by Julia Buckley
A nostalgic look at my sons, back when they were my chief advisors.
Despite the fact that I write books about people who can survive all sorts of tension and intrigue, I have found that I myself am terrible under pressure.
Saturday, for example, I got a notice from my mortgage company telling me that my payment was overdue. I immediately went into high-stress mode, tearing through my records and trying to contact my debtors by phone (naturally, they were closed). I then tried some of the online options, none of which worked because they kept detouring me to a “late payment” page, while I was convinced that they had lost my check.
During this problem-solving stage, I basically threw a fit, snapping at my sons, who had stopped goofing around to loiter around the computer and ask me what was wrong. Eventually I managed to solve it (I hope) via electronic means. Then I thought about how rotten I am at dealing with stress.
I was reminded of a similar occasion about ten years ago, when I was trying to transition back into the workplace after spending a couple of years with my children. I had gone on an interview at a local high school and met with both the principal and the English department chair. They had given me some forms to fill out and return to them the following day.
I came home with my forms and promptly lost them–I have a tendency to lose very important things in a way that would interest Sigmund Freud. Under stress I become a fool; I throw away checks, recycle tax forms, spill food on crucial documents.
On this particular day, my sons (one still in a diaper) sat watching me as I tore around the house, raging about my lost paper. Ian, my oldest, tried to counsel me through my panic attack. Graham, a baby, sat in his high chair and played with a plastic toy.
“What did you lose, Mom?”
“A really important paper!”
“Did you put it on the table?”
“I thought so, but it’s not there! I put it right here, and now it’s gone!”
“You’ll find it. Just keep looking,” he advised.
“Do you know how bad this will look?” I yelled. “They just interviewed me, and now I’ll have to tell them that I lost the papers they just gave me! Do you know how unprofessional that will seem?” I was beyond the point at which I might notice the irony or the inappropriateness of sharing this problem with a little boy and a baby.
My son came forward and put a calming hand on my arm. Back then they had skinny little bodies and large round heads, like Charlie Brown characters or Precious Moments figurines. Ian’s pudgy face was serious as could be as he said, “Mom, everyone loses things. All you have to do is go to them and say ‘I’m sorry, but I lost the form, and I wonder if I could have another one.’”
Of course. It was true, but coming from a four-year-old it seemed especially wise.
“You’re right,” I said, hugging him. I could feel my tension level ebbing as I let go of the notion that I had to find those forms.
Naturally, once I ceased freaking out, I found the missing papers within the hour.
This is still pretty much the way I deal with stress. When I write mysteries, I tend to give my characters far more stressors than I’ve ever had to deal with, but I also make them much stronger than myself. I suppose this is one of the many ways that writing is wish fulfillment for me. I wish I were as strong as the people in the pages of my books, but at least I have sturdy young men who can tell me when I’m having one of my episodes and put things in perspective for me.
The mortgage crisis averted, my sons returned to their toys–-computer and army guys, respectively–and are none the worse for wear. I'm hoping their ability to deal with my "episodes" will help them in their careers one day.
Maybe they'll end up being air traffic controllers or crisis counselors. :)
How do you respond to stress?