We have one of those yoga balls at our house. It's not as big as the one in this photo but its big enough for the girls to push it in front of them as they run, or sit on it and bounce, or launch themselves onto and off of it cowabunga style. They love the blue ball and when we have to be inside for months on end it's pretty awesome for them to have something like it to get out their physical energy. My sister and I had a similar ball at gramma's house when we were younger. It was a giant beach ball that we could use to transport ourselves from room to room in her single story house by laying on top of the huge thing and pushing along the walls. We loved our big ball too.
But as the parent? Sometimes I think I hate the blue ball. That sucker is at the epicenter of soooooo many fights. At night as a self-preservation method I hide it in the guest bedroom or deep in the girls' closet. But they're on to me now and when they get that blue ball hankering they go to the guest room to get the blue ball out of what I guess has become it's official storage spot. This morning, before the sun was up and with the clock counting down to the time we had to bundle up and get Xi to school- that period of maternal high-stress greater than that found in any board room in the country I'm sure, Echo grabbed the blue ball.
I was like uh-uh.
If you read this blog you know I am empathy's biggest fan and use it as my main parenting technique. I crouch down, I discover underlying feelings and needs, I summon patience and wait. But all of that only works because Nathan and I have also established ourselves as captains of this family team. And sometimes, as captains and "the ones officially in charge" the answer to blue ball requests at 745am is hell-fucking-no. I didn't say it that way of course, although I would under certain circumstances, I instead explained that I didn't want the blue ball in the mix before school because I wanted them to focus on eating breakfast since we only had a little time before departing. But it wasn't a discussion, it was just how things were gonna be. Then Xi came downstairs and without any hesitation went straight into the guest room for the blue ball and I had to repeat myself.
Then after breakfast, with thirty seconds left on the before-school clock they went for the ball again and I added that breakfast priorities weren't the only reason blue ball was blacklisted, but that I also (maybe mostly) didn't want to take the time for fights and discussions at that juncture. Back into the guest room it went (guess I'll have to find a new hiding spot).
Writing this I remember when our house was smaller, one and a half bedrooms, with awkward doors opening into doors etc. Then there weren't any hiding places as the little house didn't even have a closet, so I wedged the blue ball next to the office/computer/art/homework table. But if it wasn't wedged that sucker would somehow follow a person around. I don't know if it was gravity or electric charge but it was darn creepy to see it inching along after you. It was always there. Boy, this blue ball and I have a history.
Anyway, blue ball winds up emerging from the guest room when I cook dinner. There is a silent bell that tolls that only my children hear and it means it's time for them to get really irritable, physical, and loud. The soundtrack to dinner prep.
Now one way of handling this time period is to tell a different mental story than that last paragraph. oops. I do that whenever I can, but if I haven't and the irritation rises and the girls come to me with blue ball disputes this is how I handle it.
1. I panic. I forget that I don't have to have an answer and panic as they approach because I don't know who should have a turn or who had the last turn or who was having a turn but only took a break etc.
2. I remember. I remember that I can listen and empathize and things will sort themselves out.
They approach and say "Mama will you help us?" and I say "Yes" but I don't do or say anything else. Then they loiter and fiddle and start telling me "what happened". Now this part actually isn't important in the end. The point is that they both want the blue ball and neither is happy with how things are going. But I never rush them through this part as it seems to be cathartic for them. I nod my head and say: "Oh yeah, totally!" and paraphrase: "Right you were just taking a break, you weren't finished with your turn. I get it.", making sure to do that with both girls so that the message is no one is "wrong", we're just listening to one another's experience.
3. I summarize. I say some encapsulating thing like: "Okay. So it sounds like you both are really enjoying the blue ball and you both want a turn huh?" They say yes and then they ask me what we should do and I throw it right back and say "yeah, what do we do guys?"
4. The poster. If there isn't any movement toward ideas or resolution at this point I, or one of the girls, will suggest the Feeleez poster. We trundle over and I stand there while each girl points to some characters that describe their feelings. I say "uh huh" a lot. And I just stand there as a witness. They just stand there for a while too.
5. I wait.
6. Poster round two. Often at this point, just seeing one another's feelings in plain view shifts the dynamic so much that one will jump up and down with a good idea, one that I would never have thought feasible, and they race off, back into the game. If this doesn't immediately happen I might ask a question like: "How would you guys rather be feeling?" and they point all over again.
7. Wait, witness, nod. I repeat my part, which really is so minimal that every time I think surely this won't work. And then it does. It does. AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN. They decide to scrap the game entirely, or one decides to give the other the turn, or the other has a brilliant new game idea, and they run off as friends again. There is something about the neutrality of the process and the chance to step into each other's shoes that dissolves the wall of antagonism.
8. I go back to making dinner.
It isn't rocket science. It isn't even particularly involved. And let's be honest, if it wasn't the blue ball it would be the magnetic paper doll's sparkly crown, or the yellow beluga. Thank goodness I don't have to know the answers. Just nod, empathize, rinse and repeat.