It was a Saturday morning, and my then 5-year old daughter woke me up before an ungodly hour to ask for a fresh bagel with cream cheese. Since I typically get bagels for the family on Sunday mornings, I explained it was Saturday and said, "no." The tears of lamentation - over not having mommy get dressed, leave our cozy home on a cold morning, drive to the bagel store mere minutes from our suburban home, and come back with a delicious breakfast - were epic.
Good morning to me...
For most of that morning, the utter nonsense of crying over a bagel continued...for hours. To my daughter, this was a legitimate source of resentment, even as I cooked pancakes at home instead. Within me, I felt a surge of disappointment building at how "bratty" and "spoiled" she was behaving, but something shifted in my thinking as I whipped up buttermilk pancakes to the soundtrack of her complaints. Seeing (and hearing) my whimpering child intermittently pout, sniffle, and sob while saying "I just (sniffle) wanted (exhale) a bagel with (sob) cream cheeeeeeese" made me realize a profound blessing.
I am so thankful that my child is only crying over bagel deprivation.
She is so lucky that this simple deprivation is her biggest hurdle of the morning. As her mother, I am lucky that this is her main source of pain on a chilly morning in America. Those tears could be about a myriad of more serious issues.
I walked over to my husband, and as he chuckled and shook his head at the "bagel chaos," I said to him, "You know what, if not having a bagel is her biggest problem in life right now, we are doing something right."
At first he laughed, but I began to elaborate on this point as I reminded him of other children in our lives who are battling cancer, parental losses, sibling losses, and abuse. I expanded my world view in sympathy for all those parents throughout the world in war-torn countries, poverty, and oppression. They would love to be living through our bagel chaos morning in all its ear-irritating glory.
Taking it a step further, she's so lucky that she can cry. She has a voice and knows how to use it. Good for her!
He smiled in agreement as I reflected on other aspects of our family life together, like holiday celebrations and vacations, even more as we both reflected on our own childhoods in Jersey City and Paterson. By no means are we living a perfect or affluent life, but our children are lucky, luckier than we were, and if they want to cry over ridiculous things, we're going to enjoy that reality for what it means. In those irrational moments, their biggest problem is something completely unimportant in the grand scheme of life's problems...or the world's problems. Somewhere in those meaningless tantrums about bagels (or bedtime in a warm bed, or not being able to buy another new toy, or needing to wait for a special trip or celebration), there is a bigger blessing to acknowledge here. Our children are blessed with a few moments to spare on self-indulgent desires, wishes, and dreams - wonderful!
As months passed, this idea became a new parental motto.
It did not mean that tantrums were not redirected or discussed as needing a "chill pill." Chill pills are readily dispensed at will in our home. Often.Children always need to be heard and comforted. Photo courtesy of Dumas Family album.
The notion that a tantrum is a positive sign that our children are doing well is not meant to minimize their feelings or imply that they never have real concerns, and it is certainly not an excuse to allow for inappropriate behavior. Instead, it is an opportunity to approach their moments of irrational upset with comforting verbiage that highlights what they already have in life: a home, parents, family, friends, food, bed, clothes, toys, school, community, vacations, parties, and freedom.
It has helped us make both of them more aware of how fortunate they are to be born in America with access to the lifestyle of schooling, interests, friends, and community that they have.
For me, seeing my children get upset about something most adults would deem ridiculous now offers me some relief. It means they've made it through another day with their biggest issue being that they didn't get to eat their favorite bagel.
I'm okay with that.
I know that life will bring them the inevitable trials and tribulations of growing up to face profound disappointments and failures. So as their mom, I wish them many days of easy disappointments, and if those disappointments are currently coming from me saying "no" to them, I feel thankful to those days for them and me.
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