The angle is awkward, but I reach my hand from the front seat to the back so my little girl can hold it while she cries. Thank goodness for bucket seats. I’ve offered everything else I can think of for a tired, hungry, irritable toddler stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be in. I even tried complaining to my husband: “Do you have any idea how awful it is to turn around constantly? She needs a toy, she needs a song, she needs a snack, a drink, a wet wipe, a book. This is killing my back, and I have a rash on my neck from the seatbelt. See? I wish I could drive,” I pout. But we both know I don’t last long as the driver because I get too sleepy.
It feels like this drive will never end. My series of tools for dealing with it, however, has. It felt like scraping the bottom of the barrel to hold her hand (because what’s that going to do?), but the literal bottom of the barrel is yelling at her, and I’ve learned (who knew?) that yelling at a crying child just makes more people cry. Her ability to cope has devolved into a screaming frenzy complete with pulling out her own hair. Pain clearly isn’t the answer, so thank goodness I’ve begun to understand that striking a child (in anger or otherwise) is not the answer.
But I offer my hand, and she clings tightly until her storm passes so she can sleep. I don’t complain about my twisted arm.
Fast forward eleven years to yesterday. I pull into one of the school pick-up lanes and feel wildly successful for arriving on time. The morning drop-off would have felt clearly successful if “on-time” had been the only requirement. But tears of discouragement had taken hold, and for once, I wasn’t the one crying. But we had worked through it, and I imagined that once she was with her peers and in her routine, her tears would dry and her outlook would brighten. I’d used all the tools: acknowledgment, allowing space for her to feel her feelings, maybe jumping in too soon with offers to help, which led to me getting frustrated about her being frustrated; but overall, successfully being the mom I want to be.
Face down, knit cap pulled low, and face mask covering everything but her eyes, some may have missed it. But one look at her face, and I see the tears have held on for a repeat performance. My daughter slumps into the back seat, dropping her backpack and books as she folds her long limbs into the seat next to her four-year-old brother. “Ow! This stupid rug tripped me!” She stomps on it in case it isn’t already flat enough.
“Why are you crying?” her concerned brother asks.
Her silence prompts me to answer in a hushed voice, “She’s having a hard time right now.”
We drive out on the road, and the whole story comes tumbling out. Everything went wrong. All of her efforts to stay organized, to keep up on her work, to take notes, and to skip “recess” so she could catch up–none of it worked. She still has so much work to do, and she knows that no matter how painstakingly she writes out a schedule and to-do list for herself, she will just get distracted or zone out and then waste all of her time, and the work would just keep piling up.
I take a deep breath. This is not the time for suggestions. But what is it the time for? I think for a moment and ask myself, “If this school thing isn’t working, is this when I homeschool?” My brain momentarily imagines what that would look like. Nope. Sticking with this school thing.
But I have to do something. I can hear the meltdown gaining momentum. It will soon reach catastrophic levels, and I know we can figure it out together if I can just keep her world from crumbling entirely.
So I scramble for the tool bag, which fortunately has prayer pretty close to the top now. But as I reach into my mind, I see my hand reaching out, and it finds my daughter’s hand.
I wonder if my real hand is something a near-teen would take. Without any confidence I ask, “Could I hold your hand for you?”
She whimpers out a barely audible “yes,” and I immediately twist my arm backward. The angle is awkward, but I reach my hand from the front seat to the back so my little girl can hold it while she cries. Thank goodness for bucket seats and drives that don’t last forever.
Then hand-in-hand, I silently pray as she openly weeps. Nothing to figure out; this is the time to listen.
Not all who perch in trees are stuck.