Sadness in a Stranger

Last week, Gannon and I want on an adventure together, just the two of us. Waverly wasn’t happy about being excluded so I made the promise that it would be her turn next. When Paul’s next free day came up, I kept my promise.

For some reason, I always bring Waverly to do an errand thinking she won’t really care, as long as she is alone with me. I told her I had to get something at Barnes and Noble. She told me she wanted to go where Gannon went. I brought Gannon to a cafe where we could sit and play a game on his Kindle together without interruption. He had been having a difficult time with a level and needed help. I hadn’t brought anything for Waverly to do, or a book to read, so I told her we would do that another time.

On to the bookstore we went. On the way, she saw some kids playing on the swings at a park and asked if we could go. I should have turned around and gone right then because it was her time, after all. But I kept on and told her we would go after we did the one thing I was set on doing.

We get to Barnes and Noble and we each had a brownie while we sat together and talked. She is so fun to talk to now, and while sometimes her stories make little sense to me, she understands them perfectly. We went off in search of my book. Of course she wanted to do her own thing and not stick by me. Somehow, I ended up with three picture books in my arms while still looking for the book I had wanted.

We went to a different section, the one marked Psychology. Waverly couldn’t stop talking about the park and was very antsy so I only looked at a couple of books, read the small print on the front covers. While doing so, a girl appeared in the aisle. She was probably later in her teen years but not quite out of high school, so maybe 16 or 17. She seemed embarrassed to be in the section with another person but determined to find what she was looking for, she hid her face with her hair and sort of turned toward away from me.

I’ve been there.

I noticed she was reaching for a book in a section titled something like How to Find Happiness and my heart sank.

I’ve been there.

I wanted to reach out to her and to say something kind. I felt for this stranger and her apparent sadness. Maybe it wasn’t a book for her, though her body language suggested my assumptions were correct. She was tall and thin, her blond hair a little scraggly. She was hunched into herself, shoulders rolled forward, head down.

I know that stance.

I didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable so I chose not to say anything. What would I have said to her anyway? Hey, it’s okay? Things will get better? Maybe when you are in your early thirties? But even then it is dicey? Keep your chin up?

No, I couldn’t say any of those things to her. Because I’ve been there. Those words mean nothing. They provoke anger and uncertainty. They are selfish words, not understanding words.

I left that aisle with my three year old daughter. I realized something. I hadn’t listened to Waverly. I took her out for alone time with me and then sabotaged that time with my selfish needs. I didn’t need to go to a book store for an unknown title. I didn’t need to keep telling her to stay near me, I just need to look at this for a moment, stay with me, don’t go where I can’t see you, Mommy just needs another moment. I should have turned around, I should have gone to the park, I should have spent as long as she wanted there until she was ready to go. I should not have dictated her time with me.

Is this how it begins? When your three years old and your mom takes you on a one on one time trip to do something she wants to do when clearly you are begging her to do something else? Not listening to needs when they are small? Not helping through moments of anger, frustration, sadness?

We left Barnes and Noble and I drove straight for the park, begging the rain to stay in the fat clouds above for just a little while longer. “Just stay there, so my girl can go down that slide, just a little while, please,” I pleaded. The rain held off. We went to the park, she climbed and laughed and got a “slide burn” on the slide when she got a little side saddled. She smiled. She ran. She mastered obstacles that she was hesitant to attempt.

We went to the park. It took me a while but I listened.

Isn’t that all we want? To be heard? To know we are cared for? That our feelings matter? It starts now. It starts even younger than three years of age. It starts before they can walk, before they can babble, before they can sit on their own. Trust is earned, respect is earned, and if we want our kids to feel loved we need to trust them, respect them, and listen to them.

That young woman in the bookstore doesn’t know her influence in that non-meeting. A sadness in a stranger opened my eyes and reminded me to open my ears. To hear. To listen with purpose.

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