Staying on track

Things are good. Things are so much better than they were. We’re armed with new awareness, knowledge, and strategies. So we say goodbye to all our old patterns and frustrations, right? No, not exactly.

One of the ways to stay on track with this approach is to set expectations for ourselves at a realistic level. Doing what works best 50% of the time is a whole lot better than before. 75% of the time is way above average. And 90% of the time is a goal we can strive for.

My old patterns are not gone and forgotten. They linger stubbornly in the wings of my brain. They’re the understudy that waits for the unexpected, the trip-up, the bad mood, and is ready to take over at a moment’s notice and then flub all the lines.

So here’s the three-step plan this program recommends we use when things begin to unravel before our eyes — when we begin to go down what Vicki calls, the rabbit hole:

  1. Stop talking. Walk away, and cool off.
  2. Apologize.
  3. Eat ice cream together – either literally or figuratively.

Then reflect, re-assess, and keep going.

Here’s a small example from yesterday:

Charlotte had agreed to take a bath every Monday at 8pm. At 7:50 I announced, “The bath is full!” Meanwhile, Jerry and Fenner were sitting at the table playing hangman. Charlotte was very interested in watching, but she still managed to tear herself away in order to keep her agreement. She marched upstairs and I thought to myself, this is working so well! No reminding, no nagging, no power struggle. I felt at peace. Then suddenly from upstairs I heard: “Moooooooom! It’s too hot! The bath is too hot! I really need your help!” Pop! went my peace bubble. I stood there not answering, thinking: come on, it’s the same temperature I always do it, she’s just a little tired and wanting attention, maybe if I don’t say anything…. “MOOOOOOOM! Why won’t you answer me! I really need your help!” and then she started to cry. As I walked upstairs I felt crabbiness taking over my brain, and I let it. I was tired too.

I’m not a yeller. My parents do not yell, they withdraw, they go dark and quiet and they taught me well. That is my rabbit hole, and I was beginning to slide down it. I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, refusing to go in, keeping my distance, and, oozing with irritation, I said, “What’s the problem?” She was standing there, naked and upset. She said, “It’s too hot and I don’t know what to do!” “Well, I don’t either. I did the temperature the same as always, so what are you going to do?” “I don’t know!” At this point she looked so pitiful that my wall began to crack. I took a deep breath. “Well you’ve still got a few more minutes until 8 o’clock, maybe it will cool down a bit by then.” “Why didn’t you tell me that! You were just ignoring me!” Still laced with irritation I said, “Because I don’t think you really need help. I think you can do this.” I walked away, trying to shake off the residual crabbiness.

A minute later she walked downstairs, fully dressed. Fenner said, “Charlotte, are you going to take a bath?” “No. … Mom? What happens if I don’t take a bath?” “Well, if you choose to break your agreement, then you go back to zero either with friends or TV.” “TV!” she declared. (Earlier I acknowledged that they had made it through one whole week without TV and I asked them how it felt. Fenner said, “Bleh!” and Charlotte said, “I feel great! All we do is more games and activities!”)

“Nooooooooo, Charlotte, pleeeeaaaaaaaassseeee!” pleaded Fenner, “We want TV again, we’ve done a whole week already. Will you please take a bath?!” “No,” said Charlotte. Just then my eyes focused on Jerry. He was still sitting across from Fenner in front of the hangman game, but now he had his elbows on the table, his head down, and his face in his hands. Ellen was staring at him. “Uh, honey? Are you ok?” “What? Yeah!” he looked up at me in surprise. “Oh. You didn’t look ok.” “No, I was just, you know, trying to stay out of it.” “Ok,” I said. But I thought to myself — stay out of what? The argument or the rabbit hole? My guess is both.

Seeing Jerry’s silent physical display of frustration snapped me out of my last bit of crabbiness. I looked at Charlotte and said gently, “Charlotte, what will it take for you to keep your agreement?” “If you never do that again!” “Do what?” “Make the bath too hot and then ignore me!” “Ok. What if I help you add some cold water, and you can tell me when it feels right to you.” “Okaaaaay,” she said. We went back upstairs.

I ran the cold water and she stuck her hand in and swished it around. After a minute she said, “That feels right.” And then she got in the bath. “See mom? This is the way I like it.” I stuck my hand in and said, “I see what you mean that it was too hot before. It doesn’t feel good when it’s too hot. I feel the difference now, Charlotte, I apologize. Next time I’ll ask you to feel it when it’s part way full and then we can adjust it if it’s too hot or too cold.” She smiled. “Mom?” “Yes?” “Will you make my towel warm in the dryer for when I get out?” I smiled back. “Yes, I will.” A little extra warmth was definitely in order.

Explore posts in the same categories: Week 10: The Rabbit Hole

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