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Ceasefire: an arrangement in which countries or groups of people that have been fighting each other agree to stop fighting. – Collins English Dictionary
With three kids, each two years apart, I’ve had a little experience with bickering. In fact, if it truly takes 10,000 hours of doing something, there is a decent chance that I was an “expert” in bickering before my oldest child left elementary school. Bickering is wildly unpleasant to be around. This unpleasantness is compounded by the fact that bickering children are deeply invested in having their mother know they are bickering. (I learned that the British matched the sound of their air raid sirens during WW2 to the shriek of a small child because it is virtually impossible to ignore. Years of listening to just that type of wailing confirm that the Brits are very smart.)
It was pure desperation then that led me to my signature (and possibly brilliant) solution to bickering. Rather than separating my kids by sending them to their rooms (where the bickering and wailing would continue only at a louder volume as they had to shout through doors and down halls), I began placing them on opposite sides of a throw rug. I then asked them to look silently at each other until they could once again see their brother or sister who they (mostly) loved rather than an enemy or thief or vandal or liar or whatever that afternoon’s charge was.
Initially, the looks that passed across the rug were lethal. Squints, glares, stuck out tongues, the works. But within minutes (usually just moments), someone would crack up. Thankfully, laughter is highly contagious and soon thereafter both children would be in stitches. Once everyone was laughing (or at least smiling) one final step remained to receive emancipation from the rug – they had to hug each other. Though the hug wasn’t always the most enthusiastic or sincere, that physical embrace was always enough to smooth any remaining ruffled feathers and prepare both parties to move on in peace.
These memories came flooding back to me when I read a blog post by Kristin Fontaine on the website Episcopal Café. In it she writes of a yoga teacher who regards her yoga mat as a ceasefire zone. In other words, when on her yoga mat, she must cease and desist from any and all hostile thinking. As she described it, hostilities could include negative feelings about her body shape and size, what she had or had not eaten that day, or how much or little she had exercised. However, as I read it I realized I could easily add to her list with more of my own habitually hostile thoughts – “I stink at this pose.” “I’ll never get that one.” “I’m so tight compared to everyone else.” “My Lord! Look at my knees! They are hideous!” “I’m way too old to ever try that.” “Messed it up. Again. Jeez.” You get the picture.
Before reading Ms. Fontaine’s piece, in my imagination a ceasefire zone looked like a godforsaken strip of “no man’s land,” surrounded by barbed wire, soldiers poised along both sides with weapons at the ready. A place where you were stuck between hostilities. Where you didn’t let your hackles down an inch. Where you followed all the rules or else.
But the ceasefire zone described in Fontaine’s piece was something else entirely. It sounded like an oasis. A peaceful place where you could not only step out of the hostilities, but you could set down your very heavy defenses (and offenses) to rest. This ceasefire zone could be a place of rejuvenation and of healing. It could be a place that was fun and even a little silly. It could be a place where you received the chance of a “Do Over.” A place where you might even be able to rewrite the rules of the game.
I realized with a smile that I had created just such a ceasefire zone for my children. That long ago throw rug was a place where they could set aside the heavy weight of their grievances and anger and hostilities. It was place where they could return (sometimes grudgingly) with a smile or a laugh to the warm lap of family and home.
With another smile, I realized that Ms. Fontaine was precisely right. My yoga mat could be my grown up version of that throw rug. While I would be the only person standing on its edges, I had plenty of heavy weights that I could set down. Judgment. Criticism. Negativity. Even sarcasm. I could set all that aside and step into my own little oasis.
As my children remembered how much they loved each other when they looked across the ceasefire zone of that throw rug, I can stand on my mat and remember that I am strong. That I am (sometimes) brave. I can remember that I am trying and that trying is enough. As I move and breathe within my little rectangular, rubber ceasefire zone, the most important thing I can remember is that there is no one else I’d rather be than me. With that, I’m ready to step back into the world lighter, brighter and ready to play by new, “kinder and gentler” rules.