My eight-year-old daughter arrived home from her final day of school last week, masked by anger. I understood that it had been a tedious term (term 4 always is) and her constant lack of sleep preceding this day had taken its toll. So I loosened the line a little and let a few insensitive comments off the hook.
However, things escalated very quickly and before I knew it, we came to loggerheads. Reasoning was not a viable option at this point and she needed some time to think about her actions, so with a slammed door (that just about set our house off its hinges) and a few coarse words, we parted ways.
As always is with a child, it didn’t take her long to come and seek my attention once again (just like me, she can’t let things lie). Convinced that she was purely tired, while she stubbornly denied it, the situation started to intensify once again. There appeared to be no way out of this ever-expanding hole.
The combination of an erratic, sleep deprived mother walking a tight rope about to snap, and an eight-year-old in possession of an angry mask for the day, was not really conducive to conflict resolution.
However, as we reached the pinnacle of our disagreement – with her hurling many insults loaded with incredulous attitude to knock me off balance– the angry mask cracked. Not only did it crack, but it shattered into a million pieces as the tears streamed from their confines.
There was no more angry mask; my eight-year-old girl and all her underlying innocence were revealed for all to see. I instantly softened and the tired and erratic mother that was standing in for the day took her cue to depart and we were left with two open and honest souls; laid bare for each other to see.
Sometimes you just have to delve a little deeper before you can find a way out of the hole, so once we were on softer ground, that is what we did. We dug until there was nothing left.
Turns out, she was anxious and scared. What initially appeared to be excitement about going into grade three (perhaps she wore the mask of courage this time), was really apprehension and fear over the unknown- something we all experience in turn.
She explained that she felt comfortable in her surroundings, from her familiar teacher and very close friends, to small things like the smells and sounds in her classroom. She was confused and upset about why this all had to change when she felt happy and content at school.
I racked my brains to think of an explanation that would resonate well with an eight-year-old, and being the book lovers that we both are, found the perfect comparison.
‘Your life is like a book,’ I told her. ‘Each year is like a new chapter or little story, and in each chapter or new story something new and exciting happens.’
‘Like my book Kitten Tales? Each chapter has another little story,’ she interrupted with self-satisfaction.
‘Exactly,’ I replied enthusiastically. ‘Would you enjoy this book as much if it was one big story with the same things happening over and over again?’
She pondered this question for a moment. ‘No it would be very boring!’
I was pleased that this made sense to her.
I continued. ‘It would get very boring. To draw the readers in, the story needs to change and grow, and there needs to be challenges to keep things interesting. Similar to your life; you can’t be in grade two forever. Your own story needs to change so you grow as a person. These series of little stories or chapters (or year levels) make up your life and keep things exciting, just like a book.’
‘And I wouldn’t have met my other teachers and some of my best friends in grade one if I hadn’t changed grades,’ she clarified. I think she was starting to understand.
‘You are exactly right. Change can bring many wonderful new things into your life and sometimes there is a bright light of happiness at the end of a dark and scary tunnel of unknown, but you just have to be brave and pass through. Once you do, you’ll be glad you did. Otherwise you would never experience new things.’ I could see the weight lifting off her shoulders already.
An adult’s story is much different, but just like a child, many of us dread change and the absence of our comfort zones. We clasp them tightly with fear of the gloomy tunnel and its passage towards the unknown. Why leave somewhere that is comfortable and painless, right?
But as we head into the New Year and consider our options and where our own lives are headed, think about your own story. Do you want your story to be full of suspense? One that keeps you turning the pages in anticipation. Do you want to take risks and ride the wave of uncertainty over many bumps and hurdles and think, ‘wow, I gave it a go?’ Or do you want your story to be unchanged, safe and comfortable? A nice book that you may pick off the shelf in passing, but one that would be quickly overlooked for a thriller.
As we get ready to begin a fresh new chapter, think about how you want your tale to unfold. We only get one story, so which one would you rather live? Try something new in 2017, no matter how small. Go out and write the chapter of your life. You are the author.
Please note: I wrote this last year on my previous blog, but it is a good reminder that change is a good thing!