Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Have you ever watched a baby with the hiccups?  She just lies there.  She doesn’t even know that something unusual is happening.  Her body might twitch – I’ve seen some hiccupping babies who qualify for the word “convulse”, as their diaphragm muscles move nearly the entire contents of their torsos during a bout of hiccups.  But she’s not bothered, she just lies there, and the hiccups eventually subside.

A typical NIS elementary classroom.
And if you watch a schoolchild hiccup, you know that they take great enjoyment in the process.  I worked in a second grade class a few days ago, and the entire group giggled and smiled as one classmate continued to hiccup for about 20 minutes.  Even the “victim” enjoyed it.  He just grinned when his speech was interrupted, and chuckled when a hiccup actually turned his word into another word.  Hiccupping did not slow his participation at all – he volunteered questions and answers, and he read aloud when asked.  No one, including his teacher, considered his hiccups a disruption to the education of the class.

Why is it, then, that I (a supposedly mature adult) am so annoyed when I get the hiccups?  In those cases where I am close to a source of sugar, I can take a small spoonful and let it melt on my tongue for a sure cure.  But my point is that I am aggravated enough in the first place to seek out the sugar.  What is so aggravating about a case of hiccups?   If babies accept hiccups calmly, and children see them as a source of entertainment, why are hiccups irksome to me?

I have considered three possible reasons.  First, that I am embarrassed by hiccups, mostly because my mouth is more often open than closed as I hiccup, so the volume of my hiccups carries the sound well beyond anything considered “personal space.”   Second, that hiccups somehow demonstrate an incompetency, that hiccupping proves I lack refinement and social grace in the presence of others.   And the third reason is that I recognize that when I have the hiccups, I am not in control. 

Those who know me best know that the likeliest reason is number 3, since I am, after all, something of a control freak.  I have suffered embarrassment enough times to realize that I am not going to die of embarrassment.  And I acknowledge that there will be many more embarrassments before my time on this planet ends.  And as far as what others might think of me, that has never been a huge consideration for me, and the older I get, the less I care about social “stamps of approval” from People Who Supposedly Matter.

No, the fact of the matter is that hiccups show that I am not in control.  And for me, a teacher/leader, an aging diva, that is hard to accept. But the lesson here is to accept the fact that I’m not in control.  I haven’t really driven a car in more than two years, and I haven’t missed it.  I haven’t felt a loss of control from that.  Because Jim and I are isolated from our church community, we have attended church only four times since last July (and two of those times were in the US, during the Christmas holidays).  But since we have our own version of church every Sunday morning in our living room, I have accepted the loss of control that a regular schedule and a specific responsibility (referred to as a calling) has given me in the past.  Why then do I feel the need for control in other areas of my life, like control over an involuntary muscular response?

It’s a little funny how the things I can control are not the things that frustrate me.  If I enjoy a piece of pineapple cake in the school cafeteria and then notice I’ve gained a pound or two, I accept that as a natural consequence of my choice.  If I spend too much on a pair of boots, I’m willing to cut back on other stuff for a few months, in order to get back in line with our budget.  If someone comes to me for help with an issue, I will do whatever I can to help them address that issue – I can choose to have a greater or lesser degree of involvement with that person as the issue progresses.  I can handle that.

But the things I do not control are the things that frustrate me and make me crazy.  If I see teaching time being wasted, I want to improve it – I know how valuable time is in teaching.  I want to change the schedule of classes here so time isn’t wasted.  If I sit at my computer in the evening and yawn thirty times in a row (which I have been known to do), I get irritated, telling my brain it has enough oxygen thank you. 
You must understand, it’s not my job to schedule classes here.  I can bring my suggestions to my supervisors, but then it is up to them how those suggestions will be handled.   I can curse the potholes in the road, but that won’t fix them.  Years ago, my doctor told me that my yawning “fits” are caused by something like a short circuit in the sleep center of my brain.  No harm, no foul. So why do I still let things like these frustrate me?

I remember an old TV show that began “Do not adjust your television…We control the vertical, we control the horizontal…."  If I can remember that Someone Else is in control of my life, perhaps I will be more willing to put down the remote that I want to use to control my life, and surrender control. Let go of the steering wheel. Hand the reins over.  Then, although my life’s road will still be full of hiccups and potholes, I will be more likely to enjoy the ride. 

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