Thursday morning began gloriously. The weather was beautiful and, for the first time in a couple of weeks, there were no activities to drive anyone to. The day’s plan amounted to baking bread then, after lunch, picking up Belle, the dog we walk, and heading with her to the beach for a swim.
I got up early and went for a bracing dip in our local outdoor pool. I walked home by the river, headphones on, listening to music and feeling mellow and energised. The house was still quiet when I got home, so I sat writing in the morning sun with a coffee. By the time the first person was up, I was as zen as they come and ready for a perfect day. A quick reminder to myself to never feel that smug about life. It’s always the best way to set yourself up for a fall.
My fall came just about half an hour later, as we were measuring out the flour for the bread. It was actually more of a rugby tackle to the ground. It caught me off balance and I fell hard. It was to do with the timing of the bread-making and the beach trip, and how what had seemed logical to me, seemed nonsensical to one of my children. Their expectations for the day were entirely different from mine. And so it was a dizzyingly fast spiral down from a tender morning hug, to tears and a slammed door, and me sitting by myself in the kitchen, staring at a bowl of flour, no longer zen and joyful, but feeling cross and unappreciated. I could feel the adrenaline in my system, the tension in my body, and my mind declaring how unfair this was. I’m not sure why I had so little capacity that morning, but there I was. The thoughts running through my head were some old pattern about me not being appreciated, about a wonderful day being ruined and the injustice of it all.
In hindsight, my fine start to the day did pay off a little. Whilst one part of me was hugely triggered and feeling vulnerable, the other half was observing curiously, wondering why on earth I was taking this all so personally, marvelling at how quickly things can unravel, and hoping I could snap out of it soon. So, for half an hour or so, whilst still hostage in that triggered space, I attempted to be compassionate to whatever calamitous thoughts were on my mind, whilst also being compassionate to my child, who was certainly having a worse time than I was.
A number of thoughts came to me as I listened to the frustrated stomping on the living room floor, whilst nursing my own hurt. The first was that when I was that exact age, my modus operandi when I got cross was to stomp up the stairs as loudly as I could, get into my bedroom, slam the door as hard as possible, then bang on the floor shouting to everyone that I hated them. Hmm. The minute I remembered this, I felt things shift a little. I knew how my child felt. I remember clearly the confusion of those huge angry feelings, how quickly they would disappear, and the enormous relief when they did.
The trigger subsided, and now I just felt disappointment at how things had turned out. I tried to reach out at that point to my child, but it didn’t go well. They spotted a slight tone in my voice that suggested some residual resentment or blame and pushed me away. Door slammed shut again.
They were right. I was still feeling sorry for myself. I sat a while longer at the kitchen table. I realised that I was blaming my child for the day going pear-shaped. But, my children are not responsible for making me happy or ensuring that a day goes perfectly. That’s not a fair expectation to have. When a family spends a lot of time together, it can get hard sometimes to figure out where one person ends and the other starts. We can lose our footing and no longer know what’s ours and what’s theirs, and where our own solid ground is. Maybe because I started my day so well, I expected everyone else to come along on the ride. But, ultimately I’m the only one responsible for my happiness. And I hope that my children always feel that they are the architects of their happiness too, independently of how other people are.
So, I stopped reaching out, and focused on taking responsibility for myself. I opened the windows and put some music on. I did some general busy stuff around the kitchen. I watered plants, I breathed deep, and did everything I could to ground back into my body, to find some happiness, some calm. To show my child that there’s always a way back to their own solid ground. To not use them as an excuse to offload old emotions that go way beyond them.
A quiet request came from behind the door for a pen and a piece of paper. Some moments later a little note got pushed underneath the door. It was a picture of a sad dog. I sent a little message back with a picture of a happier dog. And so we spent the next half hour, sitting either side of the door, pushing notes under the door to each other and healing. The door finally opened and the day resumed. We didn’t manage to make the bread, but we had fun at the beach with Belle. And there was an extra closeness that comes from knowing that even the toughest moments can be navigated, that we will always do whatever we can to find our way back to a hug. We’re making the bread today instead. And if that doesn’t work out, it just doesn’t really matter.