There is a lot to recommend the life of a writer. Like many fortunate enough to work from home, I have lots of discretion when allocating my time. My youngest is home two days a week, and I work hard to set the business-stuff aside so he and I can have some quality time. Translation: he is not watching endless clips of Barney, Yo Gabba Gabba, and Blue's Clues. But it doesn't always work out.
Friday, as I held him close on the couch, listening to his "I want mommy" chant, repeated like a metronome for minutes on end, I considered how I could have handled things differently. He'd asked for hot chocolate, because one of the characters on Oswald was eating marshmellows. No biggie. I brew it up, he drops in approximately three hundred miniatures, and we are back in the living room. I settle back down to weave the words that will move nations, and suddenly he squalls, an upturned hot chocolate mug gleaming its contents all over his leather stuffed chair.
I lifted him clear of the mess and I yelled. I was careful not to use words that would have earned my kids a soap-gargle. But as he informed me through gulps and sobs, "You hurt my feelings." These are harsh words to absorb from a three-year old. We sat down holding each other, as is our custom when things go askew.
In a new book by Laurence Gonzalez, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resiliency, he explains that an area of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex interprets pain, including social pain, such as grieving. It also sends signals of pleasure from skin-to-skin contact. Our first response to emotional pain is to put out the fire with skin-to-skin contact. When really bad things happen, we hug one another.
In early fall, I heard that a family we knew here in the county had lost their five-year old in a drowning accident. Couldn't get the image out of my mind for weeks, and wondered what to say when I ran into the dad. By chance, at a McDonald's fundraiser for a new playground at his son's school, I caught his eye across the room, and walked over, my mind racing. He held out his arms and we hugged. And I realized that THAT'S what you say, when words won't do.