The Calla-clan went over the Delaware, Potomac and James rivers and through allll the woodses to Gram’s house in NC.
We piled into the house where the hardware’s still off the bathroom door my younger brother donkey-kicked when we were in fifth grade,
and where the cow pasture behind us used to be the tobacco field where we hurled red clay clumps at each other in our GI Joe simulations. (Many a noggin was knocked by a hidden hunk of quartz.)
The 2-day drive down was good, and our lil nuggets named themselves the Road Rangers.
They did miles better than I did on road trips as a kid — my patience petered by Lake Norman when we took summer trips to Carowinds. Even the promise of the Scooby Doo Roller Coaster couldn’t temper my impatience with my legs sticking to the blue vinyl back seat of the Ford Fairmont station wagon.
One crucial operational duty you have to manage on road trips with a 3- and 4-year-old: snack management.
Once glycemic indices fluctuate, you have a brief window to mitigate a detour onto Hangrytown Highway.
(We refer to the the passenger seat occupant on road trips as “The Snack Bitch.”)
We wended our way through the interminable Commonwealth of Virginia, witnessed the potentialities of human behavior when subject to just 2 lanes on the interstate, and the under-fives weren’t the only denizens of Hangrytown occupying the motor.
I rode snack-gun while Melissa landed us at lunchtime.
Grace Patricia (GPS’s first and middle names) began to exhibit decision fatigue, so I asserted my navigational insight while the boys decided their Magna-Doodles would make great seat-back bludgeons.
An ambulance whizzed by, and motorists executed ill-considered left turns out of the nearby Sheetz.
“Turn right here, and that’ll get you back to the light you need,” I offered.
Melissa proceeded straight.
“Turn right here. Here!”
“Now we missed it.”
Why was nobody LISTENING to me????
A knot cinched my growly stomach and slung a lasso up around the back of my tongue.
My guts stomped and silent-screamed — much like my four-year-old recurring nightmare of Darth Vader slinging me over his shoulder and carrying me out the door while my Mom and Dad smiled and waved, “Have a good time :).”
No one was listening to me!
Melissa telescoped her focus on the road, turned right on an actual road and then safely U-turned. It was later than the one I said she should make, and I barked as much.
The car climate shifted from frenetic to stormy.
Melissa’s face looked like I’d just thrown her chocolate peanut butter ice cream cone on the sidewalk. I’d hurt her feelings.
I saw this with my eyes and ascertained it with my brain, and in my four-year-old Darth Vader capture moment, I was incapable of meeting her there.
Empathy was as distant as everything on Interstate 81 — stuck between an 18-wheeler and the Buick Lacrosse with the Texas plates who needed to BACK OFF.
With tears behind her eyes, Melissa said to me, “You’d think after the weeks we’ve had–all the packing, planning, cleaning, wrapping, wrangling — the exhaustion I’m feeling right now — the OVERSTIMULATION. I literally couldn’t hear you with all that was happening.
“I just hoped you’d have a little more understanding with where I am.”
I heard her. Her words made sense.
I was still 4, though, and no one freaking listens.
Lunch was a little shut down and sad, and the next several miles down the highway, too.
I said a couple things about “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…” and “If you just understood…”, and when I realized I sounded like the grade-A narcissist the YouTube Psychologist warned us about, I got quiet.
Melissa folded her arms and leaned toward the passenger side window. Get your own snacks, everybody.
Finally, I said, “Sweetie, I’m sorry. I hurt your feelings. My trigger triggered your trigger. I couldn’t pull myself out of my reactivity. I’m working on it.”
We’ve learned after nearly 10 years married that we need a little time to come through our respective feeling swamps. We held hands, closed our mouths for a while, and bought some time pumping the Encanto soundtrack.
You ever been there?
Something happened, and before you knew it, the floor vanished, you didn’t know which end was up, and something akin to imminent soul death gripped you like monster vines?
It’s happened to me more times than I can count.
In Melissa’s case, I didn’t SEE her when she needed to be seen, met, and understood.
For me, I didn’t feel like anybody was listening.
For both little Melissa and little Dan, very tender wounds got punched.
You got any places in your little-hood when you desperately needed someone just to see you? To listen when you tried to tell a big person something was terribly wrong?
Makes a lot of sense that folks with deep longings to be seen and heard become singers, right?
As you can see from my road trip trigger-sode, I’m working on it.
And there are things that’ve helped me, too.
Here are a few:
Sometimes you’re going to be an asshole. Try as you might, there will be times when you get sucked down the wormhole to your wounded whatever-year-old self.
These moments are necessary.
They take you to the place that needs your compassion and understanding.
They also make you realize most of us are walking around with hurting five-year-old selves in need of a hug. (especially that Buick Lacrosse driver who I still hope gets pulled over and ticketed SOMEwhere. I need justice!)
The work you need to do feels a lot like rest, and it’s scary as hell. When painful reference points leap up and grab you, the first thing we want to do is smush, suppress, DE-press.
Por qué? Because you probably had a precious caregiver who had to smush and suppress, too, so they weren’t able to let you cry on through, scream on through, or experience a full emotional cycle.
You didn’t get to experience the fact that a big feeling comes, your body cries, shakes, or yells, and then it stops.
Most of us stick ourselves in the stage of suffocating the onset of emotion. Makes sense — if your big person couldn’t handle your feels, you learned how to dull them. No one likes feeling rejected or too-much.
Here’s where the rest part comes in. I’ve found that when the stuff comes up, it’s important to let it do it’s thing. Meet it and yourself with the willingness to understand, with the compassion you’d offer a dear friend.
You don’t need to understand. In fact, it may be best just to let your body make some sensations, breathe through them, and then make yourself some tea.
We get into trouble when we try to work it all out with our noggins. There are all kinds of things my brain understands; just because I understand how a bicycle works doesn’t mean I can ride one.
and last —
Open up to the gift that’s there. The hurts I walk with tenderize me. They’ve worked compassion into my heart, and they’ve opened my ears and my soul. I wouldn’t be the husband, dad, or teacher I am without them.
I’ve howled, cried, raged, screamed, pounded my fists, and asked plenty of whys, and I’ve had enough time and miracles to look back and see beauty in how the stained bandage threads cross each other and wove quite the picture.
Learning how to feel things has helped me show my students that they can too. I often say, “It’s just crying.” Not to minimize the experience, but to remind us that crying starts and crying ends. Just like a song.
And I want you to remember that there is in fact only one you, and folks do need to hear the story that only you can sing. May need to cry and laugh through some things as you work on it; that’s just the love in the recipe. The most important ingredient.
ps I’ve been listening to several interviews with Dr. Gabor Mate recently, and his latest book The Myth of Normal sounds like an essential read for all of us. He points out so many things about the water we’re swimming in, usually unaware that it’s been polluted. I’m wondering more and more what I can do about that. Go search on YouTube.
pps And two of my FAVORITE hearts and thinkers talked to EACH OTHER recently. Brené Brown interviewed Father Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. Here’s Episode One of the two-parter, “On Breathing Underwater, Falling Upward, and Unlearning Certainty.”
ppps You need a lesson? I got some time. Skewl doesn’t kick back in for a couple of weeks, so if you want to sing or work something out, email me back, and we’ll make a time. 🎵 Just hit reply 🙂