The other evening, Hazel invited me to walk to swim practice with her. She’s eleven now and really values her independence, so I was flattered that she wanted to walk and talk with me instead of zipping off through the neighborhood on her bike.
Hazel was particularly talkative on this night. I love it when she’ll just say whatever’s on her mind. When she does, it feels like we are going back in time, before she was so self-conscious and self-aware. She talked about school and friends and the summer stuff she’s looking forward to. We even held hands for a little while. We went on to talk about swim practice. Our neighborhood pool isn’t heated and it was a cool night. Hazel wasn’t looking forward to jumping in. I told her I could bring the car to pick her up after practice so she didn’t have to walk home. She asked me to bring a fuzzy blanket and have the heat running so she could warm up. We smiled at each other and moved a little closer. We walked feeling connected and warmed and loved.
We arrived at practice and I decided to sit down and watch the kids swim for a while. Then, I pulled out some reading and put my feet up, glad to be able to relax outside of the house away from after-dinner dishes and evening tasks. I wasn’t that into my reading and when I looked up I noticed that the neighborhood yoga class was getting set up in the room just behind me. I jumped in for a little impromptu yoga. When swim practice was over I was still there, happy and relaxed, but without the warm car or the fuzzy blanket. This did not work for Hazel.
All good will and connection that Hazel may have had from our earlier walk together was totally squashed by her disappointment and upset about having to walk home. She was cold and tired. Oh, and did I know that she probably couldn’t even walk home because she got a cramp in her leg when she was swimming and it still hurts? The whining hurt my ears and made my heart ache a little bit. I did say I’d go get the car and she probably is tired, but I had an hour to spend time doing something I’d enjoy and it would be nice if Hazel could roll with it and maybe even see my side for a moment. The walk home wasn’t looking so good.
We walked toward home, and the whining got more intense. The progression went something like this: She was so cold. Her legs really hurt. She doesn’t even like swimming and wants to quit. Why did I make her sign up for this anyway? I’m so annoying. So annoying, in fact, that she’s not going to take one more step with me. At that point, she came to a full stop on the sidewalk and insisted that I keep walking.
I tried to reason with her but she wouldn’t have it. I tried to touch her shoulder and get her to soften up. She moved further away. I tried to connect a few other ways but she got more obstinate and disagreeable which made me mad. (This has all happened before.) It wasn’t long before I really wanted to throw down the swim bag that I was carrying for her, yell at her about all the stuff I do for her and let her know just how unreasonable it is to be whining at me. Then I’d insist that we walk together and we’d get right back to the love, warmth and connection we had earlier…
I knew what I wanted (connection) and I observed my old, familiar strategy (yelling and criticizing), and seeing it in those terms, I understood that my strategy wasn’t going to help me get my needs met. What I really wanted was to feel that connection that we had earlier. I paused and somehow, I managed not to react with any of that stuff that I wanted to do and had the thought…”I’m the grown-up, here, and it’s not Hazel’s job to make me feel better.” I turned, and still carrying the bag, I walked the remaining 5 blocks to the house. In that short time, I did my best to breathe and to let go of the fight, the disappointment and all those emotions that came up for me back there on the sidewalk and instead wonder what might help me to connect with Hazel again.
Hazel came into the house a few minutes after I did and went straight to the bathroom. I could tell by her walk that she was still really mad. After a few minutes, I knocked and asked if she’d like me to make her some tea. She hesitated, softened, and in a soft voice said, “yeah mom, that would be nice.”