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Dec 17
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From Whining to Sanity

Opal Grimes

Opal Grimes

COLUMN: Youth and Family

A Day of Success, Bafflement and the Stillness In-Between

by Heather Grimes, Boulder, CO

All of the sanity that I’ve gathered over the years from yoga and meditation and dharma books and friendships all goes out the window the moment my five-year-old daughter starts to whine.

Whether or not I am able to respond to her during such moments in a decent, unattached way — rather than with wild eyes and mini red horns poking out of my head — is directly proportional to a number of changeable factors.

Did I sleep well? Did I wake up with a crick in my neck and with not as much time to do yoga as I’d have liked? Do I feel close to my husband? Do I feel like I have some space or do I feel too pinched to take a breath and gain perspective on the situation? Do I feel the adults in my midst are judging me? Am I wearing pants that pinch my stomach?

And so on.

I will tell you the story of one such whiney day.

Opal launched into a litany of complaints directly after breakfast. She, Jesse and I were playing a board game and she didn’t approve of the fact that she lost. During the next round — where she could have easily redeemed herself — she chose to behave like a grumpy little turd. I gave her a warning that we’d stop playing if she kept up with the crummy attitude. When she continued, I evenly said, “enough,” and packed up the game, free of emotion.

She erupted into a much louder version of upset, and I escorted her to her room to calm down. Again, totally relaxed, no emotional charge.

She chilled out very quickly and was even more chipper after that situation than she had been before the whole thing broke loose. This, by all accounts, would be considered a grand success.

Again, I can’t take full credit. The stars were aligned such that I had the inner space to stay calm. This is not always the case, and even if it is, she doesn’t always snap out of it so quickly. I rejoice when it works out this way. But Pema Chodron says I should be careful not to get too comfy in celebrating what a good job I did. She suggests that I also make myself at home in the moments where things don’t go quite as smoothly. Because those moments are, inevitably, on the horizon.

In her book, The Wisdom of No Escape, she says, “The ultimate perfection must be some sense of completely realizing that samsara and nirvana are one, not preferring stillness or occurrence (the opposite of stillness) but being able to live fully with both.

I didn’t need to look far for an experience of something other than stillness.

Later that day, while at the playground with some of Opal’s best friends from preschool, she was clingy and fearful. She behaved as if a chord attached her to me that would yank her back if she dared to take even a few steps away.

Energetically, it felt as if her face was smashed against the glass and I was the glass. So, also energetically, I try to gently take a step back. And another.

It was as if I were trying to say with my body language: I’m here and I love you and let’s play with your friends, let’s climb on something, let’s have a little fun. I took her hand and playfully jogged to the climbing structure where most of her friends were swinging and dangling like monkeys.

“Slow down, Mom!”

Then all the kids got their bikes, and none of them had training wheels but Opal. Even the younger siblings were cruising around on their Striders. She didn’t say as much, but I had a hunch she was embarrassed about this. To her credit, though, she gave it a shot. But, not even five-minutes in, she nearly took a spill and was visibly shaken. I tried to steer her out of the on-coming bike traffic and accidently poked her in the eye.

Then and there, like a tire punctured by the tiniest nail, you could almost hear the sound of deflation. From her end, it sounded like ear-splitting screams, gasping sobs.

From my end, it sounded like UGH.

Ugh: I’m not having fun anymore.

Ugh: Don’t you see I’ve been giving this my all-star effort?

Ugh: I’ve had it with the whining.

So much was compressed into that moment. I scooped Opal up — perhaps not as gently as I would have liked — and carried her to where we could be alone. I said, firmly, “Opal. Honey. What is going on? Nothing seems to please you.” Moms were watching.

The outburst did let out enough steam where I felt manageable. A tad permeated with guilt, sure, but softer than before. We settled into the bench, ate a snack and watched the world go by.

And it occurred to me that perhaps that’s what she’d wanted all along — just to sit and watch, with nowhere to go.

I realized that in the hour since we arrived at the park, I had turned up the playfulness and charm to help her to be a part of what I thought she wanted to be a part of, to escort her into a place of more relaxation and play. I led her away from crying and whining, fussing, panicking over and over again. I tried to be gentle and patient. This was an all-hands-on-deck situation and this was just a trip to the park. This was clearly not sustainable. (Not to mention the glaring fact that it simply didn’t work.)

Two dear mamas sauntered closer and spoke to Opal, which felt like a gesture of love. They asked me about Halloween candy, which felt like kindness — to connect in a way that was benign, as if to say, we are here.

Then, by fluid, non-brain inclination — like a sneeze or a morning stretch — my arm wrapped around Opal and I pulled her close and kissed the side of her head. I lingered there for a moment; my chin in her hair as the wind blew it sideways, feeling the crunch of the Goldfish crackers in her mouth. I had a sense that this was what Pema was talking about.

Heather GrimesHeather Grimes
is a full-time mama to her five-year-old daughter, Opal. She’s also a part-time massage therapist, with a focus on old folks with dementia. In the gaps, she writes, sews, reads, roller skates, falls, writes more, walks and relaxes with her awesome friends and husband. She loves to tell stories on the live stage and has performed for ‘Listen To Your Mother,’ ‘The Catamounts Theater,’ and is a regular contributor for ‘Truth Be Told.’ You can find her at hcgrimes.org.

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2 responses to “ From Whining to Sanity ”
  1. Thanks for sharing this, Heather.
    I think it is in the daily challenges of our daily lives that we really “put meditation to test”, especially in relationships. In a way, our modern life presents a better field to deepen our practice than the monasteries.

  2. Susie Cook
    Dec 19, 2014

    Beautiful! Thanks for the reminder.

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