Seeing the forest for the trees
how to see a solution when your mind gets overwhelmed
We recently hosted the son of a friend with whom my husband and I went to school.
Being able to experience the son, on his own and in his own right, was an absolute pleasure, but I soon found myself seeing past the twenty-something 'hipster' beard, and into the eyes of the little boy that I had flown half way across the country to babysit while his parents were out of state.
Not having had children of my own at the time, I was about to get a crash course on parenting. A trial by fire, if you will.
As I recall, upon arriving at my friend's house, I was given a quick tour and instructed on their daily routines and schedules. I was then informed that their three year old toddler was perhaps a tad bit more energetic and head strong than other toddlers.
As far as I could see, their son Teddy was an angelic looking blue-eyed blond haired cherub.
"How hard could this be?" I thought.
"No problem," I thought.
"What could possibly go wrong?" I thought.
Well, aside from...
locking ourselves out of the house and having to climb through the ONE and ONLY unlocked window to get back in...
discovering that flushing baby wipes down the toilet results in serious consequences to said toilet...
having to use Vaseline on the front door doorknob in an attempt to frustrate Teddy's penchant for running out of the house in his never ending quest to instigate another game of "chase"...
leaving a movie theater after only 20 minutes since, as it turns out, Teddy wasn't "into" dolphins and apparently other movie goers don't appreciate a toddler running around...
having to pick Teddy up early from preschool due to a "biting" incident...
navigating a FINALLY sleeping Teddy out of a grocery cart and into a car seat without waking (no such luck)...
figuring out how to convince Teddy that naps were really cool but getting out of bed every two seconds was not so cool...
trying to keep up with Teddy on our nightly bike trips around the neighborhood - and by bike trip, I mean - he had a bike and I had my feet...
attempting to convince Teddy that his bike tires wouldn't last if he insisted on accelerating to break neck speed only to abruptly stop and slide thereby creating a HUGE skid mark on the road...which, by the way, had the effect of essentially marking our ENTIRE route through the neighborhood (I'm sure they loved that)...
aside from all of that
my biggest challenge came in the form of a water hose in the backyard.
I had been warned in advance about the water hose.
In fact, the water hose had become something of a sore spot within their little family of three.
Apparently Teddy LOVED to water the yard.
His parents? Not so much.
I could see their point, however.
They did live in Arizona.
It was hot and water was both precious and expensive.
Besides, their backyard consisted of mostly dirt and sand and more dirt.
So...before departing on their trip, "Dad" gave me the heads up on this particular issue:
"Ok, Lana. This is important. Teddy is ONLY allowed to water the yard for a few minutes a day. We've been battling him on this for WEEKS. It's a nightmare. But hold your ground. Do NOT let him 'win'. And he can be sneaky. When you're not looking, he'll go out in the yard and just start watering. You've GOT to keep your eye on him. AT. ALL. TIMES."
I promised to be ever vigilant on this matter.
Within half an hour of their departure, my solemn promise was tested.
Teddy ran out to the backyard under the 'guise' of playing with his trucks and sandbox.
I was on to him, though. I had been warned, after all.
I watched as he made a bee-line toward his toys and then circled back toward the hose mounted against the house.
Ha! The toys were just a ruse!
Gathering my hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, I casually walked out to the yard.
He was fast.
The hose had already been unraveled and fountains of precious water were freely flowing.
This kid had the water on full blast and was swinging the hose around like a tether ball on a rope!
Clearing my throat, I calmly reminded Teddy of the 5 minute rule.
He nodded in compliance.
Huh...this babysitting gig was a piece of cake so far.
Keeping track of the time, at the 5 minute mark (plus a few seconds for good behavior), I let Teddy know that it was time to turn off the water.
He pretended not to hear.
I repeated the request.
Kneeling down so that we could see each other eye to eye, I once again requested that Teddy turn off the water.
Like a shot Teddy took off across the yard, running serpentine, hose in hand and water flowing.
Time to take decisive action.
Walking over to the water tap, I turned it off.
Well, apparently in so doing, I had cut off Teddy's only source of joy in that moment because he instantly began his own form of water works; very loud crying.
In a desperate attempt to curb the crying, I found myself systematically grabbing and discarding various toys and rocks and tools and doodads - anything to distract from the hose.
And then it happened.
The little monkey skirted around me, turned the taps back on and resumed his watering ways.
Just as "Dad" had warned, this little water hose game had morphed into an epic battle of wits.
What had "Dad" said?
They'd been battling this issue for weeks...hours at a time?
I couldn't imagine doing this for hours.
And so...I took a step back and decided to look at the situation with fresh eyes. I wanted to see what I wasn't seeing in the moment: a solution.
Suddenly it came to me.
The solution was right in front of me: the water tap screwed onto the pipe that sourced the water.
All I had to do was unscrew the tap to prevent the water from being turned on again.
Much to the chagrin of Teddy, that's exactly what I did.
And much to my surprise, he begrudgingly accepted this new reality and from that point on adhered to the five minute rule with ne're a tear.
Upon reflection, I can see how easily a solution can evade the mind; with heels well dug in and lines drawn, our focus becomes one of battle rather than solution.
We become so singularly focused on winning that we overwhelm our minds with such thought essentially eliminating any possibility to imagine a solution that preserves the sanity and dignity of all parties involved.
When we get to that point, we are often unable to see the forest for the trees - and thus much is lost to us.
Most often, when we find ourselves in the midst of battle, the best option is to take a step back, clear the mind and allow the solution to be revealed.
It is often closer than we think.
PS. While l admit, I was feeling pretty darn good after resolving the hose issue, I was quickly humbled upon learning that I had inadvertently locked us out of the house when I closed the sliding glass doors to the backyard. Argh!