” was simply bought used to match. She didn’t notice the wear and tear on the pre-owned stroller t either. All she cared about was those sweet little baby sisters that needed a Mommy to love them. She quickly chose the name Eliza for the 2nd doll, and has spent the past 4 days adoringly caring for those dolls. She’d roped her older sister into the excitement as well. My 11-year-old has played with my little one and the babies nonstop without complaint, and had even carved out a space for the baby paraphernalia in their tiny shared bedroom. She even offered to care for the twins while home sick from school earlier in the week, as the twins' mom would have to leave them to attend kindergarten.
As all good things usually come to an end, my pre-teen daughter had finally grown tired of the doting and was ready to move on. My younger daughter, however, was still madly in love with the idea of caring for those babies.
We eventually came to a solution that worked for both girls, moving the stroller to the basement, and rearranging some furniture to accommodate the crib so Elizabeth and Eliza can sleep in the same room with their mommy.
But that one sentence keeps ringing through my ears. It’s a big deal to me. The idea that something so nominal to one person, could so greatly affect another, is something to pay attention to. It seems that if we could figure out what matters and what doesn’t to an individual, a group of people, or an entire region, we could solve so many problems before they even arise. It explains so much about our society: who we surround ourselves with, what motivates us, when we take action and when we don’t, where we draw a line in the sand, why we make the decisions we do, and how we react to certain situations….all based on what we hold near and dear.
As a parent, we oftentimes become so accustomed to putting out fires we’ve seen flame before and barking out instructions to solve familiar problems that we forget the most important step in the equation: assessing the situation. Sometimes it’s an open and closed case and what you see is what you get, i.e stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. But the majority of situations require gathering information we cannot see, which often requires listening. Seems easy enough, but with our buy-in to this fast paced society that surrounds us, we often bypass this step in the name of efficiency or share it with other tasks, thereby diluting its effectiveness.
There’s not a one amongst us who doesn’t want to really know their child, or their spouse or loved one, for that matter: who they are and what makes them tick. We sometimes think, though, that we already know the scoop based on what we see or what we’ve experienced in the past. Most people change or alter their focal points, though, over time, and in the case of children, it can happen in the blink of an eye. What was crucial last week can be replaced with a more vital stance by week’s end. I find that every time I think I know anything, I am quickly reminded that I don’t know squat. So today I’m pledging to listen, not just hear, but really process, what the people around me say, instead of assuming the situation, tone, or sentiment. I’m going to view each interaction as an opening into the inner workings of the person, which only enhances my ability to better communicate and care for each. Want to take a closer look with me?