I put my girls in therapy shortly after my separation. I wanted them to get the most emotional support possible in the hardest time of their lives. It’s a great time for them to play and decompress and talk about their big feelings. Since their sessions are directly after school, their therapist offers them some snacks. Last week, when their session ended, my 5-year old asked for a string cheese as we were leaving. The therapist said she couldn’t give her one as their session was over and she had to prepare to get on a phone call after we left. She told my daughter that she could have one next time when she came.
From the moment we left the therapist’s office to the moment we got home, all she could scream and cry about was the cheese. “I want that cheese!” “It’s not fair! I didn’t get my cheese!” “I want cheese NOW!” My 6-year old and I tried to calm her down and make her laugh and change the subject, but it was impossible. She was fixated on the cheese.
The next day, their therapist and I had a phone conversation about what had happened. She asked me, “what do you think that was all about?” I said, “She got fixated on the cheese and got upset because she didn’t get what she wanted.” As we continued our conversation, I slowly began to understand that this outburst really had nothing to do with cheese. In fact, it wasn’t about the cheese at all. Earlier that week, after school, the girls had art class one day, piano the next, and spent the night at their dad’s the next. Finally, when I went to pick them up from school after the night spent at dad’s, they had to go to therapy.
All these events were time taken away from being with me, mommy. The fact that my 5-year old could verbalize this to her therapist was shocking and impressive. It also reminded me that all these events can seem like very long times to children her age. Lastly, it reminded me to wonder and be curious when my children seem to be upset about “nothing” because more often than not, it will be about something completely different. (I know, so many things to keep track of as parents!)
The more I thought about it, I realized that this does not only apply to children. We as adults experience this too. We hold onto negative feelings, not verbalize things that bother us, suppress suppress suppress until something- the string cheese- will cause us to explode. We and others around us may be confused as to why a piece of string cheese would make us so angry, but if we take the time to slow down and observe our lives and actions (or lack of), we’d realize that it’s not about the cheese at all.