A few days ago, my son Max came down with a fever. I can’t think of many things worse than a sick child–especially a young child that has limited means of communication. Poor Max was probably tired, achy, and generally miserable–but the only way he could express it was by screaming at the top of his lungs at all hours of the night. With my wife needing to focus on our newborn baby, it fell to me to do what I could to help Max feel better. I tried rocking him, walking with him–even jogging with him (which actually helped a little–I think it was the breeze running generated). But, for the most part, the only thing I could do for the poor guy was hold him while he yelled. And yelled. And yelled.
If you’re a parent, you know that there is a point in the middle of the night where your fatigue and frustration reach a peak. You’re exhausted, for one thing. For another, it’s unbelievable just how loud a child can scream when they put some effort into it. While I tried to comfort Max, I felt this frustration starting to build. “What can I do to get this kid to settle down?” I thought. “I just want to go to sleep!”
Then, I had an unexpected aikido moment. I remembered something that one of my teachers, Sensei Rick Berry, talks about. Essentially, Berry Sensei points out that there’s a difference between what we think we want and what we actually want. When we encounter resistence, it is often because these two elements are out of alignment. This idea is readily apparent on the mat. You want (for whatever reason) to do tsuki kotegaeshi. But your uke resists every attempt. One solution to this problem is to realize that what you really want is not tsuki kotegaeshi at all–it’s to take the uke off-balance. When you realize this disconnect and adjust accordingly (by changing your response to the attack), the uke’s resistance melts away.
This same principle came to my aid while I was trying to comfort Max. I realized that I actually did not want to go to sleep. Were that the case, I could easily have done so. I could have put down the crying child and head back to my room. Of course there was no way I was going to do that. What I really wanted was for Max to feel better. Since I couldn’t make that happen, the next best thing was to have him calm down, so that he could get some rest. Once I figured that out, I realized that I didn’t care if I had to stand on one foot and hop with him in my arms–if that’s what it took to get him to calm down, I’d do it. Instead of being frustrated that I couldn’t go to sleep, I was content knowing that, as I continued to find ways to comfort my son, we were both getting what we want. I was getting him a little calmer as each hour passed; he was getting a little more comfort from whatever virus was in his system.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have appreciated a full night’s sleep. But it’s gratifying to know that the ideas we use to effectively take someone off-balance can also help us avoid frustration and comfort those who need it.