Sunday, April 2, 2017

We Now Interrupt Your Regular Programming for KIDS!

I had a whole big post planned today on things I've been reading -  about New Monasticism and social activism and Zen and spiritual energy.  I had quotes picked out, and videos.  I sat down to type, and then, kids happened.

Eleanor wants to go outside.  It is a beautiful, sunny day and she would like to ride her bike, or poke sticks in puddles of water.  Mabel wants to read and be on her iPod.  Eleanor said that was not fun.  Mabel said Eleanor was being annoying.  So, Eleanor stole all the throws and blankets from the girls' bedroom so Mabel would get chilly and could not be comfortable.  Then she hid all the chargers so that Mabel couldn't charge up her iPod, which was on a low battery.  Mabel said she hated Eleanor.  Eleanor cried and came to me demanding that I fix it, while there I was, at the computer, having typed in a blog title that referenced a Jesuit method of decision making through prayer.

Of course being the sage, wise, calm father I am, I handled the situation in a patient, loving way, right?  Nope.  I yelled for Mabel to come downstairs and threatened and guilted her into going outside.  Then I saw the pile of blankets and the barricade Eleanor had created in the spare room to stop Mabel from stealing the loot from her dragon hoard.  I yelled and fussed and got mad and pointed and threatened and lectured.  They had ruined a peaceful afternoon, I told them, they always have to fight when I'm trying to do something. Both the girls got quiet and hurried to clean everything up and escape out of the house. 

While they were outside for five minutes, because that was how long for Mabel to decide that it was "not fun", I sat down and examined what had just gone on.  My adrenaline was pumping, I had fussed myself into a sweat, and I could just imagine the scowl on my face from an afternoon gone bad.  Why did they always do this, I wondered, just when I'm trying to do something I want to do.

Then I realized - they weren't the problem, I was.

I was not mad at the girls, I was annoyed that they were not letting me do what I wanted to do.  I had everything all planned out, set a schedule, a long productive list of enjoyable work, and they had not only interrupted me, but put me in a bad mood to boot.  Basically, I was telling them that what they wanted me to do was "not fun".

This happens a lot with us parents when we try to take a break from being care-giver, mediator, and entertainer for a few minutes.  We have "important" things to do.  Being a parent is hard, tiring work and we never get a chance for ourselves, we tell ourselves.

But what if I had included myself into what they wanted to do?  What if instead of trying to stick to my schedule that seemed so important to me, I had gone outside to play with Eleanor, or to talk to Mabel and check on what she was looking at on her iPod?  What if I had decided that what they were doing would also be "fun" for me.  What did I miss out on by not spending time with them, all in the name of having time for myself, and even worse, in a "spiritual" discipline?  

In a spiritual and compassionate sense, that is what serving others, including kids, is about, and I realized that I fell way short.  Sticking to my own wants and schedule when others are yelling for my attention, help, or kindness is a - sorry judgmental word coming up - selfish way to be.  And "be" is the right word, an active form of "be"-ing, not just in a Zen-like awareness.   

As a grown up, I get stuck in that feeling that I always need to "do" for others in a way that seems "productive" - service project-type things: doing house repair for the elderly, or feeding the homeless in a soup kitchen, or sorting clothes to give out to underprivileged kids.  The more common "do"-ing, if I stop and think about it, is more in the middle of "do"-ing and "be"-ing, an active form of awareness, what we mean when we say we're "being" there for someone.  The times where we are showing love and kindness by spending time with a kid who wants to go outside and play with sticks, or listening to someone's worry about a friend who seems stuck in a bad place professionally and spiritually because of harm done to him by someone in church, or sitting by your grandfather while he eats applesauce and drinks Ensure after his most recent chemotherapy session.

At least that's the lesson I learned today.  Maybe those interruptions are God's way of telling me to get my head on straight, to be kind and attentive.  It's a better way of thinking about it, anyway, than that my kids are spoiled, or just like to fuss, or other things I tell them when I'm stuck in my way of doing.  If I can only remember to keep this up.

So, I better go - the girls finished their ice cream and the Power Puff Girls episode just ended.  And you know how whiny they get.  

Dang, forgot already.

Old picture of the girls when they didn't fight as much.
Those were the days!