Monday, May 7, 2012

Feeling Our Feelings

Drawing by Jill

I'm not a child psychologist, but I have learned a few lessons about handling emotions. Like many people in my generation, my family was dysfunctional and the lesson I learned from my mother was to put up a good front for the neighbors. My mother was a wonderful woman who worked hard as a professional when many women did not have jobs outside the home. She was also a very loving and caring mother doing the best that she could. That meant getting up every morning with a smile on her face and getting to work on time and taking care of business.

As her daughter, I had a little trouble with the concept. I had trouble smiling and acting like everything was fine when it wasn't at all. I developed a lifelong resentment for what seemed to be arbitrary rules. What difference did it make if you were a few minutes late for school after a traumatic night at home? I was a good student. The attitudes I developed were subtle. I was a good girl. I smiled and was friendly and respectful to the teachers. But I had a problem with punctuality my entire life. I also grew up with emotions that seemed like freight trains to me. They had already roared by before I even knew they were coming.

After learning many things about myself much later in life, I instinctively try to help my grandchildren learn to deal with their emotions. I didn't help my own children that much, but now I can try to make a difference with a new generation of little hearts.

One granddaughter especially touches my heart on this subject. She is seven going on thirty. She is very smart and has always seemed much wiser than her years. She was starting to read when she just turned three and was especially good at recognizing logos. We were attending my daughter's baby shower where my granddaughter was "helping" to open the presents. "Oh," she exclaimed as the paper was torn away from the box, "It's from Walmart!" Everyone was impressed, but that changed to shock when she sang a popular song from the radio a little later, complete with dance moves and lyrics that were more suitable for bar than a baby shower.

This little girl, through no fault of her own, has been exposed to many heart rending situations. Once, when she was about four, she called my phone number and said, "Grandma, do you know where I am?" She was supposed to be spending time with her mother at a nearby motel. My son and I found the room and there she was. The situation was not good, but she still cried when we took her away. We took her home to a safe place, but we couldn't protect her from heartache.

She spent the night with me as she had numerous times before, but this time she couldn't sleep. She was too worried. Finally, we both got up in the early dawn and I got us two pieces of cake. We sat down at the kitchen table and she wiped her tears away.

"Sometimes little girls just miss their mothers," I told her. She nodded her head and finished her cake and we went back to bed. Somehow, just acknowledging her feelings made her feel better. It is perfectly normal to be upset when bad things happen, but things will get better.

Today, she is a happy, smart little girl who has many friends, is doing great in school, and still has to deal with more difficult situations than most children. She is brutally honest and sometimes her stepmother and I have to coach her to refrain from commenting on uncomfortable social situations. I think the catch word "Awkward!" describes many of her remarks.

Last Mother's Day she told me in her typical way, "Happy Mother's Day, Grandma, even though you are not my mother and I am not your daughter."

I smiled and said, "You are the daughter of my heart!"

She thought about that and said, "True."

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