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Teaching compassion in a minivan

Embarking on the 125-mile drive back home after taking some time to enjoy Breckenridge with friends, we braced for the inevitable skirmish in the car. This drive seemed especially daunting because the boys had stayed up WAY past their bedtimes two days in a row and OD’ed on video games. For my boys in particular, this is a volatile concoction just waiting for the opportune igniter to impressively display the multi-kid meltdown and “scream-fest.”

As we traveled down the mountainside, the traffic-Gods had mercy, no delays. However, the four-year old couldn’t seem to go fifteen minutes without needing to pee, the seven-year old was trying to nap per my request, and the five-year old just couldn’t stay quiet. You could feel the tension building in the car’s atmosphere like a looming lighting storm. We pulled over several times to let the little one relieve himself, causing the five year old to unbuckle and enjoy the view, which not only disturbed the eldest from napping, but woke the baby.

Now we have a crying baby. The seven year old, who is a highly sensitive individual, is now reeling because he’s trying to do “the right thing” by napping, tolerate his brothers, and deal with the crying baby. This is difficult for adults, much less a seven-year old who is exhausted and recovering from a media binge.

He’s had it. He moans and unsuccessfully stifles his meltdown by whacking his face with a stuffed whale to cope. He fiercely growls at the baby to stop crying. If there were a “severe thunderstorm alert” available in an app for the emotional storm about to unleashed, we would have been advised to “seek shelter immediately.”

Through the noise I tried to coach our kids on their available choices. They cannot control a crying baby. They CAN remain angry, react angry, and make the whole car angry… or - look at the baby with compassion and think: “poor guy, you are stuck in your car seat, keep getting woken up, you don’t know where we are, and are probably miserable.”

Just as I thought my words were falling on deaf ears and the emotional lighting strike was pending, something magical happened. The crying baby giggled. The face whacking was silly to him. I encourage our eldest to keep making him laugh which lead to a peek-a-boo game with the stuffed whale.

The baby’s little giggle is now an outright belly laugh. Everyone in the car is laughing and the mood of the car feels like rainbows and butterfly kisses. Laughter has trumped anger.

Thank you, my dear baby, for teaching such a simple lesson filled with ancient wisdom.