January 22, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
During the Christmas Break, Four, Two, and I all got a stomach bug. None of us had a severe version of it; each of us threw up exactly once, so at least we weren’t emptying buckets all the time. But we didn’t feel good and spent a lot of time lying around, staring at the ceiling or with glazed eyes in front of the television.
Four got it first and spent virtually her entire week-long break lying on the sofa and not really talking to anyone. She had her moments when she would perk up a little bit and play, but then after a while we’d find her on the sofa again.
As much as I might joke about the kids not being quiet enough, when Four was quiet that entire week I didn’t like it at all.
My stomach bug started in the middle of the week, so Four was already halfway through hers when it hit me. The kids didn’t like seeing me lying on the sofa or in bed all day; I guess, in their own little-girl ways, they didn’t like me being so quiet either.
Two’s bug lasted all of 18 hours. She ate her dinner one night, threw up the entire dinner, went to bed, and by mid-day the next day she was back to normal. She was lonely because Four and I couldn’t play with her, but at least she was better. But she still had a hard week; my husband would go to work for a few hours and come home and take care of Four and me. So no one was really playing with Two as they normally would, and even with the run-of-the-mill television programs or music she knew something was out of the ordinary.
Being only two, she probably didn’t understand the details of what had transformed her mother and big sister in such dramatic ways. And she didn’t like it; she had her moments when she threw tantrums because she was tired of everyone lying around. But she also showed a tremendous amount of compassion, and once again one of my children impressed me with their capability to grasp a situation so completely.
I saw Two go over to her sister several times, ask her in hushed tones whether she was okay, nodding with that confidence adults show that everything will eventually be all right again, and gently stroke Four’s hair. I think the hair stroking touched me the most. I’ve done it many times to both kids in times like these as well as in an affectionate gesture just before going to bed, in those quiet moments just after having woken up from a nap, or when they’ve fallen down and hurt themselves. Sometimes stroking their hair is enough; they don’t even necessarily require the words I could offer. That simple touch reassures them.
So when I saw Two do it, she reminded me how carefully my children are watching me in good moments and bad. She reinforced for me the idea that kids learn much of their behavior from the adults in their lives, that the way they perceive such complex issues as compassion and the ability to comfort another person comes from their parents and other trusted elders. And she reassured me that at this early age she understands how to offer her help to another person.
My children astound me, as Two did in this case. I look forward to being astounded time and again through the years.