Let’s go to the donut shop

“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.

18 thoughts on “Let’s go to the donut shop

  1. Thanks for the introduction into this philosophy – I wish I had learned it as a child! I think a lot of my issues come from not knowing how to deal with pain or discomfort. I’m learning, though, and if I ever have kids I’ll have to read more…

    1. Thanks, Natalie. Yes, I’d recommend the Bradley method, but I would not recommend natural childbirth with your first baby! And it’s always great to understand whatever you are feeling.

  2. How true. So often I find I make things worse for myself by trying to fight them, but if I just accepted them for what they are, I’d cope with them and they’d pass on by.

  3. This is so interesting. I have always looked upon pain as something to be avoided at all costs, and I never thought twice about getting an epidural during birth. I have been told that I have a high tolerance for pain, but as soon as those heavy contractions started, I felt like I was going to die. Kudos to you for embracing it and working through it.

    1. It’s funny, because my main reason at first was fear of C-section. I actually wish I had just gone for the epidural the first time. You made the right call!

  4. THis method is in tune with the concepts of radical acceptance. Going into the pain and discomfort of life with the idea that when bad stuff happens I dont have to like it but I do have to deal with it (accept) if I want to move on and find relief. Its a great way to work and giving it to you boy early is fabulous. I wish we could teach it in grammar schools.

  5. I’m impressed! I had an epidural and I’m so glad. The level of pain I experienced before that was quite enough for me. Next time I’m uncomfortable, I’m going to think about donuts 😉

  6. I had no idea the Bradley Method was applicable to all pain – very cool! That said, the promise of a donut would help me get through just about anything. Great story!

  7. Such a nice ritual you have with your son. Learning to work through pain or an unpleasant circumstance is such an important thing for a child to learn. Sounds like he has a good teacher.

  8. My second birth was unmedicated and it was my favorite of my three birth experiences. It was purposeful pain and I welcomed it and let it wash over me as I was on awe of yhe miracle my body was releasing.

  9. That’s a great philosophy… for physical and emotional pain. There is more to the world — there’s always somewhere else to focus. How wonderful that you are teaching it to your son so young!

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