Resistance Is Futile

For the past several years I’ve been learning (and relearning) a lesson about resisting. Specifically, to try to avoid doing it—unless someone’s trying to ax your head off, of course. First there was the big lesson, the one that started it all: If your husband is cheating on you, moves out, and says he wants a divorce, you should probably say OK. (What else is there to say? And yet I managed to drag it out.)

Since then, I’ve relearned this lesson in regard to much more trivial, although still illuminating, matters.

Throwing up: If you feel that particular urge coming on, don’t lie there as still as humanly possible hoping against hope that the urge will spare you. It never does. Man up, as my English friends say, and park yourself in front of the toilet. You’ll feel better once it’s all out.

Crying: If you find yourself spilling over with tears about some tragedy great or small, don’t fight it. Sit yourself down, give yourself some space, and allow the sadness to come up. Pushing it down or back or wherever you like to push it will only make matters worse in the present (i.e., those super unattractive whole-body sobs, not to mention messy mascara) or in the future (i.e., out-of-left field bitchy comments over things entirely unrelated). Ignore the rest of the world for a moment, feel the sadness, notice how your body feels in that moment, and let the tears come. If you can, calmly observe them. Don’t try to tell yourself this or that (unless you want to throw in a motherly “there, there, it will all be OK”); just let your mind rest. You’ll feel the sadness wash over you like a wave.

The uncomfortable conversation: If you get a pit of ugh in your gut every time you think of a particular person or situation, stop sweeping the whole thing under your mental rug. Block off a bit of time for yourself so you can have a clear thought, and air that baby out. Take a good look at the issue from all angles, maybe make a list or two if that helps you out, or talk to a wise friend—and make a decision on how to handle it. If an uncomfortable conversation is the only way out, don’t delay. If it’s inevitable, you’ll have to have the talk eventually anyway, and having it sooner will mean getting that ugh out of you all the sooner. And remember, there are very few situations when honesty (served up with a side of compassion) won’t do you just fine.

The temper tantrum: This is the one that got me writing tonight. The interconnectedness of all these things fell into place in my mind right after finally winning the bedtime battle with my two-year-old son tonight. He moved from a crib to his “big boy” bed a few weeks ago, and the gray circles under my eyes sum up how easy the transition has been. I’ve tried every trick I can think of (tricks that worked with my other two kids) to get him to stay in that bed after tuck in. Appealing to reason—”OK, this is how it works, first I tuck you in, then you snuggle with your Woofie, then you close your eyes, then you allow your body to relax, then you go to sleep.” Playing on admiration of siblings—”Look, your big brother is asleep, your big sister is asleep, I close the door and say goodnight to them, now you too.” Threatening to remove the favorite thing—”If you get out of this bed one more time, no Bob the Builder for you tomorrow.” Utilizing the foolproof Supernanny technique—no words involved here, just dumping the kid unceremoniously back in bed over and over again until they finally cave.

This last technique would have worked I am sure—eventually—but at some point I just lost my patience with the technique and with him. He was pretending to be unhappy about being retucked in a zillion times, but really this was all just fine for him. Sure he’d rather be playing with Legos, but if he had to choose between going to sleep and playing this back and forth game with me, he chose me (obviously). So I told him this was not allowed and put him in time out. One time didn’t do it; he popped up after that tuck in just like all the others. So the second time I left the light off in his time out spot to get his attention (there’s a night-light on in there; I’m not that cruel).

Standing outside the door, I realized this time out was doing what all the other techniques had failed to do: it brought on the temper tantrum. Or meltdown, whatever you want to call it. If your kid is over 18 months you’ve probably seen it: the full-on crying fit of misery that leaves them crumpled on the floor, metaphorically and sometimes literally. Like always, this event produces in me a palpable anxiety that courses through my body. But now that I’ve suffered through eight gazillion of these or so, I now know enough to feel a second feeling on top of the first: relief. Relief because the temper tantrum means the end is finally in sight. I don’t understand it fully, but there are some times when they just need to get it all out before they can move on. (I guess it’s kind of like me and my crying that I described earlier—my own temper tantrum!) I figured my son’s temper tantrum meant sleep was near, but just for good measure I told him that I would just keep sticking him in time out until he would stay in his bed. Finally, sweet, sweet sleep.

That was a long story, but I tell it with this thought in mind: often, as parents, we try to avoid the temper tantrum. (And no wonder! It’s excruciating for both child and parent.) We reason, we cajole, we trick, we bribe, we plead, we threaten, we ignore, and yet to what purpose? The temper tantrum comes anyway. And even worse, before it comes we have to endure a tirade of bad behavior, of whining, of not following rules, of wreaking havoc on our household or its members. And then the temper tantrum still comes. It is so much better—in the long run and the short—to just meet the beast head on, call it out. When we see the signs, we should just draw a hard line and welcome the tantrum we know will follow. The storm will pass much more quickly, and our children will be better behaved for it.

If time is the stick you’re measuring with, this particular version of the Resist Resistance lesson was the hardest for me to learn. My husband has only been lecturing me on this since our daughter was born, or before. The truth of the matter, though, is that I still haven’t really learned it. I can write about it, but I still don’t live it. I’m at the stage of learning something where I realize afterward what I should have done. No worries, though, since that, as Eckhart Tolle says, is progress. I’ll get there one day.

I see the storm building on the horizon that I may need to go back to work to allow us to afford nice things for the kids like preschool, camps, and various lessons. Does this mean I should bite the bullet and go get a job at McDonald’s? Hmmm. These things are always clearer in the rear view mirror. I think I’ll try to avoid this for just one more day . . . (I take that back—I’ll never learn!)

I’ll leave you with this amazing Buddhist parable, as told by Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth. (When I read it the first time, the part about the baby was a punch in the stomach; remember, however, that the baby is well taken care of no matter what.)

The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen Master. In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”

News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin. “You are the father, so you look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at the butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.

© Amy Daniewicz and Beneath the Trees

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