My five year-old was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at the bowling alley.
The day dawned rainy and miserable. She had stayed up late the night before. Her grandparents brought donuts for breakfast. She was so amped up, I think she had burned through her reserves before we even got in the car.
She excitedly greeted her classmates, donned her bowling shoes, and added her name to the scorecard when we arrived, but two turns down the lane, she gave up. “I don’t know how to play,” she complained. Then she spotted the arcade games. Cut from the same cloth as her father, she gravitated toward the motorcycle that swayed side to side as its driver maneuvered the flat terrain of the screen.
We had a seemingly needless discussion about why we were at the bowling alley: to visit and celebrate with her friend, the birthday girl.
The behavior that followed defied all logic – unless you take into account the lack of rest, the lack of energy resulting from sugary foods, the lack of barometric pressure that was doing something to her brain and skull.
By the time we said goodbye to the guest of honor and her mother, she was a sniveling mess grasping onto me for dear life.
“Oh no, what’s wrong? Is she okay?” the mother asked. I think she was concerned she was hurt – and also that she hadn’t had a good time at the party she’d hosted.
“I know how you feel,” said the mother with an exasperated look.
Indeed, I’d watched her try to catch her breath throughout the party as five year-olds pooled around her legs. ‘Herding cats’ was the phrase that came to mind as I watched them try to adhere to bowling procedure. As she tried to coordinate with the staff to get lunch on the table for all these kitties, I overheard her tell her husband to ‘do something’.
I recognized in her all my telltale signs of anxiety bubbling up. The throwing of hands in the air. The curt responses. The barked commands. Looking around you as if you’ll see the one thing that will calm the chaos.
I wasn’t supposed to notice. I wasn’t supposed to hear the slightly heated exchange between she and her husband. But I didn’t judge. Instead, it roused me to action.
For once, I wasn’t the one crashing and burning, but since I certainly had been there, I did what I thought I might appreciate when I was. I grabbed a pitcher of soda and refilled cups. I moved said pitcher when I was afraid the birthday girl’s unwrapping might upend it. I tried to assist the kitties at my end of the table with cutting of food, getting of napkins, etc. I tried to make her laugh and get her out of her own mind, which no doubt was swirling and sucking her in.
I don’t know her that well. I don’t have any right to assume what she needs. But I know what it’s like to crash and burn. And I know I’d appreciate it if someone slowed my descent even just a little.
As for my five year-old, after scowling into middle distance on the thirty-minute ride home and sulking for a bit once there, she finally snapped out of it. The familiar surroundings of home and routine and a good night’s sleep resurrected her good mood.
I guess we all just need care and attention to thrive – or at least not end in a fiery inferno.