Monday, June 26, 2006

Time Out

My best friend sent me a Zen parenting book. It’s called “Time-Out for Parents.” What I’ve gleaned so far is the notion that we parents are doing no service to anyone by ignoring our own needs and emotions.

We all know that. But making a change is really hard when you don’t know exactly what it means to pay attention to your own needs and emotions. When you are so used to being pissed off, there’s no warning flag. Nothing actually feels amiss. “Yeah, poisonous anger! Here it is again! What else is new!”

As I’ve regained some level of health and functionality, it is easier to fall into the old habit of ignoring those moments. They come back in the old way, these subtle feelings of anger and frustration that seep in practically unnoticed. I wonder if they come so sneakily because I am so used to swatting them away or ignoring them for more “important” issues, like finishing the laundry or completing an endless game of Candy Land with my son. Then later, something sets me off and lo, I’m already at my limit. How did that happen?

Here's an example. This spring, my family and I were having a nice, peaceful Saturday, when my son suddenly fell into a massive temper tantrum. This was the screaming, crying, limb-flinging kind of storm that nothing can abate. It just has to pass.

At first, I stayed present with him and observed his outburst with a barely restrained desire to smack him silly and toss him in his room. That’s what my grandmother and mother did. (But that’s not the kind of mother I want to be.) With M’s help, we got him redirected and calmed down. It took a lot out of us.

I didn’t realize how much, until J and I were playing with his train set and suddenly I realized it was approaching the deciding moment for dinner: are we cooking, getting take out, scrounging, or going out?

Suddenly I was fully irritated at my husband. He never seemed to notice when it was time to make these decisions. He didn’t get how long it took to cook, to shop, to plan, how much it took out of me to always be the one in charge of this, how much I really resented it some days.

“So what are we doing for dinner?” I snapped, trying to shift responsibility. (FYI, this tactic never, ever works.)

“I don’t know, I can go to the store and get stuff to cook if you want.”

If I want!

“There isn’t time for that,” I said. “I don’t have time to go looking through cookbooks and make a shopping list and cook all before the kids are ready to eat.”

“Well, can we just scrounge on what’s here?”

“Such as what?” I demanded.

“I don’t know, can we just make sandwiches or something?”

I thought for a moment. Part of my troubles before had been that it was hard for me to present too many makeshift meals per week to my family. M had been trying to convince me for years that he truly did not care. I had been making it my new practice to stop caring, too. And to accept M’s suggestions, no matter what. We had too long a history of me demanding that he take responsibility for a decision and then rejecting it. So, I said, “Fine. We’ll have sandwiches.”

I turned back to the train set. I was still feeling huffy. J insisted on trying to link up two ends of a circle that just weren’t going to meet. Then he got frustrated and started trying to force them.

“Stop it!" I admonished. "If you have to force it, it isn’t going to work!”

Some wrangling ensued. I realized I was all of a sudden engaged in “duty play.” Duty play is “playing” with my son and hating every minute of it. M had observed this in the past and told me that when I’m doing that, I’m not being nice to J, and no one is having any fun. So I stopped and sat back on my heels. M was still sort of hanging around the scene and he looked at me.

“Susie, do you need to…”

“…take a time out?” I laughed. He laughed nervously back.

“Well, yeah.”

“Yes,” I said. I stood up. “See you in a half hour.”

I had resisted leaving the scene for many reasons. First, guilt over not having played with J earlier when he needed it, thus setting the stage for a tantrum. Second, relief at having gotten him calmed down and fear that he wouldn’t stay that way. Third, duty to M, who said he really wanted some kid-free time to work on our taxes. So we had guilt, fear, and duty. No wonder I was in a foul mood.

In my white bedroom, with the door closed and afternoon sunlight streaming in the windows, I opened the Zen parenting book and flipped to a page that said,

Stop! Take time out to be present to yourself, to your breath, to your feelings, to your experience of the moment.

What a fucking concept, I thought. How is this even possible right now?

Take a few slow, deep breaths, and notice what it’s like to be present to the thoughts, emotions, and sensations you are experiencing.
Ask yourself, What am I feeling?

I’m annoyed at my husband over the dinner thing. I’m annoyed at my son for causing such a scene and throwing me out of balance. I am scheming about how the rest of the day will happen, should happen. I’m out of balance. And annoyed.

Simply be present in this moment, just noticing.

I noticed, and then I closed the book and stopped “working.” I was literally sitting on my bed with a notebook and a pen in hand, ready to “work” through this problem.

But there was no problem. I was just having some feelings.

I watched them dissipate.

I set aside the book, the notebook, and the pen. I lay down under my down comforter in what I jokingly call “reclined meditation pose.” I observed myself settle into a quiet state between meditation and dozing. I still had twenty whole minutes to stay like this.

Afterwards, I went downstairs, hugged my husband and had a good chuckle with him. Then I opened the refrigerator and mentally threw together a bunch of ingredients I’d forgotten were there.

There was no problem.


Rose said...

Hey Susie,

I am so having one of those...I wish I could say days but it is lasting longer....I am getting those..."chill out" looks from Charlie and feeling very "dutifull" this week. I am ROBOT...... I am hoping to snap out of it any moment...not sure what is going to make me feel better though. To bad they don't make quick fix can just take a couple of you are thinkng you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and you can walk around feeling cheerful and nothing bothers you...when are they going to come up with that?
I am so glad you are there to "get it" Lots of quotation marks today...

susie said...

Hey, Rose,

They do have drugs like that. I don't want ot be seen as pushing drugs, but Xanax has helped a lot when I'm freaking out over every little thing and I can't even deal with my kids for five minutes. It starts to work in 20 minutes.

I think baby sitters are the other wonder drug!

That dutiful feeling is the worst, because what's underneath it is seething resentment. Why should we have to be robots just to get through the day?

Is this happening a lot?

Anonymous said...

It comes and goes...usually lasts a few days. A lot of times it happens when I am not feeling good, I have been dealing with a toothache problem for over a month and I keep throwing my back out so I get really irritated really easily. But other times it is just because. It feels like PMS but I don't get that because I am on the pill continuously so I shouldn't be having hormones going crazy. I know I need to go off th epill because I think that is part of it. So I either get prego or Charlie goes under the knife...soon! Anyway,I think it also happens when I am having trouble with the kids, when they are screaming it makes me upset, makes me feel like I am constantly doing the wrong thing, plus when you are around kids all day and they are yelling at you to do this and can't help but start doing it too. Sometimes I am so envious of my friend Michele who works 40 hours a week and doesn't have to deal with the all day shit...
I have so much piling up..the house stuff is overwhelming and the kids are going through wierd phases, Lily is all of a sudden all clingy...soooo annoying!! Deuce takes his pants off all the time! I want to enjoy these years but I can't help but want to wish these years is a harsh reality. If I talk to my mom about it she says to pray about it. Babysitters are great too, it s a nice break but I still have to come back....I love going out with my girlfriends and dates with Charlie, that is when I am most happy. I wouldn't mind trying a dose of xanax to see what would happen. Like Deuce the other day bit me when I was trying to put him in his car seat and I called him a little shit and told him to get into his fucking car seat...I whispered it but that how I am supposed to act? If I was on a drug would I just be like...whatever that's ok you are only 2....very interesting...

susie said...

Hard to say what you'd be like. But shit, we shouldn't have to be on Xanax to mother appropriately! Though as a parent educator once told me, "In the old days, we had cocktail hour." Then there was all that Valium abuse, and chain smoking. I don't know, Honey. I've come to the temporary conclusion that mothering muiltiple small children is impossible. But the anger thing is really hard. I have a hair trigger sometimes, and before I know it I'm in Jonah's face because he won't let me get him dressed, and he's telling me it's not nice to yell. The thing I wrestle with is that any normal person would swear and throw the occasional fit and feel trapped and freaked out and angry if they were home all day with two kids under 5. It's normal. We're not crazy. The situation is crazy. It pushes so many buttons, too, like your own memories of being a kid, etc. Being a mother is an emotional minefield!
(Can you believe I talk like the angel of death about parenting and then I go off and facilitate a support group for new parents? Ha!)
Anyway, keep checking in here. I will too.

susie said...

Oh, one more the diaphragm an option?

Anonymous said...

possibly.....but I don't really like the idea of something up there other than....well you know.

susie said...

I hear that.