A couple of weeks ago, I settled into weekly story time at the library with my son.This session started like all others, with the little ones warming up and then listening to our incredibly patient librarians story. We had the usual random shout-outs from the audience (e.g., announcing ones possession of a dog, sibling, or trademarked character). She was also there. She who touches the puppets and other children without asking. She who defies her grandmothers directives. She who defies any directives from any adult. She who sits on my child. Did you read that last one? She sat on my child. Allow me to give you the play-by-play. During a story, she deliberately backs it on up into my sons lap. He backs up again. She responds with again planting herself in his lap. Hes not very assertive so he runs out of options quickly. I wait for the grandmother to do something. She appears to be hoping that this situation, like others, just goes away. I want to tell my son to push her and that sometimes its not enough to take the high road. I personally want to scream at her and get that self-satisfied smile to vanish from her cherubic face. If Im going for full disclosure here, I imagined yanking her flaxen pigtails. What I do is crawl over to the scene of the crime and sternly tell her to stop sitting on my son. She pretends not to hear me and again scoots toward his criss-cross-applesauced legs. He looks at me as if he too cannot believe this is happening. I tell him to move to a completely different area of the audience. Thankfully, this seems to stop the sit-in. The grandmother catches my eye as I sit back down and quickly mouths, Sorry about that. I spend the rest of the hour enraged and Im not entirely sure at whom its directed: the toddler perpetrator, the grandmother, or the librarian? As the session breaks, the librarian approaches me to apologize. She apparently didnt realize what was happening until I was already intervening. A nanny for another participant approaches me and comments on what a tough situation that was. She references this girls behavior in previous sessions and deems her long overdue for a time-out. She also supposes that her grandmother is in way over her head. And my son? He seems totally fine. Im the one who cant let it go. Im bothered by the intensity of my anger toward this three-year-old. My first impulse is to feel ashamed. After all, shouldnt I be the bigger one here, the good girl? Ive been that good girl for over three decades. Im hard-wired to not make waves and go to great lengths to ease tensions, even those in which Im not even peripherally involved. Ive been admonished when raising my voice and expressing feelings like anger, resentment, and fear. After a while those feelings were erased from my vocabulary and from my awareness. If they dared try to break through, they were met by my old comrades of eating sweets until I felt sick or actually becoming sick. My mind is so powerful that Ive actually lost my voice in anticipation of confrontations.
Im bothered by the intensity of my anger toward this three-year-old. My first impulse is to feel ashamed. After all, shouldnt I be the bigger one here, the good girl?Imagine if I could use my minds powers for good. Imagine if I could actually let myself feel my feelings, recognize that Im not alone in them, and actually cut myself some slack. Its this thing called self-compassion. Its all the rage for good reason: it turns out its really good for you. In this situation, by being warm toward my bad self and my bad thoughts, something pretty revolutionary happens: I see what this situation is really about.