Kindness. What does this word even mean? It’s generally defined by an act of goodness; the quality of being friendly, generous. Regardless of its definition, it seems this word is really having its day in the sun. I see this quote everywhere: “If you can be anything, be kind.” It’s great. Rainbows and butterflies abound and flutter around the work KIND almost everywhere I look recently. From Chris Evans giving a boy his Captain America shield from the Avenger movie because the boy saved his sister from an out-of-control dog to a young man helping a woman across the street after she lost her walker. But what does one really “get” from being kind?
My son Jonah has always been tough. His anxiety causes him to stress about things most people do not even consider. The first day on the beach his anxiety was on overload. He went into the ocean to play with his brother and cousin only to return minutes later. He was angry. His face was tight and his fists were tied up and clenched. These are always the physical manifestations of his anger. The next step for him is self-harming. He will either begin to rip his hair out or punch himself in the face. At these moments, there is no way to reach him. I know I only have minutes to derail what we call “spiraling.”
I ask him if he’s okay, but he ignores me and stomps by. I keep my voice lithe and light.
“Hey, Buddy,” I go over to his chair. He is breathing fast and deeply in and out. Another physical sign that we are headed in a dangerous direction.
“I’m so triggered,” he cries and he bangs his fists on his legs. Another term we use to communicate which danger zone we are in.
“Okay, okay,” again my voice is trying to stay light, but inside I am frustrated as well. My deep desire to sit on the beach and just relax has now shifted and curved. It no longer is about me. I feel my patience slipping. How many years? How many times am I going to have to talk him off the ledge when I just want to be left alone? “What can we do? You remember what we need to do.” Before I go any further, he screams in a deep guttural way.
“I don’t care. I just wanted to go in the ocean and a big wave came along and it almost knocked me over. It’s so rough out there and I hate it. I hate the beach, I hate it here…” he continued talking, but I could feel I was losing myself in his anger.
“Jonah, Jonah,” I repeated. “You are starting to spiral and we need to work on our breathing,” he cut me off with another yell and he banged his head on the chair behind him. Real or imagined, people were starting to stop and stare at him. When he was young, we had more time before his freakouts would draw attention. People assume a toddler or even a child a bit older is unable to control himself, but they tend to gawk when it is a ten year old. I remind myself that this is not really Jonah. This is the Jonah who arrives when he is overwhelmed, tired, frustrated. I know I have said things in the past to bring him back, and those words need to be kind and reassuring. The words cannot be angry or aggressive. Those words only spiral him further into this. At the moment, I am unable to come up with one kind word to say. He stops speaking, but continues to fume. I stand there silently, waiting, and then I decide to walk away. “Fine, Jonah, take a minute,” I say with frustration. “I’m going over here.” I move out from under the umbrella and sit on my blanket near the ocean. He continues to be silent, and I take a moment for myself and pray.
I pray to the Universe for patience. I pray for the light and understanding I need to help him. I pray for the ability to distance myself from this tangle of emotions and to know that my feelings in this situation still matter even if they cannot take center stage. I pray for the next right step, and then I wait. As I stare at the open ocean in front of me, I am distracted by a little boy riding his boogie board in the surf. He rushed into the sea and a wave crashes into his tiny body and the board, pushing him backwards. He perseveres and goes charging forward again. He gets over the next wave and continues. He finds a wave and quickly changes direction to catch it as it heads to the shore. It slides under his board and carries him into the white surf as it reaches higher ground. The boy smiles and laughs. He went really far that time. I watch this scene play out over and over again, and as I concentrate on his feelings of uninhibited joy, I am buoyed back to myself.
“J,” I call out to him. He is still in his chair, but his face is less pinched. “Want to go for a walk with me?” He doesn’t look at me, but he shrugs in response. “Come on,” I say as I get up and brush the sand from my legs. “It will be nice. You always like going for walks.” I am trying to be kind and patient.
“Okay,” he responds tentatively. “I have a good monologue for you.” These are what we call the talks he gives when we walk and he tells me everything he needs to tell me. It’s not a conversation, so we have dubbed them “monologues.”
“That sounds awesome,” I say as we head down the beach. This monolgue is about how much he hates the beach and how much he wants to go home.
“Yes,” I say back. “I completely understand. I love the beach, and you really don’t, Buddy.” I am content with my new found patience and I thank the Universe for it. I actually thank the Universe for a whole host of things as Jonah continues to list the things he dislikes. I focus on gratitude for this moment and I thank the Universe helping me to be kind to my son. As we walk, I decide to play tag with him. I touch his arm while he is still talking and say quietly, “Tag.” He reaches out his hand to quickly tag me back, but I dodge it and run forward. He smiles and tries to reach me again. I am able to miss his reach and we start to run down the beach. His smile is broader now, and we are laughing. He ends up touching my back and I turn to get him. We both turn and run in the water as it rushes up. I kick water at him and he kicks it back at me. The tide has turned and he is back.
We continue to splash and laugh as we head back to the blanket. On the way, I see a large clam shell stuck in the sand. He scopes down and picks it up.
“Remember when used to collect these and paint them, Mommy?” he asks. I nod.
“Yeah, I do,” I respond. “We should do that again.” So we start to look for large clam shells to paint. We find three that are well shaped without any chips missing. I hope for four, but I am still content with the three. By now, Jonah is fully back and he is talking and chattering about pleasant, funny things he was able to do on his video game earlier that morning. I smile and listen.
When we get back to the chair, I put the shells down and tell him I going into the water. My mom offers him some Goldfish crackers and water and he gleefully accepts. I wave and smile as I walk down the small hill to enter the cool waters of the ocean. My BF is already in there body surfing with Cole. As I get closer, he comes up from a wave and smiles and reaches his hand out. In it is a large clam shell.
“Here,” he says. I look down at it in amazement.
“Wait, did you see me collecting shells with Jonah?” I ask.
“No,” he answered. “I was body surfing and this hit me in the hand. I grabbed it and gave it to you,” he answered.
Kindness can take many forms, but I felt this was another sign, a fourth shell, a kindness extended from a listening Universe. A reminder, a message, a gift. What do you get when you give kindness is kindness in return, and sometimes those kindness can be found in the strangest of places, like the palm of a loved one’s hand.
Love and Light!