How I Handle Emotional Storms in The Land of Unicorns
As a Unicorn parent, I don’t always respond to Liliana with whimsy and giggles. Today it was worry and growls. As a Unicorn kid, Liliana isn’t always sweet and kind. Today she was sour and kinda mean.
I’ve committed to keeping the Unicorn Scouts blogging real, because there’s no room for playing pretend when we’re working with magic. And sometimes life gets ugly. This post feels really vulnerable to share — but here I go.
Our energies just kept spiraling. It felt like this tornado of doom twisting through my entire day, and I kept trying to dissipate it only to get spun back into emotional disaster.
I’m not going to go into the details –the specifics are private, but also not really necessary for you to get the picture. Everyone has these days. Everyone knows when the storm clouds are building and the lightning starts zapping. Some days we’re shaken by the thunder.
Today was one of those days. I woke to a whimsical video that made me smile (see it here on our Facebook page), but within an hour or two we were in the storm. And it ran ALL day. I’m talking 8 hours of mostly torrential rain. Around 7 tonight, things finally started calming down.
Liliana did her math homework (rocked it!) and then she pulled out the Affirmators! deck we’ve just started using. I laughed at the irony of the one I randomly picked tonight — Ups and Downs — and read it out loud.
Then we headed to bed. And that is when something magical happened. (Spoiler alert — it didn’t involve puking on myself.)
Look — I’m launching The Unicorns Scouts — I spend a lot of time in whimsy and magic. But we all have storms. And some are just a shit ton of water that leaves us wet and grey. But sometimes, we get a rainbow. Sometimes I forget it takes RAIN to make a rainbow. (Yeah, I know. It’s kind of — or really — trite. But dammit it’s TRUE. And I just had a full-spectrum parenting day.)
Now I’m going to tell you what happened, but to fully understand the magic you might want some background.
(If this rambles, my apologies. Skip this next section if you’re in a rush. I’m sharing detailed background because I hope our evolving approach (by no means perfect0 to processing emotions might inspire you to think about your emotional toolkit. And if you’re a parent, these convos might surprise you and offer new methods to explore and experiment with your family.)
Our Gratitude Practice + “Beep Bop Boop”
For the last 3 years, Liliana and I have spent every bedtime sharing at least 3 gratitudes after reading stories. We started writing them down last year. The journal is now a magic talisman– it’s filled with months of love and joy and appreciation; memories of happy unicorns and light hearts.
But of course there are sad, dark times too. Shame has been starting to show up for Liliana, and I’m fighting like hell to kick its ass outta my baby’s head and heart. Anger and pain and fear and regret, though — those emotions are part of the human condition. What we DO with them — that’s what I’m trying to help Liliana learn early. Because I’ve spent years sorting out my stuff — and I still am. I hope she won’t have as much crap to clear out so she can shine.
So, in art therapy two weeks ago we talked about a hard angry event. The therapist asked Liliana what she wanted to call that emotion, and Liliana decided on “Beep Bop Boop.” It was so powerful to have her own code name for the dark feelings — and to say that name out loud. Hello emotional awareness and ownership! (Also, thank you “Inside Out” for giving us a kid-friendly color language for emotions years ago. It laid a lot of groundwork. If you’re looking for an easy place to start, this movie might help. Watch it together.)
In therapy we also talked about the metaphor of our brain being a bus with a bunch of passengers. Sometimes these different emotions stand up and make a ruckus and want to drive. They shout and reach for the wheel because they want to be seen and acknowledged. They want control.
When we asked Liliana what happens when Beep Bop Boop drives, she said: “Beep Bop Boop drives the bus down in the DUMP!” Yeah, baby. That stinks.
We talked about wanting Joy and Love to steer the bus to happy magical places. That Beep Bop Boop can’t get kicked off the bus (she proposed it). Denying and repressing emotions isn’t healthy, and they’re going to come back. What we CAN do is tell Beep Bop Boop that we see it, we hear it, and we need to tell it… “quiet down and go to the back!” she shouted. It does NOT get to touch the steering wheel, or sit in the driver’s seat.
The next night at the dinner table, Liliana created a little chant: “We do NOT let Beep Bop Boop, Beep Bop Boop, Driiiiiiive the Bus!”
And after Beep Bop Boop got its name and its chant, Liliana proposed it also should get its own notepad. Seriously — this was my 7-year-old’s idea. Not mine. She hasn’t even read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly or Rising Strong yet (super highly recommend them to everyone), and here she is proposing journaling to deal with the dark thoughts and become resilient to shame.
We now write about the times Beep Bop Boop tries to drive, and we talk about them. At bedtime we start there if we need to (we often don’t have anything to write about), and then we do the gratitude journaling.
How We Handled Today’s Storm
So it’s bedtime after a day of Beep Bop Boop driving the bus. We’ve been down in the dump for hours. We’ve both cried. We’ve both stood on the sidewalk shouting. We’ve both regretted our actions. We’re both exhausted.
We curl up on her bed and I pull out the Beep Bop Boop notepad. I start speaking and writing my regrets for the times I failed to drive with joy and love today. Then she shares hers. And an idea hits me.
“Liliana — I want to try something. Let’s snuggle tight and hold each other and close our eyes. Let’s take 4 deep breaths — in through the nose and out through the mouth. I’m going to tap you for the count. Inhale tap tap tap tap. Exhale tap tap tap tap. …”
And then I ask Liliana to picture her bus. I describe mine, and she tells me about hers. Beep Bop Boop, it turns out, is a cloud. “Mama, when it’s in the back being quiet, it’s white and fluffy. But when it gets to the front and is driving, it gets dark grey and big and loud. And it shoots LIGHTNING.”
I have a flash insight into what her emotions look like and feel like when she’s in the storm driving the bus to the dump. And lightning triggers an idea. An organic guided meditation/visualization just sprang out of me — I don’t know where it came from, except it feels like it’s from The Land of the Unicorns. Here’s roughly what I said to her (trying to remember it so writing it down immediately after it happened):
“Ouch. Lightning is STRONG. Do you know what happens to a house when lightning zaps it? It burns down. Sometimes it explodes. So you know what people do? They have lightning rods that attract the lightning and send it all the way down into the ground. All that power hits the ground and the Earth is so big and strong it just absorbs it. Their house doesn’t explode — and eventually the cloud runs out of lightning power and quiets down.
So, let’s do that with Beep Bop Boop. First — let’s picture Beep Bop Boop zapping you with lightning and you don’t have the rod. Zaaap! (I touch her head and run my hand down her face to her mouth.) It could explode out of here and you shout and say hurtful things. (I run my hand down along her neck and shoulder and along her arm to her fist.) It could zap out of here and you hit and punch. (I run my hand down her back and along her leg.) It could burn out of here and you kick and run away.
Ouch. That house is exploding. And you know what? All those shouts and hits and kicks — all that FEEDS Beep Bop Boop. It gets even more lightning power and keeps zapping you while it’s driving the bus. That’s what happened today. How did that feel?
Yeah. So, let’s picture what happens when you have your lightning rod. Are you ready? Do you see it? (I touch her head, and she nods.)
Ok. Zaaap. The lightning hits. (I run my hand down her face to her mouth.) The lightning isn’t exploding out of here. Close your mouth and hold the lightning in. (I feel her lips purse. My hand moves down to her arm and fist.) No lightning zapping out of here. I want you to clench your arm squeeze your hands tight. (I feel her muscles tighten and I run my hand down to her leg.) It could burn down to your legs and make you want to run away or kick — but you’re not going to let it. Hold that lightning in. (I feel her tense. She says “Hold me TIGHT Mama!” I do.) Good job. That lightning rod is working and you haven’t it let it explode. You’ve got this, and you’re connected allllll the way down to the ground. The Earth can take it. Keep holding on tight, and when I tell you to I want you to stomp Beep Bop Boop right into the ground. … hold it….. And … STOMP!
(Her legs shoot straight and her whole body releases.)
Wow! Good job! Let’s do that one more time, fast. Ready…. Zap! (I don’t speak and touch her head, quickly run my hand down her face and arm and to her leg.) Hold it. (She’s wound tight.) Ready….. Stomp!!! (Her body releases as her legs kick.)
Great! Now do you see Beep Bop Boop? It’s losing its lightning power, getting smaller with every zap you stomp into the ground. It’s not getting more energy from explosions. Smaller and smaller. It still wants to drive the bus, but now it’s at the point that the other emotions can say “Hey! Get out of there!”
“We do NOT let Beep Bop Boop, Beep Bop Boop, Driiiiiiive the Bus!”
We’re going to practice those stomps every time you feel even a little zap of lightning. And see if they help keep Beep Bop Boop from the steering wheel.”
Without a sound, Liliana drifts to sleep in my arms; a shining rainbow after a rainy day. I head downstairs inspired and in gratitude, to write this post. I feel vulnerable sharing something so deeply intimate. I’ve never done that kind of guided meditation/visualization with her before. I have NO idea if it will help. I can only see what happens the next time a storm comes. I hope that when the lightning zaaaap! strikes again, Liliana will safely stomp it into the ground. I hope I will too, instead of exploding. We’re going to practice.
And only just now — after two hours spent writing this — have I realized that a #unihorn might also be a lighting rod.