What Happens When You Aren’t Present
(Sorry for the later than 8am post this Monday. I accidentally scheduled for the wrong date! 🙂 But here it is now…)
I lost it the other morning.
I woke up happy enough and started to prepare for the day. Engaging with the kids, making breakfast and school lunches all the while trying to get them to get dressed and brush their teeth… a usual morning – except that, on this morning, no-one was listening to me (which, I’m glad to say, is less usual).
It was like trying to herd honey. I’d push them one way and they oozed in from the other side. When I lifted my hand to push it back they followed my hand, made a new mess and oozed back where I’d pushed them away from before.
Undressed, unbrushed, out of control, unable to stop frantically running around and pushing, tickling and bothering each other. Of course this was interspersed with crying and complaints like “Mama he hit me!” I couldn’t get them to leave each other alone.
“Guys I’m sorting out lunch and breakfast. You know the story. Go get dressed and brush your teeth, then you can play.”
Three minutes later, “Hello? Didn’t I say something just now? Stop bugging your brother and go do what you need to do!”
Two minutes later, “Why aren’t you dressed yet? It’s not play time. Come on man! I don’t want to have to be your policeman.” (Which by the way got the retort, ‘You can’t be a policeman because you are a woman’ followed by shrieks of 5 and 8 year old laughter. Well at least they were listening…)
You’d think that by now I’d remember to notice things are getting out of hand and pause for a moment to take stock of what’s happening and gather myself to myself. After all, if no-one was listening to me and I was having no effect on my environment – almost like I was invisible – it might be reflecting something about my lack of presence…
But I wasn’t really present so I forgot all about checking in with myself.
It was a recipe for disaster. Not present to myself (ouch), not being listened to (ouch), feeling powerless to control the environment (ouch, ouch, OUCH!)… What was left for me to do? Yup, shift into Victim Mode and blame everyone else.
“I can’t believe I have to do all this for you! Come on! You’re not babies anymore. You can dress yourselves. You! Sit over there, stop poking your brother. You! Face the wall until you are dressed. Jeez! Here are your clothes. Here are yours. Do you know I had to wash my hands and leave the food to come do this. I can’t believe I have to do this for you. I’m trying to organise food for you, I have to drive you to school and I still haven’t had a chance to get dressed myself!”
You may recognise the lyrics? It’s the popular hit song “Oh Woe Is Me”.
Blame is a slippery slope. As I lose my balance into helplessness and blame them to try to stabilise myself, they get dragged into the out-of-control mire and become louder and more frantic, which tips me over further…
Finally I shouted. Loudly.
I don’t even know what words I said but I’m sure it could translate as “Poor me. Poor me. I’m drowning and it’s all your fault.”
That shut them up.
It seems to be most effective when shouted loudly with a good dollop of pathos.
My little one looked at me with huge eyes filled with tears and a trembling bottom lip.
That shut me up.
Deep breath. “I’m ok” I told him quietly, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” We sat there together for a moment at the kitchen table looking at his toast.
“Mama” he said, “whenever somebody shouts I feel like crying.”
“Yes” I said and we were quiet a while.
Then this came out, “Maybe it’s because you can feel the person shouting really wants to cry. If someone is shouting it’s often because they feel like crying.”
He nodded thoughtfully and we sat there quietly, at peace, while he ate his breakfast.
Everyone finally heard, accounted for and fully present.