When the sun came out and the grass greened up and school let out I was like: AAAH, summer! But when the girls started arguing about the polly pockets, the blue ball, the pink ball, the couch cushion, and the bar stools from sunup to sundown I was like: ARG, summer!
Instead of keeping the peace during the hour before school and the handful of hours after school, the peace-keeping challenge was suddenly ALL DAY. Eeek. At one point I thought to mention this out loud. In as neutral a tone I could manage I said: Hey girls. You might want to consider that you guys are going to be together ALL DAY today, and ALL DAY the next day, and ALL DAY the next day and on and on. Keep that in mind when you are deciding whether or not something is worth fighting about.
Strangely enough they did seem to think about it and the fighting lost it's razor edge. It's as though they became further invested in their relationship.
And when they did get into fights and needed my help I tried to remind myself of the same thing. We were all going to be together all day and all the other days so it would behoove us parents to invest in the relationships involved as well. Instead of smoothing things over just long enough to get through the before and after school hours it's worth it to dig in and get to the bottom of things.
Worth it yes, yet at the same time not always what I want to be doing at any given moment. When Xi offered to help Echo with her belt and Echo ignored her and came to me instead and Xi started crying and Echo started steeling herself to continue doing what she wanted to do, I wasn't thrilled by any means. Sometimes I want it just to stop and I don't want to get involved. Sometimes I want to go back to what I was doing pretty darn badly.
But this is what I am here to do.
So I started out rote:
You really wanted to help her huh? You're pretty mad and sad about that? You didn't like it that she didn't answer you?
You really didn't want her help huh? You didn't even want to give her an answer huh?
How boring I sound even to myself! But I got some nods of agreement and a look of relief that I actually was involving myself and that somehow things would be addressed. I rubbed backs. I stood there quietly waiting for something to shift. Then I got curious.
It's amazing what happens at this point. Empathy + Curiosity = WOW.
Xi what happens for you when you help someone?
I got a lot of "I don't knows", which is Xi's go-to answer under pressure, but I kept asking questions. When I asked her what color her helping-others feeling is she couldn't answer, but when Echo piped up with the color her not-wanting-help feeling is Xi suddenly came to life. As it turns out, when Xi gets the chance to help someone else it's pretty much the best feeling in the world to her. It's a pale, warm coral color and it hums in her heart in a magnificent way. When her help is turned down by another that helping-feeling gets usurped by a dark, horrible one. It's color is a green-brown, like the vapor from Cruella DeVille's smoldering cigarette. This feeling is heavy and vengeful.
We moved to the Feeleez poster next and worked through Echo's feelings about being helped by someone. I thought maybe there was something about feeling grown up and not wanting her sister to parent her, so I poked around in that spot. Nope nothing. With more time at the poster Echo started crying and explained that for her it feels like if she accepts help from someone other than her mom her mom isn't her mom as much. Being helped by me is the same as being mothered by me, being mothered is the same as having a mom. So if she gets help from someone other than me, her mind does the math and ends up with NO MOM.
Xi and I looked at each other with bugged-out eyes. In fact at this point Xi said: Wow! I didn't know that was part of it. I though she was just being mean.
For Xi: giving help = wonderful joy. Being denied the chance to help = black anger.
For Echo: receiving help = no mom.
Suddenly the belt incident became something so much more for us all. For me it went from an annoying, pointless, disruptive sibling squabble to something of far greater importance and I was so glad I chose to invest. There at the poster with Xi and Echo there wasn't a compact happy ending. We didn't have a tidy idea that might solve this problem in the future but we did have a deep understanding of the emotional landscape behind such a trivial event. The girls were helped by the process alone and had certainly moved on from where they were during the fight. They were now on the same team. They were serious allies equipped with new knowledge of one another's hearts.
Later when Xi asked Echo if she could help her read a book, Echo turned her down, but in deference to Xi's feelings she explained with extreme tenderness: Well Xi? This time I really wanted mama to help me... but when we are done you could help me with the books in this stack! I have a whole bunch that I picked out. Okay?
And with that I was back to: AAAH, summer!