Holy shit guys. I don't even know where to start.
I feel like I've been on a meditation retreat. Away. Silent. Breathing. Except it's a retreat with every single family member (except my sister). Except no meditation has occurred save the meditation of wisteria blossoms and redwood seeds, the meditation of waves thumping and bay leaves sailing down rain streams. Except it's not away, it's home, the kind of home more homey than where you actually lay your head. Except it isn't silent - there are the waves I mentioned, the family conversations and the laughing. I guess the breathing is accurate. I've been breathing. Steadily, deeply, gratefully, sometimes in big thankful, desperate gulps.
Now you can see why I don't know where to start. The only way to describe my experience is with an analogy that hardly fits. I can say that I've been here. And it's been fucking good.
Last weekend we hosted a reunion with the ladies I spent a hugely pivotal year with fifteen years ago. That time together was so potent that the energy and love we feel for each other simply stayed paused for all those years, just to come crashing wildly to the forefront as soon as we set eyes on one another. It was a weekend to make a lifetime. Two days that reminded me to live big, love big, and say YES more. Oh how these ladies move me.
The day after they left (I didn't want them to go!), I came to, back to my current reality and became floored with panic and dread. I feel panic and dread I said to myself, like the good self-empathy champion I am! My mind wanted to make sense of it, find a reason for my discomfort. I noticed how I cherished the weekend and wasn't ready for it to be over. I noticed how much I have adored being here with my family and how, in some ways, I never want it to be over. I noticed that two weeks didn't seem like enough time to accomplish what we hope for before we go. I noticed that we have several workshops coming up that need organizational love and devotion. I noticed it all, in one full sweep, and it all made sense. But I also just felt panic and dread and there doesn't have to be a reason.
That's the set up.
All the previous paragraphs have been to let you know my emotional state, when Echo shouted for me from the bathroom. I was tenderhearted. So tender. What did she want? She wanted the United States Atlas to peruse while she pooped. So I trundled down the stairs, feeling pleased that the poop-entertainment-request was simple. Then I trundled back up the stairs and got back to the businessy thing I was involved in. She called again: MOM!!!! I ACTUALLY DON'T WANT TO READ THIS BOOK!!! CAN YOU BRING ME A DIFFERENT ONE??? I trundled again. A little more reluctantly this time. Still tender. Maybe slightly annoyed. MAYBE A DR. SEUSS BOOK???? MAYBE A BOOK I'VE NEVER READ??? I flipped through the bookshelf, looking for something that would pass muster. ACTUALLY I WANT TO COLOR CAN YOU BRING ME SOME COLORING STUFF???
Can you see where this is going?
I turned around to see if some handy coloring set-up was nearby. What I saw instead was a fort made of every living room cushion, and a kitchen table with a paint set, several water bottles, an ipod, some craft puff balls, toothpicks, and much more. No coloring set-up. So I shout-explained that I didn't want to dig around for coloring stuff as it wasn't convenient and also because I was pretty sure the poop situation was about to be over, seeing as how she had been there quite a while while I went to and fro.
Echo wasn't pleased. She was downright pissed. I pushed the door open and stood in the doorway as she turned red in the face with anger at me. NEXT TIME JUST BRING ME COLORING!!! OKAY!!?? Naively, trying to make sense of a ludicrous situation (foolish!), I asked if I should bring her coloring next time even if she asks for the United States Atlas, because that is, after all, what she had asked for. That didn't go over well. As it turns out she was done pooping so now I was at fault because the poop was over, I hadn't brought her coloring, and she did not want to read any of the books I had offered in exchange. She said: FINE!! JUST WIPE ME THEN!!
LIke a pissed-off emperor.
My fragile state crumbled. Despite my training, despite the training I do for a living, my response?
Echo, you know what this is? This is total bullshit! I do not want to EVER feel like I am having to wipe your butt out of punishment. And I didn't even do anything wrong! Total, total bullshit.
Ooops. Not my best.
She cried some more. I stood in the doorway, arms crossed. It wasn't great.
We struggled on. She asked me gently to help her wipe. We hugged. But when Papa came downstairs to help - Papa who wasn't emotionally stirred by the situation, Papa who hadn't started the day in a state of panic and dread, came on with true empathy. Echo ran into his arms.
He said: Darnnit. That didn't go very well huh? Shoot. You didn't have the book you wanted... and then mom wouldn't bring you coloring and you didn't understand that, and you couldn't get up because you had poop on you. Darn darn darn. That sounds so super hard.
Echo cried and clutched him. She let it all out as the empathy worked it's magic. Eventually she became curious as to why I had refused to bring the coloring and Nathan brought her close to me. He held her tight as she asked me about my reasons. I explained those and I also explained what it all felt like to me - that I was working hard to help her, that I was trying my best, that being yelled at despite my efforts felt terrible. Then Echo really cried. She cried hard and tossed herself into my arms.
I'm so sorry Mama. I'm so sorry.
That felt good. Curious, I asked about the punishment angle on the butt wiping. She said she knew it wouldn't work but that it felt good. In that moment she felt mad and like I had done something wrong and it felt good to throw a punishment at me.
Nathan muttered: Yes, punishment as revenge.
And that my friends is my take home message. Punishment as revenge. Remember that fancy emotional spectrum chart?
Echo's emotional state was somewhere deep in the red on the emotional spectrum and, as human nature will have it, she was unconsciously determined to feel better, to inch up the spectrum. So she lashed out at me because revenge was just that much higher on the spectrum, it brought just that bit of relief.
And remember that brain chart?
I was not able to get through to Echo while she raged on the toilet. She was too mad, so mad that her executive function had shut down. I wanted her to see how unfair she was being (total bullshit!) and that sight, that perspective was simply not available. It took Nathan's approach, warm strong arms, gentle rocking, and pure empathy, for Echo to move up the emotional spectrum, for her emotional system to calm enough to signal to the rest of the brain to open back up. Only then was she abe to understand logic (screaming at someone to wipe your butt doesn't make them want to wipe your butt) and to employ empathy (mom feels super sad to be yelled at like that).
Maybe there are a few take home messages:
a. It's hard to get into a good parenting place when you feel intense emotion (Panic and dread? Hello brain shutdown!)
b. Punishment is revenge and feels better than powerlessness or rage. No wonder parents really reach for it when things feel out of control.
c. No matter how much sense you make, a child can't take that in when they are upset.
Afterward Echo requested that she and I go out in the downpour and float leaves in the rain-washed gutter. I thought this was a terrible idea. My heels were still a little dug in. But I went for it. And good golly the fun we had! Those leaves were so fast! Our hill so steep! We raced them all the way to the bottom where they sluiced into a storm drain and then gushed into the creek. We stood on the bridge, drenched to the bone, and watched as our little bay leaf made it's way to the ocean.
d. I am so in love. With her. With us. With our family. With this town. With this time.