Monday, February 3, 2020

Happy for a Friend

Zuzu came home from school the other day talking about a magic show that the second grade got to attend. She described a couple of tricks, and then said that her friend Maddie got chosen to be the magician's assistant.

Then, she was mad.

Because Maddie got to keep the balloon! That the magician made appear! And no one else got a balloon! And it wasn't fair that he only picked Maddie!

She was really getting worked up--like tears in her eyes, indignant about the injustice of the whole thing and really coveting that balloon.

I tried to do the wise mom thing, where I said, "Mmm-hmm. I can see that was disappointing. But maybe we can be happy for Maddie? We want to be glad for our friends when good things happen to them."

She looked at me like I was completely missing the point. "I AM happy for her. But I'm sad for me!"

And then I just hugged her because... yes. I'm very familiar with that situation.

I can say all the right words about not being resentful and being gracious and glad for other people. It's important, I think, to learn how to smile and nod when you are first runner up, or maybe didn't even make the first cut.

But those feelings of anger and jealousy are really valid. Even when they feel ugly and shameful, they're just an expression of longing.

I think that people voicing what they really want and can't have makes us very uncomfortable. Particularly when they are problems that we can't fix. Or whining that gets irritating fast because who cares about a stupid balloon anyway? (Zuzu cares.)

* * *

Here's the reframe:

What if everything is a gift?

What if I remember that I'm entitled to nothing?

What if I accept it as a shocking and delightful surprise that three of my children are alive, instead of expecting it as the standard outcome?

This is different from pessimism--expecting the worst--this is just living in a neutral where anything better than nothing is a gift. It's different from schadenfreude, where you're happy for someone else's misfortune. It's just marveling in the good fortune of ordinary life.

Real talk: I'm not sure this frame of mind is totally sustainable.

It's hard to sustain because it's like being healthy. You don't appreciate not having a sore throat until the day that you wake up and you can't swallow because your throat hurts so badly. But what if we could wake up and delight in being pain free, instead of accepting the lack of physical pain as our baseline?

What if I soaked up my whole life as a gift--unearned, undeserved, given to me when it easily could have gone to someone else (like a balloon, gifted by a magician at random).

Would losses be less painful if we didn't feel that we were owed the very thing that had been taken away?

It's not about equity or balance to fill what has been lost, but more like appreciating everything as abundance.

I guess that's the point of a gratitude practice. To acknowledge that the things we tend to take for granted are actually remarkable gifts from the universe.

* * *

The problem is, that it is so easy to see someone else to appears to have exactly what you want.

And we can go on and on about the way social media hides flaws and the perfect looking family/life/marriage is likely to be far from that.

But I'm not talking about perfect.

I'm talking about a slew of pregnancy announcements when you desperately want to be pregnant. I'm talking about a parade of healthy babies when you left your dead baby at the hospital. I'm talking about well-earned promotion announced when your company just laid you off. An anniversary party when you've just filed for divorce. Any milestone marked and celebrated (often deservedly so!) by someone else that highlights a place where your life veered unexpectedly off course.

Sure, we're happy for our friends. But that doesn't cancel the sadness we feel for ourselves.

(And why did he pick Maddie anyway, when Zuzu was RIGHT THERE with her hand in the air?)

* * *

I understood exactly how Zuzu felt.

So I bit back my lecture about being happy for friends. I also stifled my next impulse, which was to promise to get her a balloon the next time we were at the store.

(This is a part of parenting they don't talk about when they criticize helicopter and "snow plow" parents. Of course I don't want to be one of those. But also when you know firsthand how painful life can and will be, despite your best efforts, you really want to protect them when you can.)

I gave her another hug. I offered a snack.

As she was eating, I asked her about her "rose" and her "bud." (Obviously Maddie getting the balloon was the thorn in her day.) But there was a bright spot (weaving in art class) and much to look forward to (a birthday party on Saturday! cousins coming to town in a few weeks! Friday night movie night!).

We started these rose, bud, thorn conversations at dinner to try to control a conversation that otherwise tends to quickly devolve to complaining about the meal, but I'm seeing the way in which it actually is a gratitude practice.

This was an ordinary moment for which I'm grateful.

This is something we have planned that I'm excited about.

Zuzu said that she was looking forward to having me drop her off at school instead of Daddy. My heart swelled a little bit, since this is a change from our usual routine now that I have a morning commute again.

I asked her if she had been missing that old routine before I was back at work full-time. As hectic as it is getting out the door and getting to drop off, I feel so close to them when I'm the one to hug them good-bye and hello at the door of the school.

"Can I tell you something?" she said.

"Of course!"

"Well, this is personal. But I think your car smells better than Daddy's."

What a gift, right? The gift of a car that smells good.

*For the record, I don't think David's car smells bad at all, and I have a very sensitive nose. I'm not sure if it's because his car has plush interior rather than leather? Or maybe my car retains the scent of the lemon and lavender hand sanitizer I spray on them when I pick them up? I guess I like having the better smelling car, though.


  1. What a beautiful post. It warms my heart to hear about the hard, thoughtful work you do to show how much you love those girls.

  2. Just wanted to say how much I love this and can relate. I know in recent posts you've been wondering if you should keep blogging or not, but as a reader, this is why I keep coming back. :-)

  3. Good post. I remember reading a similar thought once about how life owes you nothing and instead of thinking "Why me?" , you could think "Why not me?" It helped me dealing with grief after my Mum passed away and also helped later when going through infertility.