Sometimes, in the course of my day, I step on the tiny little pieces of whatever my five-year-old has collected from the universe of tiny little pieces and then methodically arranged across his floor–turning his bedroom into a rigged, land-mine experience for us and our bare feet.
I can’t freak out, though. I have to move on.
But throw enough tiny little things in front of my 7 year old, and you will watch a storm blow up inside her and explode all over the place—pushing those tiny little pieces out of the way with giant globs of misery. The fallout of this is mine to manage and manage I do. These days are the terrible ones, the horrible ones, the no-good very bad ones.
Yes, I know, I stole that. From the pages of the timeless Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day, which brings Alexander’s bad day to life with its muddy reds and blues, its scritchy-scratchy pen and ink drawings, its ambience of misery. Ah, how we laugh and groan with sympathy when we read this book—the gum! no toy in the cereal box! sneakers without color! There is so much injustice in Alexander’s day that the book reads like one big foot stomp.
I just recently noticed, though, that absent from the narrative of this book is the voice of Alexander’s mother. There is no one trying to calm him down, bribe him back into good humor with the sneakers of his dreams. No one calling around to other shoe stores to see if maybe, possibly they could get the sneakers with the stripes—hoping the perfect new kicks might draw her third child back from the dark side. I’m not even sure the mother knows just how bad Alexander’s day is because, honestly, she has three sons and a day to get through.
Which brings me to a lesson I recently learned from a movie trailer. I haven’t seen the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green, but this one brilliant line really stays with me. When Timothy is walking into school his father shouts after to him to have a good day. Jennifer Garner’s character quickly tells him that he’s putting too much pressure on their home-grown child, so he quickly shouts a correction: “Have the day you have!”
What a wonderful way to take the pressure off! What relief! Somehow, I think we have given the message to our children that their days are all supposed to be winners, and therefore they stomp and they slam when their day turns into a real loser. And how did we get here anyway? To this place where our children get so easily frustrated by the small obstacles we all have to move through to get to the end of a lousy day?
I think I know. I think it is our fault. We are, after all, a parenting generation of pleasers—trying to manage our kids’ moods, trying to make them happy with the meals they want, the shows they want, the play dates they want. So much so, that they can’t make sense of it when things get in the way of their happiness.
And some days we just plain step on things, get gum in our hair, and things don’t work out just so at school, and they don’t have the right shoes at the shoe store, and yes, all of these tiny pieces get in the way of having that good day they were hoping for. Which brings me back to Alexander.
At the end of the book, we find out that his mom tells him everyone has bad days, even in Australia. What good work she did, telling him that this is just the day he was dealt. Because I think this is what we are supposed to do—let them have the day they have, instead of supporting and managing and trying—trying so hard that their well-outfitted feet hardly ever land on those prickly pieces in the first place, keeping them protected and fragile, even when they stomp.
So the next time I’m at a shoe store and they are out of the sneaker of my kids’ dreams, I’m going to try out some Judith Viorst, get them the pair of sneakers they NEED, and move on with the day. And when we get home, maybe they will retreat to their rooms and sulk a little, and then yes! they might just snap out of it and maybe they will make good of their bad day—and hopefully, if I have done right by them, they will make something big and meaningful out of all the tiny little pieces.
Reading list for a lousy day (for everyone):
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban, illustrated by Henry Cole
Taking a Bath with My Dog and Other Things That Make Me Happy by Scott Menchin
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (tin-can stilts alert!)
Judy Moody was in a Mood by Megan McDonald
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney