Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life

The Valentine’s Dukkha

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Happy Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Let’s just say I found refreshing this great post, “Snowed in with Satan,” on Momaste’s blog this morning. As soon as I read the title I thought, well, she and I are in the same hell. And I was right: we’re both wrestling with parenting difficulty, plus the accompanying guilt that comes whenever you admit that your child is anything less than, you know, perfect, world-rocking, amazing, a gift, a treasure.

This is a subject I adore and one I find tricky to negotiate. To wit:

  • A few years ago I had a falling out with an old, dear friend, because I complained to her (gently, I thought) about little things like, oh, being woken up at 5:15 every morning by my one-year-old. She told me I was “the most privileged mother” she’d ever met, and, basically, that my life was perfect and I should shut up. Ouch.
  • Having now experienced my own fertility difficulties, I understand a little better why it’s annoying for childless people who really, really want kids to hear mothers complain about their lot. When you want a kid that badly, you don’t want to hear how bad it is to have a kid. Fair enough.
  • On the other hand, raising a kid is really fucking hard, and I think if we don’t admit that, we do ourselves a real disservice. It’s like when, after nearly dying giving birth, and the trauma is so real you still have PTSD, a million people remind you that what counts is that you have a healthy baby. Maybe on one level that’s true. On another, it’s incredibly dismissive.

Things have been pretty traumatic at home. Lex is 3.5 next week, and I’ve heard that’s the apex of the terrible twos. Let us hope. He is argumentative, fractious, angry, and verbally abusive to his parents. I feel like our house is a toddler minefield, and Marc and I walk through it stepping into landmines. Bedtime, mealtime, transition time, bathtime, playtime, every time has its own set of challenges. One minute he’ll be sitting in our laps, loving; the next, he’s yelling “I’m going to kick you out of this house” and throwing something.

I don’t know which end is up.

This morning I woke early and realized I might just have a really nice day ahead of me: it’s the first morning in over a week that I have a little time to write. It’s Valentine’s Day, which I can kind of get into because I’m a very loving person. Lex has a long day at school, and I’m meeting two old friends for lunch. No plans tonight other than to stay in and watch this BBC TV show that Marc and I are addicted to. So I got up and did my yoga and had a long meditation session, trying not to think about all these things. And when I emerged from the zafu, I thought, I’m going to make waffles.

First I set the table. We had three Valentines in the mail yesterday and each of us got one at his or her place. I added a Hershey’s kiss. Marc and Lex slept on as I made tea and Lex’s lunch (I cut his sandwich into a heart shape) and mixed the dry ingredients and then the wet for waffles. I didn’t combine them, because I know that Lex loves to help me cook and I wanted to save something for him to do: mix the wet and the dry, stir in some frozen blueberries, eat.

Around 7:45 I went to wake up Lex. He was so beautiful with his sleep-matted hair and his little puffy sleep-face.

“I’m waking waffles, honey,” I said. “Do you want to get up to help?”

He murmured that he did, so I told him to meet me in the kitchen when he was awake and went back to get my tea.

Two minutes later, it started.

A banshee–what’s the male equivalent?–came running into the kitchen, screaming and kicking.

“I wanted to mix the waffles and you did it without meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” he shrieked.

“I didn’t, sweetie, I left it for you to do. Pull up a chair, let’s mix them together.” (Landmine! Landmine!)

“NO!!!!!!” he screamed. “I wanted to do the flour and you did it without me! I’m going to kick you out of this house! I’m going to pour uncooked waffles down your throat!” (That’s a new one.)

I picked him up to try to comfort him, to discuss it. He flailed, he kicked. I told him again to pull up a chair. He did, then threatened to dump the waffle mix on the floor. I carried him into his room and tried empathy: “You really wanted to mix in the flour, huh? I hear you. Do you want to do it next time?”

“No!!”

“Well, the flour’s already done I’m afraid. Do you want to come mix them now?”

“No!!”

“Okay,” I said. “Then I am going to go mix them myself.” And I did.

At which point Lex came running into the kitchen again to start tantrumming all over again because he had decided he’d wanted to mix them after all. Again he threatened to pour the waffles on the floor. Kicking, screaming, yelling; it was now after 8:00 in the morning and no one was dressed, no one had eaten, no one had showered, no one was happy.

Marc woke up. Pissed off at me from something that happened last night, he didn’t say a word to me. He picked up Lex and talked him through the rest of the tantrum–thank God–but then when I put a waffle on his plate he walked out of the kitchen to take a shower, ignoring it, me, the Valentines on the table, the tea, the mess.

So I ate the waffle myself, thinking, if someone sent me ONE one-way ticket to Hawaii right now, I would be really grateful.

I know there will be days like this; lately, there have been a lot of them. I think I used not to take personally Lex’s moods, but lately, I do. That strikes me as risky; one of the most basic things you need to be as a parent is stalwart in the face of your children’s arrows, because we all know they will sling them again and again. But maybe because of the grief I am feeling, and the worry, I just don’t have it in me to be stalwart. Lex likes to talk about how things are hurting his feelings. Mine too, I think. Everything hurts my feelings these days! And it takes a lot of energy to give and give and give–to take his feelings into consideration at every turn–and have him never, ever, think about mine.

I know he’s three. I know this is developmentally appropriate. I won’t lay this trip on him. But here, I need to just say that it hurts. My. Feelings. Too.

I am holding tightly to this Pema Chödrön quote:

“When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.”

Yes, I am experimenting with this.

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Author: becomingbuddhist

I am a writer, teacher, and mother living in Northern California. Recently I decided to try an experiment in living more mindfully. This blog is my testimonial.

4 thoughts on “The Valentine’s Dukkha

  1. Isn’t funny how the hardest times make for the best writing opportunities? I love this post even though I’m sorry things are so hard with Lex. I remember when W turned 2.5 and we’d just had LJ – W was a screaming mess all of the time, yelling at us for everything, so angry. I wondered where the heck my sweet little boy had gone and worried to no end that we’d destroyed him somehow. I remember a friend coming to give us a dinner and asking her what I could do and she said something like, “Wait.” This seemed impossible at the time, but of course, we did, and it did pass. I look forward to this phase passing for you. Good luck waiting it out, and don’t be afraid to just get tough. Sometimes I think it’s what they need at that age: hard and fast rules and boundaries that might amount to more screaming for the time being, but less in the long term. They are just trying to learn how much they can control you, and it will feel good to them to know that they don’t rule the world and that you are still in charge.

    Good luck my friend, thanks for sharing.

    • I conveniently left out of this post the bits about getting tough. The other day he told me, “you don’t love me all the time because sometimes you get so mad.” KNIFE IN THE HEART. I feel like all modes of dealing are imperfect; but then, that’s how it goes, right?

      • W asks me if I love him ALL the time… and says similar you don’t love me statements… yeah. Luckily you get a little more hardened to these things with time…?

      • Probably. It’s nice to hear someone else has experienced this, though. Like we tell ourselves we’re the first? Ludicrous, I suppose….

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