Off the Mat: The Art of Choosing a Parenting Response
Enjoy the Ride
My five year old son is in his room, slamming the door. Deliberately and with precision. He’s got highly sensitive ears – auditory processing the occupational therapist calls it – and I can only assume he’s seeking Just. The. Right. Sound. The SLAM! that will echo through the walls and into my bones set my teeth on edge. Sound rises above the bathroom fan but is muted by the water pressure, warm streams trickling down my hair, ears, face, shoulders. The water, the curtain, the closed door give me the ever so slight space I need to view the scene with a hint of detachment. Amusement, even, though shame lingers around the edges, like mildew never quite scrubbed from the grout.
Occupying the weeks between school and camp, we’re back from a 3 day urban adventure: Amtrak, NJ Transit, and a myriad of subway lines. He’s a stellar traveler, fueled by curiosity and wonder and an obsessive love of trains. Take him out of his ordinary and he shows his extraordinary. I thoroughly enjoy time with the big boy he’s becoming.
So it’s no surprise really when blubbery-whiny-tedious boy returns upon arrival home. And along with him, short-tempered-uninspired-reactive Mama. The morning starts out fine, but unravels quickly. He sits on the toilet, lid down. I sit at his feet with nail clippers. This necessary evil/grooming regimen has been getting easier as of late, so I’m unprepared for the onslaught of drama. All of the calm, focused enjoyment of the previous 72 hours replaced by fidgets and whines. Each clip an injurious affront. My irritation rising quickly, I try to explain that the more he wiggles, the more likely the clippers will get skin, not nail. No surprise what happens next. That said, I have a new appreciation for the term “ear splitting” as the sound waves from his shriek score an immediate and direct hit on my left ear drum mere inches away, the one already making itself known due to sinus irritation. Poor me.
I react. Yelp. Yell. OW! He whimpers. I chuck the clippers on the counter in frustration. Declare we’re done, dismissing the 12 jagged nails that remain. Climb up off the floor as whimpers turn to sobs. Go. He flees the torture chamber. Slams the door behind him. Then begins with a new door. I let him go, knowing we both will benefit from a few minutes of space. Besides, I rarely get the bathroom to myself.
He fidgets for his own reasons, not to irritate me. He’s been out of his element. It’s hard to keep up with his OT interventions when we’re away. Maybe his skin is particularly sensitive today, as sensitive as my nerves. Maybe he is just 5.
Shame washes down with the shampoo suds. The problem behavior here is mine. This is not who – or how – I want to be.
In my yoga and mindfulness training, we talk about samskara, the mental, emotional, and physical conditioning that imprints our unconscious. Neuropsychology presents the same concept in Hebb’s Axiom, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our actions and reactions create patterns in our brains. When a similar situation arises, the established nerve paths will activate. Thus, habit.
The good news in the last 50 years or so of neuroscience, and 6,000 or so of yoga philosophy, is that we can rewire our habitual circuits. There is space between neuron firing and automated reaction. Space to breathe, intentionally acknowledge our automatic reaction and choose to respond differently, or not at all. The magic trick lies in cultivating a replacement pattern, intentionally.
I shut off the shower. He gives one more slam for good measure, then opens the bathroom door, smiling.
Did you heaw dat, Mama?
I did! Sounds like you were getting your mad out. Come, let’s finish your nails.
24 hours earlier, riding the C train. He bites his cheek, cries out in pain, tears welling, molds himself into my side, ready to commence melt down.
Here’s the thing, bud. Your cheek hurts, but you know it’ll be ok. This train ride is almost over, and you’ve been looking forward to it. So pay attention to the train, not your cheek. Don’t let your pain ruin your fun. Enjoy the ride.
With a noticeable big breath, he does.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ginny is a yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, gardener, activist, and middle aged Mama. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. She believes our natural state is to be balanced in body and mind so spirit can flow freely. Because modern life gets in the way, she offers self-healing bodywork to unravel imbalances and restore energy flow. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.