A few weeks back, I saw the most helpful meaningful meme I’ve seen in a very long time. I forget the exact phraseology, but the gist was:
No one in the history of being calm has ever calmed down as a result of being told to calm down.
This is something my husband has yet to grasp, even after nearly fifteen years together. When I’m running clockwise round the house in a lather because I can’t find my hearing aid /car keys / house keys / wallet, the last thing I need is for him to follow from room to room, expounding the importance and benefits of centring myself. You see, I don’t lose my cool easily. What my mindful other half doesn’t quite realise is that I’ve only reached the flame-faced, barking, foaming-at-mouth stage when:
- I’ve checked all the logical places
- I need to be out of the house in five minutes
- and I still have 50 illogical places left to check
What I need my husband to do is rise to the occasion by running around the house in a counter-clockwise lather, sharing the search through the illogical places for my mislaid vitals. Or, if he doesn’t fancy lathering on my behalf, he could simply say something like, “how dare the keys teleport themselves onto the roof! Don’t worry, love. I’ll get the buggers down for you.” That works. Call me a snowflake, but I find that a moment’s empathy goes a long way. I then take a breath, remind myself that the keys were unlikely to have left the house by themselves, given that I’d locked us in just the night before, and then they turn up quite quickly.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my hubby being calm. It’s an attractive part of his personality (except when I’m not calm). In fairness, as a pilot, being calm is critical to his job (along with exemplary hand-eye coordination, a quick mind, and an ability to fake an expression of delight at the appearance of horrid food). He also has a natural advantage, being Dutch. Dutch Vader wouldn’t have blown up Alderaan; he’d have been hanging out in the cargo bay of the Death Star, muttering “Schtop rebelling for five minutes! I’m trying to have a schmoke.”
So Hubby is Dutch, pilotish and mindful. It’s just my little cross to bear.
I won’t knock those who find mindfulness life-saving, reassuring and helpful, but my personal experience of learning the basic tenets wasn’t a huge success. I really got the hang of squeezing my upsetting, troubling thoughts into a little room in my mind and shutting the door. I may have inadvertently added a few unnecessary locks to that door: I went to bed early; I neglected the dishwasher in favour of slow breathing; I forgot to insure my car (not for long, thank god), and I neglected to put filling in my son’s lunchbox sandwiches. But that’s part of my problem with grand philosophical problems—I find a single solution and take it all rather literally.
In other ways, I need to be less calm. I procrastinate like a true professional, and a little more regimented structure in my life would probably do me good. It’s good for the soul to be reasonably chilled about wearing size 16-18 jeans (UK size), but it would do me better to get out there and burn some of the excess weight off. Similarly, I’ve found that if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t do things. It’s probably time to pull my socks up, find my publisher’s release date calendar, and fill in a slot for ‘A brotherhood of bouncers’, the ridiculously-long-awaited sequel to ‘Single Syllable Steve’, as linked below. I may need to request some organised harassment to get that done.
The time I find it most difficult to be calm is when other people have different views about how calm I should be. For example, when my son (8) throws a wobbly in a shop.
If I don’t react, then I’m failing to show him that his behaviour is unacceptable. Cue much tutting among the baby boomer generation. If I do react and tell him off, then I’m drawing attention to his bad behaviour and validating this as a means of getting my attention. Cue much tutting among Gen X parents. Gah. Because this has been so frustrating over the last year, I recently made the decision to pick a policy for dealing with tantrums in public and stick to it, regardless of what tutting by-passers may think.
The other day in the co-op, I seemed to have walked into a swarm of people taking their afternoon tea break from a meeting of the Society of Unwanted Parenting Advice. It was after school, and all my son wanted to do was go home and collapse in a heap after a rather long day. Which was fine, as I told him, but we had to go via the shops first. Oooooo, he didn’t like this. He made his feelings clear up and down every aisle in the shop.
First, I gave him the count-down warning for not getting the sweets that I’d initially bribed him with.
“You’re just withholding his sweets?” screeched an unhelpful onlooker. “I’d ground him for weeks for playing up like that.”
I ignored, walked on. My son kept up the hostilities, so I made my “right! No sweets!” proclamation in the random snacks section of the fridge aisle, which was a mistake, because I came to a halt next to the pizzas and I wouldn’t let him those, either.
Cue hard-done-by explosion number two from little man. I tried to distract him by letting him choose which drinks he wanted.
“Wouldn’t give him a choice if I were you,” muttered a walking fount of wisdom in a tweed jacket. “It’s just pandering.”
As you can imagine, my blood pressure was quite high by the time we’d reached the till, but my son had at least reached the dark sulk stage (silent but deadly). I was packing up the goods and asked him to hold the bag open for me. He flatly refused.
“Right! No iPad, no x-box, no footie!” I announced, to which he reacted with a flood of tears. Unmoved, I went on, “I’ve given you many, many chances to tone down your behaviour and you just keep digging deeper. Stop being so flaming stubborn, hold the flipping bag open for me, and start re-earning your treats!”
Well, you can imagine the flurry of opinions this invoked from the opinion-havers behind me in the queue. Some offered the view that there should be no earning back of treats, others shouted loudly about my raised voice, and the builder right behind me offered, “calm down, luv! It’s just a bag!”
Incensed by my son’s grateful nod in the builder’s direction, and feeling rather overwhelmed by my audience, I stamped my foot. I’m still rather embarrassed about that, but they did stop. How were they expecting me to deal with my son while busy listening to all their unwanted advice, anyway? Weirdos. It doesn’t help that I’m trying to lipread them all.
Quite close to tears, and feeling rather ganged-up-on, I turned to the builder and half-yelled, “nobody in the history of calming down has ever calmed down as a result of being told to calm down!”
He blinked. “Eh?”
“I said…” I repeated it, loudly, in the face of a very perplexed man. I sort of trailed off, to be honest. It’s hard to shout clearly, and by the time I’d reached the end for a second time, my pulse had dropped a bit anyway.
My son was a little more humble when we left the shop. I don’t think he meant to draw quite such a large an audience. He didn’t speak, but he did help me put the bag into the car. I smiled at him; I know an olive branch when I see one. No doubt the people in the shop would’ve had a few things to say about the non-wisdom of smiling at him.
So, what’s the moral of the story?
- Pick your battles and stick to them.
- When people are flinging lots of aggressive ‘advice’ at you, keep your own counsel and ignore them as far as possible.
- Learn that phrase off by heart and trot it out next time someone tells you to calm down. By the time you’ve finished saying or typing it, you’ll have probably had time to work out what to say/do next, anyway.