For most of my life, telling me to "take a breath" was pretty much the best way to get me to kick you in the armpit. In the heat of the moment - the kind of moment where telling me to "take a breath" seems necessary - there was something deeply insulting to me about that instruction.
My husband, among others, has learned this the hard way.
Gee, thanks for the reminder. I might have forgotten about that whole needing-oxygen-thing if not for you.
Usually, someone telling me to take a breath was also trying to put their arm around me, as if to corral me, or possibly to manually assist me with that impossible task of - what do they call it? - inhalation? I almost always shrugged that assisting, corralling arm off of me and mustered my best glare. I AM BREATHING ALREADY THANKYOUVERYMUCHNOWGOAWAY.
Of course, it has become painfully obvious to everyone who knows me - and I now include myself in that lucky, lucky group - that my breathing gets shallow and brisk when I'm upset and taking a deep breath is the most important thing I can do for myself when I'm wound up.
CG, equal parts smart and loving, now verbally acknowledges my feelings first and then models a breath or two alongside me. His self-conscious, long, slow respirations often garner him another, even meaner, glare from me.
But then he smiles his gentle, encouraging, badger-wrestling smile and I reluctantly breathe with him.
The next thing out of my mouth after those breaths: an apology. Always an apology.
It's not an infrequent scene: Z a wailing, stomping whirlwind, me a confused flustered bystander. One moment, she is a teenager, hands on hips, eyes narrowed. The next, she's a toddler not getting her way, fury extending through every limb.
In the midst, my four year old girl needs help.
Any words from me are lost, are in vain. She is too old to distract, too big to grab and move. She is picking up steam.
I channel CG, sit beside her, and wait for her to glance my way. When she does, I open my arms but don't look into her eyes.
She stomps one last time, spins to turn away and then drops into my lap. Her torso folds to barely fit and her legs extend far beyond my reach but the back of her head slumps heavy against my chest, a familiar feeling to us both.
I start to take a deep breath, keeping my chin up and to the side in case she suddenly flails into my jaw in one last explosion.
The calm comes slowly, warily. The back of her ribs reach for the front of mine. We meet each other.
After a few necessary minutes, we can talk.
We are late for something, and I can't find my keys. There were just here. Or just there.
"Did you put on your shoes yet, Z?"
Or did I leave them in the pocket of my coat? Which coat? ARG.
"Put on your shoes!"
I am starting to spin in place, eyes wide, teeth beginning to grit.
Z looks at me, head cocked to the side, shoes on the wrong feet. "Mommy? Let's take a deep breath and then look together."
I look at her face. I listen. I breathe.
It's almost bedtime and Z and I are lying under her covers. Well, she's lying and I'm skewered on top of the tangle of pointy plastic limbs and matted hair that is her "doll collection".
I have my eyes closed serenely, one hand on my belly, the other on my chest, an excellent example. She squirms constantly, eyes opening and closing, glancing at me, adjusting the covers, taking this opportunity to pick her nose without my reproachful glance.
"Do you need a tissue, Z?" I ask pointedly, my eyes still closed but MAMA SEES EVERYTHINGGGGG.
Her eyes snap shut, she drops the offending finger and she stills, for a second, a minute. I strain to hear the air moving from us both.
Then she's squirming again and the moment has passed. She's ready for her book, her story, her last beg for water/kisses/conversation.
When I hug her for the last time, she pauses, holds me tighter, and sighs. I used to think of this as one more stalling tactic. This time, I listen to her long, slow breaths, an excellent example, and take one too.