It took only 45 seconds, but I’ve been thinking about it all day.
I heard a child’s anguished cry while walking at the dog park this morning. I looked behind me and saw a little girl, about 3 1/2, standing all alone and sobbing. I had just passed her and her mother a few minutes earlier, so I walked back and began speaking to her as I approached. “Is your mommy there?” I asked, as I could not see around the bend in the path.
She answered tearfully, “I want my mommy!”
” I just saw your mommy,” I told her. “I know she’s close. Let’s look for her.”
She was soothed a bit by these words and by our taking action together. As we walked I kept reassuring her that her mommy was nearby. Twenty seconds later her mother appeared in the path before us, running and calling in a panicked search for her daughter. “There she is!” I said, and the girl took off running. Her mother scooped her up in her arms calling a relieved thank you to me; I could feel the immense relief of the two in my body. My eyes teared up as I turned, continuing my walk. The visual of mommy and child wrapped around each other, feeling the calming effect of the other’s breath and voice and heartbeat as they regulated their respective nervous systems, stayed with me as I found my own regulating rhythm in footsteps, breath and breezy sunshine.
It struck me that this is what I do in my clinical work, as well. I love to help parents, children and couples find each other again, to teach them how to co-regulate, soothe and repair the inevitable wounds and missteps that occur in relationship. We can all lose our children and partners in tense, angry or stressful moments. Hopefully we can repair quickly, like this mother and child could, but when we can’t, either due to our own wounds or to a child or partner who has seemingly disappeared, we can become further separated. Our mutual injuries can cause us to shut down to each other and we can no longer find the way back. The gap can seem insurmountable. We forget how to reach our husband, wife, son or daughter and we can, little by little, become strangers to each other. This is usually the result of many little misses that, over time, have left a wider and deeper chasm between us. I love to help people build bridges across that gap; I love launching someone back into the arms of his or her beloved.
Sometimes it’s ourselves that we lose – the child we once were is left standing alone and shaken, wondering what to do, where to go. Children know how to immediately access and release their feelings – we all once did. The lost girl’s scream, tears and sobs helped release the terror she was feeling at not being able to find her mother. As adults we have learned to push these feelings away and they can begin to look more like anxiety or depression. We may try to find comfort through food or alcohol or serial relationships, always searching but never finding the real holding we seek. The process of learning to see, know, understand and comfort that part of ourselves – of discovering how to regulate our own nervous system – alleviates these symptoms. Tending to this lost part of ourselves, like the mother who knelt to scoop up her child, provides the real holding we need. We become more available to ourselves, to our children, to our partner and to the possibility of deep, secure and lasting relationships.
It is immensely satisfying for me to walk down the path with someone, offer reassurance and guidance, and to witness the exuberance of rediscovering love, whether that of self or other.
I made sure to say good bye as I saw them head to their car about ten minutes later. The girl called and waved goodbye happily in return; her mother did the same.
It took only 45 seconds, but it was an eternity for the lost girl and her mother. I felt so blessed to have been able to help reunite them if only to have had the effect of lessening the girl’s fear and aloneness for a brief moment… until she was found.