What a Broken Pitcher Taught Me About Empathy

On Sunday I was bustling around the kitchen making bread and granola. In the middle of that chaos the humans in my house wanted lunch, so I had a lot of different food projects going on at once.

I pulled open the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator to get some carrots and thought it was odd that the drawer had liquid sloshing around in it. That’s never a good sign.

Maybe the water in the bag of baby carrots had leaked? I wasn’t sure, but it seemed like a good time to clean that drawer out.

And while I was at it, I might as well clean the other vegetable drawer too. Thankfully it did not have any mystery liquid floating around in it. Just some dried mystery leaves. Yay?

I finished making lunch and put the granola in the oven. The bread was rising. It was time for a cold drink…of raspberry green tea.

Back to the refrigerator I went and as I lifted the glass pitcher holding my tea, I realized it was a little wet on that refrigerator shelf. Could my pitcher be leaking? Was that the culprit?

Sure enough.

There was a 5-inch long crack in the bottom of the pitcher.

Mystery solved!

I don’t tend to get too worked up about things breaking or becoming lost. Part of it is that I’m amazed some of the things we own have lasted as long as they have given how much we’ve either used them or how often they’ve been moved across countries and states.

The bigger part of it is that I’ve realized that these things just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. A broken pitcher is not life or death.

Then this conversation happened:

Child: Are you sad the pitcher broke?

Me: Well, I’ve had it a long time, but it’s okay. I’m just happy I figured out what was leaking in the fridge.

Child: How long have you had it?

I’m now in the middle of dumping out the remaining tea so that no one accidentally drinks a glass shard. 

Me: Let’s see…my mom gave it to me, so I guess I’ve had it at least 20 years? Give or take.

My children know that my mom died before they were born. At this point in the conversation I opened the trash can drawer to throw the pitcher away. 

Child: WAIT! Maybe we can fix it. Or have somebody fix it. Or…or…

Me: No, you can’t fix this.

I didn’t realize this whole conversation was going to slide off the rails, so I started to place the pitcher in the trash.

Child: You’re making me sad…

I look over just as the child’s eyes start to well up with huge tears.

I released the pitcher, closed the trash can drawer and gently said, “Come here, give mama a hug.”

And we sat on the kitchen floor for about 10 minutes while the child processed this moment of sadness.

The kiddo didn’t want to talk about it and that was okay. After awhile, the kiddo got up to play just like kids do.

But, sheesh! I was not expecting that whole scenario! You think you’re just solving a mystery of what spilled in the refrigerator and the next thing you know you’re cradling a crying kid on the floor of your kitchen.

Parenting sure will keep you on your toes.

It will also give you the mother of all headaches. I felt like I had been on a day-long crying jag even though I wasn’t the one crying.

After my kiddo got up and ran off I sat on the floor for awhile thinking about the whole situation. I mean, why not? I was already down there.

These are some of the thoughts that swirled around in that headache…

No parent wants their child to experience emotional anguish. Let them be little and carefree as long as possible because there will be plenty of opportunity for emotional anguish later. Unfortunately.

Yet, part of me recognized what a gift it was that this child has empathy for others. For me. Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. And it seems to me it can make you more careful in how you treat others if you can imagine how your actions or words might affect them.

I think our world could use a little more empathy.

It also dawned on me that empathy is a burden. It is draining. That’s why medical professionals and first responders experience burnout. That’s why I was sitting on the floor with a headache.

I had a pretty good idea of how that kiddo felt and I wanted to absorb my child’s pain. I wanted to offer promises and guarantees or at least reassurance about my mom dying and about me dying. But the only honest tool at my disposal was a hug.

Even trying to articulate my feelings about this moment produces a lump in my throat and a throbbing in my head that even the strongest cup of Handy Husband’s coffee cannot cure.

My kids are about the age I was when I realized my parents could die. In fact, I had a reoccurring nightmare for what seemed like the longest time that my mom would die in a car accident. I’ll spare you the details, but I can remember waking up in a cold sweat as a child thinking that the dream was real. It would take an interminable couple of seconds before the sweet relief of reality would rip me from that horrible nightmare into the light.

It was probably a good thing that 8-year-old me didn’t know my mom actually would die in a car accident.

Later that day, after playing and chores, we were back in the kitchen eating popcorn. That’s when this same kiddo exclaims, “This is the BEST day ever!”

And I just stopped. And stared. And wondered if my ears were working.

“You made really good popcorn, Mom!”

It’s true. It was nice and buttery. I figured I probably shouldn’t mention I’ve also had our popcorn maker for about 20 years. Didn’t want to jinx it and have that thing break too!

Here’s what I learned from my kid naturally modeling empathetic behavior:

You have to recharge.

You have to let it go and put these moments in perspective. You need a break from all the heavy stuff. Otherwise you will burn out.

So I went for a walk and counted my blessings and came back feeling so much happier and refreshed.

And I hugged both my kids extra hard that night.

P.S. It is hard to tell a story without using pronouns. I am doing that because my kids are getting older and I’m working through how much I share about them specifically. It’s also why I’m using less pictures of their faces on blog posts about family and travel.

I’m feeling some empathy for how telling a heavy story might make you feel. So, I’ll lighten it up…

That popcorn I made? I use coconut oil and wrote about it here. I use this Stovetop Popcorn Popper and absolutely love it. Clearly! It was a wedding gift and I wish I could remember who gave it to us.

I managed to NOT burn the granola in this story. (It’s happened!) I used Alton Brown’s recipe and Handy Husband and the kids (okay, me too) ate it straight from the pan. Handy Husband said it tasted buttery, but it didn’t have any butter in it. I did substitute coconut oil for the vegetable oil though.

It occurs to me that telling you all about food might not be the best way to ‘lighten’ things up…


You guys know I crack myself up, right?!?

Oh, and good news! Pier 1 sells a blue rim glass pitcher very similar to the one that cracked. Had I known, I could have pulled the ‘replace the dead goldfish’ trick with the new pitcher and avoided the crisis. But, alas, then I wouldn’t have learned this important lesson about empathy from my child.



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