We were playing in the front yard as a car drove down the street. One and half year old Millie darted into the road. Sprinting, I snatched her from the asphalt. In a moment of fear, I did something I’d never done before and spanked her tiny bottom, scolding her “NEVER GO IN THE ROAD WITHOUT MOMMY!” She cried, and I cried. It wasn’t either of our proudest moments, but we have never made those same mistakes again!
Last Sunday on a family walk, Millie sprinted ahead of us toward the intersection. As I saw her at full speed only a few feet away from a fairly busy road, I had a moment of panic. Millie stopped suddenly with her arms flailing upwards, both toes exactly on the crack where the cement meets the asphalt. She turned around and smiled at me while we caught up. When we were together, we did what we always do. “Stop, Look and Listen” “Is it safe?” Then we crossed the road holding hands. Sweet Millie has learned how to control her impulses and stay safe.
Monday morning was rainy. I came home from the gym a few minutes before the girls woke up so I started some bread dough and began scrubbing the bathrooms. In my cleaning reverie, a clear impression came to my mind. “You need to be a better listener”. I had, in years long past, considered myself a good listener, so this came as a bit of a rub. But I pondered on it.
My self-evaluation was conclusive. There is definite room for improvement. Motherhood has helped me hone several skills. But listening is not one of them. I’ve begun to assume I know the whole story, tune out, become minimally responsive to the constant clamoring, or even cut them off and launch into correction-mode, telling them what I think they need to hear.
After receiving that gentle nudge from the Holy Ghost, I listened to a fantastic podcast that talked about helping kids with big emotions. They said that times of big emotion, especially negative emotion, are great opportunities for CONNECTION. That is a considerable mind-shift for me. Of course I relish the good big emotions, but those negative storms – sheesh – I don’t always receive those graciously. But on Monday, I made the determination to choose connection over comfort, and embrace the big emotions of all sorts.
It was a transcendent day. “Opportunities for connection” were plentiful, and I welcomed them. For unknown reasons, Millie seems to be having a rougher patch, and so most of those moments were with her. When I was scrubbing toilets she pleaded to sit atop my shoulders, and Flora was determined to help. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t sanitary, but it was a sweet moment I would never have otherwise indulged. Tantrums were averted and memories made. After I finished the bathrooms and got in the shower with Flora, and Millie went to play with Georgia. A squabble ensued and she came to me, tearstained and barely able to express what happened through the sobs. Instead of my usual responses, I simply listened and validated her feelings. When she was through I asked if there was anything I could do for her. She took a deep breath, and said “No, I’m okay, mom.” and walked out of the room calmly. Who knew that 3 year olds were just like adults and sometimes just need someone to LISTEN not fix?! During the witching hour, Millie did end up losing her mind over something. It was absolutely trivial, but I was able to comprehend that it was major to Millie. I couldn’t convince her of anything so I just sat quietly until her flame went out, then she snuggled into my lap and I just held her for a few minutes. The whole day was full of moments where my responses lead to peace. It was incredible. AND EXHAUSTING. By bedtime I was absolutely wiped out. And proud. And determined that henceforth and forever I shall be a LISTENING MOM!
Tuesday was okay. Wednesday was halfway horrible. Thursday was rotten. There were stressors outside of the home that may have consumed a lot of my emotional energy. Maybe the hormone shift from weaning sapped me more. Sleep deprivation probably didn’t help. Why couldn’t every day just be a repeat of Monday? Why couldn’t I just be nice?
Thursday night, I prayed, nay, BEGGED Heavenly Father to help me not be so angry. Friday I awoke renewed to Tuesday levels. A vast improvement. We had dear friends , the Stutz family, over for our Jerusalem Dinner. Theresa and I were sharing our war stories of the week and she gave me a fitting analogy. My spiritual impressions and the success that followed on Monday was a bicycle lesson with Heavenly Father holding onto the back of my seat, cheering me on. On Tuesday, the training wheels were taken off. I crashed and burned. And forgot to wear a helmet. But I know what it feels like to ride, and I’m learning how to balance. I can keep trying. I can learn to listen, eventually with more stamina.
What I learned in my bike lesson, though, was powerful. When I STOP jumping to conclusions, and really LOOK at the person I’m with, I can LISTEN with true empathy and pure love. Sometimes listening, alone, can be a solution. I can often prevent a breakdown by noticing emotions when they are small and choosing CONNECTION over convenience. And when my best efforts aren’t enough and compassion runs out before the hard moment is over, I can always say I’m sorry. I can always try again. A little quiet and a little fresh air usually refuel me wonderfully.