“Mom I can’t get to sleep,” Cait yells from her bedroom. She’s been in bed for almost an hour.
“What’s the problem?” I yell back from my study.
“I’m having bad thoughts… I’m worried I’m going to have a nightmare.”
Since birth, my daughter has been inordinately sensitive to her environment. She takes things in that others hardly notice. The upside is that she’s very compassionate and caring. The downside is that any images, especially from TV, that are at all uncomfortable, worrisome, or violent, have an outsized impact. To save her from herself, we’ve offered her a list of “safe” shows that she knows she can enjoy.
“I’ve got a confession to make.”
“Let me guess,” I say as I walk into her darkened room and sit on the side of her bed. “You watched a TV show not on the list.”
She grabs my hand and holds it to her face. Moonlight streaming through the window outlines her worried expression in soft relief. “Yeah,” she whispers, “I did. I’m sorry. And now I can’t get those thoughts out of my head.” Her eyes well up in distress.
“You know what I do when I have thoughts I don’t like?” I say.
She sits up and leans on her elbow. “What?” she asks.
I move over to sit next to her and put my arm around her so she can nestle against me. “I go into my Happy Box and pull out a happy thought, and that makes the sad or bad thoughts go away.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve made a place in my mind where I store all my happy feelings and funny things that’ve happened that make me laugh, and all the things that make me feel good. I call that my Happy Box. And when I’m feeling down, I just open the top of that box in my mind and out springs a thought that makes me laugh.”
I start chuckling immediately. Cait asks what I’ve taken out of my Happy Box that gets me laughing so fast.
I tell her, “When I was about your age, my best friend, Betsy, and I spent a whole day building a raft out of scraps of wood and garbage cans we’d found in the barn. We were pretending to be Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. We nearly killed ourselves carrying that thing to the pond out back—it was so heavy. It was a hot day and we were dirty and sweaty, but we didn’t care because we’d just built ourselves this cool raft with a rudder and everything. And we were finally going to get to take it for a spin.”
Cait sat up more so she could see me better, as was her habit whenever I went into story-telling mode. “Did it float?” she asked presciently.
“As a matter of fact…” I giggled, and then giggled some more. Then Cait started giggling at me giggling.
Andrew hollered up, “What’s all the noise up there? It’s bedtime!”
We tried to stifle ourselves unsuccessfully.
“So, Mom, did it float?” She asked again, this time in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Well…” I giggled again, “sort of…”
“What happened?” Her eyes were bright and her smile wide.
Then I really cracked up laughing, which got Cait laughing again.
“Mom, get a hold of yourself.”
“Yeah…” I sighed, trying to compose myself. “Where were we? Oh, yes, the raft floating…” I looked at Cait and gave her a big squeeze. “It did float. Yes it did. Indeed it did.”
“And…” Cait said, trying to draw out the rest of the story.
“And then, after about three seconds, it sank like a lead brick.” I guffawed and slapped my knee, cackling like an old hen, as I vividly relived that moment.
Laughing, Cait said, “Mom, that’s not really very funny.”
“Oh yes,” I said, “it was very, very funny. And I can count on that little memory to crack me up every single time I need a good laugh. It instantly lifts my spirits and makes me feel better. And I forget about whatever was bothering me. Works like a charm every time.”
Cait smiled and hugged onto me. “Will you help me make a Happy Box?”
“Sure will. It’s a piece of cake,” I told her, as I helped her get settled back down under her covers. “First, in your mind’s eye, create the most spectacularly beautiful box you can imagine, and then make it glow like it’s catching the rays of the sun.” I gave her a minute. ” Got that done?” I said.
Cait had her eyes closed and her mouth set in a determined line. “Yep, done,” she said. “Next?”
I massaged her brow. “Relax honey, this is supposed to be fun.”
Her face relaxed into a gentle smile. “Right.”
“Okay, now think of something that makes you laugh.”
I could see her mind at work, searching through her stores of memories. And then she landed on one and started laughing.
“Now what was that one?” I asked.
“Ma slapped a bear.”
We both burst out laughing. Ma slapped a bear was a reference to a chapter in Little House on the Prairie where Ma goes out to feed the cow on a pitch black night. She slaps it to move it out of the way, as usual, so she can get through the fence gate. Only what she’s slapped is a big black bear. It’s a very funny scene.
“Oh yeah, that’s a good one. Put that in,” I say. “That’s all you have to do; collect images, memories, recollections like that, that make you happy. Your box will fill up in no time.”
We continued on until she had several treasures stored and she started yawning and rubbing her eyes. Within a minute, she was sound asleep. I tucked her in, kissed her forehead and started out of the room. I turned for a last look and thought, I’m storing this in my Happy Box.