Juno, age 1 and a half, has confidence in her convictions.

That’s a euphemism. More plainly, she knows what she wants. Even more specifically, she knows what she doesn’t want.

I suppose we lacked a little foresight giving her a name that literally includes the word “no” in it, because she’s so proficient with it. Like a burgeoning mastermind, she’s experimenting with pitch to see which version of “no” achieves the ideal outcome. When her drawn out, vocal fry, plaintive, “noooooooooo” mostly succeeded at making us laugh, she changed tactics. Right now she’s really vibing with the whole body, staccato, “No! No! No!”s whenever we approach her with a hair brush. She’ll pitch her body —off your lap, off the couch, off a cliff if needs be—if you so much as have a secretive hair elastic between your fingers.

Don’t mistake me, Juno is also fully delightful. It’s just that when she’s delightful, you get the sense that it’s entirely her call. Nothing makes her happy, she just decides that she is. My point is that Juno has somehow carved this miraculous path for herself where she does what she wants, and doesn’t do what she doesn’t want. She will not give you a compliance snuggle. She won’t even give you a pity high-five. If she bestows one upon you, it’s because, in that moment, it delights her. I’m thrilled for her teenage self, and fearful for her teenage mother (which is me).

I don’t know what it is about October, but for the past few years I’ve been positively beset with anxiety when the leaves start to change. This October, I am absolutely certain that everyone hates me and I am a complete moral failure, and that probably, single-handedly, my complicity in the system will lead to the destruction of humankind. I’ve been waking up more mornings than I care to admit, shaking and quaking the bed enough to wake Jeremy from sleep, so I can continue my panic out loud. Everything, objectively, on paper, from a bird’s eye view, and from the outsiders perspective, looks pretty nice for us right now. I can even say the words “EVERYTHING IS FINE HERE IN THIS BED” and mean them earnestly during a panic attack, but my body has decided that it’s in crisis. I feel guilt about being in panic when people are actually in crisis elsewhere, but that’s not enough to force my amygdala to get it together. It’s just enough to make guilt and panic soup.

Usually, the only thing that really snaps me out of it is for morning to arrive in earnest, when I can get out of bed at a socially acceptable hour and start my day. Just stop stewing and start moving. I get a little release when the clock strikes 6 AM and I can, in fact, start here.

But this morning, Juno resolutely decided she was awake at 5 AM. Separately, I was having panic while she was in bed cooing. At times, I found myself wincing her same, plaintive vocal fry “nooooooo,” trying to tell the panic attack to shove off, but, as discussed, that version of ‘no’ doesn’t set the most compelling boundary.

After a while, I succeeded in convincing Jeremy to go get Juno to join the milieu. Jeremy had misgivings—Juno kind of prefers Jeremy right now, and hurt feelings don’t exactly cure anxiety. But I guess I admire my little daughter’s sense of conviction. The girl knows what she wants. I don’t even believe my own thoughts half (most?) of the time. I had a feeling that this morning, Juno would want me genuinely, with conviction. And as soon as she came into our room, and realized through the darkness that I was there, she said enthusiastically, “Mama!” And then pitched herself into bed, on top of me, head next to mine, diaper bum high in the sky, and proceeded to give me the twenty-minute snuggle of my life.

It’s difficult to feel anxiety when a toddler has her arms around your neck and is gently breathing in rhythm with you. She’s got gentle, delicious padding.

I got the sense… that she wanted to be there. And strangely, impossibly, she was sharing her conviction with me.

I don’t want to shoehorn social events into this nice blog about me and my kids, but honestly, it’s part of the anxiety pancake I’ve been flattened into lately. Recently, I’ve felt myself keeping this horrific rampage of current events at arms’ distance. It’s not an admirable stance, my 28-year-old self posted condemnatory instagrams about my 34-year-old self who’s engaging differently than I once did. I’m not burying myself in the sand, I’m not not reading the news, but I can tell that I’ve been mentally keeping some of horrors that are happening to very real people, both Jewish and Muslim, in abstraction for the sake of… is it self preservation? Is it lack of conviction? Is it fear of hurting people I care about?

Probably, the latter, as my unfortunate spineline in life is “PLEASE ALL THE PEOPLE”. I have friends closer to and on different sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. And while I’ve been consuming the news, I feel empathy for both sides that I’m almost keeping in check lest I over-empathize with one group at the expense of another. And yet, my thoughts are burning my soul to cinders, since I’m told that empathy for both sides is fence-sitting, and so I’m the problem, it’s me.

But strangely, the lesson this morning, taught by Juno, was that there’s space for a little bit of both. She shared her empathy with me, and I imbibed a little of her convictions. With Juno snuggling me, I felt my heartbeat stabilizing, and I was able to let myself mentally go to the places I’d been avoiding–the one that takes the parents who have lost children in Gaza and Israel out of abstraction and into an intimate reality. Perhaps a strange moment for it, but a necessary one. The actuality of the horrors I’ve been reading about sunk in and dissipated the fictional anxiety waging war in my head.

I did not emerge from this snuggle with decided clarity about the way the US should move forward (or backward) in Palestine, or what talking points I needed to immediately start spouting. More research, time, and thoughtfulness is needed there, from me, anyway.

But I did emerge with a little more conviction, that confronting the terror and the conflict with real and genuine empathy is the starting place. That taking a stance requires a willingness to understand which ‘A’ led to which ‘B’ for years and years and years. That it’s not a moral failing to need a little more time. Eventually I will be able to say yes and no with conviction, like Juno. But maybe my yeses and my nos will come with qualifiers because war is more complicated than whether or not I want to give a high five or let someone do my hair.

Conviction comes where empathy begins.

Start here.