The Down Side of Up

Schewitz ThumbnailGuest blogger Kim Schewitz is a marketing consultant, writer and mother of two.

It’s dress up day at school. The house has been a-buzz with anticipation and costume preparation the whole week. (I’m one of those old fashioned parents who sees the value of trying to turn costume making into a craft activity for the whole family – though I’m sadly deficient in any creative ability beyond cutting cardboard ears, so it usually ends up with the teacher whispering to me once my son is out of ear-shot: “What is he – I don’t want to embarrass him by not knowing?”) Everyone has managed to get to bed three minutes earlier than usual the night before so as to ensure an early rise, allowing sufficient extra time for face-paint application into the morning routine. We are in the final moments of costume configuration – wigs and hats, when it starts…

A viscous debate over the hat vs. the wig (“oh honey, you really want a wig too; looking at someone else’s costume makes you wonder if yours looks as good. You’re worried your brother looks better than you”). An angst-ridden ride pondering whether the face-paint will survive being accidentally brushed against clothes and hands (“sweetie, you’re worried that after all the effort you’ve made to look just right it will all be ruined by the time you get to school and no-one will even know what you’re meant to be. You want everything to look just right”). A dramatic meltdown over a run-away-sponge-stick-on-clown-nose (“that is so frustrating – that nose will not stay on. I hate when that happens”)… and eventually they are in their classrooms and I want drown myself in a puddle of tears.

Despite the fact that I have managed to mirror through these tense moments of doubt and despair, I am still struck by a feeling of helplessness and frustration. I am struggling to understand why a seemingly fun, “up” event has led to more to more anxieties, tears and general “down-ness” than a regular mundane day at school that holds no particular appeal. This of course is not unlike the birthday party we expect to be the source of joy, enthusiasm and pride; the outing to a restaurant that should be a special treat, relished with good behaviour and gratitude or the much awaited vacation that should be sailed through without a hitch.

I grapple with this exasperating paradox until a few days later when my own excitement over a tea party for some friends I am looking very forward to seeing dissipates into a thunderous cloud of gloom over the simple fact that I cannot locate the exact cookies I had in mind.

It occurs to me that it is our very expectations that can in fact be our own stumbling block. Positive events tend to carry the naïve and deceptive guarantee that they are immune to disappointment. It is this unrealistic pressure that leads otherwise insignificant mishaps to hinder our resilience in these circumstances. And all the more so for our children when they have the additional pressure of their parents’ expectations layered on top of their own.

The other insight that struck me is how difficult it can be to truly see another person’s perspective. We think our perception of the world is reality. Mirroring is great way to exercise the muscle of being awakened to other people’s “reality” and it really does take practice. By searching to find the words to echo what someone else is feeling we are training ourselves to tune into their world even though we may not agree with their viewpoint. This is the heart of empathy and the key to another person’s heart.

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Published in Guest Post, Mirroring

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