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  • Lijing Cobb

Wolves and monsters

My kids are my best teachers. At 10am yesterday, I found myself holding my son's shoulders and looking into his eyes, ready to explode with frustration. I reminded him that he was, by ignoring my request over and over again and making the "wrong" choices, draining the reservoir of patience, and if he doesn't fill it up for me soon, the water of patience will run dry. There was a hint of threat in my voice, although I wasn't sure at all what I would have done if he had drained me just a bit further.


I had told the kids to make a plan for their day so that they knew what they wanted to do and could keep themselves occupied, instead of feeling bored and directionless. I gave them some suggestions, and they (that is, my two daughters) filled in the rest. After giving him plenty of time and checking back in with him 3 times, I followed my son into the living room and found him on the couch collapsed in a play dough heap, NOT writing his list. Cue scene one.


You see, I know my son was sent by the higher-ups to save me from self-destruction. Whenever I, like Icarus, am on the verge of burning myself to tinders, confident that I got the skill of mothering down, and I could flap my wings harder to reach for that penultimate crown of the sun, he pours cold water on my cindering wings and pulls me back to the ground. Not even close, buddy.


Collapsed in a heap on the couch, uninterested in and unmotivated to carry out what I thought was a great suggestion, his lack of respect for my inflated ego was such an accurate assessment of how self-important I had felt at the moment. Who am I to tell him what is right for him and what is wrong? Was I doing that purely out of selflessness and for his good? Was I not suggesting that so they could "bother me" (sounds familiar) a little less through the rest of the day? Did he not see through my front and give it right back to me through his ennui, no thank you?


Parenting failure No. 1. Hard to swallow at 10 o'clock in the morning after I had just made a breakfast for them all and thought we could work as a team to have a good day.


After some time, I climbed down the ladder of self-righteousness and descended back to the kitchen, only to find my 7yo crying and whining again for no good reason at all. With a hint of vindictiveness I started telling her the story of the boy who cried wolf. Turns out that she'd never heard of the story, so I embellished and performed just a little.


"Wolf! wolf!" The boy cried, and all the people he knew rushed to his side. "Where? Where?" They asked. "Haha, fools!" He laughed. So the people left.


"Wolf! Wolf!" The boy cried, and his family and close friends rushed to his side. "Where? Where?" They asked. "Haha, fools again!" He laughed. So his close friends and family left.


"Wolf! Wolf!" The boy cried, and his mother alone rushed to his side. "Where? Where?" She asked. "Haha, the only fool!" He laughed. So his mother left.


"Wolf! Wolf!" The boy screamed, as a hungry and mean wolf came closer and closer. No one rushed to his side. They heard him, but they were no fools. And the boy didn't laugh as he was swallowed up by the wolf.


By the end of the story, my daughter's eyes were wide and she had wiped her tears dry. "Do you see," I started the preaching part, "that you cannot exaggerate your feelings this much and cry about every little thing? If your tears are so cheap, just like the boy who cried wolf without a thought for the consequences, then pretty soon we are all going to ignore your cries, because it happens so often. Now what happens if you are really hurt and crying for real, and none of us came to help you?"


By this time my 7yo had climbed down from her perch and walked over to me to hug me. With her little arms wrapped tightly around my hips, she buried her wet face in my belly and sobbed, "I just want you, mama."


Parenting failure No. 2. I had told this story out of anger and frustration, and I told it standing far away from my listener, with a body language that was stiff and reeked threat, I bet. I'm fully responsible for whatever nightmares she might have about the big bad wolf with the big sharp teeth later.


When the kids got ready for bed, both my 7yo and my son complained that they couldn't possibly go to sleep then. They had an unfortunate but predictable fight just a minute ago, and consequently the two of them were no longer able to keep each other company at night. Faced with the long dark night on their own possibly filled with monsters and zombies, the two of them started their lament. "It takes hours for me to fall asleep, mom!" my 7yo cried. So I set her up for a 20 minute yoga nidra and she laid down in her bed. That was pretty easy.


"Come check on me, mommy!" My son called from his bedroom. "Don't forget me!"


I walked into his room, wishing that I was in my own room reading this great book that was calling my name right then. I sat down on his bed while he wormed and wriggled around, looking uncomfortable.


"Why can't you fall asleep?" Here we go.


"It's just that there are a million thoughts racing in my mind and I can't stop thinking about them."Doesn't this only happen when we grow up?


The recorded nidra played on my phone in my 7yo's room next door. I wished they could both hear the recording so I could be reading my book. I had done that before and it is possible.


"Well, we've talked about breathing and counting before. All you do is that you breathe in and count 1, 2, 3, 4, and then breathe out and count 1, 2, 3, 4. And then go again."


He did not breathe and count as I suggested, but squirmed again.


"Ok, first get comfortable. Get all your wriggles out. Make sure that every part of your body is comfortable. Your head, your neck, your shoulders, your arms..."


"But I can't get comfortable." He stretched his arm and hit the wall, then kicked his leg out and made a loud thumping noise.


"Try not to move. Stay still. Close your eyes, and breathe, 1, 2, 3, 4..."


"But I'm afraid mom! You know why I always want to sleep with someone? It's because there are monsters in my dreams and they always get me!"He whined, and then added, "Is it true that whatever you think of during the day, it always happens at night in your dreams?"


"What do you mean?" I started thinking back to the days when I studied Freud and dream analysis, so I tried to buy some time.


"Like, if I think about monsters during the day, how they rush out of the woods to get me, when I go to sleep, there they are. Monsters in my dreams, rushing out of the woods, and they get me. And it feels so real and I'm scared mommy!"


"Wow," I looked at his concerned eyes and held his hand, "you have such a powerful imagination. It's wonderful that your imagination can be so powerful. You know what? If you can imagine monsters get you during the day, and they do exactly so at night in your dreams, can you try to defeat your monsters during the day, so they are defeated in your dreams at night too?"


"That's a good idea!" His eyes gleamed, and a smile broke out on his face.


"If you think unhappy thoughts before sleep, your dreams are unhappy. If you think safe, happy thoughts, your dreams will probably be safe and happy too. You should definitely try that!" I pursued the point. By that time my daughter's 20 minute recording had already ended. I was no longer in a rush to go, but judging by the relaxed body language and the rubbing of the eyes, I knew it was time to say good night and bow out.


"Good night, babe. Sweet dreams." I gave his hand a squeeze, and he squeezed back harder.


"I love you." I said as I walked out of his room.


"Thank you mommy. I love you too." There was a calm in his voice that was precious.


My kids are my best teachers. They tirelessly remind me to put my ego aside and treat them as equals with their own wolves and monsters. Their imagined monsters are no less valid to them than my perceived monsters are to me. The difference between my kids and I, the grownup, is that they are always fully invested in listening to my stories and advices that can connect to them on their terms of understanding. I don't do quite the same for them in return.


When I told my son to lay still in his bed, he had asked, "like when you threaten me in your bed?"


"What?" I was all confusion.


"You know, when you tell me that if I didn't stay still, you would kick me out of your bed?"


"Yes," I laugh, "that kind of still."


Connection is not person to person with all our separate baggages. Connection is spirit to spirit through a common language. My kids teach me how to find that language and hold onto it. It's up to me to pay attention so that I can break out of my prison and fly just right (google Icarus for that one if you don't get it).


In Cabo we tried on lots of different things. It's cool to be someone else once in a while.




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