Sun, Nov 27, 2011
When empathy goes too far
This is perhaps one of the only instances I have experienced where earnest, soft-hearted empathy went a bit too far. The good news is that Lucy really is getting the hang of it.
Click photo to enlarge.
11:45 pm. House quiet and dark, all asleep.
Rosie (terrified and crying): Mama! Mama! Mama!
Mama leaps out of bed and stumbles to the girls room in a sleep-fog.
Mama (gently): Hey, Rosie, what’s up? Did you have a bad dream or something?
Rosie (talking through tears): Yeah! I had a dream about a scary man…
Lucy (in a comforting, big-sisterly voice, from the top bunk): Oh, was it a robber, Rosie?
Rosie (continuing): It was a scary man in black…
Lucy (continuing to offer her comfort): Oh, that sounds like a robber! Maybe it was like the robber I heard about who tried to get into our house once. Is that true Mama? There are some scratches on our front door, Papa was telling me about it. Did a robber try to use a big bar to get into our house?
Mama (wondering if there is any way not to lie about this): Uh, no. No, I’m not sure what Papa was talking about. Don’t worry about that. Let’s try to think of something nice and peaceful. How about kittens? Rosie, would you like me to tell you a story about kittens?
Rosie (still crying): I feel scared!
Lucy (coming down from her bunk, putting her arm around Rosie): Oh, I know just how you feel, Rosie! I have scary dreams sometimes, too. One time, I had a dream that I was lying on the floor in Mama and Papa’s room, and a scary witch came in, and guess what? She killed me! (laughs) Isn’t that funny, Rosie?
Mama (wondering if someone slipped caffeine into Lucy’s bedtime water bottle): Wow! Well, it’s hard to have a scary dream. But let’s not worry too much about the scary part right now. Do you know what we do when we have a scary dream? We say to the dream, “Stop! Go away!” Then we pray, “Jesus, keep us safe.” And then we think of something nice. So, let’s do that. What nice thing will we think about? Do you want to think about mermaids, Rosie?
(After experimenting with our 3-step nightmare regimen, Rosie requests that we go sit in the living room for a few minutes as her own room feels too scary. Lucy joins us. Mama, still hazy through her stupor, is wondering how to turn this situation back into sleepy-time. Papa has come out to join us, sensing correctly that Mama is losing control of the situation.)
Mama (sitting on the futon with the girls): Well, let’s try to think of a nice story together. How about puppies? Shall I tell you a story about puppies?
Rosie (still crying intermittently): The dream was just so scary!
Lucy (very excited about comforting Rosie): Rosie, do you want to hear about another dream I had one time? I dreamed that someone wrapped me up like a mummy and I was getting buried aliâ€”
Papa (interrupting Lucy quickly): Oh, let’s not talk more about bad dreams. Would you girls like Papa to tell you a story?
And that’s how it all got settled. Mama gratefully returned to bed, the girls got into their bunks, and Papa worked his sleepy magic. He is my hero.
The next day, Lucy told me that she thought I was “cruel” to her in the middle of the night, interrupting her stories. I listened and apologized, and then explained how I thought her nightmare stories might make Rosie feel more scared than she already was. I’m still not totally sure Lucy bought it, but we’ll keep working on it.
But the really sweet part is how much Lucy wanted to comfort Rosie, and how ready Rosie was to receive it. We see this a lot during the day, too, without the added twist of nightmare tales. One of my favorite things is to watch the girls comfort each other when one of them gets a minor injury. I guess sisterly comfort comes with some risks, but I think they’re probably worth it!