It’s a snow day! We’re all home. Piled-in together. Having our usual snow day love-fest. Everyone is relaxing. Everyone is singing and dancing and playing board games. There’s fresh bread baking in the oven and the smell is so homey I feel like I could just melt into a mound of freshly churned butter. Warm chocolate chip cookies are cooling on the counter. Dinner is already prepped with a trusty alarm to remind us to place it into the oven. It will be finished at just the right time. We will sit and have deep thoughtful talks while dining together. We will dine by candlelight with the heat from the fire casting a warm glow upon us. The kitchen will be cleaned while my husband and I sip wine and our children chirpily load the dishwasher and praise our delicious meal. Everyone will be nestled into bed at an easy-breezy time. It’s a perfect snow day … in my fantasy.
I can hear them before I see them. Standing at the sink, soaking-wet in my sweaty bike clothes. A little dazed. A lot confused. I can feel their yelling and hollering like a xylophone mallet along my spine. Their voices are beckoning me from my kitchen post. Waking me up from my foggy-minded-paralysis. I stand there for a minute longer, letting the hot water wash over my hands. I watch as the stream of water rinses away the suds along with any hope I may have of tackling my mountain of dishes. I look left — dishes. I look right — more dishes. I look down toward the ground where the dishwasher door rests open. Dishes.
How long has the dishwasher been sitting open? Are the dishes clean or dirty? Dirty. Which means I have no where to put the tornado of dirty dishes taking over my kitchen. I sigh. I wait. I watch the last fleck of a bubble disappear down the drain. I shut the water as if forcing a heavy lever back into position; bracing my body and wrenching it with all of my weary might. Off. One more deep bodied exhalation as I ready myself to step into the storm.
I peek around the door jam. Afraid of what I might find. I hear shrieks and screams. I hear insults. I see hands flying and the flood gates opening as tears start pouring. And then I hear it, like metal-on-metal, “MOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!” But I’m already there. Watching. Listening. Wondering.
I’m never quite sure of what to make of this. This moment when the fun shifts to mayhem and my children start pummeling insults at each other like sleet on a windshield. I’m more than a decade older than my siblings. I don’t quite know what to do with this crazy-making, mind-numbing squabbling. How do my children so often find themselves in this place? This place of digging their heels into the ground. Fervently wrestling each other. Clawing at each other’s hands. Kicking the ground and inadvertently, each other. They are fighting for dear life, because God knows all life depends on that final, single, all-significant, highly-coveted, yellow, two-pronged Lego. Yup. The one the size of your pinky fingernail. Yes. That one. All life is contingent upon that one coveted piece.
I feel like a soldier scanning the landscape. Assessing the situation. Looking for clues to decipher what prompted this unraveling. My children see me watching. They up the antics. I stand my ground. Deciding to wait before jumping into the fray. When they realize I’m not swooping in like Captain America with my mighty shield, deflecting all evil, they start baiting me. Telling on each other. Ratting each other out. Passionately attempting to depict the injustices which have been bestowed upon each of them.
I am so often amazed at their willingness to throw each other under the bus when they get to this point of chaos and fighting. Most of the time my children genuinely like each other as people. They are friends and support each other with such love and compassion. Most of the time. Except when they don’t. Except when all life depends upon that one urgent thing that is so-special-to-me-I-can’t-bear-to-part-from-it. Except for that.
When the storm hits, it’s difficult for me to resist swiftly sweeping in with my booming voice and ferocious scowl. Silencing my children with my deafening yells and mighty stare. I can out-yell all of them. And my glare — well, my glare is the glare of all glares and it quiets all who are unfortunate enough to fall under the glower. But I’m learning not to do this. I’m learning to step back and assess before blindly jumping into the craziness — becoming another child in the mix of self-righteous clamoring.
Today I just stand there watching. Trying to look omnipotent when really I just wanted to slip back into my kitchen, sit at my counter stool and fantasize about making cookies, breads and stews. The truth is, I don’t really know what in the hell I’m doing, but I’m trying something … different.
Lately, instead of responding to the shouts with louder shouting, I find myself looking at them imploringly. I open my mouth a little bit. I raise my eyebrows enough to highlight my wisdom-lines across my knowing brow. I hold my hands up in a questioning way — “How did you get here?” I ask. To which they respond with more shouts, grander accusations and ruthless finger pointing.
I am continually astounded to see that calm seems to be the golden ticket. I breathe. I respond quietly and say, “No. That’s not what I asked. I asked how you came to find yourselves at this place? Does it feel good to be here? What might be helpful? How can you find your way out of this place? How can I help? What might you do to help yourselves?”
They wiggle when I ask these questions. They sink a little bit and their chests — which were puffed up like touting roosters — deflate. They sort of get wide-eyed and imploring. They look from me to each other and back to me again. Searching for the answer they think I’m looking for. I wonder if they think these are trick questions. I think they think I’m trying to catch them. They vacillate between painful, frozen silence and demanding pleas to be the one exonerated. Mostly, they’re just confused. And you know what? I get it. I’m confused too.
My inquiries are not trick questions. In fact, they are deep and honest questions. The ones we all try to avoid on a daily basis as we run from our own discomfort. They are uncomfortable questions that require some responsibility. A bit of accountability. My children don’t want to be responsible. Few like being accountable. And we have all mastered the fine art of the little-white-lie. I think about this more and more these days. Honesty. Integrity. Truth.
I find myself humming the tune from the Talking Heads, “Once In A Lifetime.” Which I do find a little odd because I don’t really know the song. But I hum it nonetheless and ponder often: “How did I get here?” And with that, I ask myself the tough questions and I ask them frequently. My thoughtful inquiries stretch the way we relate to each other as a family and the way I relate to myself. I continually search myself: “Is this where I want to be? Here, at this place within myself. Within my own-self? Am I my best-self?” Not perfect. Not all-knowing. God knows I’ll never be either. I do not reside within a Norman Rockwell painting. Nope. Norman Rockwell I will never be. And I can’t strive for that. I don’t want to. I simply want to be my best self in each moment of each day. It’s not the external bits and pieces, it’s the heartbeat within myself. The place I am learning to call home. Within this storm of life.
I think as a whole, adults are experts at deflecting. We ignore our feelings. We second guess ourselves constantly. When we become parents I find it incredibly naive of us to think we suddenly become masters of conflict resolution and emotional insight. We’re good at avoiding and we’re experts ourselves at finger wagging and name calling. I just keep wondering how I got here. How I came to the place where, when someone driving near me honks his horn and I immediately move to honk back louder and indignantly flip the person off. Does it occur to me that perhaps that person was keeping me out of harm’s way? Most of the time, I have to say, “No. Not really.”
I find this critical time when my husband and I attempt to navigate our way around these life-skills with our children before our time together has run its course, painfully fascinating. Soon enough my children will move on and I’ll be left dazed and slightly numb — staring at the dust dancing in the sunbeams — wondering if I got it right and hoping that if I didn’t, well then maybe I’ll get credit for trying with all of my might.
This is the place I keep coming back to these days. I keep returning to the heart. My heart. I think it comes down to compassion. If I can relate to myself from a place of compassion, integrity and love then the rest of the nonsense becomes just that, nonsense. It becomes moot. It doesn’t matter if I have the golden Lego or if you do. I can’t be caught up in hoping to decipher if the driver was honking at me because he was a royal jerk or if he was honking to help me. It’s not important. It doesn’t matter who loads the dishwasher, who folds the laundry or who brings home the bacon. What matters is if I experience myself and the world from a place of compassion.
What matters is whether or not I am able to be open to my human-ness. If I can relate to myself from a place of fullness instead of a place of shortcomings and deficits. If I can do this, then I can stand inside the eye of the storm and smile a bit at the sheer loss of control and the knowing that all life is like this — Imperfect. Always. And with that, I can know in the depth of my-self, that I am solid in life’s uncertainty because I am whole in my heart.
Take good care!