My daughter and I have started playing a new game in the swimming pool. The opponents face each other and each person crosses their forearms and grabs the others’ wrists. While treading water, the players wrestle in a bid to tap their opponent on the head. It’s hard! And it makes us laugh, dunk under and spray water like dolphins. She loves it and she’s good at it.
There are moments in parenting that feel like this game. These moments lack the fun, laughter and silly antics of the pool game. Instead, it just feels as though I am treading water and wrestling needlessly with my children. That I am losing and sinking… or giving up the fight in exasperation and exhaustion.
Sometimes we argue about the most ridiculous things. Like when the children were playing tug-o-war in the pool changing rooms and I lost it because the loud noise in the echoey confined space was too much for me on the day the kettle broke (i.e., no coffee). Or when I came into the kitchen and a fresh loaf of bread had been hacked to bits leaving an Armageddon of crumbs and unusable bread hunks all over the work surface and floor. I turned into one of those cartoon characters with smoke coming out of my ears and red flowing up to my face like a thermometer rising.
In those moments I want to scream and shout, make an about-face and stamp out of the room to play with my toys all – by – myself.
Then there are other moments that are wonderful (and often the hard moments and the great moments are within, well, moments of each other). Like today, when I suggested that we cycle to our local nature reserve for a picnic, some nature journaling and time in the play park. Yes, they wanted to go! And please, could they help make the picnic? And shall I get your bike panier down, mummy? And shall I open the garage so we can start getting the bikes out? And what do you want on your sandwich, mummy? And, (this is my favourite one) “I love it when we do these things together!”
I do too. When we are cheerfully pulling together to do the same thing, it feels as though we are a river flowing steadily and easily downstream. When we are both enthusiastic and engaged, it feels as though we are working together as one, like a key in a lock, like fitting the last piece in a puzzle and discovering the sense it makes. We all feel good when we are in flow together. The wrestling and wrangling that took place in the last half hour seems a memory away.
For me, the important thing to remember is that these moments come and go. In general, we have more flow moments than wrangling moments. But sometimes the wrangling moments are so distressing and unpleasant, it’s easy to forget that most of the time we flow. I have to remind myself that there are big important loving feelings that underpin this family, in spite of the petty (and not-so-petty) squabbles we have every day. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that when we stop treading water or get tired of the struggle, the pool isn’t really that deep. There’s a firm floor beneath our feet, from which we can kick off and try again.
I’m reminded of my newly-five-year-old son’s bedtime unhappiness last week. He was hanging tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open, in the midst of an angry tantrum. In a bid to gentle him to my side I said, “But you’re my special boy, and I want to snuggle you.” Between angry screams he shouted, “Well you’re my special girl. But I don’t like you anymore!”
That pretty much sums it up.
©2014 Lisa Hassan Scott.