Bea stood before me in the kitchen door, arms crossed and a face scrunched in defiance. I felt the air exhale from me in a groan, and walked towards her as Otis trailed behind. I had been so close. The lunches, book bags, boots, rain gear, jackets, and water bottles were all in the car waiting, and we were actually getting out the door on time for school. And yet… there stood my daughter at the threshold of our home, unmoving and unmoved by my pleas. She was unhappy with the weight and feel of her clothing in the suddenly chilly fresh air that gusted in from our open door, and would have to start dressing again from scratch.
It’s hard to describe my emotions at this moment. There was a certain amount of love for my child’s ability to stand up for herself, but the more immediate feelings were of fear that I would be late and embarrassed (the head of the school should be on time!!), anger that my well laid out preparations for leaving were being thrown to the side, stress about how long this would take, and an overwhelming feeling that my girl should be behaving the way I wanted her to. This was not the outcome I desired.
This is frustration, the feeling we have when life does not go the way we want it to. Unfortunately, our life is filled to the brim with frustration. It is part of the human condition. People (and inanimate objects!!) do not behave the way we want them to. Plans do not always gel. Communication gets muddled. We misunderstand each other. We do not always (often?) get the outcomes we desire and our life -- and the people we work, play, and live with -- do not simply conform to our internal desires and expectations.
It feels like an important aspect of our lives that deserves more focus. At Randolph we guide our children towards independence and autonomy, but we also sit with them daily as they grapple with the frustrations inherent in sharing, collaborating, playing, building, working on problems, and in living all day in a community of friends. We also do this work as adults at Randolph. Our teachers, administrators, parents, and supporting community are constantly grappling with the frustrating aspects of working together communally, trying to fine tune the ways in which we interact so that we are positive, constructive, and supportive when plans and interactions do not go as we expected. It is hard (sometimes frustrating!) work.
There is no easy response to frustration in yourself or in others. What should I do when my daughter isn’t doing what I want her to do? How should I respond when the day doesn’t go as planned at school, or when my interaction with someone defies my expectations? I suspect that simply starting to recognize the feeling of frustration in yourself and others is a pretty solid start. The rest will often fall into place from there.
The nice thing is that, if given the opportunity, frustration can pass. Bea, Otis, and I were very late to school the other day. I was very frustrated, and so were they but as I kissed them as we walked into Randolph and told them I loved them, I also knew they were on their way to start a new day.