Earth and Wind vs. Fire and Water
The earth signs in me love to be at home. Nest. Feel secure. Ground in routine. However, today being the Saturday of the long Thanksgiving weekend was crisp and sunny and Dan and I could just tell we needed to get the turkeys out of the house before they turned it upside down (again). Little did I foresee that the day’s activities would be an acknowledgment of psychological safety both personally and as a unit.
Truth be told: I am tired of going to the same parks. These days I am a little apprehensive about being at playgrounds when not everyone is wearing a mask. I’m a little worn of urban-suburban living and have been craving nature and hills. And I have been wanting to go to Hocking Hills for a really long time, but every time I suggest it, I get turned down by a few people in my house.
At eleven o’clock (which by many measures was NOT great timing), I harnessed all my wind sign characteristics and in between pattering feet and shrieking, I pulled everyone into the kitchen and made a show of setting the oven timer. “You all have 10 minutes to get dressed, brush your teeth, get socks, shoes, coats, hats, and gloves. We are going on a secret adventure. GO!”
First to be ready was Dan. Now here is where things started to get interesting. In close second was Evie, my darling five year old who is a screen addict. The one who has a provisional ADHD diagnosis and whose scores from home came up as “oppositional and defiant” on the psychologist’s rating scales. The one who seems to respond better to negative attention than to positive praise. The one who regularly thwarts family outings with her obstinance. The one who kicked me square in the stomach earlier that morning. We all get to start over every moment. Thank goodness. Good for her.
Next to be ready was three year old Celeste. All by herself. That’s right. I only had to find her coat, but no way José is this girl getting left behind. “Wait for me!” Nothing surprising here.
Nowhere to be found as the timer goes off is my nine-going-on-19 year old. The one who is usually mother hen to the other two. The one who is usually front and center. The one I frequently forget isn’t actually 19. About every minute on the minute she kept pestering me, “Where are we going?” “I am not going unless you tell me where we are going.” “Tell me where we are going.”
I find her doing art in the basement. “The bus is leaving. Get on it.”
An older version of myself (particularly during the PMDD peak of my moon cycle) would have been highly annoyed, audibly frustrated, and likely even yelled. But today I am finding this to be interesting, if not amusing.
Okay. So, we have some issues with control do we? Since the pandemic, I have noticed her displaying more and more symptoms of anxiousness. The thing is, I know if I tell her my destination, my plan will get hijacked. So I settled for gently guiding her in a lesson of how to navigate mental discomfort. In this case it is teaching her to trust me that I will hold the space for her to allow her to be carefree and enjoy the ride of what the day may hold. This is psychological safety in parenting.
Side note: These moments of parenting when I have to decide whether to appease my children or impart life lessons frequently backfire.
With a sack full of snacks and water bottles and books for the car, Dan hopped in the driver’s seat and said, “Just tell me which way!”
See? Isn’t this fun already? He is holding space to allow me to create. This is psychological safety in partnership.
Genevieve is still digging her heels in. Fussing about which seat. Projecting that the ride wedged in next to her sisters is going to be miserable. Relentlessly asking where we are going. Dan and I are now giggling at her display.
Evie says, “We are going for a nature walk!” I look back at her and wink.
More grumbling from Genevieve.
Dan and I start talking in first person as Genevieve herself. “Mom and Dad aren’t going to tell me where we are going? Fine, then I am going to absolutely be miserable the whole time no matter what.”
More giggling from the front seats.
She gets quiet and starts reading. All three are nicely reading to themselves, actually. See? It’s going to be fine.
At this point I am still the only one who knows that we are going an hour away. For the first time ever I look for a kid’s podcast. I found “Brains On”. I chose an episode about why siblings annoy each other on purpose. It is pretty interesting and they have fun games in between content and Evie is listening intently (she annoys her siblings relentlessly).
Genevieve is very…annoyed. She asked me to turn it off. She was in the minority, so I didn’t. A few minutes later, big crocodile tears splashed down on her book. I pat her leg and said, “What’s wrong”?
“I want to read and I can’t concentrate while this on!” Okay. We finish the episode and ride the rest of the way in silence (sweet glorious, silence!).
Once we start going up and down and winding around Route 664, I hear, “Mommy, I don’t feel well.” Crap. All my kids get carsick. I look back to see a green version of Evie with glassy eyes. Seeing as how I haven’t traveled with them farther than a mile in the past 4 months, I forgot. Windows go down. Dan creeps to 25 miles per hour.
By the grace of God, we make it to the parking lot of Old Man’s Cave with no incident. We get our sea legs about us and Genevieve is ticked off. She thinks she doesn’t really like hiking. Except she does. After catering to each individual child’s decisions about gear, we started walking away from the minivan.
Dan is in the lead. Genevieve won’t look at or talk to me and is keeping appropriately distanced from Dan. Celeste wants to be carried. Fine.
I look back and Evie is sitting by the back tire of our car playing with gravel. Wouldn’t you know? She doesn’t want to go for a hike.
Nothing is going to get in my way of this day. I stay calm. I walk back to the van. “Evie, come on! We are going on an adventure to find a cave!” She looks up at me. Celeste adds in her direction, “Maybe we will find a bear!”.
Evie says, “I want you to carry me.” I look ahead. Dan is out of reach. “Evie, I am going to give Celeste a ride, and then it can be your turn. I really want you to help us find the cave.”
By the grace of God, she throws the asphalt down, grabs my hand as I am kangarooing Celeste with the other arm, and we start walking. When I can’t hold on to my 39 pound 3 year old any longer, I plop Celeste down and say “time to walk” and immediately 40 pound Evie jumps on my back.
This is why I lift weights, I thought.
It had been a while since I have been to Old Man’s Cave, but I silently wondered how long of a hike it is to the sights. Despite the fact that I don’t mind being able to swiftly put child to hip, a weighted hike was not what I had in mind. No matter. As soon as we get to the trail head, they all scramble with enthusiasm full speed ahead.
If you have ever been to Old Man’s Cave, you get to see a pretty cool view almost immediately. Which was very reinforcing for the girls.
Genevieve could not have stayed in a bad mood if she tried. Big smiles. Lots of exploring. She was the leader of our pack again. I was so proud of her. An older version of herself would have sabotaged the whole trip to spite me. Today, she listened to feedback, gathered herself quietly, and adapted. She and I have been working with our yoga teacher on self-regulation and perspective shifting and I’m thrilled to see the investment in mindfulness training pay off.
We lollygagged down the trail. Stopped when we wanted. Crossed streams when we wanted. Climbed into caves when we wanted. Listened to Celeste sing her heart out to “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (I didn’t know she knew that song!). Sang “Baa Baa Black Sheep” in rounds with Celeste on her cue. Stopped to lean the iPhone against the root of a tree to take our annual New Year’s photo. Laughed that one person was always making a weird face, so we all made weird faces on purpose. Dan carried all the worry regarding safety. I was able to be completely in the moment. Psychological safety in partnership again.
At one point we all stood looking out of Old Man’s Cave into the gorge up at the towering pines. Breathtaking. It was the intersection of where one feels safe and secure from the cave (divine masculine) and an expanse of boundless possibilities (divine feminine) looking out over the gorge and beyond. An iconic metaphor for the yogic definition of psychological safety.
A place we all arrived at, together. Our individual energies got our collective act together and found harmony and balance. Explored new paths and new places. We allowed ourselves to practice different responses to each other and got different results. At various points during the day we had each taken turns being the cave for each other and being the boundless gorge.
After our ninety minute journey on foot, we started heading for home and made our way to a side-of-the-road sandwich shop and enjoyed the late afternoon sun waiting to have a picnic we didn’t see coming. By the time we pulled off our exit, all three kids were snoozing in the back.
“Mission accomplished,” I whispered to Dan.
“You nailed it”, I heard my meta dialogue cheer.
As a long time perfectionist, you have no idea how long I have been practicing telling myself those words.
But I did it today without any prompting. And that was something to celebrate in and of itself. Today, I had found psychological safety within myself.
The journey today was a sequence of many little incidents that went just the way I would have liked. Not perfect moments, but moments that fluidly bounced back from precarious to peaceful. Worth celebrating was that we each kept getting back to neutral ground. Without drama. Without attitude. Without tone. Without outbursts or meltdowns. Worth celebrating, that I kept getting to neutral ground with ease.
I can’t tell if today was a breakthrough or a final symphony.
It doesn’t matter. It was one of those days that I will call up in the dead of winter as I watch the ice form on the branches of the trees.
I will close my eyes and sense the sweet sun on my face.
Hear the waterfalls.
See my girls traverse up ancient sandstone together.
Feel the scruff of my husband’s beard kiss my cheek under the canopy of the trees.
A day to hold close in my heart.
A day to play on repeat.
Heartfelt thank you to Susan Ashley Hunt , The Women’s Behavior Health team at OSU, and my husband, who support me with a great deal of love and compassion as I continue to work through learning how to manage PMDD.