Our sunny Minnesota days were finally returning as I walked out into the lobby of our program center, my mind filled with the new information and tasks I had collected from our staff meeting. I had some personal stress lingering after a morning phone call, some anxiety from starting some new projects and changing offices, some concerns with a few of the cases we had discussed. I concluded it was, for the most part, an ordinary day filled with the responsibilities adults obtain as they grow up.
I stood in the lobby and observed a four-year-old girl sitting beside her mother by the newly installed computers, legs tucked close to her body, her face buried against her knees. Her mom sat on one side of her, my coworker Csonya, our new family advocate, on the other side. As I approached I heard the deep sobs and weeping that erupted from this little girl.
Csonya asked her what was wrong. Her mother asked her what was wrong. She continued to cry.
It wasn’t hysterical. It wasn’t a tantrum. Just endless streams of tears rolling down her small face. The guessing game began: Cysona asked if she was hurt, if she wanted something, if she was hungry. To each question a firm shake of her head confirmed that it was none of those things.
Then both her mom and Csyona asked her, “You want to cry?” This little girl full of deep sobs and big tears nodded.
It was simple, this child, ordinarily as sunny as the day outdoors, jumping and laughing, friendly with everyone, just needed a moment to feel and “own” her feelings. Csonya offered to read with her, stating that when she was ready and finished with her cry, they could read together. After a few minutes she collected herself, wiped the tear streaks off her face and went to go find a book.
The event took no longer than 15 minutes. Yet I truly appreciated what this four-year-old taught me: There is nothing wrong with being sad sometimes. Homelessness is difficult.
Children understand more than we give them credit for. They may not be able to articulate and explain exactly what is happening, but they feel frustration, loss, sadness. This little girl gave herself some time to cry and be sad, and when she was done and ready, she picked herself up and continued on with her life.