A preview

You might remember that Charlie and I talk about our favorite parts at the end of each day. This is something we started after I read about ways to cultivate gratitude, and it has become one of the best parts of my daily routine.

But over the last few weeks, focusing only on the good stuff became frustrating. First, Charlie often had a hard time differentiating between “favorite” and “memorable.” (Seeing the swans = favorite; when a younger classmate bites you = memorable.) Second, though the exercise began as a way to encourage optimism and gratitude, it was stifling to ignore our other emotional, but not necessarily positive, experiences.

So we started including bad parts with our good parts.

This allows Charlie to talk about all of the things that capture his attention. As a result, our evening ritual feels more and more like real conversation.

But last night, the conversation took a philosophical turn.

We had a nice day. We saw Charlie’s old music teacher at a sing-along; we had brunch with close friends; we napped; we bounced and ate pizza with other friends. As we were reviewing our day, neither of us could immediately think of a bad part. No one had gotten in trouble, or hurt our feelings or anything else. (We did eventually decide that our bad part was missing Daddy all day. He’s in Austin for five days!)

Once we concluded that neither of us had many bad parts, Charlie asked, “Mama, are you happy that I don’t have bad parts today?”

I was thrown for a loop. Of course I was happy that he’d had a good day. But how do you explain empathy to a four-year-old without placing the burden of your happiness on his shoulders? Should I say, “I’m happy that you had a happy day.” Or, “When you’re sad, it makes me sad because I hurt for you.” Neither felt right.

I stumbled around a bit, stalling for time as I tried to think about how I should phrase my response. It came out as something like, “Everyone feels sad and has bad parts. I know bad parts can make you feel sad…” I was losing him with babble.

Finally, I stopped. I took a deep breath. I looked at him directly and said, “It makes me happy that we can talk about our day, bad parts and favorite parts. It makes me happy when you can tell me what you feel.”

He nodded and snuggled closer.

Maybe I said the right thing. I don’t know. It felt like the weight of all our future conversations were hanging on this answer, on the words I chose. I could imagine him as a teenager saying, “I didn’t want to tell you how I really felt because I didn’t want you to be unhappy with me.”

True, he’s only almost-4 and not 16. True, he’s not on the verge of suicide or drugs. But it’s also true that the question was a hard one.

And, I’ve heard the questions only get harder over time.


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2 Responses to “A preview”

  1. shelli johannes wells Says:

    great answer. my daughter is 6 and my son is 3 so i can relate. IM always afraid of saying the wrong thing 😦 But i think we say just what our kids need to hear!

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