Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Finding our breaths

When the girls were young toddlers, grappling to make sense of the confusing world around them, their frustrations were easily identified: A tantrum when told, "no," a red-faced outburst when they couldn't find the words to express themselves, an overtired meltdown when we strayed from our routines. From the beginning, I tried to cultivate empathy, and see things from their perspective before I rushed in with a reaction based on unrealistic expectations or adult concerns. We started working together on really basic mindfulness practices in moments of calm so we could employ them in moments of frustration. We did this as much for my own sake as theirs.

Hailey's picture: "God's creation," she said.
These mindful moments looked like holding hands and counting to ten or shaking up our calm-down jars (mason jars filled with glitter water), watching the sparkles fall as they/we slowed our own breathing. We would remind each other to pay attention to our breathing first: Is it fast? Caught up in sobs? Running away from us? Then we could begin to slow it down, breath by breath. The simple language and easily remembered practices were usually enough to help them/me calm down after an upset. We still return to these tenets, but as they grow as people, so too do their sources of frustration. They are caught up in increasingly complex worries, fears and anger.

Portrait of Mama, by Summer
So, I try to understand what helps them. I find myself less able to fix or address the things that cause great hurt and frustration. Like a sister who cries for attention, pushing the others away rather than inviting empathy. Or making mistakes in front of others and feeling embarrassed. Or feeling shame and guilt when they make amoral decisions that come with consequences. I can help them return to that familiar place of calm before they try tackling the issue. We sit and breathe. We count to ten. We sometimes break out the calm down jar to watch the glitter fall. Older, growing minds mean we can also add deeper mindfulness practices. We take a walk in the woods when everyone is bickering. I recite a guided body scan meditation when minds are racing too quickly to let bodies fall asleep. I help them find mantras to repeat to themselves when self-doubt creeps in after a rough day.

Sometimes, it's not enough, I can't figure it out, and a bad mood carries through an entire day into night. Or repeating patterns of blame and misguided anger need to be met with gentle coaxing and reminders that this, too, shall pass. Or the crying, stomping, and door slamming continue unabated in spite of my pleas to find a quiet place and breathe. Sometimes I am the one who needs all these reminders and practices. Sometimes it is one of them. Patience with each other is hard; compassion towards one's self is harder. I hope my invitations to sit and breathe will become instructions that pop up in their minds automatically as they grow. There will be so many heartbreaking reasons for them to crumple up in a ball and sob, or want to put their fists through a wall, or lash out and yell obscenities. Before embarking on the work of figuring out how to navigate such complicated terrain, they will have their breaths, and I hope they will remember how to return to the quiet hideaway inside each of them.

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