“Mom, I’m sweating,” my 5-year old whines. We’re walking through the neighborhood on our weekly trip to the donut shop. It’s about 75 degrees outside.
“It’s hot out,” I tell him, “but there are plenty of shady spots.”
“Noooo!” He screams,”I’m burning! It’s too hot out here. It needs to be air-conditioned!” he demands.
“What, outside?” I laugh.
“Yes!” he screams, puts his hands over his ears, and shrieks at the top of his lungs.
“Listen. If you want to walk all the way to the donut shop, you need to cheer up,” I tell him. “Go ahead, smile.”
He does, grudgingly.
We continue walking in silence for a few minutes. I’m struck by the thought that in a few weeks he will be at school all day, and I won’t have these chances to help him cheer up, to spend time with him, and to teach him how to handle life in the moment. In these last few weeks I want to help him learn to cope with discomfort. It’s super challenging for a five-year old. I mean, it’s hard for me. But this will be an exercise for both of us.
Back before I had kids, when I was pregnant with my daughter, Geoff and I took Bradley method birthing classes. They were a little crunchy granola, but I’m telling you, this works. The Bradley method teaches you how to cope with pain. It teaches you relaxation. It shows you how to stop fighting against the pain and instead let the pain come and go. You learn to focus your attention elsewhere – on a photograph, or a part of your body that is not in pain.
It takes practice. You build up your tolerance to pain months ahead of time, training your mind by squeezing your partner’s hand, then by holding an ice cube, then finally by focusing through your early contractions. Then when you must, you lie down. You relax. You breathe. You feel the pain come and go. You think of your photograph, or of your feet, or whatever you choose, and you remind yourself that you will soon be free of the pain. The discomfort never becomes part of you, it is always separate.
And fighting it? Does that work? No more than my son’s shrieking made him feel better. Relaxing and succumbing to the pain was the only way that I found to get through it. Pain has its own rhythm and pain has its own language. Coping with it demands all of your attention and all of your submission. It doesn’t appreciate snark. It wants to own you; it demands your compliance.
And if you comply? If you ride out the pain? I found that after giving birth, after the pain had passed, I experienced the most profound feeling of happiness that I’ve ever experienced. It is truly spiritual. It’s a time not only for being with your new baby, but for experiencing your body, and the world, anew.
My son and I made it to the donut shop. Along the way we discussed Iron Man and Scooby Doo. We bought donuts and sat outside in the sun to eat them. He took a long time eating his, finally oblivious to the heat and just happy.
I think that we will keep up this weekly trip, even in July and August.