Nap time is something of a laugh-riot in our house. I am talking about young child nap time.
Now me, I LOVE to take naps. Naps are right up there with coffee, bacon, cinnamon rolls, hugs, and kisses. Sublime. But for whatever reason, most kids don’t enjoy the requisite afternoon slumber. This continues to baffle me; then again, I am looking at it through the lens of a sleep-deprived adult who’d love nothing more than to be ordered back to bed after lunch. Alas…
Nearly two weeks ago, late Saturday afternoon, I lay in bed with my man friend’s youngest daughter and read her a story. Just minutes before we’d arrived home from a birthday party for the daughter of one of my best friends. A lovely occasion for a little “adult” chatter, climbing on the biggest indoor jungle gym I’ve ever seen, playing basketball, and eating pizza and donut cake. The gift we elected for the birthday girl? A copy of Kiki’s Hats, a touching tale about an older neighborhood woman who knits hats for the world. Naturally that was the story picked for pre-nap reading that afternoon as well.
I began to tell the story of Kiki’s Hats in a hushed, soothing, sleep-inducing (yeah right!) tone while little miss avidly listened. Typically, when I read to her, she has lots of questions and concerns. What about this character? Can we look at the next picture? Go back and read the last part again. Etc. On this occasion, she was very, very quiet. After we finished reading, she asked me a toughie.
“Why was Charlie so sad at the party?”
Charlie is the ex-husband of a dear friend. He brought his daughter to the party that afternoon as mom was out of town for work. When he arrived, little miss and I approached him to say hello. He wasn’t interested in talking and kind of waved us off. Little miss was confused by his behavior and her dad and I did our best to explain it.
“Charlie is having a hard time. He is very, very sad. Sometimes adults get sad.”
She accepted this and ran off to play with Charlie’s daughter, her friend.
But clearly she’d been pondering it, as she inquired again, “Why was Charlie so sad at the party?”
Charlie and my friend had a tough relationship, one that stopped making either party particularly happy a long time ago. They did their best–as people often do– to “make it work.” Time apart. Counseling. Talking things through. Sometimes, despite all the good intentions, “work,” and space, marital journeys come to an end. My friend has made her peace with this. She is ready to seek and secure the joy she wants and deserves. But Charlie is stuck. He continues to beat himself up, shoulding and what-ifing all over the place.
But of course I did not share any of that with little miss. Instead, I just sighed and hugged her closer, and said, “Honey, sometimes people go through really hard times. They become sad and they don’t really want to talk to other people. The good thing is that with time, usually they start to feel better and start smiling and laughing again.”
“But when will he start to feel better?” she wanted to know.
I sighed again. “Soon, love. Soon.”
She seemed to accept this. Then she switched gears back to Kiki’s Hats.
“Andrea, why does Kiki make all of those hats for everyone?”
“Well, she wants to share her hats with people who don’t have hats,” I replied. “She believes in helping other people. Helping other people helps us too.”
She paused and said, “That’s when Charlie will start to feel better.”
I am very rarely at a loss for words but that took the wind right out of me. An almost-four-year-old grasping the connection between sadness and self involvement. It took me 31 years to appreciate the value of being in service to others. And here’s a wee one, somehow making the connection between Charlie feeling better and helping other people.
A couple years ago, I attended a show put on by Minnesota Public Radio, part of its Wits series. Mason Jennings, a local and nationally known artist was the musical guest. I love Mason Jenning’s music. But what I recall most vividly from that night is not his guitar playing or killer lyrics; it is a story he shared about one of his children. They were playing at the park. A plane flew overhead and his son stopped and made some amazing observation about the plane. Mason Jennings just looked at him and said, “You are one mystical little dude.”
That’s where my head went after little miss spoke. You are one mystical little dude. How in the blazes does a small child see things adults can’t? Is it really that simple? That clear? Or is it that they haven’t yet developed the unwillingness and the fear that keeps so many grown-ups stuck?
When I first sobered up, I was told several things that I had a hard time grasping: 1) It will be okay. Everything will be okay; 2) Letting go makes everything easier; and 3) Service work helps.
Those three tenets of recovery have been proven to me, time and time again, over the past almost three years. It is okay. No matter what. Everything is okay. Letting go and accepting what life throws at me does make everything easier. And service work helps. It helps when nothing else seems to. When I am in service to others, whether it’s simply taking the time to listen and share with another human being, talking with other alcoholics and addicts, or writing my blog, I get out of my own crazy head. I contribute something. Doesn’t really matter what it is. The key is this: it’s not about me.
Today I keep Charlie and others suffering in my thoughts and prayers. Being stuck is a painful, gut-wrenching place to be. While I may forget sometimes, get caught up in the injustices, the details, the things that are none of my damn business, I want to always, always, have compassion and love in my heart. But for the compassion and love of others, I certainly wouldn’t be here today.
Love and peace to all.