Thursday, March 17, 2022

Should vs Is

I had an idea for how my evening was going to go. My wife went to see a show at Playhouse Square with her sister, leaving me with the kids and dogs. I put together a dinner that was acceptable to everyone involved, I did a little work for our upcoming camping trip, and I even left space for spontaneity when the youngest wanted to go for a walk around the block. She got a walk, the dog got a walk, and the other two girls joined in. Such a beautiful day, we were all happy to be out in it.

But here's where the planning came in. At 8, I had definite plans for how the night would go. Our six-year-old is getting to the point where we're pushing her to put herself to bed instead of relying on me (or a me-like substitute). Last night, I had to be with her for a while, but eventually she allowed me to leave and went to sleep with my phone playing music. At 8 pm tonight, one of my favorite bands was having a live stream event. I shelled out $40 for access to this and a show in May (the bonus here is that you can watch it for up to a week, so my wife, who also loves this band, could see it too). Since 8 is also, nominally, the youngest's bedtime, I planned to offer her a choice: we could lay in bed together and watch/listen to the concert, or she could lay by herself and listen to her own choice of music. There are a couple songs by this band that has been in her bedtime playlist off and on, so there was that, too.

She chose to watch the concert with me, which was what I expected. We got off to a good start: she was excited to snuggle up and watch together. But she's six, and she got restless and talkative long before she got sleepy enough to pass out, which was my real hope and expectation. I was getting annoyed at her fidgety-ness, and eventually we agreed that she would try to go to sleep with her music on my phone by herself. 

Of course, we'd been watching the show on the phone. So I closed that window and got the music going, then went upstairs to get the show on my laptop. Unfortunately, my laptop is... temperamental. It's got this thing where--with no relationship to temperature--its fan runs noisily. So it wasn't the best choice for listening to a concert. After a some light tech rage, I decided to try setting it up on the web browser on the xBox. While I was doing that, the 6-year-old started wailing about how she couldn't get to sleep, so just as I got the concert going, I had to go down to try to settle her. And she didn't seem to want to be settled--I had to get her warm milk and snuggle with her, and to be honest, I was feeling very angry and frustrated about the whole situation. I was missing the music I wanted to listen to and feeling very resentful about the music that I was being forced by this situation to listen to. 

Why on earth couldn't she just go to sleep? Neither of our older girls needed us to put them to bed at this age. Why couldn't she have just fallen asleep while watching the concert? Why does she have to make everything so difficult?

But in the midst of this spiral of anger and resentment, something else bubbled up. A will to accept, a will to step back from my expectations and the resentment that came from having those expectations denied and defied. Instead of letting my thoughts and emotions spiral around what I had wanted and was being denied, I resolved to meet the moment as it was, to meet my child as she was in that moment, needy and in her own emotional spiral. I knew that if I let my own state continue circling, it wouldn't make me happy or her asleep. So I focused on what she needed. Rubbing her back, speaking softly to her. 

It didn't make me happy, but it helped me let go of anger and frustration. And then, as I realized that consciously, it also gave me the space to find a little contentment, too. How much better the moment was when I accepted it and used it as a starting point rather than putting all of my energy into some moments that I felt should have been. 

It didn't make her magically go to sleep, and I missed a good 30-45 minutes of the concert putting her to bed. But I can watch it again now. Or any time in the next week. Nothing really lost except for the minutes that I took from myself with anger by not accepting what was. And maybe I'll learn something from this, and spend less time in those negative emotions in the future.