I had a bad day last week. Nothing special really, could've been any old day but it became a Snowball Day, the kind of day where every issue seems to snowball until my child's minor temper tantrum becomes Further Evidence of My Failure as a Mother and Her Future as a Adult Malcontent.
I realized that I snowball these things, of course. It's not like it happens all on its own. When things are going poorly, I pack and roll and shove that snowball downhill with a running commentary in my head, every word adding more and more snow.
Oooh here we go again. I'm pretty sure the parenting books say I should have nixed this behavior, like, THREE YEARS AGO. How will she survive in the world if she acts like this in front of people who don't love every single hair on her head and even the ones on her back and up her nose? I suck at this mothering gig but also where's my medal for dealing with it EVERY DAY? Oh yes, and here are the complaints about the dinner I so lovingly planned and bought and cooked and she won't eat. She'll get some horrible disease as an adult because she never once knowingly touched a green vegetable to her mouth as a child blah blah blah
And then I feel guilty for feeling so terrible, because I am just so lucky.
Yeah. Sometimes it's not so fun being inside my head.
I've been wrestling with this for so long, this guilt over being fortunate compounded by more guilt when I'm unhappy despite all my good fortune. How ungrateful I am!
Obviously, I get nowhere with these thoughts or, at least, nowhere useful.
Whenever I'm having a hard time in my life, feeling stressed, overwhelmed or sad, I've always tried to shut down the crappy feelings and squeeze gratitude from my pores. When I am at my lowest, I've made myself list how lucky I am, how many reasons I have to be happy. This is supposed to be a gentle reality check and bring fresh perspective on my blessed position in life.
It does not feel like that. It makes me feel worse, each and every time, in a downward spiral of misery and guilt and shame.
Then it dawned on me: when things are hard, I can simply let them be hard - but only factually. I can list them, dispassionately and without editorial comment. I can accept that I am struggling and will just have to muddle through until it gets better. I do not force gratitude, but instead allow myself to simply list the suckitude.
So the former internal commentary now, forcibly, sounds like this: She's still having a hard time with transitions. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can. She's still struggling with disliking most foods. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.
Also, sadly, I realize I rarely give my positive emotions (I have a few! I do!) a push of their own. When life is okay, I've begun seeking out those tiny moments of joy that can slip by so easily and try to magnify them and give them their own running commentary, a packed snowball PUSH of positivity.
Do you already do this? Why don't I already do this?
When holding E on my lap and reading to her, I make myself notice the scent of her hair and the feel of her soft hand on my forearm. I pause and focus on every positive thing I can think of: I love this moment so much. I love HER. I love reading to her and how close we are and how smooth her skin is and how connected to her I feel. Every book we read deepens our bond and engages her brain. I let every single bodily sense flood with intensity and try to stay with those feelings and that moment as long as possible. My running positive commentary often feels... forced, odd, unusual.
This is sad, yes?
When listening to the girls agree and play together in the backseat of the car, taking turns and helping each other, I actively stop and breathe in and purposely think: They are working together. They love each other. They are learning how to communicate and share and appreciate one another. They have goodness and manners in them. I have taught them good things.
This intentional deep focus and positive extrapolation on the good stuff seems to make the positivity last, it gives the next hour or so a slight glow. If I gather enough of these moments, and try to snowball them, the other times, the times that could add up to despair or madness, seem to happen less frequently, even though, of course, they are probably just as frequent as any other day.
When they do occur, I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.