My husband was at a work function and I was home with the three kids. As soon as they were happily entertained, I snuck downstairs to do a bit of work. No sooner had I plopped at my desk then my oldest yelled down “Mom – get up here quick! Velma is sick!” I bolted up the stairs two at a time to find our 5-pound shih-tzu retching on the living room rug.
Poor Velma was heaving over a gooey pile of half digested green tomatoes. My husband had unearthed the plants the day before to prepare our garden for the winter and dozens of unripe tomatoes had fallen into the soil. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that the innocent looking pup could ingest her body weight in spoiled fruit.
The kids were hysterical. “Mom – is she going to die?!” “What are we going to do??” “I wish dad was here!!!”
I desperately wished my husband were home too. While I have perfected the art of the “instant freak-out” – he is famously the calm one in any given situation. The world could literally be crumbling around us and he’d be holding up the house with one hand and the kids in the other while stating “Easy now, I don’t think this is the time to panic…” In fact, in almost 20 years of marriage the only time I’ve seen him visibly shaken was the night Wayne Gretzky retired from hockey. (I won’t harp on the fact that he wept more that night than on our wedding day or at the birth of any of our children. Nope – I’m not bitter about it at all!)
Immediately a rush of anxious feelings overcame me accompanied by a burning stomach, shaky legs, dry mouth and a head reeling with a familiar message- “I can’t handle this! I can’t handle this!”
But the kids had their eyes glued to me and I knew I had to step up. I combed through my brain for any gems of wisdom I’d gleaned over the past 8 weeks at my meditation seminar and one particular piece of advice popped into my head – “Respond don’t react.”
My instructor had recently spent an entire class focused on how many of us live our lives in a purely reactive state. And it really hit home. Instead of taking the time to consider my responses – I frequently rush right to panic mode.
But weeks of faithful meditation with my butt glued to a chair and determined efforts to quiet my busy mind have helped me recognize my conditioned responses and I’m working very hard to reprogram the looped tape stuck on “worry, worry, worry”.
Back to Velma – after about 10 minutes she stopped throwing up and I scooped her up in my arms, took a deep breath and turned to the kids: “Let’s call the vet and find out what we can do.” I spoke to an emergency vet who told me that green tomatoes are in fact poisonous to dogs – who knew?! And they had me call an Animal Poison control hotline to get protocols for handling the situation. Yes there really is an Animal Poison Control Hotline and I have the number if your pet ever decides to indulge in green tomatoes or another toxic delicacy.
In the end – the puppy was fine and the only real victim was the rug that is now permanently splotched with light green circles.
Afterwards, I saw that the kids were still shaken, so I invited them to tell me how they were feeling. “My stomach hurts,” my youngest said. “I’m shaky,” said my daughter and my oldest admitted that he felt twitchy too. I used it as an opportunity to connect with them and to share some of what I’ve learned- how pausing, taking a deep breath, recognizing your physical symptoms and challenging your thoughts can transform a stressful situation into something much more manageable.
That’s right, ME – the panic queen – was able to turn the entire event into a teachable moment. I showed them a breathing exercise that helps me (breath in on a count of 4, hold for 7, then breath out for 8), I taught them a mantra I frequently use (“I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful”) and we even brainstormed strategies for handling stress and anxiety (ok maybe my youngest suggested that we keep dad home more often – but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!)
That night as I was tucking my 15-year old into bed, he met my eyes – “Geez mom – I thought you’d totally freak out today but you actually handled it pretty well.” Hot damn! Not only do I have the direct line to Animal Poison Control, I’ve also gained a modicum of respect from a teenager. Booyah!
I allowed myself a moment of pride, then I kneeled down, took a deep breath and began scrubbing barf off of the living room rug. I am calm, I am capable, I am grateful…..