The gift of misplaced words

To my Son,

You gave me a gift today, little one, and I almost didn’t notice.

We had been grocery shopping, a necessity despite you not being yourself due to a headcold… or the wind… or your teeth coming through… or maybe just getting up on the wrong side of the bed.

And I asked you to be good and to focus at a time when those ideas made as much sense to you as saving fish from drowning. So you tried, with your mind elsewhere and your hands all over your brother who was NOT in the mood to be your human stress ball. I asked you calmly to give him space, once, twice, probably five or six times before I announced the loss of a privilege for not listening. I’d handled all this pretty well so far, I was calm and in control and explained things peacefully enough for you to completely ignore.

Then you lost it, and so did I.

We all have challenges, and one of yours is magnifying life’s stresses when you’re not at your best. So this loss of privilege, which really wasn’t so bad, seemed ENORMOUS to you in that moment. You melted down, and as you did you said some really awful things.

I should be used to your use of words as weapons, and remember how quickly they fall when the moment passes. I should remember that your attempts to hurt with them just mean that you’re hurting and you need to get it outside of you as quickly as you can to lessen the burn.

But we all have challenges, and one of mine is taking what is said at face value. So I got hurt along with you. I got loud along with you. And as you fought to get all your anger out I fought right on back. Not in the same way, of course, and to an outsider I probably handled it just fine… but the truth was I lost myself in those words of yours, and that wasn’t fine at all.

We drove home with both of us fuming and not much talking going on. After a while calm returned and we talked about the reasons why what you said wasn’t ok. That was true, it wasn’t, but neither was my response.

Most of us go around as adults thinking we’re doing pretty alright. We learn to play to our strengths and push our weaknesses aside or justify them. We make beautiful masks to wear for the world and they hide a myriad of faults.

And you, little boy, are particularly skilled at making my mask slip.

Taking words at face value is fine, it’s not a fault as such, but it misses a LOT. A lot that you deserve and that I do too. It reaches to other relationships and to my marriage. Responding to someone losing their cool and over reacting by losing my cool and over reacting… well, that doesn’t work.

Your gift to me today was reminding me of something I could do better. Reminding me that sad doesn’t always have tears, and hurt doesn’t always shrink back. Reminding me that small things to me can be huge things to someone else, and that grown up concepts and instructions sometimes don’t fit little people whose minds are in the clouds that day. You showed me that anger is not always about the one who receives it, but sometimes about just getting something out before it hurts you more, and that a moment and a deep breath can change everything.

I snuggled you in bed shortly before you went to sleep tonight and we talked about today. I reminded you that just as Dad and I talk to you about things you could do better you have every right to do the same to us, because we’re all learning no matter how old we are. I acknowledged your feelings from earlier than you’d hidden behind your anger, and asked you how I could have handled it better. I reminded you that just as you owe others respect they absolutely owe it right back. Your lip trembled as you told me how I could have handled it better, and I promised you I would try my hardest next time.

Growing up isn’t easy, and the truth is we never really stop. We will get it right together so much of the time and we will get it wrong an awful lot too. It’s all part of pulling off the mask I guess. And each time we’ll get to know ourselves a little more, become more patient, more kind, more humbled by this huge life thing we’re doing together. It’s just about being honest, really, and the trust that goes with it.

So thank you for your gift of misplaced words today little one, they made my mask slip perfectly.

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Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2013

The one you feed

“We need to talk.” The words came from my five year old, as he sat me down for what was obviously an important conversation. “Mum, when I’m being naughty if you tell me to stop, or you get mad, that doesn’t work. If I’m being bad, it’s because I’m feeling something that I can’t say. When you talk to me and I feel like that I can hear you, but I can’t listen.”

“How can I do it better?” I asked, humbled by his reminder.

“First you need to make me feel better. “ he said “Then I can do better.”

 

Most of us accept the idea of separation, that bad and good, madness and sanity, kindness and cruelty, anger and calm are all thoroughly divorced from one another, when they’re not, they’re really just sides of the same coin.

When I was 12 I read A Course in Miracles. It was one of many spiritual books I read at that time, from the Bible to the Qur’an, and a particular quote in it stayed with me more than anything else.

What is the same cannot be different, and what is one cannothave separate parts.”

We have gotten into the habit of war,  both globally and personally, from the war on drugs to the battle within ourselves for our own perfection. We tell our kids to be individuals, as we push them to be compliant, we fight for our marriages, rather than nurture them. We have gotten so used to oppressing the negative that we forget how natural the positive is when we allow.

My son had a meltdown last week in which the boy we love seemed to disappear. He was fury and pain and he screamed his anger and hurt out so loudly than our ears rang.  And stupidly, we got frustrated back. We responded to the anger, and tried to stop it, tried to push against it. Tried to fix this thing that was hard in an effort to make it better.

“First you need to make me feel better, then I can do better.”

My angry boy and my calm boy are one and the same. I can’t punish one without hurting the other, just as I can’t hate part of myself and love who I am at the same time.

The next day, and those since, I didn’t try to stop his bad behavior. I just tried to make him feel better. My goal, above all else, was to be kind, not in the way that made sense to me, but in the way that would nurture his spirit. He has not had a meltdown since. Every time his behavior has gone downhill I have asked myself why, and responded to that instead. In doing so, I’ve turned the coin to the side that feels better and acts better in turn. The bad behavior has dissolved as the need for it has disappeared.

Likewise the more I look at my flaws, the more I realize that they’re linked to what’s missing for me at that time.

The other day I threw a tub of ice cream at the floor in the overwhelm of a ridiculous moment. “Well that was pointless,” Bodhi said, his clarity returning at my show of stupidity. “Now you just need to clean it up.” Yes I did.

Ashamed, I thought that night about how to remedy that part of myself, how to stop myself becoming so overwhelmed again, and I realized that just like my son, I don’t need to fix the bad at all, I just need to nurture the good.

I inspired myself that night, by meditating and reading and resting.  When I did, more answers came than I’d even thought to ask for.

Within us, there is everything we ever hoped for or feared. Within our lover, our neighbour, our enemy – there is joy and misery, wholeness and lack, courage and fear. They exist in the contrast that makes us who we are, their very existence making their opposite possible.

They make up our humanity. And in the raw commonality they give us, we can find each other. We can help each other.

Every action that comes from love, every kindness, every joy we foster – they ALL count. Our true protest against war is a million demonstrations of love, our real war on drugs is a million encouragements of purpose, our true protest against violence is a million acknowledgements of hurt, our gift to our children is a million words and actions that affirm they matter.

And slowly, all those protests and wars, all those fights, all that pushing against, dissolve a little bit. It just comes down to being kind.

Because more often than not, a person who feels whole will pass that wholeness on. A person who feels good will be the best of themselves.

Today I’m not going to fight for my marriage, I’m going to bring joy to it to make it feel easier instead. I’m not going to see a misbehaving child, I’m going to see a need that needs meeting. I’m not going to see flaws in myself, I’m going to see opportunities for something wonderful.

I’m going to flip a coin, and I’m going to win.

wolves