Talking to my mom is like reading a chapter of the Big Book (the 12-step Bible). I vented to her yesterday about a spat I had with an in-law. All I wanted her to say was, “You are right. On all counts, you are absolutely right.” Instead she fed me a line from her 12-step literature: “No person, place, thing, or circumstance can take away your serenity.”
Puh-lease. Did the author of these words mistake some addicts and their kin with a band of Buddhist monks ready to slip into the sandals of the Dalai Lama? I know that there are advanced souls out there who have mastered this spiritual law. But as an eternal beginner in recovery, I direct my energy toward maxims that speak more to my infant state. Like, for example, “You don’t have to like them. You just have to love them.” If I stick to loving family members even when I don’t want to, maybe after awhile hurtful quarrels won’t disrupt my inner peace. But I seriously doubt it.
“Loving them when you don’t like them” is especially useful to remember when doing such maternal tasks as potty-training a stubborn three-year-old, or dragging two oppositional kids through the grocery store. It can work when dealing with explosive personalities within the family, or interacting with alcoholics and sisters that you don’t understand. It even suffices when a family member or friend makes a stupid comment about depression, which happens a lot around here.
The “loving them” directive reminds me of the poem “Anyway” that Mother Teresa posted on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s orphanage in Calcutta:
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”
The poem “Anyway” is basically an elaboration of the Serenity Prayer, which I say all the time.
In “Parenthood and the Serenity Prayer” I explain how I used it to potty train, or at least attempt to potty train, David when he was three.
When I simply can’t be benevolent to friends and family, I at least avoid trigger points. For example, sometime in November I told Eric that I would not be walking through the automatic doors of the Annapolis Westfield Mall from Thanksgiving to New Years. (Shoot, I guess I can go back now.) I learned my lesson last year, when I had a mammoth meltdown in the Starbucks’ bathroom after my two darlings and another four-year-old I was watching played tag in Claire’s, knocking off all of the lipsticks, nail polish, pencils, cosmetic bags, and earrings from their neat racks. I had absolutely no control over them or my emotions. So I dragged everyone into the closet of a bathroom at Starbucks and balled my eyes out.
I could tell my friend’s daughter wanted to ask David, “Does your mom always do this? How bizarre.”
I turned toward the toilet and began to slow my breath so that I didn’t hyperventilate and have to ask the barista for a paper bag with my scone.
All the stimulation–the talking snowmen, the Christmas carols, the piercing sirens of the toy fire engines, and three hyper small children–was simply too much. I made a note to self: don’t do this again.