A day of losing and winning.
It all started at the end. The very end: of the day, of my rope, of my ideas – save one.
Dinner was almost ready…almost. My youngest was watching cartoons, as is our pre-dinner regimen in this house. (Judge not.) My oldest, getting antsy, thought it a good idea to attempt to draw a complex picture she had never drawn before. I heard her moans behind me while I stirred the skillet. I turned to find her lamenting her picture. I applauded her efforts. She moaned louder and longer. I gave her a hug, and pointed out what I liked about it. She slumped over and wailed about it’s wrongness. Things got worse from there.
I shrugged off her feelings, which left the embers of her whining glowing.
I cajoled her, which created a flare-up of shrieks.
I threatened this unreasonable response, which stoked a steady burn of wails.
Then Daddy intervened with love, patience, and sound reasoning. But it did nothing except add more dry tinder to the fire.
He laid her down on the couch and came back to me, scratching his head about this out-of-character behavior, this falling apart over a trivial matter. But while he was battling the blaze, I had just a minute to finish chopping the salad, and think about what else my daughter might need.
I had one more idea.
I silently opened the fridge, and picked out a hard-boiled egg from the carton. Finding a small bowl in a drawer, I sliced the egg into rounds, and arranged it into the bowl. I sprinkled salt and pepper on top. Then I padded into the room, sat down on the couch, and looked over my whimpering girl. She felt my weight on her cushion, and slowly rose to see my offering. “Here.” I said softly, holding out the snack bowl. She examined it unsteadily, took a ragged breath, and picked out a slice. We sat like that in silence, me holding the bowl, and she slowly picking out and eating pieces of egg. Her breath became more steady. She raised her eyes up to my own, and I caught a sparkle of her old self in her expression. When she had finished, I took her hand and led her out to the dinner table: she acted calmer, and a bit sheepish. We all welcomed her back.
Where did she go? My guess is that she may be showing signs of hypoglycemia, a condition in which low blood sugar (due to hunger) impairs your ability to function normally. My husband dealt with this as a boy as well. On my hunch, I fed her a high-protein, slow-burn snack of an egg, which I know she already likes. It worked. All the encouragement, compliments, and sound-reasoning in the world didn’t calm or comfort her. But a silent snack – a wordless egg – settled her heart just right.
Sometimes we need someone to “get it” more than we do. A person to sit quietly beside us, in our tearful confusion of our own hearts. And maybe hand us a little bowl with a hard boiled egg inside. A wordless gift of care. A serving of protein, carefully prepared the way we like it. Sometimes, we need someone to recognize our symptoms, silently diagnose us, and love us accordingly. Not fixed. Not taught. Not dealt-with. But loved… and mothered.
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10:42
“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread… Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.” John 21:9, 12-14
In the book How We Love, Milan and Kay Yerkovich explain our universal need as children for comfort. Few of us receive it correctly from our parents, who – in turn – didn’t receive it correctly from their parents. But it is essential to how we shape our views about people, about our spouse, and even about God. Do we count on getting comforted by our loved ones? By God? Or do we feel like we just need to suck it up and soldier on? Good question.
We all need comfort. And I wasn’t giving it well to my own child. I began by demanding that she act reasonably with her tired, worried, hungry little heart. Only when I saw that my “comfort” wasn’t working at all, did I think of what her needs might actually be.
I need words of affirmation to feel better.
So I give it.
but my girl did not need my words.
She needed my presence. My silence. And something to eat.
After dinner my husband was making cookies with the girls. My youngest looked up from scooping the flour and said, “I need comfort.” Literally. Like, good communication skills, kiddo! She said that her belly was feeling bad. My husband hugged her and sent her to me. I was lying in the adjacent room, resting my belly, watching the cookie production from an open door. I received my child, and read a book to her as she lay sprawled on my shrinking lap. A little quiet mama time. After a while, she gazed up at me, sighed, and declared that her belly felt better. I think mine did too.
This moment erased a whole scene earlier in the day: and my indignance with her tears. It was a black mark in my mind.
That morning we went to the library. A fun outing, I thought. But the childrens’ section quickly became a scene of meltdown and betrayal as picking out a book became an unclimbable mountain to my youngest. As did accepting the book she originally wanted. As did being gently handled by her big sister. Everything was wrong, and nothing could fix it.
I arrived harried and indignant to my friend’s house. She agreed to watch my kids for a bit while I regrouped. She diagnosed my child as being 4, tired, and perfectly normal. I wanted to eat my hat. She gave me a hug, and sudden tears sprang to my eyes. A good friend will help you cry like that. It was like a little gift of protein, an egg for my over-hungry heart. Because what I needed was to go from mad, to sad, to comforted. I didn’t know it. But she did. And she sat with me through the process.
Real comfort makes all the difference in the world. And it can be so surprising to get what we actually need. Because we don’t know what we need.
Sometimes… we just need someone to “get it” more than we do.