Sunday, December 6, 2009

Does perfect bewilderment and frustration count? (or, No God Moments For Me) Updated Below

Just in case it (perfect bewilderment and frustration) doesn't (count), I won't post the Perfect Moment Mondays emblem.

I'm assuming the headache is menopausal. The hot flashes are a clue. Some days I just wake up with a headache that I'm resigned to having in the background all day. Now I'm waking in the night with the headache and the desperate sensation of too much heat. I remove the blanket and sheet, wait for the headache to subside enough to sleep again, and then wake shortly after, cold.

So this morning was a resigned-to-a-headache morning, on the same day that Gary's going down to the bay area to meet a guy he's hoping to finalize employment with. I took him to the airport about 11:30 and returned home.

Scott and Connor have reached a revolting development in their relationship. They are two unstable elements and under certain conditions come together with volatility (sudden explosions) and unpleasant byproducts (noise, name-calling). They're like ammonia and chlorine bleach and once they get going it's as impossible to separate the byproducts back into their component atoms. This makes it very difficult to find a peaceful resolution to the various conflicts that sprout.

A typical interaction: something happens, usually the initiating event is missed by one of the adults. Sometimes they're playing and one of them gets hurt. Sometimes Scott is being hyperactive, which annoys Connor. Sometimes Scott says something innocent and Connor responds with uncalled-for scorn. Whichever adult is present will usually start with whoever's behavior is obvious, "Connor, keep your hands to yourself!" Scott: "YEAH, Connor!" Connor: "Shut up, you big fatso!" Scott: "Yeah, well you're a.....!" And while the adult is trying to put a stop to that the child not being addressed in that particular moment is making faces at the other one behind the adult's back so that the child being addressed is becoming more inflamed, setting off the nuclear chain once more. Jesus, sometimes I hate children.

Scott was hyperactive tonight and went downstairs. I heard Connor saying, "Stop, Scott...Just stop, would you? Would you quit, I'm getting really mad at you!" I went downstairs to tell Scott it was time to come upstairs if he couldn't be in the same room peacefully with Connor, but not before Connor called him an 'asshole' and "hurt my feelings."

The really curious thing about this was the irrationality. Even by a kid's standards of behavior this was irrational. Scott's fury stemmed from the fact that I'd gone to get him with a severe affect; he felt I was angry with him and not his brother. Repeatedly he demanded that I get angry and direct that anger at Connor. And the more I wasn't doing it the angrier he got.

This is the thing about kids that stumps me. There was no way I could reach him to explain (though I tried) that not only can I not get angry at will, and at the behest of someone else, but it had sure sounded like Connor had asked him nicely enough to stop. He only got angrier.

The fury and tantrum went on long enough that I had time to remember a sequence that my cousin Lori described in an episode of her own child's anger:

1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart

Similarly I remembered a post by Mary P. Jones about difficult moments with children called "The God Moment"

I at least thought about being mindful in this tricky parenting moment. It was hard to listen above my own clamor for this to all just go away: oh, my aching head. What the hell do I do with his demand that I feel something I didn't feel? I talked to him about understanding that it had felt unfair to him that I had seemed angry with him when I came to get him, and that he felt Connor deserved my anger too. I told him that I knew it must feel terrible inside his body. I told him I knew how awful it felt to be so angry and feel it trapped inside his skin. But he could not release that demand and I could not get to the place inside where I could find the words to help him release it. (Did I fail in being empathetic? I was sincere, I do know it feels awful, but how much of this empathy was just an effort to get him to shut up? Could he sense it?) He wanted to go talk with Connor, and he wanted nothing less than my righteous indignation on his behalf.

Since he kept pressing and no inspiration came from God I had to be explicit. I looked him in the eye and said with finality "I can't be angry on demand. And I'm not angry with Connor." {anguished and angry wailing} "Now we can go downstairs and talk to him, but we have to have rules. I'll explain the rules to him too. You have to take turns, you can't shout at each other, and you can't call each other names."

I took down from the bulletin board his classroom's template for conflict resolution and we went downstairs after I briefed Connor on The Rules. I let Scott start, and another testament to kid irrationality was that his and Connor's versions of what happened pretty much matched up: Scott wanted to roughhouse with Connor; Connor said no because he figured it would lead to trouble; Scott started taunting and making fun of him to try to goad him into tackling him. On some level he knew that he had provoked this particular fight. Clearly the heart of this was between Scott and me, not Scott and Connor.

A bright spot in all this was that the conflict resolution model kept the discussion fairly even and they responded when I'd assert The Rules if they started to get heated. When I asked Scott to repeat back what Connor had said he objected on reasonable grounds: Connor was first supposed to repeat back what Scott had said. So apparently this conflict resolution stuff they're practicing in school is sinking in, at least the procedural stuff. Maybe there's hope.

And I guess that has to be enough of a God moment for tonight. We went upstairs and had a relatively peaceful dinner.

An hour later Scott wanted a bath, and me to read to him while he was in the tub. When I came in with the book he glared at me and said, "I'm still mad at you and I still want you to get mad at Connor!"

Perfectly tough night.


Update 12/7/09

Thinking about Mrs. Spit's comment to the original post made me think some more about last night, and the curious nature of Scott's and my conflict.

In retrospect, it was like a Zen koan, and I may have been on the right track, but somehow didn't go far enough. I certainly can't say I'm there today. I think the God Moment I'd like to have realized is the one Mary and Lavender wrote about where the conflict dissolved in the meeting of the two hearts. This would have been infinitely more satisfactory to me, and I suspect to Scott, too. In fact, Scott was counting on me to find a way to resolve us into that uniting of our hearts.

To his mind the only way he could get there was if I was angry at Connor. Where I was on the right track was in knowing that there had to be something deeper Scott was yearning for. I knew he longed to know that I felt his pain, he wanted to feel connected to me. He was telling me that his sense of fairness demanded that I be angry with Connor. For him this was the only way union could be achieved.

And I was stuck on the fact that I did not feel angry with Connor, and that in this case Scott had provoked Connor. So even if I could somehow jinn up the feelings at will, they wouldn't have been truthful. And for the life of me I could not find the way between, where I could give him the feeling that he needed, without walking through a door that felt fraudulent to me.

And I suppose one of the barriers to resolution for me was my frustration with my helplessness in resolving his need, his demand, with reality. And because I was frustrated I was irritated and I could not connect with my compassion for him. So even though I had a sense that it wasn't so much my anger with Connor he wanted, but my compassion, my own desire that this strange paradoxical puzzle go away seemed to motivate my words. The words were correct, but the feeling beneath them was not deep enough.

How do I get beyond that barrier of my own desire that a conflict end for the sake of my own comfort?


Lavender Luz said...

Oh, dear. This sounds waaaay too familiar.

I am impressed that you knew this: "Clearly the heart of this was between Scott and me, not Scott and Connor."

You did amazingly well staying centered and mindful, especially while having a headache.

And the Jesus thing? Ummm...yeah. Sometimes.

Mrs. Spit said...

I am beyond angry with one of Mr. Spit's family members. And it drives me crazy that Mr. Spit won't get angry at them too. But, my issue with them isn't his, and I can see his point.

But. . .Still. I want him to get angry because I am, because we all need our feelings validated, to feel like the other person in our life will support us. Even in utter irationality.

I'm sorry for poor Connor.

excavator said...

Hi, Mrs. Spit, and Lavender,

I'm not sure if you're notified that there's an update to the post, so I thought I'd mention it here in case you have email notification that I've responded to your comments.

Thank you both. I always appreciate your thoughts and encouragement. Lavender, I feel like the situation is like one of those situations that the Pharisees used to use to try to trap Jesus into--where whatever he answer he would give would be wrong. Somehow he always managed to walk the path between. I don't do well in those either-or situations.And Mrs. Spit, I think you articulate Scott's dilemma perfectly--the need to know someone has his back completely, right or wrong.

I hope you and Mr. Spit can get to the place beyond where it's his anger at the family member you need. I hope I can find the way to do this for my sons...

Sheri said...

I loved the ammonia and bleach metaphor. My boys are the same way. They bug each other until one of them or both of them get into trouble.

I find myself in the middle of it and applaud you for your patience...even in the midst of a headache.

Go Mom!!

Ailey said...

Ok I haven't even gotten to your added section and I'm sorry to have to admit this but your description had me laughing. Easy for me to say and do, eh? I have only one child who tries, to no avail, to pick fights with the dog so I have not been there and done what you've been doing by any stretch.

Debora you articulate this all so well, it seems to me. And I feel like I'm almost there witnessing all of it. And, in the midst of all the craziness, you have this ability to observe AND gain insight and continue to reach out for a constructive way to bring things to some resolution. I must say I'm impressed with both boys-with Connor for showing some maturity, it seems, and with Scott for his persistence in insisting that you accompany him in his (what seems to him) rightuous anger towards his brother. You are his advocate and his protector and you MUST be mad at Connor too. How could you not? The parting sequence, when now it was time to read while he bathed, and he reiterated that he was still angry...What beautiful and authentic boys you are raising. They are most fortunate to have you as their Mom.

Ailey said...

"How do I get beyond that barrier of my own desire that a conflict end for the sake of my own comfort? "

Well, as you are most perfectly and beautifully human, as are your wonderful boys, and striving to, yourself, be authentic in your own experience, maybe it won't happen anytime soon, in such circumstances.

After all, you have needs as well. I honestly think you dealt with an incredibly challenging situation with great grace and compassion. Scott didn't get what he wanted exactly, but he had to sense that you were there for him as much as you could be in those moments and,( a big AND here) you didn't attempt to take away his feelings about the whole thing.

He had those feelings and maybe you just being there, though not able to be completely with him,(the defintion of compassion as I understand) ended up providing him with just enough support to stand up and continue to be strong in being authentically Scott.

You didn't insist that he be rational. You didn't tell him not to feel angry and you did model your own honesty and authenticity.

If you ask me, really quite beautiful.

Thanks for sharing with all of us.


excavator said...

Hey, Sheri, do your boys usually get in trouble as twosomes, or do they ever have a three-way? Is it usually the same two?

Ailey, you brought me to tears. Thank you for your kindness, and for pointing out some things I overlooked.

And thanks for the giggle in the image of your daughter trying to pick a fight with the dog!!!!

Love you.

Mary (MPJ) said...

Whew! Well, you know that situation is familiar to me! And mine don't all (or even usually) end with a God Moment. Navigating these conflicts with our kids is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard! Big hugs from me to you.