(This is a piece I wrote, and performed, at a memoir writer’s event last April. There is not a day that goes by that I do not lean into the Radical Parenting that the Second Circle has taught me…enjoy!)
I am a mom.
Growing up, the one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to be a mom. Even as a little girl I would dream of the beautiful, healthy brood of kids I would someday have. I would dream of skiing, bike rides, family trips, weeks at the cottage and baking cookies.
I would dream of joy, love, laughter and fun.
My dreams have come true. I have three beautiful, healthy sons who have far exceeded even my wildest imaginings.
Nine years ago, on April 2, 2004 I gave birth to my third (and I am happy to say, final) son.
Zachary Jeff Geoghegan came into this world with an energy that I had never before experienced. It was as if he leaped out of the confines of my body, threw his arms out wide and declared; ‘watch out world, here I come!’ At three months of age Zach used to entertain us all with his antics from the high chair. And by six months he could play a room like the most seasoned stand up comedian. It was as if he was saying; ‘I may be the third son in this crazy family but there is no way I’ll be getting lost in the shuffle!’
I call Zach my ‘Tender Lion’ because he has the biggest roar of any human being I have ever encountered. And a capacity for gentleness, affection and love that melts me like butter. The tricky thing is, in the uber extroverted Alpha male environment in which he has been growing, there has been more call for the lion and less for the tender.
I am an introvert. Left to my own devices I would happily forego most parties and large gatherings. I would do a tremendous amount of reading, writing and meditating quietly by myself. I am not, however, left to my own devices. I live with the four largest male energies that I have ever encountered. I live in a swirling vortex of noise, laughter, conflict, crude humour and fun.
I live in a three ring circus…and Zachary is the ringmaster!
Two years ago we moved into a tiny little house we lovingly dubbed ‘the sailboat’. We, as a family, wanted to try living small and I would say that our experiment has been wildly successful…except for one thing. I have found it increasingly stressful to live in close quarters with Zachary. By early January of this year I felt as if I was on the brink of madness; his voice never stopped and he only had one volume…extremely loud.
I have a library of parenting books. I have spent hours reading, researching, writing, and tearing my heart out. I have been looking for answers as to why it is so hard to live with my youngest child.
On a cold afternoon in late January, those answers arrived in a package wrapped in nondescript brown paper. Inside was a book entitled ‘The Second Circle’, written by a British voice coach named Patsy Rodenburg. I got sucked into Rodenburg’s book as if it were a page-turning thriller that I couldn’t put down.
And by the end of Chapter Two I could feel a stunning epiphany lifting off to take flight!
Rodenburg describes three circles of energy. First Circle is the Circle of Self and Withdrawal. In First Circle, the energy is all moving inward (no energy, no connection). Third Circle is the Circle of Bluff and Force. In Third Circle the energy is all moving out- a fire hose of energy being sprayed outwards (all energy, no connection). Second Circle is the Circle of Connection where energy is moving inward and outward in a miraculously easy and resonant exchange.
The epiphany of Rodenburg’s Second Circle on that cold afternoon was the understanding of the angst in my relationship with Zachary. What I realized as I read was that Zachary was living, almost exclusively, in the Third Circle. And when I stepped back to look at our relationship I saw that my response to his relentless fire hose of energy was either to meet him there with my own fire hose or to retreat into a defeated and protective First Circle- neither of which were serving him, me or our faltering relationship.
I was so excited about my Second Circle epiphany I described it to Zachary and Michael (his older brother) over breakfast the following morning. They understood Second Circle so quickly that I could feel the quantum shift as if it was happening right under my feet. When I asked Zach what circle he spends most of his time in he identified instantly with the Third Circle. The resulting conversation we had about the impact of Third Circle could not have been more magical if I had scripted it myself. It was as if, for the first time, Zachary was being handed the opportunity to look objectively at the way he makes his way in the world.
And it was never about making him wrong. It was only about awareness.
In the wake of our Second Circle epiphany, Zachary and I have established a new and effortless dance together. We have a new way of being in relationship. We have language that instantly grounds us together in the Second Circle. And if I feel Zach slipping up into Third, all I have to do is ask; “Zach, what circle are you in?” – and with no judgement and no anger I feel him ease back down into Second Circle. And when Zach feels me going up into a roaring Third Circle, he will slip behind me, rub my back gently and coach me back down into the circle from which I want to parent.
The beauty of this new awareness is that neither of us has been forced to give up anything or to change aspects of ourselves that are so precious. We have simply removed the white noise from our relationship and can now meet, even in conflict, within The Second Circle.
My heart soars with joy and with hope. And it’s not just that I have fallen head over heels in love with my youngest son all over again. It is that I am now parenting from a place that feels resonant with love, with patience and with deep connection. It is that my three boys have the opportunity to evolve into men who have an awareness of the circle in which they choose to live.
And it is that the long-ago dream of these miraculous children is just that much sweeter deep within the arms of The Second Circle!