Learning in Flexibility

May 16, 2013 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

            We were at that mall again – the one my daughter likes so much.  It’s an open air mall with shopping and restaurants.  But that particular day we had made a plan.  Chris was going to meet us there with Eli and Lola, the puppy we adopted a week earlier, and we were going to have dinner at Panera’s outside seating – the whole family, including Lola.  This was, from Isobel’s point of view, the pinnacle moment of dog ownership – bringing the dog to the outdoor mall.

            We hadn’t done this much with our late dog since in his old age he’d grown tired and a lot of walking was difficult on him.  But even then, Isobel would ask to bring him with us so she could take him to the doggie bakery (where she was often frightened), and look upon him with adoration as he lapped water from the dog stops.  So enamored by this idea was she that once, she convinced me to buy her a small animatronic stuffed dog that had a little remote control device tethered by leash and she thought if she could control it well enough she could bring it to the mall and people would think that she was walking a real dog.  She reveled in the conceptual double take.  Honestly, she had been fantasizing about this moment for more than a year.  It was a BIG deal… like – first kiss, big, I mean, to a six year old, who hasn’t yet developed the interest in a first kiss. 

971417_10151413752263133_1469256196_n[2]            So now we had a puppy and this seemed like a delightful idea.  The puppy needed socializing and we needed dinner.  We arrived earlier than the boys and were shopping a bit when my phone rang.  It was Chris.  His breathing was quick and heavy and his voice was flustered.  I could almost smell irritation over the phone (Indeed, I have one of the more advanced iPhones).  He said something like, “Dude.  I barely made it 3 miles away from the house and I thought I smelled something so I pulled over at the parking lot of the state park and Lola crapped in the kennel.  She stepped in it and then climbed on the sides of the kennel and.. well there’s just shit everywhere.  This isn’t going well.  I need to go home and get her in a bathtub.  Can you just go get Eli from daycare while I deal with this… shit?”  And of course I would.  I hung up and hurried towards the car with Isobel.  I honestly barely got to readying myself to tell her about the change in plans when the phone rang again.  “Dude.  In the time it took me to pull over at the park and turn around a tree fell across the road and now I need to figure out a different way to get home.  Just…  what the hell?  Anyway, I don’t think this is going to work.”  He was clearly having a bad day.  Or at least a bad 10 minutes.  And Isobel could tell. She was starting to panic.  You could see it from a thousand feet.

Isobel, aged 2, dancing at Disney's epcot

Isobel, aged 2, dancing at Disney’s epcot

            If ever you want to learn about somatic coherence – the connection between the human body’s shape and form and emotional states – look to a child.  Because where adults have spent a lifetime working on denying emotions or masking their body’s cues and practicing this intentional disconnection, often resulting in a conflict that settles in as chaos and confusion, manifesting illness and discontent… children, especially the youngest ones, are entirely pure in that coherence.  There’s no faking it for kids because it is primal.  This provides a reference point, for me, to regard all emotions, whether we decide to perceive them as good or bad (an attribute we assign later in life) as being a part of our very basic nature – it’s because they’re observable in infants.  This is how I know that dance is an integral part of expression – it is because very young children will recognize music and have a basic instinct to move rhythmically to complement it and allow the shape of their bodies to emulate the emotional response to auditory stimulus.  It is simply hard-wired into our biology, and we see this in the child who has yet to unlearn it. 

           As with Isobel, who, still in movement as we headed towards the car, started to physically crumble beside me.  Her shoulders fell forward and down, her knees weakened, her balance shifted as she placed more weight into my hand than she had when she was floating along excitedly preparing to realize her life long dream of outdoor dining with her dog.  And while her body started to sink into despair, her breathing became shallow and quick while the emotions buffeted by tears crested into a forceful wave crashing against her flushed face.  And then she cried.

           My daughter is the very definition of the Spirited Child as described by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  When Isobel feels something, she feels it everywhere in her body, without filter and at depths seemingly unknown by mankind.  On the one hand, for a parent, this can be really frustrating.  And annoying.  Occasionally maddening.  Frequently confounding.  Somewhat embarrassing.  You know, because it never seems to occur at convenient times.  On the other hand, it makes for a fantastic teacher because it is hard to miss the lessons when there’s nothing big enough for them to hide behind.  In this moment, on this day, I had been having an exceptionally good day.  I had been in the practice of creating a deliciously content mood of focused curiosity all day long.  I had been practicing this so that at times like these, when there was a pull to feel anger, I could, in the moment, shift myself into the desired mood of contented, focused, curiosity.  I was present, focused, powerful and in control.  And as THAT version of me, I looked at my daughter and said, “Isobel, I can see you’re very upset and disappointed.”

           “I’m just…” she stuttered”… I’m just… very.  Very.  Sad.”

           “I can see that.  What would you like to be feeling?”  I asked her.

           And she gave me the very best you-idiot look a 6 year old can muster (which is indeed quite spectacular) and said with an air of obviousness, “I just want to feel sad” and she punctuated it with another you-idiot look.

           The thing here is that THIS version of me as a parent – where I have presence of mind to be patient and both hear and listen – is not just a version of me that acts in service of my children, but this version serves me, quite possibly even more so.  There’s another version of me that just needs to get through the moment and she is pushy and impatient and impervious to learnings in her arrogance.  She is a purveyor of lessons and serves up information by the mouthful – the very loud mouthful.  And that version of mom judges the histrionic display following the ever so slight disappointment (at the shattering of a young girl’s life-long dream) as hideously embarrassing.  Thankfully, she was not invited to today’s conversation because this version of me got totally schooled by a six year old and loved it.

           And she is so right.  Sadness, like any other emotion, has the right to be honored and does not have the inherent need to be fixed.  In fact, how often have I felt insulted when I experienced and expressed an emotion of sadness or rage or fear and have been told, even from a loving voice, “don’t feel that way.”  The expression of sadness offers the gift of release and it is just as important to take the necessary time to experience it in its fullness in order to appreciate the comfort that comes with its release.  And thankfully, this version of me was present to learn that from that sad and terribly disappointed and honest version of my spirited child.

           “You are absolutely right.  I’ll let you be with your sadness.  And when you’re ready, you let me know, because I’d like to show you something that I learned earlier today, ok?”

           She carried her sadness with her all the way back to the car.  She carried it like a heavy weight into her booster seat and carefully buckled it in with her for safety.  Her tears softened and melted into her as she gazed longingly back at the patio of the restaurant where she wanted to be sitting, eating mac and cheese and feeling great pride with her pup.  And I drove on.

           A little ways down the road she broke the silence with her voice, still in vibrato, “Ok – I’m ready.”  She said. 

           “Sometimes, when change happens and we feel a little disappointed, we might want to be able to experience a little flexibility so that the change doesn’t hurt quite so badly.  Would you like to try something to help feel more flexibility?”

           “Ok.”  She answered correctly but totally devoid of heart.

           “Did you know that when we feel things inside, we feel them outside too, like in our bodies?”  (Silence).  “Well it turns out sometimes we can change how our bodies are and that can change what we feel.  Would you like to try to change into flexibility for a while?”

           “Ok.”  She answered again, completely devoid of heart.

           “What does flexible look like to you?”  I asked.  She lifted her arms up, grudgingly, and waved them up and down.  A little.  “Ok – so that’s sort of a mildly flexible robot.”  The corners of her lips turned up a touch.  “Maybe we want to get a little more wiggle in it.”  And from the front seat I tried to show her my flexibility.  She sadly mimicked.  “Maybe get a little flexibility in your elbows….  And your shoulders.  And even your neck so your head can wobble some.  Can your legs give you some flexibility?  And what about your bottom.  I know you’re stuck in a seat but we can still wiggle our bottoms right?”  And I was doing all of this (with one hand on the wheel, one eye on the road, the other glancing back at my daughter for occasional status updates.

           She was starting to giggle and laugh at my rendition of flexibility.  “I am Isobel, and I am a flexible bowl of jello.”  I said.  And she laughed.  A little.

           “I’m still sad.”

           “That’s ok.  You be whatever you need to be.  But when you feel like trying, tell yourself how flexible you are, and think about the giggly wiggly feeling you got watching me do it.  And wiggle yourself as much as you can.  And pretty soon I bet your wiggly self will start to shake off the change that made you sad and you’ll be ready to see the possibility that we will be able to get Lola to the outdoor mall one of these days.  And remember – when you see Daddy later, he is going to be all tied up in knots of frustration about how his day went.  Maybe you can show him your flexibility and his knots may loosen up too.”

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3 responses to Learning in Flexibility

  1. joe said on May 17, 2013

    Wow Carmen…how beautifully you captured the moment. And what a great lesson.


  2. Is there another post where you finish the story of Chris’s day? You kind of left us hanging by having Chris left with a dirty puppy with the way home blocked.

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