Tonight at pilates therapy my instructor taught me about the importance of making small, controlled movements. "The movement is almost microscopic," she said, showing me how to position my rib cage, lower back and gluteals.
"Now imagine that your pelvis is a clock," she explained, "With 3:00 at your left hip bone and 9:00 at your right hip bone. I want you to very gently rotate your pelvis toward 3:00, but only about one inch. Then come to center and rotate it toward 9:00."
"How hard could it be?" I asked myself, and began to try.
As it turned out, a controlled one-inch movement to the left was supremely painful, and required a lot of instruction and assistance from my teacher.
"Wow... I must really be doing this wrong! It is incredibly difficult!"
"I know, it's surprising to everyone," she responded. "All of my clients have trouble making small controlled movements, especially at first. Everyone wants to do big thrusts, aerobic exercise, big cardio. They don't realize how powerful a small stabilizing motion can be."
"You just have to practice," she continued. "Slowly but surely, this will make you strong. One day, you will be in control of your body with the ability to exercise without injuring yourself."
I really, really liked the sound of that.
As I lay on the pilates therapy table breathing in and out, working on my gentle but awesomely difficult rotations from 3:00 to 9:00, it occurred to me that this idea of patiently practicing small controlled movements to build core strength might help to unwind the recent disaster of my afternoon at home.
Our eldest son felt healthy enough to return to school today, he was 3 days into his Zpack medicine. The nurse cleared him to attend, so we packed him a lunch and sent him on his merry way. He made it through the day with ease and his teacher declared that he barely coughed all day long and seemed extremely energetic.
"That's great news!"
We drove home and I gave all three children a protein based snack so that their blood sugar wouldn't crash before dinner time. Thinking that I might actually start cooking dinner right then, I encouraged them to go outside to play - handing them their bike helmets as they went down the back steps into the yard.
I watched them walk away with a special tenderness in my heart, thinking "Wow, we haven't had ANY fighting or major tantrums in almost two whole days. This natural consequences parenting strategy is a revelation!"
Curses on me for even thinking this (I didn't say it out loud, not wanting to tempt bad luck) because within minutes I heard a loud wail.
Thinking my younger son might have fallen off his bicycle I went swiftly into the yard in time to catch the elder son hitting his little brother's orange bicycle over and over with a large stick as the little one tried to protect it.
"What are you doing?" I calmly asked the bigger boy.
Surprised, he looked up and then got upset that he'd been caught. "AWWWWWW MOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!"
"Are you hitting your brother's bicycle?" I asked. "Because the natural consequence for hurting his property would be for you to loan him your property. Maybe he should have a turn riding on your Spiderman bike."
"Well this was your warning. If you hurt his bicycle like his again, you will be making it up to him by sharing your bicycle with him. End of story."
"I DON'T EVEN WANT TO RIDE A BICYCLE ANY MORE!!!" he screamed.
"Okay, that's fine. Just know that there will be a natural consequence for damaging his property, no matter what."
"UGGG!!!!!!" He stormed off to hide under our vast shady tree.
The younger son had dismounted his bicycle and was taking off his helmet. "I don't want to ride any more without my brother, mommy. I'm going to go find him to play now," he said.
Without thinking enough about it, I murmured - "That's nice, honey," and returned into our house.
Foolish, foolish woman. Foolish, foolish mommy. It should have been obvious to me what was coming next.
Within five minutes there arose a blood curdling scream much louder and more upset than the one before. My younger boy was calling for me at the top of his lungs, with the older one shouting "NO YOU DON'T! NO YOU DON'T TELL HER!!!"
I raced out to find the younger son red in the face, bathed in tears and clutching his head.
The elder boy began to slink away. "No," I stated. "You stay here until I know what is going on."
"What happened?" I reiterated to the little one, who was still sobbing.
"HE PUSHED ME DOWN INTO THE DIRT. HE PUT HIS HANDS AROUND MY NECK. HE HIT ME IN THE HEAD AGAIN AND AGAIN."
Sure enough, there were marks around his little neck.
It took all of the restraint in my being to speak gently and calmly to the older boy. "It seems that the problem here is that your younger brother and sister are not safe if left alone with you at this moment. I think you must be very tired.
So there are two natural consequences. First, you will come with me into the house and take a little rest in your room so that you will not be tired any more. Second, you will help me think of something you can do to make your little brother feel safe around you and loved by you."
I took him by the hand and led him into the house.
When we reached his room, all hell broke loose - at least within his fragile, overwrought psyche.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" he shrieked, and then began to storm around the room, throwing things and yelling at the top of his lungs.
"When you are calm I will come back and we can talk about nice things you can do for your brother."
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" He then launched into a tirade, of which I caught only about 1/3 of the words because he was screaming them so fast.
Sighing, I left to check on his brother and sister.
The tantrum turned out to be a mega-tantrum. Who knows, maybe he was testing my boundaries to find out if or when I would cave. I didn't. He yelled at the top of his lungs for thirty minutes straight. (I think he could be a great singer someday, the kid's got pipes!)
So there we were, the three of us - and I decided my goal was to make his brother and sister feel as safe as I could while he was yelling. So I pulled out some of our favorite home videos on the Flip camera and they cuddled with me on the couch and watched happier times... like Christmas Day at Grandma's house, Daddy hugging them, stories being read to them, the first day of school, etc. With one arm around each child, we hugged each other during those 30 minutes and focused on what was truly good about our family.
When my husband finally got home, the house had just fallen silent because our son had fallen to sleep on his bed, mid-scream. It was time for me to leave for pilates therapy and I won't lie - I was so grateful for the break.
As I drove to the studio I asked myself, "What went wrong? Why did the natural consequence explode on us this afternoon? What could I have done better?"
So I was really primed for the epiphany I got when my teacher began to talk about the power of practicing small, controlled movements over time and how transformative it can be.
For all of these years I have been hoping/looking for a magic bullet - something that we can change which will suddenly and magically make our children peaceful and loving toward each other. I'm looking for a fast fix, a strategy that will knock us on our ear with its excellence. I'm looking for BIG, AEROBIC MOVEMENT.
Maybe it doesn't work like that though.
Perhaps like with pilates, the shift required in our parenting is something much smaller. A microscopic movement... controlled, patient.
Practiced, again and again.
Maybe the movement I need to embrace and practice is simply that infinitesimal but real moment when I found that inner strength not to yell or get upset, when I dug deep and found a way to stay perfectly calm in the middle of their storm.
My job as the mommy may be to practice that tiny shift, over and over. Practice digging deep to stay calm - no matter *what* my kids do or what kind of natural consequence is merited. Even when there is violence involved on their part, I need to be the PARENT and stay calm.
My pilates therapist told me that if I continue to practice these small physical movements consistently and slowly, two years from now I will have built myself a new body.
Could it be that in that same time period, I can build myself a brand new parenting style? Develop a deeply rooted peacefulness surrounding how I mentor my children?
I guess only time will tell, but I'm firmly committed to sticking with this exercise.