Well… as so often mentioned, I do have a large number of children, so the sooner I learn that total peace is probably something to accept as unlikely, the better… However, the one spanner in the works, the one real problem, is the bickering. The disharmony spreads through the house and suddenly everybody is disgruntled and sparking off one another.
We chatted about it over breakfast, my boys and I. I gave them an example:
One of them has misbehaved (no prizes for guessing the most likely) and I, tired from broken sleep, have allowed it to get to me. I’m in the kitchen feeling grumpy. Wilf walks in and gives me a big smile and I summon the energy to smile back. Already my spirits have been lifted. Then in comes Humph and asks if he can give me a hand. My heart begins to sing, so by the time Arthur comes in, I suggest we bake some cookies.
What a happy picture!
If, however, I’m in the kitchen feeling grumpy and Wilf walks in with a scowl and a tale to tell… well… It all goes downhill from there, doesn’t it? Oh, and it needn’t be me in the kitchen – that was just for the example – it could be any of us anywhere.
Their little faces slowly lit up with the dawning of some kind of realisation.
Little Wilf piped up:
“It’s like a mirror!”
I gave him a quizzical look.
“You know, if you smile into a mirror, you get a smile back. If you frown…”
We were all nodding by now. That is just what it’s like.
So we set ourselves a challenge for this week: we’re going to try to greet people with smiles instead of frowns, with offers of help instead of tales, with praise for achievements instead of tickings-off for ‘crimes’.
On top of that, they each have a personal challenge; a little thing that each of them has a tendency to do and which threatens the peace. Humphrey is going to try to stay out of other people’s business; Arthur is going to try not to be manic at bedtime, Wilf is going to try to do as he is asked the first time and Bertie…
This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the shouting, nor the first time I’ve become concerned about the bickering. Striving for a peaceful life – within the realistic parameters of a family of five boys, anyhow – is what drove me to buy Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers of Schoolchildren in the first place (and I plan to buy the previous publication: Buddhism for Mothers, too).
Now, I wouldn’t want to make the mistake of speaking too soon, and heaven knows it’s early days, but…
I have just started reading a book entitled The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland and I hadn’t got further than the first couple of pages before I had put the book down and ordered a stopwatch. The woman is inspired. Her ideas are so simple that anyone could do them, and it gives me great hope for a period of reigning peace in the not-too-distant future. Allow me to illustrate:
Yesterday afternoon, after school, three of my boys were in the sitting room. Two were playing and Bertie was, for want of a better description, being a nuisance. 🙂 He was bored, but too small to join in and hadn’t the desire to find something to do. So I whisked him off upstairs to his bedroom. There we found a big, square cushion each and sat on them on the floor facing each other. We put a small, plastic frog on the floor between us and the stopwatch next to it. I gave Bertie the very simple instructions:
Put your hands on your tummy
Feel your tummy going up and down with your breathing
Keep looking at the frog as your tummy goes up and down
Press start on the stopwatch when you’re ready to begin
It is a form of meditation for small people. And of course I had wonderful romantic notions of how successful it would be, how we’d sit there for ages in peaceful, companionable silence. The reality was this:
[Very patient voice]: “Sit still, Bertie. Put your hands back on your tummy Bertie. Just keep looking at the frog, Bertie. Sit still Bertie. Look at the frog, Bertie. Hands on your tummy, Bertie… No, not talking, Bertie. Sit still, Bertie…” and so on.
I felt my frustration begin to rise. And then I had a minor epiphany: how was this any different from my listening to a guided meditation? My role, in this case, was not to meditate, but to facilitate Bertie’s attempt. So, actually, gentle and patient reminders to bring him back to the breath, back to the frog, back to his tummy, were actually just what was needed.
By the time we finished, we had done two whole minutes. Now, I know that doesn’t sound spectacular, but let me tell you this: We came downstairs afterwards and Bertie was (albeit temporarily) a different child. He wasn’t fidgeting or interrupting, he was calm and peaceful. For a while at least!
Today, when he gets back from playgroup, we’ll do it again. But the best bit is, now they all want to try!