We’ve developed something of a Goodwill habit at our house: I hunt down old sweaters and velvet to upcycle (and, of course, the occasional fabulous garment to wear), and the boys find books and toys. We’ve had amazingly good luck lately, and the visits are fun for all of us.
On our trip yesterday, several people commented on how sweet my boys are. One lady in particular did it at length and with the kind of pointed remarks and sidelong glances that made me look around for the other, less-than-sweet boys who were being implicitly criticized. But it seemed she was entirely genuine. I was pleased and gratified, of course, and I agreed with her: I DO have sweet boys. Much of the time. And, I explained, when they aren’t being sweet, well then, we aren’t out. For long.
I realized as I said it that I may have finally cracked the code of all the “Love and Logic” and “Aha! Parenting” approaches. If you can let go of your own agenda and your own attitude for long enough (which I find really really hard), you can really BE with your kids and hear how THEY are doing. Which gives you either a vast array of emotional responses (anger, resentment, frustration, grief…) or, much more simply, a clear choice: to keep grumpy kids at home or to take them out in the world, knowing full well what that may entail. On days when I’m close to my best self, like yesterday, I can make that choice and then not be particularly put out if the trip causes more turmoil instead of less. In fact, yesterday we even had some moments of near-meltdown in the toy section, which led to me calmly crouching down by Ezra and explaining that we could stay and browse if he could be quieter and a good listener, or we could go home. I suspect it was my (I confess) unusual calmness and rationality in meeting his little outburst that caused it to settle so fast. But it was not ten minutes later when the kind lady started saying such nice things about him.
I’m kind of thrilled that these lessons are slowly settling in, slowly coming to life in how I actually work rather than how I’d LIKE to work. Just showing up without an agenda makes it weirdly possible to pursue my agenda. Being present to all the humor and chaos of my boys helps them tune into ME, too, so that when I’m fed to the eyeteeth with toys underfoot, we can have a cleanup game, together. With dancing. I feel like we’re all trained to find peace by escaping upheaval — but sometimes our lives ARE the upheaval, and the only peace (of hope of accomplishment) is relaxing into it. If you can’t get out of it, get into it. Like swimming, I guess: it’s when we stop thrashing with fear and exhaustion that our bodies can finally teach us to float, eyes closed, belly-up to the sun.