What you need when you’re sad

by CJ

Reader, I hope you are never unspeakably sad, but if you are, you might want to get hold of a toddler. I have one running around my house and, for a fee, will rent her bright and intense disposition out to anyone who needs a hand.

You see, if you’re like me, the temptation of sadness is to lay on the sofa all day while listening to beautiful music. Both, in themselves, are sensible past-times and often the only way to climb grief’s ladder. Yet, for wives, mothers, and people-whose-job-it-is-to-feed-the dog, this is not always practical.

Thus, I was surprised to note that in the first days after my world upended, Poppy’s flashing tempers brought relief. To be dragged from the numbness of my world and into the passion of hers was more restorative even than chocolate.

For example, before my pain meds wore off, I was fascinated to observe how toddler tantrums rise and recede. I saw how vexation first builds in the toddler chest and, without a mother to intervene, how quickly it intensifies. An incoming tantrum is expressed with cautionary overtures that, if unstemmed, turn quickly into a full-blown howl. (Imagine, if you will, those first strains of an air-raid siren, before one grabs a helmet and ducks for cover.) But, if the child is allowed to shriek with rage for anywhere between four to seven minutes, anger soon subsides into an epilogue of disgruntled sobs. Then, thumb-sucking, lap-sitting and head-stroking is permitted and presently, peace is restored to the world.

Magic! I’d never have learned that without Vicodin.

Sadly, my meds didn’t come with a refill order, so tantrum-watching quickly lost its appeal. I allowed myself to get lost in the deep play of block-building instead, and that escape is almost as good. Also, at the risk of sounding like a sentimental fool, there’s nothing so curative as the sight of something cute. Poppy — with her mischievous and curly haired enthusiasm for life — is (I’d argue) rather cute.

As it turns out, my child is also perceptive and I’ve come to appreciate this when I’m feeling fragile. At the park, she puts her arms around my knees and tells the other mothers: “Mummy’s sad.” My tangled appearance probably already conveys this, but still, it’s comforting to have a spokesperson. Less comforting is when that spokesperson casts shade upon my character, as when she held up a discarded wine cork last night and announced: “Mummy’s happy!”

Well, yes, it is true that red wine makes me happy, but then so does chocolate, and phone calls, and notes in the mail. Also, food on my porch and flowers on the mantel and the many hundred kindnesses that have flown my way of late.

But mostly, it’s those loud, naughty, exuberant children who dominate the present moment. To live in a toddler’s world is a welcome relief. Thank heavens for temper-prone tots.