Holding the Hot Potato

by Rachael on August 23, 2012

We are all familiar with the comic-book sequence: the boss yells at the dad, the dad yells at the mom, the mom yells at the kid, the kid shoves the little brother, the little brother kicks the dog, the dog pees on the rug. (I call this emotional hot potato.)

Lawrence J. Cohen, Playful Parenting

How long do you think it ought to take to pee and brush your teeth before heading out the door in the morning? Ten minutes, maybe?

How long do you think it actually does take to pee and brush your teeth before heading out the door in the morning if you’re, say, just short of four years old? Twenty minutes? Thirty minutes? Even more?

And let’s say you’re that four-year-old’s mother. Let’s say that you might get stuck sometimes — OK, let’s be honest, almost every day — contemplating the difference between the time you think it ought to take to do these things and the time it actually does take to do these things. You want to get outside. Outside! Where the birds are singing! Where the sky is blue! Where you don’t have to look at the hideous pink and orange tile covering the walls of the bathroom in your stuffy rental apartment!

I’ll admit it: some days the madness of the waiting and the waiting and the waiting are enough to drive me mad. And I do get mad. And oh how I want to yell. HURRY UP! STOP THIS NONSENSE! Let’s go OUTSIDE!


But there was that time I didn’t yell. I don’t think I said anything at all. I just sat there and watched myself, felt my feelings — my panic (we’re going to be late! again!), my anger, my wanting wanting wanting to get OUT. I didn’t like the way the feelings felt — uncomfortable, hot.

That was the time I saw what the yelling is all about: not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Not wanting to hold the hot potato.

So now (when I remember), my practice is to hold the hot potato. It’s uncomfortable. It’s also not so bad.

Like everything else, the hot potato changes. It cools off.

It vanishes.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa August 24, 2012 at 11:49 PM

The waiting and waiting has nearly driven me mad on more than one occasion lately and I’m in desperate need of a new way to frame and respond to it. I want to make this my practice, too.
Melissa recently posted… Better late than never, a what’s new quickie


Michelle August 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM

Yes – the hot potato comes from “oughts” here too. My children ought to behave in this way or that, ought to learn something immediately instead of going through a slow process of development. Remembering to take the time to just sit with and notice how I am feeling is the hardest part.
Michelle recently posted… The Dog Days


Christine @ Quasi Agitato August 26, 2012 at 9:50 AM

Nice! Excellent thought. Excellent expression of it. And very familiar.
Christine @ Quasi Agitato recently posted… How To Slack With Pride.


Christie Tate August 26, 2012 at 9:58 PM

I am reading that book right now! The Playful Parenting one. Slow going on my reading these days, but I love the book, which shows me how to recast my child’s actions as a wish to connect, however ambivalently. Anyway, it’s totally uncanny that you used the phrase/metaphor Hot Potato, because I have been using that with my friends in the exact same way. Who’s holding the hot potato? I get that anxiety-fueled ragey feeling when we are going to be late because Sadie has to change her shoes 50 times before we can get into the car or the wagon. And why? why ? Why? Are we catching a flight? Are we transporting an organ for a transplant? NO. We are going to the park. I really love how you talked about this and happy as hell I recognize the book you mentioned, the feelings and the phrase. Now if only I could tolerate that hot potato. I will bring ketchup tomorrow.


Natalia August 29, 2012 at 4:17 PM

Reading my mind! I´ve been thinking about this for whole week. Anger is the worst, it´s unfair and destructive. When I scream at my son, I feel guilty and sad afterwards . When I hold “the hot potato” I feel light and calm. I use to say to myselft in this situation: Just wait, anger comes and goes like the waves at the sea. Thanks for the post Rachel.
Natalia recently posted… Why am I crap at Maths? Well, because I am a woman


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