I am in Day 3 of Flu Recovery and finally feel about 95% better. I am able to drink my morning cup of coffee without my stomach wrenching. The body aches seem to be gone. There are no traces of a headache lingering. There’s the good news. I feel better.
Also this morning, I am looking out my front window at the steady snowfall that the weathermen all predicted. So far, their timing has been accurate, as well as the amount. This indicates that the heavier snowfall will arrive later today and remain until late evening. The possibility of a Snow Day tomorrow is likely a probability. That’s also good news for this mama and educator who would benefit from one more day of respite.
However, even though I feel better and even though an extra day off of work is imminent, I am overwhelmingly disappointed this weekend. This weekend I had something special planned to do with my boy every day. It’s been a while since we had any fun outings and this weekend’s events presented themselves as perfect opportunities. On Friday we were going to go to a Harry Potter themed event at Barnes and Noble. Saturday we were going to walk through a living nativity scene sponsored by a local church and then head to a family birthday party. And Sunday? That was the grand finale. We were going to attend Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village. This was an event I’ve wanted to do for several years but money and time never allowed. But 2016 was going to be the year. And then Mother Nature said, “Nope.”
So all weekend long I have been battling Disappointment. This is a tough emotion to handle. When Disappointment takes control I picture my inner self on the floor kicking and crying and screaming, “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” The mature side of me stands in judgment of toddler me, arms crossed, shaking her head. “Stop crying. People get sick. Snowstorms happen. There’s always next time. You’ll live.” And you know what? The Toddler Me wants to punch the Mature Me in the throat.
As a mother, and a teacher, and a principal, I’ve had a lot of experience with children and disappointment. The thing I’ve come to realize is that kids don’t want to hear “the bright side”. Case in point, this week, I walked into a classroom and a student was crying because he didn’t have enough stamps (students earn stamps daily for positive behavior) to buy a mini-slinky from the school store. The school store volunteer mom felt bad for him, and wanted to give it to him anyway. I told her no, that’s not how we handle disappointment. Thankfully, he was out of earshot of this, and I went to take him for a walk.
On our walk around the school, I listened to him lament about how he wanted the slinky and it wasn’t fair and he should get it anyway. Finally, he declared, “I just hate this school so much!” I told him, “I’m going to let you hate school. You hate it as much as you want right now.” He looked at me like I was crazy. But he also got quiet. His lamentations stopped. I gave him permission to feel what he was feeling. The adult in me knew he wouldn’t feel this way forever. He would, in fact, like school again. But he didn’t want to hear that. He didn’t want to hear “the bright side.” I believe the first step he needed towards coping was to ACKNOWLEDGE it. The next important step, was the gift of being ALLOWED to FEEL disappointed.
Fast forward 36 hours and I was in the same disappointed place as my young student. All of the plans that I had made for a memory-filled weekend were quickly being erased by sickness and weather. All of my sense of control of my weekend destiny were eroding by forces out of my reach. And I was disappointed. I didn’t want to look at “the bright side”. Pardon me, (sorry Grandma if you’re reading), but fuck the bright side.
I feel like “the bright side” is used to quickly. The bright side is our quick response to feel better in a moment that really requires another remedy. Why aren’t we given permission to feel sad? Why do we quickly have to feel better about something that disappoints us? Is it because when someone else feels sad or is disappointed it makes us uncomfortable? Are we scared that if we acknowledge another’s discomfort, we too shall feel that same discomfort? What if, we do feel some of that same discomfort? What would that do?
I believe that if we even attempted to share it, then the owner of the discomfort would begin to feel relief. Someone has acknowledged my pain and now I can deal. Now I can say it’s okay to feel and now I can look for a way to manage. Now I can cope.
Learning to cope with disappointment is one of the hardest skills we have to do as humans. It’s hard to do for ourselves. It’s even harder to watch our kids’ disappointment. We want to fix that feeling of disappointment quickly. Maybe that’s why participation trophies became popular. Maybe that’s why replacement rewards are given when something doesn’t go our way. Maybe that’s why our kids have become expert negotiators at young ages, rather than just handling, “No.”
As a result, we end up with another reason to be entitled. We pave a way for ourselves and our children to handle our feelings with inappropriate responses rather than just dealing with the feelings. And to me, that’s more dangerous than disappointment. It’s unrealistic. It’s expensive. It’s inappropriate.
My charge will be to help myself, my son, and all in my care to first acknowledge and then to cope. Every person will be different as far as coping. I’m proud to say that in helping my son handle disappointment, he’s learned pretty quickly. Sometimes there’s a small tantrum. Sometimes there’s a brief moment of silence and then acquiesce. In both kinds of moments my response is the same. Calm silence. Let him feel it. Let him know it’s okay to feel it. And then praise the victory over it.
For myself, I am over missing the Harry Potter event, the living nativity scene and the family birthday celebration. There will be others. I’m still bitter about The Holiday Nights that I was really looking forward to, but that may be more to the non-transferable, no-refunds-for-inclement-weather ticket cost. We’ll eventually attend the event, and when we do, we’ll remember our first attempt at going and say, “Remember that first time we tried to go and it snowed so much we couldn’t even go down our driveway.” We’ll remember the disappointment and we’ll remember we survived, just like we always do.
As we approach the heart of the holiday season, disappointments are inevitable. If it comes knocking on your door, I hope you’re able to recognize it and cope with it and then celebrate when you survive it.