I teach at a homeschool co-op once a week. A group of parents get together and teach about 100 kids from preschool through high school. Kids can take anything from belly dancing to British Literature. I love being there and tapping into a huge network of creative and resourceful parents.
One of my contributions tot he co-op is to teach a creative writing class for seven to nine-year-olds. It is truly one of the best things I do all week. It just so happens that across the hall from us during that time period is a music class for some of our youngest students and their parents.
This past week, my kids and I were working on creating poetry, when all of a sudden there was a horrible shriek from the classroom across the hall. It quickly became apparent that one small musician was having a meltdown of monumental proportions. Her mom was with her the entire time and quickly removed her from that classroom, moving her down the hall to the unoccupied nursery.
A few minutes later, I needed to leave the classroom to get some additional supplies, and as I walked by the nursery. As I passed by, I was struck by the most stunning image. The young girl, who is about two, was still stuck in a full-blown temper tantrum. Her mother was sitting in front of her, perfectly calm and practicing active listening skills as the little girl sobbed and spoke, fairly unintelligibly, I would imagine, while struggling to regain control. And here was her mother, clearly listening, not judging, not telling her to calm down, just listening.
It got me thinking about those times we, as adults, melt down. It happens to the best of us occasionally. Maybe you yell, maybe you drink, maybe you watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer for hours on end while eating eight cartons of Chinese take-out. People don’t melt down randomly, it’s a build up of frustrations, little and big, that we stuff down until they pile up. Eventually, if you keep it up, you run out of room to hold it in- that’s when the meltdown happens. How quickly we personally recover depends on how long it takes for us to listen to ourselves, without judgement or without asking ourselves to do something we have no ability to do, like calm down or get over it. Meltdowns are a way of saying that something is very wrong, that our needs can no longer be ignored for the sake of politeness, appropriateness or because we’re choosing to put other people’s’ needs ahead of our own.
Some of us need to practice active listening with ourselves which may come in the form of journaling or running or painting. Some of us need stillness and silence – meditation – to truly listen to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but it’s much harder for me to listen to myself without judgement, without harping on all the reasons I should have it together, or shouldn’t have lost it in the first place, that it is to do the very same things for the people around me. And all those judgements, all those “shoulds” and reasons to beat ourselves up don’t help us find our center or right us. They just keep us in the vortex of the storm.
The simple wisdom of this mom to not try to change the situation or judge or ask of her daughter something she simply wasn’t capable of in that moment stunned me. The act of being present in the frustration and the pain and to just listen stuck with me in a way I don’t think I’ll easily dismiss. I hope the next time I find myself in the middle of a personal meltdown I have the ability to just stop and listen and hear what it is I am so desperately trying to say.
This is day 22 of the National Blog Posting Challenge.