November 7, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
When Anthony was a bit younger, he was prone to rages. Incurable ones. I tried logical consequences, I tried time out to calm down, I tried firmly explaining that "we don't scream and hit here" (Eric looked at me in confusion, like "Um, clearly we do, Mom"). Nothing.
One day, in the middle of watching Anthony's little body tense up as he turned bright scarlet and began quivering with rage, I had an inspiration.
"You look like the Incredible Hulk" I said. His eyes widened. I knelt down beside him and looked straight into his face. "You look furious. You look so angry that I bet you wish you could rip the roof right off of the house, and then everyone would know how mad you are. Is that how you feel?"
He nodded, his eyes filling with tears.
"I want to hear why you're angry. But if you scream and throw things, then all I can think about is that you're screaming and throwing things, and I can't think about what you are trying to tell me…" . Total about face. It turns out that for Anthony, the most meaningful thing in the world is to feel like another person truly sees him.
That's what I offer as his mother. It doesn't matter if I am funny–I will never be as funny as that guy who keeps falling over on YouTube. It doesn't matter if I am smart–I will never be as smart as Google. Or if I can sing–I will never sound as good as the iPod. In an age of mass produced everything, we have gotten the best comedy, the most advanced information, and the most beautiful music–but in a sterilized way. Watching a concert is not the same as a friend playing piano for you. Reading a stellar book is not the same as listening to one another tell stories. A soccer league is not the same as a pick up soccer game in the park. Although these things provide a better "primary product", the "secondary product" of relationship is sacrificed. There is a hunger to know and be known.
It drives the market in a big way, I think. You can't actually sell "being truly seen", but through exceptional customer service and prestigious brand marketing, they're sure trying. As I de-clutter, I notice that as I get rid of stuff I also get rid of people I might have been. "Don't you want to be the kind of Mom who shares homemade ice cream with her kids on the back step on sunny afternoons?", the ice cream maker asks me as I dangle it over the give away bin. "Yup," I answer it, "But I'm not that kind of Mom. So I have to choose between being the kind of Mom who spends the afternoon eating something else on the step with her kids, and being the kind of Mom who spends the afternoon cleaning and re-organizing kitchen gadgets. Good bye, ice cream maker."
Like many Hummingbirdbrained folks, I lean towards the too-much side of things. Too much stuff, too many time commitments, too much talking. I was once offered twenty dollars (an unthinkable amount of money–my allowance was fifty cents) to be quiet for fifteen minutes during gymnastics class. I made it less than five minutes. In my defence, I was a child at the time. Didn't have a lot of friends back then…
"Please explain to me the rules of forming new social relationships." I said to my dad one day. He could always be depended on to sum things up in a way I could understand.
"It's easy." my dad said. "People are starved for being known in our culture. Relationships got streamlined out–much like exercise–by the advent of various technologies. So, when you are getting to know a new person, you ask them all kinds of questions and completely immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about them. If you keep them talking the whole time about themselves, they will find you fascinating." I found this advice to be incredibly insightful, and will get back to you about how well it works if I ever successfully pull it off.
Now, I should go do more of my Active Listening Mothering. "I see you are curious about matches." I will say to Eric.
I am joking of course. Eric would never play with matches. Not without first creating a fire plan and having it approved by a parent. A fire plan is a document showing what he will light and how, that the area has been cleared of combustibles, that he has a plan for extinguishing a fire should one occur, and that he has a responsible adult providing adequate supervision. He loves safety, and so he thoroughly enjoys making a fire plan every time he lights a candle or I do a home wiring project. The latter happens not very often because I have to wait for people to visit who understand home wiring and can provide "adequate supervision". Most of those people might not visit again for a while since last time they were here Public Health phoned them all afterwards and told them I had infected them with Hepatitis A.
My dad's Rules of Appropriate Social Engagement didn't mention about that, but Public Health can be a real relationship killer.