“Mommy, what is res-ill-ih. . .?”
We are taking turns sipping sparkly water from a red mug. I lean in to see the words on its side. “Oh, that’s ‘resilience.'” The mug is a forgotten souvenir from the Learning and Leading with Resilience conference earlier this year. Because the three grownups sharing this address take their careers a bit too seriously, the house is littered with such schwag.
Bug traces the word with his finger, sounding it out. “Res-ili-ence. What it mean?”
“Resilience is. . . ” I fumble. Apparently, the mug was not the only forgotten item from the conference. “It’s sort of when something gets messed up but comes back again, either into the old shape or into something new and better. Resilience is bouncing back.”
“Like a magnet?”
“Hmm.” I think about this. “Not exactly. More like a nerf ball. You know how if you mush it, twist it, anything, it still spring back into the shape it was before?”
“Yeah.” He is making a squeezing motion with his hand, mimicking me.
“It’s not just things. People can have the quality, too,” I go on. “It’s a way of living life. Just imagine some big unexpected change happens. Like. . . maybe a big glacier comes and busts up some guy’s house.”
“What’s a glacier?”
“An iceberg. You ever see any icebergs around here?”
He laughs. “No, they’re in the north pole!”
“Right. So this would never happen here, right?”
“I know, Mommy.” He rolls his eyes. “Just say the thing!”
“Okay. So, say some guy down the street is just strolling home after work, and he sees this big glacier roll through his neighborhood and right through the middle of his house. Everything he has is destroyed. He might cry and stomp like anyone would, even like you and I would, if all our stuff was gone. But then the guy spends the next 30 years still being sad and mad, and saying, ‘Bad things happen and it’s just no use trying, I’ll never have anything good ever again.’ And guess what? He ends up not living a very happy life, just because one bad thing happened one time. You know what that guy doesn’t have?”
“Resilience. He couldn’t ever get himself to see a way past the glacier and the stuff he lost, even a long time after it happened. He was stuck back in the bad thing.”
“Okay, okay, okay.” Bug takes another sip of seltzer and lays back on the couch.
“Maybe instead,” I go on, “the guy stomps and cries at first, but then decides to gather his neighbors and work together to re-build. Maybe he decides to stop being miserable after a little while, and he finds the energy to design a whole new house, and maybe he likes it as much as or even better than the old one. Maybe it takes him a few years to save up his money and do the work, but he still keeps plugging away. He and his friends and family and neighbors all end up with a community that’s not quite like the old one, but it still really nice even if it’s different. You know what that guy is?”
“Yes, duh. Resilient,” he says.
“Yeah, duh, you got it.”
“Legos are resilient,” he tells me.
“They are? I’m not sure.” I’m still thinking nerf ball, and legos seem too hard.
“Yeah. Even if you break them all apart, you can put them back together like they were before or even build something else.”
“Yes! They are resilient! You’re right.” I reach over and give him a squeeze.
“Mom! Get off!” He is grinning but trying not to.
“You know what else is resilient?” I ask.
“We are. We had the grumpiest, growliest, no-good-very-bad-day on Saturday. And even though we were both in yucky moods, we decided to make it better. We visited friends, and played, and spoke nicely. It could have stayed an I-Hate-You day, but it didn’t. We worked together to turn the day around. It was so much fun after that.”
“Can we be done talking about this now?” He sets the cup on the side table and ooches down under his blanket.
“Only if I can have a kiss first.”
“No!” He squeals and throws the blanket up over his head. I smooch against his protests and then offer to carry him up the stairs to his bed.
“Okay,” he says. “Like a baby.” And so I slip my arms under his knees and shoulders, heft all 50 pounds of him off the sofa, and cradle him to my chest as I maneuver him up the stairs. It is getting harder to do this without banging his noggin on a door frame, but it’s okay. Sometimes feeling like a small thing is worth the risk of minor injury. I am finally coming to understand that my boy will be fine. He is resilient, after all.
“Mommy, what is res-ill-ih. . .?”