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Emotion Management for Second Graders (and me)

At our elementary school, the boys have a program called Second Step.  It’s one of Eli’s favorite things at school: they’ve covered empathy, self-control, something else neither Eli nor I can recall, and this week was emotion management.  Perfectly timed, because this week I needed some emotion management.  What I learned this week is that you Stop, Name What You’re Feeling, and Calm Down.  I am killing this second grade stuff.    

Regardless of your feelings about the outcome, this was a bruising election.  It was an ugly fight.  And I expected that I would feel a sense of relief when it was over, come what may; instead, I woke up Tuesday and felt sad and weird and confused.  This wasn’t necessarily about My Candidate losing or Another Candidate winning; Election Day merely cleared a place for all my feelings to land.  During the process, I was in an extended state of denial, and Tuesday’s events brought reality crashing down around me. 

So this week I’ve been feeling strange.  Confused and exhausted and discouraged and tired (thanks, Daylight Savings).  I’m not sure what to do with all the information that simply won’t stop coming.  The most serious example that has been popping up in my mind: I now know the KKK has a newspaper and I HATE that.  I hate it.  I started crying in an exercise class this week when I thought of it.  More than the election, more than the outcome, I have hated seeing the dark underbelly of humanity.  It’s sharp claws and vicious words and sick prejudices.  Bonus: thanks to Facebook, this phenomena includes people I know in real life, which is super neat.  I had to delete the app from my phone after finding myself checking it like a compulsive tic, only to close it and feel more empty, more depleted.

Okay, so emotion management: Julie needs some. 

I’ve also been reading this book this week, and listened to the author speak last night (side note: it was an excellent talk).  So on top of my emotional stir-fry behavior, I’ve been subjecting the kids to sudden, bizarre shifts in parenting.  I sat on the couch yesterday while they did their homework.  One of them asked for help and I said, “I don’t help people who aren’t even trying.”  I told Eli we were done with Velcro and I tossed his shoes aside in a little theatrical tantrum.  Nolan told me to “Move,” yesterday and I looked at him with such Intense Angry Mother Laser Beam Eyes that he looked startled and said immediately, “I’m sorry, I meant ‘Excuse Me.’” 

I told you: it hasn’t been my best week.

And then the other night, I flipped my lid about something random (I think it was about homework).  I flared and apologized and prayed; I Stopped, Named What I Was Feeling, and Calmed the Hell Down.  And in the quiet aftermath, Eli said, “I know why Daddy married you.”  “Oh, yeah, pal?  Why is that?”  He replied, “It’s because you’re pretty on the inside.”  And I did a mini-Ugly Cry and thanked Eli for being so kind to me.  I also gave him points for understanding that sometimes a little gentle manipulation can be effective when you’re trying to calm a crazy person.

At this talk last night, the author was talking about the cell phone as the World’s Longest Umbilical Cord, and how we’ve fallen into a trap: our children don’t get to experience true tastes of independence because we’re constantly in touch.  There’s no more curfew for some because they text throughout the night to check in with parents.  The author told her daughter, “Avery, that’s not how your father and I would like to spend our Saturday nights.  We need our lives, too.”  AMEN, SISTER. 

But this morning I was making coffee and feeling for the parents who are now stuck in that place, in a little codependent dance with their kids.  In most cases, they didn’t know better: either because they had a little need that was filled by the ding of a text, or because the technology was new and no one really understood the pitfalls, or because their child had once been in a vulnerable place and they couldn’t back out of the closeness because they were paralyzed by fear.  They just didn’t know better.  But if they knew better, they’d do better.  (Some still wouldn’t, but for the purposes of this argument, let’s disregard that sample.)

They’re Maya Angelou’s words: “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”  I’ve said this before: I wish I could’ve been the mom to one child that I am to two.  I was better at mothering when Eli was born.  I was less scared, and less crazy, and less worried.  Love multiplied when Eli was born, and I was present to witness it instead of worrying, say, that Mando was going to kill our newborn son by putting the soap directly into the tub water instead of on the washcloth like a sane person (this is just a random example that never happened). 

I want to do better.  After I cried a little in my exercise class, I finished my stupid push-ups and thought, “No.  I don’t want to cry; I want to be strong.”  And by that I don’t mean incensed, or combative, or overemotional.  I mean awake, and paying attention, and rooted; I want to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.  I want to believe that I can do better, that we can do better: for each other, to each other, with each other.  I want to believe that this election season can do more than just allow the horrible to surface; I want to see some redemption. 

Today is Veterans Day, and I just watched Garth Brooks sing on GMA and cried like a baby (if my kids knew how to order a straitjacket on Amazon, this would be the week for it).  But my tears today were good, because this is a holy, beautiful day.  There are men and women who risk their lives for us, for this country.  There are families who make daily sacrifices so that those men and women can do their job.  I am humbled and awed by their bravery, by their strength.  Our military families Get It Done.

So today, that’s what I’m going to think about.  I’m going to do better: I’m going to stop, name what I’m feeling, calm down.  Today, what I’m feeling is grateful and humbled.  Today, I’m feeling loved.  Today, I’m feeling redeemed.

To our military, our veterans, their families and friends and loved ones: thank you.  Happy Veterans Day.  

Reader Comments (2)

Yes. All of this. ❤️

November 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Loved this post, Julie and how I can still feel connected to you when you're so far away. Eli was so precious with that quote about being "beautiful on the inside."

November 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen

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