I was covered in kids, both of whom were unhappy and insisting they had had the smaller share of mama-cuddling. We were a pile of tired and I was in surround-sound stereo: “But I want as many minutes as Orlando!” and “Mica went first last night!”
I rose up, if not bodily, then in energy, exclaiming, “Everything can’t be the same! Because it’s not the same! You are fighting to have equal amounts thinking that is the answer but it is a losing proposition! It will never be satisfying!”
I was lecturing, which never goes well. I managed to gather myself, slowing my words, winding down, eventually arriving back on earth. Breathe, Mama.
And I breathed out a story about the Same Monster.
The Same Monster… do you see him over there in the corner of the room? I heard him talking just now, he was saying that he wanted the exact same thing as brother! It couldn’t be even a little bit different. It had to be exactly the same. If brother had two minutes on Mama, he wanted two minutes! If brother had fourteen grapes, he wanted fourteen grapes! That same monster stomps around the house, insisting that things are the same!
But then when he gets the same thing, he wants the next same thing. He doesn’t always feel happy. In fact, I think he’s feeling a little sad, over there in the corner.
“It’s okay, Same Monster,” I said into the corner of the room, “to feel sad. Sometimes it’s hard not to have the same things or do the same things as brother. Sometimes you wish you were smaller or bigger or faster. Sometimes you wish you had Mama all to yourself.”
The children were quiet and still, listening. And then the Same Monster got up from the corner and went down to the garden, where he noticed something. Of all the cherry tomatoes on the vine, not one of them was the same as the other! He picked a few and ate them. They were juicy, cool, and sweet.
In the darkened bedroom, Mica asked where the same monster went next. It turned out he went to the beach, where the rocks were purple, green, grey, black, brick-red. Where each wave was its own size, shape, and arriving in its own time. We traveled through a lullaby of detail, difference, smells, tastes, and sights, until finally the Same Monster came back home, where he got into bed with us, and cuddled with all three of us together.
We were in a pile, but no longer bunched up — the kids were not starving for more and I was free from the spasm of Stop energy.
Later, when I first reflected on the Same Monster story, I was feeling proud that I was teaching my children to appreciate differences. But then I recognized the real importance of that story: when the Same Monster was feeling sad and I could sense my kids peeking into the corners of their own sadness. Into the grief of realizing that they are brothers, that there are two of them, and that sometimes they get different amounts… of time, of grapes, of Mama.
The story has provided a short-hand for us in the days since… Now we can summon the Same Monster to help us see our desires, to feel our feelings, and to conceive, just maybe, of a new possibility. New possibilities which can’t be seen until the feelings are felt.
From Gordon Neufeld I learned about something he calls the traffic circle…
Imagine a circle. Frustration goes in and it comes out in three ways: by making change, by adapting to circumstances we cannot change, or by attack. If we are unable to make change and are able to feel grief about that, we adapt. If we are unable to make change but are also unable to feel grief, our frustration turns to attack (which can take many forms, such as acting mean and rude, hitting and fighting, foul moods, self-deprecation, sarcasm, irritability and impatience, etc.).
My children were feeling the frustration of not having the same things, likely masking even deeper feelings about not wanting to have a brother. Trying to convince them to stop acting or feeling frustrated would not help. They might learn to mask the frustration, but it would still be there, and instead of coming out in bickering it might come out later in a secret punch or pinch. Or maybe older brother would develop a taunting tone when talking to the younger one. And we would never get to the feelings underneath.
The way to resolve frustration (and in the process, change behavior — a great side benefit!) is to feel the futility inherent in the situation: They each do have a brother. That’s a fact! And it is simply not possible to have the same things all the time. And sometimes they feel sad about these things. I want them to feel that sadness, not because I want them to be sad, but because the sadness will help them adapt to the way life is.
After they’ve felt the sadness, sometime later on, maybe they could consider the idea of appreciating differences. But to be honest, that was an idea from my very adult, thinking mind. These children need to feel their feelings more than they need my ideas. And in order to feel, they need soft hearts. To have soft hearts, they need safe spaces. As Gordon says, children need an invitation — for all parts of themselves — to exist in the presence of their parents.
That is why, now, when the Same Monster comes around, I welcome him with open arms, and we listen more closely to his sadness, and to all his feelings.
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This post also appears today on the Seattle Neufeld Community blog. Please pop over to check out stories shared in the spirit of more deeply understanding human development and attachment while in the midst of raising up these lovely young ones (and sometimes ourselves, too).