Last night I stubbed my toe hard against Hudson’s high chair. The S-word is made for just such an occasion. Sometimes upon a stubbed toe, it leaps involuntarily from my mouth, though even in my toe-stubbing exasperation, I’m always careful to omit the vowel so it doesn’t count as a full swear. That way, it seems more like expressive onomatopoeia rather than cursing.

But in the presence of my small child, I exercised an inhuman amount of self-restraint, and communicated all my pain instead through my eyes and a tremendous grimace that lasted as long as the throb in my second toe.

Hudson watched the whole display with interest, which turned to puzzlement, which turned to dismay, which turned to anguish. By the time my toe was starting to feel better, Hudson was starting to feel worse, like we’d transferred the current of pain from one toe to the other. Or like my hour glass of ouch was draining into his. It’s not that Hudson was actually hurting, but he was sad, so very sad, that I was.

It’s not that I revel in causing him to cry, but watching my almost 18-month-old son in such a remarkable display of empathy did take some of the emotional sting out of the whole experience. I held Hudson close to me while he processed his feelings, we both felt better—because we both felt something at all.

What do you do with sadness that doesn’t belong to you?

  1. Oct 17, 2019

    I have definitely had similar experiences. When I broke my foot outside my apartment, I hobbled into our front room and just laid on the couch and cried. My almost three-year-old brought me her stuffed animal and told me to hug it to feel better. Seeing her natural response of empathy and shared tears helped strengthen me. Even if I didn’t immediately stop crying.