One of the realities of parenting is that kids are always watching and listening. This is at the same time gratifying and terrifying. Our kids are watching the important adults in their lives during the daily grind, listening as we make the small and big choices that, when you add them all up, make our lives what they are.
Kids take note of what we eat and how we dress and how we treat the checker at the grocery store. They listen as we talk on the phone and pay attention to the television and movies that we watch and observe whether or not we exercise on a regular basis. They see whether or not what we say and how we act match up. If we say what we mean and keep our word. If we follow through and show up and how we love.
To be clear, our children are not listening to what we tell them to do; I apologize if I got your hopes up about some newfangled strategy to get children to listen and respond to calmly spoken requests. They are, however, still hearing us, and sometimes we get a glimpse into what kind of difference we are making in the lives of our kids. Here’s a “for instance.”
Crying at the Coffee Shop
I was crying at my local coffee shop one recent morning. This is not an unusual occurrence, as my coffee shop is my home away from home; when I walk in the door, the greeting is similar to when everyone yells “Norm!” on the TV show Cheers. In this coffee shop, regulars like my best friend Char and myself call this place by a number of names: church, sanctuary, office, writing club, bible study club, girl’s club, mom’s club, kids’ play area, and The CS (They don’t call it “A Quiet And Peaceful Place” because of Char and myself, but that is another story). I have talked, laughed, cried, struggled, joked, danced, and more. And occasionally, I have even managed to write and work my copy writing day job with the hissing of the steamer in the background.
I have spent many days at one of the tables in this coffee shop, alternately working and crying – or just working with tears meandering down my cheeks – over the last several years. Which is sometimes bad for my waistline, as Maher (the owner) will observe my tears and then offer me a pastry for free. And plenty of coffee; there’s always coffee.
The Group Hug
This one particular day, my divorce was hitting me hard. Divorce will do that. There is no way around the stress and grief of this life change – if there was, I would have found it. Char sat next to me. Her two girls were playing in the kids’ play area close to where we sat. They are around 8 and 10 years old, and I call them my nieces. I was there when they were born, on evenings when they screamed with colic, on their first days of school, when we dressed them up and celebrated Christmas and Easter and birthdays.
Char continues to impress me with how she single-moms her daughters. She is patient, sensitive, nurturing, encouraging, strong, authentic, transparent, hilarious. She regularly takes the girls and their two friends on adventures around town, including to the coffee shop sometimes after school.
While Char and I worked and cried and talked, the girls were pretending and playing and talking and being unintentionally hilarious and precious and sweet and smart. At one point, the four of them – my two nieces and their two friends – stood behind me and asked if they could hug me.
Of course, I agreed. I’m generally not a hugger, but even I wouldn’t turn that down. They gave me a group hug.
The Offer to Sit With Me
When they let go, they formed a semicircle around me and one of the girls said, “Can we sit with you?”
“How come?” Char asked.
“Because you say to sit with the sad people,” one of them said.
Char and I stared at each other. My mouth hung open. I felt joy grow in my heart at such a rate that I thought I would burst.
Because you say to sit with the sad people. Just as author Anne Lamott says.
“Um, well, of course,” I said.
They skipped to grab a few chairs and pushed and pulled and tugged them close around me. Char and I continued to talk, and I continued to cry and they continued to sit.
Because you say to sit with the sad people. Words written by the incomparable Anne Lamott and memorized and internalized and practiced by yours truly.
Sit with the sad people. An impulse and intention and skill that took me 35 years to develop, and these kids have got it already. They learned it from their mother, who told me a short time after this incident that she learned it from me.
I was like The Grinch. I swear my heart grew 50 sizes as I sat there in amazement.
The kids are totally paying attention, and it is awesome.