Published on August 26th, 2013 | by Amy Jane Helmericks

Words Are Powerful, But Sometimes They Aren’t Enough

“Mommy, can you give me words for my emotions?”

Natasha, my 10-year-old was having a rough night, emotionally—10:30 p.m. (WAY past bedtime), and she was still keyed up.

I was having a rough night, too: Daddy out of town, chickens and rabbits still to water before bed, eight goats expecting hay, and three of those insistently reminding me they wanted to be milked, too.

And don’t get me started on the dog, cat, and two parakeets’ noise calling for my attention in our little (under-1000-square-foot) house.

“Try on your own, at first,” I said, my voice a little tight with keeping such a grip on my tension. “I’ll be able to talk while I’m sitting still to milk.”

But no fairy dust was hidden in the hay dust.

I returned to the house with no more ideas than when I had left. Natasha was standing in the center of our crazy-cluttered living room, waiting, watching me expectantly.

I had nothing to offer her. Me, with all my words and practice and a lifetime more experience with pain than her. I could only shrug and feel helpless.

I suggested she think on the stories she knows, to consider those practice, and to trust the match she can feel between her emotions and something in that story. To try out those words.

She nodded and kept whispering about her frustration and lost-ness in this breathy voice that only made me more frustrated. She really wanted me to explain these emotions to her. Make her feel right again, but she couldn’t even actually voice her desire as she begged me to tell her how she felt.

I thought of an image from my own (unpublished) novel.

The prince asks a young soldier to save him from the mass of angry people chasing him. The soldier almost laughs at his prince. “How do you expect one man to turn back a mob?”

There is a childlike faith in such a request. There is a hope and even admiration in the question.

But it is misplaced.

“I really can’t explain your emotion,” I told Natasha at last, and my tension over her neediness finally dissolved as I let go of a boulder I couldn’t lift.

“I can’t even explain all of mine,” I admitted. “All I know is that all of them are important. All the emotions mean something and have a job. Try feeling them for a little while before running away or hating them. Maybe they won’t be so scary if you give yourself a minute or two to try them on. You don’t need to keep holding onto them forever.”

She wasn’t any more interested in returning to bed but seemed resigned to the inevitability of process.

Words do so much to ease the way, I forget sometimes that they aren’t a detour route from the actual work of living.

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