Shivers me timbers

I had been holding my breath for more than an hour. I had been out of bed since 4:00, as is my habit. I had been able to get a little tiny bit of my to-do list done by 4:30, and then, tentatively got started on a bigger, more important project.

It was 5:20AM when my little visitor came out of his room.

“Mama, I’m scared,” he said.

I knew this “I’m scared” because we have been dealing with this particular “I’m scared” for more than a month now. This “I’m scared” doesn’t mean “I’m scared,” but something else. He left it up to us, always, to determine which “I’m scared” it is.

Today, my guess was that it was the “I’m cold-I”m scared”, which happens when he goes to bed without a blanket because it’s warm and wakes up uncovered and chilly. It could have been the “I have to go peepee-I’m scared”, which means that he is just out of it enough to not be able to find the bathroom light.

There are several other meanings of “I’m scared” and not a one of them actually means he’s afraid of something.

I get why “I’m cold” means “I’m scared.” His little body is trembling a little, and that might feel a little bit like a physical consequence of fear. While I may not love it and would rather be doing something else at 5;20AM , I don’t mind walking him back to bed, tucking him back in and lying down beside him for a while, until I hear his rhythmic breathing again and I can sneak out.

He’s not really scared. He’s just cold.

Feelings are real, but they don’t always tell the truth

As a sentimentalist at heart, I would be the first to acknowledge that feelings are real and they can be all-consuming. Add a spritz of hormones into the cocktail and they can be downright intoxicating.

Feelings–of disappointment, fear, anger, sadness, jealousy–they are absolutely real. So are happiness, surprise, affection, desire. But I’m starting to wonder if I haven’t, as my littlest scalawag does every.single.morning, been confusing feelings for reality (physical sensations), and confusing reality for feelings.

For example, the desire to eat a sundae is not proof that I am hungry, it is proof that I want to eat something. Hunger is a physical reality. Wanting to eat a sundae is a feeling. Or, being tired doesn’t mean I am sad (or that I need to eat a sundae). It means that there is a reality (I’m tired) that I am associating with a feeling (I’m sad.)

The desire to eat a sundae is real. It is so real that I can taste the chocolate sauce and can feel the whipped cream in my mouth. But all that desire does not mean that I am hungry. And, if I wanted to be someone who makes wise decisions, I would be eating when I was hungry, not when a feeling of desire strikes.

This is so very similar to my wanting things that I cannot or should not have. The feeling of want is separable from the need (hello Maslow my old friend…), if I am willing to step back from the overwhelming feeling of want and determine if the need is legitimate or not.

So often, this is where the decision making process breaks down. In that haunting and much quoted little line from Jurassic Park, Malcolm says “you’ve been so concerned about whether or not you could, you never stopped to ask if you should.” Could in this context being the want, and should in this context being the need.

Enter Wallowing

Oh, yes, back to wallowing. This topic is subtle, and feels pretty dark moment by moment. (I haven’t felt funny in weeks, BTW, and perhaps it shows.) Wallowing happens when I start dwelling in the feeling and not in the reality. Wallowing happens when I confuse the feeling with the reality.

Contentment can only take root in reality. Whenever I let myself wallow in feelings or daydreams, I am acting as my own antagonist.

The first “a-ha”…

I mentioned a week or so ago that I wanted to get serious about stopping this wallowing thing that has distracted me this summer, more than it usually does. I was really getting tired of getting caught up in my thoughts and losing my sense of contentment every time something would come to my attention.

The great irony of these “I’m scared” moments with my littlest scalawag is that, annoying as they are, they have opened my eyes to the first step I need to take in order to conquer my wallowing and to turn from wallowing back to contentment. I need to determine whether the thought I am dwelling on is a reality or a feeling, and for this, I need to be bluntly honest with myself.

Shiver-me-timbers (as my youngest scalawag loves to say), we may be on to something.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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