My kids are arguing right now. The seven-year old is doing some eye-rolling, with attitude to the sky, and irritable utterances. The three-year old is making unreasonable demands and setting her voice at a permanent aggressive whine. Now they say: Hey Mama? Can you help us? And I don't want to because I am irritated, so I am stalling and typing more of my sentence, and now they say: MAMAAAA! and I try my hardest not to leap at them like a demon in rage.
But I have had some powerful ideas sink in lately so instead I hop up from the computer, walk toward them and say: What's up my sweet darlings? What do you need? And after empathy and the situation dissolving I say: Shall we make whip cream?
Maybe I should back up a bit. For starters, yes it is morning time and I know whip cream sounds totally insane under the circumstances but, a. we have some fresh raw farmer's milk that comes with cream on the top of course. b. we only have about a day before the cream turns sour. c. whipped raw cream plus vanilla is a treat that kids go crazy for and is good for them in like a gazillion different ways. But, whip cream aside, the more important part of my reaction is my recent re-awareness that my thoughts create my feelings and my feelings orchestrate/design my life.
If I spend time tallying up all of the ways in which my kids have been a total drag this morning I will in essence create more drag. If I collect all of the tiny quarrels and stack them in a pile so that I can tell Nathan, when he gets home from work, how difficult the kids have been today, Universal Law has it that we will have a difficult day today, and other days as well.
The mental descriptions I make on a moment to moment basis affect how I feel about those moments, and certainly affect how I feel about the girls. Well guess what? I want to feel good about my moments, about my girls, and about my life, and I am realizing more and more that I have a choice in these matters.
In this moment for example, I could see my kids as crabby and sleep deprived, I could tell myself how sick and tired I am of the quibbling and the constant need for a referee. And I can quite easily imagine the feelings that would arrive with those thoughts. Frustration. Irritation. Desperation. A giant sense of woe. Well... I don't want those feelings. I don't. And whereas before I thought feelings were simply effects that took me over for a bit, and that were my duty to honor and feel into completely. I now see them as an effect of my thoughts. And thoughts arrive like a fork in the road, one or more paths that are simply choices.
So as I sat at the computer and the girls began their sibling dance of disgruntlement, I took a moment to toss aside the "oh great, here we go again" thoughts, and forced myself, guided myself with gentle reminders to see this moment as just that, an isolated moment. To see their outbursts as strong feelings, as passion, not as expressions of disagreeable temperaments. To see them as people capable of a wide range of capability and possibility.
I still helped them of course. In this case the issue was that Echo, for reasons unknown to all, was choosing to join Xi on the same chair while Xi colored. A choice Xi disagreed with because she could not identify which pens to choose because the sunlight was blocked by Echo's claustrophobic position. I listened mostly. And when Echo was accidentally smacked in the chin when Xi pulled off the cap of a pen, I held her close. And as is so often the case with empathy, the dispute dissipated of it's own accord. But what matters more is that in my head I was choosing the path of helpful thoughts, freeing myself and everyone else involved to have an enjoyable morning.
Unhelpful thoughts: Man! Echo is in such a lame mood these days. It seems like she is choosing to do things just because it will bother others. I mean WTF, why is she even wanting to squeeze into the very same chair!!! And Xi isn't helping at all. I mean she is totally making that up about not being able to see the pens. Come on! It's not like it's actually dark just because Echo is on the side of the window. Man, when Nathan gets home I am going to tell him how "off" the girls seem and how tired I am of it. I mean this morning Echo woke me up by hitting me in the back. So lame! Ugh. I dread a day that goes like this. Why can't they just play like normal kids? Why does every single little thing have to be a dispute?
Helpful thoughts: Okay. I'm feeling irritated by this... but how do I want this day to go?... Alright so they disagree with the pen/chair/body position. These sweet girls. Echo likes Xi so much that she wants to be as close to her as possible. Ah, little sisters, so certain that whatever the older sister is doing is the most interesting and cool thing on the planet. And Xi! So sweet to even consider sharing that tight space with Echo. Blocked sunlight, I can relate to that, when I draw I feel like choosing the right color is a huge decision. Oh ouch, Echo is so close that just taking off a pen cap means that she gets punched in the chin. Poor little girl. Maybe we need a little fun around here, something unusual and special. Whip cream project?...
Of course this line of thinking applies to all parts of my life, not just my family life. It means that if I want to create more of what I actually want, and less of what I don't want, I must be vigilant with my thoughts at all times. A helpful rule to remind me is to not complain. I started by trying to go one week without complaining either silently to myself or out-loud to someone else, but after the week was up I realized how powerful this simple act, or non-act could be. When I didn't allow myself to talk about the negative aspects of anything, I had to think around those negative thoughts. As soon as I thought other thoughts, those thoughts became positive and so did my life.
So I'm keeping it up. It's good for me.
Nathan and I are even taking this idea so far as to influence our entertainment choices. I love dark, gritty movies, full of suspense and forays into the underbelly of society. But guess what? This means I go to bed with anxious thoughts and feelings, dark images and adrenaline. And then I dream along these lines all night long. It doesn't take a genius to guess that even though the source of my thoughts is fictitious, the effect of my thoughts could be very real.
So empathy, whip cream, and helpful thoughts. A recipe for a good morning and perhaps a good life as well.