I don't know how much attention other people put on the earthquake in Sichuan, China. I pretty much searched the news compulsively, as I'd spent three weeks there when I was 19. I knew that someone I remembered, someone I had developed a fondness for, was almost certain to be hurting. So many children died, so many families shattered, one whole village swallowed by mountains that moved closer together... The disruption of quake after quake, aftershocks measuring into the serious quake numbers, hundreds and hundreds of them...
One of the non-tragic stories was the forming (by earthquake) and draining (by strategic use of anti-aircraft weapons, I think) of a 'quake lake' - a lake formed by the blockage of a river because of rock and mudslides. The water flow out of the lake when they finally broke through the dam of rock and debris and mud was powerful, but a controlled release, and one that did not put hundreds of thousands of people downstream at risk. Hooray all around!
Last night, we had our own version of this.
I've been working at using the respectful communication, as I've noted. I'm focusing on the non-violent communication method, because it details exactly how to phrase what is a need, what is a choice, what is a feeling, what is a desire/want, etc. And it details how NOT to... rather mortifying to realize that I've been following the how NOT to, almost to the letter! And funny, when I read that saying, 'I feel that ...', is a cue that the following words will be thoughts or analysis and not feelings, I flashed back to probably hundreds of disagreements between me and epeepunk where I was sure I was communicating well and cleanly, and yet he felt blamed, guilted, or otherwise angry despite this, um, fact. I could hear me saying 'I feel that ...' over and over and over and over. Oops seems too small a word, here. (Fortunately he took my apology with only a little gleeful rejoicing that he was indeed right that I wasn't sticking to my side of the problem, even if he hadn't been able to identify why it seemed that way.)
Properly chastened, I started up again, working on doing it 'properly' - which sounds awkward at times, but seems to work, so... effective, prudent, true. Going to use it, even if it seems odd for now.
And then last night, on the heels of this understanding, I was alerted to a problem. Mr B was screaming at the top of his register, the scream of hurt and fury and retaliation, the scream that is meant to cause pain.
I found Mr G lying on the floor, and Mr B screaming and holding the side of his head. I (um) demanded to know what happened, and (crud) ordered them to tell me (argh!) whose fault it was. Can I start any worse than that without hitting them? Oh, and don't forget the intense expression and loud voice - not quite yelling, but close enough.
And of course, having done so, I set off another round - Mr B said that Mr G had thrown him into the sofa, and he'd hit his ear, and it wasn't his FAULT. I snapped my attention to Mr G, who then went straight into wounded fury.
It turned out that Mr G had built a small lego creation, and Mr B had accidentally knocked it off the stool and shattered it. Mr G had glowered at Mr B, who had wailed, 'I didn't MEAN to,' and when this was not met by instantaneous forgiveness (continued glower), Mr B leapt at Mr G, attacking him in fury. Mr G then pushed him off, where he then fell and hit his ear.
I apologized to Mr G, and followed him into his room (where he'd fled in despair and rage). And started over.
Listened. Asked for the emotion. Worked on identifying the need under the emotion. Coached him through it. And again. At first he didn't quite understand, but when he got that I needed to hear the real, deep, intense, NEED under the pain, and not just have him reiterate the pain alone...
Well, a surface-to-air missile was a close approximation to the impact.
His pain poured out in floods.
He poured out pain he's carried for years.
Pain of feeling supplanted by younger siblings, and needing to be valued.
Pain of feeling lonely and lacking friends, and needing to have community.
Pain of living far from the people he likes best, and needing to have choice and power in meeting his need to spend time with them.
Pain of being promised, and having the promise forgotten (that one TWO YEARS OLD, but still there, from a single event).
Need to be valued and treated as integral to the family at mealtimes, need to be valued by his cousin and not feel like a target for her own unhappiness about not having choice over where she spends her time in the summer (nothing drastic, just little niggling irritations constantly - he feels a lack of skill for handling this, too.).
Need to have choice over so many areas that really, he SHOULD have choice over, and often by the nature of life in a large family, he doesn't.
Need to be accompanied, to be in community, while working.
He feels alone and isolated in his own family.
It was pretty painful - for me. Hearing it and being open to the pain of all our errors, and the pain of all the circumstances beyond our control, of all the situations we chose and would not go back on but that come with uncomfortable edges or aspects... where we chose to live, how many kids we have, what we're doing for summer care, and so forth... hard work not snapping back into lecture, lecture, react, knee-jerk, hurt-back, and more lecture.
But, I did it.
I rode the wave. Kind of a crashing bumpy ride, like kayaking the surge out of the quake lake. Dangerous, in that tipping too far in any direction, losing the balance and flow of the outpouring, was likely to cause a lot of damage. Painful, like the amount of muscle strain working to stay upright while riding the flood would be. And, at the same time, exhilarating, powerful, awe-inspiring, humbling. Staying in balance through that flood left me feeling whole, competent, and true to myself, as well as aching with knowing how much my beloved son had been hurting without speaking.
It finally drained down to the steady pour of release, past the rage and sobbing, past the face flushed and body rigid, past the blame and anger and lashing out. Lake not empty, but now low enough to release over time (provided the spillway remains open), gently, steadily.
Then we could talk about my feelings and needs - with me asking if he could hear them, first. He agreed, and we discovered that his need for fun attention was intersecting badly with my need to maintain house, bodies, property. His resentment came out in the form of 'how come you care about perfect neat and tidy, and not US?' - um, perfect neat and tidy? Hello, that is so NOT what I care about! I care about usable space, some room to work, far from perfect! But to him, my need to put away clothes instead of sitting with him while he takes a bath, means 'put away' is more important than being with him. OUCH. YET, when I expressed my need to have a maintained space, property, and health, not perfect, and that I was working with many tasks that needed to be completed and limited time, he immediately understood that by helping more with the maintenance, he could free up more time and energy from me for fun stuff. He agreed that he would be willing to work out strategies for how he could help make that time for us. Openly, and looking more mature and thoughtful than I've ever seen. (Whoa.) I caught a glimpse of the young-adult in his face. Love those moments.
We also talked about strategies for solving the long laundry list of issues. He thought a family meeting might work (which always seemed like a really challenging concept to me - granted, two 3 1/2 year olds and anything related to serious discussions is challenging... we've tried them, but they haven't stuck. Maybe we didn't express well enough what they were for, how they'd help meet the kids' needs?).
Meanwhile, having left Mr B to his own devices, he spent the time I was talking with Mr G writing out, very carefully (two separate times), I'm sorry, I lied. About what? About it being your fault that you hurt me, and not my fault that I caused it.
Again, WHOA. He expressed it humbly, openly, and with sincerity. He then rebuilt Mr G's broken lego creation (in his own way). Which also brought up that we've been celebrating Mr B's talent with lego, but not Mr G's talent - smaller talent, but not insignificant, and really, we TRY (sigh) to celebrate their JOY with lego, their creations no matter what size or drama need to be valued. I don't want him to start declining to play lego because he can't compete... RIGHT smack back to the Siblings Without Rivalry book. Time for a re-read on that one, too.
Nobody had eaten, the girls were rambunctious (seeking attention for themselves), and it was getting late.
When I asked Mr G what he wanted for dinner, he didn't answer. (ARGH) I asked if he wanted pizza. He said yes. I made pizza. That wasn't what he wanted.
But instead of being grumpy at each other, I noted the facts of what happened. He realized he'd mis-heard me (thinking I'd asked him if he wanted to eat something with us), I'd therefore gotten the wrong message, and had acted on it. He winced ruefully, holding eye contact, and said, okay, he'd eat pizza then. Thanks.
Again, whoa. No grumping. Just acceptance. He wanted to have waffles along with pizza, too... I wasn't comfortable with this, and (woo, practice helps!) expressed it clearly as a concern (though still imperfectly overall - skipped the need to preserve our resources by not wasting food), and he shrugged, and said okay, he'd eat as much pizza as felt good, and then if he still wanted waffles, we'd go from there. He decided he didn't want waffles, half-way through the pizza. Again, no resistance, no internal pressure. The flood gates were already open.
I ended the day regretting deeply that I hadn't realized I wasn't using the method properly from the start. I was exhausted, though still feeling good, and despite the realization of soooo many mistakes on my part, not defeated. Still, exhausted is exhausted. I fear that I'm going to have to blast open a few more quake lakes before we're down to just the regular checking of the channels to make sure they're clear.
At the same time, I don't have any fear about the 'downstream' effects in the future - the flood of pain has been averted, it will not be able to build up to that extent again (I hope).
And many of my own needs (including to just have time to have fun) may find their way to being met. With willing assistance.