If 2013 was the free-wheeling year of Love on a bicycle built for two, 2014 was racking yourself in the cooter, on the crossbar of life, 365 days of the year. I don’t know why. It just was.
We had more than our share of crazy-making. Every time a new crisis would unfold for me or my family, I would hit the deck and assume the “Sky is Falling” position, throwing myself over the family and hoarding chocolate as if I were planning to wait it out through the Armageddon. My “fight or flight” call button had been pressed so many times with several real crisis emergencies, the cord was frayed and lay there on the floor shooting sparks and whimpering quietly.
My anxiety began to over-respond to every sight, smell, and beat missed, as a sign of imminent danger with a PTSD response. I will give you an example:
In July, my wife’s Navy softball team was playing in the play offs and experienced the most bizarre game ever!
• By the 2nd inning, an electrical fire from a nearby boat billowed black smoke off in the distance towards Fisherman’s Wharf, that could be seen for miles.
• By the 3rd or 4th inning, one of our players pivoted on 3rd base and tore a ligament, as we were signaled to provide a distraction to his kids so his wife could drive the van onto the field for an emergency pick up. The nonchalant conversation went something like
“What’s going on over there?”
“Hmmm…have no idea. Is that a squirrel?”
“Isn’t that my mom’s van driving onto the field?”
“Is it? I thought that’s how softball was played.”
• After 35 minutes of stopped play to take our team member off the field, a flock of rambunctious Canadian Geese flew onto the field and had no intentions of leaving. A dog was called to chase the geese away, but seemed way more amused having free time on the field.
• By 5th inning, our daughter played leap frog and chipped two of her teeth.
And yet, the game was still going! By then, my nerves were a frayed knot, and I became something of a hysterical hyena of a housewife, shrilly asking my wife the coach “Is this Game Over yet???” In a nutshell, I had cracked.
Without waiting for a reply, I grabbed the keys, my chipped-tooth daughter, and my beat up little lawn chair and headed for the car, telling my wife to get a ride home.
Not one of my better reactions, I will admit, but I was 20 minutes late for having a full on panic attack in the bathroom. My wife found me in fetal position and shaking, while repeating “No more bad things!” like a three year old.
This was a pivotal point this summer which had shown our family more than one personal tragedy, medical emergencies, and moments I was again brought up by the short hairs of reality. It seemed that every time I put my foot down to make a real step forward, Life pulled the rug out from under my feet like a Charlie Brown classic. Little did I realize that this culmination of catastrophes was also the summer that the Mother of All lessons was being presented to me:Lessons in Resilience.
Resilience is defined by dictionary.com as:
1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like;buoyancy.
I checked my Resilience Toolbox to see what I was equipped with, what survival skills were handed down to me, and what tools were still on back order. I realized I had a toddler size hammer, a lucky rabbits foot, a random wing-nut, 4 paper clips and a yellowed, dog-eared copy of the latest personal growth book “Dysfunction Junction, What’s Your Function?”
It’s not a question of If I’m going to have a daily crisis, but how I am going to respond to it that moves me from panic to perseverance. I’m going to be stretched to capacity, but when I remember to utilize the tools I acquired from the crisis before, I have forged a stronger foundation to move through this without trepidation and over abundance of fear. Here are some tools I have picked up this year on Blue-Light Special.
1. Adaptation: Tri-Athletes need to be able to train not only in running, but also cycling and swimming. They also need to know when it’s time to switch gears and let go of the bicycle so they can don their swim cap. Unless there is an under water bicycling course, their bicycle skill set isn’t going to be very helpful to them in the pool. Likewise, I need to know how to manage a real crisis and to discern that I don’t need the same hunter-gatherer tool set when waiting in line at a grocery store. It is the reed that bends but doesn’t break, and the parent that is tested by her children’s freezer experiments using all the ice trays in the house, but still maintains unconditional love.
2. “Go With The Flow”: Sometimes the greatest tool can be a sense of humor, and other times it can be a sense of curiosity. It is a curious mind that asks questions and wonders out loud. That mind set is willing to forgo already having a conclusion at the beginning of a task or project and allows for more than one possibility to surface. Whether I’m facing a morning battle royal with my daughter on getting ready for school on time, adjusting my attitude over another cancelled family plan because the Navy had other ideas for my wife, or living week to week between two cities and trying to remember which house I bought eggs for, “Go with the Flow” has been the only way to get through this year.
3. Try a different perspective: Often if I am hell bent on seeing my problems with a one dimensional solution, and if that solution (or result, or outcome) doesn’t pan out the way I thought, I hit that huge wall of disappointment, unable to pull myself out. Learning to allow other possible outcomes has opened me to outcomes I could not have predicted.
Like my Dad says
“Some things don’t turn out the way you want. They usually turn out better.”
4. What other’s think about me is none of my business. This kind of resilience relies on the crippling habit that can keep me from taking a step outside the norm, or responding in a way that is different from the crowd. My success, my failures, and how I get from here to there is going to be different, but different doesn’t mean worse. Just different.
5. Don’t Forget the Kids are watching: Our children also need to observe our Resilience Toolbox, as they are taking diligent mental notes on how to tackle their own personal challenges. If we respond by losing control, panicking and running around in circles, or attacking the other family members, we are adding these to their Resilience tool box and these are the tools they will use.
At the same time, we need to allow our children to risk, to fall, to fail, and to test their own metal. We can’t protect them from every harsh word, insensitive comment, ignorant gesture, or criticism. We want to, but to jump in front of their lesson in resilience means we don’t think they have the skills or self esteem to face this. The best gift we can give them is knowing when to take a lesson and learn from it, and if it doesn’t fit ,
Recently, I came across a book that really addressed building Resilience, as well as addressing the ability to look at life as the adventure it is, rather than the series of groin punches it appears to be. It’s called “Building Resilience in Children and Teens” by Ginsberg and Jablow and published under the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Written as a guide for parents and teachers, it covers a lot of my bad habits as well as hope for turning them around! (cue Hallelujah Chorus) It even has a section about Military families who jump into the deep end early on and learn the sink or swim approach to resilience!
To wrap up, 2014 isn’t sufficiently out the door and may still have some rogue Trojans lying in wait, but I’m learning that I have acquired the tools I need to make life an Adventure. Great Thanks to my wife and kids for being my greatest Adventures!