The grocery store nearest our house has my daughter’s favorite carts. There are standard shopping carts with an addition at the front turning them into a race car, a taxi cab and a fire truck. We do not shop here often so she is always especially happy to find that we need to pick up a quick thing or two from the comfort of her pink race car. We stopped by for only four things and I anticipated a quick in-and-out trip.
This store also has a wide and quite amazing selection of balloons. There’s one in particular that my daughter has been pining for since the first time she saw it. I see the appeal of this balloon. It’s clear and has all of the Disney fairies on it. It is really beautiful and I would love to buy it for her someday. But today we came for soy milk and vegetables.
As we walked/rode the race car past the balloon, Ruby started to ask over and over for the balloon. She even reached out to grab it. I could see it in her face that she really wanted that balloon. I had genuine empathy for her and expressed it saying, “You really want that balloon so bad. You’ve seen it here every time we’ve come and you never get to take it home.”
“Yes, mama. I NEED it. I love all of those fairies so much.”
I leaned down on the cart and got really close to her. I wrapped my arms around her and said, “Oh my love. It’s so hard. I hear you telling me how badly you want that balloon. We are not going to buy it today. Should we put it on your wish list?”
“I NEED IT NOW!”
Reminding her of our day yesterday, I asked her what we had gotten at the store. “I got a ball and that lantern. Okay. Can I get the balloon next week?”
“We can definitely get the balloon really soon.”
Things seemed to be settled so I turned my attention to getting the soy milk. There was a grocery store stocker next to me filling in the empty spots in the milk case. The row where I find my milk was empty. I turned to the stocker and asked if there was any more available. He said, “I’m sorry but that’s all we have. I’m bummed, too. I like to have it all full and looking perfect.”
I grabbed my second choice and turned to set it in the cart. At the same time, my daughter said, “Mama, I feel really sad about the balloon.”
“I know, sweetie, it’s really hard when something doesn’t work out the way you want it to.”
Ruby nodded and the grocery store stocker looked me right in the eyes and said, “Thank you, that’s exactly how I feel.” It took me a moment but I realized that he thought I was giving him the empathy about his work not being as he wanted it. He said, “I just want it to look right.” I smiled and said, “Of course you do. Your job is important to you.” He thanked me with such sincerity as we left to finish our shopping.
As I told the story to my husband, we both had a good chuckle over it especially that the stocker seemed perfectly comfortable with me calling him sweetie. It is a funny story but it’s also a reminder than empathy always works, even when it’s on accident.
How will you use empathy today?