About 8 months ago, I had the kids sitting down for dinner at our dining table. The weather was beautiful, so I had cranked open the windows to let in some fresh air. Barry was still at work, so I sat with my 3 little angels and set their little plates in front of them. I was working towards the all-important family dinner that so many parenting experts recommend. I imagined the girls telling me all about their day while everyone enjoyed a peaceful well-balanced meal. Unfortunately, my plan did not work out.
Gray, at that time, was very resistant to sitting at the table while he ate. He wanted to carry his food around and eat while he jumped all over the house and the living room furniture. In an effort to carry over the goals from his behavioral therapy, I decided that I would not let Gray get up from the table while dinner was in progress. This was infuriating to him. He started throwing a huge tantrum and flailed around in his chair. That’s when Lena got upset. So, I turned on the TV for her in an effort to distract her from her raging brother. That’s when Zoe got upset. She started complaining that Lena always got to watch her baby shows and I should look for a show that they both could enjoy. Of course, I could not browse around the TV guide right then because Gray had taken his tantrum to the floor. He had slid off of his chair and was writhing around on the floor like he was possessed. When I scooped him up to put him back in his chair, he swept his entire plate of food off the table and sent chicken nuggets scattering across the room. I bent down to pick up the food while Gray screamed and pulled my hair. As I was lifting my head to put everything back on the table, I saw my next door neighbor’s face appear in the open window next to the table.
“Are you okay in there?”
I couldn’t help but feel amused at the idea of what our little episode must have sounded like from his backyard. Gray was screaming, the girls were fighting, Bella was eating Gray’s dinner off of the floor and my hair was puffed up on the side of my head where Gray had pulled it from my pony tail. I just smiled sweetly and said, “Well, of course everything is okay in here. This is just dinner at my house.”
He shook his head and said, “If that was dinner at MY house, I would be a raging alcoholic.” We both laughed and then we both went back to our respective realities.
Of course, stories like that and others that I have posted here on the blog lead many people to tell me, “I don’t know how you do it!” My response is generally, “I don’t really think I have an alternative.” But, of course, that is not what people mean. Often people will clarify their intent by saying, “I know you don’t have an alternative, but you always seem so happy. I don’t know if I could handle your situation and still be cheerful.”
One of my close friends called me the other day to say that she was reading a review of a play in the NY Times and a quote from the play made her think of me. I don’t remember the exact wording of the quote, but it was something like, “A cheerful nature is a ruthless thing.” I never thought about it that way, but I have to say that I agree. It is my basic nature to be cheerful and seek happiness and peace. I have never been comfortable dwelling on painful or depressing thoughts. I do not understand how worry, anxiety or doomsday predictions accomplish anything for anyone. When I stop and think about it, I guess I spend the better part of my time working towards happiness and peace for myself and everyone around me. I do it for myself, my family, the patients I have worked with and, honestly, anyone who enters my orbit. I know that might sound unbelievable, but I honestly don’t know any other way to be.
This is not to say that I spend my life eternally happy. I certainly get angry or worried or frustrated to the point of tears, but as soon as those feelings take hold of me, I am on a mission to solve the problem — either by actually solving it, or by changing my perspective. I accept the fact that Gray has autism, but it does not dampen my resolve to make life happy and peaceful for him and our family. After telling the story about Gray’s little dinner episode to his behavioral therapist, we set a goal to make sure that he learns to sit at the table during meal times. It took a few months, but now he actually enjoys sitting at the table when the whole family is together. Likewise, when it got too difficult to go out in public with my crazy kid, we just tied him to a dog and carried on! (I pray that anyone reading this has read my other posts and knows that there was a little more to the solution than that, but in the interest of making my point, I will go with a drastic understatement.)
I also try to take lessons from my yoga practice. In yoga, we take positions that are uncomfortable and exhausting. We often hold those positions for long periods of time. During those trying moments, we are encouraged to breathe and observe how we are feeling. Yes, the discomfort can sometimes cause feelings of panic or a need to escape, but the important thing is to recognize that the position we are in is only transient. We may be in an unpleasant position right now, but it will end. It may end because of the graceful exit we have learned, or it may end as we fall to the floor out of balance and out of breath. In the meantime, we are building strength and flexibility so that the next time we are in that position, it will be a little easier. The same is true in life. Breathe, observe…keep calm and carry on!
Or, you could try these options!