Who's in Control, Anyway?

There is a non-linear aspect to mothering that I find completely maddening at times. Feeling like the master of my direction and maintaining a sense of control over the unfolding of my days were anchors of stability for me in the past. Now, I find that any simple task is wrought with curve balls and detours before completion. Instead of simply moving from A to B I find that we begin at A, diverge to M, N, O, hit Z as we loop back around, D, C, and at last back to our goal; B!

Take brushing my teeth for instance. Previously, it looked something like this: I enter the bathroom, grab my toothbrush, wet the brush, put on the toothpaste, brush, rinse, tah-dah! Done. Moving on. However, now it looks something more like this: we enter the bathroom, Rowen climbs on the toilet and makes his way into the sink as I grab my toothbrush, move him back to the toilet, wet toothbrush through the drips that fall from tiny fingers covering the faucet, clean up water that is now all over the floor, find toothpaste then apply, keep Rowen out of the sink and the water play under control while brushing, give into his wish to wash his hands, puts soap in his eye, crying ensues, wash out his eye, spit, rinse, and we leave the bathroom. Done. Moving on.

As I write this, a part of me thinks "oh my goodness, he is so precious! How lovely my life is with this little guy." But the reality is that in the midst of trying to do any small thing a frustration often builds, sometimes to the point I just want to burst. I feel powerless and like I am stuck in an eddy of chaotic and unpredictable behavior and events. These little vignettes happen all-day-long. Between Rowen and the dog I feel like my day can be one long series of detours. We do always reach our intended destination, but I am never certain how many twists and turns or how much back tracking it will take to actually get there. It leaves me feeling absolutely helpless at times.

Coming to terms with this reality in our days felt like an edge I needed to lean into so I took some time to contemplate my feelings during these moments. I wanted to find a way to embrace the mystery and the sense of uncertainty in the way each task unfolds. 

I realized something.

The difference between having a sense of control in my own, independent, doings and the feelings of having a lack of control in our group efforts is my illusion of control in the former.

The way I view the world these days is mostly informed by Eastern wisdom traditions, like Tibetan Buddhism, intermingled with cognitive psychology and neuroscience. From this angle, a sense of dominion over our lives is always illusory. We are constrained by the causes and conditions determined by our past actions and habitual behaviors, limited by the grooves in our neural circuitry, swayed by the complexities of our emotional body's feelings, longing, and desires, not to mention being in a fragile dance with Life, our sheer mortality ever-present. So where does this "I" that feels so in control exist? That is the delusion being torn down by my child. 

What is ultimately so frustrating about completing something with Rowen is that the lack of control is so blatant, my power to manage and control his behavior is completely and utterly non-existent. We are in a relationship and there are inherently two sides to that, it is always collaborative. When I am on my own, however, I can happily maintain my delusion as "Jessica" easily and quickly moves about checking tasks off her list. I can be the dictator of my own life and no one is there to push back.

The only place I ever truly have had, or ever will have, control in my life is in my power to choose how I will respond to the world around me. It's not the actual doings of my day, but in my response to the way those doings unfold that is my throne of self dominion. 

May all of our days loop and wind and twist and turn and come back around again with more ease as we rest in a sense of certainty about our freedom (and responsibility) to respond wisely and graciously to whatever arises. 

My mantra these days: The emotional body is the next frontier, to explore it bravely is one of life's greatest adventures.