Wearing a cape – was he a superhero today, or a Jedi, or maybe it was a robe and he was Harry Potter? – and sobbing, he huddled on the floor, the opposite of a caped crusader. With all of his superpowers, he couldn’t bend his mother or father to his will. “I want dessert!” he cried, voice broken by tears. “I want dessert!”
Our friends, Rebecca and Christopher, and their two children, aged 5 and almost 4, were over for what I thought was a really kid-friendly dinner: lemon chicken, rice, mixed vegetables. Neither ate much, although my daughter hungrily spooned her way through her serving, and when dessert time came, we grown ups munched on dates and no-bake cookies. Their daughter and our daughter played happily, ignoring our sugar-fest, but their son, the 5 year old, did not take kindly to being left out – as you might have gathered from his aforementioned sobbing. “You can’t have dessert unless you eat more dinner,” his parents told him. Unfortunately, this did not inspire a painless incident of dinner-eating; the crying continued.
My daughter came over as if magnetically pulled by the sound of his sadness, standing between her daddy and me and eying her companion. “Dad [Sad],” she said. “Mama hold.” (“Mama hold” is her current answer to her own – and anyone else’s – unhappiness, and maybe she’s right: if the world had enough mamas to willingly hold onto every sad person, child and adult alike, we might all be a little bit happier and calmer. Her hugs do create great feelings of joy in me.)
“I’ll bet his mama will hold him,” I said, and still he howled. Rebecca offered him a hug, but that wasn’t the kind of sugar he was hoping for. My daughter stepped closer to him and looked uncertain. “Do you want me to send you home with a cookie for later?” I asked Rebecca.
“That’d be great,” she said.
Her son finally looked up. “I don’t want a cookie!” he said sharply, the pause after his words replacing the space previously filled by his sugar-mourning. My daughter stepped closer still and began to tremulously widen her arms.
It probably wasn’t the right response, but the four of us adults laughed. All this time, all these tears, and he didn’t even want the dessert that we had?
My daughter finally had opened her arms wide enough for a hug, a look of concern shining on her face. “Is it OK if she hugs you?” I asked. He nodded slightly, and she moved in and wrapped her little dimpled arms around him. I felt a bit like crying myself, if the truth be told. She spontaneously, independently, and very sweetly did her best to comfort her friend who was sad. What more can we hope for in our children – or in ourselves? He accepted it, and she released the hug. He didn’t cry anymore. Maybe a hug does have a little bit of a superpower.
The sweet moment passed but, like the calories from those cookies, it lingers still – thankfully hovering near my heart instead of on my hips.