My daughter, when she was four years old, didn’t seem that happy to see me one afternoon when I picked her up from pre-school. She usually greets me with a big smile and a hug. Not that day.
I didn’t insist on the hug, and I gave her space as we walked to the car together. It was not important that I ask her how her day was or what she did, or even what’s wrong– you know, the quintessential what’s wrong honey, tell mommy what’s wrong. Something was happening right now and I got to witness her having an internal moment to feel and sort things out for herself without the intrusion.
As we drove home, she asked, what are we having for lunch?
She was ready to interact.
Spaghetti with red sauce, I replied somewhat enthusiastically.
Projected by what I took to be frustration and anger, she kicked the back of the front passenger seat with one foot and yelled, “I want purple sauce!!!”
I love that girl.
What’s really wrong, Madison? I asked.
Daddy was supposed to pick me up.
And he was indeed. I just did not know that he had told her, just in case he couldn’t, and I thought it would be a nice surprise if he did end up doing it. He rarely got to pick her up because he worked too far away. Sure enough, he got stuck with a client that day, and he asked me to pick her up.
I let her know I understood her disappointment and then honored the space for her to go through it. No distractions, no bribes, no justifications, no blame, no “but I’m here,“ no we’re doing the best we can, nor that her tantrum is only going to make the day worse and won’t change anything, or that there is no such thing as purple sauce, don’t be ridiculous.
Through my brief acknowledgement, I let her know that I understood the validity of her emotions and provided the space for her to feel it. By the time we got home for lunch, she couldn’t wait to get at the pasta.
This moment stuck with me because it’s hard to forget the cry for the purple sauce. And quite honestly, it’s funny. Looking back, I was grateful that I had the wherewithal, the sensitivity, and patience to flow through it with her the way I did. I hadn’t realized it at the time. I recognized later that these simple situations can easily and unnecessarily escalate into a whole lot of drama and battle of wits.
Over time, I realized that in our interactions with others, whether they are with children or with adults, we/they cry purple sauce and then react back on the audacity of the demand for purple sauce without ever realizing that it’s not about the purple sauce.
I realized that for many of these situations, some advanced listening is involved in order to hear and see each other. Some amount of self-awareness is involved in not taking things so personally, in being able to put aside the self-orientation, and to switch from the mode of schooling (I need to school this person) to open inquiry and respect. To do this can feel threatening to our self-preservation, perhaps because the ego doesn’t want to crack. But our soul yearns for the connection that this practice gives us.