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The Tale of the Forgotten Backpack

One of the new traditions that my family has formed as part of our post-divorce reformatting is a morning phone call on the way to school, on the days my wonderful children are with their father. I eagerly await that 8am call, when my quiet world gets flooded with the energy of their morning. I tell them a joke. Quiz them on the test they’re about to take. Ask them what they’re looking forward to. It’s a point of connection that I cherish.

One day last week I was on speaker with my crew, chatting happily about the day ahead, when their father suddenly realized that he had forgotten the little one’s backpack and lunch bag at home. “Dammit!” the curse tore through our light and pleasant chatter. “I can’t believe I forgot it! How could I forget it? Kids, didn’t YOU see it there? Why didn’t one of YOU bring it? Ucchhhhh, I can’t be late for work AGAIN. I’m going to get FIRED. I was late last week, as well!”

Then came silence.

And then, the small and hesitant voice of my youngest, in JK: “It’s ok, Dad. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Then the 9-year-old chimed in: “Ya, don’t worry about it, Dad. You know me – I never eat all my lunch. I am happy to give him half of mine.”

And then the 11-year-old: “You know, they always have extra food from the lunch program. I’m sure if we call the school and ask them, they will put aside a lunch for him.”

After a long pause, Dad conceded. “OK,” he said, tightly. Then, with a slightly looser grip, “We’ll figure this out.”

As I sat and listened in on the other end of the line, my heart filled with pride at my three Cam & Leo’s Emotion School star students. My little ones were leading the way. All three didn’t invest a minute of emotional energy in the spilled milk, and jumped immediately into solution-finding mode. All three rose above the negative energy. All contributed to changing the situation.

There are few moments more gratifying as a parent than the ones where you see that your kids “get it”. They are clear on the emotional landscape. They have perspective. They are wise beyond their years.

This little vignette demonstrates a few important points:

1. Emotional maturity and perspective is not something that comes with age; it’s something that comes with intentional learning and practise.

2. Railing against, or resisting reality rather than accepting reality and rolling with the punches, is a pointless waste of energy; you will still need to solve the problem at hand, whether you do it with a ton of emotion or not. So, you may as well just not.

3. Whether or not we allow ourselves to get swept up in another person’s stormy emotions, is a choice that we make. If we make the right choice, and remain calm and unprovoked by them, it has the power to pull all of the unproductive emotional energy out of the environment, and change the entire situation.

This event reminds me of a tenet in Judaism called “bitachon”, which translates somewhere between “faith” and “security”. It encompasses the idea that we, as humans, tend to believe we have much more control over outcomes, or how things unfold, than we actually do. And this misplaced belief in our own power causes us endless heartache.

If instead we can accept the idea that we can only try our best but at the end of the day, we’re not in charge of the cosmos, it can help us let go of control and not sweat the forgotten backpacks. Who knows? Perhaps the backpack had to be forgotten in order to avoid a much more terrible fate, like a car accident.

When we get our emotions under our control, what we gain is perspective. And when we have perspective, we get to live a fulfilling and peaceful existence. There is no forgotten backpack, nor any other human error, that can shake us.

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