Those Magic Words
Today I took our puppy on the big loop around the neighborhood for the first time. This route involves a short trek on a main four lane road. It was during the heart of morning rush hour and cars were zipping by at startling speeds. Dexter, our little dark doodle boy, was uneasy and reluctant to move forward. I had to be stern and keep him moving, gripping the leash with white knuckles.
Just when we were about to turn the corner to reenter a sedate neighborhood street, we both came to a screeching halt. To our right, a beastly guard dog was yelping and growling at us through a gate. Dexter curled his spine engulfing his foot-long tail. He cowered in fear and immediately began jumping on my leg. He reached for me over and over again. I could practically hear him crying, “Pick me up, Momma. Pick me up!” His fear was palpable.
I opted not to pick him up. In a rare (but proud) moment of parental fortitude, I knelt down, reassured him at eye level that we were safe on this side of the gate, and then gently encouraged him to keep moving forward. “It’s going to be okay, Dex.” We arrived safely at our doorstep.
I fought my instinct to cradle him and sprint for a more serene setting. There is no exit strategy there, and soon he will weigh 70 pounds. He had to know he could keep going and would be okay.
This brief scene brought to mind all the times in the past few years that I have just wanted someone to pick me up and rush me to higher ground. Safety nets in my life seemed to vanish at a rapid rate. Mid-life landed me on shaky ground. There were, and still are, distinct beasts on all sides of the gates threatening to steal my peace. But occasionally someone comes alongside me and offers the magic words.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Has there ever been a greater phrase uttered? I cannot stress this enough. I am a wordsmith. Letters are my craft, but that simple combination TAKES THE CAKE.
My kid has a broken heart. “It’s going to be okay.”
There is another dumpster fire in Washington. “It’s going to be okay.”
Your car has a flat tire. “It’s going to be okay.”
A superbowl commercial about Alzheimer’s leaves me crumpled on the floor fearing the worst. “It’s going to be okay.”
This phrase is literally the “smurf” of emotional comfort. It works EVERYWHERE. The possibilities are endless. And I want to throw it around like confetti. It hurts, you’re scared, this sucks, but it’s going to be okay. Promise. Scout’s honor.
I was texting with a good friend this morning. We entered motherhood at the same time, came up through the trenches and are both now raising middle school humans. Over the years, we have taken turns falling apart. Today it was her turn. Her children had pushed and tried her patience, knocking her off balance and sending her plummeting into her darkest self. She screamed, yelled, and exhibited desperation. She was admitting total defeat and failure. Her text was a white flag to motherhood.
“Go outside and take a walk. Go to yoga. Read a book at a coffee shop. Look at the sky. Take a break and start again.”
She responded through tears. “My kids hate me.”
I continued. “We all sit at home drowning in shame and guilt that ‘other families would never act this way’. We alienate ourselves and sink into despair. It’s an illusion. We had a massive blowout here just yesterday. It’s going to be okay.”
Her response: “I love you. Crying. Thank u.”
She needed to feel less alone— not judged. The dog barking at her fence was just her inner asshole making her feel like a terrible mother. She had to keep moving. She went to work out and bought herself flowers. We made it safely home that day.
“It’s going to be okay.” The world is scary. Fast cars and loud barks will continue to knock us off balance, but hopefully I can assure my fellow traveler that we will all be okay. As Anne Lamott likes to say, “Grace bats last.” And when you see me someday stuck like a deer in headlights paralyzed by fear, offer a hug and don’t hesitate to speak those enchanted words.