I had one of those mornings. Hectic, moving at breakneck speed, all to get us all out the door well before 7:00 a.m. As I was trying to tear one packet of Ponzu sauce for my lunch from an accordion of packets, I inadvertently tore one packet wide open. It exploded all over my freshly dressed toddler. Being a toddler, she was, of course, deeply offended and began crying almost immediately. I had to make a quick decision about whether we were going to wash her hair or let her go to day care smelling of Ponzu sauce. My husband looked at me, waiting for my lead on this. Afterall, I had done it so that was only fair. I remember the frenetic energy of that led to this exact place in time; I could feel the tension building in my body (mindfulness of current emotion skill; Linehan, 2014). In that moment, I felt almost overwhelming frustration at the fact that our elegant and tightly paced morning routine was shattered. Ten seconds later, I've made the choice to rinse out her hair. She's definitely a bath baby. She doesn't get the mechanics of showering yet. She's caterwauling at a pitch I've seldom heard before. We sing at high volume to soothe her over her cries and dry her off. Her hair is now sauce-free and clean. Her wardrobe change is complete. A tense then earnest bout of laughter at the mundane absurdity of the situation and we say our goodbyes. Everybody gets where they're needing to go, and only a few minutes late to boot. No major catastrophe occurred.
One aspect of my work is helping other people to relax, savor, and find some tranquility even amid the stress and churn of their lives. But Ponzu-gate felt like the opposite of serenity. It's also my real life. More importantly, it's part of my value-driven life. In that stress, which sometimes feels very costly, there was room for so much more, like how lucky I am to parent and share my life with someone I respect and love, how my love for my daughter has made me stronger and bolder than I could have ever imagined possible. Nothing is free and I am willing to pay the cost of the relationships that make my heart sing. Continually reminding myself that all of the banal rigamarole, the spilt things, the mess, and the time pressure are all part of the gift has expanded my capacity for patience in difficult situations and makes them, in Acceptance and Commitment therapy terms, “workable” (Hayes et al, 2006). The concerted chaos is my chaos; I hold it lovingly.
Nehjla Mashal, PhD
Edited by Jordan Jones, LICSW
Hayes, S. C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
Hayes, S. C., Luoma, J. B., Bond, F. W., Masuda, A., & Lillis, J. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(1), 1-25.
Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. Guilford Publications.
Swain, J., Hancock, K., Hainsworth, C., & Bowman, J. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy in the treatment of anxiety: a systematic review. Clinical psychology review, 33(8), 965-978.