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A couple of weeks ago, I settled into weekly story time at the library with my son.

This session started like all others, with the little ones warming up and then listening to our incredibly patient librarian’s story. We had the usual random shout-outs from the audience (e.g., announcing one’s possession of a dog, sibling, or trademarked character).

She was also there.

She who touches the puppets and other children without asking.

She who defies her grandmother’s directives.

She who defies any directives from any adult.

She who sits on my child.

Did you read that last one? She sat on my child. Allow me to give you the play-by-play.

During a story, she deliberately backs it on up into my son’s lap. He backs up again. She responds with again planting herself in his lap. He’s not very assertive so he runs out of options quickly. I wait for the grandmother to do something. She appears to be hoping that this situation, like others, just goes away.

I want to tell my son to push her and that sometimes it’s not enough to take the high road.

I personally want to scream at her and get that self-satisfied smile to vanish from her cherubic face. If I’m going for full disclosure here, I imagined yanking her flaxen pigtails.

What I do is crawl over to the scene of the crime and sternly tell her to stop sitting on my son.

She pretends not to hear me and again scoots toward his criss-cross-applesauced legs. He looks at me as if he too cannot believe this is happening. I tell him to move to a completely different area of the audience. Thankfully, this seems to stop the sit-in. The grandmother catches my eye as I sit back down and quickly mouths, “Sorry about that.”

I spend the rest of the hour enraged and I’m not entirely sure at whom it’s directed: the toddler perpetrator, the grandmother, or the librarian?

As the session breaks, the librarian approaches me to apologize. She apparently didn’t realize what was happening until I was already intervening. A nanny for another participant approaches me and comments on what a tough situation that was. She references this girl’s behavior in previous sessions and deems her long overdue for a time-out. She also supposes that her grandmother is in way over her head.

And my son? He seems totally fine. I’m the one who can’t let it go.

I’m bothered by the intensity of my anger toward this three-year-old. My first impulse is to feel ashamed. After all, shouldn’t I be the bigger one here, the good girl?

I’ve been that good girl for over three decades. I’m hard-wired to not make waves and go to great lengths to ease tensions, even those in which I’m not even peripherally involved. I’ve been admonished when raising my voice and expressing feelings like anger, resentment, and fear. After a while those feelings were erased from my vocabulary and from my awareness. If they dared try to break through, they were met by my old comrades of eating sweets until I felt sick or actually becoming sick. My mind is so powerful that I’ve actually lost my voice in anticipation of confrontations.

I’m bothered by the intensity of my anger toward this three-year-old. My first impulse is to feel ashamed. After all, shouldn’t I be the bigger one here, the good girl?

Imagine if I could use my mind’s powers for good. Imagine if I could actually let myself feel my feelings, recognize that I’m not alone in them, and actually cut myself some slack. It’s this thing called self-compassion. It’s all the rage for good reason: it turns out it’s really good for you. In this situation, by being warm toward my “bad” self and my “bad” thoughts, something pretty revolutionary happens: I see what this situation is really about.

Have you ever felt like no matter how often or how loudly you speak that your voice isn’t heard, like others figuratively (and, in the above scenario, literally) sit on you?

I have and it’s a feeling that comes up more than I’d like. I find myself throwing around my credentials or fighting for the floor. Inwardly, I’m cringing but muscle memory has crafted a momentum that seems several steps ahead of me.

Whether it’s a defiant toddler, family member, work colleague, or someone who is speaking loudly outside my yoga class door while I’m doing my best to sink into Savasana, there’s always going to be someone who challenges me. The real challenge however, is in how I view myself. There’s no good or bad, only mine.

Once I do that, no toddler is going to best me.

What or who pushes your buttons? How do you think an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity and awareness that your struggle is likely a shared one could help you?

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