Pausing for Sanity

It’s last Monday morning and I’m completely enthralled in the battle of Monday morning. Getting myself dressed, getting the kids ready for school, feeding, watering and walking the dogs - - typical morning. When I come back from walking the dogs, I’m greeted by the sound of my 4-year-old in full blown tantrum mode, tears streaming down her face, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I’m STARVING!!!!” My two older girls are busy making themselves breakfast, packing their lunches and VERY BUSY averting their eyes. Many of you are thinking, “Well that sounds about right, 4-year-olds cry and, wow!! your kids are making their own breakfast and fixing their own lunches, that’s incredible!” But, you see, I am one of those people blessed with the curse of feeling things very deeply and sometimes irrationally. “Incredible” was not what I saw. 

What I saw was a morning in ruins that could easily have been avoided if one of the big kids had taken a moment to pour some cereal. What I saw was me, taking care of two dogs that the kids had begged for, while they did nothing to help out. What I saw was a crazed version of myself, mad as hell over what was going on. So, like any good mother would do, I took a deep breath, calmly assessed the situation, realized it was not a tragedy and moved gracefully through the rest of my day. Just kidding … I lost it. I went on a rant about how much I do around the house and how little anyone else seems to care. I told my big kids that I felt taken advantage of, that they should have been more helpful and they could have kept the morning from falling apart. I told my four year old that she was being completely irrational and needed to calm down - - oh, the irony. I sent them off to school with those words ringing in their ears. It felt horrible. Really, really horrible. 

My first reaction was to feel self-righteous and cling to my frustrations about the situation. I let that spiral into a story of how spoiled and ungrateful I’ve allowed my kids to become and how little responsibility they feel for the people and things around them. I called my husband in a fit of frustration and demanded a plan. Can we make an incentive chart to encourage the kids to be nicer to each other? Should we have a family meeting and tell them (again) what it means to contribute to the household? Do we need to sign up for a class on how to raise productive members of society?

After that anger settled, and guilt settled in, I turned on myself. How could I have been so cruel? How could I not see that they are just kids and, of course they are absorbed in their own worlds, and the 4-year-old is not their responsibility. Even more, this was just one moment in time. What about all the Saturday afternoons Caitlin spends playing with Emmie or all the times Taylor jumps up from dinner and pours milk for her sister when I’ve forgotten? And how could I allow them to go to school feeling like they were bad sisters, bad daughters, for not doing what I expected they should do? I fell fast into a spiral of self-loathing and knew I had to do something to make it all right again. I went to Barnes and Noble and bought four (yep, FOUR) books that surely held the secrets to self and sisterly love. I meditated furiously in an effort uncover the answer. I forced a nap and went to bed early so I would be rested and better able to manage my reactions. I desperately tried to regain control over my feelings. And while my actions were well intentioned, I knew deep down they were coming from a place of reactivity. I should know by now, that never really works. So of course when I woke up the next day, I still wasn't there. I got up determined to try harder, to be better. But when I sat down to meditate, I literally couldn’t. My mind would not settle and my heart? Forget it … hard as a rock. I sat on my yoga mat and put my head on the ground, defeated.

This is the place where I used to get really stuck. In this space of being so frustrated by what is going on around me and so angry with myself for feeling that frustration, I wouldjust give up. This place where I had tried everything I knew to try and still could not make it all ok. I would get stuck and I would stay stuck. But now, what used to send me to bed for a week, what used to send me send me to the fridge for a bottle of wine, now this stuff encourages me to pause. I slowly realized that my books, my desperate attempts to meditate and my well-planned resting, was making everything worse instead of better; that all this doing was just a reflection of my need to control my environment, a need that had landed me in this mess to begin with. So, head on the ground, feeling defeated, I remembered that I have learned to pause.

I did next what I might have done in the first place - - I allowed myself to feel it all. I allowed myself to feel really angry with the kids. I allowed myself to feel frustrated that mornings are rushed and kinda suck in general. I allowed myself to feel angry and disappointed in me for not handling life with more grace and ease. And I sat with that. I felt it, raw and ugly, and I allowed it to start moving through me. What came next were still actions, but they were actions that came from a place of surrender rather than from a place of reactivity. When I stopped and really listened, there was a still small voice telling me that I needed to get outside and move. So I took a long walk, I listened to a podcast and I sat by the water and meditated (much, much less furiously.) I spent some time recognizing that what was underneath my need to control exactly what was happening that morning before school, was fear. It was fear that I wasn't going to get everyone ready for school on time. It was fear that I would always feel like there is too much to do and not enough time to do it. It was fear that my girls were growing up to be selfish jungle beasts and this was just one more piece of evidence that I am a horrible, awful, very bad mother. It was fear. 

And the interesting thing about fear is that once you name it, it starts to lose it's power. As I named this fear and sat with it, I started to soften. So all of those things? None of them were true. I was probably going to get everybody ready for school, and if I didn’t, who cares? I don’t always feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time (ok, I’m still working on that one.) Most importantly though, my girls are not raging, snarling jungle beasts, they are kids. Pretty awesome kids. Kids who need space to be kids. 

What I remembered this week is that sometimes you've got to step back and stop trying to think your way out of it. The plotting with my husband, the self-help book binge, the well planned rest and meditation … none of that worked. What worked was pausing. Giving some space to all the things I needed to feel and allowing those things to move through me in their own time and in their own way. What is always left in that space is deeper understanding and greater compassion. This will happen again and again and again and again. And next time, maybe I'll do better, maybe I won't. But every time I step back and allow the lessons to come to me, rather than chasing after them, I am back to myself so much faster than I used to be. And If I keep showing up and I keep allowing these things to connect me to my understanding and my compassion, the moments of clarity and peace will continue to outweigh the frustration and depression. 

So the next time your everyday feels so very overwhelming, when your boss yells at you for a job done or the barista messes up your coffee or your kids think dinner time is “let’s do all we can to make mom crazy” time, I encourage you to pause. Listen to the still, small voice inside you. That voice knows exactly how to move you through the frustration. And remember that it is the not-doing, so much more often than the doing, that will move you into a place of understanding and compassion.