It’s not them, it’s me

I gotta admit…my subconscious mind has found about a dozen other topics to write about and is still trying to figure out ways for me to convert this into a blog post about something else, but I’m determined to see this through. Not that I disagree entirely with my subconscious mind…there have been several fun things to write about since we last met here, including a great ride with some of my PMC teammates, a (almost) Fourth of July parade at our pool, a day at the pool, a dive meet…

There, subconscious mind…are you satisfied?

The other thing that happened was that I had a horrible, no good, very bad day as a dad on Saturday morning. Mama was at the pool to earn us the volunteer points we need as swim team parents, and I was by myself with the kids.

Had I thought about this at all, I would have approached it differently. Instead, I instinctively told myself, “I’ve got this. I know exactly what to do.” The reality was, “I’m not doing all that well myself. I’d better be damn careful about what I say and do.” Unfortunately, I only saw the reality after the damage was done.

Everything started off fine, but I wasn’t really being very PEPish. That’s OK once or twice–we can all sort of muscle through those moments. After awhile, however, I became discouraged by what was happening: constant sniping from 3B, berating and picking on Jewel, and Jewel repeatedly breaking down in huge sobbing tantrums over the most minor events (not, btw, the sniping…but not unrelated to it, I’m sure). And me?

Who knows what the hell I was doing, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t PEPish; I know that. I would send 3B away for his bad behavior. I vacillated between consoling Jewel through her tears and strategically ignoring them so they would go away. By the time Mama got home, the kids were inside on their own while I was outside in a self-imposed Daddy time-out, so I could keep my cool. As soon as Mama arrived, I took a pulaski to all the weeds around our raised bed gardens, hacking a two-foot wide fire break around them, digging up any living thing in the rocky clay that passes for soil in our yard.

After 20 minutes, I’d cleared one side of the garden and calmed down enough that I thought I could keep my cool for awhile longer. I knew the kids also needed to get outside and get their ya-yas out and so, with Mama’s great assistance, I herded our two non-feline cats out to the car and drove us all over to the pool. Mama stayed behind for the excitement of paying bills and sorting mail.

The water worked its wonders on all of us.

We returned home refreshed, tired and happy. It wasn’t a perfect end to a disastrous morning, but it was a huge improvement over where I’d started. Overall the day served as a reminder that being PEPish takes work. It’s still not a reflex for me as a parent to respond PEPishly. My reflex is far more authoritarian, which works about as well as you’d expect for someone who’s raising two intelligent, independent free spirits–and who encourages them to be that way.

It was also a reminder to watch myself and what’s happening with me. I recently read research on willpower that shows we each have a finite supply of willpower in any given day. There are some ways to boost our reserves, but the best way to ensure we have enough is to limit the number of situations in which we need to use it. Willpower wasn’t the issue here, but I believe that I woke up already drained of other finite reserves of interpersonal strengths and skills, and I just didn’t recognize it.

The kids weren’t the ones who drained me, and they would have no way of knowing that I was exhausted in this way, nor should they care. Even though the causes are unrelated to them, there was a direct effect on them, which is a reminder to myself that I am a whole person–what happens on one side of my life directly affects the other side. It also reminded me that for me to be PEPish, for me to encourage them, I need to be feeling encouraged.

3B asked me over the weekend where Atlas stood to hold up the world. Not that I was holding the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I need a solid place to stand if I’m to hold up my end of the bargain to 3B and Jewel to be a solid parent.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so good after my bike ride on Sunday morning–because it was something I could do…something that I’m, in fact, pretty damn good at. Completing a 40-mile bike ride before 10 a.m. and still having enough energy for the rest of the day reminds me that I am capable of doing something difficult, long-term that requires planning and persistence. Knowing that I’m doing it to raise money for those who need it the most among us–those who are fighting for their lives against an enemy defined by its inability to stop and those among them who can’t afford the fight–makes the ride more meaningful.

(There, subconscious mind, I worked in the bike ride. Happy?)

Good lessons are worth learning several times, and I suppose the one I learned again on Saturday was that to encourage, I need to be encouraged.