Monday, September 30, 2013

I'll Be a Better Mother Tomorrow

Time is my friend, and my children's friend.   The other night when I came up to tell Lola goodnight I was in a hurry. Bubba had been traveling a lot lately and we had some catching up to do on our couch-snuggling, Breaking Bad routine.  He was waiting downstairs and I was hoping for a smooch on Lola's forehead, a tug of the covers to snug her in and a quick exit. She asked me to give her a meditation. I whined.

Dude, it's late. You should have thought of that before you goofed off for 15 minutes instead of brushing your teeth and getting your pajamas on.
I want to go down and hang out with Dad. He's waiting. 
You know that if you want a meditation, you have to be in bed before 9....

Saturday night when I made the trek to Eve's room to tell her goodnight she stuck out her tongue for me. She has been fighting a chest cold for nearly two weeks now, no fever but congestion and a wet cough that she swears doesn't hurt. "It's just annoying."  She has been sidelined from her cross-country team and is anxious to feel better, so every night I plug in the humidifier and all day long I pump her full of homeopathic remedies and probiotics and hot tea.  But now something is going on with her tongue.

It's thrush, I tell her.
An overgrowth of yeast. Your immune system is wiped out from this virus and it can't compete with the yeast.

She panicked. Ran to her laptop while I set up the humidifier for the night and shooed the cat out of her bathroom and looked up thrush online. She immediately jumped to the part where it talks about spreading to your esophagus in some cases, requiring an endoscopy or x-ray to diagnose. Eve has health-anxiety that I suppose relates to how sick Bubba was when she was little - always in the hospital for something or other - and she nearly always jumps into the deep end of worst-case scenario when she doesn't feel well.

"What if I have to go to the hospital? I don't want a tube down my throat! I can't miss a ton of school and this is horrible!"

I rolled my eyes.

Seriously? You will be fine. I'll do some research tonight and figure out how to handle it. We'll tackle it tomorrow. You're not going to need an endoscopy. Good night.

In both instances I felt guilty within five minutes.
In both instances the issue was my own inability to distance myself from the discomfort of my children.

I felt Lola's stress acutely that night when she asked for a meditation and it was hard for me to be with her and hold space for it right then.   I was feeling my own stress and, ironically, the meditation would have done wonders for both of us, but I reverted back to the "suck it up" school of parenting I know so well (it having been modeled by my own parents) and walked out.

Eve's anxiety ratcheted up my own on Saturday. Not that I truly believed she was seriously ill, but to see my usually-confident and capable daughter so worried threw me off.  I used the sarcasm my father was so famous for to make her feel small and shut her up.

In both cases, the next morning brought clarity.

When Lola asks me to be present with her, to help her ground herself, the best thing I can do is reinforce that. Instead of shaming her for seeking help or telling her to do it alone, I need to embrace the opportunity to teach her that this is a powerful thing to do for herself. Never again will I dismiss her request for a meditation before bedtime.

When Eve reacts so powerfully to something I say, I need to acknowledge her feelings instead of making fun of them.  I ought to have said, "I know you're worried right now and I understand that. Is there anything I can do to help ease your fears?"

I am so sorry that I treated my girls like this and I know I've done it many times before.  I can only hope that from now on, I take a moment to remember what that night of sleep brought to me in terms of understanding how to support my children when they are asking for help, even if it doesn't seem like a convenient time for me.


Friday, September 20, 2013

What Kind of World Do You Want to Live in?

Last night I had the incredible good fortune to spend the evening with a group of dynamic, passionate, clever individuals. Most of them I have never met before, but we all share one vital quality. We all want to live in a world rooted in humanity, honesty, compassion and a shared sense of fulfillment and we are all willing to begin acting as though we do in order to effect that change.

There were writers and engineers, human resource experts and folks who fund and support start-ups and one individual passionately committed to restorative justice. There were men and women of all ages, most of us parents, each one of us visionary in our quest to find new ways to connect individuals and groups in ways that are authentic and meaningful and based in respect and caring for one another.  It was not a fund-raiser. It was not a sales pitch or a cult initiation.  It was simply a group of people coming together over a delicious meal to talk about how we can begin to realize the dream of living in a different kind of world.

We were challenged at the beginning to be as honest as we could about who we are, what we want, and how we make our way through the world. To be hyperaware of how we talk about our own lives. I was reminded several times throughout the evening of three books that have had an incredible impact on me and whose fundamental lessons I have to remind myself of often:

Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements,
Brene Brown's Daring Greatly,
and
David Whyte's The Three Marriages.

I dreamt about some of the conversations we had overnight and as I head out to a weekend without my laptop, I am certain the notebook I am bringing along with me will be well-used, filled with lines of inspiration and epiphanies sparked by this amazing gathering of people.  The ripples from this night will continue for days and weeks to come and I am so energized, so grateful to have been introduced to this movement that will change forever how I view my place in the world.  There is something so powerful about being reminded that people crave connection and community that rewards them for being exactly who they are, that being an 'idealist' is not a bad thing, that it may one day change the way we all live for the better.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Post-Traumatic Processing

One of my favorite words is "friable." It is a word I learned when I was working as a surgical assistant and it made an enormous impression on me for two reasons. First, it was accompanied by a visual cue. Second, it sounded to me like what it meant.

friable - adj. easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly

Tumors or masses that were easy to remove from the surrounding tissue were either fluid-filled cysts or other dense collections of cells. But occasionally we would encounter a mass that, when you grabbed it with the forceps to hold it away from the surrounding tissue - to cut it away - little pieces would break off in the tips over and over again. It wasn't that it was tightly adhered to its location in the body, but that it was fragile and easily broken and it was often challenging to be sure that we removed all of the mass because you couldn't get it out all in one piece.

Today I feel friable. Not fragile, like glass that will shatter if dropped, but friable, as though if I am pulled on, small fragments will begin to fall off. It is the aftermath of how I felt yesterday which I am not sure there is a word for.

Yesterday afternoon for a few hours I felt very clear. If I were a fiction writer, a novelist who writes about space travel or psychological thrillers, I could use how I felt to form a compelling scene. It is that feeling you don't get often that immediately follows the diversion of a major catastrophe. Similar to the adrenaline rush you get after narrowly missing another car on the road or barely righting your bicycle when you skid on a patch of wet gravel, but more profound. It is the calm after the initial heart palpitations in which you have a sort of tunnel vision, a clear, calm certainty that you have just done something very important, something that very definitively prevented a horrible set of events from being put into motion. A floating sort of feeling in which the parts of your life that are trivial literally fall away and you are left with a clarity that brings into focus every scent in the air, the dappled color of the leaves on every tree in your path, and each inhale and exhale that fills your cells with oxygen.

Yesterday as the dog and I walked through the neighborhood, I reveled in that feeling. In fact, I bathed in it. I had no other feelings. I harbored no anger toward the person whose heinous actions I prevented. I retained none of the abject fear I had possessed mere hours before, sobbing ugly, ugly tears at what we might have lost. I felt only clarity. I was yet hours from feeling gratitude for the way things worked out, and even farther from today when I simply feel friable.

As I have busied myself in the hours after the girls left for school, making phone calls and paying bills and baking blueberry muffins for the week's breakfasts, I have felt competent and calm with an underlying sense of this crumbling, a sort of detached knowledge that if I am put under any kind of pressure, I may fall to bits.

*I know this is cryptic, but because of the particulars of the story and those involved, I do not feel at liberty to share the details. I did, however, feel the desperate need to share how it made me feel, if only to write the words down and get them out of my head.

Friday, September 13, 2013

And That's All it Took


The other day on the plane a woman sat down next to me and began eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I don’t know how many years it has been since I had one of those; at least 25? But at the mere scent of it, I could picture the translucent rice-sized onion pieces scattered across the red-stained bun, feel the texture of the plasticky American cheese slice on the roof of my mouth. Saliva flooded my cheeks to meet the saltiness of the patty and I recalled perfectly the way it first resisted my teeth and then broke apart all of a sudden, yielding to the pressure. I remembered precisely how the bun felt soft and warm against my lips as I bit down, the slight sweetness of the ketchup and the bite of the yellow mustard. The feel of the yellow wrapper folded back and brushing against the tip of my nose was visceral, as if I were eating the cheeseburger myself and not the woman next to me. As if there were no greater reward in life than to tuck into a fast food icon like the hockey-puck-size McDonald’s cheeseburger. As if it wouldn’t send my stomach into spasms and my immune system into red alert, fully guaranteeing my near-permanent residence atop a toilet seat for most of the next 72 hours. I am certain I ate my share of these little beauties as a kid and I know full well how toxic they are to me as an adult. And yet, this remains one of the single most volatile and crystal-clear food memories I have. One that requires only a scant whiff of it as a stranger on an airplane unwraps it to send my mind and body reeling into a vortex of pleasant sensations. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Lancet, Worldwide Rape Prevalence, and Raising Confident Children

There is a certain false sense of security that comes with having my daughters in an all-girls middle school. There is a modicum of relief that washes over me when I hear other parents talking about the flirtatious interactions and attractions, both clandestine and overt, that their children experience daily, hourly, continuously.  My girls get to go to school and not have to endure 'accidental' jostling or groping from the boy whose locker is adjacent to theirs. They are not awash in titillating situations between or during classes.

But, like I said, this is a false sense of security. Because the fact is, both of my girls identify as heterosexual at this point and both are attracted to boys - both the celebrity variety and those they know peripherally.  And while they may not see boys on a daily basis at school, they know boys and interact with boys over text and Skype and email and Facebook and I have recently begun wondering how these non-personal encounters will ultimately affect their comfort level with boys in the actual flesh.  This, of course, leads me to wonder how boys and girls learn to communicate with each other in general (and not on a sibling-level which is vastly different than both friend and partner interactions).  Should we be talking to our kids about how they present themselves, talk about themselves, assert themselves in person with someone they might be physically attracted to?  I think so.

Yesterday The Lancet published a study they conducted on the prevalence of rape, specifically, "Prevalence of and factors associated with non-partner rape perpetration: findings from the UN Multi-country Cross-sectional Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific." (Yeah, I know - it's a mouthful.)  I was blown away by what they found.  If you wish to examine the study and attendant findings, it is here. If not, I will attempt to accurately paraphrase the portions that shocked me to the core.

First of all, in surveying these men, ages 18-49, they did not use the word "rape." Rather, they described circumstances that are most definitely qualified as rape and asked whether the men had engaged in any of these actions. One example was to ask whether the respondent had ever "forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it." The numbers were staggeringly high.

In New Guinea, more than 26% of men self-reported having raped (by the above definitions) at least one woman. This ranged down to the lowest percentage of men (2.6%) in rural Bangladesh, but the numbers on repeated or multiple incidents was frightening as well.  There were no countries in this study where the sample did not contain at least one percent of respondents who had raped multiple women.  The table of results is here and includes data on men raping other men.

In nearly every country, 50% of the perpetrators committed their first rape prior to the age of 19, China being the exception.  My heart stopped when I saw that statistic.

This from the study itself: "All men who had raped were asked if they agreed or disagreed (on a four-point Likert scale) with a set of statements about why they did it. The statements expressed sexual entitlement (or the belief that if a man wants sex he has a right to have it, irrespective of the woman's views: “I wanted her”, “I wanted to have sex”, or “I wanted to show I could do it”); entertainment seeking (“I wanted to have fun” or “I was bored”); anger or punishment (“I wanted to punish her” or “I was angry with her”); and drinking (“I had been drinking”).

And this, folks, is why I think it is vitally important that we talk to our children about the way they interact with the opposite sex. I will grant that this study did not take place in the United States and there were some correlations with violent conflicts (civil wars) and men's attitudes towards women (a similar study in South Africa shows that nearly 28% of men admit to multiple rapes of non-partner women), but I wonder how much different the answers might be in our country.  When interactions of a personal nature are increasingly less personal (sexting, Skype 'sex,' etc.), how can we truly appreciate physical cues and tone of voice? When girls are objectified by the media (think: "Toddlers and Tiaras," "Dance Moms," any magazine advertisement for clothing or perfume or accessories in your local hair salon) and boys absorb those messages whether or not they mean to, how do we learn to talk to each other about ourselves in an authentic, meaningful way? How do we begin to have honest conversations about who we really are and how we deserve to be treated?

I don't claim to have the answers, but I am certainly going to begin encouraging my girls to find ways to be in casual social situations with boys where they can practice simply being who they are. I imagine it will be an education for them as well as the boys they are around and I can only hope it will build their confidence to the point where they look beyond stereotypes of what a boy 'ought' to be like to the person inside as well as letting their true personalities emerge.

God help me.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Scarcity and Gratitude

Enough.
The first day of school can't come soon enough.
There isn't enough time to get everything done before I leave for a long weekend.
I didn't get enough sleep last night.
I don't have enough clarity about CB's cancer diagnosis.

These are the thoughts that run through my head and body like cars on the expressway, zipping and zooming past each other, weaving in and out, their red lights illuminating the night as I watch them retreat.  These are the thoughts that create a tightness in my jaw and shrink the spaces between my vertebrae as I wilt beneath their weight.

These are the thoughts of scarcity.
These are complete bullshit.

As I sit here with the dog's warm chin straddling my feet, I sit up a little taller.  There is more than enough. It took me a long time (40 years or so) to recognize the fallacy of 'not enough,' and my own tendency to see things through that lens, but I'm working on it.  Truthfully, when it comes to the things that really matter, there is plenty.

There is so much love that surrounds me if I just choose to stop and see it.
There is as much time as there ever has been and if I am deliberate and thoughtful about how I spend it, I have more than enough to accomplish the things I truly care about.
There is creativity and cleverness in my children, my husband, the laborers working on my house to help us realize the vision of a relaxed gathering place for friends and family.
There are so many avenues open to me at any given moment and when I shift my gaze from scarcity to possibility, I am overwhelmed.

My spine lengthens. My lungs fill up a bit more. I can bask in the warmth of enough. Scarcity is a trap, a construction of my own mind. It is borne of comparison, a thing I already know is toxic, and the most insidious part of it is the assumption that chasing more and living in dissatisfaction will eventually get me to enough, or to the enemy of happiness - perfect.

The truth is, I am already there, so long as I choose a place of acknowledgment and gratitude. When I opt to look at how full my life is, brimming with love and connection and opportunities to learn and grow, I feel an embarrassment of riches.
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