“You think I'd leave your side, baby
You know me better than that
Think I'd leave you down when you're down on your knees,
I wouldn't do that.”
-Sade, By Your Side
My cat Banjo and I were reunited on Friday night. I’d just brought him home from a three-day stay at the animal hospital. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was gravely ill. He is slowly showing signs of progress but will require great care to fully recover. The doctor stressed this to me many times over the phone. She told me if I was ready to take on his care, I could pick him up. She said there would be several pages of instructions and a demonstration on how to give Banjo an IV of fluid each day and five medications.
I immediately knew I could not do this alone. I needed someone who would not get emotional over the severity of his condition … someone who would take in the abundance of information analytically and curiously … someone who would not cower in the face of two-inch needles and mouth-foaming medications.
I knew exactly who I needed: my 14-year-old daughter Natalie.
She is the restraint to my overreaction.
She is the stoicism to my sensitivity.
She is the rational thinking to my worst-case scenario.
She is the navigation to my disorientation.
She is the chill to my hot mess.
I have to admit though, it’s only been during the 14thyear of her life that I’ve begun to see her reserved emotional temperament in a new light.
When a loved one’s emotional style is quite different than our own, it can be difficult to communicate and relate. We may think the other person needs to be more like us. We may even see the person as “flawed.” But different is not flawed … and different doesn’t mean his or her temperament needs changing to be more like our own. Different means great possibility can be born from each person's unique approach to seeing, processing, and responding to life as it happens. In fact, different can be a lifeline at critical times.
Over last few trying days, it’s been Natalie’s reserved temperament that has created healing and hope, not just for our pet, but for our family. If you experience conflict with a loved one that results from a temperament mismatch, our story may help you see things in a new light. I call this my Banjo Lesson…
When Natalie and I got to the vet’s office, we were ushered back to the consultation room. As the technicians went through each medication in great detail, I nervously tapped my foot wondering where Banjo was and what he would look like. I was relieved to see Natalie listening attentively, nodding with understanding.
When they finally brought Banjo to us, I held him tightly and wanted to get him home as quickly as possible.
“We are now going to demonstrate how to do the subcutaneous fluids with an IV,” the vet tech said.
Between the multitude of steps in the procedure and the length of the needle, I felt lightheaded.
“Got it?” the tech asked when she completed the instruction.
I gave an unconvincing, “uh-huh.”
“We can do it,” Natalie said confidently giving me an assuring smile.
When we got home, Natalie created a medication schedule on the computer. It had the name of the medication with the number of doses a day, the dosage amount, and how to space them properly.
On Saturday afternoon, it was time to give Banjo fluids. Natalie prepared an area for us in the bathroom.
For twenty minutes, I struggled with simply removing the old needle in order to replace it with a sterile one. My frustration grew by the second. I ended up pulling so hard that the cap flew off, and I cut myself on the needle.
“I can’t do this!” I seethed, blood dripping on to the towel.
“Yes, you can,” Natalie said firmly. “Just take a deep breath and try again.”
After going through three more needles unsuccessfully, I was completely undone. When Natalie offered a suggestion, I snapped at her. She quietly got up and left the room.
There I sat, all alone, kicking myself, feeling so many feelings—regret, sadness, anger, fear—deeply and painfully.
After a few minutes, the bathroom door opened. Natalie sat down in front of me.
“You can do this,” she said with conviction. “Think about how much you love him. You would do anything for Banjo. I know this feels like you’re hurting him, but you are not. You are helping him. You can do this.”
In one brilliant move, Natalie tapped into my deep-feeling heart and acknowledged why all of this–his illness, his treatment, his fragility–was so hard for me.
Her loving acknowledgement of who I am, and the way that I am, made all the difference.
She then held Banjo still. I took a deep breath, gathered the scruff on the back of his neck, and inserted the needle. Natalie quickly stood up and smoothly released the drip line, watching it carefully.
“See? He’s just fine,” she said with a smile. “Good job, Mom.”
“Thank you,” I said, my voice catching. “We make a great team.”
There I was, kneeling on the bathroom floor, cradling my beloved cat as my girl stood next to the fluid bag, monitoring the flow like a true professional.
As my daughter stood over me—strong, capable, calm, cool, and collected—I realized:
Just because she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve doesn’t mean she doesn’t care.
Just because she doesn’t get emotional doesn't mean she is insensitive.
Just because she appears aloof doesn’t mean she’s not invested or interested.
Just because she is my child doesn’t mean she can’t be her own person with her own temperament and her own emotional style.
Just because she is my child doesn’t mean she can’t be leaned on and learned from.
I am learning,
And I am leaning,
And on a perfect-blue-sky Saturday afternoon, I was unexpectedly brought to my knees.
From the bathroom floor where my child had placed two soft rugs, her anthem of strength filled the room, cutting the tension in half.
She is a calming presence in chaos.
She is a problem solver in crisis.
She is a steady beat when the band falls apart.
Yes, our emotional styles are very different. They are not always in tune. But in a moment of crisis, they formed beautiful harmony. It was enough to lift me up off the floor, so I could dance with my daughter in celebration of life's preciousness.
I had not asked for them, nor did I want them, but I am eternally grateful for them. Now written forever on my sensitive heart, these lessons shall help me see my emotionally reserved loved ones in a softer light for the rest of our days.
May there be many.
Thank you, dear ones, for the love and concern you have expressed to our family through the Hands Free Revolution community on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you for understanding the bonds we share with our pets are sacred. Thank you for continue to walk beside me as we live, love, and grow. Together, there is hope.
HANDS FREE MAMA– In my first book, I address the outer distractions of my life that contributed to my perpetual feeling of overwhelm and criticalness. It is broken into twelve steps you can take each week and is great for small groups or reading with a spouse.
HANDS FREE LIFE– In my second book, I delve deeper into how I overcame internal pressure, forever changing the way I saw and responded to myself, my loved ones, and my life. It is broken into nine habits that can become life-changing rituals for individuals and families.
ONLY LOVE TODAY– In my latest book, I offer a new format for daily inspiration. Organized by seasons of life, each short entry serves as a reset button directing readers back to peace, connection, authenticity, self-care, self-acceptance, hope, and love.
Priscilla Bettis says
I loved it when my daughter got old enough to display her adult-type skills that I didn’t have. She and I are alike in some ways, and vastly different in others. It’s neat to be able to learn from our kids.
From another cat loving family…wishing Banjo a quick recovery. 💕
My daughter is my calm-in-a-storm too. She’s steady, solid, dependable and the most organised person I know. All things I am not! (flighty, distracted, organised with household systems but not with myself!) When I am upset she is always the stead sensible presence in my life who will tell me it’s all going to be ok, just as I am that person for her. It’s so wonderful when our kids are old enough to be part of our team in that way ❤️Thank you for the inspiration you share and for the wonderful, independent young women you are raising. They’re going to impact this world in ways we can only imagine xx
Thank you for recognizing your daughter for who she is. I have often struggled to explain to my more fiery other half that just because I don’t get worked-up doesn’t mean I don’t feel something equally as deeply and with equal conviction.
On a trip to Guatemala, a fellow colleague dubbed me Gumby…the flexible character from a TV show due to my ability to calmly process all that happens on an international trip, appreciate it, and move forward. He said I was Gumby due to my mental flexibility. How wonderful for you that your girl is a Gumby. To another wanderer of the world, I hope you have a most excellent trip. I have always believed that I learned more on any trip than I did between four classroom walls.