I’m in the kitchen. I feel like the mythological Sisyphus, but my daily task is emptying and reloading the dishwasher. Jane is away. Annie and a friend are within earshot, in the dining room; having settled on a card game, they are starting to play.
I hear my daughter getting confused as her friend “explains” the rules. Her friend is in the weeds, talking about a nuanced possibility of gameplay. Annie doesn’t yet get the basics of the game.
Annie asks a question. No response. She asks again, this time is given an answer that is meaningless. She asks again, this time in different words. The friend, also nine, ignores Annie’s question and just continues on “teaching.”
From the kitchen, I can feel Annie’s tension rise.
With the tone of a parent who is frustrated with something, I call into the girls, “Annie, could you come here, please?” My tone says, “I’m asking this once, and I don’t want to have to ask again, and you don’t want me to ask again.”
If I were her age, based on how I asked, I would be expecting a talking down about some task I hadn’t done.
And she comes in, swiftly, looking appropriately concerned that she has done something wrong.
I lift her 9-year old body up and sit her on the counter. Her head is tilted down. She is still expecting a reproach.
I put my arms on the counter near her knees. I hunch over a bit.
We are eye to eye.
“Hey, Pants,” I say, calling her by a favorite nickname, to give her the sense that my mood is light and playful.
She lifts her eyes to check mine for any trace of anger. She relaxes.
I say, pausing a lot between words, “Your friend, well, she’s, well, not a very good teacher.”
It takes her a moment. But she gets it. My words free her frustration. She gets it. She gets that her lack of understanding is not her fault – that she is and was not defective.
She jumps back down, acknowledged and seen, and goes back to her friend to continue their play.
I helped her with perspective on what was going on.
She, of course, thought the problem was her. Kids do that. They think it’s about them. We all do that from time to time. And we all feel better when our troubles are normalized.
I always feel better when the doctor tells me that I have a sinus infection. Knowing what it is – and knowing there is a treatment – helps me.
Similarly, I know that this time in which we are living is a horrible time.
Today’s zeitgeist is fear and our collective anxiety is through the roof.
Knowing that helps.
It’s not personal.
It’s just where we find ourselves.
The more that I lean into the knowledge that everything I am experiencing these days is through a collective lens of tumult, the easier it is for me to see that this isn’t just me. There is something going on.
A thought experiment
Imagine for a moment that God has just called you into the kitchen. And you, like Annie, think that you are in trouble.
(Let’s please not get into whether or not you believe in this type of gee-oh-dee. I am asking you to do a thought experiment, not convert.)
God lifts you up, and when you raise your eyes to God’s, God calls you by a favorite nickname and you see God wink.
I know for myself holding on to such an image, if only in my heart, helps me to find peace.