A few Christmases ago, Robert was asking the girls what they wanted to give me. After thinking about it a few minutes, Caroline announced that she wanted to give me a "self room." She explained, "Sometimes Mommy gets mad at us, and she needs a place to go and be by herself where nobody can bother her, where she can do what she wants and be calm." Robert reported this to me somewhat sheepishly, but I was elated. I had never thought about a "self room" but found myself desperately wanting one. The truth is, I do get mad at my kids. That's not a sad truth, it's just the truth. My friend Stacey, who teaches parenting classes, says, "Getting angry (appropriately) is great for our kids because it shows them that there are limits to what they can do and what we can tolerate."
Having said that, I am the first to admit that patience is not one of my virtues. I have been known to put myself in timeout when my irritation gets the best of me. My children typically respond with grace... and no small amount of bemusement.
I am touched to think that my oldest child has already realized what it has taken me decades to learn---that people need a place just to be and breathe. Timeout in our house isn't a punishment, it's a little slice of Sabbath--and I use Sabbath not in the gauzy-pop-spirituality sense but in the stone-tablet-commandment "you have to stop NOW" sense. We don't always want to go into timeout. But we're better off having done so.
I was reminded of the self house this afternoon. We spent our vacation with another family last week, which was a total blast and I can't wait to do it again, but I think our little firstborn introvert got peopled out a couple of times. Today during James's nap Caroline built a little nook on our big chair using pillows and an umbrella, where she spent the afternoon reading with a flashlight.
I'm thinking about what my self house should look like. And I invite you to build a self house for yourself... even if it's made of couch cushions.