No Escape

It’s Sunday afternoon. I’m lying down with my 3 year old to see if he’ll take a much-needed nap and the title of one of Pema Chodron’s books pops into my mind: No Escape. (The full title is The Wisdom of No Escape.) This immediately makes sense, as I’ve been having visions lately of another life, another city, another lifestyle – one that includes all of my family members but is somehow easier. I know that my psyche is trying to escape a challenging stage of parenting, one in which my three year old is falling apart inside as he transitions in several ways and is taking his disequilibrium out on the closest person to him: me.

Our day often begins with him “grumping” at me (my older son’s word for Asher’s behavior) about something that I haven’t done perfectly right. He then progresses to arguing with me about everything. Literally, there are stretches of the day when I can’t say a single sentence without him contradicting me, and loudly.

For example, yesterday I said, “Oh, no, there’s a mosquito in the house. Let’s close the screen so they don’t come in.”

To which he screamed, “THAT’S NOT A MOSQUITO! THAT’S A GOLDEN FLY!”

“Asher, it was mosquito. I just saw it. We don’t want to get bites, do we?”

“IT WASN’T A MOSQUITO! IT WAS A GOLDEN FLY!”

There’s really no use in arguing with a three year old so I let it go, but one minute later he screams at me again for something else. We talk to him about speaking with kindness and respect, but it’s falling on deaf ears as I know that his behavior is a result of exhaustion and disequilibrium triggered by dropping his nap. It’s one of these parenting stages that seems to be glossed over in the mainstream literature: we hear about the “terrible twos” but any parent of a three year old will attest to the chaos and insanity that punctuate at least some portion of our days.

There’s no real problem here; it’s the natural ups and downs of life, the ebbs and flows of easy times and harder times. It’s what happens when we’re in transition: the dark night of the soul that hits engaged women and men when the fantasies of what they’re “supposed to feel” collides with the reality that shifting from non-married to married is nothing short of a death experience; the emptiness and overwhelm of new motherhood and fatherhood which hit in stark contrast to the culturally-induced expectation of perfect bliss. The only difference is that right now this is Asher’s transition and I’m being pulled along for the ride. He’s letting go of his nap. He’s transitioning from toddler to little boy. He’s asserting himself in the world and still clinging to the dependency of being a little baby. He feels out of control and trying to gain a foothold by trying to control me.

I don’t like it one bit. What’s to like about living with a pint-sized tyrant? But when the title of Pema’s book popped into my head today, I realized that there is no escape. We could move to a house in Portland, Oregon and little Asher would still be trying to control me at every turn. And more than that: I remembered the wisdom of no escape, that when I sink into this experience without fighting it, resisting it, or perpetually complaining about it to my husband and friends, a deeper wisdom arrives.

It’s a natural human tendency to want to escape from what’s hard. We like the good times; we like the ease and the flow. We resist what challenges us and yet, not only are the challenges inevitable, but they’re what invite us to grow. Right now I’m being asked to grow my patience, my endurance, my tolerance, my trust, and my faith. It doesn’t mean I have to like it or adopt a pollyanna attitude that fakes enjoyment during a challenging time. But if it’s going to be tolerable, I need to find a way to transform my habit of resistance into acceptance. And, ironically enough, it often happens in parenting that when the parent finds the space of acceptance inside and stops reacting to the child with exasperation and despair then the entire dynamic shifts. It’s as if he’s asking me, begging me, to meet his prickly spots with softness and, once I do, he softens as well. This is the teaching in parenting, as in life, over and over and over again.

And it’s during these times, when there’s no problem to fix, that we must find a way to accept and witness the ebbs and flows of life. For me, it’s through writing, and often through this blog, that I make sense of my life. It’s when I write that the misery is transposed into understanding, when the formlessness of a transitional realm is concretized through the words. I string my experience together letter by letter, searching and allowing for the insight to find its way onto the screen and then… and then… it’s all okay. When I know I’m going to write, I watch what’s happening more carefully, and it’s through this noticing, this witness, that something breaks open and the tiny spark of joy that lives inside the difficult times breaks free. Through complete acceptance of what is I soften, open, and feel my aliveness and gratitude once again.

23 comments to No Escape

  • Kim

    You are a great story teller, Sheryl. My favorite parts of your posts are the last paragraphs, such wisdom there. In my current struggle (transition maybe?) I am both you and Asher. This article helped me see the struggle, and I can, as you said, meet my parts with softness. Empathy and compassion.

  • Kim

    You are a great story teller, Sheryl. My favorite parts of your posts are the last paragraphs of reflection. Such wisdom there. In my current struggle (transition maybe) I am both you and Asher. This article helped me see the struggle and can, meet both parts of me, as you said, with softness. Empathy and compassion.

  • K

    “It’s as if he’s asking me, begging me, to meet his prickly spots with softness” – Fantastic stuff right there!

  • Ashley

    oh Sheryl! thank you for this one 😉 truly inspiring for me today!

  • gardenia

    What a beautiful post, Sheryl. Life really is a continuous series of ebbs and flows, isn’t it? I’m glad that writing and this blog help you make sense of life, because your words of wisdom help a lot of others along the way!

  • Maya

    Thank you, it’s like you are in my head today! I spent all morning saying “no, no, no” and averting mini disasters with my own toddler (15 mo., going on 2). The past few weeks have been grueling with traveling and little sleep. I’m so worn out, and I long for some fantasy of being able to spend true “quality time” with my son beyond trying to keep him from hurting himself and tearing the house apart. All I could think was, something needs to change, I need to stop working, we need to move somewhere bigger, out of the city…I’m trying to escape! But wherever you go, there you are. Going to check out the book…

    • So nice to hear from you, Maya. I’ve been wondering how you and the little man are doing! I will say that, as hard as the challenging stages are, parenting does get easier and easier. Just the other day I was able to lie down for a few minutes and actually fell asleep while my kids played together – my older son “in charge.” It was divine, and certainly could never have happened a few years ago.

  • burningbright

    Once again, the right article at the right time. Sheryl, I think I may have had a revelation last week. As you know, it has been since November that I have been suffering from severe relationship anxiety. It all began when I started a new job with a man that made me laugh, smile, giddy, etc. (in the same exact way J and I did when we first met 4 years ago). I held on to this feeling and it has made me doubt my relationship. I think to myself’ “If I am feeling desire towards/for another man, I must be with the wrong one.” These thoughts as opposed to just accepting those desires are natural, and I felt the exact same way about J when we first met. I’m sure if I was with this other man for 4 years… the giddy laughter would have dissipated with him as well. Even though I know this is true, I still feel like I am lying to myself. “What if” there is someone I would still feel that way about after 4 years. I see it in other relationships…

    Then, last week I realized another factor was significantly contributing to my anxiety. It WILL sound crazy, but it is what it is. About a year ago I noticed myself comparing my life to movies and TV shows… I’m talking EVERYTHING. For instance, I would go for a run and think, “I need to move to a more prestigious area so that I can run where there are dimly lit street lamps, and landscaped pathways with fountains, etc.” I would watch the Kardashian’s and see the way they are able to live independently with their own houses, and have relationships that allow them to come and go as they please. I would watch movies and become depressed every time the relationship involved two people who were constantly able to make each other laugh, and look across the room with that longing feeling.

    Just this weekend, we were at a water park, and some music came on and I noticed myself thinking, “This isn’t the type of music I imagined playing here, why is this music playing?” I began to scrutinize the water park and how my feelings on my vacation were not “good enough,” and I immediately began to have anxiety towards J… why? I guess I figured if I removed myself from school, work, household responsibilities, etc. then I would be 100% back “in love” with him, and the constant giddiness would return.

    I talked to J about some of this and told him that I wished our relationship could have had better timing. Since we have met, we have both been laid-off (him several times) due to failed employers, we have struggled financially, his dad and step-mom (with whom I am very close) have married and divorced, my younger brother has married-divorced, had two children, and is now set to marry again (he is oh so in love… ugh), we have worked full-time while attending school full-time, etc. It was then that he told me to stop waiting…. stop waiting for things to get better. Things are always going to be hard. When we have more money, we will have a mortgage, when we think we have things figured out for ourselves, we will have our children’s lives to worry about, when we graduate college, we will have more demanding careers. He’s right. I know he’s right. I finally realized what is truly causing my anxiety… my life is not living up to my expectations. How do I fix this? How do I relax and appreciate what I have?

    Another source of anxiety has been the fact that J and I have a lease that is expiring in August. In a way I want to move out on my own, but I know that would be it. I would end up ending things. I found myself thinking of this and shopping for new furniture, looking at what color I WOULD WANT to paint the walls if I were able to decide on my own. I could decorate however I want to!!! I could leave J and just be single for a while… and on my own… free to make out with the next man that gives me that giddy feeling…

    Yes… that will fix things… a pretty new couch, a few coats of paint, and some new throw pillows.

    • “Then, last week I realized another factor was significantly contributing to my anxiety. It WILL sound crazy, but it is what it is. About a year ago I noticed myself comparing my life to movies and TV shows… I’m talking EVERYTHING.”

      This doesn’t sounds crazy at all. In fact, I would say that the media is responsible for a big portion of anxiety, especially relationship anxiety. I suggest you take a break from all media for a while, as suggested in this post:

      http://conscious-transitions.com/for-the-anxiously-engaged-a-media-diet/

  • nina

    Perfect timing. I have been having struggles with my own Asher and trying to come up with something to say besides “stop arguing with me” “the only time you don’t argue is when I’m giving you what you want, that can’t always happen.” Of course I keep reminding myself this is only a phase though somedays I worry 4.5 till ? 20? 30? I sometimes think my little one acts out more when I try to act soft…and I remind myself every interaction shows/tells him how I feel about him. What are my actions saying? Despite his establishment of his opinion, personality, place in the world and his testing me to see how it will work in the world, I want him to know -within himself – I love him. And I try to remember that.

  • Gabrielle

    Brilliant post! My 6-month-old dropped a nap today and the frustration and escape fantasies hit hard. I can’t control his nap schedule and this triggers lots of anxiety for me as I crave structure and I know he is struggling with fatigue. Thank you once again for hitting home with your timely posts.

  • Gabrielle

    Brilliant%20post!%20%20My%206-month-old%20dropped%20a%20nap%20today%20and%20the%20frustration%20and%20escape%20fantasies%20hit%20hard.%20%20I%20can’t%20control%20his%20nap%20schedule%20and%20this%20triggers%20lots%20of%20anxiety%20for%20me%20as%20I%20crave%20structure%20and%20I%20know%20he%20is%20struggling%20with%20fatigue.%20%20Thank%20you%20once%20again%20for%20hitting%20home%20with%20your%20timely%20posts.

  • Oh, yes, Gabrielle, this is why parenting is such a brilliant practice in letting go! Just when you become attached to one stage or schedule, it ends and the next one begins. Similar to what I wrote about here:

    http://conscious-transitions.com/parenthood-cycles-of-attachment-and-letting-go/

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl, thanks for sharing your journey, and putting words to the struggle and triumphs of parenting and riding the ebb and flow of transitions. I appreciate your work, grace and courage, and this site has provided solace and comfort during my own transition to Portland, getting married and going through job loss as well as pregnancy. I am grateful that life renews and restores our faith.

  • Thank you, Jennifer. And since Portland was featured in my escape fantasy, how do you like living there?! : )

  • RPeli

    Ah Sheryl I LOVE this post! Im dealing with someone very difficult in my life who feels like a 3 year old, and I am constantly meeting that person with resistance, anger and frustration. I read this post and I see clearly that I have to relinquish and ‘let go’ of my thoughts and feelings that are keeping me in this negative dynamic.

    I love how you’ve desribed writing as a way of making sense of these difficult times- Ive recently started meditation and its giving me simillar feelings. Thank you

  • Susie

    I totally relate to this! Whenever I’m having a hard time I always find myself day dreaming about living in a smaller place, surrounded by my family. When in reality I don’t know how much happier I would be as those two changes would bring along with them issues I’m not even aware of I’m sure. I think it’s a sign that in those moments I need to reach out more because what I’m really yearning for is some emotional support (a good chat, a good hug, someone to tell me “it’s a phase” etc). A very wise woman I know told me that when my child is having a difficult moment, instead of reacting, take a beat and think “hmmmm, this is interesting” and it really helps me look at his behavior from a different perspective because I don’t take it personally, I just try to really understand what might be going on. I find following my instincts works best in these situations….anyways, thanks for the great post Sheryl!

  • Sheryl – your insights are always so helpful for so many – especially me! I love taking a step back from the specifics and bringing new air/light/breath to a situation. Often it is easier to do after time with you (or reading your blogs)! Thank you for your honesty and your great way with words:-)!

  • This was such a poignant and timely insight for me.

    For so long now I have been thinking “If I leave my fiance` things will just be EASIER” because I won’t have to deal with all the “stuff” coming up – for both of us.

    Deep down though I know the deep, abiding, quiet love is still there but sometimes its not enough to quell my fears.

    Its been such a help reading things. Leaving makes no difference – I will have to face to same issues again somewhere else.

    Thankyou so much for posting this. What perfect Universally inspired timing it was 🙂

  • Shanell Wyche

    This post was right on time for me as well. I have been married for almost a month now and I still have lingering anxiety and doubt. This has helped me to put my questions into perspective as I try to figure out what marriage is all about. My mind immediately goes to thoughts of I should have dated around in order to be sure of marrying my first love. I am learning that this is probably my psyche trying to make sense of my decision as I went through something similar when we moved in together. I also realized that my mind is focusing on that thought because its easy to. Easy to escape to a different reality instead facing the sometimes tough adjustment period. I know that our connection and comfort is pretty deep. I had plenty of opportunities to leave and I never did. Its just hard trusting myself and trusting our relationship especially on days when its not bliss or “in-love” feelings. Thank you, Sheryl for having the courage to share yourself on this blog. It inspires and helps me through my journey.

  • Jennifer

    Sheryl et.al, sorry to have been out of the internet world for a few days. Portland is lovely–a city of bridges, sustainable food growing, city that is full of highly sensitive people (myself included!) and lots of artists. Lots of development in people’s ability to think about people with disabilities, creating kid friendly places and lots of places open to pets as I have ever seen. It will retains a small town atmosphere, and rains for 9 months out of the year! My husband and I thought it would be a good place to raise children. Went through a pregnancy loss at the end of last year–spurred me into another deep underground journey from which I am just emerging.
    Would be happy to share more about Portland (PDX) if ever you should want more information.

    with appreciation, Jennifer