Loading my Toolbox – The Art of Distraction

My life isn’t hard. I am a reasonably healthy, middle class American, with 4 children who tolerate me differently depending on the day and the circumstance. I do have horizontal lines etched in my forehead like a bad paper jam, giving me a semi-permanent look of confused anger, but it’s not so bad that I’ve yet researched Botox.

But still. Life is life. And sometimes it sits down on me. Sometimes other people sit down on me. Some of those people are fatter than others. Some of the things poking me are sharper than others. And sometimes I just get tired.

But life isn’t usually about big survival moments or big victories. At least mine isn’t. Life is about surviving all the little things that pile up around me. It’s about worming out from under what sat down on me, whether I gave it permission to or not. It gets a little harder as the challenges become emotional. Or daily. Or chronic. Or out of my control. What do I do with the kid on the sidewalk who’s crying about hating school? And the bickering between teen brothers who understand respect for others but don’t apply it to each other? And all the people I encounter in a day who make decisions that impact me, even negatively, but over whom I have no control or influence? And the 103 degree fever that threatens to unravel a week’s plans?

What about that stuff?

Well, that stuff needs a little first aid kid. A toolbox. And that toolbox needs tools. I’m pretty awkward with packing the toolbox. None of it comes naturally to me. Fortunately, these things can be taught. Eventually, I become desperate enough to learn. The tool I use obviously depends upon the situation. I wouldn’t use a hammer to apply paint or a brillo pad to tighten a screw. So the tricks I pull are closely related to the crisis at hand. Because this week is all about high fevers and night terrors, I’m too tired to talk about all the tools at once. So tonight, I’m rooting around for the first tool. Just one.


Lately, my youngest has been worrying about everything from who left school after vomiting to the color of the smudge on her shoes. She’s been a little stressed out. Sometimes stress is irrational. Sometimes it’s perfectly rational, but not immediately curable. But if you can’t escape the problem and you can’t change the problem, look away. Think about something else. If you can’t change your circumstance, change your mind.

I stink at this. So much. I don’t think this way. When a kid is freaking out on my watch, I am much more likely to freak out alongside them (“ALL IS RUINED!”) than to point them to a better way of thinking. Fortunately, this one can be learned by careful observation of people who do it well. And even more fortunately, my husband has this skill mastered. I watch him like a stalker.

Last week, my youngest hadn’t slept well and didn’t want to go to school. She was whimpering on the way to school, so I suggested we start a chain poem. I would suggest a word or phrase, she would try to add a rhyme to it, and we’d keep going until we had something. Here’s what we came up with in a half mile drive:

There once was a bear with E coli in his hair
And he had red shoes and he liked the blues
One day a woodchuck sat on a frito
And the frito broke.

I am not the one who added E coli to the poem. Jenna is obsessed with deadly diseases. I did put the E coli in the bear’s hair to make it rhyme. I also am not the one who put the unrhymable frito on the tail end of a line. It was actually working pretty well–we were both laughing–until she realized something she had left at home and started wailing again.

So I put that tool back in my toolbox and drove home.


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