Teaching Empathy

This is Cutie Bunny. Yes, she’s missing an ear. Yes, delinquent mama has not yet had the time in weeks to sit down and perform bunny surgery.

But this is not the point of me introducing you to Cutie Bunny.

The point is, Cutie Bunny was fought over. She’s mine. Technically. We were in Taka in August, and Conrad spotted her (she’s a keychain) hanging at the Chomel counter as we were descending on the escalator. It was group infatuation at first sight.

She really is terribly cute. And ridiculously soft. With this super-cute face. You know the kind of face where you can barely make out the eyes – and discover belatedly months later that there were other facial features, e.g. a mouth, lying undiscovered underneath that fluffyfluffiness.

We were getting ready for bed last week when Blake said to me, “Mama, you know I feel really sorry for Cutie Bunny.”

“Why, Blake?”

“Well…” he paused. “At first she was, like, so popular. Everyone fought over her. Everyone wanted to have her.”

Which was absolutely true, by the way. That’s why I had the foresight to minimise the fallout by placing her under my ownership. Cos I knew I would hear no end of it if she was bought on behalf of one of the three. As it was, it was tough enough. (Hence the missing ear. I don’t know the exact circumstances, but it had something to do with the washing machine after having had some food stains inflicted upon her which was the result of some stubborn child’s attempt to station her at the dining table against counsel, which is clearly never the best idea.)

Then he said something unexpected, that came straight from his heart and the boy that he is. Not something he’d picked up from me having said it.

“And that made Cutie Bunny sad… because she doesn’t like it when people are fighting and it made her really sad that they were fighting about her.”


He continued. He wasn’t finished with his empathy.

“And then…afterwards people weren’t interested in her any more. And we stopped playing with her. And *that* made her sad too. Because she was lonely all of a sudden and no one wanted her any more.

“So she can’t win either way… either she’s sad cos she’s too popular, or she’s sad cos no one wants to play with her.”

What do you say to a child like this?

I said the first thing that rose in my head.

“That’s so sweet of you, Blake, to care about her. (From their birth I have never called them “toys”, soft or stuffed or whatever. I have always, deliberately, called them “friends”. My instinct told me since my earliest mothering days that the modelling of love, tenderness, companionship, and comforting that form the bedrock of the relation that is true friendship could be picked up by a toddler not yet ready to interact that way with other human beings, but who was ready to learn to do just that with these cute cuddly “friends”. Which is why we never use our soft toys as things to bash around and abuse, e.g. in a pillow fight type scenario. These guys – every single one of Cutie Bunny’s enormous extended family which you see here – all have their own names and narratives. Some fall out of favour, some are stalwart companions. It’s all important. This is one of the primary ways I keep story with my children.)

“But you don’t ever have to worry about Cutie Bunny. She’s always all right. You know why? Because she’s learnt how to love herself.”

He took this in, his face clearing. For this, too, is a common recent lesson, a particularly apposite one as you can imagine, in my preparing them for boarding school and its ups and downs.

“Now that she’s figured out how to – it doesn’t matter to her, really. If other people care for her, that’s great of course. It’s a bonus. But if others ignore her, she’s okay too. Because she doesn’t need to rely on other people to make her happy. And she doesn’t let it get to her, either. She can love herself.”

I tell the kids about my work more and more. My marvellous Conrad asked me in the car on the way down to school, “why aren’t you on YouTube, Mama? Cos if you were, I could ask Mrs Crump to show us your lessons. Because we are learning now about being a leader.” 😍

Touché, dear one. Mama very busy. Got to do one piece at a time. But I get the message. My children are sometimes wise beyond their years. 💗

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