When I snapped out of my funky quarantine funk and took a good look around, I could see that my teenage daughter had become sad, anxious, insecure, above and beyond her baseline levels for sure.
She cried about hating herself, her life and everything else too. She wished people would like her, swearing that no one does at all. My “I’m a person and I like you!” comment got me a quick and predictable, “You only like me because you have to!”
She listed off all her mistakes, overreactions, failures, pathetic moments from the past few days. She made a very strong case that she is weird and there’s nothing she can do about it.
Her teary, tired, hopeless face begged me to make it better.
First of all, I relate. I’ve been there and I might even be a little bit there right now. I get it.
Then this analogy sparked my brain and this is what I said:
“Things happen that make us feel better, a momentary reprieve from boredom, numbness- the fog. These are the fireworks. Not controlled by us, not dependable in timing, style, color. They are awesome, but they are fleeting.
We believe that if enough fireworks happen in a row, we will be happy again, but when they stop, we stop sensing the wonder, seeing the explosion reflect off our eyes, feeling the power of the boom and blast.
The silence comes back. The darkness comes back. The clouds roll back in and our eyes look down again.
What can we do but wait for another show to randomly begin so we can feel something?
A new episode is released, a notification dings on our phone, we get a nice comment, a message pops into our inbox, a cookie finds its way into our mouth, someone says, “Guess what!” and for a brief moment, we get to leave our dark and tired minds and look up, perk up. We rise up briefly into this place where something new and exciting is possible. We will gladly take the break and we respond instantly with a mighty sense of awe that something appeared in our sky to light us up, even if it’s for 10 seconds.
We are passive. We are waiting. We are on standby. We reduce ourselves to being at the effect of, well, anything, as long as it’s new. We are some degree of miserable until the ding, the flash, the burst, the bite. Then it’s over and we are still cold.
Funny how the fireworks can be so big, so impressive, actually made of explosives that could burn down a town, yet they don’t warm us up.”
She got it. My analogy matched her experience for sure and I felt like a mind-reader! YES!! I was getting through!
Then I said:
“Now, consider a campfire. If we want to be warm, we have to do the work. We have to take action to create and control this source of light and comfort that we need so we clear a space, scavenge for kindling, gather rocks to create the boundaries. We curate the wood from the forest so we can place it in the right position at just the right time. We start small with the small sticks and twigs. We light it. We give it extra breath to get it burning strong, then we add log after branch after log until we have assembled the power we need to be able to sit back and bask in the warmth of our efforts. Unless we tend it, it will go out. So we tend and it’s a labor of love.
It’s labor. It’s love. And, most importantly, it lasts.”
So now, she’s hooked. I can tell she’s into this. She wants the steady burn of the campfire and for the fireworks to be a nice-to-have-bonus feature of her life.
Ok. Great! Uhh. Ummmm. I’m racking my brain to connect the dots from this sacred moment of us connecting, her feeling understood.
How will this precious conversation not be just another fleeting firework, but the kindling for a fire that she can tend on her own? (Hopefully forever.)
I go on:
“The kindling is what we will start with tonight. We will create a list of little, tiny baby steps that you can do that feel like love, love for yourself, something that starts warming up your cold and lonely insides.”
We start generating ideas:
Take a shower & change your clothes
Pet your dogs & play with the kitten
Catch up on your classes
Eat more food that’s not Cheezits & drink water that’s not actually chocolate milk
Sit outside in the sun or walk around the block
Ride her bike
Sit with us more & Facetime the people who love her
Even though right now she is absolutely addicted to the fireworks and hasn’t yet proven for herself that the work is worth the warmth she gains from taking these little steps, I’m going to sit right next to her as she adds another stick. I’m going to walk into the forest with her when she needs another log. I’m going to fan the flames when she needs a rest.
I know she is going to really enjoy herself in the glow of the campfire she will build inside of her. She will be proud that she built this thing, this self-love, one step at a time, consistently. She’ll be able to say, “I did that.”
She is going to know where real security, peace and happiness comes from.
Vanessa Baker is a teen + parent mindset coach in Scottsdale, AZ.