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What I Want to Do When My Daughter Hits Me

What I immediately think about doing when my daughter hits me, and what I do, are vastly different in their mind-states, energy, and lasting effects on both of us.

Recently, my husband and I brought our children into New York City for a visit.  I love and loathe taking my kids into the city.  Bearing witness to their awe as they take in their new environment is beautiful.  Embarking upon the long excursion to Manhattan and then hauling their slow-as-molasses, easily distracted, zero-sense-of-danger selves around the island is exhausting.  To get away from my feelings of resentment that arise while I travel with them, I find myself easing into comparison mode, thinking about life pre-children, as it was when my husband and I lived as a couple in the city.  This mental jaunt I take is by no means skillful, and usually makes me like the activity at-hand even less. But I do it.

I found myself in caught up in this fantasy while waiting on line with my daughter after we arrived for our visit.  There we stood, during the morning rush, in a trendy coffee shop on Wall Street, surrounded by tidy, professional-looking folks, eager to get caffeinated and get on with it.  As the congenial, yet effficiency-focused barista started eyeing me while she finished the order before ours, I took her unspoken direction as a cue to get my act together.  As together as mine felt, the act of the three-foot being at my side was not so easily assembled. Busy ogling puff-pastry and fried dough, my daughter began making lists. “Mom, can I have the chocolate thing?” she asked, while straining to see in the glass display case.  Sensing I was in for a process of hunt and peck, I tried to expedite our order.  I have no idea what she’s referring to, but pick something and let’s get outta here, I prompted myself, hoping to skip over the part where I morally debate giving her dessert for breakfast. 

I turned to the woman behind the corner to utter some, “uh…um…We’ll have…”, and felt the people in line behind me shifting around.  “We’ll take one of the chocolate donuts, to go, please?” I decided, smiling uncomfortably while attempting to block the sound of my daughter’s additional instructions.  In my peripheral vision I spied the top of a small, plump, toddler hand edging its way under a small gap in the glass display case standing before us.  The hand successfully made its way to the top of a freshly baked chocolate croissant.  “No, mom.  I wanted this one!” the hand’s voice declared, ensuring I understood while manhandling the toppling stack of flaky dough.  “No!” I heard my voice respond sternly, “We don’t touch food we haven’t purchased!”  I felt myself tighten.  Whatever that means…how do you expect to grocery shop?  Within moments I was yanking her hand out from under the glass, forcefully directing it downward.  Mortified, I scanned the eyes of the people in line behind us and headed to the register to pay.

As we paid, I filled with shame for raising a child who touches public pastry.  I filled with regret for resorting to yanking as a means of communication, and for yanking because of what I was feeling, not what she was doing.  The barista closed out the transaction and handed us the food. I leaned down hesitantly to give my daughter her bag.  Her eyes connected with mine and she slapped me square in the face.  I was filled with rage.  I envisioned everyone in line watching our performance and insecurity coursed through my body. I dreamed of quickly throwing a reverse punch into my daughter’s nose, while stuffing her beloved, don’t-leave-home-without-him plush-toy down her throat.  I then fantasized of dismembering her, limb-by-limb, and stacking her body parts neatly into her crumb-filled stroller, then turning to the stylishly dressed patrons, tipping my head skyward and proclaiming, “There…now, isn’t she well behaved?” and confidently speed-walking out of the shop.

Instead, I came back to my daughter, stayed eye-level with her and said calmly, “Lia, you hurt me and scared me.  Please don’t hit me.”  She clutched her small bag and refused to look at me.  I felt the urge to grab her arm and squeeze it to get her attention.  I wanted to make her hurt like I was hurting.  I envisioned wielding my power by ripping her croissant from her hands and making a grand display of disposing it in the trash can.  Just stand up, smile at everyone, then get her outside onto the sidewalk where you can yell.   I paused, letting my anger rise and fall.  Then I stood up, bowed my head and left the store.  When we got outside, I again leaned down to face her and told her she had hurt me.    My ego tried to convince me I wasn’t disciplining her.

Buddhist meditation teaches that anger is a secondary emotion, shielding us from the pain we’d rather not feel.  My interaction with my daughter left me deeply in pain.  But I came back to it, constantly reminding myself that I didn’t want to use rage and violence to address rage and violence.  Instead, when my daughter hits me, what I want to do is create space for both of us to feel the effects of her reaction.   ~Karma Mamma

This is an accompaniment to a video on my blog. You can view it here

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