I'm not the kind of person to talk about my own bowel movements. Probably never will be. I don't even share the bathroom with Nathan, my partner of nearly ten years. And I'm not going to start sharing details now either, (don't worry!), except to say that there was a need for a BM this morning. This was a problem because my daughter Echo likes company for almost everything she does and my need arose when she was picking out her morning outfit, an event I had committed myself to. It was even more of a problem because this morning Echo was in search of a "casual" ensemble, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt instead of her regular sundress theme. This was a problem because I had to poop! And the casual outfit search included removing every possible short/t-shirt combo and spreading them out on the floor.
I wasn't in a position for patience.
Which brings me to empathy-parenting. I've never mentioned that I personally find parenting with empathy, information, and leadership ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE if I am physically uncomfortable. I'm saying it now because it's an important topic. I don't for a moment want anyone to think they are failing miserably if they can't hunker down on the floor with a smile and spread out shorts for forty-five minutes while a bathroom emergency looms.
Immediately securing my own physical comfort before I sift through the emotional landscape of my children is paramount.
What does this mean?
It means that when I see my daughter coming toward me at the birthday party with a sad face and drooped shoulders, I quickly find a place to set the objects I am holding. I take her hand, before she even has a chance to start talking, and I lead her to a comfy seat in the shade. Then I am ready to figure out what to do with her feelings about there not being enough forks for all the kids during cake time. Did you get that? NO WAY am I going to cradle her with one arm (ouch) while holding a watermelon rind in the hot sun, and then dredge up the level of empathy that is required to move with her through her feelings. I'm not going to do it. I can't do it.
During the summer season shade is the key thing for me. Nothing turns me into an impatient asshole faster than full hot sun on my face. But other comforts are essential as well. Like an empty bladder. Or arms that aren't holding heavy bags. So when our kids meltdown, or even just need to talk about things longer than a minute I make it my top-most priority to get myself to a comfortable spot. Do I stop while crossing the hot grocery store parking lot, take a knee and discuss? Nope. But I also don't blame the child for my discomfort or for needing to discuss something in that moment. I keep my reaction friendly, and empathetic in a general sense, and I get my ass to some comfortable shade.
"You didn't like how that happened? Let's get to that shade over there where I can set these bags down and talk about it."
Empathy really is the quickest way to pacify a situation but no strategy is quick enough when you're physically disgruntled.
This morning Echo did get her casual outfit sorted out (plaid shorts, white t-shirt, if you were wondering.). Luckily the girl has been offered enough empathy in her life to be capable of responding with empathy in kind. She heard me when I explained my situation and we agreed to get some shorts on and come back for the shirt when I was ready. What a difference! I could have discussed t-shirt/short combos until the cows came home once my immediate physical needs were met. Before? Not so much.
And I should say that the amount of time you take to comfy yourself should be complimentary to the level of emotional need your child has. If the child runs to you with a bloody knee and streaming tears, you scoop them up and sit right where they are - meaning you give yourself the comfort of sitting down, but you don't ask them to wait patiently while you grab yourself an iced soda and a lawn chair. This morning I would have liked to go to the bathroom, wash my face, brush my teeth, drink some water, and then sort outfits, but it was too much to ask, too outside what felt reasonable under the circumstances. If I am super hungry and needing to get some food in me and I've just sat down with a big bowl of something yummy and my child comes to me needing help I weigh the situation carefully. If they need my help in a general sense, like to help them find the blue lego with the sun on it, I might ask for a few minutes to get some bites into my belly. If they are sobbing with despair about something beloved I might scoop them into my lap, getting some bites to comfort myself while I comfort them.
You can see that I am not saying, "take care of yourself to the fullest before you help anyone else" but I am saying "take care of yourself while helping anyone else". Set yourself up for success. Imagine the degree of empathy you can achieve in dappled shade. It's amazing.
In other words, poop first.