She She’s post yesterday has got me thinking about my “activating agent” – basically another way of saying what drives me crazy.
Suddenly, I’m back at CTI’s Fulfillment workshop at the Westin in downtown Providence, RI. It’s the spring of 2002. I’m pregnant with Aviva. I’m 28. I’m currently working full-time as the Executive Director of UVM Hillel. I’m hitting up against big questions of authenticity and leadership and what I want to be doing versus what I feel I “should” be doing; how others see me and how I see myself.
There are 22 or 23 participants. We are sitting in a circle in a big conference room. Each of us has a turn to share with the group something that drives us crazy. As She She so aptly put it, this is the thing that “shoots your blood pressure through the roof and makes your head come off.”
I have a Buddhist friend who has been meditating and doing yoga and teaching mindfulness for twenty years. We were on our way out to lunch a few weeks ago; she was driving. “Come on, asshole!” she yelled, as the car in front of us lingered for a moment after the light turned green. We all have the things that drive us crazy.
Back to the Westin. It comes to my turn. As others have shared what drives them crazy, I’ve been thinking about what I want to say. I say something about being shut out. I am thinking, at the time, about Greg, who is in his own process of slowly dismantling age-old passive-aggressive habits. Being shut out drives me crazy. Being punished with silence drives me crazy. Greg and I have come a long, long way since we met in 1996.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat, partly because I am in my second trimester, and partly because being seen, sharing what drives me crazy, makes me vulnerable and uncomfortable. I want to split. Ironically enough, I want to shut everyone out. At the same time, I want all the attention. If that’s not a classic example of passive aggressive behavior, I don’t know what is.
The leaders thank me for sharing and immediately move on to the next person, leaving me to stew in the sour soup of what drives me crazy, leaving me little choice but to sit with it, be with it, deal with it. It is not pretty. A few people later, they come back to me.
“How’s it going there, Jena?”
I can barely speak. I’m angry and feel like I’ve been taken for a ride and want to tell everyone to fuck off. But I get it. I get the whole lesson: What we can’t be with has so much power over us. I realize that my response to passive aggression is passive aggression. I’m not happy about this. But it’s an important realization. It’s a beginning for me, as a person, a wife, an expectant mother, a coach-in-training.
Present day. This morning, in fact. I ask Aviva to get dressed about a dozen times. Whether she is ignoring me on purpose or simply immersed in her reality, which at the moment is leaping like a flying squirrel from one piece of living room furniture to another, she is unresponsive. I check in with myself. I try to notice what drives me crazy. I take a full deep breath, as if that alone could solve anything. As if there was even a problem.
Eventually, I wind up helping her get dressed. Then it’s time to get coats on to leave for school. Greg’s already gone; the past few days he has been walking to work. This is a good thing for him, and I have more breathing room these days and appreciate the softer cushion of being able to get out the door fifteen or twenty minutes later than usual. Today, though, Aviva just curls up on the floor in the midst of all the hats and coats and boots and mittens, closes her eyes, and ignores me. Or so it feels.
Activating agent. Breathing in, breathing out.
I focus on getting Pearl ready. I bring our stuff out to the car. I inwardly acknowledge my impulse to get angry at Aviva, to get crazy with frustration and impatience. Road rage right here at home. I notice the perfect script in my head – from Aviva curling up and ignoring me straight on through to its worn-out ending: Something wrong, something bad about me as a parent. Something I’m not doing right. Something terrible she is trying to express to me by shutting down. Some big problem that needs urgent attention. Thank you, catastrophic mind, for your helpful comments.
Then, I see it. I see Aviva curled up in the woods. I see snowflakes falling gently on her face, tickling her nose. I see small animals – raccoons and squirrels – gathering around her small body, sniffing her hands, licking her cheeks. I see a child resting. My voice becomes softer as I share the story of the girl, the snowflakes, the quiet scene. I feel the energy around us soften and grow more quiet. I carry Aviva out to the car and strap her in. Eyes closed and head bobbing, she rests all the way to school.
Pearl looks around the car, her face wide and innocent. Then she begins to cluck. She clucks like a little chick. I look in the rearview mirror and join her, clucking high and clucking low, clucking past what drives me crazy right on into the present moment. Aviva peeks out from under her shaggy bangs. She clucks, too.
And I keep learning.