With Empathy (Brynnsight) – I probably should have cut this into two parts.

I’m not even sure where to begin here. Usually by the time I sit down to write a blog I already have paragraphs written out in my head, in order, before I even sit down with my pen or keyboard. I do know what I want to say, but the order is still screwed up. I would have waited until it was all ready, but it would appear that I have to write it now – the thoughts pushed against the front of my head so much that I was alerted (read: woken up) 3 hours before my alarm with an inability to ignore them. I’ve written before about how much I enjoy learning these little quirks of mine that validate my urge to write. I’ve even bragged about how little time it takes me to write something (because things percolate in my head first) – and I feel like I’m eating those words now! Whatever; I have to listen to the voices.

I’m also unable to control the length of this in my head – there is a measure of necessary backstory.

(Mom, you may as well stop reading now. This could be long.)

Let me start off by saying this: I do not take credit for my children in any way – blame or praise.

Children don’t ‘turn into’ creations we’ve molded them to be.  Think about this: we all have had those special moments of clarity when we realize what a unique spirit each of us truly is. In that moment – whether we manage to retain the thought or not – do we once feel that we were the product of our parents? No. What we feel is our own individuality – a feeling that we understand to be solely a part of our individual selves, separate from and above any one thing we have ever been taught and any one we have ever known. Is that sense of spirit something we ‘grew’? No. It is something we are, and are born with – and it is who we are, no matter our upbringing.

This is the basis of all stories involving children who grew up to become something other than what was expected of them, good and bad.

Understand, too, that there is more than one way to teach anyone anything. What is learned/accepted/absorbed depends on how a person learns and that person’s level of motivation to learn (for whatever reason, be it the threat of backlash, the desire for praise, or something in between).

Children do not learn solely what they are told, either. They’ve shown us in many hilarious ways that they are great mimics, too. Familial dynamics and birth order included, if you really think about it, anything we feel we’ve taught or imprinted on them is as relevant as residue. As they begin to feel their unique spirit on their own, they make choices about what they will accept from us based on what they resonate with. If they don’t like it, they can just brush it off.

We’ve all made that choice knowingly, in many ways. Did you always get along with your parents? When you started making your own decisions, who did or do you listen to first – or ultimately?

This is not an attempt at absolution of blame. First of all, there is no blame. Each and every one of us acts and reacts solely on the unique mixture of our own experiences, thoughts, and emotions; secondly, the idea of blame is the denial of self-power.

You made me do it. No. My reasons for doing it may have involved some consideration of you, but I made the choice to do it. The understanding of that comes down to the personal level self-awareness – remember, choices can be made unconsciously and by default, but they are still choices.

Whether or not my children do ‘well’ is entirely up to them. My job – my responsibility to them – first involves physical nurturing (food, clothing, housing, and clean diapers) and basic guidance (“look both ways before crossing the street”). Since they first learn what they see, I need to show them how to honor their own unique spirit by honoring my own, from that place of love.

Taking credit for them is also wrong. Credit and blame are two sides of the same coin. My children will understand that the power is theirs; I will not take it away from them by accepting credit for their accomplishments.

They are not going to grow into unique individuals; they are unique individuals. Each of my daughters’ being is and always was, and has very little to do with me. I’m a gateway, not a way.

In the same respect that the teacher is the student, I as the parent am also the child. There have been many occasions where my daughters have said or done something surprising – something I cannot trace back to anything about me or their lineage/surroundings. Those experiences have shown and continuously prove the idea of unique spirit. I have been made aware of it, and I’ll be damned if I attempt to thwart it.

If I really believed that my daughters were my creation, then I would have to believe that my real children were switched at birth with someone better’s kids, and that I should start looking for their natural birth mothers.

I tell them they are weird. It is the highest compliment I can give them, because it supports the idea for them that they don’t have to be anything other than themselves.
My girls have taught me so much in so many ways, and I am constantly in awe of both of them.
THAT BEING SAID, here’s the prologue:
(It’s Brynn’s fault this time!) 🙂

Brynn is eleven years old, and she is more adult than I am. She has a sense of the ‘bigger picture’ far better than I do, an immediate grasp of situations, and a talent for being able to put things in words succinctly. As of this morning (because it just occurred to me), I will now be calling this quality, ‘Brynnsight’.
Two specific examples (before last night) stand out:
Her father and I split up when she was almost six. Like all parents before us in the same situation, we ‘sat her down’ to give her the bad news. After we told her – making sure to tell her what we were supposed to – that this had nothing to do with her and that we still both loved her very much and respected each other, she got very quiet in a considering sort of way. She asked who she was going to live with and we told her she would live with me. Then she got off my lap and said, “I’ll be right back.” She left the room for a minute and came back with a tiny little clay animal that she had made and handed it to her father, saying calmly, “Here, Daddy. I made this for you in case this happened.”

The other time was just three years ago, when she was eight. Her sister Deren (who is older by eleven years) was nearing the end of a not-so-positive three-year relationship. Another … big upset had occurred, and it was becoming very clear to Deren that this may not be something she wanted. It was a case of the usual ‘how many times does something bad have to happen before I realize this may not be working?’ situation. The three of us were in the room together, and Brynn had her arm around Deren in sympathy. Deren was very upset, understandably. Brynn let her talk for a while and then said to her, comfortingly, “At least this wasn’t a surprise.”
(– I don’t know who was more shocked when she said that!)
Like any parent who is tired of watching the same stupid children’s movies over and over and over again, I’ve begun exposing Brynn to a lot of older movies, movies I grew up with. I did the same with Deren. I tell them I’m exposing them to pop culture, but in reality I’m ensuring that the same stupid children’s movies we watch over and over and over again are the stupid children’s movies that I like. I admit it.
At this point I have to interject a little about myself – not to prove that Brynn is like me, but to show my basis for understanding her own uniqueness.
During my many therapy sessions – or conversations with my girlfriends over drinks (tomato, tomahto), I’ve begun to understand my own sense and depth of empathy. My best doctor/friend, Donna, was the one who helped me understand it the best. We were discussing connections, a very strong life-theme of mine, and I was venting my anger at my inability to understand why I can feel empathy to such a level that it incapacitates me. I can’t read or watch the news; when I hear of something bad happening to someone, I have a sense of feeling everything I can imagine they are feeling. I won’t go into detail, but what I experience is enough to paralyze me indefinitely. I wanted to know what the purpose of it was – I thought I’d be able to deal with it better if I understood why, or if I thought there was some cosmic benefit to it.
I can’t watch movies where children are being hurt, tormented, or portrayed as evil. Violence in movies actually makes me sick. I got into a full-on fight with my first ex because he didn’t change the television channel in time for me to avoid seeing something I didn’t want to see (something I still remember and feel to this day, nineteen years later).
I understand empathy to be a part of our connectedness, however I was questioning the whys of it. Donna gave me the kick in the ass I needed, by telling me in no uncertain terms that it was not my place to know why – that I don’t and can’t control everything. She also helped me understand that on some level, my taking on of those feelings was more of a Universal way of easing the load of the collective.  That I was able to understand, because I believe anything done to or for one is done for all.
So, anyway, now I’m introducing older movies to Brynn (mostly 80’s classics). I’ve been trying to guess her taste by what she showed interest in. I was very surprised that she loved “Forrest Gump”. Honestly, I thought that because she didn’t know most of the history of it that she would have no interest. She has stated openly that she now realizes she likes romantic comedies – but not all. She loves “You’ve Got Mail” but hated “Sleepless in Seattle” (except the ending).  She hated “Sixteen Candles”! What? She wouldn’t even watch the whole thing! All she kept saying was, “Why didn’t she tell her parents they forgot her birthday?!”

I did tell her it ended happy, but it wasn’t enough for her to endure what she called ‘torture’.  It was after this that I realized we share a similar quirk of … something, regarding what we can or cannot expose ourselves to (she knows I only repeatedly watch the endings of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” because I cannot endure the pain of them). Okay. Noted.
Then, we tried “Moulin Rouge”. After it ended, she looked at me and burst into tears – partly in anger at me that I made her watch a sad movie. Apparently, she and I are not alike in our taste of ‘reflective’ sorts of movies.
I told you she was weird, right? She’s a rule-follower. To the letter. She takes pride in that, too. Doesn’t use bad words, or even words she considers bad. Totally not me.
She is also very – very – expressive in her happiness. If she is enjoying something, she will stop and just announce, “I LOVE THIS!” I love her constant expressions of appreciation.
As her mother, and knowing her life, I would not say she’s had the best childhood – at least nothing to brag about. Her parents are not together, she’s never lived in a house, she has gone without more than with. And she is happy, oddly enough.
The first time I had to reprimand her – actually, reprimand her – was four years ago. She broke down in tears to the point of hyperventilating. I then had to explain to her that there will be some times she will be yelled at, and that not everything is perfect. Her answer? Between crying hiccups she stammered, “But … it … always … has … been!” That blew me away.
Last night (I know, FINALLY!), I suggested “Edward Scissorhands”. She knows who Johnny Depp is and Tim Burton (even though she thinks he’s creepy), and appreciates Danny Elfman’s music (“The Nightmare Before Christmas” soundtrack is a favorite).
I was working, so she was watching it alone. She came into my room after about 45 minutes or so with an odd look on her face and burst out crying (they had turned on him).
She told me (I can’t remember her exact wording here) that as she is getting older, she is being exposed to more things (not just movies) that upset her and “she can’t do anything!” – which hit me hard, with my own understanding of painful things paralyzing me.
I asked her if she understood the ideas of sympathy and empathy, and explained to her the general definitions of sympathy being the idea of feeling sorry for someone and of empathy being the idea of feeling the same feelings as another.
I told her that I understood her feeling that way, mentioning my own quirks about what I feel the need to inundate myself with or avoid.
I also told her that I was trying to understand her point of view. She liked “Notting Hill” – and Hugh Grant is miserable during a lot of it. She liked “Forrest Gump” even though his mother and Jenny died. I knew from “Moulin Rouge” that she didn’t like sad movies, but I couldn’t put my finger on what separated one partially sad movie with a happy or inspiring ending from another with her.
This is where she sat me back on my heels, both in her explanation and in her ability to understand her own feelings enough to vocalize them clearly:
“I feel that sense of …
(ready for this?)
… abuse.”
How the hell did she come up with such right, clear, concise, and understandable words? How does she understand herself so well at her age? The understanding she has of herself is truly amazing. I have to get a better grasp of that before I really piss her off.
Thank you, Brynn, for giving me an explanation even I understand. Thank you for proving more clearly to me each person’s own unique spirit. Thank you for teaching me more perspective.
Thank you, too, for waking me up too early and causing me to start my day later than I wanted to.


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