Last night before bedtime, Jack took a bath in my new garden tub. "Look, Mom!" he shouted. "I can practically swim in this thing!"
He dunked his head underwater and held his breath. Then he splashed for a while and chattered about swimming. But when it was time to get out of the tub, he grew sullen.
"I wish I'd spent more time at the pool with Dad this year," he said.
His wistful statement surprised me. This summer, Jack repeatedly declined his father's standing offer to take him to the pool after summer camp. There were varying reasons for his disinterest in the beloved community pool: he had boo-boo he didn't want to get wet, he wanted to play with his friends at home, he just didn't feel like going. But the pool has been closed for almost a month. Somehow splashing in a foot of tub water triggered this sense of strong regret.
|When you're nine, summer seems|
endless..until it's over.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I don't want to say," he moaned. "You won't understand. It's nothing."
"Jack, if there's something the matter, you can tell me. Perhaps I can help." I figured he just now remembered a homework assignment that was due tomorrow, or he'd forgotten to save his latest win on his DSi.
"There's nothing you can do!" he wailed. New tears formed in his reddened eyes. He choked back a sob.
I thought for a moment. Sometimes when your child is inconsolable, it is best to not indulge the mood. Jack can usually be distracted from a funk, but this seemed more serious.
"Please tell me," I said, gently. "When I'm sad, it usually helps if I just talk about it, even if there's nothing that can be done."
"No!" Jack countered. "I don't want to talk about it."
Jack burrowed a nest in the sofa cushions, heaving sobs as he sunk deeper into the pillows and his funk. Whatever was bothering him, he obviously wasn't ready turn it loose. Why is it that we cling to our sorrow as if it were some treasured prize? There is a strange comfort in discomfort. To let go of the hurt means giving up the ideal or allusion of whatever it is we lost. Then it hit me: This was a job for Buddhist Mom!
I'd just returned from a four-day retreat at Magnolia Village in Batesville, Mississippi where Thich Nhat Hanh imparted his wisdom to about 800 southern Buddhists. Hanh spoke of how emotions—adverse and positive—are like seeds that we water with our thoughts, words and deeds. If we take the time to observe the emotion when it arises, we can choose to allow it to grow and manifest—or not. I decided to put Master Hahn's lessons into practice and help Jack keep this seed from growing.
"Okay, sweetheart," I said. "It's fine to just sit with your sadness. Feeling sad or mad or scared tells you things you about yourself that are important. But you can't stay in that sad place. Can't you just tell me what's making you sad? I promise I'll understand no matter what it is."
Jack raised his head out of the pillows. It was edging past his bedtime, but I didn't want to send him to off to sleep in this state of mind.
"Do you promise you won't say it's silly?" he asked.
"Well, I feel bad that I didn't go to the pool with Dad more this summer. I played with my friends instead. Now the summer's over and we can't go again for a long, long time!"
Fresh tears followed his dramatic conclusion. I smiled and took a deep breath. How many times had I mourned the loss of an opportunity, regretted what I had not done? It is a bitter sense of disappointment in oneself that can eat away at all happiness. Yes, I knew this feeling well. And that first nip of fall air can inspire nostalgia in the most stalwart soul. Here's my sensitive child, crying over a precious summer wasted. For a moment, I wanted to cry myself, but I knew a better answer.
"Jack, we can't undo the past, right? It's gone. But we can make the most of what we have right now. What can we do right now to make you feel better?"
"Nothing!" he sobbed.
"I know, why don't you talk to your Dad about it. Would you like to call your Dad right now and talk to him? We could do that."
Jack peered out of the pillows and shook his head no.
"Okay, then, well, it's late and you should head up to bed. You're tired and you'll feel better tomorrow."
The threat of bedtime worked it's magic. Jack wiped his eyes.
"I want to call Dad," he said.
I dialed the number and handed him my phone. I heard Jack say, "Hey Dad, I'm sorry we didn't go to the pool more together this summer..." and then I walked from the room discretely wiping my eyes.
Ten minutes later, Jack was back to his old, cheery self. He and his Dad made a plan to watch a movie together the following night. There was no more talk of the pool. After all, summer was over.