The other day, the children and I were in an Uber as my husband followed behind in a large SUV with our eight bags, dog crate, and dog.
We were preparing to check in to a hotel the afternoon before the next day’s early morning flight. The day was beautiful, cool, breezy, and I caught a perfect shot in my mind’s eye of my daughter’s face in profile against the backdrop of the D.C. landscape.
I reached for my phone to snap a picture. Just then she turns to me with panic in her eyes, her hand reaching for her mouth. Crap!! Out the window, out the window, I say with much urgency.
She hangs her head out and proceeds to projectile vomit out the side of the Uber. I of course have one solitary napkin and nothing else. The Uber driver is remarkably calm and not flustered as there is no place to pull over on this stretch of the George Washington Parkway. We keep driving. She feels better.
We get to the hotel and my first and only thought is to find cleaning supplies as quickly as possible so I can clean the outside of the Uber which is covered in my daughter’s breakfast.
I rush in and go straight to the front desk. I ask for cleaning supplies stating there’s a mess in the car. They look, but don’t have anything at the front desk.
None anywhere? "Well we could call housekeeping but they aren’t just going to give it to you." WTH, I’m thinking? I don’t want to keep them, just borrow them. "There are paper towels in the bathroom."
Annoyed, I leave, find a supply closet without their help and run out to clean the car. What was the matter with those people? Why weren’t they more helpful?
Well, let’s take a closer look. I had been remarkably calm the entire ride. I’m sure it had something to do with the driver’s amazingly calm attitude. Upon arrival at the hotel though, I felt extremely apologetic and wanted to help as fast as possible so he could get on his way.
I rushed inside, said hi, and without any explanation asked for cleaning supplies. What I chose to communicate in that moment reflected my sense of urgency, however, the people on the receiving end had no other information other than what I presented.
I did not explain that I was a guest checking in and that my daughter had puked in the back of our Uber and I desperately needed cleaning supplies to help the man.
I was so preoccupied that I left out important information they needed to assist me with the sense of urgency I desired from them.
This is critical. We get exactly what we project out to others even if what we project isn’t what we perceive that we are communicating.
I thought I was being kind but displaying urgency. Based on their reactions, they most likely picked up agitation or irritation and mirrored that right back to me.
Studies have shown that humans have mirror neurons that enable us to pick up on other people’s emotional states positive or negative. (note1)
My lack of presence and self-awareness in the moment led me to eventually leave my purse in the bathroom and speak rudely to the woman in the hotel room next to us. I thought she was my son coming out of our room, but still I shouldn’t be talking to him with that tone either.
Woah. I knew I needed to get a grip and breathe right then to stop this cycle of negative projections before it got any worse. Which is exactly what I did, for about 45 seconds to a minute.
That is all it takes some times to get back on track and move through a less than desirable emotional state. Stuff happens when we travel, no doubt about it. How we react to what happens is what makes or breaks the trip.
1. Van Der Kolk, Bessel, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind, and Body In The Healing of Trauma (New York: Penguin Books, 2014), p. 58-59.