The Story I’m Telling Myself…

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: wallpaperflare.com

Picture this: I go to a playground with my sensitive, 6-year old boy. He’s been looking forward to a particular piece of playground equipment since we left for the playground: The manual digger. He’s loved this toy for years, and we only come to this place about 5 times a year since it’s a 45 minute drive from our house.
Due to Corona, everyone only gets 30 minutes on the playground, before we have to leave again.

When we finally get to the digger, after a few hours of playing in areas with less of a waiting line to get in, both of the diggers are already taken. There’s a boy playing on one, and a girl on the other. They’re brother and sister, as it turns out. The mother is sitting close by on the grass.

I tell my son we’ll have to wait and sit down in the grass with him. He waits, patiently, very patiently. The children keep playing for about another 5-10 minutes, by which time I’m already wondering why the mother doesn’t tell her kids that they’ll have to stop sometime soon to let the little boy have a go as well. We’re all on limited time here.
Then, the girl comes off saying ‘I want to do something else.’
I tell Odin ‘Go ahead, you can go on now’ only for the girl to change her mind quickly and get back on saying ‘actually, I think I’ll play until my brother is done. Isn’t this fun to do?’ Absolutely no response from the mother.
It takes another 5 minutes for her to get off the digger and for my boy to finally be able to get on. After another 8 or so minutes it’s time for us to leave again.

Luckily, I finished Brené Brown’s book Rising Strong only two days prior to this incident. It has a ton of great insight and helpful examples, and one key lesson that I’m able to apply right away: Be critical of the story you’re telling yourself. Brown refers to this as your SFD (Shitty First Draft).

Mine ran something like this: “Wow, how incredibly insensitive must this woman be to not even look at us. She just puts her own kids’ interests first and doesn’t abide by any of the unspoken rules of parents: We teach our children turn-taking on the playground and encourage them to do it too. And when her daughter gets off and my son starts to head to the digger, she could at least say that he has the right to get on it now. If only she knew how much he’d looked forward to this. And due to her insensitivity, and this stupid Corona, he won’t get what he wants most. That woman basically ruined this day for my sweet boy, and I bet she doesn’t even follow the 30 mins. max rule!”

It’s not a pretty story, and not one I’m proud of, but here it is anyway. It doesn’t leave room for her emotions or her story at all. And I also pass by some of my emotions I need to reckon with.
Brené Brown encourages us to become curious about our first drafts, because there is valuable information hidden in them, but also to realise that it’s a story we make up that helps us avoid uncertainty, discomfort or outright pain.

At the time of this incident I already felt rather stressed. We had taken 6 kids to a playground that had turned out way busier than we had anticipated. The kids were all disappointed they couldn’t play where they wanted, when they wanted, as were we. My son had already had several challenging moments throughout the day because he was probably just really overwhelmed.

Rather than dealing with that pain though, it was much easier to project all of my anxiety and stress onto a person I did not now, who happened to act in a way I didn’t expect (or failed to act in a way that I expected).
Does that mean I don’t think this situation could’ve played out better? No, I still think it would’ve been nice if the mother had encouraged her kids to share.
But I did notice how the feelings of anger I felt build up were way out of proportion with what was happening, and also did not match how my son responded to the situation at all.

We make up stories about all sorts of things, it’s what we do. We are story-telling creatures and we imagine what we do not know. So faced with a lack of facts or stories of others, we create full blown fantasies that are often untrue and can even be harmful. Just take a look at what theories we have had about the reason this person acted such or so, and how that has influenced your relationships. On a lager scale, this leads to conspiracy theories, widespread skepticism or distrust.

So next time you realise you’re making up a story, see if you can take a step back and see what’s behind it. Who’s telling this story? Is it your adult self, or your inner child? Which feelings can you push away by telling this story? Which uncomfortable truths does it hide? And, are you brave enough to acknowledge that your story might not just be wrong, but might also come from a place within yourself you’re somewhat ashamed of?

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