Stories and a Little Something

A boatload of disappointments, vexations, and inconveniences has landed on adults and children alike over the past weeks.
Really bitter pills have had to be swallowed, stressors have mounted,
and ironically in a world of social distancing, a squish of togetherness-at-home has surely strained some relationships.

from Bruce's Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins

from Bruce’s Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins

Today I want to think together about what possibilities uniquely exist because of frustrating circumstances.
To be clear, I am not focusing on the eminently heavier and truly sorrowful or horrific places where far too many find themselves just now.
Loss of job, loss of health, loss of life, incessant trauma — these are not disappointments; they are deep griefs, and I do not mean to minimize them by today’s discussion.

I am talking about the one hundred other letdowns,
major and minor changes of plan, irksome disruptions that have arrived sans invitation in your lives and your kids’ lives.
Both teensy, prickly, burrs and bulky, toe-stubbing, boulders require us to flex, adapt, maneuver.
As they continue to roll into our paths, how can we encounter them, think about them, in an honest, yet hopeful way?

from No Fighting No Biting by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak

from No Fighting No Biting by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak

To begin, I’d like to tell you a story about our little family when our third child was born.

Inga-ting was the pet name affectionately bestowed on her by her three-year-old brother and five-year-old sister.
As a newborn, she was the happiest baby I ever knew, making it easy as pie for all of us to fall utterly in love with her.

She folded herself into our lives and routines like velvet cloth.
Smiled when we held her. Smiled when we didn’t. Content as butter.

But of course, she grew.
Grew into a blonde-haired busybody.
A darling, rosy-cheeked elfkin with mischief sparkling in her blue, blue eyes.
A sweet, kissy-face girl with pudgy hands flying about, causing great consternation to her older siblings.
She wreaked innocent havoc, biting off the ends of markers, plowing through elaborate woodblock villages, splodging glue onto paper doll outfits.
Yes, she was loved to bits, and yes, she was a non-stop source of frustration.


One of the lovely routines she derailed was read-aloud time.
Stories with Mom was always a favorite part of my children’s day, a calm, absorbing getaway into worlds opened to us via our favorite books.
These quickly took on a popcorn-like quality, however, with one or another of us constantly hopping up to manage Little Miss Mayhem.
How could we be upset with her? She was just being One.
Yet it was, for her sister and brother, a galling frustration when this treasured time was relentlessly interrupted.


And so was born, as recompense, what we called Stories and a Little Something.
If you’ve read Winnie-the-Pooh, you know that Pooh Bear likes to have “a little something” round about eleven-o-clockish. Don’t we all?
Pooh’s habit is to head off to a quiet corner with a honey pot for a smear of the good stuff.
Our treat was postponed until afternoon, during Inga-ting’s naptime, and came just one glorious day each week.

Thus on Wednesdays there was a little added excitement in the air when Inga was safely asleep and Out of Trouble.
Then we remaining three would put on the tea kettle and scruffle in the cupboards for some tasty cookies or treats of some kind, set aside for just these occasions.
We would sit down at the table with china cups and saucers, a pitcher of cream and bowl of sugar, cookies handsomely set out on a plate, and plenty of napkins for Incidents,
and we would have a proper, civilized, Little Something
along with a chapter read aloud from Winnie-the-Pooh
— and no Inga-Ting Pandemonium.


Having tea with a 3-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl, earnest as they may be,
involves quite a bit of sloshing, milky tea puddles on the table, and crumbs everywhere. But we turned a blind eye to the mess and general stickiness
and simply enjoyed the one-anotherness, the special elder-sibling-ness, along with the humble good humor of Pooh and Piglet.

Now here’s the thing.
The treats and stories were an obvious delight, and I believe were all the more appreciated and savored because we had only a once-a-week secret rendezvous.
It was predictable, something upcoming to cling to when exasperations inevitably arose. It was not elaborate, but simply a moment of respite and favor for a pair of older siblings who were patient and forgiving so much of the time,
a chance to enjoy the rewards of maturity, even 3-year-old maturity.

Meanwhile, these two were gaining more than met the eye.
They were learning to be flexible, learning that life involves making adjustments, making allowances for one another, and that sometimes a difficult adjustment brings about a solution that is so sweet we’re glad not to have missed it.
In this instance, our unexpected agent of happiness was the very vexation that set our weekly merrymaking in motion.

One of the riches of family life is the necessity of walking through real life with our children,
learning with them, and often from them, perspectives that brighten, humanize, adapt, accommodate, that find humor, bear up with patience, when confronted with difficulty. Inga-ting herself, at age two, welcomed a baby sister whose mischief far exceeded previously held records.
As a middle child, her routines were continuously punctuated with pauses and full stops due to both older and younger siblings’ needs.
And of course, the irritants of a bothersome little sibling were the smallest of the personal challenges any of us in the family went on to face.
All four of my now-grown children are kind, patient, considerate human beings.
These things don’t get written on a child’s transcript, but they outweigh most anything recorded there.
Resilience, perseverance, adaptability, figuring out creative solutions to the problem at hand, bearing with one another, are massively important qualities,
on offer only through difficult circumstances
met with a mix of empathy for the pain, gratitude for the good, and a mind open to new possibilities, new ways.

from Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson

from Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson

I am convinced that for many of us,
this time of Canceled Everything,
these weeks of Imposed Togetherness for households and Imposed Apartness for friends, of upended routines and abundant improvisation,
will be the precipitating factor not just for losses, but for serendipitous gains.
This peculiar moment undoubtedly carries with it unique opportunities,
surfacing precisely because of the restrictions in place, if we have eyes to see.
Hidden within these muddled circumstances, some good memories, new pathways, stouter solutions, lie waiting to be discovered.
Without minimizing the sting and pain of what’s been forfeited, dismissing the frustrations, or trying to replicate or even replace exactly what’s been lost, we can value the strength being forged in our kids, and maybe discover something unexpectedly, otherly, wonderful. Sweet as a little eleven-o’clock-ish something.

Breathe deep, my friends.
Absorb the buffeting and blows this virus has brought us with grace and flexibility for yourself and your kids.
And keep your eyes open for glimpses of the lovely.

[This has been adapted from an article originally published in Home Education Magazine, May-June 2013]