Recently, my daughter had her kindergarten orientation. It went well, except for the fact that she somehow broke the strap on her new boot, and there were some unmet expectations.
When I went to get her, she seemed sad. Her description of the bus ride was that it was “bumpy.” She had a rough time transitioning afterward, which is rare. In her defense, she was way off of her usual routine. That can make a big difference when you’re 5. I think that can happen at any age. We get used to the way something usually is. It’s hard to move forward in a different way, and we feel sad.
Because she is young, she had trouble pinpointing what made her sad. She clung to me and cried. Later, she was able to tell me that she’d wanted to use the seat belt, and I think the broken shoe also diminished her enjoyment a little.
She’d wanted to share her losses with me before she shared her joys (like a cookie and sitting with a friend). She’d wanted comfort, but someone had told the kids not to cry. A 5-year-old struggling to be brave likely heard, “You have nothing to cry about” – a harsh sentence for a child who cares deeply about others and expects the same compassion in return. A call to be strong can sound like a criticism if you just don’t feel strong in the moment.
When we got home, we sat on the couch and talked about her feelings. She was very sad and confused about a lot of things. She didn’t understand why her crying would upset someone else. But she also wanted validation that feeling sad was OK, and that if you cry because you are sad, someone will understand and work to find out why.
We talked about how we react when we’re sad, knowing that how we feel can occasionally overwhelm us. Sometimes we just need someone to hold us, pat our backs or offer a sympathetic word.
Sometimes we’re all like 5-year-olds moving into a larger world that we don’t always understand. Sometimes we all need someone to say that it’s OK to feel what we feel. Then we can move forward and be strong again, knowing that someone cares about us, that we matter. Because that’s all anyone wants.
In kindergarten, we’re encouraged to take care of our friends, to help them through their hurts. As we get older, we get used to ignoring pain in others, holding our own pain in, deflecting questions and concern. It’s what we think of as part of “growing up.”
We learn to deal with all of the hardships and just move through them. We bury our pain in work or play. We forget that, to mash up Rosey Grier and Dr. Hook, it’s all right to cry and wash out your heart. Often, it’s easier if someone is there for you, telling you that when you’re ready, they’re willing to work through that pain with you.
Not all of us have someone in our lives in whom we can confide our deepest feelings. I want my daughter to know that she always has me. I hope as she grows she finds friends she can be real with, too, and they can walk through that pain together until the hurt fades in the joy of friendship. Because we all need friends like that, and we all need to be a friend like that.
And when our feelings matter to others, we get stronger, the world seems safer and the ride becomes less bumpy.
Jodi Yorio Finlayson is a high school librarian who lives in Lancaster.