Having a baby produces the powerful and sometimes frustrating side effect of feeling the need to protect that child from anything in the world that will hurt them.
While noble and understandable, most parents soon learn that, despite their best intentions, tummies will hurt, fingers will be slammed in doors, and your kid won’t get invited to the birthday party, and there’s nothing in the world you can do about it.
Still, it hurts to see our kids hurt, and sometimes we do stupid things to try to solve their problems and make them feel better.
Take me, for example.
I have a child who is painfully shy, a sweet delight who finds herself paralyzed in unfamiliar situations.
When she won a trip to the state fair with her 4-H project, I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for her to inch out of her shell a little, to find her own footing around like-minded kids and spread her wings out of the confines of Winona.
After all, when I went to the state fair with 4-H at 13 I had a glorious time roaming the grounds with my new friends. What kid wouldn’t love that?
But see, that’s how a non-introvert would think. When she learned that no one she knew was going, she had other ideas. “I’m not going,” she said matter of factly.
I reasoned with her. I cajoled her. I made it sound like the coolest thing since the Ipod. Finally she said yes, and I sent her off on the bus convinced it would be a wonderful thing for her.
And then I got the phone call.
“Mom, I want to come home,” she said.
It was 8:30 p.m. the same day she arrived, and she had two days to go.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“Laying in my bunk.”
“Well you can’t meet anyone laying in your bunk. Go wander around the 4-H building and see if anyone else is hanging around.”
The next morning, another call, and then another. Every time she called she was laying in her bunk, every time sounding slightly more pitiful.
She was having a horrible time, pained by awkward isolation in a place where everyone seemed like they knew everyone else.
But I’m a mingler, so I gave her lots of tips to help her edge into the fray, like... look for a group of girls at lunch and sit down with them, go to the office and offer to volunteer to help with something, offer to share your snacks with girls around you in the dorm (hey, food always works).
With hundreds of girls around her, I could not imagine that she couldn’t find one girl to be pals with, so, with a small amount of exasperation, I told her she was going to have to be the solution, and I wished her luck.
A little while later, another call. Now I’m frustrated.
“Haven’t you tried to talk to anyone?” I asked.
“I sat down with this group of girls at lunch and started talking to them and they seemed nice,” she said. “Then after they were going to go walk around and I asked if I could go with them, and they told me they’d rather it was just the three of them.”
Oh my God. I sent my daughter out there and mean girls got her.
“What are you doing now?” I asked her.
“Laying in my bunk.”
My heart was breaking. Here I’d sent her up there, promised it would be fabulous, demanded she make friends, and there she was feeling like she just got fed to sharks.
I had to be the solution.
“Do you want me to come up there and walk around with you?” I asked.
Now I should mention that it’s like noon on Monday, and this is an incredibly unreasonable plan. But I didn’t know what else to do and I couldn’t bear the thought of her laying there alone any longer.
First, politely, she told me I didn’t have to do that because I probably had to work or something. But I could hear it in her voice - she wanted me to.
Two and a half hours later I pulled into the State Fair parking lot, feeling like it was my duty to do so after I made her all those promises about how great it would be. WE would have a fabulous time then, to heck with making new friends.
And when I found my daughter a few minutes later, the universe delivered one of those bittersweet lessons to me in my “get in the car and drive up there and fix everything” frenzy. “I made a couple friends mom,” she announced.
I was truly, truly overjoyed. “Where are your friends?” I asked her.
“Oh, they were going to go walk around but I told them I couldn’t because my mom was on her way here,” she said.
Haha. Okay. So now I wasn’t the solution, I was the problem. Nice.
“Honey, you could have totally gone with them and just called to tell me. I would have walked around by myself,” I said.
“No, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to make you walk around by yourself,” she said.
I started to explain to her that I wouldn’t mind that, but I decided to shut up and thanked her for being there for me.
And as we walked and ate our body weight in cookies, french fries and deep fried pickles, I thought about her introversion and my knee jerk reaction to her pain.
We both learned something that day I think - but the universe sure has a funny way of delivering those lessons. She learned that I was right and I learned that I was wrong. And we both learned that deep fried pickles and cookies are a really, really awful combination.