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 things you teach me

My babies,

Before me you are growing every day. Now and again I go a week or so without noticing just how much, then I stroke your head or hold your hand and the weight of it is different in mine, your hair wilder, your fingers stronger as they entwine with my own, your sigh deeper as you lean in for a hug. I wish I could take a snapshot in those times, photos I could feel back to, to remember your scent, your lopsided grin or the oh too many kisses you assault me with while the housework mounts just outside of our moment.

I am struck by so much about this time, and even with this I know there is more I’ll find later, like a treasure hunt you set up every day without me knowing. There is wisdom and laughter in this and it’s right there for years to come when the deepening of my perspective makes it obvious to look back on.

There are many things I’m learning from you now, from both of you. I’m learning that you are my mirrors – much kinder, wiser and more honest than the ones under harsh lighting in the bathroom. I am learning to accept the flowers and sticky fingered cuddles and whispers of “you’re my princess” like gifts, and to cherish that view of myself through your wide eyes. I am humbled by that love, and try to tell you the same every day with actions and laughter as much as the words I whisper into your soft hair.

I am learning that your bad moments are just as much of a gift to me as your good ones. That the hard is just as good as the easy, even if it doesn’t feel as smooth at the time. As I teach you about life you teach me right back. You teach me not to lose myself in overwhelm if you scream in a tantrum, you teach me to be aware of each moment so I can piece your preferences together like a jigsaw, and that more often than not, your state is a reflection of my own. Even when it isn’t, me being in a place of ease and happiness relaxes you like a hug you probably wouldn’t want me to give you at the time.

I have learned that minds are naturally hungry, but are picky as the eaters they are attached to, and that information, properly prepared can be just as sweet as your favourite dish. You teach me that mischief is actually curiosity, ‘getting into things’ is actually exploration, and that looking me in the eye while you do what you shouldn’t is actually learning the arts of persuasion.

You teach me to be patient, even when I’m not.

I see every day from you that we learn what we love, so love is the thing most worth fostering because learning follows impossibly close behind without fail.

I am discovering that the magic I find in words may be hidden for you in patterns of lego or the great outdoors, so not to try to force my own magic on you, but rather follow, heart in my throat, hoping to catch a glimpse of what I can learn of yours.

I am discovering that good and bad, tired and relaxed, stressed and happy can and often do coexist in the same moment, but that we choose which one we see. This is such an important lesson that we’re teaching each other a little of it each day.

I am learning to stretch, with you, because of you and for you. And I am better for it.

That the best example I can give you is to be the best of who I am, which doesn’t mean being perfect, it means being wildly curious, joyful, playful and kind.

You show me the absurd in the world around us, and the fierceness in myself as I rise to protect you from anything less than you deserve. All the while we find the good together in places we often didn’t expect.

You are both so whole and fascinating before me, and I am relaxing into seeing you with the richness of now, rather than the hopes, pressures and fears of the future. I do not need to see the men in you in right now, that’s not my role, my role is to see the spark in you right now and let it light something of your future each day.

So thank you, little boys, for the muchness of all that you are.

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Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2013

Questioning the labels

We have a habit of labeling. Maybe it goes with our inherent need to belong, or maybe we find instinctively that we bond better with a common good and common enemy.

We see it in religion, when even Christianity is segregated within itself, we see it in generations, when whole groups of people are put into boxes they don’t fit.

And we see it in parenting.

This week I have been reading about different styles of parenting. Of peaceful parenting, though it had many names. And my first reaction to this is joy that people are questioning, thinking, trying to do the best that they can for their families. But then I found that what a lot of people perceived as clarity was beginning to look quite black and white. And we need those shades of grey.

Apparently from a psychological perspective we get them about age twelve. That’s when black and whites such as “stealing is wrong” gain perspective and we think “stealing is wrong, unless a person has to steal medicine to save their child” and so on. Most of us keep those new found hues and they serve us well as we navigate the truths before us. Until labeling encourages us to suspend them for a while.

I think it’s really important to question society, what’s put before us and even our own beliefs.

I don’t believe in control crying, neurological research aside I can’t get my head around it. But there are times out there when a mother may be desperate, she may not have help or family support, her exhaustion may get in the way of her taking care of her baby or other children, put her driving or health at risk. There may be times when it’s absolutely right in that situation.

I don’t believe in smacking, but I have smacked. And every time I see it referred to as this horrible violence against children I wish that I could take a snapshot in time, of the few times I’ve done so, when nothing had reached my son, when he was so lost in a tantrum, so lost in the anguish of his own anger that everything I did would make it worse, even walk away. And those few times that in desperation I gave his hand or bottom a single smack and pop his spell was broken.  His anguish drained away in an instant. Then we hugged, we talked about it, he heard me. Because for my child, in those moments, that momentary tap was kinder than an hour of words or demonstration. I see people say that smacking teaches violence and from an adults perspective I absolutely 100% agree. But a child, more often than not, is in the moment and their perspective is different to ours, that’s how siblings fight but love each other just as fiercely a couple of moments later. I’m not suggesting you smack your child, not at all, just as I don’t plan to do so again, but I am suggesting that you don’t beat yourself up if you have. Just question it, like everything else.

I don’t believe in putting kids in situations that are likely to push their buttons – but sometimes I do, because life does. I read a comment the other day where a woman said something along the lines of “I thought my daughter was being naughty, then I realized that I had dropped the ball by talking on the phone. It was my fault not hers.”

See the thing is, sometimes life makes you wait – for a phone call or cookies to bake or something you want to buy, sometimes it makes you be quiet, sometimes you need to listen, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, sometimes you need to take a deep breath when you’re angry or you need to calm down when you’re sad.

I want to bless my kids with a life that involves them greatly and nurtures them as much as possible. But that life will involve phone calls, trips to the supermarket, waiting in line, cleaning up the toys and taking responsibility for themselves in that moment.

Peaceful parenting often focuses on our tone and language when we talk to our children. As it should, they’re extremely receptive to it. But I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that there are times that my child only hears me when I raise my voice. We laugh about it later, because it’s “Mummy being loud” but mummy has to be loud sometimes, because sometimes he’s being a dinosaur or a robot policeman and they don’t have very good listening ears.

Sometimes I snap at my son. Rarely, but I do. And though I try very hard not to, I’m not sorry. Because the times that it happens is when he has pushed and pushed and PUSHED, and my kind tone and language finally expires into a flustered snap. That snap is just as important to who he will become as the love we give him, because in life people respond to you how you treat them. And it’s much kinder to my beautiful boy for his Mum to occasionally bite, then explain why, than for him to believe that he has less of a duty to treat others with respect than they do him.

 Apparently we shouldn’t argue in front of our children, we should avoid being sad or angry in their presence.

When I was a child my parents tried not to argue in front of me. I’d feel something simmering between them all day, because kids are smart, they get that, then I’d hear hushed, angry voices from the living room while I lay in bed. My belly would twist in knots – what was this horrible secret that they were hiding from me? Those everyday disagreements, to me, became enormous. They became frightening because of their secrecy.

We try not to fight in front of our kids, but sometimes we do. And that’s ok. Because I want them to grow up knowing that conflict is alright sometimes. That love doesn’t diminish because of it. That it’s possible to disagree with someone, even for them to piss you right off, and to hug and make up five minutes later. I want them to see their parents say sorry too, and mean it. I want them to know that their family is safe in the calm and in the rough because it’s bigger than that.

Bodhi has seen me happy. A lot. He has seen me laugh and smile and joke around and dance a chicken dance in public to make him giggle. He has also seen me cry, real honest to God sadness that reaches the depth of my soul. And I’ve told him, in words that make sense to him, why. I’ve told him that it’s ok to feel sad sometimes, and it’s ok to cry. He has wrapped his arms around me and kissed it better. His sadness isn’t a scary thing to him, and neither is mine. I’m allowed to be strong for him and he’s allowed to be strong for me… or for a friend or a kid he doesn’t know at the park who needs someone to hug it out.

He has seen me angry. He’s seen Daniel angry too. And 99% of the time we’ve done a real good job of being angry. We’ve been the kind of angry we ask him to try. The kind where you take a deep breath and talk it out, or go for a walk or be alone until the fire eases. But he’s also seen me be angry badly (which equates to loudly in my case). He saw Daniel throw keys at a wall once. And we talked about it, and he got to tell us how we could do it better. He got to tell us how we should have handled it. And that let him be wise too. It let him know that everyone makes mistakes, so not to worry about his own.

Labels can bring people together, and I love that so many parents are coming together to peacefully parent their children. I love that old ways are being questioned and that compassion reins. But I just hope that we keep sight of those shades of grey in amongst it all, because they belong there just as much as anywhere else.

I hope that when we parent, we make it our philosophy above all else to be kind. To be kind to our babies, our kids, our partners and ourselves. They deserve it and so do we, because as long as we keep questioning and doing our best it’s ok not to be perfect.

As I peacefully parent, I’m also going to be at peace with that.

 

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012