Not long ago my son was having a day. Behavior, rudeness, zaniness, culminating with him taking a huge mouthful of milk and spewing it on the kitchen floor, then laughing like a crazed lunatic. Through tears I handed the baby to my husband, shoved my son in a coat and shoes and threw on the closest pair of shoes for myself and set off down the driveway with him. Within a block from the house, he was calm; skipping, speaking sweetly to me, observing our surroundings.
We headed down a gravel road at the end of the neighborhood into a grove of fiery autumn leaves and found a trail. Despite the fact I had left my phone and my newborn at home without having first fed her or having left any milk in the refrigerator, I determined that my husband could manage and she wouldn’t starve while I indulged in a long walk through the woods with my little boy.
This strong-willed child, who not 20 minutes before had been wrought with anger and frustration, was suddenly filled with a lightness of Spirit, recognizing oak leaves and wild fern, skills he’s learning at his new outdoor school on their daily treks. Me, a mentally and physically spent adult, suddenly felt that same lightness of Spirit. All of my anger from the spewed milk, the hideous manners, the constant grind of a little voice saying “Mommy!” and a little newborn body needing constant nourishment vanished. I was suddenly relishing every word and observation my child was making, every joyful action he engaged in: catching leaves as they fell, pretending big puddles of blown together pine needles were lava we needed to jump over.
I diverted him off the trail and headed back toward the house where we found a quiet clearing flooded with dappled light through the leaves. My son said, “Mommy, this view is so pretty!” In the midst of three weeks of total behavioral hell with my son, I was missing the growth and development of his speech and ability to observe and reason, which allowed him to observe his environment, appreciate it and then verbalize his appreciation.
What else had I chosen to miss in the chaos?
My husband found us as we were hitting the sidewalk again. He had ventured out in search of us after we had been gone an hour, probably fearing I had abandoned our child in the middle of the woods after the morning we had experienced. When we arrived back at the house, my son’s energy level immediately began to spiral again. I summoned up all of my mindfulness parenting mojo and said, “I’m noticing when we came inside your body started to get excited again, but when we were outside in the woods your body was calm. Can you check in with your body and tell me how it’s feeling now that we are inside?” He responded through gritted teeth and tightened his fists in front of his belly: “I’m feeling SQUEEEEEEZED!” I asked him: “How was your body feeling when we were hiking in the woods?” He took a long, deep inhale through the nose, filling his chest with air and then exhaled, tilting his little head back.
Friends, how often in the midst of the chaos can we identify with that feeling of being squeezed to the point of complete eruption? I may not take a mouthful of milk and spew it on the floor like my son did, but Lord knows I have spewed hurtful words when my lack of control over my circumstances or a stressful situation puts me in the squeeze.
If you’ve been following me lately, our family has been upended with a temporary move during a whole house renovation while settling into life with our newest addition. There are so many moments throughout the day that I’m feeling the squeeze, and far too few in which I make the choice to take a deep, cleansing breath.
In responding to my son’s needs that day, I inadvertently responded to my own. It was automatic, I Began the Practice: through tears I realized I had to Surrender to my inability to control my child’s escalating behavior. I trusted that my husband could soothe our daughter in my absence, and instinctively headed for fresher air. We both found Stillness in the crisp autumn air and the crunch of the leaves underfoot; relieving the tension of the chaos, we were both able to breathe. The Grief here really comes with the realization that I cannot maintain a constant state of homeostasis, despite my nervous system’s need for it. It is hard to accept the answer will always be no when you ask why can’t you just of your child, your partner, of your life because the preface of “why can’t you” comes with so much loaded judgement. Honesty and Curiosity are where that pesky mindful parenting, of my child and most importantly of myself, come into play. When I have to do a body check and understand the origin of the squeeze and my response to it. I must Forgive myself and others for the reaction to the tension and be empathetic for what I’m responding to—we all desire to control the chaos, that’s why The Container Store stays in business for crying out loud! But we can only control our environments so much and the more we give into the squeeze, the uglier it will be when we finally spew. Resilience is how quickly I learn to correct those reactions and to recognize when the tension is building and seek clearer air. I find the Joy, even if it’s fleeting, when I take that cleansing breath, getting oxygen to a short-circuiting brain. Friends, we find the Joy when we choose to recognize that the squeeze is only a response to our struggle to control our environment and we pursue the ability to breathe our way out of the squeeze.
This is Living Hope, friend. I invite you to Begin the Practice with me. Choose to pursue a new command of your environment by actively seeking Stillness in the midst of the squeeze. By counting to twenty and breathing through your anger at the milk all over the floor and dripping from the cabinets and reacting rationally and effectively. Let’s seek Stillness to counter the mounting chaos and tension. Let’s choose to write a new narrative for ourselves, and for our children, that sets the record straight on our ability to control and command when we feel the squeeze.
This is Living Hope.