Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Necessary Pain

“I hate shots.”  My five-and-three-quarters year old daughter informs me, eyebrows raised, head to the side, all business.

“You know why we get them, right?”  I ask her, reminding her of our prior conversations.

“So I don’t get sick.  But I still hate them.”

“That’s okay,” I reassure her.  I don’t like them either.  We held each other and cried together the last time she got them.  A little silly, I know, unless you know a mommy’s heart and how we seem to feel their pain 10 times over what they themselves are experiencing. 

Would I save her from that pain?  From the briefest pinprick of a needle whose contents could save her life?  No.  No, I must allow that pain.

“It’s not fair!  PLEASE don’t take away my ponies!”  She’s in tears now - real tears, not the wonderful crocodile variety she’s learning to whip up. 

And truth be told, I’m close to tears myself.  I don’t want to take her precious friends away either – if nothing else than for the extra time and pleasure it affords me in seeing her tucked away in the little world of play she so delightfully weaves around herself.

But it’s a consequence of her disobedience.  She loses favorite toys.  She loses favorite activities.  She stands in the corner.  She is punished.  Do I enjoy this?  Nope.  Not. One. Bit.  It pains me.  It pains her.  It would be so much easier to just give in and not inflict this pain.

But I must allow it.

“They just wouldn’t talk to me, and I don’t know why.”  My five-and-three-quarters year old daughter’s genuinely puzzled words bite and sink into my heart like a blade.

It is the phrase I’ve been dreading, almost since finding out my darling little peanut was going to be a girl.

“Well,” I manage, heart racing, words failing, “if someone’s treating you that way, just go find another friend – or make one, make a new friend.”

“But she’s my best friend.

“No,” I say quickly, “no, when someone is treating you that way, they are not being your friend.  We don’t treat people that way, especially friends.”

See, I not only live in fear that my daughter will be treated badly by other girls, I live in greater fear that my daughter will learn this treatment and then turn and use it on other girls.

Her name was Jenny and I just didn’t like her.  No, it wasn’t that I didn’t like her; I was just ambivalent about her.

“Hi Jessica!”  She’d unfailing greet me in the narrow hallway of our church. 

I’d march right on by.

Finally my mom took me aside.  “When someone says hi to you, Jessica, you need to say hi back.  It’s rude to ignore someone.  It’s unkind.” 

And so I started saying hi back.  Probably not very enthusiastically.  But I did it.  And Jenny was thrilled.  I can’t go on to say we became best friends or anything, but by going through the motions of kindness, I began to learn a valuable life lesson, a lesson that laid the foundation for my understanding of kindness, a foundation that was further built upon through the years when I myself would experience the unkindness of girls.  A sometimes bloodied foundation that would present me with a beautiful gift: empathy.

Of course, I was not perfect.  I have plenty of memories of myself indulging in unkind behavior, even in college.  And I’m sure there were even more times that I don’t recall when I did not exercise kindness towards a fellow girl. 

I have memories of being treated unkindly also.  Those are the memories that surface the most sharply - like ghost pains in a limb that isn’t there anymore. 

I naturally want to spare my daughter pain.  I want to swoop in and rescue her and make all the hurt go away.

But there is blessing in pain.  Growing pains.  Birth pains.  Pain that lets us know when something is not right.  Pain that serves as a reminder; a caution against things that might inflict it - like a vicious cycle.

As a young girl, the best lesson that taught me to be kind to others was when I felt the pain of a friend being unkind to me.  It’s sad, but true. 

Do I really want to “save” my daughter from this lesson?  This pain?

My emotional self pushes to the front screaming yes!  I see my daughter’s sweet little face and her happy expressions; I remember her as the little infant pixie that she was.  I remember the very first time she fell and hit her head and cried and cried.  I remember realizing I couldn’t make that pain go away, no matter how closely I held her and shushed her and cried my own tears.  I remember realizing there would be pain in her life that I couldn’t save her from.  And it cut me to my core.

I want to save my daughter from pain.  But even more do I want her to be able to save others from pain.  I want her to not be an inflictor of pain.  I want her to be a champion of those already in pain.  And my words, my urging alone will not teach her this lesson.  It’s one she has to learn herself.

So I left my little darling today, in a big, big room full of rows of chairs and unknown children.  I ignored that mother’s emotion screaming at me to stay and watch over her and make sure everyone treated her kindly – and make sure she treated everyone kindly.  Her little blue eyes followed my progress out the door; I waved once and blew her a kiss.  And left her to learn the lessons at hand.  And left her to the pain.

To sentence my daughter to a life without pain would mean causing her to become a shallow, selfish, one-dimensional little creature more prone to apathy than to empathy.  It would teach her that all pain is bad.  It would teach her to avoid anything that might cause pain, but it would go even further still – causing her to become afraid or suspicious of anything that may cause even discomfort: a new relationship, a marriage, schooling, a new job, even children of her own.  

To ensure my daughter’s life is completely painless will go very far towards making sure she never becomes the woman she can be.  To keep her from pain will very likely keep her from life.

I must allow it.