When I drove out this morning, I was surprised to see parked on the street beside our driveway a fancy, expensive, Land Rover.
It brought many memories and stories to mind, since for a while when our children were fairly small, our only car was an eight-seater Land Rover. It was certainly not a fancy car. It was a workhorse which used to belong to a prospector. It was my husband’s pride and joy. Like a special-needs child whom you love, and spend a lot of time and energy making sure he is happy and behaves well. He used to change the oil by sliding under the car and emptying the oil pan. When the gasket gave up, I traced its outline onto a piece of leather and cut it out to fit. After that, the Rover ran perfectly. The best part was that during the winter we did not have to shovel the driveway. It easily drove over the pile of snow left by the snowplow in front of our driveway.
During the summer, before we took her on a long trip for a month, we decided to give her a treat, and took her to a garage that specialized in British-made cars. We took out the seats facing each other in the back, and put a plywood platform with a foam mattress over the area for the younger children to sleep on. That way we had five seats – for me, the 3 children, and the driver. Under the platform we stored our provisions and camping gear in wooden butter boxes. We started out for the Canadian Rockies. On the second day, as soon as we got to a steep climb on the way to Sault Saint Marie, we could not shift gears. The car stalled, and we started rolling backwards down the hill – luckily my husband put it in reverse, and was able to restart the engine; then he switched to first gear and started to drive for about an hour in first gear, hoping to get to a town with a garage that could see what was going on. Finally, we arrived at a little place called Desbarats. Not daring to stop for directions, I yelled at passers by, “we need a garage with a mechanic, and we can’t stop!” Yelling back and forth, we passed by 2 garages, and were told to continue to the one on the other side of town. When we finally arrived, we heaved a big sigh of relief that we could use the washrooms. The kids had been dead silent for the entire time it took to drive from that cursed hill to the garage. The poor things were terrified that we would be stuck in the middle of nowhere. We rewarded them with ice-cream, and waited for the verdict.
To our amazement, it turned out that the specialists who’d looked after our baby before the trip did not tighten the cap on the transmission-fluid drain, and the fluid had all dripped out. All they had to do was replace the transmission fluid and tighten the cap!
Throughout the years we had many wonderful experiences with our “challenged child” that are hilarious in retrospect, but were not so when they happened. In life as well, we are often faced with challenges that sometimes seem difficult to manage, and some that are even life-changing. Our reactions to situations which change our set way of existence often depend on our past experiences. Our bodies are wired to react in particular ways. As one of my favorite therapist Pat Ogden said, “Our issues are in our tissues.” So, we need to pay attention, and realize that we can indeed control our body’s reaction to situations. The children in the story were scared, and reacted with silence, or the “freeze” reaction. This was appropriate to the situation, since the reaction of “flight” was not an option, and from past experience they realized that the “fight” reaction would just aggravate the situation. Any threatening or traumatic situation creates tension in our body. We can counter it by learning deep breathing, to allow the body to self-regulate. One of the most effective ways to do so is the 7/11 method. You put your tongue on your upper gums, close your mouth, and breathe through your nose into your diaphragm. Breathe to the count of 7, then exhale from your mouth as if you are blowing out a candle, to the count of 11. Continue doing so for 3-4 times. This method was scientifically proven to lower the level of the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for the physiological feelings of tension in your body. Exhaling for a longer time than inhaling raises the level of oxytocin, the so called “love” hormone, that our body produces when we are physically intimate, or hug, or even smile. Oxytocin is the body’s natural way of lowering cortisol, relaxing muscle tension, and feeling happy. In terms of brain physiology, when we are confronted with a situation that we perceive as traumatic, our frontal lobe is disconnected and our body acts from the reptilian ancient brain. Therefore, our actions are triggered by automatic defense mechanisms. When we return to a state of relaxation, our frontal lobe is back in action, and we can respond logically.
So, keep breathing, listen to your body, hug a lot, and keep smiling.
The irony is that the car in front of our driveway was actually a Toyota Land Cruiser. Seeing the word “Land”, my mind completed it with “Rover”, and that triggered a flood of memories. My eyes and brain played a trick on me – I guess I need to be more mindful and attentive.