My family and I spent Saturday at a state park where we hiked for a while until we reached a playground at the end of the trail. It was a beautiful day; the first peek of spring getting ready to burst forth in all of its splendor, and it felt great to be outside basking in sunshine under tall trees with the people I love most.
The kids had been looking forward to reaching the playground during a good deal of the hike – particularly my son, who often forgets to realize that he is actually presently having fun. He often chooses to look for what may be coming that’s potentially better in his future rather than realize that the moment he is already occupying is pretty good, too. We are working on that.
By the time we reached the playground, both kids were happy to be there. They had been getting along pretty well all day, which I always view as a small miracle, and I hoped their shared adventure would continue now that we had reached the much anticipated playground destination.
Unfortunately, though, shortly after arriving at the playground, my daughter tripped and fell on the suspension bridge, leaving a painful red mark on the side of her belly. She started to cry. My son rushed to her aid, trying to make her feel better, a little afraid that it might somehow be his fault, I think, because he often feels that everything is his fault (which sometimes it is, but not always – this is another thing we are working on). He started to give her a big bear hug and sing a song we had made up for her when she was a baby. She got angry and started yelling at him that she was NOT a baby. Plus, the hug was TOO MUCH. The brand of help he was offering was not what she needed at that time. We tried to explain this to our son; to thank him for trying to help, to tell him we were so glad he was looking out for his sister, but that part of helping people is listening carefully to find out what they need and then to offer THAT to them, if you have it to offer. The truth is, I am not sure my daughter really knew WHAT she needed, because when he finally left her alone she became angry that he wasn’t paying attention to her anymore. He was frustrated that his efforts were unsuccessful. She was looking for an apology for the stupidity of his efforts. My guess is that she just needed a little alone time to allow the sting to go away, and then an acknowledgment from him that he loved her and understood how much it stinks to fall and hurt yourself; that he was there for her while she healed. He couldn’t magically heal the red mark, though. Her body was going to have to do that in cooperation with a little time and space.
Later, when we sat on the deck in our yard, my daughter’s previously bruised belly poking out of her shirt in the warm sunshine, I hoped that she was feeling the soothing rays of the sun more acutely than the bruise; that maybe the bruise was even making her a little more aware of the warm sun, so that she could convert her anger at the stupid playground equipment that bruised her and her brother who couldn’t adequately comfort her into gratitude for the warm sun that was presently soothing her skin. I hoped her brother would check back in with her to see if she was OK later, when she was a little more open to feeling his unique (and sometimes trying) brand of love.
I am supposedly a grown up now, but I still hike and play the playground games from the points of view of both my son and my daughter. I don’t always know how to comfort the people I love when they need comfort. I struggle with giving them what they need in the times that they need it. And I can get really frustrated when my efforts don’t work. On the plus side, I am getting better at living in the present and at looking within myself to heal some of my own wounds and find my own peace, although I still need to remember that
a) having the space and time to look deeply is largely possible thanks to the people around me who make a gift of that time and space. I can’t take that for granted.
b) my methods of finding peace may not work for everyone. Pushing my methods to find happiness and peace onto others in an effort to “help” rather than just giving them the time and space to figure out how these things work for themselves is like giving big bear hugs and singing baby songs.
Hiking and playground games seem to be my life’s work. I don’t think I will ever master the games; but I keep playing them and playing them, varying the methods and strategies to keep it interesting. The longer I play, the more apparent the simplicity of the rules becomes, and yet the act of playing still makes me breathe as hard as I do when I hike up a mountain. Somehow knowing that hiking to a playground is simply the act of putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t make the work of the actual hike any easier. But with practice, I am finding that it is possible to enjoy the feeling of the burn in my muscles when I play hard.
Today I am thankful for the people in my life who play with me every day. May we continue to play without keeping score, and graciously offer “do-overs” whenever necessary. May we take breaks when we need to, help each other up and try again when we stumble and fall, revel in the best moments of the game, remember the best views on the hike, and use all of the memories to help us appreciate the new moments as they come. And at the end of the day, we need to give a high-five to all of the beloved peeps on our team, saying, “Well done. Let’s do it again tomorrow.”