My now 19-month old son Adrian does not like it when I wear socks. He doesn’t know yet that through my open bedroom windows, crisp sea air escorts me into a deeper sleep at night and that the now chillier Maine mornings leave my toes a little less than toasty. I pull my socks on at the break of dawn when he awakens, thinking of my morning brew. But he won’t have it, this sock wearing business. He points at my feet and says, “no” with his best staccato. Coming off of a summer filled with trips to the beach and barefooted meanderings in our yard, he’s come to like my toes, I suppose. Long and finger-like, calloused on the ends, they are definitely not my best feature. I remember a similar phenomenon with my older son Jonah when he was about the same age. His issue was with my wearing sweaters, though, and his word was, “off!”
I follow the commands of my children, knowing that these particular preferences will pass and that eventually I will be embarrassing them in their teenage years with my leg-warmers and other various out-of-date pieces in my wardrobe. I also recognize that my insistence in these moments could result in a real panic for my little ones. They feel cozier when Mama looks as she should. I save my insistence for denying the Popsicle request at breakfast, for protecting Adrian from his palpable desire to jump off of high things in the same way that his three-year-old brother does. I save my insistence for the mandatory hand-holding in parking lots and for confiscating toys being used as armament. In these moments of communicating firm boundaries with my children – and keeping them safe – I have witnessed each of them have what might be referred to as a “tantrum.” I’m not a fan of that term and as I’ve grown as a mother, I’ve come to see these episodes in such a different light. What used to invoke in me a sense of either failure as a parent or failure in my child to control their emotions, now elicits in me a great deal of love and compassion. Instead of trying to keep my children from feeling what they are feeling, I am now more inclined to bring myself to a place of peace and centeredness so that I may help them through these very big emotions that are overcoming them. I now see that for them, the Popsicle, the independence they are so eager for, these things are every bit as valid as any moment of panic or desire or need that I may experience as an adult.
I am reminded of a visit I recently made to an imaging center where I had an MRI of my lumbar spine. I’d been putting off this test for months and months and finally when I arrived at the center, the technician discovered that my paperwork had been wrongly pushed-forward. There were questions as to whether this test was safe for me, given my medical background. I ended up sitting in the waiting room for three hours as the staff called past doctors and conducted research on my behalf. I had come to the appointment well fed but as the hours rolled by the room began to spin. I ran out and scarfed down some fast food. It was all that I could find with just a few minutes now before my appointment. Greasy fries compounded my discomfort and my heart began to race as I realized that I was going to be late returning to my boys even though I had planned for a four-hour window of childcare.
A woman with a warm smile came and escorted me onto the table just outside the MRI machine. My throat seemed in someone’s grasp. A second woman entered the room and they were both chatting with me so kindly and preparing me for the test and then rolling me into the machine. One of them asked me how I was feeling. Inside I was panicking. My heart was racing. Air was elusive. I was reprimanding myself, too. I had waited so long. I couldn’t leave now. Where was my mindfulness? And where had it been lately, anyway? I was not kind to myself in those moments.
I then replied to their question quietly, timidly. “I feel a little stressed,” I said. They couldn’t have possibly pulled me out of that machine more quickly. All hands were on deck. Can we get you a cool cloth? Would earplugs help you? How about some music? I felt their warmth, their love, really, envelope me. Two little, warm tears sprang to the corners of each of my eyes. Upon seeing my tears, they mistakenly thought I was afraid of the machine and went to reassuring me of its safety. I explained that I was just feeling overwhelmed from the morning, but really I think the tears were sort of tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of thanksgiving that there are people in this world who will care for and love a perfect stranger. It wasn’t because it was their job. It wasn’t because they were worried about messing up the test. It was who they were.
After that I felt completely relieved. Their capacity to see me in that moment allowed me to see myself and come back to who I know I am – someone who can easily withstand a little discomfort or even transform it into a positive experience. Someone who can see the discomfort of my children and help them to transform it as well. One of the women suggested I wear a pair of glasses with a mirror situated so that you could peer out of the machine while you were still in it and feel as if you were not enclosed. It was these glasses that I turned to on the one occasion during the MRI that I began to feel anxious again. Otherwise, I spent my time in that tube feeling grateful, feeling loved, and really learning in a very deep and profound way about the power of a caring gesture. I thought about my sons and vowed to strengthen my commitment to bringing this same love to their moments of panic. To their “tantrums.” I vowed to love them even more deeply, even more completely than I already was.