Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Gift of Family: By Blood and By Choice

Happy Holidays, Mudders.  What a year.  What a year.  So many beautiful moments, but also some of the hardest trials I’ve ever had to face.  Yet, I am wiser--so much wiser than I was when I was typing away at these keys December 2011.  We all know how much we learn with each stumble, with each fall, with each heart ripping, soul shredding decision that we make over the year behind us, and it is no different with me.  I have learned.   HOW I have learned.  And truly Mudders, no matter what is occurring in our lives when it comes to our children, we just need to remind ourselves that each day is a chance to learn and to grow wiser.  That is what I tried to do this year.  

It was a year of separation from a beloved son; it was a year of dealing with the self-destruction of another beloved son.  It was a year of injustices; monetarily, professionally, personally.  It was a year of lost friendships,…GOOD friendships…(or at least  I thought they were good.)  It was a year that I decided to once and for all shed the itchy famial cloth from which I was made and place a softer fabric against my sensitive and raw skin.  It was a year of bruised and battered figurative knees, of literal lost faith , but also—also—it was a year of glimmers of light and pixie dust and warmth. 

And even though I would say that the scale leaned WAY toward the out-of-my-control-misery side, those things on the other side of the scale counted…even if they couldn’t move the bar far enough from the deepest agony. As I look back at those glimmers of pixie dust, of light and warmth, I realize that it was PEOPLE who usually held those gifts in their hands, before pressing them firmly into mine.  PEOPLE…not just people…MY PEOPLE.  My family.

Now don’t spit out the gulp of soda you have in your mouth.  You all know that some of the members of the household in which I grew, leave MUCH to be desired,  but it doesn't matter because I have a gathering of such beautiful human beings in my life that care enough about me that they have BECOME my family. 

David Ogden Stiers is quoted as saying, “Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.”  And this…this idea of family is the most salient idea I have learned and let sink into the very fibers of me this year.  “No one gets left behind or forgotten.”  How truly validating when you realize that there are wonderful, loyal people in your life that think that you are valuable enough to not be forgotten, or left out, or treated differently.  Those people, who want the best for you, those are family members. 
Over this past year, I have gathered many family members into the throngs of my life.  Some have been here a long time; my dear Dr. Speed Dial, her husband and beautiful daughter—they have been my family—have loved me despite…despite my innumerable flaws.  That is family. 

But I have also learned that family can be a boss that patiently and gently listens as you cry in her office over personal matters.  A boss who understands and anticipates needs, who works with the roller coaster life I have had for the last year.  Family is a boss whose small gesture of ensuring that during her Christmas luncheon for our staff that my gluten allergy was taken into consideration left me overwhelmed with gratitude.  I was not forgotten or left behind.  My boss—part of my family.

Family can be far away—far far away.  It can be a longest friend—38 years to be exact—who calls to check in, laughs at my stupidity, is able to be vulnerable and hold my hand when her father-in-law was dying.  Family is that faraway friend that doesn’t forget the fragility of my being and props me up gently when I need it, but isn’t afraid to kick me in my very easily targeted behind when I need it either.

Family can be a far away friend who comforts with his exquisite and uncanny knowledge of how my complicated brain works.  He challenges my mind with talk of politics and music, sends me photos to take me on imaginary trips when I need to “get away” and lets me lean hard upon his virtual shoulder while he problem solves in his unorthodox way.  Family can be a far away friend who, no matter the circumstance, reminds me of the things that make me special and strong even when he’s thousands of miles away.

Family can be co-workers who ignore rumors and the mean-spiritedness of others.  They help lift you up simply because the fiber of their beings can’t kick a girl when she’s down.  Co-workers who are family members are good to you not just when you are flying high, but when you need to be reminded of what’s good in your life.

Family can also come in the form of new friends…or in some cases new-old friends.  I am happy to say that I have connected with people this year who have become integral parts of my life in such a short period of time.  Some of them I’ve known since childhood, although I’ve just recently learned to appreciate them.  Some I have never met face to face, and yet they seem to just “get” me. Family comes in the form of a girl...a special girl who has joined our family and become one of the nearest and dearest human in my life.  The wisdom she holds at such a young age never ceases to amaze me.  She was born a teacher...and in my case gently teaches me about life and how to treat one another. Family comes in the form of new people that we soon can't imagine ever living without.

Perhaps the biggest revelation…the one that has been right here in front of me all along is that family is made up, of course, of real and true family members as well.   Family is a very loyal sister, who even under immense pressure loves me, speaks with me, and makes me feel as if I am wanted, needed and appreciated.  This wonderful sister makes time for Ila, for me, for togetherness.  She makes sure that on even the smallest holiday we connect.  With her, I am included and not forgotten.  Family is a sister for whom I am infinitely grateful. 

Family is also a brother-in-law who gave freely well needed understanding in the most trying of circumstances.  He soothed when he could have shouted.  He reassured when he could have turned away.  He was grateful when he could have been hateful.  Family is a steady, steadfast brother-in-law. 

Family is a group of the craziest, zaniest, most wonderful in-laws a girl could ask for.  It is feasting at Thanksgiving, a sister-in-law who realizes a need and gives freely, parents-in-law who even in their late 80’s and early 90’s dote on their three year old granddaughter, remember my sons’ birthdays and insist on celebrating my own birthday with me even when my own flesh and blood forgot.

Last but not least, most importantly in fact, family is my offspring.  Shamefully I hadn’t been living by David Ogden Stier’s wisdom earlier this year. Sadly I can’t change my past, but happily I have changed my present and will keep it in my future.  My children are loved fiercely and completely with all of my being no matter where they are, what choices they make, or even if they someday reject me or make mistakes that hurt themselves or their family. Each will always be equally cherished and held closely because after all family means never being left behind or forgotten no matter what…no matter what.

And so dear Mudders, this season, I hope that you have family, whether by blood or by choice, gathered close to you.  I hope you tell them how much they mean to you.   For being loved by someone or in my case a whole bunch of someones makes you realize that even during a year of great burden--family  makes any heavy load a little lighter.     

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Mother of a Troubled Child

I used to be a parenting snob.  How would I define that?  Well I suppose, if I was to admit it, I guess it would mean that I agreed with the old adage that if a child was struggling it was due completely to the inadequacies of the parent or parents.  As a teacher, it is sort of our mantra.  “Where are the parents??”  Johnny can’t read?  He must have never seen a book in his house when he was a wee toddler.  His mother must have never taken the time to cuddle up in bed with him and read the glorious words of “Goodnight Moon.”  Johnny is angry.  Well then he learned that at home.  I used to be willing to bet you that that was exactly how his father acted towards his mother.  Or, there’s the even snarkier thought that Johnny was “allowed” to act that way at home due to incompetence and so why would we ever expect anything different from him at school or in the mall or with a group of friends?  Johnny is dirty then by all means that certainly is proof that he has no one at home who cares about his hygiene.  I’d picture and shamefully speak loudly in the faculty lounge of a mother who was too wrapped up in her new boyfriend or her Pilates or her wine to notice that Johnny’s clothes were full of filth or that the dirt under his nails could grow a full on vegetable garden.  Tsk tsk.  What DO we do about those creatures that try and call themselves parents?  Yeah I know.  Not good.  Not good at all.

As my boys grew up, I looked down my nose at a family who’d walk by me in the mall with a child that was dressed in gothic garb.  I’d roll my eyes when I heard tell of children we knew who had to go to rehab or who were taken from the home.  I wouldn’t allow my children to befriend those in foster care.  Those children who ended up in our local mental institution were just sad sad kids who had no familial support at all.  Period.  The end.  But this was NOT how my children would end up.   After all, they had a mom who not only went to every game she went to every practice.  They had a mom that established traditions for every holiday.  Gave them elaborate birthday parties, shopped at Macy’s even when she couldn’t afford the clothes there.  My boys would never ever end up like “THOSE” children.  They had a mom who loved them.  A mom that insisted they eat dinner together nightly.  They had a mom who asked about their day, required homework be done, gave logical consequences and put parameters on where they went and with whom.  Not my kids said this parent  snob.  Not ever my kids.  Never would my child end up troubled.

Well, I was wrong.  Wrong about a lot of things.  Wrong to look down my nose at the families of children who were struggling.  Wrong to gossip at lunch time about the ineptitude of parents whose kids were off the deep end.  Wrong, wrong, wrong to think for one second that the sum total of a child’s problem fell squarely in the lap of the parents of that child.  How do I know I was wrong?  Well, humility gave me a lesson or two. 

For instance, I am writing this post as I sit on an uncomfortable bench in a stark gray walled, antiseptic smelling institution while one of my children sits in a mandated “support group.”  To my left and to my right are parents of the other children in the support group.  Across from me are children that just 6 months ago I would have pitied and looked down upon as the lost souls of poor parenting, and yet…I can’t do that anymore because one of my children is sitting right next to them.
Over the past few weeks, I have entered buildings that I didn’t even know existed.  Each building blurs together having the same stark rectangular feel, the same uncomfortable chairs, the same antiseptic smell, the same unsmiling faces, the same disheveled teens.  I have sat through intake after intake telling the history, the story of my child.  I have watched helplessly as things happened to him that were out of my control.  I have experienced things that I thought  would never  ever be experienced by me or any child that I raised.  And I guess that is the first point of this post. 

We must be careful, Mudders.  We must not set ourselves up by worshipping that false prophet, “Never.”  He doesn’t exist.  There are things that will happen to our children, because of our children that we will not anticipate when we hold them in our arms as infants, when we watch them hit a ball over the fence during little league, when we snuggle with them on the couch to watch a movie.  Things will happen, maybe horrible things that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies, and even though we’re their parents, we won’t be able to stop them from happening.  Which brings me to the second point of this post:

We need to be sure Mudders that we are good to other Mudders and Fudders.  Unless we live in the house with them and have watched them raise their children from infancy on, we can never know or judge what it is that may have caused their child to be troubled.  I mean really.  Who do we think we are?  Is there any of us that actually think that they’ve got it ALL figured out when it comes to parenting?  If you are nodding your head right now, let me tell you how absolutely mistaken you are and I’d have to inform you that you too are a parenting snob.
I know now that it may not be the parenting.  It may be the genealogy.  It may be an outside traumatic event or several…but we must remember that blaming the parents, making fun of the parents, lamenting about the parents—all the things that I used to do is quite presumptuous and, yes, snobby, downright snobby. 
Like many changes, my realization of what an absolute parental snob I was has come through experience.  You see, lately I have been at the other end of that thinking, of that snobby behavior.  When talking to teachers, administrators, school officials about my child, I can hear the edge in their voice—the one that oozes the tone that says, “He wouldn’t be like this if you just….” (Fill in the blank here)   Believe me when I say that speaking with someone who has that preconceived notion about you makes it impossible to be taken seriously.  It is unfeasible to get parental snobs to hear that you really just need help, want help for your child.  They don’t think that you are capable of possessing a working maternal compass—I would even go so far as to say that when dealing with some institutions that my child now needs to take part in, I have been spoken to as if I have no education, no knowledge of what is right and what is wrong, like I am LESS than because my child is deemed LESS than.  I have been handled with disdain as if, as if the sum total of my child’s problem belong squarely on my shoulders.  And while I do carry some of the weight of what is happening to him across my back, there are other factors, there is a bureaucracy that shackles a parent against doing what is necessary for her child. There are unforeseen circumstances.  There is peer pressure.  There are learning disabilities and educators that are less than cooperative and more interested in getting Johnny “out” of their class.  There is lack of self esteem that comes from repeated failure...there is so much more that can trouble a child than simply a parents ability to care for their child. 

So remember dear Mudders, when you find yourself judging a parent or child, when you find yourself thanking the heavens that YOUR child will NEVER be like THAT child, proceed with caution.  You just might be disappointed.  Never say “Never.”  You just NEVER know.   

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Dear Hindsight--Go AWAY!

I Am Struggling Dear Readers

I am struggling dear readers. I am struggling. I have decisions to make. Hard ones. Life changing ones. The decisions I need to make are similar decisions to ones I had to make when my sons were little. And that damn Hindsight is dogging me. Being older and so-called wiser, having a friend named Hindsight, can just add pain to things that are already feeling excruciating. Sometimes, Hindsight is annoying, heart wrenching, maddening, especially when the decision is hard enough without his two cents butting in. Lately, I just want to shut him up.
I want to make my decisions without the wisdom that Hindsight brings. I want to be dumb, ignorant, and selfish and do the things that I want without any other voice entering the conversation. Heck, even IF I was without Hindsight, I am not even sure of which way to go with the decisions that I have to make. But WITH Hindsight chiming in day and night, night and day, I am just absolutely positively drowning in a thick miserable muck of indecision.

Read the rest here:

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Believe in a Ghost

I believe in ghosts.  Or a ghost...singular.  The ghost of him...when he was him.  He can appear anywhere when I least expect it.  I caught a glimpse of him through my kitchen window last weekend.  He was on trampoline in the body of a new neighborhood boy flipping and stuffing a basketball in a suspended hoop.  I found myself mesmerized by this child so clearly embodied by HIS ghost. Memories pelted my brain, both visual and auditory.  The incessant squeak, squeak of the trampoline bouncing coupled with throaty laughter and grunts of disappointment when a death defying flipped was not quite reached.  Before I knew it, I was white knuckling the kitchen sink, eyes full of tears, heart full of pain yet unable to look away because I didn't want to miss a moment of HIS specter.

Then one day this week I saw him walking down the street just outside his old elementary school.  He had a skaters cap on and his long shaggy hair hung down over one eye.  The hair was lighter than HIS but it didn't fool me.  I'd know that swagger-filled gait anywhere.  I watched longingly from behind the wheel of my car wanting to once again brush that hair from his face and have him pull away.  A hearty "honk" from a car behind me alerted his ghost so that the boy turned back into an unknown pre-adolescent, and because I didn't know how to summon HIM back, I drove on so that the impatient driver behind me could get home to his family.

His spirit is channeled through the familiar as well. November first is a big day in our house.  It is the day the Christmas music comes out.  When the Muppets and my daughter sang along to The Twelve Days of Christmas, I could have sworn I heard HIS voice come from the backseat  making fun of Beaker's "mi mi mi m mi mi."  On my vanity mirror, his eyes twinkle in a picture of HIM.  They ask me to make some food; grape jelly meatballs and fettuccine Alfredo. They tease me, dance and blink with amusement, but I can't laugh. Those ghostly blue eyes bore into me until I take the photo and place it in the hall closet where he can't haunt me anymore.

 I sometimes see him at the head of a  pack of cross country runners, long legs reaching, arms pumping, brow furrowed with concentration.  HIS natural born speed creates an illusion of flying.  He is there-flying by me-until he disappears rounding a corner with all the other runners trailing behind him.

His ghost visits at night during those in between moments of wake and sleep.  I hear his voice, his laugh, his protests.  I feel that spirited boy zoom by me as if  a hot summer day was calling to him. I sit up and dangle my feet over the bed, listening intently for the slight possibility that it just may have really been HIM calling to me, needing me, flying in the door to tell me the latest news in the sports world or play me the newest song he loves on Youtube.  How I wish to be jolted out of bed by one of his boisterous proclamations.  But all is quiet, he is gone again and all that is left is the sound of sadness for what might have been and what used to be a very long, long time ago.

I believe in a ghost.  I BELIEVE in that ghost.  He is here.  HE is there...somewhere waiting to take his rightful place back where he belongs in the body of the young man he somehow tragically got separated from. But until then, that ghost, HIS ghost will continue to haunt me, to stay with me, and I will keep him safe and remind him that he's loved just as if I was his own mother.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

We Are Not What We've Learned. We Are What We Know

Image by @HarryVorsteher
Leo Buscaglia is credited for having said, "Change is the end result of all true learning."  No words have ever been more on the money, especially in my life at this current moment.  So many lessons bring about true, rich, deep and rewarding change.  Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't teach an old dog (or young dog, or human for that matter) new tricks.  That is simply not true. False--100 percent.

Lately I have had the immense pleasure of watching my oldest child mature and yes, change, at a rapid rate.  Don't get me wrong, he is a great "kid"--stayed away from drugs, and alcohol and smoking and many other temptations that teens his age face daily.  He chose a girlfriend that any mother would praise the heavens over.  His soft spot for his sister is heart melting.  Yup...he's a good egg.  However, like all of us, he had some pretty rigid, dug-in-deep, flaws that made me worry about him.  (After all, that is what we moms do best.)  And like most of us, those behaviors, personality flaws, that humaness, whatever you want to call it, caught up to him in several different ways.  To say caught up doesn't quite paint the about, came crashing down on his head rendering him close to unconscious.  When the world cracked open and swallowed him up, I worried about the way he'd handle it.  But shockingly...he handled it like a man, like someone who had the intellectual realization that things just couldn't go on the way they were going if he wanted the most out of his life.  To protect his privacy I won't go into the things HE instituted in his life to begin the long road to change, but it is clear to me, his mom, that the hard lessons that he experienced are bringing about very clear changes on his part.  He KNOWS now that certain behaviors and choices won't work on the road to success.

It doesn't escape me that some of those flaws that my oldest learned along the way were taught by me. I am not above admitting that I made mistakes.  The models I used for "competent parenting" were clearly not competent at all in many ways.  And while I most definitely have developed that introspection now, I obviously hadn't the introspection that my son has been able to figure out at monumentally young age of 18.  He's on the cusp of adulthood and starting that road the correct way.  It wasn't until I was 30 that I began to understand, just scratch the surface mind you, that some of the things that continually plagued me were due to my behavior or dug-in-deep personality flaws.  If you know me, you know that I am 43, and I will tell you that the lessons never stop rolling in and therefore the changes in me continue.  Looking back on my first therapy session October 8th, 1997, I had NO IDEA how much of my personality that made me...well...ME I would have to adjust, change, get rid of, replace in order to be a functioning human in society.  Change is hard work.  The lessons that FORCE us to change are probably harder.  At least they are to me.  But I know after I walk through the storm, that the work I've done to undo the knots of knowledge and erroneous experiences that I've relied upon as "what one does" since learning it as a child is satisfying to the core.  When the shackles of mistaken ideas cultivated during my childhood, during my child's childhood are removed, clarity and illumination remain.  `And it seems that both of us find that so satisfying that we plan on continuing our enlightenment.

The reasons HE'S changing may be different than the reasons I've chosen to slowly change over the last 15 years.  His is for the love of a girl, a special girl.  Mine are for the love of my children and the love of my husband.  My changes are for the love of a loyal sister.  My changes are for the love of a whole ginormous in-law family.  And while so much of me is different than who I was 15 years ago, I have a long way to go.  A VERY VERY long way to go.  But one thing my son and I DO have in common is that our changes are being brought about because we love OURSELVES as well.  We WANT to live a life in which we are open to making mistakes and learning from them so that we KNOW better.  Because when it comes right down to they say--knowledge is POWER.  The more my eldest and I learn to undo what it was that we erroneously established as truth when children, the more of that stabilizing, strengthening knowledge we will gather, and the more powerful we become in our assurance of who we are.

It makes me happy that my son is on a path to self-assurance because in life we will constantly run into those who haven't done the hard work, who refuse to change, who refuse to see that the strife they constantly run into could possibly be due to their shortcomings.  When we meet up with that kind of narrow-mindedness, we will need strength of character (and a wonderful posse of supporters) to stand our ground.  The bad news (that my sweet Dr. Speed Dial reminds me of constantly) is that we can ONLY change ourselves, and so those who love to hate, to spew, who have self-serving righteousness behind them will ALWAYS hate, spew and stand behind that false rectitude unless they learn...which leads to change...which leads to understanding...which leads to strength.  And I am thrilled to see that my eldest develop a fortitude of character.  I am thrilled to continue develop a strength of the core of who I am, even in the midst of a storm or several.  I can only change myself.  My son can only change his self.  You are the only one who can change you.  It takes courage.  It takes stamina.  When you fall it will take an enormous ability to pick yourself back up again.  But most of all it takes the ability to look yourself in the mirror and say, "The things that happen to me, I am partially responsible for.  What knowledge can I take away so that I can learn and then KNOW what is necessary to understand and be a positive part of the human race?"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

After 25 Years, I Am Gettin' Out of That Box

"You Luce girls, you're tough to deal with."  I bit down on the inside of my cheek to suppress the rising rage that would sharpen my tongue and prove this snarky former classmate correct in his assumption.  Instead, for reasons unknown to me, I admitted--acquiesced--that I indeed did understand that I could be difficult. This man whom I barely knew then responded "Wow! It is good that you know yourself like that.  It's good that you know that you can be tough.  I am impressed with the fact that you know yourself so well."  At this point he nodded satisfactorily and walked away. Heck I wouldn't have been surprised if he had patted me on the head, and even though THAT didn't happen,  I stood stunned and up to my ears in emotions.  Awash with rage and shouldhavesaids and howdareyou's, I mentally chastised myself for not saying so many many responses, retorts, come backs I could have uttered...but instead I stood mute.

This one sided conversation took place this past weekend at my 25th high school reunion, and although I had many amazing encounters with people I haven't seen in years, although there were moments where I felt like Cinderella at the ball, what has stuck with me is this little slice of conversation with a human being who is so insignificant that I have probably had less than ten surface conversations with him in my entire lifetime.  And perhaps that's what gets me.  This man, this man who lives in my town, who owns several businesses, who's legendary for both the good and bad, this man who doesn't know of my joys, my struggles, my stories, my work, my successes or my failures, this man who for reasons unknown to me presumed to know me well--perhaps through rumors, perhaps through one-sided stories, perhaps through 2nd hand, 3rd hand or 4th hand accounts of moments and happenings, this man had placed me in a box, a box that was wrapped and had a tag attached to it that read: Handle With Care--Difficult Person Inside.

Perhaps it was appropriate that this small mindedness happened at my high school reunion.  I think it is easy, easy for all of us to hear, see or remember something about a particular person or persons that may have taken place briefly and way in the past and BAM!  we place them in a narrow cardboard container that have labels like "loose" or "volatile" or "liar" or "cold."  Those boxes we put people in...those blasted boxes wrapped up tightly in paper and twine keeping the residents seemingly stagnant, all contorted and twisted and cramped in the tiny space we allow them.  No room for growth.  No room for change.  No room to even stretch their legs and forget about unfurling any wings. Hasty decisions made about a person or people, assuming that we know a person based upon the way they were 25, 20, 10 years, heck even 10 days ago is presumptuous and kinda ignorant.  Because here's a news flash...those boxes that they placed us in, those boxes that seem indestructible and permanent are anything but...

What these purveyors of our tiny libelous cubicles forget is that minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month,  moment by every-lovin' moment things happen that unravel the twine, rip the wrapping paper to shreds and burst the boxes we've been shoved into to minuscule pieces.  Even if we tried to put the box back together, it would be forever changed like shattered glass re-glued into place.  Shards would be missing, lines would indicate the fissures that still existed, and the pieces would no longer be as impenetrable as they were before. In short, those boxes would no longer be the same, because humans rarely stay the same.

We all change.  It is inevitable.  Relationships develop.  Relationships end.  Relationships teach us and help us to mature.  Relationships will demolish our psyches and will reveal our strength.  Children will fill our hearts and grown up children will break them.  Friends come and go and leave behind valuable lessons that help us to grow and bend and sometimes snap in half. Over time we are forced to face the worst of ourselves and if we are really evolved we will set out to set those things right.  There will be moments in which we will have to make moral decisions.  Sometimes they will be right and sometimes we will choose wrong. No matter--because each outcome will hold life lessons that we couldn't do without, that will shape and mold us.  Each and every experience whether gigantic or teeny weeny is monumental to creating the human we are today, and each day will bring new experiences that will make us different humans tomorrow.

So Mr. Snarky 25th Reunion Man, I'd like to change my answer if at all possible.  What I should have said to you is "Yes, I used to be a difficult person.  I was preoccupied by looking perfect--perfect family, perfect image, perfect marriage, perfect career.  I was weak and surrounded myself with human beings who would dominate me and direct my every move.  I needed to be acknowledged as the best and the brightest in order to feel some worth....any kind of worth.  I was controlling and sometimes I did things, horrible things, without thinking about others' feelings.  But life happened to me.  I made many mistakes that taught me what it was like to live with humiliation and humility.  I experienced heartache that brought me to my knees.  I felt depressions so deep that I was sure that I'd be swallowed up in a black hole never to be seen again.  I have also known the greatest of happinesses--the kind that make it feel like your feet are floating over the asphalt on an invisible magic carpet soaring over any obstacle in my way.  I also know what it feels like to almost die and regain a semblance of health which taught me to appreciate each and every instant of my life;the good, the bad, the ugly, the horrific--I appreciate it all, because I am alive to encounter it all.  I know the love and the warmth of a a child pressed against me and wrapped in my arms recognizing full well that the love they feel is unconditional.  I know what it feels like for family to turn against you and for some to stand beside you.   I have learned that I am never without fault and that it takes years and years and years of work to actually change who you are for the better.  And just so you know Mr. Snarky Business Owner Hometown Boy, I have done the years of work.  I continue to do the work.  I am not perfect by any means.  I have a long way to go.  But you can't put me in a box, not any box, not even several boxes.  Who I am is a totality of my experiences both good and bad, and unless you have walked beside me every second of every day, you couldn't possibly know me or my layers.  You couldn't possibly label me and package me up in a neat and tidy box tied with a ribbon.  You see, who I am doesn't fit in one box.  The essence of me is expansive and wild and free.  It is a seeker of knowledge and enlightenment.  It is spacious and is constantly growing.   And for those reasons and many more, I don't and won't ever fit inside your box.  And although you offended me by placing me there in the first place I will make you a promise that I will try my hardest to be a better human an not put YOU in a box all tied up with twine and wrapped in paper with a label on it that says:  Handle with Care--Narrow Mind Inside.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Universal Wind

My daughter turns 3 in two weeks. Three. That means that it has been three years and nine months since the surprise of my life happened. Since I stood in my miniscule bathroom with the new-fangled electronic EPT test in my hand that kept blinking the word “yes” over and over until the motion of that, coupled with my utter shock, made me feel dizzy and faint. I am sure that I have discussed in this column before that my reaction was less than enthusiastic.
Parenting my sons had been well just a crap shoot in many ways, and the waders I wore didn’t protect me at all from that raw sewage I sludged through daily trying to match that perfect mother in my head. The do-do seeped in deep; a constant reminder that I was nowhere near doing a great job. Now I know that there were MANY other factors that made my role difficult; absent grandparents, an ex hell bent on saying, doing, thinking and breathing the exact opposite of anything that I did, genetics, environment…on and on…and I guess that was EXACTLY what was going through my head that fateful day as I held that EPT….I did NOT want to go through the “on and on” again. Ever again. I had had enough.
To read the rest please click on the following link:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don't EVER Call Me a Player!

I am not a player. No, no…I don’t mean the polyester-wearing-Victoria’s-Secret-peekin’-buttons-opened-to-my-navel player. No! Sheesh. I am NOT talking about THAT kind of player. I am talking about get-out-the-Fisher-Price-sit-down-on-th-rug-make-your-voice-high-for-the-girl-doll-and-a-low-voice-for-the-boy-doll kind of player. I am not kidding when I say that playing dolls or tea party or with a Dora kitchen gives me the anxiety of a bomb-squad member trying to keep an explosive from blowing up a town (okay that may be a WEE bit of an exaggeration, but…you get the idea.).
When my sons were younger, the five words I dreaded the most were “Will you play with me?” Ugh! How I’d cringe. I would twist. I would turn. I would grasp for any plausible idea that I could come up with for not succumbing to action figures or catch or hide and seek.

To read the rest, click on the link:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Go Ahead...Laugh...I Can Take It!

I recently got a shout out from one of the greatest websites EVER (in my humble opinion)  Amanda writes, 

"Hi Beautiful You! Whether you're a writer or reader, I'm super excited to share these new series with you! 

Jo Anna & I will be sharing nearly every week & the Kind Kindred series will still be shining every Monday, as usual, but the rest of the series will pepper every month!

The first post will be next Thursday in the Laughter Lover series! (Do you remember the Granny Panties story Logan shared last year?! Oh yes! It's going to be SO FUN!)"

Ah "Granny Girdle Panties" story.  Who could forget my utter humiliation??  WHAT???  You haven't read the Granny Panties story????  Well, by all means....PLEASE do! Have a laugh on me I can take it!  Click the link below!  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Omniscience: A Parent's Dream?

I have recently been working on a novel; my first endeavor into fiction.  Writers are readers at the heart of us, and so it is no surprise that I have been reading all I can find on the "hows" of planning and penning a made-up story. The other day I was reading about the merits of different points of view.  You know, 1st person as opposed to 3rd person.  To be honest with you I had not even considered writing this story in the 3rd person.  I am an essayist first and foremost and it is just so natural that I write in my own voice.  This book that I planned on writing, (OK if I was being TOTALLY honest here,  I'd tell you that I have already STARTED writing the book but have gotten stuck, hence the frantic reading and researching...) anyhow, while writing this book, I planned on just embodying the protagonist, being her so to speak, and then telling her (or rather my) story as if it were happening to me.  Telling it that way just seemed natural to me, the essayist.  However, after reading and reading and reading and reading about the two points of view, I am rethinking my plan for the book.  Writing in the 3rd person seems to perhaps be easier when writing fiction because the narrator is of course omniscient, being able to know all, see all, hear all, and ultimately show the reader all that is happening.  An omniscient story teller can anticipate what might be coming down the pike and even forewarn those that have decided to turn the pages of the precious book.  

During my point of view research, I learned that my definition of the word omniscience was flawed.  I have always thought that it meant "all powerful", but instead I learned that it is simply having infinite knowledge.  Infinite knowledge is something that our children, when they are younger, rely upon us to have.  In fact most small children would believe that their parents WERE in fact absolutely omniscient.   As they get older however, somehow we lose that omnipotence and our teens, according to them anyway, gain it. 

It got me thinking.  To be omniscient, all-knowing, all-seeing, handy would that be for us, Mudders?  To know what is coming around the corner, a couple of years down the road, to know whether or not our decisions are the right ones--with the power of omnipotence we could perhaps help to prepare our children, heck even ourselves for the future; for the twists and turns and raging storms that families have to plod through.  I am not nearly suggesting that being omniscient would cause me to try and change events because I am a firm believer that every experience is meant to mold and shape who we are, but to tell you the truth, I am pretty sure omnipotence would allow me to plant my feet in a firm wide stance to keep me steady when those winds do blow in.  Having your legs cut out from beneath you, and falling on your rear end (even if it IS well padded) feels horrific, no matter how many times you tell yourself that you gain strength from strife.  And while I am all for spontaneity, I would have liked to know about...well...I would have just like to have known that certain things would happen to my family.

Because I am from a small town, and because I openly write a blog about the difficulties that often come with motherhood, I am sure that it isn't news that 2012 has been a nightmarish year for me, Logan, the mother of two boys.  And while I am lucky that things with Ila have been idyllic and blissful, life-changing even, I have not spoken much of my sons because I am so disillusioned by what has taken place over the past 7 months.  For their sake, I will not delve into the nitty gritty details, but it would be safe to tell you that neither boy is living with me any longer.  It would be safe to say that not living with me also means that I have seen very little of them in seven months.  It would be safe to say that their absence has sliced an extremely large chasm into the very soul of me.  It would be safe to say that a little omnipotence would have and would be nice.  To have seen this coming.  To have known that I'd be without them for the several thousand reasons that have arisen that keep them from me or me from them--being a little prepared might have made the sting a little less, the resentment a smaller boulder in my solar plexus, the tears less prevalent.  The untethered feeling that I have had these past seven months, the lack of a compass has plagued me, and I wish with all that I have that I had been omniscient--that I would have known that someday, they'd be gone in this seemingly final way.

And there again, omniscience in the here and now would be such a gift because not only would I have been able to foresee these last disastrous months coming but I would be able to know with certainty that this situation may or may not get better and plan accordingly; steel my heart against any further hurt or keep it open for that someday that we'd be a family in the strongest sense of the word.  Well meaning friends say with a fortitude that I don't possess that those sons of mine will come back someday knowing that I had tried my best parenting them.  They are so sure, these friends of mine, that the hard work that I put into trying to be the best mother I could (even if some of the decisions were wayward) will cause them to come back, to want to be part of our lives again in a healthy familial way.  (Does that even exist?  Perhaps that is fodder for another post!)  

A good  friend of mine disagrees with my wish for omniscience.  He thinks that I may be still leaning on  my flawed definition of the word--hoping that being "all powerful" would somehow keep the immense disillusionment and hurt at bay.  He is a firm believer in fate, and reminds me that having the real definition of the word--the power of knowing all --wouldn't be able to change the past days, weeks, or months--no power in the universe would be that strong...and maybe someday looking back on all of this I will understand why it took place.  After all, using the past to make decisions about the future is truly the ONLY way to be purely omniscient.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Have Always Been a Fantasizer

On the day we arrived at the Cape, we walked over a bluff to give my daughter her first look at the ocean. As it came into view, her blue eyes grew to the size of baseballs and an audible gasp breathlessly pushed one word out of that sweet mouth, “Wow!” she whispered.
I have always been a fantasizer. I am sure that there is not one human being who knows me who is shocked by that statement. If I analyzed my tendency to live outside of reality, I would have to tell you that it started as a child; a very young child. My fantasizing began as innocent conjuring; imagining situations which if true would earn me the elusive approval of my parents. Growing up, it was apparent very early on that succeeding in a public way like winning a contest or being the best at a sport or activity instantly got the attention of good ol’ mom and dad. Alas, during my childhood it was my perception that I came up short in many areas. I wasn’t the prettiest. I wasn’t the smartest. I most DEFINITELY wasn’t the most athletic, and because I was just sort of mediocre or imagined myself to be, it seemed I also came up short in the parental attention department. And so I began to fantasize; imagine situations where I was the best and the brightest, winning accolades, standing in the front of the line with the trophy in my hand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Who's in Charge of Making Me Happy?

Are you guilty?  I know I am.  Relying upon outside sources, people, places, accolades, to "make" me happy?   In the words of Dr. Phil, "How's that workin' for ya?"  It isn't for me.  It never has worked in fact.  I mean it is an impossible situation we set up for ourselves.  No person or place can make us truly happy.  It always ends poorly especially when it is a person or people we rely upon for our contentment.  No one, no one in the world is capable of being happiness in totality. And yet I have continued to look outwardly for satisfaction, for feeling whole.  But it was just recently while following the same ol' pattern that it dawned on me that all of those annoying quotes like "I am in charge of my happiness," or "I am in charge of my mood and today I choose happiness," are really and truly true.  I am not sure why or how or where but somehow it dawned upon me that pining over the approval or attention of someone-anyone-is not the way one should go about finding happiness and contentment, because when things don't go the way we'd like with that friend or relative or colleague we resent them, as if they could possibly be different just because WE need them to be in order to feel fulfilled.  How utterly self absorbed of me.  How utterly unfair.  And so to all of those who "let me down" by not providing me my much needed happiness (read dripping with sarcasm) I owe you an apology.  Here it is:

Dear You,

I am selfish.  I wanted your life to stay the same so that you could go on filling that empty cavern in my soul.  As long as you were lonely and I was lonely, as long as THAT remained a constant, then "we" would continue down the path of mutuality.  However, I've grown to love parts of you; your creativity, your wit, your ability to cry and feel deeply, your amazing intellect.  And if that is true, if my heart and soul have developed an adoration for who you are, then wanting you to stay stagnant, needing you to remain a lonely soul so that my soul remain full is a loveless act.  It is egotistical of this friend, this mother, this woman to have such treasonous thoughts.  I am certain that I don't want to be that person.  

And so dear friend, sweet city-street-soulmate, I would love to have the chance to be gracious when the last time we spoke I may not have been.  If I had another chance I'd tell you that I am truly happy for you and your prospective future whether it includes me or not. Look how far you have come in such a short time!  Your life is full of passion.  Work is thriving.  Lessons have been learned, and now it seems you are moving towards a life less lonely.  Instead of wallowing in my perceived loss, my love and respect for you demands that I rejoice in your good fortune, in your happiness, in the wings that you are unfurling.  

You have given me much during our time.  Your encouragement and validations, your swift kicks when needed, your willingness to listen and really "hear" what I was saying somehow made me feel special, understood and yes...less lonely, much less lonely.  But most importantly your absence for whatever reason has taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson that one could ever learn; the pain of missing you, the agony of waiting for that approval, acknowledgement, for the ping of a text or a buzz of a message forced my hand, forced my heart.  The waiting....waiting for someone to fill my own soul was ludicrous.  The only person responsible for my happiness for my fulfillment is me.  I could spend my life pining away for a time when your company was completely mine in some perfect manner that somehow would hopefully deliver me to the land of happiness, or I could unfurl my own figurative wings and fly towards a horizon that holds an overflowing abundance of self-love, personal fulfillment, and good old fashioned contentment.  

If I was being honest, I'd have to tell you that I haven't a clue how to even take off with my fledgling wings, let alone soar over rainbows.  But I am going to try and spend my time not waiting for happiness to come to me, but instead to start my quest to seek  it out with the winds of change at my back.  

But some things will never change.  I will always root for you.  I will forever believe in your endless talent.  I will continue to hope that your definition of family will evolve and grow.  I will want only the best for you and of course, as I have said numerous times, I will  be here whenever, if ever you need me. Just text me.  I'll listen for the ping.  Just message me.  I'll hear the buzz.  And if that time never comes, just know that I am forever grateful  that you were part of my life. without you--I would never have known that happiness, contentment, pure satisfaction starts within me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What You SHOULD Be Told This Mother's Day

May 13th is Mother's Day.  Mommies world wide will be receiving the token card, dandelions picked from the front yard or lilac bouquets cut from the backyard bush.  There will be breakfasts in bed and dinners out.  Some moms might even get to put their feet up for the day, or attend a spa to relax.  (Good lord...decadence!)  Moms with teens may get a quick kiss on the cheek as they dash out the front door.  For single moms or moms who are in circumstances in which no one will remember the day, they may have to honor themselves...which leaves me feeling sad.  But then I remember, whatever happens on Mother's Day...because we're will be enough, or at least we'll tell ourselves that because the lot of us are strong women.  We do our job because it is honor and our duty.  We certainly don't do the hard work in order to be rewarded on this one obscure day.

For me, this Mother's Day is a milestone of sorts. THIS Mother's Day will be my 18th Mother's Day, and that actually means that my first child will be graduating high school.  He is considered by society to be an adult.  Many of the people that I work with and acquaintances of mine (through my children of course) are experiencing the same type of pairing.  Their's may perhaps be a bit different.  Four Mudders that I can think of will be experiencing their last Mother's Day with a "child" in the home.  Their son's or daughter's graduation marks the end of their direct parenting journey as their last offspring or only offspring will walk across that stage and out the door onto bigger and better things.  And oh, yes, of course, once a parent, always a is different when they are gone.  The teenage years have prepared us for the fact that we are no longer even a blip on their radar, but that blip will be much fainter it seems when off chasing their dreams and lives and wonders, stretching their newly free limbs.  It is as it should be.  All moms would is as it should be.

So Mother's Day is our day, and graduation is their day.  That is the way the world sees it.  However, this year, I want to see it a little differently.  Not just for me, but for all of Mudders.  When or if we get those cards, flowers, dinners out, or a quick text that reads, "Hpy Moms Day 2 U", I am not highly convinced that they, our children, are even aware of what they are saying "Happy Mother's Day" for, except for the fact that the calendar indicates it is the day designated for that phrase.  And so for the all Mudders and especially the Mudders who have children graduating this year, I want to tell you, reassure you that I know, heck, ANY mother knows of the things you have done, the sacrifices you have made, the needs you put aside, and for all of that I want to thank you.  I want to honor you.  I want to let you know that I know even if there is no one else around who will tell you, I believe that when it comes to your children, you have made the difference.  You have done what you should have.  You have worked hard.  It is time that someone tell you how important, good and necessary the things were or are that you did on a daily basis, and it is high time you know you are appreciated for those things.  So an open letter of thanks and joy to you dear Mudders.  Happy Mother's Day, for real.

Dear Mudder,

Remember when you were pregnant and had those back aches, head aches, knee aches, hip aches but you wouldn't touch a pain killer so as to protect the new life growing inside you?  For that dear Mudder I thank you.

Oh and who could forget the labor pain, leaking boobies, sore whooo hooos, long nights spent rocking a screaming infant.  Who could forget the milk stained, spit up stained, baggy tee shirt and sweatshirt ensemble that you wore for months on end even though before being a parent Macy's was your best friend.  For your ability to put your child over your need to be fashionable, I thank you.

For all of the parent conferences that you attended, for the lists you made, the questions you asked.  For all the homework that you helped with, the late night Walmart runs to quiet a panicked child who forgot to do a project, for all the instrument practices that your tired and shell shocked ears endured, the teachers that you communicated with, for the birthday treats that rivaled Martha Stewart that you were determined to make even though your fingers and brain were weary from a long day of work, for the passion that you had for your child's education, and especially....ESPECIALLY for the vitriol, rolled eyes, perhaps even names that you got called because of you unwavering expectations that your children do their best in school, ALWAYS their best.  Mudders, you should be proud.

For those things you did behind the scenes that no one knew about.  You know what I am talking about...maybe you whispered into the best friend's ear of the girl your son liked that he was too shy to make the first move.  You and I both know that that little nudge is why they are together today.  Don't forget the constant encouragement you gave him or her.  When they sing that solo, are asked to join an exclusive group of performers, when they smack that ball over the fence, when they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, don't forget Mudders, don't forget that your persistence and steady reassurance and confidence in their abilities helped them to get where they are.  Others may not give you a bit of credit for your part in their successes, but dear Mudders being the purveyors of your children's dreams, that is nothing to scoff at and so I honor you.  I honor you for being, as the song says, the wind beneath your children's wings.

Thank you Mudders.  Thank you for all the little things you did to make your children's lives special; the memories you helped to create, the traditions you established.  Those vacations to the ocean, to Disney World, to Universal Studios.  Scraping and scrounging and foregoing that class you've always wanted to take in order to have enough money to stay in that hotel with the cool pool.  And OH the holidays, the sewing and gluing and searching for the absolutely have-to-have Halloween costume.  The lunches you gave up to dash over to the elementary school to watch the Halloween parade.  The Christmas trees you trimmed, the gifts you wrapped, the over-the-top plans you made on their birthdays so they knew they were special and loved and cherished.  What were you thinking when you undertook that castle cake?  Oh the hours spent on those themed cakes!  Those traditions, those holidays, those vacations will be memories that they will have forever, long after you have left this earth.  Perhaps they will continue those traditions and so in a way...your influence will last and last.

For the sleepless nights you endured. For the fevers that you cooled.  For the throats that you soothed.  For the hours spent in hospital rooms.  For the books that you read.  For the promises made and the prayers said, for your determination to be a better mom than the one you learned from, for your persistence in the face of even the most daunting challenge.   For ALL that you did because your children deserved it...for the love that you freely gave even if it came in the form of some hard lessons, for the molding and the shaping, for the muscle fatigue from the chiseling, for those lean times when you went hungry so they could eat, when you went without so that they could have.  Mudders for all you have given unconditionally, I honor you.  I revere you.  You are appreciated.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hindsight: Parenting the Second Time Around--Hilltown Column

Damn!  I'm doing it again!  Anyone else ever go through this?  Any suggestions would be appreciated!  Click the link below to read this week's Hilltown Column.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Problems Bring Gifts

Richard Bach once said that "Every problem has a gift for you in its hands."  A year ago, 6 months ago, 1 week ago I would have rolled my ever-luvin eyes at that quote.  I would have made some sort of disgusted grunt noise that came from way in the back of my throat.  I would pushed Richard with a scoot of my hand so that he could step aside and let me get to the solvin'....because that is all a problem was to me something to endure until it got fixed.

But then I experienced something that perhaps Richard Bach had at one time experienced as well; a problem that couldn't be solved, one that couldn't be fixed--at least not in anyway that would feel entirely satisfying.  Swimming in the mire of the in-between I was unable to reach either shore--the one where I stood before the levy broke and the one ahead of me that would provide me some sturdy foundation with which to stand upon again..  The exhaustion, the constant thinking, the anger, the sorrow, the bewilderment dangled from me like iron anchors and pulled me into the deep, dark abyss. I was drowning.

One night, while in full self-pitying mode, I decided to distract the running reel of "woe is me" by visiting Pinterest.  (If you don't know what that is...I will warn you that it is HIGHLY addictive, but please do visit.  Of course, visit AFTER you read today's post.)   While working on my "Quote" board (so very original...I know) I came across Richard's quote.  It stopped me in my tracks.  My immediate reaction was scoffing, eye rolling, throaty grunts, but then...but then....something made me stop.  Something made me read it again, and again, and then once more.  Something made me look at each word strung together like a strand of Christmas lights, and in a moment of illumination it occurred to me that perhaps--perhaps--I could begin to look within my current conundrum for the gift it might be offering me.

Starting the next morning, I began to live differently.  The problem didn't go away (it still hasn't), but what did go away was some of the anger, the helplessness, the groping-around-in-the-dark-for-a-path kind of blindness. It was replaced by a curiosity.  If this Bach fellow was right, then somewhere, somehow, some gift would reveal itself through the chaos, above the noise, around the walls built high. The search was in itself a  distraction from the wallowing, however, the gift didn't reveal itself right away.

As it turns out this gift, my problem's gift, had been here right from the beginning, but I was too overwhelmed with despair to recognize it, to greet it, to experience it.  I am thankful to Richard Bach and his wise words that I was able to open my heart's door to welcome it.   It finally became obvious to me in the midst of a compassionate "talking-to" by a long time friend.  She had come into my classroom to drop off a letter of recommendation that I had asked her to write and to inquire about my state of mind.  She heard--through the grapevine--of the things that had been heaped upon my family plate as of late.  I tearfully recalled details and answered her questions, and then after listening to each word, she showed her typical tenderheartedness and declared that she was sure that I'd feel better if I could just go on a well-needed vacation.  In the next breath, she mercifully offered her parents' condo in Florida for a place of respite.  I was stunned, silenced, humbled by her kindness and friendship, and it was then that my dilemma's gift dropped out of the sky and clunked me over the head.  My offering?  The realization that throughout this whole ordeal, I wasn't alone.

Problems have been plentiful these last few years.  That goes without saying, and I knew from experience that even the best people have a limit for the amount of times they listen, commiserate, dispense advice or prop up.  I mean there's a reason that nobody is Eeyore's BEST friend in those Winnie the Pooh stories.  So even before this latest round of rain, I had vowed to be more positive, to enjoy life in moments-moment by moment.  So when the bomb dropped here a few months ago, I was determined to speak very little of it except to perhaps a couple of my nearest, dearest and most trusted.  I would face the latest a solitary figure.

But despite my silence--despite my solitude--companionship, empathy, love came.  They came.   They came. I was not alone, in spite of the problem plague I had been living through.  I was not alone.

I was not alone when that friend took pity upon me and offered me an escape, but there were so many other times in which that gift played out over and over and over.  I was not alone when a friend in California was willing to "chat" with me for strung-together hours, even in the midst of studying for the Bar.  I was not alone when he offered several solutions to ease my worry and dread.  I was not alone when out of the blue I'd receive a motivational essay from a favorite website in an email from a woman hundreds of miles away who has become a kindred spirit.  I was not alone when strangers, STRANGERS! heard of my plight and offered me unnecessary benevolence.   I was not alone when a friend messaged "I'll be here when you are ready. Ok?"  Or the next day when a new message came from the same person simply stating, "Hope you are doing ok."  I was not alone, never alone, when the closest, most trusted and dear woman in my life hugged me close and whispered that we'd take on this problem together.  No matter what happened, I'd have her.  I was not alone.

 I was not alone.  I am not alone.  This problem, this mystifying mess, as difficult as it seems, as heavy as it is draped across my shoulders and across my back has offered to me a truly transcendent treasure: the gift of knowing that I am worthy of love no matter the situation, no matter my mistakes, no matter how many times I ask and even when I don't--there are people who will be there.  I am loved.  I am not alone.  And dear readers neither are you.  What are the problems that you are facing?   Please remember, no matter how complicated no matter how hopeless, that problem "holds a gift for you in it's hand."  Go on, do yourself a favor...Open it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Positively Positive

The other afternoon I decided to be a rebel and take a bubble bath in the middle of the day with a glass of wine, candlelight and a book on writing recommended by a friend, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  After luxuriating for approximately 2 minutes, a recently potty trained Ila came in needing to "go tinkle".  She sat down and did her business, but I could tell by the look on her face that she was quite perplexed by the bath scene before her.  After getting help washing her hands and with her clothes, she stepped towards the tub.  She set her elbows down and placed her chin in her hands.  "Hi Ila."  I said.  "I'm taking a bath."  She furrowed her brow which wrinkled that uber cute nose.  Her head cocked to the side and the following discussion took place:

Ila:  You are doing it wrong, mommy.
Me:  I am doing it wrong?
Ila:  Yes!  Sit up.  Sit up! 
Me:  No.  I am relaxing, Ila.  This is how I try to relax in a bath.  I lay down and read a book.
Ila:  It's dark in here, mama.
Me:  Yes, that helps me relax too.  (A major pause ensued here.  Still  the perplexed toddler with the cocked head, chin in hands, and then...)

Ila: That's OK mommy.  Keep trying.  Just keep trying.  Don't give up.  Then you will do a good job!"  

I had to stifle a giggle as the two-foot-philosopher left the bathroom satisfied that she had figured it all out.  Mommy wasn't taking a bath the way that she takes a bath.  Mommy  must be doing it wrong.  Problem solved.  But what pleased me the most about that small moment was the glimmer I got into the way that Ila's brain works, into the way she thinks.  The words she spoke to me about trying and not giving up were extremely reassuring.  Stick-to-it-iv-ness and hard work are two personality qualities that are essential for success.  After teaching for more than two decades and raising children for almost as long, I am absolutely sure that more than smarts, or athletic ability, or humor or any other personality characteristic, having a positive attitude and not being afraid of hard work are two catalysts that propel children as far down that road to success as they can go.   

So how does a mom foster this type of attitude in a child.  Well, I am certainly not an expert, but am determined to learn.  Here are some of the things that I have read about and devised on my own in order to try with Ila, and it seems to be making a difference in the way she looks at life:

1.  Establish words and phrases that you can repeat over and over especially during times of trial.  One we use religiously is a song from Yo Gabba Gabba that encourages kids to "Keep trying, keep trying.  Don't give up.  Never give up."  

2.  Another (probably obvious) suggestion is to catch them having a positive attitude.  Ila with her neurological disorder is constantly falling...hard.  Hard enough that most toddlers would cry as a result.  Many times, instead of crying Ila will stand up and say to herself, "I'm fine. I'm okay. Not a biggie." And while most of the time that she self-talks this way I want to smother the little thing with hugs, no matter how many times a day she says those phrases I always try and tell her how special it is that she faces her falls that way. She puffs up like a freshly washed baby chick when we praise her.  Connecting a positive attitude with pride will hopefully foster a lifelong decision to not drown in bad, but swim with the good. 

The above two examples I am sure makes it seem that Ila never has moments where frustration takes over her.  On the contrary, she most definitely does...just ask my frayed nerves.  One particular time that stands out in my mind is our recent attempt to potty train her.  After holding it all day (and I mean ALL day 6:30 am to about 4 pm), Ila began to throw a tantrum as I tried to sit her on the potty once again.  When I told her she didn't have to sit on the toilet, she cried.  When I said I'd help her sit, she cried.  When I tried to leave the bathroom, she cried.  When I entered the bathroom, she cried.  She became quite agitated and it was clear that she was highly aware that she shouldn't pee in her underwear, but just didn't want to go in the potty.  She was getting more and more frantic.  She wasn't the only one that was panicking.  While she knew that it wasn't right to wet her underwear, but was considering it, I knew it wasn't right to put her back into pull ups but was considering it.  Just then, as it often does, Dr. Speed Dial's voice came from...well...whatever divine universal place that it resides...and whispered..."It is a parent's job to try and help his or her child problem solve."  And so that is what I did.  In a calm quiet voice I said, "Ila, if you could just calm down, mommy can help you fix this.  Let's start by taking a deep breath."  To my astonishment, she did just that.  So I continued, "All problems can be fixed.  Let mommy try and help.  Can you tell me why you are upset?"  

"You gonna fix it?"  she said in such a pathetic sad way that my heart broke in two.  "Yes," I said soothingly.  "could you try and tell me why you don't want to pee on the potty?"  She thought.  She thought and thought and I could almost see that brain of hers reaching for words that would explain the problem.  This is what she came up with--"I stand up to go pee."  And though it took me a while to figure out what she was trying to say, I realized (thankfully) that she was having trouble because when she went in the pull up it was usually in a standing position and probably on the go...not at all like conditions of going on a potty.  

So, embracing my role as problem-solver-in-chief I flipped quickly through possible solutions and decided on one that may or may not work.  It was risky but I said, "Do you want to stand up and start to pee and then, I'll sit you down once you get started?"  Surprisingly, a very relieved Ila said, "Yes...YES.  I stand up to pee." And so that is what we did...I stood her up with the potty at her heels and gave her permission to start peeing, which she did instantly.  As soon as the stream started, I sat her down.  As she filled (FILLED!! ) the potty (who knew a 26 inch child could have such a large bladder???) I cheered and hooted and high-fived her.  When we were finished with all the numerous steps (wipe, dump, flush, pull up pants, wash hands) I sat her on my lap and told her how proud of her I was.  I also gently reminded her that all problems could be fixed if we could just stay calm enough to figure them out.  At that moment daddy came in and asked Ila how she finally did it.  Ila answered, "The problem got fixed, daddy."

And perhaps, that idea that all problems have solutions is the most important thing we can teach our young children.  Nowadays the world seems to be full of problems that need clear and focused thinking.  It is also a world that has plenty of negative that we could focus on if we choose.  Unfortunately, before parenting Ila, negativity was my best friend and Eeyore was my nickname.  But I am learning, for the sake of my daughter, to have a positive attitude.  I stumble often, but when I do, I am sure that Ila will be there to say, "That's OK mommy.  Keep trying.  Just keep trying.  Don't give up.  Then you will do a good job!"  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Decision to Have Children

Last August an old friend asked me to write about the decision to have children or not to have children.  He and his wife do not have offspring yet and had spent several weeks living at a friend's house who had a toddler.  Needless to say they came away from that experience exasperated, anxious, annoyed and just plain old exhausted and it wasn't even their child.  This harrowing time made them question whether or not they should be procreating.  After watching the beloved friend wrangle with a strong-willed human who stood two feet high, they had some serious misgivings about the whole process.

When he first asked me to write a blog post about this subject, I dove right in.  Asking for input from friends who chose not to have children as well as input from friends who chose to be parents.  But when I sat down to actually put words to screen...I fizzled.  I fizzled a whole giant bunch.  Each time I tried, I'd find a way to avoid, stop, or just forget all about the post.  Something was stopping me.  It was as if a black writing cloud hung over my head every time I opened this particular file and I couldn't quite put my finger on why.  

Yesterday, as I was showering, (I do a lot of planning for my writing is a rare moment of uninterrupted time) it came to me why I was avoiding the simple request from a friend who is very much the thinker that I am.  I realized that I wasn't sure I could write an unbiased post, and I didn't want to be the one to sway this couple (who would just be the coolest parents) either way.  Recently I've been sucked up into the center of the teenage tornado and well...all that spinning might make this writer a tad cynical and bitter...(just a tad).  But parenthood couldn't have been ALL bad.  Could it? So while rinsing the conditioner from my hair I made a pact with myself, for the sake of this couple, that I would wander back and look at all sides of having children...the good, the bad, the ugly AND the beautiful.

Parenthood is like being a participant in an Iron Man competition.  You start off swimming with this infant, and there are obstacles that you have heard about and semi prepared for like constant breast feeding, diaper changes, piercing cries and sleepless nights.  But there are also treacherous waves that you don't expect that no one tells you about.  As a woman not only are you swimming against a current of being a new mother, you are also trying not to drown underneath massive physical changes like dropping and rising hormones, hair loss, breasts that are so hard and swollen it is difficult to put your arms down to your sides, leaking milk, and a sore whoo whoo that needs about as much attention that a brand new baby needs.  As a man, you have to learn to navigate the dangerous seas of a hormonal woman who may be experiencing postpartum depression. You'll need the patience of Job and a depth of understanding that rarely a man finds quickly (sorry...that is a sexist comment...but a true one in my experience.) You will find that you have a sense of urgency and responsiblity for this child and his or her well being that is so all consuming you could possibly lose what used to make you YOU in the process. You will have trouble adjusting to the realization that the woman who was just a year ago prancing around in Victoria's Secret lingerie and going out dancing with you on Friday nights, the one who lived to please you and only you has now replaced you with this small helpless human that she will forever feel responsible for.  Men, you will now be an after thought, in second place when before the child, you were in first.  Will you be able to adjust or do you have to be the winner?  Most of the time, each parent will keep their minds on their strokes and kicking legs in order to propel themselves forward toward the shore.  You will be tired, always tired.  Swimming the waters of new parenthood isn't anywhere near the dog-paddle days at your local lake.  You'll suck in mouthfuls of water when what you really need is air.  You'll be sure that all that kicking is getting you nowhere.  You'll spend nights and days just treading water waiting for the crying to stop, getting swimmers' ear from the noise and stomach cramps from the tension.

But if you are a smart swimmer, if you have the wherewithal to stop, you may look up from that frantic breast stroke and take in your surroundings.  You are a parent now.  Responsible for this teeny tiny angelic human.  You will undoubtly be feeling a kind of fierce love that will scare you.  A love that I am absolutely sure one doesn't feel when looking upon any other human.  Oh sure there is best friend love and romantic love and love for sisters and brothers and parents.  But love for an offspring, that is a love like no other, and one I am sure changes who we are.  This little one that you check on 70 times a night to make sure he or she is breathing, this little one whose chin quivers make you giddy, whose chest rising and falling on your shoulder bringing you a peace and calmness that is new and welcome, this child made by you will seep its way into your consciousness and stay there...forever.  And you will be happy that he or she is here.  You will learn the meaning of sacrifice for this tiny human.  You will come to know what all parents know that THIS kind of sacrifice, giving of your WHOLE self for the sake of another human doesn't feel bothersome, but in fact feels wonderful and wise. 

Soon, just like in that Iron Man Competition, the swimming part is over, your infant will grow into a toddler, preschooler, elementary age KID!  You'll look back upon your journey in the water as one that was difficult, but you will feel exhilarated that you survived, that you swam the whole length and didn't drown, and perhaps, perhaps if you tried really hard, you'll even come out of the water a better athlete, ready to take on the next challenge.  And so you hop on that bike. But be sure to tighten your helmet because the course is riddled with potholes and hills.

As a parent to a school aged child, I will guarantee that you will have to navigate many bumps in the road, and that they'll bring about a briared agony and worry that latch on to every moment of the day.  You'll have to give in to things out of your control...things that may happen to your child or children that will tear your to shreds. You'll learn what it feels like to have your thoughts hijacked by these two persistent emotions. Worry and agony can be useful however because they'll propel you to pedal up that particular hill with all the gusto you can give it. You'll seek the advice of those who have come before you.  You'll read books, blogs, magazines, heck you may even listen to Doctor Phil a few times.  But what you'll find is that with all that advice, who your child becomes really happens by watching you--who you are will shape who your child is, and it is for that reason that a parent finds out that they have a fortitude that perhaps would have never been developed if not for the necessity of a child.  So many times on this journey you will feel like you don't have the strength to reach the top of that bleepin' hill.  But you must.  You have someone who is counting on you, and somehow that knowledge keeps you going up the steepest hill even in a driving hail storm.

But the wonderful thing about climbing a hill is that at some point you must travel down.  And these are the moments that are to be treasured...when you coast and sail with the wind on your face. During the school years you get to experience something that only a parent gets to experience--finding yourself--the essence of you--in a child that you have created.  It may be the way they worry and fret-just like you.  It may be how much they love to read--just like you.  It may be in the way they twirl their hair, or chew their lip or love to sing.  It is those moments of recognition that are omnipotent and surreal, and  bond you even more to this being who you thought you couldn't be any closer to.  As you take it easy on the downhill parts of your journey, you'll have the time to learn something new, to laugh, to talk, to eat lively dinners, to cheer on your little athlete-dancer-singer-piano recital giver, to help with homework, to soothe and coo when they are sick, to tuck in with bedtime stories and kisses, and giggles and doodley-dos (a private joke).  You will have moments of such immense contentedness and when all is said and done, those moments...those amazing, crazy, blissful moments are why we became parents in the first place and what we'd miss out on if we didn't.  Enjoy those downhill, coasting, laid back, wind on your face times.  They will give you energy for the hills and more trying events that are just around the bend.

Marathon runner, Jerome Drayton, said once "to describe the agony of a marathon to someone who's never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind."  Being the wife to a former marathon runner, I agree with this statement.  My first experience watching him run one will forever stick in my mind.  My beloved sister-in-law, Sandy and I drove together as my husband and his brothers ran the course.  We'd get in the car and drive frantically so that every three miles or so we could get out and cheer them on.  I hand Jeffrey a "goo" or a bottle of water and watch as he disappeared around the bend.  Then Sandy and I raced to her car and traveled to the next stop.  This process we repeated over and over.  At mile marker 18 I remember remarking to Sandy that I marveled at Jeff's and Bill's (her husband) fortitude.  They didn't act at all in a way that I had imagined. They were not the serious and focused runners who mentally had to prepare themselves for the grueling task at hand.  Each time we saw them, they were jovial and energetic. That is until mile marker 22.  At mile marker 22, the runners, all of the runners who passed, seemed delirious.  Looked as if they'd been through a war.  No smiles, just gritted teeth and furrowed brows.  Their limbs were rubber and sweat poured down them as if a cascading waterfall.  They clearly had hit a wall...their bodies straining not to give out.  I worried for them.  The last four miles of that marathon would clearly be one of the toughest athletic challenges of my husband's life.

Much the same can be said about the last leg of your direct parenting journey--the never ending marathon of raising teenagers.  For me and many other parents that I speak to THIS part of the journey is the toughest.  It has been difficult for me to put into words the feelings one gets sometimes as a parent of an adolescent.  To tell you the truth, it might be difficult because well you just don't hear parents talk like this. I am sure it is considered to be extremely taboo and yet, and yet...It is how I feel sometimes.  It is how many parents feel sometimes, and so, and so...since I have never been one to mix words...Parenting teens makes me weary, as weary as...well...a marathon runner at the 22nd mile.  And why not?  I mean it gets so exhausting being so uncool, embarrassing, stupid, ridiculous and "totally lame".  Somehow, having a teen directly correlates with the moment that a parent loses all knowledge and wisdom.  We suddenly know nothing about the world or life or really ANYTHING.  Our voices, requests, and simple hellos become reasons for deep and disdainful reactions from beings whose existence on Earth is BECAUSE of us.  And I guess, that is the hardest part for me.  (Here comes the TABOO...Leave your judgment at the door.  Thank you in advance.) It absolutely ticks me off, makes me feel completely incredulous...makes me want to pull my hair out that sometimes...heck...MOST of the time teenage offspring have absolutely no respect for the hard work, sacrifices, time and thought we've put into raising them.

If I was following the format of the rest of this blog, this is where I'd be telling you about the multitude of reasons that one SHOULD enjoy parenting those pesky teens.  But.I am sorry dear readers that glimpses are all I can give you when it comes to the pros.  Perhaps it is because I am in the thick of it that I can't see the forest for the trees.   I imagine that it is this way with the marathon runner as well.  While he's running, in the thick of the race itself, the runner must  use every bit of his mental and physical ability to keep keep his or her legs and arms and breath and motivation all in working order.  Perhaps after the run--hours, days, weeks even years after, the athlete will be able to tell you with pride in their voices the amazing moments that he or she experienced while completing one of the hardest athletic tasks ever.  And I suppose it will be the same with me someday...years down the road when the marathon of raising those teens is over, I'll be able to look back and say...oh yes...oh yes...there was this and there was that.  And it was good.  So good.  However, right now dear readers, right now I am in the thick of it and well, it takes all my effort just to keep on runnin' just looking for a glimpse of the finish line.

Glimpses of the finish line--you know its coming when your children speak of college, or when they sit against the teddy bear wallpaper at his or her pediatrician's office looking like some out of place giant.  You know its coming when you stroll along with them at their first college visit.  You know its coming when they come out of the front door of their high school holding hands with a significant other who has substance not just looks.  Those glimpses, glimpses of the possible adult that he or she could be--like when your son sings to a packed house with the certitude and power of a man surprising even you with his confidence.  Or when he or she sits the bench the entire season, but never quits and happily cheers for teammates.  Yes, there are glimpses.  Like when the busy dinner tables, the full-of-kids-backyard, the streets when spring has sprung filled with screeching voices, bouncing basketballs and the sounds of bicycles whizzing by are suddenly replaced with revving engines driving away from the house, tomb-like quiet dinner tables, and an empty home for hours upon end.  Glimpses of the finish line.  Yes, you'll feel it coming and so you press forward, ever forward towards it.  And when you reach that, (which you will...I promise) you'll look backwards down that lonely running road, to the bumpy and thrilling bike path, and way out over the horizon to the treacherous but beautiful ocean waters where you began your journey and you'll feel as the Iron Man athletes feel; that you've accomplished something great and magnanimous.  You may be a little tired, a little haggard, but happy and proud to be standing erect.

Dear friend, only you and your wife know if you are up for the challenge.  The decision has to be yours.  My only firm advice is to choose wisely, because unlike an Iron Man competition where the finish line means that you never have to do it again, the parenting finish line I spoke of is metaphorical.  Your role as parent will be a lifetime commitment.  Are you up for the job?