Many days the dog and I start our morning out with an early walk down by Lake Washington. I find it a nice way to connect to myself and the larger world around me before engaging in the day with my children.
Friday morning took my breath away with the perfect cloudless sky, warm breeze, glassy still water and stunning views of Mt. Rainier. This Monday morning was pretty much the opposite – moments after I walked away from my house the drizzle turned to a downpour. With my hands pulled deep into my raincoat sleeves to keep them warm, water dripping off the bill of my cap and my soaking pants sticking to my legs, I watched the Mount Baker crew rowers work to keep their boats steady against the pounding waves while fellow teammates crawled back onto the docks.
Seeing them reminded me of the metaphor Gordon Neufeld and Cindy Leavitt have both used about rough times with our families. There are days, like the glorious Friday, when so much seems easy and possible: growth, connection, peace, rest, harmony, adventure. And then we have days like today when the climate is such that our only goal should be to get the boat back to the dock and everyone out without an unfortunate dip in the cold, cold water. More directly, drop our agendas and plans in order to protect the relationship with our children when emotions and behaviors get dicey.
I wondered about the rowers, had the coxswain taken them all the way to Seward Park and back on their usual route? Had she pushed them as far as she could until things reached a crazy state of “too hard” before relenting to a miserable return? Or had she let them try their oars against the wind, rain and waves then turned quickly back to the boat house for a change of clothes and cup of cocoa? I wonder how often I make the wrong call, so focused on the next stroke or task on my to-do list I completely miss the fact that we’re in a storm.
Somewhere along the way I started singing “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. This seemed beyond random to me for a while until I made the link between the morning’s weather, Gordon’s boat metaphor and my aiming towards a culture of tears in our family. I love the doleful and melodic tones of the song, telling me:
Everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong
Take comfort in your friends.
Don’t throw your hand. Oh, no
Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone
Popular culture still holds the wisdom that life is full of storms, just like the June rains in Seattle. They are natural, we cannot avoid them. What we can do is anticipate and accept the squall that is coming our way. We can take shelter in our relationships and make sure we are the safe harbor for our kids’ hearts. Sometimes for me this requires first finding my own still point and tears about the day or the relationship not going how I had planned, simply so that I can acknowledge the storm that is already raging. Once I accept that in this moment my child is experiencing big feelings, making space for both the child and the feelings becomes easier. Which is good because I can no more control my child’s emotional outbursts than I can push all those fat raindrops back up into the clouds.
Watching the waves splash and listening to the rhythm of their crashing on the cement wall along the walkway captivated me. The wonder of the power of nature pulled me out of my impending misery. As I walked and dripped and hummed I started to notice more around me – I spied an osprey atop a boat mast, a bald eagle cruising overhead with a big fish in its talons, and a blue heron posing oh-so-still on a log. When I stop resisting my children’s storms and sink into what it going on for them right now, I notice natural wonders, too. Someone hits the couch instead of a person. Screaming is less loud and much shorter than a year ago. That hollered tirade actually included mixed feelings.
As of yet, I can’t claim a zen-like state of peace with the storms of life – either the ones inside or outside the walls of my house. I yearn for the 5th of July and the predictably lovely weather it brings. What I do have is a beginning acceptance of the cycles of life, that rough weather and hard days are part of the territory of parenting and of being human. These storms do not have to define me, my children or our relationships, and the storms always blow over eventually. As I keep the little boat of our relationships in mind, and the storm passes I find myself in the position of providing a 5th of July for my kids. In the role of my children’s sun, I once again provide the warmth and caring they need to grow and blossom with the deep roots and resilience they will need to weather the storms of their own adult lives.