Be the change you wish to see in the world.
This morning was going swimmingly. My son and I had negotiated quite carefully on the state of the playroom, it was, I have to say, a mess. We had agreed the night before that he would do his best to tidy it after breakfast the following morning, but before school. He had also agreed to tackle the toppling tower of books at the end of his bed. We had jokingly re-negotiated it in the morning with him eating his breakfast at a slower pace than normal, and me commenting on whether this was because he didn’t want to today up. He grinned, we laughed, and he finished his breakfast and went to tidy up.
My daughter however was having a grumpy morning. She certainly fit the old saying “got out of bed on the wrong side”. She lay on the floor after our morning hug and tried to give the cat a very (from the cat’s point of view) unwelcome hug. I gently explained that the cat didn’t like it, but did she need another hug from me. She did. She melted in and told me that she had had nightmares again that night. Oddly nightmares about falling out of a badly constructed tree house with one of her friends from school. Odd, well, odd just because it was! Anyway, we talked, and she went and had her breakfast. She wanted to take the family kite to school. I was not sure about this, and suggested a compromise, I explained I would talk to her teacher about a good day to do this, because it’s a big kite and needs adult supervision. She was very upset about this, but we talked, and agreed that she could take a small Sylvanian Families character to school instead.
Both children then decided to strip their beds for washing day. I was busy in the kitchen and then I heard the thud of two sets of feet pounding down the stairs and the wailing that can only come from children who are hurt, both physically and emotionally. This was the EARTHQUAKE. I knew that something had happened to my babies, between them, and both of them were shaken to their core, and that they were reacting. Uh oh… impending meltdown. I had about three seconds warning to don my radioactive protection suit and guard myself against fall out. What I would do in the next few minutes would determine how much fall out there was going to be and whether I could throw enough cooling water on their reactors. I had no idea what the earthquake looked like, but those feet pounding and the
crying warned me that the earthquake wasn’t the worst that could happen… a tsunami of emotion was headed my way and that I needed to surf the wave with my children or risk being swept away by it. the fallout from a combined tsunami and earthquake could be massive.
My son is not easy with emotions, and he has rage issues, what’s more is he has problems expressing emotions to me. I know deep down in my heart this is because I left him to cry it out as a baby, I did not respond to him, so at a deep level he doubts my ability to listen now. So, I pulled him onto my lap, he was stiff, but he let me. His body was shaking with anger and tears were pouring down his face. The tsunami was on the horizon.
I knew I didn’t need to hold my daughter, she trusts me that much more. I put my hand on her as she wailed and she stood next to both of us. They both tried to tell me ALL about what had happened. The waves were frothing now, thick and furious, the foam was spraying everywhere and I could feel the water starting to pull me under. I needed to surface, I needed to show my babies that this wave CAN be surfed, that we don’t need to be swallowed by the wave, the fallout doesn’t need to damage us anymore than necessary.
My children started shouting at each other, even though I was holding them, they weren’t surfing yet, they were struggling to breathe. I could see it in their purple faces, the tears falling down their faces, the clenched fists and the tone. I could feel my sons body rigid and shaking, he was full of anger. He was going to drown if I didn’t move fast. I started stroking his back, gentle, but firm pressure. I whispered in his ear, “I *will* listen to you, do you trust me?” – it wasn’t enough, he was still drowning, his fingers were slipping through mine, he kept shouting. I turned to my daughter, hand on her upper harm, looking at her, I soothed her with my eyes, she was still wailing, but not shouting.
I turned back to my son, and repeated ”I *will* listen to you, do you trust me?” he nodded, ever so slightly in between the sobs. I continued. ”Let me listen to your sister first and then you can say your piece”. She started to speak, I had her, she was surfing with me now, she was wobbly, but she had it. But once again my son’s fingers slipped through mine and he was still gasping for air. He started shouting over the top of her and she went into meltdown again. Then I made one last super human effort to haul them both out of the wave. ”Enough” I said in a firm voice. ”I will listen to both of you, one at a time, then we can go from there”. I had them. They were still wobbly, but at least now we were surfing.
Between the tears, the splashes, the story came out. Both of them, one after the other. As each story was relayed, I repeated it back to them, word for word, and asked them if I had got that right, each time they either nodded or gently corrected me (I will post more on this technique soon). I passed no judgements. That’s not my job. I had not seen what had happened, and *even* if I had, who am I to pass judgement on their emotions and feelings and the way they saw the events. Their story was truth, for them, in that moment, even if it sounded different to their siblings, what mattered is that they were listened to. And what mattered, was that no matter how hard it was, their sibling heard that sometimes the same event can be seen differently through different eyes.
The wave was under our feet now, we could see above it, but we were letting it guide us. They were reacting less, their core temperature was coming down. I had saved them from the storm. We had learnt to surf together and we were cresting now. So I said, can we agree on two things? You both got hurt, and you both wanted the book? They agreed. Then they paused. My son desperately wanted to change part of his story. I let him, I listened again. He told his story. At the end, my daughter agreed, even though this painted her in a poor light, she agreed, he was right about a key part of the dispute. She said she shouldn’t have done that, and she said she would do it differently if it happened again. Wooohooo!! Now we really were surfing! I asked them what they thought they could do now. My daughter said “I’m sorry”. Then slowly, and very quietly, my son said “I’m sorry too”.
I hugged them both, together, and held them tight. We were ok, we had learnt to surf this wave, we had survived the earthquake, settled the reacting core, and negotiated the tsunami. It doesn’t mean we will surf every wave, it doesn’t mean that meltdowns won’t happen, but we caught this one, and we rode it. It guided us to a place we might not have been able to come to before, and the more we learn to surf the tsunami after the earthquake, the better skilled we are when the next one threatens.