Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eavesdropping

Overheard at a family gathering of Bubba's entire clan. Lola and her cousin had snuck away from the chaos of the other kids to do something quieter. Her cousin, while male and 13, is on the spectrum, so Lola loves to spend time with him. They 'get' each other.

Lola: What should we do?
Cousin: I don't know.
Lola: Wanna draw pictures?
Cousin: Nah.
Lola: That's okay. I'm not very good at it, anyway.

Cousin: Wanna talk?
Lola: Nah.
Cousin: That's okay. I'm not very good at it, anyway.

They both cracked up laughing and fell out of their chairs.

Yup, they 'get' each other.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rusty

The more I stay away, the more I stay away. Because Thursday and Friday are my days, I tend to do most of my blogging then. By 'my days' I mean the days where I get to be by myself. Bubba's at work, the girls are at school and it's just me, the dog and the cat.

Usually I look forward to Thursdays with a longing I used to reserve only for special occasions. I cram all of my errands and "shoulds" into the morning hours and then sit with my computer, catching up on my blog reading and craft a post of my own.

I still look forward to those days but it seems that they fill up more quickly now and writing and reading are pushed to Fridays and beyond. The past few months I have spent 'my days' researching schools for Eve, Christmas shopping and completing school applications. I miss my blog reading. I miss writing, but it seems that the less I write, the fewer ideas I have.

Tomorrow, I'm getting up and forcing myself to write, even if it's gibberish. Gotta prime this pump!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Night of Remembrance

Bubba and I attended an event last week. Not a typical Christmas party, this one was sponsored by Pemco Insurance as a benefit for five local police officers who recently lost their lives in the line of duty. Bubba's company works closely with Pemco, a company that is closely connected to the local Northwest community and I was looking forward to getting to know some of the people he spends so much time with.

Over the past two weeks there have been dozens of memorials and fund-raisers in response to these deaths and the community just keeps rallying. From a local pizza chain donating all their profits last Tuesday (to the tune of $125,000.00) to the formal memorial service at McChord AFB, the outpouring of love and support has been tremendous.

The executives at Pemco designed a casino night and there were a hundred or so people in attendance. Most of us were connected in some way to Pemco, either employees or vendors, but as I stood at the blackjack table I met two women who had heard about the benefit and walked from their neighborhood just down the street to join the festivities. Within minutes we realized that the three of us share the same first name and were all novices at blackjack.

After dinner, Bubba and I met another woman who contracts with Pemco and her husband, a Seattle homicide detective. At first, his presence at the poker table was intimidating, but after several hands we all loosened up. The evening was winding down and we needed to turn our chips in for raffle tickets pretty soon, so I started playing with wild abandon. Ten minutes later, I had turned my $10,000 into $100,000 and cleaned out everyone at the table.

Most of the evening was filled with laughter as this room full of strangers got to know each other and learned to play Vegas-style games with very generous dealers. At one point, the marketing director for Pemco got up to remind us of the reason we were there and when the room went silent in memory, the air was electric. There was never any mention of the circumstances of the officers' deaths, only an acknowledgement of this wonderful, connected community who has shown so much desire to support those who support us every day. I have never been so proud to be a part of this warm, giving place.

Last-Minute Shopping?

Found this site through Scott at AELEOPE (see my blogroll) and I was pleasantly surprised. Too bad I've got all my holiday shopping done. But just in case you're still looking, visit this site. She's got some really neat ideas!

http://theponderingstore.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 29, 2009

But I Feel Safe Behind These Walls


I was grumpy this weekend. Irritated, prickly, and quick to annoyance. Looking for a fight, or at least a reason to be mad at someone. I finally realized it yesterday as I was standing on a ladder outside the garage, replacing a light fixture in a hurry before the rain came. It took until bedtime last night to work out why.

Time warp. I spent my weekend in do-over mode. When my brother-in-law showed up with his family I suddenly had two babies in my house. Two gorgeous, 12-month-old girls who were busy crawling around, getting to know the dog and entertaining us all. I kept my distance at first, letting Eve and Lola play with the girls, hold their chubby hands, figure out what made them giggle, and carry them around the house endlessly. I busied myself cooking, cleaning, making sure our contributions to Thanksgiving were ready. By Thursday afternoon I was defensive for my sister-in-law. By Friday morning I was just plain defensive.

When my girls were babies my relationship with my in-laws existed outside the walls I had built. These walls were erected to protect against any criticism they might aim at me - was I too vegetarian? Too ambitious? Not good enough for their baby? Fitting in to this family was tough and I waffled between working my butt off to squeeze in to the puzzle and just saying "screw it." By the time I added being a new mom to my life my walls were fortified. But somehow, I still felt the sting of the arrows, imagined or not.

I should let Eve cry herself to sleep (fling). I shouldn't nurse her so often (swish). I was praised for quitting my job and staying at home with her. No, she was too young to feed baby food (thwack)...

Bubba's parents had waited forever to be grandparents. We had fielded the questions that turned to pleas that morphed into outright demands for six years as we desperately tried to keep some semblance of privacy in our marriage. By the time Eve arrived they were like shoppers who had waited, staring through the windows of the department store, since midnight for the doors to open. They were slobbering with delight. They couldn't wait to get their hands on her.

I was stingy. I was in love with my baby and used to my independence (read: control) and I didn't give her up easily. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to make my own mistakes and I figured as long as I loved her enough I couldn't go too far wrong. I felt fortunate to live five hours from my in-laws so most of the time it worked out. Except for holiday weekends.

On holidays things fell apart. Eve didn't sleep because there was so much stimulation. Every time she began to get sleepy and rub her eyes, someone picked her up and bounced her and tried to make her giggle. Every time I laid her down, a door would slam, the ice maker would rumble, the vacuum would get turned on. I was grumpy. I was irritable. Prickly.

If she woke in the middle of the night I was desperate to get her to sleep again so she wouldn't disturb the entire house. If she cried during the day I scrambled to explain why, to prove that I was a good mother. I just knew that if everyone left us alone, I could do this thing right and they wouldn't have an opportunity to criticize. It was them, not me!

When I finally got my hands on one of my neices this weekend those old toxic feelings filled my veins. I knew I could just get this little one to sleep and I just about had her there, until she heard her mother's voice. Later in the day I saw her sister begin to get drowsy, quieting down on Grandma's lap and staring off into the distance. I nearly screamed when Grandpa came swooping down, snatched her up and began tossing her in the air, squealing in a high-pitched voice because "she's too quiet today, this little one!" "NOOO," I wanted to say, "she's in the sweet spot. Let her sit quietly and she'll go to sleep on her own instead of screaming herself to exhaustion." The knot in my belly was only matched by the tight connection between my molars as they ground themselves to dust. This feeling was familiar.

And, strangely, not unwelcome. There was something righteous about watching my in-laws with babies again and listening to that voice inside my head, "They have no more idea about what is perfectly 'right' for these babies than anyone else! They are so critical of their children and the way they parent!" Feeling defensive for myself was one thing, but feeling defensive for my sister-in-law somehow felt benevolent. I was defending her this time, even if only in my head.

Lying in the dark at 2:00 this morning, listening to one of the babies scream, I realized what I was doing. All those walls I thought I had done away with are still there. I can't just disregard them because my girls are no longer babies. Having these babies around just stoked that fire and it turns out I still hold anger and resentment toward my in-laws for the judgement I thought they were handing out when my girls were babies. The power of those old arrows lives on in my heart and unless I think on it some more, I have a feeling Christmas is going to be rough for me.

Guess I'm off to take down some walls.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What If?


What if there was a school for girls? What if that school was created by parents of girls who thought girls ought to be taught according to the way their brains work? What if these parents found someone who knew the neuroscience and how to apply it to help girls learn, grow, blossom, and be joyful about their lives and the possibilities within?


What if Bubba and I took the girls to visit that school one weekend and we sat in a room with families of all stripes - heterosexual, homosexual, black, white, yellow, rich, poor, disabled - listening to a passionate panel of teachers, headmasters, parents and students talk about how much they loved this school? What if the walls were plastered with a riot of color and texture; a result of the artwork these girls were producing? What if the girls were taken off to another room to build and explore with other girls their age and they produced something so cool that we just had to come see? What if none of us wanted to leave when it was over?


What if this special, magical place is 30 minutes' drive from my house (in good traffic)? How much do I care? How far will I bend to help Eve find a place like this that will nurture her brain and her soul? I'm thinking you ought to start calling me Gumby...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Luck

I want to go back to those days when Eve trusted me. When she listened to what I said and solemnly nodded her head in understanding. The times when I pointed something out and said, "You must never touch the things in this cupboard. You could get hurt," and her eyes widened in agreement and she refused to even look at that cupboard again.

I miss the days when she would come home from school with a problem and crawl into my lap for a snuggle and a talk. When we were done talking, she had listened to my story, gotten some love and encouragement and left confident that I was telling her the truth. That I could be trusted to know. That my advice was wise and came from a place of love. That she could conquer this.

Right now, her anxiety and fear and self-doubt have peaked to a place where my words are mere superballs pinging off of her armor. Her eyes have lost their luster, her skin is grey, her hair lies limp on her head. She is defeated. She is afraid. It is breaking my heart and, while she is still coming to me and climbing in to my lap, soaking my shoulder with her tears, my examples are useless. She leaves my lap still afraid and certain she will fail. I feel utterly impotent in the face of this impenetrable enemy. So I sit in the hall outside her bedroom in solidarity. All I can do for now is remind her that I am here. That she is loved. I believe in her spirit and its ability to rebound. I can only hope that at some point my persistence will begin to crack the wall she has built and the love will get through.

Wish us luck.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Which Way Do I Go?


In September we were feeling lucky that Eve was about to join our neighborhood public school. The bus stop was at the end of the block. Other neighborhood kids would be joining her at the school. We just happen to live in what is billed as "the best school district in the state." For our first foray into the world of public (read: free as opposed to the tuition we'd been paying for the last few years) school and we were optimistic.

Two months in: Eve has lost her trademark self-confidence. She went in knowing she was bulletproof. A couple of weeks ago she started sleeping in and begging me to let her stay home. She's not being teased or tortured. She has made a ton of friends and has gotten a school "pride award" nearly every week for turning her homework in on time and being a good citizen by helping younger students, volunteering to clean the cafeteria after lunch, and helping in her classroom.

Her teacher spends her day passing out worksheets and doing email. The children correct each other's papers and muddle through their math problems without a textbook that offers examples. Bubba and I have actually had to use a popular search engine to look up some of the terms on her worksheets so that we can help her understand what she's supposed to do.

When Eve approaches her teacher's desk to ask for clarification she is told, "Re-read the instructions." If she resorts to asking a classmate for help, she gets busted for talking in class and a note is sent home.

Last Thursday I sent the teacher an email asking a question about a field trip I offered to chaperone. I sent it at 10:15am. On a school day. By 10:30am (that's fifteen minutes later) I had a response. Why is she doing email when she's supposed to be teaching my kid? Why does a teacher need a PC on her desk in her classroom?

Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I arranged several coffee dates with parents of kids in Eve's classroom. Each of these parents not only have children who are classmates of Eve's, but they also have either younger or older kids who also attend this school. So I asked: Is this year a particularly difficult one to teach? Is this teacher an anomaly? Do other parents struggle with the curriculum (particularly the math curriculum)?

To a parent, their responses were astonishing. This teacher has a particular reputation for being 'disengaged' from her students and their families, but as for any teachers who go the extra mile, there are perhaps two in the entire school, K-6. Apparently the vast majority of parents in our school district HATE the math curriculum and several of them have attended school board meetings in an effort to change it. [Lest you think we have no credibility, our area contains some of the finest engineering minds around. I personally was a calculus tutor in college. If I don't understand elementary math, there's something wrong.] For five years running, the district has defended its choices.

The vast majority of parents in our school district are also resorting to Kumon. The after school tutoring program, Kumon. They confided in me that the local public school is basically their version of day care for their kids and they spend their evenings either tutoring their children themselves or paying someone else to do it.

In the "best school district in the state."

Color me done.

If I'm not here for a while, it's because my writing is all directed toward getting Eve in to a private school where the teachers are held accountable to the children and families they are teaching and the mission has to do with actually teaching children to love learning instead of ensuring they will pass some standardized test tied to their budget.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Yup, I Deserve That

Time was, when everyone in my family was sick, I would bend over backwards to make sure they all sail through their respective illnesses, get them back on their feet, and never look back. Truth be told, I still do that. Bubba spent the weekend on the couch, his brains slowly roasting inside his head from a high fever and coughing like an 80-year-old smoker with advanced emphysema. I shuttled back and forth between the girls and his post, bringing him fluids and homeopathic remedies and alternating Tylenol and Advil to keep his fever down.

By Tuesday afternoon he was back at work, albeit moving slowly, and Eve's body was beginning the slow simmer. Wednesday morning she was grey and hot, shiny-eyed and couldn't talk without the rolling crud in her lungs threatening to come out. By noon, Lola joined her on the couch and I swear I could see the steam shimmering off of their skin as they first huddled under blankets and, ten minutes later, shook them off. Fully stocked with Gatorade, more homeopathic meds, thermometer covers and Otter Pops, I spent the day hydrating, comforting, and reassuring my poor little patients. The grocery lists and dog leash lay on the kitchen counter, left for another day.

Thursday and Friday, normally my days off by myself, will morph from a time to finish tasks for the house and take some time to write and exercise for myself to a time of caretaking. There is something poignant and tender about taking care of my family, especially when they are so clearly physically uncomfortable and I can do so much to help in simple ways. There is something so validating for me as a mother as I tiptoe around them, clearing dishes, taking temperatures, rubbing backs, fluffing pillows. It hits me in a way that feels good.

As we settled in to bed last night Bubba's voice shot out in the dark, "You are not allowed to get sick. You know that, right? You're the only one that isn't allowed." I know he meant it as a joke. Partially. But I know it. And it's pretty rare that I do get sick and actually need the tables to turn so that he is taking care of me. But a couple of times on Wednesday I found myself fantasizing about a sore throat building. Some slight pressure behind my right eardrum.

Nah. I woke up this morning refreshed and ready to help my girls through another rotten day of the flu. Knowing that I may not get these two days to myself this week and not minding. Because there was a time when I would have just written them off and pushed myself through to next week, hoping to get my time then. But now that I'm wiser and more careful about taking care of me, too, I'll wait until they feel better and Saturday or Sunday I will take my time. If they are all stir crazy I'll send them out to the movies and ice cream so I can have the place to myself for a few hours. If they want to stay home, I'll head to the bookstore, have coffee with a friend, take the dog for a walk or go get a pedicure. I've finally figured out that I don't have to get sick to earn being taken care of. I don't need an excuse. All I have to do is make the time to take care of myself. Or else I will get sick.

So this weekend, Bubba's doing all the cooking. The girls will help fold laundry. I will make sure yoga and writing and me are all priorities for me. Yup, I deserve that.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Control Freaks R Us

Inspired by a dear friend of mine who is also an admitted control freak (and whose life lessons all seem to revolve around breaking her of that), I've decided to create a new support group. The working name is Controllers Anonymous, although I'm hoping to come up with something more creative soon. In the meantime, I've decided to get to work on the twelve steps.

1. I promise to stop controlling every person and circumstance around me.
2. Really, I promise to try. So long as these people stop screwing everything up.
3. Oh, screw it...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Not My Story


Inspired by a short essay I read yesterday, I started thinking about how often in my everyday life I look at things through my own lens, my own story. When I walk into my bathroom, sit down on the toilet to do my business and, too late, notice that someone has neglected to replace the empty toilet paper tube, more often than not I take it personally.

In 'my story,' this constitutes an act of disrespect. Why would someone come into my bathroom, use it and leave without having the common courtesy to make sure it will be ready for me to use when I come in again? How dare they?

In real life, it's more likely that Eve or Lola simply dashed in there, frantic to pee and finish and get back to the game she was playing or book she was reading, and completely spaced the fact that all of the TP was gone. I'm fairly sure, when I take myself out of 'my story,' that it wasn't meant as a personal attack.

What a relief!

After 12 hours of reflecting on this concept and relaxing in to it, I decided that there is so much I don't know about why the girls do the things they do and how they feel that perhaps I ought to ask them.

So I left them each a worksheet to do sometime this morning while I went out to the grocery store. Each of them had several questions like these:

  • When I am singing I feel _______________________
  • When I fight with Eve/Lola I feel _____________________
  • When I'm reading alone I feel ____________________
  • When Mom or Dad is mad I feel ____________________
  • When Eve/Lola and I are playing together I feel ___________________
  • When I am rushed I feel ___________________
I tailored the questions to each of the girls somewhat (I asked Lola how she feels when she wakes up in the middle of the night and Eve how she feels when she is faced with a new task). At the bottom of the page, each of them had to make a list of things that the other members of our household do to make them feel loved and special. I also asked Eve to tell me the times of the week when she feels the most crunched for time and Lola to tell me the kinds of things she likes to do to help out around the house and how that makes her feel.

When I got home I sat down with each of the girls individually and reviewed their answers. A few of them I could have predicted but some of the others were shocking. Having completed their papers separately, I was thrilled to see that they both said they feel loved when they are playing together.

I was sad to see that Lola said she feels "dumb" when she's rushed through her day, either our morning routine or her work at school. She said she feels "grumpy" when she's practicing piano. Wow.

I have learned so much about them by doing this simple exercise. The things they listed under the question of what our other family members do to make them feel special were so simple. There was no "buy me stuff," or "let me stay up late," or "play on the computer." The answers were things like snuggling, reading stories together and saying 'thank you.'

I'm posting these pages on my bathroom mirror to remind me that Lola's story is not my story. Eve's story is more complex and unique than what I might have imagined. My girls don't need much to feel cherished. Certainly not video games or new clothes.

They have also learned, by looking at each other's lists, that each of them has the power to make the other one feel good or bad. Lola feels 'sad' when they fight and Eve feels 'angry' but since they both feel 'loved' when they play together, I believe that will result in more mindfulness when they have conflicts. Who wouldn't choose loved over sad/angry?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Writing Prompt


Generally, I have more ideas for writing blog posts than I have time to write them. A writing prompt is not exactly what I'm seeking most of the time.

A few months ago, though, I was reading a magazine that offered a writing contest to its readers and I happened to miss the deadline. Bummer, especially since I was very intrigued by the subject. The question was this: what was the moment when you first realized you were a grown-up?

Thoughts passed through my head: when I got my period? When I got married? When I got pregnant? That one snagged on a piece of driftwood and caught. Not because being pregnant meant I was a grown-up but because of the questions it raised and the ultimate decision it forced.
________________________________________________
I was 29 years old, blissfully over-the-moon married for six years and had a job I adored with a boss who taught me more than I knew was possible. And I wanted a baby. Lucky for me, so did Bubba and getting pregnant was as simple for us as saying the words. "Bingo!" said the fates. "You're pregnant."

Most of the early days of my pregnancy were spent in a typical fashion, signing up for websites that would help me track my baby's growth in-utero, planning for a nursery, looking forward to the first ultrasound. As my belly grew and the little munchkin inside wiggled and twisted I began thinking about baby names and what this baby would call its grandparents. Bubba's mom pleaded with us to avoid "granny" and "nana." My mom couldn't care less she was so thrilled to finally be a grandmother. My dad, hmmm.

At that time my dad and I were fairly estranged. I was too chicken to formally disengage from his life so we casually phoned each other every month or so to check in and I dutifully visited for an hour or so when I was in town, but the truth was that I was so angry with him I couldn't see straight. For sins both imagined and real, I was forever determined to hold him at arm's length. Andre the Giant arms. I wasn't going to let him in to hurt me again. No way.

But as my skin softened so did my heart. My stomach stretched and so did my understanding. My hair got thicker and so did my blood. I began to caress this bump that sat right in the center of me and daydream about the life this child would have. I recalled family Christmases smack in the eye of a tornado of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, torn tissue and ribbons everywhere and smiles all around. I remembered that allies don't always come in the forms you expect them to and regardless of how desperately I wanted to be the one my child comes to when she is in trouble, I may not be the one she chooses.

I began to realize that I wanted my baby to have the biggest, most loving family in the history of the world. I wanted her to know her cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. All of them. I wanted her to know their stories and hear all the hilarious family antics. I wanted her to stand smack in the center of a room full of relatives and feel loved and protected and cherished.

I needed to make a decision. Either I step up and cut my father out of this child's life formally or I let him in. It was time to stop dancing around the issue and choose.

I chose Dad.

Which led to another question. If I was going to really let him in I needed to be honest with both of us. Could I confront him with all of the things that I hated about him? Could I accuse him of all the nasty, mean things he had done in his life and demand answers? Was I brave enough to do that? It was only fair to give him a chance to explain.

I knew I needed to steel myself for this conversation. One night when Bubba was out of town I lie in the darkness on my back rubbing my baby belly and imagining the way it would go. Small talk first, how are you, what's new with the pregnancy, have any baby names yet? Then, what? How do I hit him with it? This was too important to improvise.

The more combinations and permutations of each accusation I knocked around in my head the more I felt my shoulders tense and my body begin to warm. I felt righteous. I felt justified. I felt...anxious. He would deny all of it anyway, wouldn't he? And then what? Do I cut him out if he does that? The baby kicked furiously, turning somersaults and flipping inside me.

Gradually it began to dawn on me. Was there anything he could say that would appease me? Was I just asking him impossible questions? Could I imagine a scenario whereby he would say, "I did that because of x" and it would be okay with me? Could I come up with any plausible explanation for some of the crappy decisions he made as a parent?

A parent. Parent. Responsible for a child. That was me pretty soon. I wouldn't make any of the same crappy decisions, would I? Right? Please?

The baby stopped moving and I went cold. That was the moment I grew up. The moment I realized that my father, the man I'd been vilifying for over a decade, was simply a human being. He hadn't had a set of rules and tips for being the perfect parent any more than Bubba and I would when this baby came. Did he do his best? the devil voice on my shoulder sneered in the darkness.

The answer surprised us both. Yeah, I think he did. When faced with this realization I was forced to admit that I didn't honestly believe anything my dad ever did was motivated by hatred for me or my siblings or my mother. I don't think he was ever trying to hurt any of us. Of the two of my parents, the one who never fails to say "I love you" before he hangs up the phone is my dad.

I realized that it wasn't my job to make my dad pay for his mistakes. The only conversation that was necessary in all of this was the one I had with myself. From this day forward, we would start over. The starting line was here. This place where I recognized that my father, warts and all, loved me. Always loved me.

That is what I wanted for this baby. And until his too-early death last May that is exactly what she felt coming from him. Adoration. Protection. Love.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Introductions are in Order

Just wanted to alert everyone to a new blog I've linked mine to. A friend of mine who prefers to remain anonymous for now has just started her new blog. For all of you who are writers or enjoy writing or just want to read another blog so you won't have to go clean the litterbox or do the dishes right away, please stop by her place and honor her work at "Getting it Down." http://www.thisbooklife.wordpress.com

Marvelous Montessori


Lola's teachers rock.

Today is Historical Halloween. In her mixed-age (1st, 2nd & 3rd grade students) classroom, everyone was given the following assignment:

"Choose a world leader who is now deceased. Research this person's life using at least three distinct sources (we prefer books, but you may use one website if you must). On Friday, October 30th you will be asked to come to school dressed as this person and present a report on their life to your classmates. We want you to turn in a written report including a bibliography and use your imagination. Have fun!"

The writing requirements are different for the kids based on their grade level. First graders have to write 3-5 sentences, second graders 7-10, third graders 12-15. Spelling, grammar and punctuation are important but they're graded on the written report, their oral presentation and the costume/props they put together. Every year is a different theme and in the past they've done artists (including writers and musicians - Eve was Coco Chanel that year), authors, and inventors.

This year, world leaders who showed up in Lola's classroom included Mother Theresa, Cleopatra, Princess Diana, Benjamin Franklin, Clara Barton, FDR and, for Lola, Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii. These kids knocked themselves out! To a child, every one of them came dressed in costumes they made or augmented themselves and all of them exceeded the minimum requirements for the written reports. Lola discovered that Queen Lil (as she has started to call her) was an accomplished composer and musician before her tenure as Queen and managed to find sheet music and learn a song on the piano to play for her class as part of her report.

Each and every one of these kids came to school, backpacks bulging with props, dressed exquisitely in costume and bursting with enthusiasm to tell their peers how they made a difference in our world today. Since it's too distracting for the parents to stay and watch, the teachers promised to videotape the entire day and play it back for us another time. I can't think of a better way for Lola to spend her day at school. She is so proud of her work on this project and I can't wait to hear how it went.

Hooray for teachers that think outside the box and see every day as an opportunity to provide their students with another reason to love learning! I feel so blessed today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thinking Like a Therapist


I wish I could. Think like a therapist, I mean. When Eve and I butt heads and I lose my patience with her (myself at that age), I know that I need to stop thinking like a mother (my father) and start thinking more objectively.

I wish I could.

Instead, I read parenting magazines. I talk with other mothers. I visit websites where I can chat about various strategies to use as a parent to change her behavior. To get her to act like I think she needs to. I worry that the lessons I'm trying so desperately to impart are getting lost in the arguments, the frustration, my impatience.

Weeks later, just when I've reached my wit's end, tried every method I can think of or dig up, a moment of clarity comes.

It's not for lack of trying that I couldn't place myself in her position. In fact, that's half the trouble - she is so much like I was at that age and I've inherited my father's lack of patience for "drama." It's crazy-making. For weeks I've scraped the inside of my skull for reasons why, inciting incidents, things I could have done to create this dilemma. Somehow, when I least expect it, insight strikes.

Too late for tonight. We've had the discussion - me the heavyweight pummeling her with "overreacting," "dramatic," "playing games," and she's cowering on the mat, handing me the win. There isn't any celebration. No handshake. No "good match." We both feel rotten.

Tomorrow, I can back off. Tomorrow, we will sit down and I can gently prod. I can ask the questions a therapist would ask. Tease out the answers that will give Eve some insight of her own.

I wish I had been able to do this before. I hope the damage doesn't prove to be un-fixable. If we haven't built too strong a wall, I can finally begin to think like a therapist instead of a mother and help her come to some conclusions. Give her a starting point. Show that I'm a partner in this instead of an adversary.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maybe Not All It's Cracked Up To Be...


Fixed


–adjective
1.fastened, attached, or placed so as to be firm and not readily movable; firmly implanted; stationary; rigid.
2.rendered stable or permanent, as color.
3.set or intent upon something; steadily directed: a fixed stare.
4.definitely and permanently placed: a fixed buoy; a fixed line of defense.
5.not fluctuating or varying; definite: a fixed purpose.
6.supplied with or having enough of something necessary or wanted, as money.
7.coming each year on the same calendar date: Christmas is a fixed holiday, but Easter is not.
8.put in order.



I am a fixer. The middle child. A peacemaker, the one who does her best to anticipate difficulties and prevent them before they come to fruition.

For the vast majority (if not the entirety) of my life, I have taken great pride in my ability to fix what is broken, right what is wrong, correct instability. You might say it has become an obsession. You might be right.

Inherent in this world view, unfortunately, is the notion that what is not perfect is broken and must be fixed, myself included. Fortunately for those imperfect human beings around me, perfection really only requires "better than me." As I look around me I cannot help but compare myself to others - the gorgeous 20-something newlyweds strolling by the pool, devoid of stretchmarks and cellulite, walking with an ease I can only aspire to. I try to measure up to my co-workers whose humor comes quickly and easily and who, I'm certain, are more devoted to and competent at their jobs than I.

Most often, these comparisons are an exaggeration and are hastily dispatched once I enter dialogue with others, realizing that nobody's life is free of worry or challenge. Generally, I am able to pop these silly thought bubbles with a gentle push and a hearty, "Ha!"

Delving deeper into the definition of the word "fixed," I am taken aback by the idea that it is anything to revere. Am I really hoping to render things stagnant? Cement them in place so that they no longer show any cracks or strain of wear? Is it that I am determined to fight change at all cost?

Nothing is static. The nature of energy and mass, indeed, our entire universe is toward change. Instead of visualizing myself as a boulder in a stream, impervious to all but the strongest outside forces, I ought to see that I am a grain of sand on the beach - ever moving and shifting in relationship to the other grains around me. In the morning I may be part of a tremendous sand castle, standing proud and strong in the sunlight, but as the tide changes and the waves push that castle down, it is not faulty or wrong to become once again a grain of sand lying on the beach. It just is part of the nature of being but one individual in this vast, connected universe. Wherever I am in one particular moment is not shameful or incorrect. I am not "broken" and in need of fixing. I simply am.

*definition courtesy of www.dictionary.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hello from Paradise

I've been in Hawaii for a week. Thus, the lack of new writing material here.

I will say, that while the weather has been glorious - warm, windless except for a slight cooling breeze now and then - and the company (my two lovely, water-loving girls and Bubba) stellar, the gluten-free dining has been hit and miss. I'd like to say that I have it down to a science by now, but every once in a while the hindsight hits me from the seat of the toilet. Hmmm, perhaps I shouldn't have chowed down on those salty, spicy roasted nuts in the bar. Methinks they probably contained some kind of spice-rub that had gluten - thus the prolonged introduction to the hotel bathroom when I ought to be out snorkeling.

I will say that most of the restaurants in the hotel itself (the Four Seasons) have well-trained staff who are more than diligent about making sure I don't come in contact with any gluten. Most of them, anyway. I don't expect anyone else to do my homework for me, but I am often shocked when most of them don't understand the vast range of foods that contain wheat and wheat flours. I vaccillate between feeling as though I'm teaching them something and feeling ridiculously high-maintenance.

I'm jonesing for my computer (which I didn't bring with me - mommy guilt), but I've nearly filled an entire lined notebook with thoughts I've had that will spur lots of writing when we get home.

So far, I've gotten most of my inspiration from a book I've been reading by Pico Iyer called "The Open Road" that investigates the life of the current Dalai Lama. The rest have come from my bouts of intestinal discomfort thanks to the mistakes I've made in my diet since we've been here.

For now, I'm off to get some more vacation time in. See you in a week!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

No Rest for the Weary


I want to carpet my bedroom with spike strips. I want to lock, double lock, triple lock, deadbolt my bedroom door from the inside.

I want to stretch duct tape across my daughter's small frame, pinning it to her mattress at 8:00 and come back to strip it away at 6:30 the next morning.

I want to slide my hands into quilted oven mitts to prevent my fists from clenching.

I want to spank her. I want to hear and feel the satisfying connection of...

A wave of self-hatred crests and I begin sobbing.

I don't want another wake-up call. Her bangs tickling my nose as she leans over me silently. I don't want to jerk awake again tonight. 11:45, 2:30, 4:30, 6:00.

I want to lay my head on my pillow and close my eyes; I don't want to open them again until morning. I want to dream, rest, replenish my mind and body.

Instead the nights stretch out before and behind me, pages of a calendar filled with dotted lines where the solid, bold stripe of black ought to be between Monday and Tuesday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It has been months since we slept. Months since we went to bed and didn't meet, me angry - her desperate, in the night.

During the day we apologize. Strategize. Argue. Regret.

We celebrate small victories. Two wake-ups instead of four.
We craft star charts. Promise ice cream sundae dates.

Before bed we meditate. Massages with lavendar lotion. Drink warm milk or chamomile tea. We read sweet stories and part with reassurances and words of love.

Somewhere between tucking in and 11:45, my daughter shape-shifts. She comes silently on feline feet and hovers. A vulture peering down at me. She nudges, trying to make space in my bed, turning into a wildcat when she's turned away. Clawing, screaming, kicking, fighting.

Sometimes when Bubba is away for the week I pretend not to notice that she has slipped in to his side of the bed. I am too tired to fight and she will sleep peacefully here.

I'm probably untying every loose end we've knotted until now by letting her sleep here. But she'll sleep and so will I. We need that. And waking up next to her blonde, cornsilk hair feathered across Bubba's pillow, sheet wrinkles pressed into her soft cheeks. This is much better than feeling a vulture above me who drives me to my own wildcat.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Evening Out


When I meditate I begin by focusing on the solid things that surround me. The ground on which my feet rest. The knee bones and flesh and skin on which my wrists rest. These things create a stable platform on which I can build.

As I become aware of my body the sense that one side outweighs the other comes in clear and strong. My left thigh has shrunk to child-size in the shadow of my right thigh. I feel as though my right wrist is sitting inches higher than my left as it rests on my knee. Following the sensation, it becomes clear that the entire right side of my body is dwarfing the left side, my right shoulder sits higher in its socket, my right buttock seems more solid and stable and larger than the left. I am not tipping or leaning and there is no clear divide between the two halves of my body, they are simply vastly different in size. The right side seems somehow more real.

The mother/wife side of me is more real, too. It is the side to which I default. When life overwhelms, the 'self' side of me shrinks and its priorities drop off. The personal chef, chauffer, tender of wounds, anticipator of crisis looms large and strong and solid and dwarfs the side of me that craves quiet, solace, peace and predictability. I have long known that the mother/wife side of me draws on the strength and reserves of the other side for its nourishment.

Inevitably, the smaller the self side becomes, the less capable the mother/wife side becomes of coping. Speed bumps bloom into Himalayan mountain peaks, potholes become sinkholes. My teeth grind, my jaw aches, tears flow. The strength contained in the "Right" side of me is spent in flares of anger and I expend my energy in small, chaotic bursts instead of pacing myself for the long haul.

The "Right" side believes that there is a correct way to address every problem. She is certain that if something is not going well, she has chosen the Wrong solution and it will be necessary to try again. The Right side is drunk on its power; the ability to clean up messes, kiss away hurts, anticipate collisions and divert them. The left side, the self side, sits and patiently waits.

If my self is a perfect sphere of Yin and Yang, the walls between the two sides are permeable, but only one way. The self side feeds the do-er side until is depleted and when the mommy/wife side is incapable of functioning any longer, I am forced to stop and re-evaluate. The side that feeds me is itself fed from within. If I imagine a small speck inside and relax enough to allow it to open up, the hidden spring is awakened.

So I sit in silence. I am aware of the imbalance and am awed by the quiet patience of my left side. It knows it will be fed. It waits for the moment when I can re-examine what is truly important to me: writing, meditating, exercising, finding peace and perspective. It does not judge or even measure how long it took me to recognize the disparity this time. It has a sense of self that is not affected its relative size or list of accomplishments.

If I continue to practice this awareness and choose to let my soul side fill up regularly, the discrepancy between my two sides will gradually diminish. It is a wonder to me that all it takes is several moments of silence to show me why my right shoulder is stiff and painful, the fingers of my right hand tingle throughout the day, my head aches at night. When the balance is restored the aches go away and, for a while, I will be even again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

That's the Way We Roll...


Just a small sampling of the way my family spends our days. To entertain or enlighten or frighten you - I'm not sure which:

Thursday morning we are, all four of us, in the bathroom upstairs. Bubba is shaving and packing his overnight bag. I am brushing my teeth. Eve is flitting around us, making sure we know she is excited about spending two nights with her grandparents without her parents around. Lola is perched on the tile countertop between the double sinks, wiggling her hips and making faces at Bubba as she attempts to block his view of himself in the mirror. He plays along for a while until she starts thrusting Q-tips toward his nostrils like miniature swords - hyah! hyah!

"Dude, you'd better quit squirming around like that or you're gonna fall off the counter and crack your nut," he warns her, laughing as he wipes the remaining blobs of shaving cream off of the skin underneath his earlobes.

"Daddy! I don't have any nuts! Only you do," she rolls her 7-year-old eyes and hops down.

Oy.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There is something about the car ride from our house to Portland that makes us all loopy around Battleground. We have all made this drive so many times, Bubba and I in the front seats, the girls snuggled into their captain's chairs with blankets and favorite stuffed animals, and the dog nestled firmly between them on the floor, flipping himself up instantly as soon as he feels the car stop because he knows it means he gets to get out and pee. It isn't long enough to be monotonous, but 2/3 of the way in, we know we are close and we all get a little goofy. Bubba starts making up lyrics to songs on the radio a la Weird Al Yankovic, Lola joins in and somehow trumps him and sends us all into fits of giggles. She starts free associating and manages to twist things in totally crazy ways and inspire Eve who is normally the serious one.

Today, Lola has removed the heavy chain-link leash from the dog's collar and is busy twisting it into different shapes.

"Hey, look! I'm making handcuffs!" She proudly holds out her wrists, tightly bound in chains with only a few inches between them. "Do ya think I can get out of this?"

Bubba rolls his eyes and smirks. He manages to speak softly enough that the girls can't hear him, "Thank God we don't have a pole in the car! Or a whip..."

After a few more combinations and permutations of homemade handcuffs, Lola announces, "I'm going to take this for show-and-tell. I'll ask for a volunteer to come up from the class and wrap me up in these special handcuffs and then I'll show them all how long it takes me to get out of them. Whew! What a terrific idea! I'll bet nobody has ever done a show-and-tell like that before!"

Bubba's talking under his breath again, "Oh, I get it. She's the dominant one..."

Meanwhile, Eve is slowly losing her sense of decorum as well. In her best 'we are siamese if you please' voice she begins singing, "Evlybody in To-kyo, dlives a pink To-yo-ta. C'mon, people - gimme a 't' word."

Against my better judgement, I call out, "Tangerine!"

"Evlybody in To-kyo, has a big tan-ger-i-ine. Give us another one, folks!"

This time, Lola chimes in, "Tankini!"

"Evlybody in To-kyo, wears a brown tan-ki-ni."

Ai-yai-yai.

-------------------------------------------------------

When we stay in Portland, we always take the dog. We've discovered a terrific hotel in the heart of downtown that caters to families with dogs. They welcome them, provide beds and toys and food/water dishes. They offer dog-sitting services and have stashes of dog treats and poop bags behind the front desk. It is positively doggy heaven. I will never stay anywhere else. Fortunately our dog can be trusted to stay in the room by himself for short periods of time without trashing the joint. I make it a habit to get up and take him for a walk early in the morning (three blocks up and two blocks over to the nearest Starbucks as a matter of fact) before Bubba and I head out to find breakfast. He always manages to make it out the front door of the lobby before lifting his leg on the enormous planter that delineates the doorman's spot for the day. I am always embarrassed but the doorman assures me that they all pee right there.

Now, our dog is a country dog. He is used to grass and trees and chasing bunny rabbits in the backyard. It usually takes him a few hours to get used to the traffic and concrete and random people wanting to pet him, but he always settles in. The fact is, when we are in Portland he is guaranteed at least three good long walks a day. At home, I generally open the back door and let him go, so I can't say I feel like we're treating him badly by bringing him to the city.

He loves the attention. He loves the other dogs he encounters in the hotel hallways and lobby. He is perfectly content to lie tethered to the pillar outside Starbucks and wait for me to return. He hates the Marriott Hotel. How, you may ask, do I know this? Well, peeing is one thing a dog does well, especially a male dog. I have often marveled at the special reserves of urine he must have that enable him to 'mark' every post, tree, mailbox and sign he deems worthy for miles and miles on a walk. Going #2? That's a different story.

At home, CB will not poop on the grass. He is very picky about finding a spot where there is simply dirt or bark to do his business. This is not something I have trained him to do. He came wired this way.

In the city, finding dirt is a little trickier. Fortunately, in downtown Portland there are many trees that line the sidewalks and most of them have some nominal amount of dirt surrounding them. When he's in a pinch, he'll run to the nearest tree and squat at the base of it. Unless we are anywhere near the Marriott Hotel. At least one time every day he pulls me to the revolving door of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Portland and leaves a huge steaming pile. He may have just pooped two blocks earlier. He may have pooped three times already that day. It does not matter. If we happen to pass the Marriott Hotel he will go out of his way to deposit poop outside the revolving door. I do not know why. I have no idea what message he is trying to send. I only know that he hates the Marriott. Maybe because they don't allow dogs...


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insight: Courtesy of Fox's "House"


"Why do you value your failures more than your successes?"

"Successes only last until someone screws them up. Failures last forever."

Pause. Hold my breath. Sit up straight.

Rewind. Press play.

"Why do you value your failures more than your successes?"

Pause.

I don't know. I didn't realize that I did until this precise moment. But you're right. I do. Play.

"Successes only last until someone screws them up."

Pause.

Ain't it the truth. Each one is fragile, strung together on the strength of a single filament, no bigger than the width of a spider's silk. The safest thing to do is tuck them away in the trees and hope that you can use them to wrangle bigger prey. Keep them out of the path of things that might go crashing through them and shoot them all to sh*t. You'll just have to start over.

Play.

"Failures last forever."

Stop.

Whoa. He's right. That's exactly how I treat them. As a kid I was taught to take responsibility for my mistakes. But what if 'responsibility' doesn't mean 'fix?' What if 'responsibility' means accepting and apologizing versus atoning and undoing? What if, by owning up to my failures, I've really been focused on punishing myself for even making mistakes at all? And by trying so damn hard to fix what I messed up on, I'm winding the web tighter and tighter around that mistake all but ensuring that it will stay preserved forever. What happens if I acknowledge my failures and move on instead of letting them own me?

Who knew sitting on the couch with a pint of Double Rainbow Coffee Blast ice cream could be so enlightening? This is better than therapy!




Saturday, September 19, 2009


I am consumed by food. Meal planning takes place for the week every Saturday. I set aside some portion of my day to sit with cookbooks and various loose pages of recipes I've collected throughout the week from friends or magazines or online. I scour the lists of ingredients in order to rule out gluten, exotic, out-of-season produce and ridiculous one-time-use spices or potions that will remain in my pantry for three years after I make this one recipe with them.

I set aside recipes that have made the cut, mentally deciding which nights I will have the most time to cook and those that will necessitate a hasty re-heating. We can't simply order a pizza anymore or have soup-and-sandwich night, so the nights we're running from school to activities are rough. Those recipes will be made on Sunday and stuck in the fridge so I can just zap them in the microwave (God forbid anyone ever discover that microwaved food causes cancer or autism or Parkinson's disease!!!)

The grocery list gets made, taking into account the nights Bubba will be away during the coming week. Nights when he's gone I can get away with gluten-free pasta and steamed broccoli for dinner. Next on the grocery list are things for school lunches. How many days of school this week? Any of them I can get away with whisking the girls out for a quick salad-bar treat at Whole Foods?

It's my ritual. I am sick of it. I wish I didn't spend so much time thinking about, shopping for, preparing and cleaning up after food. I think.

This week as I prepare to shut out the world and focus on the week's menu I am realizing it's an easy week. Tonight we're going to some friends' house for dinner (yay, they're gluten-free too - what a boon!), tomorrow I'll cook. Monday night Bubba's gone so we can have pasta. Tuesday night Bubba's gone and Eve's at choir practice until 6:15, so we can stop at Whole Foods for salad bar on the way home. Wednesday night I'm going to a book reading, so dinner is Bubba's to handle, and Thursday we're all heading out of town for the weekend.

Why am I not jumping for joy...

My ritual has been altered. The methodical, tangible putting of pen to paper for the grocery list, the writing of the meal plans in my weekly calendar - those are things I think I actually look forward to. There is something about this ritual that makes me feel as though I am doing something Real. Something productive and pro-active and motherly. Nurturing. Taking care of my family. And I'm good at it. I'm a good cook. I'm a good meal planner. I relish the opportunity to craft a meal that will make my family sated and happy. It validates my ability to provide for my children and my husband. I love our family dinners. I feel secretly smug that I'm not stuffing my children full of convenience foods or having Cheerios for dinner.

Guess I'll have to go do a load of laundry. Not quite as satisfying, but at least I got some writing done today. Even if it wasn't my grocery list.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Walking With Eve


Eve has decided that since she's growing up and getting busier, we ought to have a ritual that belongs just to the two of us.

She has chosen walking the dog on Sundays as that ritual. The grown-up girl in her sees it as a way to talk honestly about things in our lives without pesky little sister hanging around. The little girl in her sees it as a chance to get a special treat: "Be sure to bring your purse, though, so when we're done walking we can sit at Starbucks and have a hot chocolate together."

She has promised that, rain or shine, wind, snow or blazing heat, she will want to walk the dog with me. So far, we've had three glorious Sunday walks. So far, I think we've just barely scratched the surface of the things she's going to teach me.

One Sunday our talk turned to "the trouble with Lola." Lola, as you might recall from several previous blog posts, lost her mind for a while this summer and became an aggressive, snotty, backtalking meanie. Without ganging up on her, Eve and I began discussing why it is that she gets to me so much when she starts spouting off.

"Mom? Not to be mean or anything, but I need to tell you something."

Hmmm, not exactly the way I would have ever opened up a conversation with an adult in my life when I was 9, but, okay...

"You are always telling me that I can't control anyone else's behavior, that I can only change my response to it. You also always say that when I react in an angry or snotty way to her and get sucked in to the fight, she wins." We are walking side-by-side on a remote, wooded trail. There is nobody but us and the dog within hearing or sight distance. My eyes slid toward her now and then as she spoke, but Eve's eyes stayed firmly on the ground about three feet in front of her.

She took a deep breath, probably relieved that I hadn't stopped her yet. No way! I had to see where this was going.

"You're letting her win. She just wants attention. Does it really matter why she's being so mean? I don't like it when you two start fighting and I don't like it when she gets you so upset. Maybe you could just go to her and give her a big hug and tell her you love her when she's pissy. Sometimes I say 'thank you' when she says something evil to me and she stops 'cuz it's not what she expects."

Her voice is getting quieter and the rhythm of her words slower. I think she's getting talked out.

I slid my arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. She was absolutely right. And she's been listening to me. Something tells me we can move mountains with these walks.

What To Do?


I struggle with balance on a daily basis. Work/life balance. Mother/wife balance. Homemaker/individual balance. Writer/employee balance.

As my eyes move around the rooms of my house, my brain sifts through all that I'm seeing and builds a list, almost without my noticing:

  • laundry's piling up - been three days since you did a load
  • tumbleweeds of dog hair beginning to collect in the corners
  • pantry's getting low on kid snacks
  • leftovers in the fridge are getting a little past-it
None of these things are urgent, but they will all continue to build up. Similarly, as I go through my day at work, certain things stick:

  • gotta make sure someone is here for parent curriculum night to shuttle the lost parents to their respective classrooms
  • we're getting low on emergency lunches - better order some more
  • paper supply is looking a little lean
  • teacher in room 4 says the thermostat is getting funky again
When I pick the kids up from school and sift through the news of their day, I collect still more:

  • fill out the info for Eve's picture day and order a package
  • pay tuition for choir and set up a uniform fitting
  • Lola's dying to get back to her swimming lesson - set that up soon
  • my volunteer day in Eve's French class is coming up next week - set up a carpool for Lola
I somehow manage to get things done. The critical things. Weekly meal planning, dishes, packing school lunches, making sure we've got enough dog food, cat food, vitamins, toilet paper. I don't feel as though I'm jumping from crisis to crisis or managing emergencies all day long. The girls are getting their homework done and making it to practices and school on time. They are in bed and asleep by 8:30 every night and Bubba and I get some face-time and even a date or two a month.

It's the prioritizing I'm struggling with. When I realize that it's been six months since I wrote a word of my new book project, I feel bad. When I decide that it is definitely past time for me to send out a new rash of agent query letters so I can get the first book published, I wonder when I'll get the time to sit down and do the research I need to do first. I'm not going to vacuum one room of dog hair. Once I get started, I'm doing the whole damn house before I put the vacuum away. I'm not going to do one load of laundry at a time. I'm gathering up every last stitch of dirty clothes, sorting them and washing, drying, folding until it's all neatly set at the end of everyone's bed. My daddy taught me not to start something I can't finish. I've made myself crazy for so many years multitasking that I know it's better for me to focus on one thing and do it right the first time.

But the first thing to drop off the To Do list is writing. Somehow, the writing doesn't seem to pile up like dirty dishes or smelly laundry. It doesn't collect under the buffet like tufts of black dog hair or sit on the counter in the kitchen waiting for me to sign it and return it to school. It doesn't reach out and tap everyone else in the house on the shoulder like running out of milk or cheese does. It only speaks to me. It only wakes me up at 2:30am to remind me that I haven't written or read any blog posts in over a week.

Hmmmm...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Blurp!


I am absolutely fascinated with the way brains work. Looking at that shiny, lumpy grey blob that sits behind our faces, it is difficult to imagine the astonishing things that happen because of it. The electrical connections that are made that allow us to make our legs move and our throats create intelligible sounds come from this lump.  The signals that originate here direct our every action and reaction to everything around us.

Not only do our brains work nearly 24 hours a day, they are plastic. That is, changeable.  Far from being simple filing cabinets, they sort and assimilate the information we collect and occasionally alter our patterns of behavior because of this information.  

Lying on my bedroom floor yesterday, I worked on stretching my muscles to finesse out some of the stiffness that came along with the beginning of the school year.  My gaze drifted up the wall to several framed pieces of art that were wedding gifts from friends and family.  One in particular features a phrase my mother wrote in calligraphy, surrounded by pressed flowers from her garden.

"The key to a happy marriage is to fall in love many times with the same person."

She recorded the date of our wedding and framed it in a lovely gold frame. 

I love the sentiment. I adore the time she spent getting the lettering just right and pressing the flowers.  I am touched by the meticulous framing job.

The art? It is not me. I don't do "golden" or flowery.  I prefer simple and unadorned.  My mother's house is filled with antiques and countryfied touches. She's got signs and old moonshine jugs cluttered around the woodstove in the corner of the family room. Every window sports homemade checkered curtains that are reminiscent of (and probably actually are) picnic tablecloths.  Her house is cute and cluttered and comfortable. Her yard surprises you with its funky touches, a sign offering peaches for sale, clematis climbing up an old screen door, and a fountain crafted from an old metal watering can.  It is lovely and so, well, her.  I love to visit it. If I had to live there, I'd go nuts in a day.

As I lay on the floor gazing at the frame on my bedroom wall I pondered the ways in which I've become more like my mother over the years.  No matter how hard I've tried or how much I deny it I know that I've uttered the exact same phrases to my children that came out of my own mother's mouth.  

As a child, my mom sewed most of my clothing.  There are family albums full of photos of my sister (despite the fact that she is three years younger) and I sporting matching Hollie Hobby-inspired dresses.  We had homemade cotton shorts and seersucker blouses thanks to Mom.  When I got into elementary school, Mom used to take me to the fabric store to help choose the fabrics for my clothes and, while I don't recall being embarrassed that my mother sewed my clothing, there were clear moments where her taste in patterns and styles clashed with mine like the British and the IRA.  Growing up in the 70s, I was subjected to wearing culottes and macrame vests. My mom was so excited. I was mortified.  

Our fashion tastes only grew farther apart as I got older and I suppose that that is an expected part of growing up and developing your own individual personality.  To this day she shows up for visits in clothes I know she has chosen carefully, as much for her sense of fashion as comfort and the fact that they were a bargain.  Clothes that she is very happy with. Clothes that I wouldn't be caught dead in.  I don't say this to disrespect my mother. I fully respect her right to have her own opinions about her clothing and I am not at all embarrassed to be seen in public with her. I just don't want to be her.

So as I lay on the floor, pondering the art she chose for my wedding day I wondered whether I would ever suddenly wake up to discover that I've become her.  As I watch various friends gradually become more and more like their own mothers, it sets me to thinking.  I have seen my mother-in-law, a woman who used to get unbelievably frustrated with her own mother, become so much like her in her own mannerisms and opinions that it is frightening.  I have no intention of letting her know this because I'm certain it would drive her to distraction.  But will there be a point at which I become my mother as well? Is it inevitable.  Do our brains go along merrily for a certain period of time and then, at some tipping point decipherable only to our individual control centers, BLURP, one wrinkle folds out, forcing a new wrinkle to be created and, there you have it: I have become my mother?  Is there a physical change in my brain or is it simply a neurochemical or electrical difference that makes me suddenly behave more like the woman who has made me crazy all my life?  Or is it that the change has been happening slowly and gradually since the day I was born and it is only at this tipping point that I become aware of it?

Beyond that, if there is some abrupt physical change, if I meditate on it can I stop it? Or become mentally aware at the precise moment that my brain matter goes BLURP and a profound shift occurs?  Will I suddenly look at that frame hanging on my wall and love it from that day forward?

Maybe it's time I got up from the floor...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Getting There...


Less dizziness and brain fog every day. I'm feeling pretty good. I'm sleeping and I only got emotional twice yesterday, but I'm pretty sure that both times I was justified.  The first was after a complete Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde performance by Lola that all started because her evil, evil big sister had the gall to use Lola's pencil without asking (!).  We had 15 minutes before getting Eve to the bus stop and I still had to finish packing lunches and make my coffee to go.  Despite multiple attempts to stop the situation before it escalated, Lola insisted on unleashing her inner demon and was entirely undaunted by each and every one of my threatened consequences.  She has now lost all screen time (computer, Xbox, TV, movies, etc.) every single day for the last 10 days in a row. Apparently, that's not enough of a carrot. She has lost playdates, been sent to her room countless times to "chill out," and seen me dissolve into tears at least twice in the same time period.  The tears are the only thing that seem to sway her even slightly. 

So I lost it. I dropped what I was doing and silently made my way to my bedroom so that I could breathe and center myself before leaving the house.  She followed me. I shut my bedroom door and quietly asked her to leave me alone until I was ready to talk to her.  I sat on the floor in my room and sobbed.  She pounded on my locked door and screamed hysterically, "I don't like it when you cry, Mommy! Stop crying and let me in. NOW!"

Oh, yeah. That's gonna help.  Somehow I managed to convince her to be quiet until I came out and I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing.  I reminded myself that she is a loving child who is having difficulty moderating her emotions right now.  I reminded myself that I cannot control her behavior no matter what I do.  I reminded myself that this, too, shall pass.  I tried to push away the voice that reminded me it couldn't pass quickly enough.  Somehow I got Eve to the bus on time and steeled myself for the inevitable apologies that come from Lola but never seem to help change her behavior.  I dropped her off in her classroom and headed to work.

It was the second day of school.  One little boy who had cried for 2 and a half hours on the first day was terrified to come back. He didn't want his mother to leave him at school again.  He is just three and hasn't been away from his mother before now and he didn't want to come back. Together, they walked up to the glass doors of the school and once he realized where they were he dug his feet into the ground and his eyes widened in terror. Abject terror. He began screaming hysterically, "I don't want to go to school. Don't leave me, Mommy! I don't like school!"

I remembered sitting with him as he cried on the first day of school, teasing him about the classroom fish.

"What is that silly fish's name? Peter Pan? Peter Peanut Butter and Jelly? Peter Pepperoni Pizza?"

At each silly suggestion he would slow his crying and shake his head.  At one point he stopped and quietly said, "Nemo."

"Oh, you're right. Nemo is his name," I slapped my forehead in recollection. "And he is purple with pink spots, right? No? Green with yellow stripes? Black and white?"

"He is orange."

I finally got him calm enough to join his class and sit with the fish for a while. He did great.  Until the second day of school.

My co-worker noticed how much trouble his mother was having getting him to come inside and she went out to help. She picked him up, had him wave good-bye to his mom, told him what time she would be back, and they came inside.  The screams escalated.  His eyes widened and I can only describe the look on his face as terrified. He was certain he was being abandoned.  As my co-worker continued on down the hall to his classroom, I reassured his mother that he would be fine. She should go and we would call her if we needed her, but I was sure he would calm down again and join his classmates.  It was the look on her face that broke me.

Even though she knew she was doing the right thing. Even though she knew we would take care of him. Even though she knew he wasn't the only kid in the school who was frightened.  Even though she had done this same thing at this same school with her daughter just three years before, she felt as though she was terrorizing him.  She felt guilty and mean and didn't want her little boy to feel alone.

Been there.  

I had to go sit in the break room and catch my breath.
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So I think my tears were justified. I don't think it's the fact that I don't have the full dose of meds in my system anymore that caused me to feel that way and I'm pretty sure I wasn't over-reacting. That's what I'm telling myself.

And while the brain buzz and fingertip electricity continue to abate, my newest symptom has shown up. Muscle itch.  I can't find it described online anywhere, but it's definitely something I've never experienced before.  It's not an itch on the surface of my skin and it's not a twitch in my muscles.  it is a muscle itch.  It comes either in my quads or the bottoms of my feet and it is an itch that I can't scratch.  Fortunately, it doesn't last for long and I find it more interesting than disturbing, but it certainly makes me glad to be gradually ridding my body of this drug.

Thank you to everyone who continues to be so supportive. I don't know that I am courageous (although I appreciate you saying so). I just knew it was time.  Thanks.
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