Some problems, as my father often says, have no solutions. Problems related to seemingly irresolvable disagreements between nations or religions; problems regarding interpersonal relationships. Problems at all points on the spectrum of grandness can potentially fall into this category.
Some problems have solutions, but reaching those solutions is an arduous process, with backsliding and frustration the norm as a seemingly viable and yet increasingly hard-to-reach goal becomes ever more elusive. Again, problems in this category may range from interpersonal to international.
Some problems, thank heavens, are easily solved. This was the case with Holly’s problem yesterday, but she seemed to be surprised that I thought so.
A classmate who is known to exhibit more than a little rowdiness from time to time – and by that I mean, of course, from the time the bus picks him up in the morning until the closing bell at school – asked on the morning bus ride to see a tiny treasure Holly was harboring. The treasure, unbeknownst to him, was a favorite Japanese eraser shaped like a mouse, yellow and white. Holly had put him into a tiny decorative box and made some tiny accessories for him: a minuscule toy, a paper cutout toothbrush, a cardboard fork and spoon.
Holly made what she thought was a safe bet. “I’ll let you see what’s in the box if you can stay quiet for the whole ride to school,” she told him on the bus that morning.
He impressed her by staying quiet, and so when they disembarked onto the school plaza, she made good on her promise, opening the box for him to peer at the little rubber toy mouse inside.
And then, through a series of motions I can’t quite picture and Holly couldn’t quite explain when she told me the story in tears several hours later, his hand flew up – Holly thinks he was waving to a friend – and he knocked the much-loved mouse through the steel wire fence separating the school plaza from the construction area abutting it. The mouse flew into a pile of dirt on the other side of the fence.
Holly made it all the way through the school day and home on the bus afterwards keeping silent about what had happened. Not until we were walking into the house did she say, “Mommy, I have to tell you something that happened that was kind of…sad.” Then the tears flowed as she told me the tale.
She looked amazed by what followed after I’d asked a few questions and reviewed a few details. “We can go back to the store and find another mouse,” I told her. “Or you can pick out a different kind of animal – I mean eraser – if you feel like that mouse was too special to replace.”
“Thank you!” she responded. “I didn’t think you’d say that.”
At the store, she decided for a species change: replacing Mouse would be a beige and white cow she named Benji. On the way out of the store, she thanked me again, still with a tinge of amazement in her voice that it had been that easy.
I explained to her my reasoning. “It wasn’t your fault you lost Mouse. At the same time, it wasn’t really the other child’s fault either. He was being sort of careless, but he wasn’t being mean or trying to hurt you, and you perceived that and didn’t make a fuss about it at school. You recognized that it wasn’t something worth causing a lot of turmoil over or getting adults involved. You also figured out that since Mouse flew into the construction zone, unless there had been a construction worker right nearby to help you, there really wasn’t anything that could be done about it. I’m proud of you for making good decisions about how to cope with the disappointment, and that’s why I want to do what I can to fix the situation.”
Also, I said to myself, Japanese erasers cost $1.25 each, which surely had some small influence over my magnanimity.
But still. Some problems can’t be solved. Some, including a handful of other schoolyard conflicts Holly has become enmeshed in over the past year or two, take a lot of work to solve. This one was easy. And out of gratitude for that simple fact, I was more than happy to do what I could.