Straining every cell in my body, I leaned forward in my chair, and focused intently on the computer screen. I was doing my best to navigate a virtual high school. "It's got to work this time." I thought to myself, as a sense of desperation mounted inside my body. I simply wanted to get a program installed so my son could do his homework! He was starting a new online school, the computer set up was unfamiliar to me, the mouse was super sensitive, the type set on the screen was smaller than my eyes could easily read, and the screen was positioned so I had to look up at it. The strain on my neck tightened by the moment.
"Breathe, mom." I heard my son speak to me with a gentle tone, "It doesn't have to be so hard, relax."
Surprised by the new awareness that I had been holding my breath, I leaned back in the chair, breathed deeply, and massaged the back of my aching neck.
Still feeling the intensity in my body, I exclaimed, "This is so frustrating right now!"
"Is that what you are telling yourself?" he asked with curiosity, "it doesn't have to be that way." He continued, "I can feel you tensing up and getting stressed, mom, take a moment and breathe, relax. You know it will help."
In the moment I paused to really hear him. I looked into his face; I noticed a niggle of concern at the corners of his eyes, which were filled with kindness and care. His face was relaxed as he watched me with curiosity. I realized in that moment two things; 1) just how much my son had grown, and 2) that I had been operating out of my own memories around what it's like to go to high school.
Rylan has grown so much. When we first began our shared adventure with his education, neither public or private schools met his unique needs. So, we chose the on-going exploration of home schooling, homeschool groups, or unschooling, to best fit each stage of his growth and development.
It was not a simple, or an easy path to navigate, he experienced high anxiety laced with sensory processing difficulties, which left him in agony when triggered. For me, I experimented. Using the tools of resonant empathy, presence, and neuroscience, I learned how to remain in relationship with my son, and empowered to dance with whatever energy showed up. This meant getting lots and lots of empathy support from my empathy buddy around what it was like to be me when things felt tough. And taking the time needed to make repairs within myself, around my own past life experiences, so they would not end up projected on my child.
As my son and I learned to communicate, using nonviolent communication and interpersonal neurobiology, we held a mutual intention for heart connection, which became a life line for both of us. We grew strong roots of connection we could both count on. Our relationship always came first, and strategies naturally emerged later. Together, we devised games using feelings and needs cards which supported us to develop what we called our new "Language of Life" learning new skill sets. I remember we slowed time down to enact our "rewinds" - where we would literally walk backwards to rewind time and experience something different. By practicing this, repeatedly, we discovered how vital it is to intentionally initiate a repair to heal any ruptures in our relationship.
We also spent lots of time in relationship with our horses, either riding together, or with his sisters, and sometimes Rylan would video tape me working with my horses relationally on the ground. (**See images and video link below) Horses have been a common thread offering consistent, congruent, authentic relationships in my life, for which I am forever grateful for. Rylan and I never had a dull day, ever, and that was just the beginning.
Now, here we are in a virtual high school, and he is living and modeling this way of being in relationship with himself, and with others, naturally. With kindness and warmth, he invited me, his mother, back to the present moment in time. "Breathe," he requested, "It doesn't have to be so hard, relax."
When Rylan invited me to breathe and relax, it opened a warm window of welcome into my life. I was empowered to silently acknowledge my 14-year-old self, who found high school, a very hard place to be and life was quite lonely. By remembering how I felt then, and bringing that felt-sense experience in my body to the present time, where it doesn't have to be so hard, I found I could relax at a whole new level in my body. Pretty incredible to experience!
In reflection, I recognized the beliefs and patterns, conditioned by my life experiences, that were driving my thinking and behavior in that moment of time. They can sound like; "I have to get it right. This is so hard. I am so stupid. I don't belong here." The internal dialogue's chatter (also known as our default mode network) can go on and on as it drives our thinking and behavior beneath our conscious awareness. As we begin to learn how to hear this inner-voice with warmth and compassion, it loosens its grip on our nervous system, and we can experience more choice in the moment.
This experience has me pondering, how many times have I, as a parent, been drawn into my child's life experiences, where the edges of our relationship blur, and they become entangled with my own life experiences? Or where are there times that I habitually began to take responsibility in the lives of those I care about, rather than to consciously remain in present-time relationship with them?
Life can feel so complex at times, especially when we acknowledge how many relationships we juggle, or all the responsibilities we are accountable for in relationship with others, not to mention our need to attend to our own work or passion in this world!
So, what does it look like to have integrity in our relationships, to hold them with care, and still take care of ourselves?
For me, this is an on-going experiment I hold with great fascination; in relationship with myself, and within all my relationships with others. Including; horses, cats, dogs, gardens, and life itself! What greatly contributes towards the meaning of it all, is a collaboration of learning; more deeply and congruently, this "Language of Life" we are all here to co-create with one another. That is the music we can learn to dance with, in relationship with one another.
I still marvel at the depth of integration that was possible when I allowed myself to be held in the warm and loving relationship, in the present-moment, with the one who is my son. Such a gift.