Thursday, December 6, 2007

Harmony and peace in Christmas decorating

Last night my daughters and I invited Christmas into our home. It could have been a disaster -- fortunately it wasn't.

There are times when I simply do not feel like being reasonable. The beginning of the process last night was one of them.

The boxes from Christmas are all downstairs. I think it's rankled me all year that they were in a disorderly mess. I was away last January when the girls decided to do something really nice, and pack away the Christmas treasures while I was gone. It was a treat to come home after 10 days away and not have to face the prospect of putting away Christmas. But.... they hadn't really payed close attention to how the items were packed up, and how they were stored in the basement. At the time, I chose to simply appreciate the thought and effort that went into their gift and thanked them for having done something so helpful.

But.... the mess.

It rankled. It burred. It was always there. Now, I'm sure I could have waded through the chaos and created reason out of it, but I had a better reason for leaving it as it was -- I was being stubborn. Plus -- I truly was appreciative of the fact the girls had pitched in and willingly, lovingly put everything away. I didn't want to discourage them from doing it again. Why complain about how they did it? I was grateful for the fact they had done it!

Unfortunately, I let the grating irritation of not having it done my way fester. Last night, it broke through like acid breaking through the vessel that contains it.

Liseanne was busy finishing off an essay for school so Alexis said she'd help me bring everything up. She carried one load up and disappeared. I hadn't realized she was gone until I was three-quarters through carrying everything upstairs. When asked what happened, she replied, "Oh. I forgot I had to make my phone calls."

Hello? Phone calls? What about the boxes?

I kept bringing the gear up and by the end was royally ticked off that she wasn't helping.

Now, I am not known for blowing up. It's not my habit. Not my nature. I'm actually trying to teach myself to express anger in the moment as expressing anger is something I don't do well -- except through silence and withdrawal. So, I thought I'd tell her about how I was feeling. The part of expressing anger I forgot about was the how to do it appropriately. In my haste to get it out and over with, I dumped the final box on the kitchen floor, strode into Alexis' bedroom and began to berate her with my ire.

"I am very angry," I said, my hands on my hips, feet spread apart, chin jutting out. "You said you would help and then disappeared. That wasn't fair."

"I had to make my phone calls to my group from Choices," she replied defensively. "You know that's important."

Now, I hate it when someone takes my righteous anger and douses it with their righteous cause. Never having been adept at expressing anger, or even acknowledging I feel it for that matter, I feel like their excuse means I don't have the right to be angry and thus need to back down.

I wasn't into backing down last night so I forged ahead, heals kicking up as my high horse took off across treacherous ground.

"I don't think that's a good enough excuse. You said you'd help. Where were you?"

"You could have waited for me to finish my calls before bringing up the boxes," my daughter responded. "You were just being stubborn and trying to prove a point."

I was?

Oh. Well, maybe. Possibly.

And that's the challenge with anger and I'm right, You're wrong thinking.

I was right to be annoyed. She had said she'd help and disappeared without a word.

She was right to be defensive. I was over the top in my expression of my anger with her behaviour. And, she had simply become fixated on her need to make the calls and gotten side-tracked with the urgency of her mission to connect with her group from Choices training.

Doesn't make either of us right in how we acted. She resorted to tears and crying. I resorted to hands on hips, riding my high horse with abandon posturing.

In the end, sobriety prevailed. We hugged and made up and the evening carried on filled with love and laughter.

But, in reflecting on the events, I realized how my ire about the mess in the basement had corroded my thinking for almost a year. It had eaten away at my peace of mind.

My anger wasn't all about Alexis' behaviour last night. It was about my not accepting the gift of my daughters help last year -- and letting go of my need to have it done my way. I paid lip service to my acceptance -- and did nothing about cleaning up the mess.

It is my responsibility to clean up my mess -- and if I needed them to pitch in to do the job 'properly', I needed to be clear in my message.

Because I let the issue fester for a year, I acted out my frustration last night. My unconscious overrode my conscious need to have a beautiful, happy, loving experience with my daughters as we spent the evening decorating our home.

For all of us, this is an important event. Alexis had specifically booked time off work so we could do it together. Liseanne has exams all next week and asked if we could do it now so her studies wouldn't interfere. And me -- well both girls know Christmas doesn't enter our home until after my birthday! Because I wanted us to do it together, I let my birthday position ease into Christmas the first week of December.

Had I stayed conscious of what I wanted, I would not have flown so quickly into anger and could instead have settled into what Stephen Covey calls, 'the third alternative'. What was the win/win I could have created?

I could have taken a breath. Got out of my head and into my heart and recognized that I was being stubborn. I could have spent the time in the basement sorting through the boxes and consciously pressed my rankled thinking into harmony and peace by focusing on the gift my daughters gave me last year and what a gift it is to be able to do this together. I could have waited until Alexis was finished with her phone calls and Liseanne had her essay completed. And, I could have accepted the fact Alexis didn't intentionally disappear -- she truly did forget because she has a habit of becoming distracted in the midst of whatever she's doing. I could have made different choices. Whether or not I chose to be annoyed -- I never had the right to be so over the top in my assertion I deserved to express my anger in the way I did.

The question is: Where do you not take responsibility for how you express your anger? Where do you choose discord over your desire to create harmony and peace?

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