When life doles out unpredicted nourishment.
It was one of those mornings.
Lately, my daughter has been refusing to eat breakfast and then collapsing an hour later into a cantankerousness heap due to the blood sugar crash (after also having refused a snack). She’ll stub her toe and sob for 20 minutes. She’ll try to hit the dog. She’ll lie on her back and kick the door when I put her in time out (which is unfair of me, I know, since she has no control of her faculties when she’s hungry, but I haven’t yet thought of a more appropriate way to respond when she claws at the flesh of my cheek). She is a different child when she doesn’t eat. Unbearable, inconsolable.
“She’ll eat when she’s hungry,” our doctor said. “She’s not going to starve.”
True. But if she doesn’t feel like eating dinner, she will wake up at 2am and scream “I’m hungry!!” until one of us poor saps stumbles into the kitchen for a chunk of cheddar to feed her so we can all go back to bed.
I have tried keeping mealtimes positive and upbeat, our expectations exciting and clear. I have tried giving her rewards when she complies, consequences when she doesn’t. But both require the same amount of micromanaging and there inevitably comes a time when we both need a break from it all. It is then that I say, “Fine, sweetie, eat what you want.”
The morning I am about to describe came during an eat-what-you-want period. My mission was to gather my poor, fussy, child who refused to eat breakfast and get her out of the house. Simple enough. I thought perhaps she’d nibble on some bunny crackers from the dish of the stroller. I thought the big sky and breeze would give her some perspective. Or, more honestly, I was hoping it would offer the same for me.
After being waylaid by a series of minor detours, we made it outside. The elements greeted me like flavors to linger on. Hello, sun. Hello, breeze. Hello, spiderweb adorned with crystalline bubbles of water from the sprinkler. Hello, smell of the fresh-cut grass next door. Nice to see you all.
We walked a little. Silence from the stroller. We walked some more. Still silence— heaven. We walked a little bit more, roughly the length of an entire block, when I said, “How are you doing, sweetie?”
“I’m hot, I want to go home!!”
Dang. My mistake.
Off she went into a litany of howling, “I’m hot, I’m hot, I’m SO hot!!”
As I turned onto the bike path that runs along the open space, I noticed some words written on the ground in chalk. At first glance, I assumed it said something like “Latasha loves Jim 4-ever.” But what it actually said stopped me in my tracks:
You are loved.
We kept walking, my daughter still hollering, and there was another:
Live life to the fullest.
I saw another one in the distance so I picked up the pace.
You matter. Have a good day!
It went on like this for the entire stretch of the bike path; there were probably a dozen of them. I was gobbling them up like a trail of good, dark chocolates. The screams of my daughter didn’t stop—it really was just one of those wild mornings—but I was able to turn down the volume and see her as less of a tyrant and more of a sweet little girl who was just having a tough time. I was able to reach over to give her a little touch on the shoulder, to remind her that I was still there and that this would pass. I noticed that my state of mind—one that had been hinged on managing and reacting—had all but dissolved into the bigger picture.
I thought about how many people walk—or bike, or stroll—along that bike path. Maybe there would be someone who was on her way from having been fired, or to break up with her lover. Maybe there would be someone who felt overwhelmed or who was sick or sore or beaten as she looked down to discover a bit of anonymous encouragement under her feet. Maybe those scribbly words would offer someone else an adjustment in perception as they had for me.
I was so absorbed that I didn’t notice what was happening up ahead. The author of the Good Graffiti was in the process of spreading her chalked affirmations, before my very eyes! She appeared to be just another walker on the path until I got close enough to see her bending down, writing. She was copying from a tiny legal notebook filled with blue ink.
My response to her shocked us both. “It was you!” I said, and lurched forward as if I was going in for a hug. (Was I? I’m not exactly sure.) But she flinched and took a step backward so I stopped. She looked to be a teenager, athletic, clean-cut. I realized that I was indeed more intense than I intended to be, so I quickly followed up, “Thank you, really. Good work.”
I could have gone on to describe to her how her little chalk messages had radically altered my head-space (and would benefit the remainder of our day, for that matter, but I didn’t know then how true that would be). How they—along with the blue sky and the smell of sweet grass from the field—aerated my brain and made me virtually immune to the uncontrollables that had surmounted that morning.
But I walked on, wanting more than anything to maintain the good momentum we had going.
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Ed: Sara Crolick