Middle school, Midlife, and Mommy’s little Zen Kit

First, let me clear up any possible misconceptions about the Zen Kit.  No, “Zen Kit” is not a euphemism for something else.  It really is a Zen Kit.  You know, for being… Zen-ish.  I made it because of the two other topics in this blog post.  The fact that I know almost nothing about Zen Buddhism was no deterrent to me.

I do, after all, have this book:







Which says things like this:







And this:

Obviously, this is good stuff.

The Zen Kit came into being a few weeks after Zoe and Alexander started middle school.  In our county, all the public schools are K – 8 schools that feed into one large high school.  “Middle School” consists of grades 6 – 8.  For my kids, middle school meant going to school in the same place they had gone for the past five years, with the same 32 – 36 kids who had been their classmates for the past five years.  Nevertheless, there was a certain mystique to the idea of middle school.  Things would be different; middle school kids were “big”.  There would be lockers, and a schedule.  Alexander and Zoe were a little nervous, but also seemed excited (though they wouldn’t exactly admit it).  I started getting excited, too.  I read auspicious signs of great things ahead in their most trivial comments and gestures.  This was it.  The kids were going to grow up, take ownership of their school work, and blossom into the mature, well-adjusted, enthusiastic scholars that I knew they could be.  It was MIDDLE SCHOOL!

This delusion lasted for about three days, and then things started to go sour.  The kids came home by themselves on the bus and, instead of doing their homework (which they had done, unsupervised, for exactly one day before things began to go downhill), they made extravagant snacks.  Snacks involving blenders and hot chocolate power and ice cream.  Snacks that were not cleaned up.  They fought with each other.  They fussed and procrastinated.  There was, almost immediately, frustration over homework.  I still had to nag them to brush their teeth in the morning.

I was so angry and discouraged.  And it was only the first week of school!  Then I had a shocking realization:  It wasn’t them (or at least, it wasn’t just them): it was me.  I was being reactive, irritable, and absolutely intolerant of almost everything the kids did.  Chalk it up to my profound disappointment that middle school was not going to instantaneously transform my kids into model children and students — or to good old-fashioned midlife hormones (a theory that is gaining strength, much to my chagrin) — but I really needed to chill out.

And so, the Zen Kit was born.  I had noticed that there were certain situations with my kids that just drove me insane, and I always found myself jumping into the fray, imploring or lecturing or raging in exasperation — despite the fact that nothing I did improved the situation.  I knew this.  But I couldn’t seem to stop myself from saying/ doing the same things each time a child whined about a chore, or wasted time instead of doing homework, or had to be reminded again to pick up his or her belongings.  If only I had a tangible reminder of my vow to step back in these situations, a way to truly follow through on my belief that “less is more”, a place to go and something to do to help me feel calm during these hot button moments.  If only I had a Zen Kit — peace and tranquility in a box!

Into the Zen Kit went, of course, my book of Buddhist sayings, along with my journal, some nice pens, a sketch book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms”, Wayne Dyer’s Inner Peace cards, “52 Silly Things to do When You’re Feeling Blue” and “52 Ways to Simplify Your Life”.  Nothing new, just items I gathered from around the house — simple stuff, little things.  I put everything in a bin and put it in my bedroom.

And immediately I felt better.  Really.  It was kind of weird.  It’s like the psychology studies finding that even seeking help for a health problem (i.e. calling the doctor for an appointment) leads to tangible improvement in people’s symptoms.  Just having the Zen Kit made me feel like I had an escape hatch for the next time I started to get trapped in the same old unpleasant patterns with my kids.  It was very reassuring.  Plus, it seemed kind of fun.

So, how’s it going?  Truth is, I haven’t used the Zen Kit much yet.  Remembering, as I start down the path of nagging, lecturing, and despair, that there is another way is a challenge.  But, like I said, just having the Zen Kit has changed my perspective somewhat.  Now I need the discipline to use it.  Change is hard.   Which is why LOVED this drawing from The New Yorker when I saw it in the August 13 – 20 issue this morning:

  : )