Health And Wellness

We Are Wired For Simpler Times

Photo: fizkes / Shutterstock
woman trying to clam down

“I don’t want to be rude, but you’re not the only one,” she blurted in sheepish anger as she turned on a clean sneaker to roll away with her solo bag.

All I can think is that her pelvic ligaments had never yielded to new life. She has never searched between a maze of sheets in the confusing dark hours with panicked hands, trying to find a tiny rib cage. Or felt the slightly embarrassed relief as the heat of sweet milky breath confirmed life had not stopped.

What I really want you to hear is: We all struggle.

I assume the others, who keep their eyes down, know those dark confusing hours. I assume those lowered gazes knew all too well the shame I will feel later. I think they are instinctively offering the camaraderie of silence — and the kindness of letting me feel invisible, unwatched, and unjudged as I block the other passengers and forget the difference between my 44 year-old-body and my three-year-old son.

I’m flooded like the hoover dam. The wise scar on my labia should know better. I need to just stop and breathe. Look around. And let it go.

But I don’t.

I stand in the middle of the ramp and chase after her sneakers shouting, “WELL IT IS RUDE!!!”

Because there is no blood in my pre-frontal cortex. And I can’t think of anything witty to say.

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Due to a weather delay, my three-year-old, five-year-old, and I have less than 15 minutes to catch our connecting flight. And the baggage guy will not stop unloading the bags and go get my stroller — as I asked him to.

As the minutes evaporate, my blood fills with adrenaline, and my amygdala won’t shut up. I’m desperate to get off the ramp. I NEED to ask the gate agent to call our flight and tell them we were on our way. And suddenly I think — maybe we don’t really need the stroller?

“RUN,” is all I say. And for a moment I felt hopeful.

But according to the gate warden — it was too late. We had already missed our flight. Which I knew was a lie. But there was no way we could make it at the pace of three-year-old legs. My decision to abandon the stroller was lacking in forward-thinking (a specialty of the limbic system).

I took two hands, one from each child (I think), and ordered, “Stay here. Do not take your hand off this suitcase. Do you hear me? Do not.” I turned to run back, but the gate warden was quicker. She yelled, “MA’AM. STOP.”

And I did stop. Because she scared me. But I didn’t move.

I just kept my eyes on that sweaty baggage angel running with my stroller.

Inches from my face the gate warden says, “Oh it’s gonna be like that? Trust me, MA’AM. You need to back up. Security is on my side, not yours.”

The baggage angel reached around the gate warden to hand me the stroller.

I don’t remember unfolding it, or loading the kids in it. I just remember running. Running from the version of my life we had just visited. And how I had to be in them to survive.

We each navigate the increasing complexity of our modern world from our own personal trauma stories. And we just won’t be calm, cool, happy, and awesome all of the time.

I do remember hitting the escalator. Eyes darting, running a few steps in every direction, trying to find the elevator. I was just about to yell for someone to help me heave the stroller up — when another angel waved her hands, flagging me to the elevator.

As I whipped the stroller around, a chubby finger in the front seat pinched between the stroller and the escalator. I did not offer empathy. I cursed and pressed the up button, again, and again, and again. Because, at that moment, those were the only choices available to my partially functioning brain.

“On your left! Coming through!” is what I yelled before I shoulder-checked a man distracted by his earbuds. He seemed more than sturdy enough to take it. I heard him laugh from behind us. He sounded fine.

The new gate warden asked me to keep my mask on. I ran a 7-minute mile. Pushing a Graco click-and-go double stroller, 74lbs of kids, and two carry-ons overloaded with snacks and crayons — while suffocating myself in two layers of organic cotton. I lowered my mask to talk, but all I could do was pant and plead with my eyes for him to open the door.

Which he did. We made it.

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I’m not a coach because I’m perfect. I’m a coach because I know how to practice.

Once on the plane, I realized we didn’t have seats, but I was still breathing too heavily to finish a sentence. I heard the flight attendant asking a man seated in a row by himself if my son, my barely three-year-old son, could sit next to him. On a 5-hour flight.

I’m sorry, what? My eyes tried to say.

“You were late. You will take only the open seats.” She said, looking terribly sure of herself and her plan for the three of us to sit isles away from each other for two thousand, nine-hundred and three miles.

My son found a pretzel on the floor and started eating it. I smacked his hand before realizing this kid knows nothing of public spaces. His entire walking life has been in the confines of pandemic paranoia. He’s literally never encountered not our food on the floor.

“Are you. KIDDING me?” I finally got out. “We aren’t late. YOUR PLANE was late.”

“Ma’am please don’t curse in front of the children. I’m not asking this man to take a middle seat,” she said. Somehow unreasonably concerned with my children’s innocence and this man’s comfort. Maybe he was early?

Giving up on her, I turned around and found a lovely young woman sprawled across three open seats. She practically jumped up to offer us the row. Perhaps she had overheard my cursing. Or was nervous about my eyes? Or maybe it was just the right thing to do, and all of her brains were available to her to make a decision she felt good about.

As I sat down, the fog of panic started to lift. And my first thought — always, is… oh my God, what if one of my clients just saw me?

And then, with blood rushing to my prefrontal cortex, I remember. I’m not a coach because I’m perfect. I’m not. I’m a coach because I know how to practice. And I know how the practice works. It takes time. And a solid dose of feeling icky.

I reminded myself that we all struggle. It’s embarrassing, and that’s okay. It really is.

I connect with my aspiration to be kind to myself. To take responsibility and apologize. And most of all, to learn and grow.

And I praise everything holy to be on our way to the land of settled nervous systems and morning coffee by the fire. To the place, I’m so lucky to call home — the place that makes it possible for me to practice, learn and grow.

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What I really want you to hear is that we all struggle. We really do — and that is not a problem. Most of us will act in embarrassing ways.

There is empirical evidence that even a priest will step over someone begging for help when running late to give a sermon — about being a good Samaritan.

Our bodies struggle to stay calm in the face of our increasingly complex, uncertain, change-filled, ambiguous world — because we have evolved for more simplicity and predictability. That is our biology.

On top of that, we each navigate the increasing complexity of our modern world from our own personal trauma stories. And we just won’t be calm, cool, happy, and awesome all of the time.

I ran through that airport as if I was being chased by a saber tooth tiger because my DNA hasn’t evolved to know the difference. That run was both literal and metaphorical. That saber-tooth tiger is both real and not real.

The only real problem is when we feel ashamed about struggling — like it’s our own personal, embarrassing little flaw (versus the inherent human challenge it is, impersonally beckoning us towards growth).

I hope you can just take that in for a moment and give yourself a huge break. It’s embarrassing. And it’s how adults grow up.

A lot of what I do with my clients is to slow down — and unpack a situation where they acted in ways they regret. So they can discover what they were paying attention to that led them astray — and feel into a different response that would be more fulfilling.

When I do that with myself here, I see how overwhelmed I was by the prospect of missing our connecting flight — and the uncertainty of that.

I believed that if we missed our flight, terrible and painful things would happen. Even deeper than that — I was unconsciously terrified of staying stuck in the childhood trigger I had experienced during our trip. I was conflating missing our flight with staying stuck existentially — with my kids.

And when I see all that — I can slow down and take in that I don’t live in that trauma story anymore. My kids visit that place, but they don’t live there. And I can tell myself, and believe it — while it might be annoying, we will be just fine if we miss our flight.

And from that place, I know.

I know, that I know nothing of the sneaker lady — of her female presenting body or her life. And I feel terrible for how I made assumptions and judged her. I realize the other people on the ramp probably aren’t looking down in some sort of co-parenting solidarity. It’s more likely empathic embarrassment. Like trying to stop smelling a fart.

And I still know that the gate agent was wrong. She can’t know we missed the flight. She has no idea what I’m running from or how much I’ve been working out lately.

And I know it’s okay to learn from my mistakes — even the embarrassing ones. It really is.

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Meghann McNiff is an Integral Professional Coach and holds a Master of Arts in Critical and Creative Thinking and a Master of Public Health in International, Maternal, and Child Health.