October 6th 2017
When people say this parenting lark is an emotional rollercoaster, they're not wrong. During something as mundane as a school run your psyche can be dragged through euphoria and despair in equal measure; an innocent trip to the park can result in emotional breakdown; and mealtimes, well, I think we could all do with a good bout of psychotherapy after a week of those.
And when we wake up every morning we have absolutely no way of knowing in which ways we will be tested in the coming hours. And that's because it's got f-all to do with us, and everything to do with how our kids will experience the world that day. Oh how I wish somebody would invent an app to predict what emotional onslaught might be coming my way. Much like the weather forecast app helps me decide whether to wear my cheapie-version Uggs or my cheapie-version Converse, a Little-Lad-Mood app could prepare me in so many ways. Come on Apple. Please tell me there's an app for that.
But until Apple get their arse in gear, I tap into my mindfulness skills like nobody's business. When I began my training in mindfulness five years ago, I had no idea just how much it was going to be a lifeline through parenthood. Having crammed about twenty years of life changes in the space of three years, my soul was longing for a cleanse, a re-fresh that could only come from within. Cue a rapid referral to a counsellor and then a local mindfulness course and I was on my way to discovering not only how to take charge of my own thoughts and reactions, but also how to get more in touch with me in the moment, without clinging to past regrets or future fears.
And now, with daily meditation practice as well as a whole load of training in how to help other people access these oh-so-crucial life skills, I am equipped with a few magic tricks when it comes to living a life in close proximity to two terrifying boys. Breathe. Accept. Smile. Savour. To name but a few.
The War on Technology (as I have come to call it) is a classic for plunging me head-first into my mindfulness repertoire. I absolutely REFUSE for our household to be governed by my Lads' addiction to screens. Like everything else, I allow it in a balanced measure (I totally accept that they need to be tech-savvy going into this mysterious future of ours), and it has to be earned rather than taken for granted. That means, any crappy behaviour, and the 'square time' is the first to go. No exceptions.
The other day, having argued all the way home from school in the car, my two arrived home screaming at each other about who was going to have the privilege of playing on Minecraft as a single player. For some reason, it was unthinkable that they could actually use TWO player mode and make use of the TWO PS4 controllers 'Santa' had invested in previously. God forbid they actually share something harmoniously.
So, I went to my go-to deep breathing, noticed the weight of my body in the driver's seat, the cool feel of the steering wheel under my fingertips and turned to them calmly. "Boys, we're going to go in the house now, and I'm going to give you ten minutes together in your bedroom to sort this out. If you cannot sort it out together like the grown-up Year 5 and Year 2 children that you are, then I am afraid there will be no square time tonight. Understood?" Two red-cheeked, frowning faces nodded slowly. "Good."
Five minutes later and Big Lad sped past me at my usual position at the kitchen sink and declared that they needed to go and have this out on the trampoline. "We need to bounce, Mum, so we can think better."
Cool. I went with that. Who doesn't make good decisions when bouncing?
Five minutes of trampoline time were up so I ventured out to the garden to discover Little Lad lying face down in a pool of tears and Big Lad bouncing aggressively so that his sobbing brother repeatedly banged his head. Twas not the scene of happy resolution.
"Okay boys, you've had ten minutes, you are still not being kind to each other and hearing each other out. You are still arguing. That's it I'm afraid. No PS4 tonight."
Well you can imagine what happened from there. Big Lad - venomously spitting cruel words at me in a way that doesn't quite involve swearing but is hostile enough to make me flinch. Little Lad - howling to the moon and back. Fine. I let them get on with it. Back to the kitchen sink with me.
So there I was, feeling my feet rooted to the ground, enjoying the warm water and the soapy bubbles and the squeaky clean dishes, all the while aware of my disappointed offspring despairing at an evening at home without screens. This is a pattern I'm used to. Eventually they remember I will not give in and start using the imaginations they were born with to find something else to do. I am also used to the weird stirring of emotions that goes on inside me. Uncertainty in the belly. Guilt in the throat. Exasperation throughout my bones. But also a firm kindness in my heart that knows I am doing this out of love.
Half an hour later and Big Lad was tramping round the house in a Five Nights at Freddy's costume, setting up 'jump scares' in every room. Nice. Little Lad had made it off the trampoline and into the living room, was still howling full force, but this time directly at the PS4, as if he could make it spring to life with the very power of his torment. Just as I was wondering if I should abandon the preparation of fish fingers and step in to offer a cuddle (sometimes it's the only way with Little Lad), Big Lad came trooping in and said "It's ok, it's ok. I know something that can make you feel better."
Now this could be interesting. I've learned, through mindfulness, that sometimes it's a good idea to pause. Don't jump in with automatic reactions, but instead try letting things unfold before getting involved. So I did. I paused. In the middle of the kitchen. Close enough to hear what was happening. Far enough away so they wouldn't know I was listening.
"Right, this is what you do." Big Lad explained as Little Lad took some shuddering breaths and (I imagine) looked at his big brother with wide, trusting eyes. "You hold your hand up and spread your palm like this and you trace the outline of each finger with your pointing finger on the other hand, starting with your thumb."
"Ok." Little Lad sighed. Tears still clinging to his voice.
"And when you trace up the finger you breathe in. And when you trace down the finger you breathe out. Like this." Big lad performed some suitably deep, encouraging breaths at a steady rhythm.
(It was about here that I realised that despite having ALL of my mindfulness tricks flung back in my face over the years by Big Lad, that this now, this moment, was living proof that it hadn't all been in vain. He had been listening. It had sunk in. And it had meant something to him on some level. What I felt was euphoria. in the middle of the kitchen floor. Euphoria. On a weekday. And that was BEFORE the fish fingers.)
I heard Little Lad shift in his seat and take some rapid, shaky breaths. "Ok," Big Lad said softly, "you're breathing a bit fast. Try it slower. And deeper. Like this." Oh. My. God. That was my son. Big Lad. The Lad of epic tantrums, questionable social skills and CAMHS referrals coming out of his ears, actually teaching somebody else how to calm down.
And so I listened. I listened for a few, brief, beautiful moments to the sound of my boys breathing slowly together, to the sound of them trying something new in unison, to the sound of devastation turning slowly to calm, to the sound of their love for each other.
Then an almighty roar: "Waaaaaaah! It doesn't work!!! I still feel saaaaaad. I want the PlaaaaayStaaaaaationnnnn nooooowwww!"
Well, you can't have it all, can you?
Poor Big Lad came into the kitchen where I pretended to be ever-so interested in how the fish fingers were doing and shuffled up to me. "Mum? I tried to show him the finger breathing to calm him down but he wouldn't give it a chance."
"Did you sweetheart? Well, you can be proud of yourself for trying to help him. You never know, maybe it will help him another time."
And we had a cuddle. With the howling in the living room as our backdrop, we had a long, mindful cuddle with eyes closed and everything. And when Little Lad finally dragged himself into the kitchen to see what was going on and realised it was fish fingers for dinner, the tears miraculously dried and he plonked himself down at the table. "Right. I'm finished with all that crying now. Where are my fish fingers? Please don't make me eat peas."
And just like that, we were on to the next emotional onslaught.
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