Things always seem to line up in a way that is needed, when we look back and reflect, even the painful things. As we dealt with Alexa’s palpable pain over the transition from the top bunk to the bottom, we were reminded of this in many ways. Seemingly small and insignificant moments have a way of drawing us into the present and seeing things we didn’t see before, and giving them greater significance in the whole picture of our life.
I opened the shower door and held out a fluffy towel for my still quietly crying little one. I wrapped her tight and once more put her on my lap. This time I looked her in the eyes and said, “Alexa, mommy is going to help you through this. You have everything you need to not only get through it, but to grow and thrive and even find joy. I know that is hard to believe right now but its is true. We all have been given exactly what we need, and it’s hard to figure that out when you are hurting; that’s why you have parents. We can see the gifts in you and can help you locate them. It is also important to feel what you are feeling, so being sad for awhile is actually a good thing. You have honoured what is inside you right now, but it is also important to move forward and start to look for solutions so you don’t stay in that place.”
She reluctantly agreed to try.
We started by figuring out what exactly was the source of the pain. Why was moving off the top bunk so upsetting?
There were three reasons:
- Her stuffies. They couldn’t all fit on the bottom bed as there was no guard rail.
- Her artwork. It couldn’t all fit on the walls on the bottom bunk space.
- Her haven. It was private and cozy and the bottom bunk didn’t seem to offer that.
This was a parenting moment where I truly felt God leading me, in one of the strongest ways ever. As I was leading her to find her inner strength and wisdom, so too was I being led to find mine. And so we began to figure out how to address each of these concerns together.
In her room was a doll house that was getting minimal use. In the basement was a little toy shelf that belonged to her beloved Aunty Geneva. I suggested that we could take the toys off the shelf, bring it upstairs and move the doll house downstairs. We could place each of the stuffies in the ‘proper’ place on the shelf, just as they had been on the bed. She was a bit hesitant but thought that might work. One down.
Precious hand drawn pictures lined the walls along her top bunk. Each one lovingly created. There was not the same room on the bottom bunk for all the art work. I recalled being faced with a similar situation a few years earlier. When Alexa was three she decided to decorate the wall by her bed with a whole package of stickers one day. Choosing your battles as parents is a coping mechanism; an important one. Jeff and I decided this was not a battle to have. She wasn’t hurting anyone and it was a creative expression and loving extension of who she was. So we gave her boundaries for sticker placement and allowed her to create freely within them for the next couple of years. Everyone was happy. All was well until we decided to move. The stickers had to come down and there was no way to save them all, but we got her a scrapbook and together we picked out some cute paper to place the salvaged stickers on. I attacked the sticker wall with goo gone and a straight edge, removing them carefully. I saved as many as was possible and put them in her album so that she could take them to the new house and hang up the pages if she chose. It was not a perfect solution, and there were many casualties, but over all it was a solution she was pleased with. The stickers never came out of the album, because she began making new art for her new space, but we have the memories and the stickers.
I suggested to Alexa that adding some of her art work to the scrapbook might be the perfect solution. She could select her favourite five or six pictures and put them up and place the rest in her memory book. I also suggested leaving a little bit of blank wall space so that she could add some new creations. She thought that was a reasonable solution. I could see her mind working as she slowly nodded her head. She was drawing memories from her past experience and was beginning to believe she could do this; and that it might not be awful.
The last one was going to be the hardest. How do you replicate the privacy of the top bunk? How ever would I convince her that the wide open bottom bunk could be a place she adored like the top? So much of her love for that space was created over the countless hours she has spent there; feeling things I could not change nor could I ever promise her it would be the same, because it wouldn’t. Something shifted inside me. I had been trying to re-create something I couldn’t. Life doesn’t always allow for that and I needed to help equip her for times in life when there was no re-do button. Those times call for a new attitude. That is how you move forward with hope for the future instead of always carrying an ache for the past. God had heard my prayer because the idea came to me in an instant. I asked her if she would like me to make her curtains for her bed. Curtains could allow her to close out the outside world and would transform the bottom bunk into her own new unique special space. I knew I had hit the jack pot when her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her sweet face. Now I would have to figure out how in the world to sew curtains!
I believe that when we choose to be positive in the face of adversity there is usually a bonus that comes with it. I was reminded of a little gift all wrapped up in the basement. I had bought Alexa a reading light for Christmas but chose not to give it to her because the light might make it hard for Nixon to fall asleep. The maturity I saw displayed in her that night, told me she would have the maturity to use the light responsibly, and the curtains would block the light from bothering Nixon.This was the perfect time to give her this extra gift. The real gift she received was the gift of seeing her inner strength and resolve, but sometimes it is nice to get something as a physical reminder. The smile turned to excited squeals of delight. She leaped off my lap and ran to get in her pj’s; she was ready for her first night as a bottom bunk dweller.
The final thing she needed to do, as she stepped forward, was to set her brother’s heart right. Often in our grief, others share our pain and experience their own as a result. For this pair, this is almost always the case. Without being asked, she went to find Nixon. She wrapped him in a huge bear hug and, “sissy is all right. I’m ready to help you put your stuff on the top bunk. It’s your turn”. It was the first time I saw him express any excitement that night about moving on up, and it began with a rather hesitant smile. She hugged and kissed him and soon they were arranging his stuffies where hers, had only minutes before held court. And it was okay; truly okay.
Jeff and I tucked them into bed that night with smiles on their faces and warmth in our hearts. Adversity has the ability to unite and build if you let it. Our family got to live it that day and we will surely get to experience it again. But we have this memory in our tool kit for life and from that place we built together. Stronger than before and giving all glory to God.