Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The tuning fork that is my child

I use this metaphor often. When you flick a tuning fork (that's the technical term, right?), and other tuning forks are nearby, they hum too.

When we're talking about a simple tuning fork, then cool. When we apply the metaphor to our toddler and track our own mama (parent) emotions, then I hate this metaphor. I hate it because it's really true for me right now.

So here's the deal: My lovely, sweet, empathic/empathetic (which one is correct?), brilliant (if I do say so myself) toddler is swearing. Not in a "you don't know what this word means so it's funny" sort of way, either. Like he says, when he gets INSANELY angry, which seems like every other moment, "You Fukid [sic] Mama. You stupid Mama." Yes, It's true. At first it was sort of funny. About three times. And now, since he says it EVERY time he's mad, it's not only way old, but it's actually starting to hurt my feelings. Yes, even though I am an adult, with seemingly tougher skin, this is *hurting* my feelings. What can I say, I feel everything.

It's also an ego thing...when he says it in front of people/strangers I am more upset because I don't want people to think I let my kid say that to me. I hear that people kibosh that in their kids all the time. They simply "shut it down," they tell me. Well, no kiboshing is helping. K says it even when we clearly explain how he can use it (in his room, alone to himself). He also immediately apologizes for it but that's not good enough for us.

I have heard, from MANY people, that if I ignore it, then it (my son's foul language) will magically go away. My intuition says that not only will it not go away, but it's actually important to look directly at it, and NOT ignore it. Well-meaning Parenting Advice, you've failed me again (why do I keep listening??!!)

I have tried all the methods (telling him to go to his room to say that word, telling him it hurts my feelings, telling him that I will not tolerate it, ignoring him and taking a breath/walking away, etc.). But back to the tuning fork thing...

What if he's not the one who's angry, but he's the one who can correctly "tune in" to the feelings around us/me? What if *I* am the one who's angry? What if I am the one who's saying "Fukid [sic] Mama?" If you can, for a split-second, suspend the cultural norm of laughing off bad language and really follow me into this place (I know, it can be scary, but you're not alone, 'cause I'm here too), then when our kids, who haven't been around long enough to really grasp the anger which we see displayed in their behavior, get mad, maybe they are tuning us in to anger that's palpable in our daily lives that we've been ignoring. Or maybe they are externalizing how we are energetically talking to ourselves! So K says "You stupid, mama" and what would it be like if I saw myself telling MYSELF that I was stupid?

This isn't really far-fetched, to be honest. I am angry. And many times I do NOT allow myself the time and space to feel it. Not the way my kid does, anyway. Sure, I try to channel it and redirect it and many times ignore it (hey, isn't that the advice I've been given regarding my kid's bad behavior??), but what if instead, I stared right at it and felt it? Like really let it sink in that I am super angry about stuff? What if I really sat with the fact that I am mean to myself, especially when things feel out of control? Ugh. Then what? There's an awesome prayer that I say 2-3x day that starts like this:

God, grant me the serenity
To Accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

What always chokes me up is not the accepting part, but the courage to change the things I can. Because I *can* change a lot about what's making me angry and how I treat myself. I can change my food, the way I relate to folks, my physical space, my sleep, how I drive, what I watch, what I listen to, what I wear, what I read, and more. I can also "use my words" more. For me, that means more writing, more expressing, more communicating clearly. I tell my son when he's angry that all he has to do is ask kindly for what he wants...well, if I demonstrated that more, then maybe he would too. Ha. I've got me there.

I'm *not* an angry person, I tell myself. I am generally optimistic if you talk to me at parties or get-togethers. But what about the stuff I don't share? What about the fact that I am angry on a daily basis at the state of my home, the state of my health, the state of my creativity, the way in which I treat myself, how others treat me, the way I behave on the road, (I could go on, but you get the idea).

What if my kid is simply, and quite innocently, showing me how out of control I feel? To be honest, if he was participating in Playback Theater, then he would be pretty accurate. I feel INSANELY out of control. And yes, I want my avocados to taste a certain way, I want a book to be written a certain way, I want my food properly salted, I want *only* the songs I want to play on the radio. So is my kid sooooo out of line for losing it every time things don't go his way? How am I teaching him (and me) how to live in a world that doesn't go exactly the way I want all the time?

Moreso, when I ignore it/him or when I try to compromise with him (which really means saying no to what he wants exactly) what am I really teaching? What am I saying to my kid? "You can't always get what you want..." Is that what I mean? What alternatives am I offering? What does he (or what do I) really want, anyway?

Like usual, I don't have the amazing answers. But I know I can't ignore it. I know that I need to work on my anger (even if it's not in front of K, it seeps from me like radioactive waste). I know that when I am not right within, it would be weird to expect him to be right within, since he really is tuned in to me/us. I hate saying this (this, being that I need to work on MORE), because I think I am working on PLENTY (thank you very much) but to be honest, this is what I signed up for. I wanted having a family and a partnership to really bring this (important) stuff into focus. I need the screaming in my face, I guess, to move me to change. I don't really like that it has to be that way, but apparently, that's how I motivate.

I don't know what exactly I can do with K and his language directly. I don't know if polishing in one spot (my life) will make it shine in another spot (his life). I need to turn that over, of course. When I can say that I am dealing with my bigger anger stuff, then I can look at him and see what's ailing him more clearly. But until then, he's probably going to be showing me a lot of the stuff I haven't wanted to look at. I feel compassion for him, but I also know that he's here for a reason too and once I can release him from reflecting me, then he can move on to his own work.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

When it's time to let go, what then?

My sister just called to give me the update on my 94 year old Grandma's health. Not good. As the details of hospitals and end of life are filling the airwaves, I flash to my childhood memories...there's too many trying to hog the spotlight...the time we delivered day-old baked goods from the grocery store to the food banks around town...the time my amazing Grandma made a bridesmaid's dress in an afternoon...all the moments we played as a band of cousins in my grandparents' tiny house and she let us wear her jewelry, her makeup, her outdated dress-up clothes, the time she traveled with my six-person family to Israel for over a month when I was just 3 years old...and of course there are the little snippets that barely capture a length of time and flash like slideshow gone haywire, image after image after image...I can barely place the images in space and time but somehow they completely conjure the essence of my Grandmother. I can taste the Certs mints (do they make those anymore?) and smell her house filled with the mix of baked macaroni and cheese and fresh cookies. I can feel the faucets of the sink in her bathroom, and smell the soap of my childhood. I feel the 40 year old shag carpet under my toes and the dip of the couch from being worn down in the same place, where she would clip coupons, read her Reader's Digest, and knit all the sweaters for various grand and great-grandkids.
My grandpa passed several years ago and honestly, I am surprised my Grandma has lived this long. Her mom and aunts lived into their nineties and 100s. Long lives all around.

I mourned the loss of her when she started to forget us. I didn't lose her, though. I mean, I have had a really long and full life with my grandma. She has met my 2 year old son. She has told me stories of my dad. My sense of loss is not collapsed with my sense of simple sadness. Or maybe gratitude? I've had such loving moments with my grandma. And she has filled my heart with a sense of self that I could not get from anyone else. She has loved me in all my awkward, rough, scared, distant, confused, probably disrespectful, beautiful, lost, angry, proud phases. She has been to my graduations, my birthdays, my no-big-deals and not one time made any less or more of the moment. When I bounced around colleges for nine years, she didn't once harass me about it. She said I was just fine the way I was without finishing college.
She told me about Scotland and her travels to Europe. She kept my dad alive for me when I wasn't ready to let him go by telling me stories about how he was with her. I loved to hear that she missed my dad, because that missing made it okay for me to feel it too. And sometimes her missing of him was sadder and I wanted to keep him alive for her, too.
She took pictures at every event, always getting doubles so she could give them away to us. The pictures were just honest captures of our regular lives, but I love them candid and real.

I haven't been to see her in a couple years. I can't bare to see a person that isn't my grandma anymore. I did the same with my grandpa, and I have no regrets. I am a visual person and I want to keep the last image of her in my mind. I want to see her huge if whatever she's looking at was the most amazing thing. She emodied awe.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The other milestones

Our culture has a lot of milestones, but I am frequently challenged with the milestones presented to me in stores, online, and between friends. First words, steps, foods, etc. are important, yes. But what about first stitches? First urgent care visit? First traumatic experience for mama (well, after the birth experience, of course!)?

What do we do with those milestones (other than flip out and cry and get more protective and cautious)? Who do we tell? Who celebrates our survival when it happens? Who helps us reflect on the process of growing up (of both kid and parent)?

K got his first set of stitches (I need to be realistic with the idea that this may not be the last experience of stitches....ugh) on Thursday. I am thankful for his teachers who had the foresight to tell me to pick him up early and get his split chin checked out. I probably would've let it scab over, resulting in a huge scar.

We went to urgent care and it looked like he was going to need FOUR stitches! What? My kid? But isn't getting stitches hereditary (admittedly, my brain wasn't functioning properly when I had this thought)? I never had stitches and I was so careful, why was my kid even here? We're tougher than this! We can handle a little cut, etc.

Seriously. I was freaking out I think.

I picked up K, he had napped, and we waited to connect with Papa before heading to the doctor. I guess I was a bit scared too. Stitches wasn't something I could do myself. I'd never seen it done. I didn't know what to expect and couldn't help K either.

We got there and immediately K started telling the intake rep what happened (and anyone else who made eye contact). Then he ran to look at the fish in the lobby. Good, get his mind off of what's about to happen.

Then we went into the room to be seen and after about three different people came and went, we started the procedure. He got some light numbing (just for kids, they told me) and then we were told to hold him still. This involved, one PA, one nurse, one papa, one mama, and one grandma. Wow. Immediately K said, "All done. Ouchee." Crap. This is the part where one second felt like a million years and I had to watch this phys. assistant try to stitch K's chin while he's narrating his experience ("I'm stuck! Help me mama! Hold me mama! Ouchee!") and I am trying to hold his tiny hand, which felt infinitely smaller than it had moments before, and not flip out. At one point I got light-headed and having not previously been sqeamish, I didn't grasp what I was actually feeling (hot, dizzy, distant, etc.). They nurse asked someone to bring ice water (and I realized it was for me) and I sat down for a moment. But then K yelled, "Mama, hold me, hold me, hold me, I'm stuck!" and I leapt up again to grab his hand, pushing aside any feelings of weakness or inability to handle this.

The entire time J is lying down, holding K's arms and legs, while the nurse is holding K's head still (strong kid though, because all of us couldn't hold him still!), and my mom is helping hold other moving parts.

The traumatic event finally ended and K just said, "See the fishes now?" My mind was like, "What? What fish?" Oh, right, the fish in the waiting room! He just wanted to get back there. He didn't run screaming out of the room, but just wanted to see the fish. J and I were basically in shock and we followed K out to hopefully save him the shock we were experiencing. Once fish were seen, we were off to dinner. We were about to get in the car and I realized that I we didn't get any discharge papers or pay a copay or whatever else we needed to do. That's when I realized that I was in shock and this was a traumatic experience for me.

I hadn't gotten anything for my heart. There was no follow-up about being able to drive or taking a moment to stabilize before operating a vehicle. There was just action, action, action.
After a meal, we finally calmed a little but I had been experiencing these really helpless feelings around K getting stitches and me not being able to help him (and really, I was one of the ones holding  him down!) while he hurt. That's intense, if you haven't felt that before.

He's bonked his head before and then resiliently rebounded into action in mere seconds. This just felt profoundly different that a kid bonk. And I needed to tell the story over and over so that I could get some healing too (a technique a friend of mine explains here). K just wants to show the wound, talk about the fish and the bandaid covering it, and move on. I want hugs, pats on the back for surviving, and knowing glances about how tough it can be to be a mom/parent sometimes. J had his own trauma, too and that was the thing that got me. All three of us had this experience but created different aspects for ourselves. And even though it was a routine thing for the folks at urgent care, it was like this deeply moving thing for us as parents and yet, there was no ceremony to go through celebrating our survival.

How many other experiences are there like this one? In a lifetime, there are countless.

As parents there will be countless ways we will feel like we are holding our kid down (or not coming to their aid) when it's all for his/her good and we won't be able to talk about that until later...and that is uncomfortable for me. My kid will inevitably have to go through his life without me giving him all the answers, preventing all the hurt, and will also include me looking like I am doing the transgression to him personally. The thought makes me nauseous. Because I CHOSE to have a child. I chose to bring a child up and that includes these inevitable moments. And we're also considering having another child where these experiences will exponentially increase! WHAT?

So yeah, I am just now coming out of the shock of that.

In a spiritual way, it also has recently come to me that God/Spirit has to endure these moments as well. Sometimes I need to be hurt a certain way to give me a certain experience and God/Spirit really can't swoop down and save me from the hurt. I need to experience my own resiliency. I need to survive a scar. I need to learn how to get stronger. What heartache that would cause a parent of that magnitude. Thank goodness I don't consider God/Spirit to be too much like a human.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Having compassion for 2 year olds...

So K is 2 years old and almost 5 months. We can easily round up to a solid 2.5 years old, development-wise. Meaning he's is IN IT. And as his parents, so are we.

Yesterday, there were some strong feelings (I'm not naming names) about not getting a Clif bar (and really, it was about going to the store, which he thinks is a ritual and I can't say it's not...:S) and then there was some mean things said about not going to the library (I know, really? was I preventing my book-obsessed kid from going to the horrible library AND denying him a Clif bar?? What kind of monster am I? Oh, one who has some boundaries and limitations and can't go to the library or go to the store to quiet a screaming child...but I digress) and it was a rough ride home.

When we got in the house we needed to cool down and take a breath.

Sometimes my husband and I have just resulted to shrugging and raising our eyebrows as a parenting method that loosely translates into, "I have no fucking clue what just happened, but I think some growing and developing is going on and I really don't know how to help him!" I actually feel like I "lose" my kid while he derails and it's heart-breaking to watch him go...and I really can't hold on to him. In fact, the thing I feel that would most help him is this unbreakable hug where I basically use my brute force to keep him from flailing (like a parental straight-jacket). Ah, of course I think that would has for so long, right?...all the strapping him in, holding him close, swaddling, etc. It has worked for a long time...

But upon reflection, I realize that no, that won't work anymore, sadly. He'll separate from me regardless of the intensity of my hugging. That's the nature of our relationship. So how can I make it easier? How can I just stay present while he derails?

One way to do it, is to just literally stay present and have compassion (the "co-" part is key!). Silent, engaged, listening, eye contact, grounded energy, staying there. People will do this thing OVER AND OVER until the moment of our death (the final separation in the physical sense) and we better start practicing it (if we haven't already been).

I can also hold space (or ask for a bigger entity to hold space) while he flails. In a way, I am flailing too. I am also experiencing this separation, right? As an adult, with more awareness, of course, but it's still scary. How do I know he's ready? How can I tell him it's okay? How can I tell him that I am still *here* when we are both obviously feeling this huge difference/shift in our relationship? I don't know, but a bigger presence in the world (God, Mother Nature, the Universe, etc) knows. And so I can (and try to) trust that.

Other than those things (and variations of those things) there isn't much else I can do. I really need to keep clear about that. I cannot really make it easier. It's hard. Just like my parents couldn't help me handle my hormones as a teenager (ugh, what a mess!). I will just not be able to do some things to help. No amount of therapy or books or awesome parenting tricks will work. Separation is the combination of destruction and creation in the SAME moment! It's hard for me and I'm an adult, so it MUST be much harder for this little person who hasn't really had to do it a lot yet.

So in the end, what I am going on about is growing my ability and capability to be compassionate. K is not doing this TO me. He's unable to talk about why and how this is happening and the best thing I can do is to be firm, kind, and present (and maybe toughen up my own skin a bit?). We'll make it through. Billions of people have done it for millions of years. It's survivable. And a little compassion goes a long way...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The new way to keep time

I have been trying to write my friend (okay, honestly, I've been trying to write about 7 friends) for a month. Like a real letter. Or I'd even accept an email. I got a new job, my schedule shifted, my brain shifted, my kid shifted and even my husband shifted.
I haven't been able to sit down and really focus and write a heartfelt letter in so long.
I remember the days fondly when I used to do that and I long for them now.

But I'm a parent now. A working parent. A working parent with a happy marriage.

So I don't have the same kind of time that I used to have. The same 24 hours exist, but they have shifted. We go to bed at 9p (yep!) so we can get up at 5a (yep!). Our child is in bed by 8:15p. That gives us an hour to sometimes eat, catch up, clean the kitchen, reconcile our expenses, coordinate our schedules, do laundry, prep lunches and "unwind."

*I've been writing for 3 minutes and now have to get up, because my family has just come home, just to give you an idea of how much time I actually have to write*

Mind you, I'm just talking about writing a letter. I didn't really want to even broach the subject of seeing the people I love in-person. Seems like more than a struggle.

A friend just texted me if this is what adult friendship looks like now. And I was stumped. Is it? Or is it just me? Another friend of mine has two kids and lives far away and the idea of either of us having time to truly talk on the phone and catch up (or really, more accurately, weigh in, support, share honestly about our lives, etc.) seems like a total pipe dream now.

But back to the title of this entry: The new way to keep time.

Here's what I'd like to try:

I don't talk to my close friends as much, but the closeness for me isn't lessened. It may *feel* that way or even look that way, but how can I possibly explain that their spirits just hang around me and when I walk down the street - alone-, I am actually talking to them, laughing with them, shoving them lovingly, giggling, pointing out outfits and hot people and generally "connecting" in a very different way now?

If I could text all my friends (I know, a really poor way of connecting for a lot of people, but for me, it works) when I thought of them, then I'd seem a bit insane. But I have 30 seconds for a text. What I hate is that the in-depth conversation I had with one of my friends the other day was while I drove to another city, and had to hang up abruptly because I needed to park and I hadn't even barely checked in. It was emotionally frustrating to leave the conversation in that kind of process lurch, but if I wanted to stop playing phone tag, I had to get a bluetooth hooked up (ugh) and call during my drive.

Okay, I realize this isn't an experiment, as much as it's a re-frame of time. It used to be that hours equaled the amount of love I had for a friend (not really, but it felt that way). That can't work anymore because I am constantly suffering from the idea that I am choosing one person over after day. It's not that way. Some friends I think of at 3am, after a bad dream. I imagine what they'd say and how they'd comfort me. Other times, I hear the echoes of my friend's voice telling me to slow down, be nicer to myself, and to appreciate how awesome I am. I'm confident it's her voice and not mine. So I take that as "connection" time.

Another several of my friends are new parents and if time spent with me equaled the state of our friendship then I suppose I'd have to consider the friendship in a coma, at best. But I don't want to think that. I want to reach them outside the bounds of time and space, so I can still connect with them.

Other friends don't have kids and I am struggling with the idea that I can't be with them like I used to be. And I know they have no problem with my kids coming over or hanging out, but honestly, I do! I don't want to take precious time with them and add my kid to that! I want alone time with them!

What about my husband? We have to wake up at 5am so that we can have alone time together. And that time is just so we can ground, check-in, appreciate each other, and make sure we know what's going on in the other's life. We're too beat to do it at night, and before K gets up is just the best time. But from 5-7a I want to cram in: time with hubby, writing time, art time, writing to my friends, showering, dressing, taking care of bills, and maybe a few facebook checks (which are lessening because I just don't have the mental space).

So how do adults with busy lives (kids, travel, atypical jobs, etc) stay friends? Do we need to restructure the conditions? Write more texts? Be satisfied with smaller hangout periods? Wake up earlier?
I don't know the answer.

In the meantime, I am trying to check-in with folks as much as I can, even if it's in between appointments or on the train to/from work. Sometimes I just write them quick poems and forward them along. I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm looking at a new way to keep time...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mama really lets go

I have about six posts in draft form...waiting for editing, perfecting, proofreading, etc. This is my style. I run to write down my thoughts...sometimes extreme ones that need a day or two to percolate...and then I edit and release.

With a book, it's different. It takes a lot more words, a lot more editing, a lot more nail-biting and anxiety, and even then I'll find something to keep me from publishing. A book is so...PERMANENT.

But, kind readership, I have finally published the book. The first book. I tell people I can't write a second book until I write a first. So it has to be published, right? It's on Amazon. In one day it sold 14 times. I'm surprised and delighted. I finally let go of a big one.

Here's the link: Dear Artist 

It's about my process of creativity and calling myself an artist (really, I'm calling all of you artists, too). I was nervous to share about it and promote it, thinking myself too arrogant if I did that. But I was reminded by a dear friend that sometimes letting go of something (sharing the truth or a good idea or authentic feelings) is a SERVICE to others. Who am I to keep that to myself? What if my words comfort, save, relieve, inspire, and encourage others? I would be a horribly self-centered person if I DIDN'T share if that were the case. And it's not my job to dictate that. I really don't have the biggest picture (in the universe).

The book is done. It's out there. Now I can get to writing the second one. Which may have nothing to do with the first. Maybe the next one will be about parenting. Or plants. Or furniture...

Anyway, I wanted to share here because it was a HUGE thing to let go of that book and release it to the world. It's vulnerable and scary and unknown (the top three reasons I don't like letting go, of course). If I've learned anything, it's that letting go leads to freedom most of the time or growth or both.

Check out the book. You can look at a sample if you're not sure it's for you. But give yourself a chance. It could be something that inspires you to write your own book, or create your own stuff,

Sunday, September 28, 2014


A friend of mine just had a baby a week ago and I have been thinking back to those times when K was newborn. I stare at my 3T toddler, just a few weeks over 2 years old, and I think back at the comments people shared about "time going by so fast."

Honestly, sometimes the time crawls. Like at 3am, when a screaming fit erupts because a beloved toy is lost in the blankets (why don't all toys glow in the dark?), and going back to sleep seems near impossible.

But other times, all I'm doing is folding clean laundry and I hold up something that K has worn for months and by some strange motherly gift, as I'm folding it, I sense that its dimensions no longer fit my son. I look at the tag, "18-24 mos," and that's when time speeds up. Instead of putting the item away, like I've done 20 times before, it goes into a box filled with the past of my child. A hat that's too small, a pair of socks that no longer fit, a pair of jeans with blown out knees from probably 15 kids before wearing the same piece of clothing.

Time flies when a mispronounced word is one day, all of a sudden, pronounced correctly. Or when a "yesterday" arrives in a sentence and I think, "What? How does K know about yesterday? How is he already conscious of time?" I think of my friend and I don't want to tell her time flies...she already knows that, even with a one week old baby. What I want to tell her is that during the folding of laundry and breakfast and in the car, her child is growing and sponging it all in. Our children have holidays and birthdays to mark time, too, of course. But those don't mark enough moments for me.

One night, everyone just sleeps through the night and then magically, you can't remember when it started happening and when you got some sanity. One day your child asks for salad and doesn't immediately spit it up on the plate. One day, your child magically says "please" and "thank you" without your prompting and you only realize it because you didn't hear the echo of your mother out loud when obliging a request.

We get notes home each day from K's school and sometimes, if it weren't for those, I wouldn't know what sort of things my kid was capable of doing. And I admit, when I see some competency, my first thought is "Oh no, he's growing some more," and not "Oh wow, he's learning so much!" They are so spongy there's isn't enough time to learn about what they are learning. I keep pointing things out to my husband because if I didn't, we'd miss all the subtle changes and just call him 2 years old, instead of 24 months, one day.


My favorite baby

My inspiration

My inspiration