Life is sprinkled (sometimes saturated) with challenges and hardships. Companionship is a lost art that our children need to be encouraged to foster. As adults, we often look for quick ways to alleviate our own struggles and take these disappointments away from our children. We learn to keep our problems to ourselves unless we need help solving them.
What does it mean to just be WITH someone as they struggle?
Case in point. My oldest daughter, M, had her braces put on over a year ago. She was seven and worked through expanders on her upper and lower teeth. She's been a trooper through it all, nevertheless she's been counting down the days until she can get her braces off. We planned a "Chewy Party" of completely indulgent food - saltwater taffy, gummy bears, jawbreakers - to rejoice with all the foods she's strayed away from with her orthodontia. I was excited to be there with her when they came off, and see her face as she put the mirror up to her new smile and felt along the surfaces of her teeth with a fresh joy.
As we pulled up to the orthodontist office, my heart began to sink. Only a few cars were parked in what is normally a packed lot, filled with tweens, teens, and parents hustling and bustling to appointments. With a growing sense of dread, we walked in, and the front office assistant informed us that the doctor was out this week. They had tried to reach us (what?), and that we'd have to reschedule. I looked down at M, who suddenly looked so little and sad, and tried to calm my momma-bear instinct to lash out at said assistant. How could this be? We had planned on this day? Make him come back from vacation!
End of interaction: We're scheduled for an appointment a month and a half from now.
M and I solemnly walked back to our car. My mom brain was going 200 miles an hour trying to imagine how I was going to make this better. She cried, I consoled. I offered an ice cream. No, thanks, Mom. What if we went and sat at the bookstore and read together for a while. No, thanks, Mom. Could I get you the chewy candy anyway... those braces will be off soon? No, thanks, Mom.
I hadn't caused this disappointment, but I apologized for it.
I tried to supplement her once joy with other joys from the past.
Nothing helped. Nothing worked.
So we sat. She talked and teared up, and I talked and teared up.
And I remembered what a gift just being with someone truly is. I was initially disappointed with myself that I hadn't created anything magical to overcome this disappointment. I was gradually pleased that I could be the person to sit with her during this time. And listen. And relate with my own stories. And listen some more.
I wonder where I lost the instinct to sit and keep someone company. Perhaps it got tossed aside during the growing process and realizing that sometimes pain can be buffered by temporary distractions. Perhaps feeling with someone takes too much time. Perhaps it got dampened with my human survival instinct to run from pain, to avoid pain, even when I see it in those I love.
It's terribly difficult to sit (for me), to just sit, with someone when they are suffering, even over a minor disappointment like a delay in getting your braces off. I want to fix. I want to create new joy where it once was. I want to move forward.
I know only a handful of people who are really amazing companions. These people know the ability to be quiet and regularly practice listening and keep check on their need to advise or change the subject. They are comfortable with silence, expression, and pain. They are true gifts.
I want to teach my children how to be good companions and go along with someone, through their joys and their struggles. I'm grateful I had a chance to practice companionship myself and to be encouraged again to find more ways to walk with someone.
My persistance wore down my daughter eventually, and we drowned our sorrows in fries and shakes from Sonic. And we talked of life's challenges, of those people we know going through major disappointments and we remembered that feelings matter but braces would still come off... just not by the time we might like them to.
And she thanked me for being there with her.
And I thanked her for letting me be a companion.