There was the kid, on the cusp of two and three quarters, acting up. “Apparently it’s not the terrible twos,” stage-whispered my husband dramatically, from the wings of the boy’s wild air-slaps and projectile-tosses and whiny-growls. “It’s the terrible threes.”
What are we in for?
“Stop,” I said to the wee savage. “Do you need sit in your chair?”
It’s hardly a ‘naughty chair’ – a little mini-man club chair that my husband picked up on Craigslist, mostly because it seemed ironic in its obvious need of accessorizing with a chess set, housecoat and leather-topped desk. Despite the lack of punitive spikes and nails, the chair is where the boy is sat, with the kitchen timer on for one minute, when he needs to “get your energy together” and “have a little think”.
Often there’s resistance, and I wonder if parenting based on an ancient episode of Supernanny is the right strategy?
“I want my mama!” “I want a stuffy!” “I want my toy!” he will protest.
“No, I’m sorry. You just need to sit and breathe.”
“I don’t want to breathe!”
But on this occasion he went, without a fuss, almost happily, as if going to a welcome refuge. No protest. Relief. He just sat, as if this was what he most needed – a re-set button, a big hug when the bell went off and a chance to snuggle afterwards on the couch and read a book.
I remember thinking: perhaps I need to tell him this – “You have permission to go there anytime. You don’t need to throw a spoon across the room to activate the pattern. You can always go and sit and catch your breath.” But then I would need to notice if he was sitting there of his own accord, without the fight and the timer and the drama. I would need to respond to the quieting down with a gentle hug, the check-in, and that attentiveness is not easy. It’s easier to not notice, to do my own stuff until he is morphing into his button-pushing alterego, Captain Naughtypants, thus flying defiantly onto my radar. So I realize, I’m the one who needs permission. To enjoy him, when he’s absorbed in quiet play, instead of rushing to fill those moments with the long list of endless unattended chores. To slow myself down enough, while he’s happy, and to simply notice the loveliness. To sit with the head-snappingly high-speed disappearingness of it all, and keep on breathing.
I’m the one who needs permission to cultivate stillness of my own. (Is there a chair for that? Craiglist?)
Funny, this permission thing.
Liz Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love super-fame) cracked it open for me last winter, a little after the Naughty Chair episode, when I inhaled her book, Big Magic. On the surface, Gilbert’s endlessly positive writing about the creative life was bit giddy, a kind of sugar, spun out of air and such a shameless use of the word “magic” that all the little cavities and exposed roots in me winced, but I kept gobbling. It was enlightening, in a lighten-the-load kind of way, to hear someone (so creatively successful) say: why do you need permission to do what we are all biologically wired to do, to do what amplifies human existence? Here, if you need it so much, I give it to you.
I actually kind of did need that.
And then I began to I feel it everywhere. Now, the creek gives me permission, the birds give me permission, the notebook, the bookshelf, the little chair – all just part of the hum of existence. Not to be clung to, as a buoy, just a marker to keep swimming past, to remind me, keep breathing, keep pulling, keep reveling in it.
The chair is always there.
Permission to withdraw. And catch your breath.
Permission to be creative. Manifest your dreams.
Permission to give fear its seat at the edge of the table and keep on dining on the feast that is your life.