He was just a kid. …my son 35 years ago. We were getting ready to leave the house one morning to run some errands. At the last minute I wanted to iron the wrinkles out of something quickly. I don’t recall what.
At 8 years, he was old enough to know better, but knowing better was not on his radar screen during the following episode. As I was getting ready to iron, he grabbed the ironing board and gave it a good yank almost knocking the hot iron onto the floor. In my opinion at that moment, it was a purposeful and belligerent act coming out of nowhere. Immediately my ego mind kicked in obsessing about my son’s “act of violence.” I was a teacher after all and how could I have such an extremely disturbed child. I felt helpless. Punishment seemed futile, he was doomed, and destined, I was convinced, to become a ward of the public penal system with his own personal mug shot.
My mind was obviously working overtime without pay on this one. Condemning thoughts about my son and my failure as a mother were whirling out of control. This was fertile soil for a parent to perpetuate the violence by inflicting it back on the child. Anything to stop the behavior, and the embarrassment! But I, instead, was like a buzzing fly caught paralyzed in the sticky spider web of the mind.
I do not recall whether I even got to the scolding stage with my son. But what I do recall was a sudden “knowing” that pierced through the chaotic and internal noise and into my soul, and the absolute peaceful silence that ensued. The mind had been dismantled when the backstage curtains were pulled open. Intuitively I saw behind the stage set, behind the facade, beyond appearances. I then understood what prompted his behavior. It was the only way he knew how to communicate the emotion that had welled up inside of him taking us both by surprise.
I had a careless habit back then, and still do, of getting ready to leave the house numerous times always thinking of one more thing to do before leaving, or one more thing to take with me. That particular day way back in time, I had, I’m guessing,…maybe 5 false starts. Each time I had called to my son to get ready to go to the car.
Finally he’d had enough! Frustrated, he impulsively did what he could do to send that message to me. He shook the hell out of the ironing board the source of the final delay. Who wouldn’t be upset? Well, maybe my dog who considers me her personal snooze alarm. She simply lifts her head and puts it right back down again for more nap time until she knows it is the final call. At that time, she pulls her body up slowly, dipping it into an upside down arch as she takes her own sweet time in a oh-this-feels-so-good stretch, then ambles with a yawn somewhere in the direction of the car. That was not the way of my son. He’d had enough.
With this new understanding, my ego mind laid shriveled in a heap wrapped up like a mummy in its own spider web, and for me, and for my son, this became a teachable moment. His behavior wasn’t acceptable nor was mine, but his emotion was. After apologies, my goal was to listen, to honor his frustration, and to teach him how to express his feelings in a more constructive way. He would need to learn to trust that I would hear him, and I would need to earn his trust. I needed to listen intuitively and without defense.
It was super bowl Sunday, back when our favorite team, the 49ers, were winning with Bill Walsh. We were excited and, thanks to my husband at that time, we had all kinds of delicious food spread out on the spacious kitchen counter. You would have thought the whole neighborhood had been invited…but actually, it was just for the two of us.
For some reason I had gone somewhere before the game started, and was to be home for kick off. The excitement and suspense was like walking on a high wire in a circus tent. And, somehow I tumbled off and was late for the kick off. I missed it! The disappointment was almost more than I could allow myself to feel. I was grappling with my own sense of loss and guilt about my screw up and little did I realize the impact on my spouse. He showed very little emotion about it, at least not then.
At half time, he laid down on the sofa and “napped.” It was a “nap” that made me feel like straps had been wrapped around me and I couldn’t get my breath. My mind told me there was nothing wrong with his taking a nap at half time, what an obvious thing to do, but it was not normal for him during a football event and we had all kinds of food to devour. Most importantly, however, I was being locked out. This was not something I could bring to his attention unless I wanted to look like a fool. How could I take issue with a nap? How silly of me. But it was a nap that was loaded with venom, an aggressive nap.
Finding a way through my emotional struggle with his passive aggressive “nap” came the understanding that he was hurt because I had arrived home after the kick off. I had no idea my presence was that important to him especially after he had shown such minimal emotion when I arrived late. I was intrigued by the possibility that he had felt so deeply. Based on that intuition, I accepted it and did not question him, but I brought up the fact I had been late, and then apologized for it acknowledging the importance of my having been there. His demeanor changed immediately. He instantly got over his nap and the rest of the day was redeemed. I never ever discussed it with him. He would not have admitted his emotion. But he did respond to my apology, and perked up with all kinds of conversation.
I stopped by Glory’s stall a few days ago when I heard voices coming from his vicinity. Sure enough, his person was there with a friend. Glory was standing with his head near the stall gate with his fly mask on. For some reason not being able to interact with his eyes because of the mask, I unconsciously passed by him and engaged in conversation with his person and friend who were standing next to him.
While we talked, Glory repositioned himself behind his person who was facing in my direction. Finally he started nudging her rather roughly. Then, like a choreographed dance, the friend stepped up in a perfect rhythm and discreetly tried to calm him, while his person continued to stand with her back to him as if facing the audience in a Broadway show ready to deliver her potent line. Without missing a beat, the words floated out of her mouth and danced in the air around us. “He wants to see Beverly,” she said. That was me. I was surprised, but sure enough as she finished her statement, she stepped aside so Glory could find a way around her. He did, in perfect timing, and put his head over his wall near me and started licking my hand. You can imagine the joy I felt! But the joy was not just about his wanting to see me, but also that his person had listened intuitively…and acted on it. Glory will learn to deliver his messages of intent a little more gently.
I’m not suggesting that we over analyze every circumstance, but I am encouraging that we always remain open to listening intuitively, and seeing behind the scenes of appearances. I believe that listening intuitively would change our relationships. Go for it. Trust it. For my son, shaking the ironing board totally made sense once I intuited his frustration; my husband, who was unaware of my insight, responded instantly when I spoke to his disappointment which I assume he’d never acknowledged even to himself. And Glory, moved quickly to interact with me as his owner stepped out of his way. There is a metaphor in that.