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.