At the beginning of this past school year, my 5-year-old, who is also my middle daughter, came off the bus excited and happy. It was her first week of kindergarten, and she was on top of the world. She had new friends, going on the school bus was fun, her teacher was great, and she even enjoyed learning.
Little did I know, her happiness would be short-lived.
As the Fall semester continued, day after day, she would get off the bus in a foul mood, dragging her back pack. I would greet her off the bus and ask, “How was your day?” The response for a while was, “I had a bad day.” It progressed to: “This was the worst day ever!” A bit dramatic. And there were complaints. She had no friends, the teacher yelled, the bus was too loud, and the schoolwork was boring. Sometimes she came off the bus in tears, I was surprised at this change in attitude and was getting somewhat concerned.
So like any other mother, I came up with excuses. Maybe she needed more time to adjust to her learning intensive days. Maybe she wasn’t getting enough sleep. Or maybe this was her way of getting attention since the new baby arrived. But more time, sleep, and individualized attention didn’t make her days brighter.
My middle daughter is spunky, full of life, and makes friends easily. Or so I thought. Did this little girl change? Or even worse, did I paint a fictitious picture of my child and see her through “love goggles”? I didn’t think so, but at that point, the only thing I knew was that my once cheerful child came off the bus every day unhappy and hating school. What made her stand out more was that my first grader, her older sister, came off the bus everyday in a relatively good mood.
I began to accept this as the new normal and came to terms with the fact that my middle daughter might one day be the girl in a black trench coat sitting in the back of the classroom eating a sandwich made up of Pixy Stix and Captain Crunch.
And then the moment of truth came: Parent/teacher conferences. My husband and I were on pins and needles as we entered into her kindergarten classroom. The teacher closed the door. She began by saying what a sweet girl my daughter was. She told us about how well she was doing academically. My husband actually cut the teacher off and told her that we are more concerned with her social wellbeing. The teacher looked puzzled and told us that she adjusted to school very well and was first to participate and raise her hand in class. She was friends with everyone and yes, happy! We were in shock, but of course, elated.
I investigated further. My older daughter confirmed that when she saw her sister on the playground and in the hallway, she was usually smiling and playing with friends. Things didn’t add up, as there were many holes in her daily stories. She was not one to (usually) lie, so what was going on?
I reflected upon my own life and each passing day. If you dissect each day, there are many things that occur. Sure, some days are better or worse than others, but perhaps it’s what we focus on and the story we tell ourselves or to others that really make a day “good” or “bad.”
I had an epiphany.
When my daughters got off the bus, I got the usual gloom and doom. So I told them about the day I had. Story #1 went like this: “The baby woke me up at 5:30 this morning and I was so tired. My client meeting did not go well and I was upset. After work, I went to the gas station and as I was putting air in my deflated tire, it began to rain and I got wet. It turned out that there was a hole in the tire and then it was so late, I almost missed your bus.”
They both agreed that my day sounded pretty miserable. But I told them that I could tell my day in another way. Story #2 went something like this: “The baby woke me up at 5:30 this morning and when I walked in, she looked at me and smiled and it melted my heart. After my not-so-good meeting, my coworker sent me a really funny email and I laughed so hard. When I went to the gas station, the really nice man who worked there fixed my tire and felt very bad that I was all wet so he didn’t charge me any money for his help. I met you at the bus stop, and when I saw you get off the bus safe and sound, it made me feel lucky.”
They asked me which story was the “real story.” I told them that both stories were real but that when someone dwells on the bad parts of their day, they forget about all the good stuff that happened during the same exact day. I asked my middle daughter… “Now, tell me about your day in two different stories. Tell me about the bad story first.”
She did, and as usual, there was a laundry list of complaints. Then I asked her to tell me about the good story. Initially, it took a while to extract information out of her, but the good actually existed! She was the first one to finish her math work, she read a whole book by herself, she, she liked the school lunch, she got invited to another friend’s birthday party, she was the star of the week , she was happy to be home with her family. The list went on.
For a while, our after school car ride consisted of three people telling six different stories about one day. By the end of the school year, my daughter’s two stories began to merge into one bigger, more realistic story. She remembered to focus more on the positive events of her day and her mood changed as a result.
I guess it can be said that the beauty of one’s day lies in the eye of the beholder.