Archive for the ‘Introspection’ Category

Lessons from the Trenches of Parenthood: Anger

03 Apr

angerIt’s funny how raising kids forces you to take intangible concepts and solidify them for the sake of teaching them to others.  Because it’s one thing to understand something, and quite another to PUT IT INTO WORDS so someone else can understand it.

So here’s something I was forced to put into words the other day, while leading my children through the resolution of a confrontation.

Anger: a Secondary Emotion

The biggest myth about anger is that it’s a direct response to something that has happened to us.  But that oversimplification leaves out one very important link in the chain.  Anger is only a secondary emotion.

Most of the time, anger is a defense tactic employed to mask the vulnerability we feel from other emotions – often pain or fear, but there are a variety of emotions that expose this vulnerability we would rather keep hidden.  In Kaelin’s case, Koren was making her feel inferior.  Threatened by this emotion, she lashed out at him in anger, one of the two methods we humans have for defending ourselves when we feel vulnerable (the other being withdrawal).

While withdrawal is more like a shield, anger is a knife: a defense-via-offense tactic, and used much like a cornered cat uses its claws, or a frightened snake its bite.  Emotion has a tendency to block cognitive function, so we flail our knife about in an effort to restore our own security, slashing whatever (or whoever) happens to be in our way.

But anger doesn’t solve anything.  It typically makes our insecurity worse instead of better, because then we have regret to deal with, and usually end up causing in others the very wound we perceive to have incurred.

It isn’t really fair to bring anger unless you’re willing to own and admit to the underlying emotion.  In Kaelin’s case, we worked on saying, “Koren, when you boss me around, it makes me feel like you think you’re better than me, and that hurts my feelings.”

Elementary, but it was so much more effective than her previous reaction, which sent Koren running to me in tears.  Koren apologized for hurting her and said he would not do it again.

Dealing with Anger

The flip side to this is communicating with someone who is displaying anger.  This concept is a little mature for Koren, so we didn’t go into it deeply at the time, but I’m going to put it here anyway.

There are basically three ways to react to someone who is flailing their knife around in response to something you have said or done.

  1. Engage them in the knife fight.  This is basically allowing yourself to be caught in the same trap of mistaking your anger for the true emotion and refusing to admit the underlying vulnerability.  We’ve all done this.  Both parties get injured and nothing gets solved.
  2. Run away.  This option is so very tempting.  When you start to lose control of the conversation because you’ve set somebody off, it’s easy just to withdraw from the range of the knife, or put up your own impenetrable shield.  Even though this may protect you from a few nicks, it still doesn’t solve the problem.  Rather than restoring the relationship, it establishes distance.  Distance demonstrates rejection and abandonment, which are damaging to the person who is already trying so hard to mask and protect his/her own vulnerability.
  3. Compel the other person to drop the knife by responding to the underlying emotion instead of the anger.  In addition to patience and self control, it requires some insight to detect the underlying emotion.  Generally it can be picked up by the cues of the conversation and the timing of the anger response.  Had Koren been a little older, he could have analyzed Kaelin’s reaction instead of just responding to it.  He probably would have realized that her anger was the result of being threatened by his attitude and dictation of the items on her chore list.  It would then have been appropriate to say, “I’m sorry that I’m treating you unfairly.  I don’t want you to feel that way, so I will stop.  Also, it will help me in the future if you can tell me how you’re feeling instead of yelling at me, because yelling at me only hurts my feelings and makes me confused.”

The most important thing to remember when dealing with someone who is angry at you is that the anger is only a facade.  What’s underneath is vulnerable and likely linked to a deep fear or pain, that the angry person themselves may not even recognize or understand.  Handle with care.


Bear With Me

17 Apr

I’ve been running (jogging – the term “running” seems a bit overzealous for what I do) the spit ever since the ice melted off it, and lately have been doing intervals of 1-mile-jog, ¼-mile-walk, wash, rinse, repeat until I run out of steam or time, whichever comes first.  I spent the majority of last week shaking my fist at the sky because the weather would NOT cooperate with my jogging efforts.

Jens was gone on business last weekend and most of the week, so my only opportunity to run in that 7-day stretch came Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, while the kids were in school.  Monday, it snowed.  ALL DAY.  The sun finally came out and started melting the snow Tuesday afternoon – after the kids had come home.

Wednesday was utterly gorgeous, but the kids did not have school so I had no opportunity to take advantage of it.  We did take the dog for a walk, but I was craving a good solitary run.  Somehow, keeping pace with my 2-year-old while being lurched back and forth down a muddy dirt road by a spastic yo-yo on a leash doesn’t offer much consolation.

Thursday morning was, predictably, cold and cloudy.  I was desperate at this point, so I went jogging anyway but it was just short of misery.  It was bitterly cold and I had to pee the whole time, despite having gone just before I left the house.  The run was cut disappointingly short.

And then Jens came home.  The angels sang, the heavens opened up, and God decided to bless my weekend.

Apology accepted.

I ran long in the sun on Friday.  6 miles of actual jogging, plus another 1.5 of walking – I went all the way down to the tourist shops and back.

Saturday was still gorgeous but I took it a bit easier since my feet were sore.  I jogged 2 miles at a slow pace and walked 2 miles.  Then I walked up the hill to our house, which is a difference of about 650′ in elevation over the course of 2.5 miles.  I’m not used to walking uphill, so it was challenging and a good way to work a different set of muscles while giving my knees a break.  For the record, it takes me 50 minutes to walk home from the bottom of the hill.

Today, I decided to test myself.  Instead of doing my normal “run a mile, walk a quarter” routine, I pushed myself to run a full 5K (about 3.2 miles) without stopping to walk.

I did it.  In fact, when I finished, I wasn’t nearly as exhausted as I expected to be.

So I turned around and did it again.

And learned I was stronger than I was giving myself credit for.  Right now, my knees are a bit sore, my bunions are achy, but I’m feeling really good.

It’s funny, since moving here, I’ve never really felt “at home” in Alaska.  It just isn’t a part of me the same way it is for Jens.  We’ve been here for a year, yet mostly I still feel like a visitor… one who has perhaps overstayed the visit.  The quirky house we’re renting isn’t “home” – it’s just a place we’re staying for a while that belongs to someone else.   The sun is weak here, which makes me oddly uncomfortable in the way it never actually warms my skin.  I pretty much hate snow.  It’s foreign to me and evolves into ice, which seeks to destroy me at every opportunity.  The beach will always belong to the campers and wind surfers.  Seldovia will always belong to Jens’ family. The moose are amusing; the eagles are amazing, yet distant and untouchable.  The mountains are beautiful and powerful.

And then there’s the spit.  The spit is mine.  As though when I set foot upon it, I’m walking toward myself in some way.  My place of solitude, reflection, introspection.  My opportunity to listen to nothing but the thoughts in my head as I gaze out across water that is bluer than blue, and snow-capped mountains in nearly every direction.  My place to push and stretch my limits, to change my horizons, to do things I spent years ignorantly writing myself off of.  At the same time that it challenges me, it comforts me.  In the way that Home comforts.  The spit is the one piece of Alaska that has shaped part of who I am, and that I will take with me when leave.  It is mine.

The count-down is upon us now.  I haven’t done nearly as much packing as I should have.  I’ve been far too busy soaking up the sun… but I’m having a hard time regretting that just now.

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Posted in Exercise, Growth, Homer, Introspection, Nature, Self Revelation



27 Feb

Look, I’ll be honest.  30 was a tough year.

At 30, I packed up my family and everything I owned and moved from a house and life I loved to a place thousands of miles away, where I had never spent more than 24 hours.  I have seen some amazing things, but also wrestled with culture shock, isolation, loneliness, frustration and boredom.

At 30, I broke my toe, threw out my back, slammed my shin into the wooden steps, slipped on the ice numerous times and nearly broke my hand.  I developed a (perhaps justified) phobia of losing my footing.  For the first time, I experienced tangible effects of my body getting older.  My hair is noticeably thinner (to me, anyway).  I can’t sit in the same position for long without getting stiff, and when I move around my joints creak noisily.

At 30, I suffered illness at an unprecedented frequency and nursed my family through sicknesses and physical challenges more serious and more often than ever before, and without the support of extra hands around.  As a family, we have collectively been to the ER entirely too many times in the last year.

At 30, I was fat, out of shape, too broke to go to a gym, and trapped inside by the weather.  I quit bothering with things like makeup, haircuts, and washing my hair every day.  Much to my mother’s dismay, I refused to replace my hole-riddled jeans with a nicer pair because, what was the point?  I consoled myself with peanut butter sandwiches and glasses of milk (comfort foods from childhood) while wishing that when I stepped into the occasional sunlight that it would warm my skin, just a little.

At 30, I had the rug pulled out from under my feet on two separate occasions.  I wrestled with anger, betrayal, shock, and being unable to talk about any of it.

At 30, I dealt with failure and guilt.  Inadequacy and self-doubt plagued me and made me feel foolish and small.  I made some realizations about myself that were painful.

At 30, my ideologies were challenged, broken down, and reconstructed.  I learned that sometimes the answers are difficult and not ideal.  Sometimes they’re just not there, no matter how much I would like for them to be. I learned that I don’t need to be afraid to question, or to say “I don’t know.”  It’s better than pretending.

At 30, I solo-parented for the first time without the support of family nearby.  I know, big deal.  But it’s a big deal for me.  The isolation of this house in the woods led to irrational night terrors that I haven’t experienced since after Kaelin’s birth when my hormones were all wonky and I was convinced I would be responsible for her death.  It seems I am uncomfortable with the idea of having someone depend on me.  However, it was this unavoidable reality that forced me to take control of this pessimistic imagination that seems determined to torment me.  The night terrors subsided.  Nothing tragic happened.  We even had some fun.  Though I’m really thankful to have Jens back again.

At 30, I had no idea what to do with my kids for an entire day.  Parenting does not come naturally to me.  We would go to the beach sometimes and get out and do stuff, but it was EXHAUSTING.  Frankly, I dreaded the days they were not in school (which was every day when we first moved here).  Now they are in school 4 mornings per week and on Wednesdays I have them all day.  We have weekly dates to the library and McDonald’s, then we come home to take naps and read books together.  Wednesday is my favorite day of the week.

At 30, I watched my kids grow into friends.  They play with each other and invent games with crazy rules.  A few days ago, they were spontaneously acting out a game in which a mother and son went shopping.  It was an opera.  Kaelin sang to Koren that he could not have the stuffed seal he wanted to buy because it was too expensive.  Their cognitive development over the last year has amazed me and gives me hope that I haven’t royally screwed them up too much.

At 30, after battling a period of boredom, lethargy and feeling a lack of purpose, I rediscovered my love of crafting.  I embarked on a card-making project that led to hand-making the kids’ valentines. I found out later that other parents thought I was some kind of a professional baker or something.  HA!  Also, I have passed my love of crafting on to my daughter, who now enjoys making all sorts of projects with paper, glue and scissors.

At 30, I discovered one day – much to my surprise – that I was broke.  I hated it.  It was depressing.  Infuriating.  Embarrassing.  For the first time in my life, I truly wished we could just avoid the entire Christmas Season. As I wrapped presents for my kids that other people had sent, it was a painful reminder of my empty bank account and inability to provide.  I wished to sleep through the whole month of December.  I sat down and spent hours – DAYS – mapping out a plan, making the numbers work, cutting this and that.  Accounting for every single expenditure, every single day.

There is no extra, but we are not broke anymore.  Somehow, we even scraped enough together to buy last-minute Christmas presents.  And, barring the unexpected catastrophe, we will never be broke again.

At 30, I pursued my joy of photography.  I documented our summer experiences in this Last Frontier and I am proud of these photos.  I overcame my fear of ineptitude and entered a local photo contest.  I won and my photos are now in print.

At 30, I decided enough was enough and ordered a workout DVD that I could do in my living room.  Twice daily, I pushed through it and it was hard.  REALLY HARD.  Physical activity has never been easy for me.  I wheezed, I groaned, I panted and gasped.  But I refused to allow myself to settle for the “beginner” moves.  Three weeks later, I have definition in my arms that I have never seen there before. I can do harder activities for longer periods of time.  My body is getting stronger.

I’ve started a diet plan to improve my nutrition.  I’ve never been good at diets – ever.  Abstaining from stuff that tastes good has always been a challenge that was out of my league.  It’s only been a few days, but I’ve been faithful.  Between the exercise and diet plan, I have lost 6 pounds.  I have a long way to go, but it’s definitely a start.

I’m not sad to say goodbye to 30.  It brought a lot of challenges, a lot of battles that I don’t wish to revisit.  But it never brought defeat.  I have a friend whose motto is “Be hard to kill.”  This sounds a bit dramatic, but I kind of feel like I can relate to that over the past year.  And now, I’m putting that year behind me because what’s done is done and I’M STILL HERE.

…Ok, 31.  I’m ready.  BRING IT.