Monday, January 31, 2011

Building blocks

This weekend I helped Brynn achieve a goal as she played with her alphabet blocks.  She wanted to build a tower that used all of the blocks, making it as tall as possible.  Before assisting her, however, I sat and watched as she worked toward achieving that goal, with little to no success.  At first, B stacked blocks individually, one on top of another.  Of course, that method worked for about 10 blocks before they succumbed to gravity and toppled back down with the other blocks, anxiously awaiting their turn to be placed atop another. 

Next, Brynn decided to take a pair of blocks, place them next to each other, and build up from there.  The idea was that the pairs of blocks would support each other along the height of the structure, preventing it from falling.  Pretty good for a little tyke, but of course, as the height grew and grew, each member of the pair began to tilt away from each other, creating a noticeable gap between the two, before once again falling back down.  It was at this point I had to mask my face so she wouldn't see me smirking at her response to failure.  She huffed, puffed, and was beyond frustrated at the idea that something 'blew her house down'.  Her little arms were crossed in front of her, her bottom lip was out, her head was down, and she let out an audible 'hmmpf'.  After a moment of this, she looked up at me and said, "mommy, you help me build a tower" (Brynn never 'asks' us for help, but rather 'tells' us how we can help--charming, right?!).

I sat down to help Brynn, and after some discussion, we decided we'd build a base of 6, followed by groups of 4 blocks, then 3 blocks, and we'd twist the tower slightly as the height grew (ok, so technically we didn't discuss this...I tried Brynn's *charming* approach and 'told' her what we were doing, rather than 'ask' her). 

And thus, the building began...


I think the smile on her face says it all (that, and the empty cloth bag behind her).  We achieved her goal, and Brynn was thrilled (that is, until she decided the tower was cold, and tried to put a blanket over the top of it--can't win 'em all, I suppose!)

The metaphor of Brynn's building blocks was something that I found very appropriate for what I'm working on in my life right now.  Having been in tears several times this week due to stress, my mind and body have been craving a reminder of how to attain the goals I am setting for myself and my family.  I know it's a work-in-progress, however acknowledging that fact is part of the process to success.

I thought about Brynn's response to failure.  Pouting and crying, while adorable (on her), isn't the most effective way to respond to trials and tribulations.  Earlier this week, my mother-in-law reminded me that it's ok to cry.  This was a wonderful reminder (and definitely appropriate at the time), as crying is a good way to release the valve on stress, however I'm not making it my goal to cry all the time.

Instead, I'm working on the way in which I respond to my situation.  For example, with Randy, I'm working on responding with 'discussions' as opposed to 'arguments'.  It wasn't that long ago that I was immediately on the defensive when situations and issues arose, which would inevitably lead to a fight.  Rather, my approach now is to try maintaining a calm voice, stating things in a more positive way, and using rational thought, not the irrational and off-the-handle smart-alec responses I used to provide so frequently provide.  I'm not sure if Randy's noticed a big change or not, however I'm hoping that as I continue to grow, the difference becomes more apparent.  I'm working on responding differently to my kids.  As *ideal* a mom I'd like to think of myself, there are times when I'm at my wit's end and respond in a way that's much hasher than I intended.  I'm working on responding differently to situations at work.  Developing and maintaining a positive rapport with my colleagues, my students, and their parents requires a delicate balance of responses, attitudes, and behaviors...and I'm working on all of that.  I'm working on responding differently to family.  More specifically, I'm working on refining a way to respond to the family with whom I don't have contact.  I'm seeking for the peace in my decisions, for some closure, for a peaceful understanding and respect for the choices I've made.  Sounds like I have a lot of work to do...

Which got me thinking a little more about those blocks.  I think of when Brynn started building, stacking blocks one by one, with little success, as her structure lacked the necessary supports it needed to grow and thrive.  She was successful to a point, before the tower buckled under the stress of having to support itself. 

She showed some intuition as she realized that by taking a pair of blocks and stacking them next to one another, she could reach higher heights than the solo stack.  At first, this approach appeared to be successful.  The blocks were supporting each other along the way, resting against one another as the height grew.  At one point, however, the design began to show signs of weakness.  Rather than the pairs of blocks working together, they succumbed to the stress of being the other's sole support, and the towers began to tilt away from each other, before inevitably toppling.

It wasn't until Brynn and I worked together, came up with a design together, that we reached our goal.  We built a base of 6 blocks, then used 4 blocks, and later 3 blocks on each layer, to achieve the height Brynn desired.  The design wasn't just reliant on the number of blocks however, but the slight twists and turns we made in each layer as the height grew, to overcome the tower's desire to tilt away from the core of the design.  Eventually, we used all the blocks, and as Brynn carefully, carefully placed the last block on the top, I held my breath and silently 'willed' the tower to remain standing.  Thankfully, it worked.

Brynn's first tower reminded me that I can't do everything alone.  I might be able to reach certain heights using my own strength, my own capabilities; however I will succumb to the stresses, and will fall.  Her second tower relied on pairs of blocks resting against one another, supporting each other's needs as the tower reached higher and higher.  The trouble came, however, when the pairs of block became overwhelmed by the stresses of being the sole support for the other block.  They started to want different things, tilting away from the central core of the tower.  This second tower reminds me that while Randy and I are partners in marriage, parenting, and life, we cannot solely rely on each other for our happiness, success, and contentment.  We support each other wonderfully, however if it's just 'us', the partnership starts to tilt away from each other because the stress becomes too much to sustain, and it topples. 

When Brynn and I worked together, however, we created a design that not only had multiple supports for the other blocks in the tower, but also twisted and turned throughout the design, to accommodate the needs of the tower.  As the individual stacks began to tilt away from the tower, the shifts and twists along the way brought the group of blocks together to continue on the right path upward. 

This last tower is exactly what we need in life.  We need to have a strong base, supporting the entire structure along the way, followed by not just one, but multiple support systems.  These supports must be flexible enough to adapt and adjust to things life throws at them along the way, and therefore can twist, turn, and shape themselves around these trials and tribulations.  They all need to work together to attain the goal, and while sometimes there are a few blocks that play a larger role than others, in the end they're able to all play a vital role in the overall success of the tower.

I am blessed in my life to have my husband, children, family, friends, co-workers who all provide support for me as I strive to achieve my goals.  I know I'm a work in progress.  My tower might sway, my blocks might shift and keep me from growing at the speed at which I'd like, however I also know that aside from my the supports I've named, I have the unyielding support of God.  His guidance has become more prevalent in my life, especially over the past 9 months, since we lost Dad last April.  I spend more time talking to Him, seeking guidance to help Randy, my kids, my family, myself in our struggle to comprehend our loss. 

I know I'm a work in progress.  My tower is building slowly, with strong supports and the guidance from God to keep me going in the right direction.  Brynn's towers reminded me to keep the faith, try again when I fail, and rely on others for help...even if I have to 'tell' people, rather than just 'ask' for help. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.
~Proverbs 3:5-6

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