* whoas (meant to be said like Blossom’s older brother Joey)
They use to be woes. The crying, the backtalk, the ungrateful attitude. The throwing of things, the stomping of feet, the laser beams being shot from his baby blues.
But since I’ve worked so hard to find my inner stillness (which I started to think some people were just not born with. Some people meaning me and my kid) and followed the teachings of insight from Tolle, Maté and the latest addition in my library, Tsabary. I have turned these frustrating, anxiety ridden, sometimes anger-fuelled encounters into something that makes me go “whoa!”
Coming from a new understanding of acceptance; I use my patience to read the situation without clouding it with my own triggers and judgement. So when I ask him from the laundry room to wash his hair and bath is over and he says just a minute and then takes 5 and another parental inquiry at where he is at in his hair hygiene before actually doing it, I stop myself and look through the crappy colouring job I’ve done through my own contextual lens identifying his behaviour as: defiant and disrespectful. I now instead try a different approach recognizing that perhaps I should ask him face to face (since I’m always reminding him to not yell at me from another room) and know that he is so enraptured with his playtime in the bath that his actions have little to do with me. Heck, I can even marvel in the miracle that he willingly bathes regularly and does so because of the play he can still initiate happily on his own, finding so much creativity in re-enactments of famous ship sinkings (So many historical examples…I’ll be damed if I ever set foot on one). Whatever man, it not like we are fighting over turning off the video game console (yet).
That’s a small example, but what about when he really looses his shit. For example, he has taken to asking for the occasional toothpick to basically mimic his Papa’s habit of using a toothpick after dinner. If you’ve seen this kid’s dental profile, even though he is in the midst of awkward mouth (picket fency; various teeth at various stages of either loss or re-growth) he likes to pretend he’s grown up and a wooden toothpick seems to be his prop to emulate maturity. What I am trying to say is he doesn’t need the toothpick for his teeth. But occasionally we say okay and let him have one, and yes I know, its a tiny sharp object in his mouth…what could go wrong?
We had corn on the cob the other night, toothpicks arch nemesis. So naturally he asked for a toothpick after dinner and retired to the family room floor to play with his lego. As he was moving about he stopped to pick the corn out from between a fairly open space in his mouth and with little resistance to stop the point, he poked himself in the gums. This is also at the end of the day when his self-regulation has been slowly whittled down to a one out of ten (and really is any other human any different?). Well, the timing just so happened that I was simultaneously asking him to cleanup the epic lego scene he had constructed over the whole sitting surface area of the couch…it was overwhelming me (and maybe him a little too…I sure as hell didn’t want to clean it up either).
So there we stood, me cleaning the kitchen after dinner (tired self-regulation being about a 4 out of 10), dish towel draped over a shoulder being completely reasonable (right?!) and him tired and amygdala setting off the internal body alarm because of a painful stab to the mouth.
He stopped and let out a guttural roar like a caged wildcat, and then fled to the living room and hid behind a large chair. It was all very animalistic, now that I reflect on it with clear mindedness. However at the time, I was taken aback and went into my hellno! mindset. A familiar place that I use to visit, in a place of pride and ego…as in “hellno” you won’t do that, or say that, or make me feel that…you will be sorry!
This time I paused and recognized these were my triggers being activated, I was not being heard and I was feeling disrespected. Then I asked myself why was I not being heard and after careful consideration saw that it wasn’t outward defiance and avoidance to clean up the mess he made. His pain response had been activated, he was tired, he had a difficult playdate with a friend earlier that afternoon (who had probably acted very similarly for his own reasons), he hadn’t seen his Dad in a week and this was the first evening we had all been together as a family. I know, I use to think these all to be excuses a few months ago, but whatever you decide to label them; excuses, reasons, triggers, contributing factors, they are what they are and how we identify them isn’t important. What is, is how I chose to respond.
I let it be for the moment, to let him cool down but I lingered nearby so he felt my presence and didn’t feel abandoned, this allowed me to monitor his change in mood, which he then showed very clearly with a sprint to his bedroom, leaping onto the bed. I still didn’t say anything and moved to that end of the house. He then promptly wrote a sign sticking it to his door saying “do not erter plese” (at least he said plese!). I approached his doorway and he prompted me to read the sign. I smiled at his effort to communicate calmly and asked if I could come in. He shrugged and slumped from his bed to the floor. As I came closer he reached for his bookshelf saying, “I’m not ready to talk yet but I am going to read this book to help me calm down.” I said, “okay.” We sat together on his bedroom floor and he began reading aloud after a minute or two.
His Dad who was also observing this showdown from his own vantage points of the laundry room and bedroom, had shared a sympathetic glance and perhaps a silent mouthing of “What the F@k?” during this process, also sensed an energy shift and entered our son’s room to join us. He crouched down addressing the now-recognizable boy sitting on his floor, “Buddy, I’m really proud of how you knew to use a book to help you calm down.” taking the words from my mouth. We were both proud of our son, but I think we were a bit proud of our parenting selves too.
Some old-schoolers would think all we have done is taught our child to run amuck, not taking responsibility for his actions because at this age (according to someone) they “should know better and control their emotions”, but here’s the truth of it. Let’s stop telling ourselves that controlling our emotions is the same thing as experiencing our emotions. “Control” can be used interchangeably with “repress”. And NO parent is going to be caught dead saying, “Yah, we like how our child represses their emotions…so well-behaved right?”
We are recognizing our son as his own human and with that he owns the right to feel each and every one of his feelings in a safe place without judgement. As he continues to be given this space to explore, he will hone (and has honed) his ability to react to these sometimes powerful emotions with tools like walking away, writing what he needs, shifting gears by reading a book and eventually saying, “now I am ready to talk”. I am certain that the beastly roar will subside the more he is given the right to explore. As an adult who is now just learning to express all her emotions (pick any one of my previous posts to see the mountain of shit I’ve finally decided to confront to find a way out of a lifetime of anxiety and pain), NOT just the socially acceptable ones, I wish a lifetime of this authenticity to the child we have in our care. It’s the most important work I will ever do and feel honoured to have been given this enlightening, challenging opportunity. For it, I am forever changed and grateful.
And for the record…once his amygdala settled down and the dogs had been called off, he picked up every piece of lego and crossed out the words “Do not erter plese” instead writing above,”Come in!” (Whoa!)