This morning, the four-year-old across the way was screaming. In the midst of his screams, his mother carried her other child, a baby, across the street, past our rig and down the grassy hill, under the picnic shelter, and into the laundry room, situated on the backside of the clubhouse. She'd brought a load there earlier, and was, I assume, going to check on it. The boy sat on the top step of their trailer, wailing, as the front door swung open and then waved in the gusting wind. He moved down a step and howled in his mother's direction until it became clear that she wasn't coming back—not right away, at least—and that she'd left him to feel the rest of his feels, alone. That's when he transitioned into a sort of rage-cry: I imagined it was disdain for his mother's previous attempts to reason with him and, simultaneously, desperation for her to stay engaged, to indulge him in some specific way for a while longer.
He set out to follow her then. I watched as he tiptoed in socked feet across the street, tugging up the waistband of his small jeans, which were on backwards and left unzipped so that his printed underwear was visible from behind. His lamentations grew louder, more vocal, as he yelled for his mother to make known her whereabouts. He passed our rig, sat at the top of the grassy hill and scooted down on his bottom, then stood up again, hiked up his jeans, and passed through the picnic shelter. His mother appeared from behind the laundry room door—stuck her head out for just a moment and then retreated again. Blubbering, the boy followed.
Though the tantrum I witnessed is evidence of a specific stage in child development, it got me thinking about how we respond to the strong emotions of other adults. To be honest, people-pleasing is an impulse that's all too familiar to me. I think I've always felt a deep need to propagate harmony in my interpersonal relationships. But, as time goes on and I work to understand myself better (a lifelong quest), I'm examining that need and beginning to see that at its core is an insidious assumption that I'm lovable and admirable because I'm not someone who creates conflict. Beverly Amsel says, "When we become overly interested and vigilant about the impact we have on others and design our behaviors to make sure they don’t have feelings we can’t tolerate, we are putting our authentic selves on hold." You know what this means: Time for me to get curious.
I don't have a tidy ending for today's letter, nor have I extrapolated enough to share with you. It's just too soon. But, that's okay: It would seem I'm hot on the trail of some truly illuminating (for me—maybe for you, too?) psychology. Stay tuned for further exploration and findings next Monday. And, as always, hit 'reply' if you have thoughts to share with me. I love hearing from you.
Notes from the week of January 31
+ Yogis Anonymous Blog, written by Ally Hamilton (some of the best personal development writing I've ever encountered on the internet; I recommend starting with this essay, then follow it up with this one; via Sarah P. Miller)
+ Sarah P. Miller's candid TinyLetter on surrendering and reptiles in love
+ Vanessa Jean's beautiful TinyLetter on structured yearning
MEALS EATEN, DRINKS DRUNK
+ aubergine stew
+ swiss chard & wild mushroom penne w/ chili & parmesan
+ Mediterranean quinoa salad
+ ramen noodle soup
+ Bota Box pinot noir
READ & NODDED MY HEAD
+ "I am surrounded by sexy, naked women" (an old piece by Kate Fridkis, whose writing I long enjoyed on her site, Eat the Damn Cake; this perfectly captures how I feel when I pass a breastaurant, a phenomenon that absolutely irks me)
+ Richard, a retiree, who frequents our Starbucks here and who offered to keep an eye on my laptop when I use the restroom (not sure I'll actually take him up on his offer, but we'll see)
+ John, a lawyer, who also frequents our Starbucks here, and who looks quite a lot like Martin Sheen