By Becky Currell
TEETH AND SHOES!!!!!!!
How many times have you, with purple face and bulging eyes, said this to your kids in the morning trying to get out of the house to go to school? It could just be in my house, but I imagine if we could be a fly-on-the- wall between 8-9am there is some kind of similarly dramatic scene unfolding in many homes. Depending on the age of your children, some variant on the “Teeth and SHOES!!!!” war cry will be uttered by exasperated parents up and down the country on a daily basis.
My kids are 7 and 9 and the Teeth and Shoes scenario has already evolved from the more physical omnishambles it once was of wrestling shoes onto wriggly feet, to a more vocally-led routine that requires less physical force but more projection i.e. shouting. See, Mum, all those years at drama school were not in vain, after all. I no longer have to remind my 9-year-old daughter about her teeth as she’s recently taken a pretty keen interest in her appearance – which includes having minty fresh breath, but I do have to drag her away from doing her ponytail (for the sixtieth time). My 7-year-old son is as reluctant as he’s always been to engage in any activity which means changing out of his pyjamas and leaving the house.
We have good days and bad days, like any family. There are mornings when it seems to be relatively fuss-free and others where it seems like the kids have launched a very personal vendetta against me and we all leave the house in tears! I always used to think how I felt each school morning was to do with the kids and the number of bumps that needed smoothing out of socks. It sure as hell looked that way anyway. It might even look that way to you too. I would use the level of heightened emotions in the morning as a beefy stick to beat myself with. It seemed like it said an awful lot about my ability as a parent, as a human being, even though I knew full well that I was not alone. I mean, it’s written all over every parent’s face when they arrive at school. It’s like the feeling of a ‘bad morning’ would follow me into school like a miasma and linger for a good few hours, consuming me with guilt and resolve to make it different tomorrow.
I realised something at the end of last year which has freed me from the “teeth and shoes” tyranny and the consequent internal character assassination which followed. If you think about it, there are some days when it seems much more important to be on time than others. The last few days of term before we break up for the long summer holiday, seem (to me) to feel much more laid back than a mid-September morning when everyone is struggling to readjust to the school routine and you’ve a million things on your to-do list before you even get to work, and you’ve forgotten to pay for school dinners again. Regardless of whether you have kids or not, some mornings seem to be more fraught than others. Trying to hit the traffic sweet spot, which, if you miss it, guarantees hours of crawling at a snail’s pace or timing your public transport to mean you get a seat, or at the very least to give yourself some space from the sniffing/morning breath/nose-picking commuter.
So what’s the difference, the secret ingredient? Does July pump out something magical into the air surrounding schools (teachers might argue that it does), which September doesn’t have access too? Is there an imp who goes around each house in the early hours of the morning and casts a spell which determines how many times you’ll need to yell Teeth and Shoes before your demands are met? Is there a mathematical equation that says, the more important it is to be on time, the later you will be? Obviously, you think I’m being ridiculous, of course you know those things can’t be true (apart from the mathematical equation obvs). Let’s just blame the kids, shall we? God knows they’ll be doing their fair share of blaming us for stuff later.
What if, though, it isn’t anything to do with the kids at all? Let me clarify here, I’m not denying that sometimes they aren’t more co-operative than others, or that some mornings don’t have more spillages, or lost homework, or accidents on the roads, or delays on the trains. Stuff happens. Life happens. But how about if you knew that your ‘experience’ of all that stuff was being created by thought taking form in the moment, and that it’s only your thinking that is standing in the way of you having a calm, relaxed exit to school/work, even when it’s not going the way you think it ought to? Because that’s just it, isn’t it, many of us have a lot of revved-up thinking about how our kids should co-operate in the morning, or how the trains should run on time.
I have a wonderful client who has three grown-up children who told me how it was never stressful for her in the morning when her kids were small, because she turned the whole process into a game. She didn’t have anything on it, except to make it as fun as she could. No stressful thinking, no expectations. You’re no doubt thinking this woman is somehow superhuman and you just don’t have the time/ personality/ patience/ inclination to do this yourself, but you’re already doing it.
Believe it or not, it isn’t actually Groundhog Day; there will already be days when Teeth and Shoes matter less to you. Maybe it’s on a Friday when you’re looking forward to the weekend, or a morning when you feel well rested, or even one of those days where you’ve seen something awful on the news and you just feel so grateful for your children, even with dirty teeth and no shoes. Your thinking is what dictates how you’re feeling about a situation. Stressed-out thinking equals stressed out behaviour equals unpleasant experience. When you can see that you’re making up your experience every minute of every day, there’s no need to do anything with those thoughts, but just remember that you are the thinker, the creator and that alone has the power to set you free.
The bit that’s missing is that you think your calm reactions on a ‘good’ day are due to it being Friday, or getting a good night’s sleep, or the kids’ behaviour. It isn’t actually possible for your good feelings, in fact any feelings, to come from your circumstances, you’ve simply dropped getting involved with your stressful thinking and in the process, your suffering. You have clarity of thought which frees you up to access your innate creativity, compassion and humour, which is available to all of us, all of the time, when it isn’t buried under a heap of thinking. It’s easy to forget that there’s so much more to each and every one of us than the crappy stuff we tell ourselves and believe to be true. When we wake up to our true nature we remember that a deeper part of ourselves remains unchanged, unbroken and as gloriously peaceful as it’s always been since the day you were born.
So, how exactly have things changed? Please remember, that part of the human experience means that sometimes the content of my thinking looks so compelling and real that I fall for it and get sucked deep into the Teeth and Shoes vortex. What’s different now, is that stress levels are significantly lower, there are fewer tears, there’s more light-heartedness and I know exactly where my feelings are coming from, so I don’t need to react towards my children as if it’s their fault, because it isn’t. <It’s my husband’s>