Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Wanting to be sure that we started the new month of June fresh with everything balanced, I began to crunch numbers. Mind you, it was about 12:30am when I started this process.
Before I knew it, an hour had flown by and although I'd finished compiling our data, it came at a hefty price. The clock read 1:35am when I finally lay down for the evening.
Obviously, this was not terribly smart.
Soon I'd fallen into the vicious cycle of anxiety that comes with going to bed too late when you know you have another big day ahead in only a few hours.
The inner dialogue went a little like this:
Crud. I have to wake up in five hours. I need to sleep!
Oh man, I'm not sleeping.
What am I going to do on less than five hours of sleep?
I'm STILL not sleeping. Oh gosh, what if I have insomnia?
Oh no, what if I have insomnia ALL NIGHT and I'm still not sleeping?
What is my husband going to say when he sees the budget for May?
Oh gosh, I hope he isn't going to be bummed about our expenses.
Oh man, I'd better do A LOT of tutoring to bring in more money.
Aaag, how am I going to be a good tutor tomorrow on NO sleep?
And so forth.
By the time I realized how negatively I was speaking to myself, it took a while to turn around that freight train of anxiety and settle into sleep.
First, I had to scan my brain for positive thoughts or feelings that I could really focus on. I'm starting the process of learning how to do this and I am getting better at it, but at 1:30 in the morning it was definitely a stretch to go from "Insomnia!" "Money!" "Anxiety!" to ideas that were more positive and relaxing.
I tried remembering a point in time when I felt incredibly healthy, and came up with the memory of listening to live music at shows all the way into the wee hours of the morning on work nights, back when my husband and I were only dating.
That was a nice thought but it didn't have much staying power and within about 40 seconds I realized that I had begun to fret about money again. ("When will we have enough money to go to see shows and get babysitting?")
Next, I tried remembering a time when I had felt really good about money - which brought up memories of the summer of 2004 when I had not only secured a high paying teaching job for the Fall term but was also bringing in a ton of business running my own Summer writing program and tutoring on the side. Money was plentiful and I received calls with more clients all of the time.
This was a really nice memory, but focusing on it prompted me to stress over how I could possibly replicate that Summer when I have so many more obligations and responsibilities now - from full time motherhood to working around my husband's busy schedule. I began to fret over babysitting - where to find it and how to afford it - and whether or not I would still be a good mother if a babysitter was watching my children while I tutored in the afternoons.
At 1:48am, my heart was racing and I still had not relaxed enough to sleep.
Finally, grasping at straws, I asked myself: "OK. When is the happiest I have ever been in my entire life?"
The memory that flashed before my tired eyes was one of the hospital birth center where I brought my younger son into the world on a bright, sunny afternoon. I remembered holding him for the first time filled with postpartum endorphins and incredible joy that (a He was healthy and strong, (b) I had not needed a c-section, and (c) The birth had been much shorter and less painful than the intensely grueling 60 hour experience I had giving birth to his elder brother. This time it had taken only 15 hours from start to finish, with no oxygen and no pitocin needed.
"I did it!!!" I'd glowed to my mother and husband.
My heart was full of emotions, all of them good. I'd overcome tremendous physical pain and fear to bring another perfect little life into the world and it felt exactly right. My elder son was never far from my thoughts during the process and I actually made my husband hold a photo of him right in front of me throughout the entire second labor, so that I could keep my eyes on what mattered as I allowed my body to open up and then push out a 7 lb 10 oz baby.
There in the room with three of the people that mattered to me most: my husband, my mother and one of my adored children, I felt as though I was radiating pure energy... like it was pouring out of me voluptuously. My husband brought a sumptuous dinner from Whole Foods market and I marveled at how good salmon and asparagus could taste after going through such an intense life experience.
Remembering that feeling of incredible joy and power turned out to be exactly what I needed yesterday night (a full four years later!) to fall, at last, into a sound slumber.
The next thing I knew, my body had awakened me at 7am to begin preparing school lunches and get the kids bathed, dressed and fed.
I'm still working on reframing my anxieties and self-talk. I am happy to be on this journey and I honestly do not know how long the process will take before I am actually able to catch myself BEFORE I descend mentally or emotionally into the murky pits of worry over money, health and child-rearing.
I'm glad though that in my darkest and most fretful moment yesterday evening, I could at least find one lasting memory of beauty capable of overpowering even the negative feedback loop of insomnia!
Perhaps if we dig deep enough, we are always capable of summoning some memory of love, happiness or joy strong enough to cut right through our fear, pain and worry.
Monday, May 30, 2011
My children, like many of their friends, are the descendants of veterans who enlisted to help protect and defend the United States of America during conflicts all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
Today I will share the story of my own father's service to our country, as he recounted it to me in 2007, two years before his death at the age of 83.
I hope that in so doing I will not only keep his memories alive but also inspire his grandchildren - our sons and daughter - to appreciate the valor and courage of all who serve in the United States Military... and the infinite sacrifices they make on our behalf.
* * * * *
"Louisville, Nebraska was about forty miles from Lincoln and twenty miles from Omaha. [As a child] I spent a lot of time at a swimming hole right on the river with my friends, and if we had a good rainy season the rain would crawl right up your sleeves. We loved it.
I played basketball in high school, as it was the only sport offered. (Later they tried to get 'uppity' and made a larger K-12 school with more teams.) I was sort of the prince - the golden boy - for my high school. I'd gotten to be one of the best violin players in the area for my age; they used to run competitions and stuff. My mother was very pushy with the music because she was so thrilled. She couldn't play so she did things like take me to national contests... she would drive me to them and my father let her do it.
While I was in high school, the war exploded on us... or at least, that was when it went full force. My parents wanted me to join the military - I couldn't get out of it. By that time, everyone was joining. My brother was very insistent that I get an officer's situation and there were Army ROTC camps everywhere. So, I missed my senior year of high school and he drug me in with him to the ROTC. When my high school had their graduation, I went home and they had me stand up with them on the condition I would play a violin solo.
By the time that happened I was already enrolled at the University of Lincoln, NE. My brother was Army and I expected to be Army. I trained as an Army ROTC cadet.
The Navy had put together a better program though to get the best recruits and they offered really good incentives. To enlist with the Navy though you had to go to Omaha, so I hopped on a train and spent the entire day being examined, taking tests and so forth. I figured I hadn't passed too well, but lo and behold they picked me!
(The program my father entered was called the V-12 Navy College Training Program. Initiated in 1943, the V-12 was meant to fulfill the Navy's immediate and long-range needs for commissioned officers to man ships, fly planes and command troops.
In 1942 the draft age had been lowered to 18. Foreseeing a coming shortage of college-educated officers for its operations, the US Navy began to collaborate with hundreds of national colleges and universities facing economic collapse without young people to fill their classrooms.
The Federal government stepped in to create the V-12 Navy College Training program, which accepted students already enrolled in Navy and Marine Corps college reserve programs, enlisted men who were recommended by their Commanding Officers and even high school seniors who could pass the national qualifying exam.)
Said my dad, "The new program I'd entered was all over the country. The Navy was creaming - taking the best people from all over the country, even the ones right out of high school who were about to graduate. I ended up at a small college that had turned themselves into a Naval Training Center. However, not long after that, the Navy pulled me out of there and sent me to the University of Minnesota because they wanted people that were well educated. They were training me to be a line officer."
(From 1943 through 1946, more than 125,000 young men were enrolled in the V-12 program at 131 colleges and universities around the United States. All V-12 students were on active duty, in uniform, and subject to 'very strict' forms of military discipline. Approximately 60,000 V-12 students were ultimately commissioned as Navy ensigns or Marine Corps 2nd lieutenants. My father was one of these.)
"I stayed in that program for five tours and then graduated and got my glittering uniform. My degree read "Naval Tactics and Science". The war was still on, but it wouldn't be for much longer.
My brother, the poor devil - poor man - poor brother, he was just about to get his Lieutenant's stripes in the Army but as he was running the final training course maze he fell, smashing his eye into a log. That was the end of his military career. He didn't see anything but hospitals for many years after that. I sure do feel badly about that - it was terrible. He probably saved my life by pushing me to become an officer.
By the time I got to look at a real ship, the shooting was over on the European front but it wasn't over for the people fighting the Japanese. A lot of people in the army were transferred over to that seat of battle. Some in our program were ready to go, but my friends and I weren't. So we were assigned to a cruiser division and they put us on a ship and rode us hard.
There was a lot of training - it was quite an experience. Our ship was stationed at first in New England. The first time I saw a real ship I was so impressed. They crammed all kinds of money stuff at us - knowledge, you know - about what we were supposed to learn. Since we didn't have anything else to do, we learned pretty quick.
One thing I'll never forget, was just as it was time for our ship to leave a Southern dock we got caught in a hurricane. Boy, that was the worst thing I ever experienced. We were out there, it was dark, and there was a terrible roaring, howling sound. I didn't think we were going to make it. Everything above decks was lost, and I think we may have lost more than one person. They had ropes there to catch you if you were going toward the sea, and I almost went overboard. It was really scary.
If you dared to take a bite to eat, you'd vomit - it would make you so sick! Finally the storm blew on and we continued our training about how the ship worked.
The war was over and I could have gotten out but I had spent years training to become a Naval officer and I chose to stay in. I wanted to stay! We did gunnery practice into the water - shooting into open water, and the Navy was fencing off areas so we could do live gunnery practice and not hurt anybody. We were all young Ensigns - all officers - although for that cruise they did not treat us like officers. So, we trained during the day and learned how to be nice people at night.
At the next stop we went to where the Navy trained folks to fight out of submarines. It was the US Navy's place to train and that was the only time I got to go somewhere in a submarine. It wasn't much fun. They gave us a tour and explained things, but I preferred to be on a ship."
* * * * *
Although this is where the tape recording of my father ends, I know parts of the rest of his story. As a Naval officer my dad was on a ship that passed through the Bikini Atoll in 1946 right after the detonation of an atomic bomb there.
Dad and his friends helped hoist the surviving target boats (that had been drenched in radioactive water spray at the time of testing) and load them onto their ship ~ so that they could be returned to the mainland for testing.
One of those target boats was located just feet away from his sleeping quarters on the ship and my father always maintained that it was his exposure to the nuclear radiation that predisposed him to the cancer he developed later in his life.
Though he returned to Minnesota at age 19 to marry his then-sweetheart, Dad was recalled to active duty during the Korean War ("Korean Police Action", per my mom) where he served first as a cryptographer (code-breaker) in Washington, D.C. but was later transferred to become Assistant to the Head of the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. in the early 1950s.
All told, my father served in the US Navy and the US Naval Reserve for at least a decade, ending his duty with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. He was truly dedicated to the Navy and loved his work, believing in both the cause and his country. When he chose the city where he would put down roots and work as a professor of music until his death, Dad chose a "big Navy town" where he made friends with many veterans and was able to gaze upon his beloved ocean every day.
Over time, my father grew more liberal in his political beliefs and often questioned the dropping of atomic bombs upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, when he attended his 50 year reunion for the University of Minnesota V-12 program, my father learned for the first time that he and his classmates had been trained to go as a second wave of officers to the Pacific theater of battle due to the Navy's privately-held belief that their first wave of officers faced possible decimation.
"If it hadn't been for the dropping of that bomb," he confided in me, "The Japanese would surely have fought until the last man - and I am convinced that I would have ended up in the thick of war. Who knows if my friends and I would have made it. Maybe," he admitted, "dropping the bomb WAS the right thing to do after all."
Up to the end of his life, Dad felt so proud to have been selected as a member of the elite V-12 program, whose members included senators, ambassadors, famous athletes, journalists and two of his personal heroes - Robert F. Kennedy and Johnny Carson.
My father's unusual Naval career reminds us that there are many different ways of serving your country with honor; and that the US Military has played a profound role in shaping our national education system, our citizens AND our future.
On this Memorial Day 2011, God bless and protect our brave and women in uniform... and all of those who have served and sacrificed for over two hundred years in the name of our shared values.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
My husband and I were hugging in the kitchen when plaintive, shrill screaming floated through the side-door. Then there was the sound of our eldest son's voice: "Are you okay? You're OK… You're OK..."
"Oh dear…" my husband sighed, as I broke away from his embrace to go see what had happened.
Within three steps I'd made it to the back porch, gut clenched in anticipation of what I might see. Had one of the younger children fallen off of a bicycle? Had they tripped off of one of our concrete steps? Did they find some sort of metal tool in the garage? My mind raced with possibilities.
This is what I actually saw when I popped my head out the side door:
Our younger son laying on the concrete driveway sobbing, trying to cover his head with his hands. His older brother towering over him boxing him in the ears, knocking his head from side to side on the concrete, while mocking him:
"Are you okay?" (HIT)
"You're OK!" (HIT)
"You're OK!" (HIT)
I cannot adequately describe the fury in my heart as I realized that one of our sons was tormenting the other while mocking his tears. A voice came from somewhere inside the most primal part of my being and suddenly we all heard me yelling "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" at the top of my lungs.
Shocked, my elder son looked up at me and froze guiltily. He knew that he'd been caught. The little one continued cowering and sobbing on the ground.
"YOU DO NOT TREAT YOUR BROTHER LIKE THAT. GO TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!"
The elder son burst into tears and scampered into the house.
"What's going on?" my husband came out of the kitchen.
"Our son was pounding his little brother's skull into the concrete sidewalk is what is going on!"
"I'm sure they were just rough housing."
"No, I was here. I saw it with my own eyes. That was not mutual, and it was not rough housing. Can you go talk to him while I take care of this little guy?"
My husband stalled, a little annoyed. He would probably have preferred to go back to hugging in the kitchen.
"I was just out here a few minutes ago. The boys were messing around with the car seat. They were probably just playing."
"Look, this was not a game. I'm telling you what I saw."
"Well, I didn't see it… so why don't you take care of the discipline, since I don't really know what happened."
* * * * *
Twenty minutes later, things had essentially calmed down. Our younger son was more shaken than hurt, though he ended up with several scrapes along his cheek bone and the side of his face. "My brother was trying to break my head!" he announced cheerily.
The elder brother became hysterical when I told him that he'd lost the privilege of playing hide-and-go-seek with his daddy, but through his tears he was able to convey that he was very hungry. After consulting with their father it turned out that our sons had eaten only a few bites of lunch while visiting their grandparents with daddy, enjoyed a massive amount of sugar and not napped… setting them up for a perfect trifecta of hysteria.
This explained to some degree why after a relatively peaceful and happy month around our house, we'd ended up with an unexpectedly violent altercation. Hungry and tired, they'd fallen into their long held roles as aggressor and victim.
"You have taken away from the peace of our home today," I solemnly admonished my eldest boy, "and made your own brother feel unsafe in your presence. Your job is going to be to figure out how to contribute positively to the feeling of love and happiness in this house and to make your brother believe that he can trust you again."
I brought him some food and left him to brainstorm about ways in which he could give back to our family and make his brother feel safe.
Since it was still technically my personal day and their father was in charge, I went down to the coast for a while to decompress by the ocean. Distraught, I tried to figure out how to apply the Law of Attraction to this situation.
I thought about what Esther Hicks and Abraham say about drawing in what you focus on. "As hard as it is for me to think positive things right now, that is exactly what I need to do!" I realized.
"I'm always grumbling about how frustrated I am with these situations - so maybe I need to let go of this situation and try to recall a moment when our elder boy was taking good care of his little brother. I need to focus on that."
Digging deep, I scavenged my memory for the last time I saw our five year old do something truly sweet for the three year old.
Suddenly, I remembered. One week ago on Sunday, our smaller son announced that he would no longer use the training wheels on his bicycle and he wanted his father to take them off. "I'll practice until I can ride by myself!" He was very determined.
Unfortunately, once the training wheels were off it was very hard for him to stay balanced long enough to get the bike going. "I need a push!" he called out. "Can someone give me a push?"
My husband pushed him for a little while and showed him how to pedal once he had momentum. This only lasted about fifteen minutes though before he had to leave the yard, at which point the three year old was stuck again. "I need momentum!" he cried. "Can somebody PLEASE give me another push?"
"I'll do it!" his big brother said. "I'll push you!"
For a full hour the five year old coached the three year old on biking. He gave him innumerable pushes, told him "Good job!" when he got the bike going, and "It's okay, let's try again!" every time he fell off. My husband spied on them for a little while and then reported back to the kitchen where I was making dinner.
"Honey, it's so cool," he whispered, lest he break this unusual spell of kindness. "Our son is totally helping his little brother learn how to ride a bike. I'm so proud of him!"
"YAYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!" we heard at that moment. "YOU DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" A minute both boys had rushed into the kitchen where we stood talking.
"Mom!!! He did it!!!"
"Mommy!!! I did it! I rode my bike with no training wheels!!!"
"WOW!!!" my husband and I exclaimed in unison. "We are SO proud of you both!!!"
* * * * *
Sitting on the cliffs this afternoon I took a few deep breaths and focused on this recent positive memory of my sons being sweet with each other. I let that be the only image in my head and heart, and abandoned all of my feelings of frustration and anger over the scene I had witnessed earlier.
When I felt ready, I returned to our house. Noticing that the front lawn looked a bit dry, I went around back to find the watering hose and instead found my sons playing peacefully together, building a ramp.
"I want you to know," I said, "That I calmed myself down today by thinking hard about the times when the two of you have been very good to each other, and especially the times when YOU (looking at the big brother) have been very kind to HIM (looking at the little brother)."
My eldest boy nodded and gave a half smile.
"Okay. I think we should all move on now from what happened… and do something fun. Does anyone want to help mommy water the front lawn?"
"YES!!!!!" they both shouted and came with me to the front of the house. For an hour we played in the water, took turns with the hose, and worked to make our garden a little bit nicer.
My boys discovered that they could actually see rainbows in the arcs of water they sprayed onto our grass, and they gleefully made up stories together about leprechauns living on the other side of the mist.
It was a smooth and easy interaction that I would not have anticipated just two hours earlier. Everyone got soaking wet and we had a lot of fun. My sons were extremely thoughtful to each other for the rest of the evening, even when they grew very tired.
All had been forgiven.
The Law of Attraction is teaching me how to replace my negative thoughts with positive ones… and to train my focus on positive interactions and love within my family rather than fixating on the bad times. I have a long way yet to come before this kind of response is second nature to me… but I can say that it felt better to wrap my brain and heart around the good rather than the ugly.
I believe that my children responded differently to me (and to each other) after I refocused my energy on a positive memory than they would normally have done had I chosen to carry around the burden of their argument for the rest of the day.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Tonight I got sucked into an article about the recent tornado in Joplin, MO that killed a ton of people and devastated the town... and reading through it left me feeling just awful.
The piece mentioned three tragic stories from the disaster ~ a 31 year old husband who died saving his wife's life as their home was being ripped apart; a father devastated by the loss of both of his tiny sons (ages 3 and 15 months?); and the sudden death of a bright, funny teenager who was literally sucked out of the sunroof of his SUV and dumped unceremoniously into a pond.
Reading this stuff, even though I've never met the families involved, just wrecks me emotionally. I wept as I read the words of that poor wife who had just lost her husband... telling the world, "He was my hero". My own husband had to come sit down next to me on the couch and give me a hug half-way through the article, because suddenly I too was feeling broken down as though I had also suffered a terrible loss.
That's what the paper was hoping for, right? That their articles about death and tragedy will provoke a visceral response in their readers?
Here's what I am constantly left wondering though.
Why do we as a society make such a big deal about the WAY in which a person dies? Sure, it's important to record their passing and eulogize the meaning of their life. As far as I am concerned, every single human being on this planet has true value ~ and I DO think all lives (long or short) should be celebrated.
But WHY are we so fascinated with the kind of death that takes them away from us?
I've touched on this before in past blogs because it really gets under my skin. Our culture seems so fixated on the manner of loss, rather than celebrating the person themselves. Headlines blare: "7 Die in Fiery Auto Wreck!!!" but the articles themselves rarely give more than a phrase or quick sound bite about who those people were and what their lives meant to their families, friends and communities.
It may be just me but sometimes it seems like we've quantified all of the many ways to leave the Earth into "good death" and "bad death". The media learned a long time ago that "bad death" sells a lot more subscriptions than "good death". (I'm guessing this is because people reading about a bad death (a) congratulate themselves on having escaped that Fate for now, and (b) want to inform themselves about how to avoid it in the future.)
I can't stand turning on the TV news or reading the local paper anymore because it seems like 3/4 of the stories are sharing bad news, and the most prominent stories are focused upon death or illness.
A LIFE SHOULD NOT BE JUDGED BY HOW AND WHEN IT ENDS.
There, I've said it.
We've spent our day today with a great friend who happens to work as a professional pilot. He has flown around the world multiple times and tells absolutely riveting stories about his life experiences flying out of Moscow, Tripoli, Dubai and Paris. The life he has chosen to lead is sensationally different from what most of the rest of us in our mid-30s experience on a daily basis; and some skills he has needed to learn for his work include speaking Russian and learning how to use a gun.
Someday, my buddy's line of work may put him in a lousy situation where his plane crashes. (I'm visualizing him living a long, exhilarating, happy life and I truly expect only good things for him - but in reality, at some point he may have a mechanical failure.)
He knows this, and I can guarantee he isn't losing a whit of sleep over it. He has passion for the life he lives and his enthusiasm is infectious. Heck, my husband and I are jazzed by the life this friend is living!
If he does happen to die in a plane crash some day, does this mean that his life had any less meaning than if he died at the age of 98 in his bed? Is there really any purpose or point in fixating on how he goes? Isn't the thing that matters actually the way he's lived his life every single day up until its ending? What about the thousands of times he's flown from one gorgeous city to another and NOT crashed?
I recognize that people submit obituaries to various columns in order to celebrate the value of individual lives. I respect this, and what's more - I have learned about some very interesting, very beautiful lives when reading the obituary page from the small town newspaper printed in our old neighborhood. Wonderful stories about men and women who served in World War II and went on to raise large families, invent things, give amply to charity and cultivate a wide circle of dear friends. Inspiring stories.
I aspire to lead one of those lives. In fact, as a seventh grade teacher one of the assignments I routinely gave my students was to write their own hypothetical obituary from the vantage point of 80 or 90 years in the future, giving them the writing prompt: "How do you want to be remembered?"
One thing I know for certain, I personally do NOT want to be remembered by my loved ones or the world in general for my manner of death - whatever it turns out to be.
Undoubtedly my strong feeling about this has played into the creation of this 365 blog... as I would rather be remembered by my children in my OWN words, for the way that I've lived from day to day.
Even were I to unexpectedly kick off this evening, my children would have 169 pages to remember me by ~ 169 ways in which to know their mother for all of my best and worst qualities: joy, passion, anxiety, hope, frustration, sorrow and unbridled enthusiasm for life. Not to mention, overwhelming love for the three of them.
I'm so tired of reading about deaths. I mean no disrespect ~ but whether you get sucked up by a tornado, murdered in Aruba, smushed in a car wreck, taken out by a nasty bout of H1N1 or done in by cancer or a heart attack... the reality is, we're all going to die someday and our deaths are not truly what make us unique or interesting. In fact they call death "the great equalizer" because it does happen someday to ALL of us - rich or poor, old or young, skinny or large, joyous or depressed.
What matters about any given life is what happens BEFORE death. I want to read about more lives-in-process... the unique journeys, not their predictable destination! From my view the way you *live* is what really matters, along with your character, values, integrity, ability to love, ability to give.
Real life is happening all around us every second - wonderful, vivid, glorious, messy life. I'd like to read more articles about THAT.
Friday, May 27, 2011
"I feel like I have so much going on right now," I confided in my husband tonight. "It's almost overwhelming... I haven't been this busy in a very long while; hoping to find balance soon with all there is to do."
"It's good for you," he smiled. "Healthy."
Deep down I really agree with him. I've had so much work to do lately and so many commitments with our kids, I really haven't had time to think about anything dark or depressing ~ or to walk down memory lane. I've been meeting myself coming and going, as they say, pretty much slammed. In a good way.
Last night I went to sleep at 1:30am because I needed to finish writing my daily blog and most of my daytime writing hours lately have gone to working on content for my husband's company. I was happy with the way the post turned out but paid for the lack of sleep today ~ which has mainly felt like a slog through caramel or taffy.
Once again it is after midnight and my body is telling me to crawl into bed before my adrenals kick into overgear. I know I should... but alas there is so much work left to do!
Luckily though, I'm feeling pretty relaxed about it. Maybe I'm just too tired to feel anxious.
This afternoon I went to the dentist and she explained that the reason why my gums are receding from my teeth is mainly because I grind my teeth. "You may do it while you are sleeping," she said, "But it also happens at times when people are awake.
"I'm guessing I do that more than I recognize," I nodded, "Because I have three small children which has in the past few years been pretty stressful at times. I think I tend to clench my jaw when I'm trying to manage their tantrums calmly."
"That makes sense," she replied. "Well... I can't make your children grow up any more quickly but I *can* help you get a mouth guard to sleep with so that you don't grind your teeth at night."
Since I left her office this evening at 6pm I have actually noticed several times that I'd been unconsciously grinding my teeth or biting down hard during moments of intensity - say, when all three of our kids were screaming at the top of their lungs in the bathtub, or when one of them slugged the other one in the back.
At least now that I am aware of the problem, I can actually do something about it... actively work to change my behavior patterns. Hopefully this will not only stop the gum recession problem in my mouth but even more importantly, it may help relax my body to the point where my immune system is free to function optimally.
Just like I am now consciously watching my thoughts and words, I can also definitely pay closer attention to how my body physically responds to stressful situations ~ using 'teeth grinding' as my alert signal.
It may sound funny but I'm also trying to be more actively aware of how my body responds physically in peaceful situations where I feel completely at ease... so that I can try to recall those behaviors in the future, when I'm trying to relax myself in a challenging circumstance.
For some weird reason this process reminds me of labor breathing - the breathing they taught me to do while in the active labor part of childbirth so that I wouldn't bear down or push before my body was fully dilated and the baby was ready to come out. I remember some nurse or doula telling me along the way that when I was panting or blowing air out, this would stop me from pushing before the right time.
I wonder if I exhale or blow out air, if it would stop me from clenching during times of stress. Other relaxing activities that could potentially keep me from gritting my teeth include singing (I frequently find myself singing Bob Marley reggae songs when I'm anxious, to calm myself down)... along with eating and exercising.
Becoming more self-aware has been sort of fascinating so far. I'm discovering that I have many unconscious thoughts AND physical responses to unravel, most of which have come as a surprise. The teeth grinding thing is just one more piece to fit into my puzzle, a new landmark on my map of self.
So, despite how exhausted my body feels at this moment, my spirit is flying a little bit ~ pleased by the notion that I am making small personal breakthroughs every day.
Today's revelation is pretty simple - but it makes sense to my heart:
To feel fulfillment and true happiness (while simultaneously preventing future peridontal work?) it really helps to consciously unclench your jaw once in a while... and then exhale.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
I'm not a particularly new-agey person (or maybe I am?) but I have to say that since I started reading that Law of Attraction book and actively focusing my thoughts on the kind of life I want for our family, rather than the one we've been living for the past few years... a lot of magical things have been coming together in a synergistic way.
Anyone not familiar with the Jerry and Esther Hicks and Abraham works may wonder what I am talking about. Heck, I myself would have wondered about it just two months ago before my amazing Pilates therapist turned me onto these books and the theory of focusing your thoughts to create the kind of world you'd like to live in.
Here is a very simple explanation of the theory:
Whatever you devote your mental and emotional energy to will become your reality ~ positive OR negative.
If you spend all of your time thinking about being sick, even if you're just wishing to get well, then your reality will reflect your focus on the absence of health... and cause you to continue manifesting poor health.
Alternatively, if you focus your thoughts and emotions on vibrant health and live as though you ARE perfectly healthy - your reality will become healthy... even if only because by developing a positive and relaxed mindset you've allowed your immune system to bounce back and and thus follow its own innate wisdom to heal the rest of your body.
Take it or leave it, buy into it or don't... all I know is, working with the Law of Attraction has been surprisingly powerful for me.
I hadn't realized just how many worried or negative thoughts I was taking with me throughout my days... how many times every afternoon between the hours of 4pm and 7pm I would criticize myself as a mother or feel badly about my contributions to our family unit.
How often in a single day did I think to myself, "What is WRONG with me? Why am I so bad at this?" while trying to mother my small children and mediate between them.
Countless, countless times.
Since I read the Hicks/Abraham book I've begun to watch myself more vigilantly to make sure I stop talking to myself that way. I'm working hard to put my attention on the things I actually want more of... not the things I want less of. "I LOVE being a mother," I remind myself. "I LOVE these children. I am so lucky to be here with them." A little glow actually fills my heart each time as I think this... and promptly I realize how strongly I do feel this way.
The funny thing is ~ and it may be a coincidence ~ my children haven't been fighting as much lately. Our afternoons have been a lot better.
Here is another example:
After years of wondering when and how to return to work while still putting my three children first, I recently determined to offer private tutoring again. This felt like a great way to apply my own professional skill set and contribute something positive to children and families in need.
Since I embarked on this path a few weeks ago, I've begun to work with clients and found myself driving home EVERY TIME thinking about how fulfilling the work was and how much I enjoyed helping another human being connect to their own confidence and intelligence. "I really love tutoring," I've realized, "I look forward to doing a lot more of it." One-to-one teaching seems to fit this phase of my life and career really well.
I've been so focused on the joy of doing this kind of work that I really expected my telephone to begin to ring with potential clients... and amazingly, it's starting to happen! A dear friend of mine in our new neighborhood sent out such a beautiful email today on my behalf to all of her mommy friends, and within an hour I'd gained another new client for the Summer. I'm thrilled!
All of this may well be coincidence, and I'm not trying to sell anyone on the Law of Attraction. I'm no expert in working with it ~ more of a novice with a hopeful heart. For me this has been a process of constantly redirecting my thought energy from the negative toward the positive... and really watching how I speak to my children, my husband and myself.
"We can't afford that!" has evolved into "When we can afford that, it will be wonderful!" and I find that by turning around the phrase I have a totally different emotional response internally. Rather than cringing with a feeling of despair and frustration about our limited means, I am actually smiling in anticipation of happy days ahead.
"Do you know what you are wanting?" Esther Hicks asks her audience... "Really?" Then she laughs, because in reality most of us may not be aware of what we are sending out there.
These days I'm trying to know what I'm wanting... which means I'm getting to know myself pretty intimately. I'm asking myself hard questions about who I REALLY am and what I REALLY want.
I think that it is possible that after my father died in 2009, I yearned deep down to have someone (or a series of people) taking care of me. Losing Dad made me feel lonely and vulnerable - not to mention completely exhausted from the stress and strain of the many years of his illness. In my deepest heart I wanted to let someone else tend to me... perhaps my husband.
Could this be why I attracted in so many physicians over the course of two years? So many strange situations that required me to seek medical care? Did I, deep down, yearn for wise male authority figures who could make the world feel safe for me, in the way that my father hand done for 33 years?
I'm not saying that the lyme disease and co-infections weren't important to follow up on, or that any part of my illness was psycho-somatic. Definitely not.
However my doctor believes that I've carried that bacteria in my system since my late teens or early twenties... possibly as many as 17 years. Only when my immune system went temporarily down due to stress and sorrow at the age of 33 did those chronic infections start to wreak havoc.
Were my cells responding to an unspoken desire on my part to be taken care of by wise older men who reminded me of my dad? And if so, wouldn't this make perfect sense?
After all, I was hospitalized and being tended to by two distinguished male perinatologists during the week when my father passed away. I watched him dying via computer screen. I said goodbye over a cell phone. Wouldn't it make sense that subconsciously I transferred my feeling of 'safety' from my father to those doctors who were still there in physical form to speak with me... to comfort me, and to save my unborn daughter's life?
If this was the case, I now have News for my body. I no longer need anyone else to take care of me. I'm 35 years old and finally feel strong and motivated and excited to live again. Inside I feel confident and capable; independent and quite happy to take care of myself AND my children. I am no longer reclusive, vulnerable or weak ~ in fact, I have a sense of personal power that I haven't felt in years.
Perhaps thanks to this resurgence of the real me, I've got a sensational intuition that wonderful changes are now afoot on all levels.
I don't know what our exact path will be moving forward, but wherever our desires and dreams are leading, I'm feeling more certain than I have in years that there is beauty and opportunity all around our family of five. I'm so grateful... and SO excited!!!
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Could this confident boy skipping up onto the stage be the same child who four months ago told me that he wasn't smart and had no friends... and whose former teacher had described as a shy loner who produced average work?
Thrillingly, it is! He isn't really the same boy though... the last four months have brought an explosion of growth for him, both mentally and emotionally.
Moving to our new home and this community has been a true blessing for our family in so many ways, but the most important and immediately noticeable way has been how it has impacted our five year old's life for the positive.
Yesterday afternoon as I tidied our small house before leaving to tutor a high school sophomore, our little boy was belting out an original song of his own creation. "EVERY ONE HAS GOT A FRIEND!!!" he sang at the top of his lungs. "I HAVE FRIENDS AND SO DO YOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!! I HAVE TWENTY FOUR FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Just listening to him brought a huge smile to my face, and I turned away to play down my joy so that he wouldn't feel self conscious. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that this is the same child who felt so lonely and hated school. These days he's always talking about his buddies and his best friends... and happily he's connected with at least 5 of the kids in his class who always wave at him and chatter away to him when I come to pick him up in the afternoons.
I have made a lot of decisions as a wife and mother over the past 7 years - some of which were better than others - but this move stands as one of the top five decisions I have ever made. What a thrill it was on Saturday night to hear my husband tell one of his best friends that "We love it up here, man - definitely a fantastic move for our family. I've completely come around, I'm so glad we moved." Yay!
A week ago I opened up the yellow manila envelope that our son's teacher sends home with him every Tuesday to find a half sheet of paper folded with our names on it. Expecting another fundraising flyer I opened the sheet to read:
"Your child has been selected for a special award. Parents are requested to attend an assembly on Wednesday, May 25th at 8:45am in the school auditorium."
"WOW! Honey, this is great!"
"What's great, mom?"
"You're getting an award next week!"
"I am? For what?"
Our son was as surprised as we were... but very pleased. "Maybe it is for math," he smiled. "I am good at math. Or maybe for P.E. I won that silver medal at the Junior Olympics. I've been winning a lot of awards lately, Mom!"
"You know why this is great honey?"
"This shows that you are really blending into your new school and thriving like your Dad and I have noticed. Things are going very well for you!"
"Yep, they sure are!"
* * * * *
The week passed swiftly and by yesterday evening, our son had grown nervous.
"What if I look silly on stage? What if everybody laughs at me?"
"You won't look silly honey - there will be other kids getting awards and you won't be alone. Besides, nobody is going to laugh at you for earning an award. You are a kind, smart kid. Your true friends will be happy for you."
"Okay." He didn't sound convinced.
Before bedtime he picked out his own outfit for the award ceremony... nice jeans and a short sleeved collared shirt.
"You'll look so handsome!" I gave him a big hug. "I'll take a nice photo of you for our family album."
"Awwww, MOM!!!!" He was embarrassed but happy.
In the morning he dressed speedily and was waiting by the front door ready to leave for school 35 minutes early.
"Sweetheart, we'll have to wait just a little longer," I consoled. "Your teacher may not even be at school yet!"
"I don't want to be late, Mom!"
At the assembly our son sat with his kindergarten class in the front row of the auditorium while we stood at the very back with his baby sister who was busily taking off her shoes and handing them to the fifth graders seated around us. (She also tried to "read" her Curious George book out loud and raced out of the auditorium into the lunch court about three times, prompting her Daddy to throw her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry while she squirmed and squealed hysterically.)
The assembly itself was very cute - in its entirety it was about thirty minutes long and revolved solely around recognizing PTA parents and school students for their hard work, kindness and effort. After several rounds of awards and a short skit, at last the principal announced that it was time for classroom awards.
As it happened they gave awards in reverse order from 5th grade to Kindergarten, with our son's award coming last.
"And finally..." the principal announced, "From Room K, we have The Nifty Newcomer Award for (Our Son). Although he came to us midway through the year, this child has such a friendly spirit and a great attitude. He is a good sport and a hard-working student. It feels like you've been here forever and we just want to say, we're so happy that you're part of our school now!"*
He was the final child called up onto the stage and I could see from the look on his face as he came to shake the principal's hand that he'd been worried that they had forgotten about him.
Still, after skipping up the stairs he took his award and turned around to face the audience. Suddenly realizing that there were 400 pairs of eyeballs trained on him, he sat down at the front of the stage and dangled his feet off its edge. All of the other honorees and their parents stood in a line behind him.
"It's okay," said the principal to our son via microphone, "We have plenty of room for you to stand up here with the others... why don't you come back up to have your picture taken?"
My husband came to his rescue, giving our son a hug and leading him back up to the line of honorees. There was a nice round of applause. From the back, I took multiple photos while his sister called out in a surprisingly loud voice, "YAY BRUDDAAAAAA!!!!!!!"
Within moments, the assembly had concluded and the classes began to disperse. My son exited the auditorium with his class and my husband returned to say goodbye to our daughter and me.
"Wait!" I called out, "The certificate!" I raced to the line where my son stood with his class and whispered, "Honey, let me get your certificate framed before it gets torn or wrinkled!"
He turned around with eyes shining. "Did you SEE ME, Mommy? Did you like my assembly?"
"Oh yes. I saw you. It was marvelous!"
Glowing, he handed me the cardstock award certificate and disappeared into his classroom.
As I walked to myself, his words repeated themselves in my head. "Did you SEE ME? / Did you SEE ME?" When I returned to my husband, I related our son's burst of enthusiasm.
"We see him," I affirmed to my husband, "but even better and more importantly, everyone else here actually sees him too. His teachers. His friends. The principal... they really see him.
They see the best in our son, and they're celebrating it!"
What more could any parent hope for?
*Words spoken by his principal paraphrased from memory... you get the gist.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Here are the plans I had for today, as the busy and productive mother of three:
After jumping out of bed right on time, my husband and I would seamlessly get our three children bathed, dressed, fed and school lunches prepared. By the stroke of eight (a.m.) my boys would be standing by the front door ready to go for their day.
Then, I would make my own breakfast, play with my daughter and begin to work on researching content for my husband's company website. Once my daughter grew tired around 10 or 10:30 I would put her down for her morning nap and do some serious article writing for two hours, catching up on my work for the company AND earning the money toward my son's June preschool tuition.
At 12:30pm, my newly awakened daughter and I would happily drive to retrieve the preschooler at which point we would go to the park or come home and practice riding bikes. (He's determined to get rid of his training wheels, wanting to be like his big brother.) We would play like this until the time arrived to collect their big brother from kindergarten.
There you have it... the ideal morning I'd planned. At some point we might even have done some grocery shopping or made a library run. It's a gorgeous day outside - sunny and bright with blue skies and a nice temperature. We could even have stopped by the beach!
* * * * *
Here, however is what actually happened this morning:
- I woke up to the sound of a thick, hacking cough. 'Who IS that?' I wondered aloud.
- I entered the main room to find not one, but TWO of my children sitting at the breakfast table coughing up a storm. Not good.
- My husband and I, after a brief discussion, decided that a cough alone was not serious enough to merit keeping our younger son home from school. Bathtime rapidly ensued.
- "Mommy, I don't feel well enough to go to school today. I'm sick!" announced the middle child.
- After fumbling in our bathroom cabinet I located the ear thermometer. "98.1!" I pronounced triumphantly. "NOT sick. Time for school!"
- 8:03am... my husband left to take our neatly dressed younger boy to school - monkey lunchbox in hand.
- 8:04am... I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to take our elder son to kindergarten.
- 8:10am... There came a knock at the back door. "Honey?" I called out, "Is that you?" / "No mommy," a small voice replied, "It's me. Daddy couldn't take me to school today because while we were driving my tummy felt sick."
- I opened the door. Standing before me was our three year old - still holding the monkey lunchbox - with a big wet stain all over the same green shirt that was tidy just seven minutes earlier. "Your tummy is sick?" / "Yes," he replied gravely. "I spit up my breakfast all over the car."
- 8:11am... "So where's your father?" I asked. / "He's out cleaning up my vomit from the car seat!" the three year old replied cheerfully. "It's full of Cheerios!!!"
And there you have it... the undoing of an entire morning plan in just seven minutes. My coughing, vomiting child was officially obliged to stay home from school, thanks to the "No attending school within 24 hours of fever or vomiting" rule. That said, just one hour later he seems to have boundless energy and is busy peppering me with questions and requests.
He's just sick enough to need to stay at home, but not nearly sick enough to actually rest.
Even better... now that he's home my daughter has zero interest in napping. No way, why would she nap when she could be playing with her big brother??? She laughed uproariously at the sheer absurdity of my suggestion. "MEME NO NAPPPP!!! NOOOOO NAAAAAPPPP!!!"
Here is a brief summary of our last hour then...
"Mommy! Can you fix the training wheels on my bike?"
"Mommy! I'm hungry. Can I have some pancakes? I'd like more jam."
"Mommy! I need to use the potty. Can you turn on the light for me? And the water when it is time to wash my hands?"
"Mommy! Can you show me the pictures I gave to you for Mother's Day?"
"Mommy! I built a castle! Come look at it!"
"Mommy! My sister is hitting me! Can you please come and tell her to stop?"
(Sudden screaming from an incensed two year old sister who rushes into the bathroom to yell at me - "MAMA BRUDDA HE HIT MEME!!!")
"Mommy! Can you put on my Superman cape? And can you put on my sister's princess hat? LOOK! We're Superheroes!!!"
"Mommy! Look! Here's the GUNNENBALL! I mean, the cannon ball. Don't EAT it, Sister!"
"Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"
As you can see, I've been getting a lot of excellent quality content writing done...
This is the real life of a parent, and I don't think it matters one iota whether you are a stay-at-home mother or a working dad. This is the kind of life we live now ~ a life where plans and schedules are more like hopeful wishes sent into the world with the silent prayer that you *may* actually be able follow through on them.
"Lunch? Sure! We should definitely get lunch on Friday to talk about your great business idea."
(Day of lunch: "I'm so sorry, my child actually has lice today. I won't be able to make it.")
"Golf? Absolutely! I'd love to play a round with you!"
(Day of golf: "I'm so sorry but our babysitter canceled five minutes ago and my wife is out of town, do you know if the range allows small children?")
"Radiohead is coming to town? Fantastic!!! Let's splurge and get tickets! We deserve to have a little fun!"
(Facebook Status on day of Radiohead show: "Um... Does anyone want to buy two Radiohead tickets at face value? Our children have suddenly come down with the chicken pox. Bummer.")
And so it goes...
Having small children teaches you not to become too attached to any kind of plan, but just to appreciate the moment at hand.
With that in mind I'm off to help my children 'build' something with their plastic socket wrench and screwdriver kit ~ still harboring the small, secret hope that at some point today they may surprise themselves (and me!) by falling to sleep for a single hour so I can complete even a fraction of the work I'd planned.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The obvious question I have for her then, is this: How exactly do we give others the power to hurt us? Do we give them this power simply by loving them?
If we make ourselves vulnerable to the sting of verbal arrows simply by allowing ourselves to feel heartfelt emotion then I'm not exactly sure how to shield myself from the spiteful barbs that come my way from my children at times. It's not like I can stop loving them... they are the most precious and sacred beings in my life. I *made* them. They will forever be an integral part of me.
That said, what a little doofus!
Tonight we were talking about Summer vacation which is rapidly approaching - just two more weeks of school to go. (Hard to believe that we're about to be the parents of a six year old first grader!!!)
Money is very tight for our family at the moment although I firmly believe that things are looking up and that soon we will be in a much better position fiscally. At this exact moment though there is no money for summer camp for my children, especially as our middle son will be attending private summer school to make up for all of the learning he's missed in the past four months.
Tonight then, I had a brief talk with the eldest boy about the lengthy school vacation that we are about to spend together.
"Honey, I'm so excited that I get to spend your Summer break with you!"
"Well I'm not."
"Not excited to spend it with you."
"Oh. Well, why? We're going to have a great time!"
"You are not fun. I don't have fun with you."
"I'm sorry to hear you feel that way."
"I'd rather be with my Dad. He's more fun than you."
"Oh, yes - well I can see what you mean. Your father is a very fun man. Unfortunately he has to work during the week so I guess you're stuck with me."
"But you're not fun."
"That really is too bad. I'll just have to do my best to BE more fun for you."
I thought about it for a moment.
"Hey - wait a minute," I added. "The last full day you spent with me, I took you to the movies and to get Mexican food and ice cream. You said you had a great time! How is that not fun?"
"It was okay. But I get bored with you."
"Gosh. Well, I'm sorry but we just don't have the money to send you to fancy camps right now so I guess we'll just have to do our best at home."
"No!!! That's even BORING-ER!"
"Well honey, I'm not sure what else to say. I guess we'll just have to see how it goes."
Turning my attention from him, I began to read a bedtime story to his little brother and sister... "Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake The Cake".
Two minutes later, he was back. "Mom. MOM. MOM!!! I mean to say, I *like* spending time with you. It's fine."
"Um, okay son. So, I'm going to keep reading to your brother and sister now."
"MOM. MOMM!!! MOMMMMMM!!!!! I like spending time with you, okay? I like it."
"Sure, that's good." I continued reading the story.
My son scowled and crossed his arms in front of himself, apparently frustrated by the realization that I wasn't going to get upset in front of him. He watched me for several minutes and at last he slunk toward the bookcase, pulled out a bedtime story and came to sit next to us on the bed.
The episode was over, I tucked the kids into bed and journeyed out into the garden to decompress.
Despite the calm attitude I maintained in the actual situation, I felt seriously annoyed AND bummed about this exchange.
"Why am I letting this get to me?" I wondered, and then realized it must be due to some latent feeling of guilt or self-doubt. "Is his father a better parent than I am? Am I really no fun?"
I've written about this before. It's true, I'm not the fun parent in our family. I'm the parent who goes out of my way to take the children to Target to pick out birthday presents for their friends, the one that wraps the presents and helps them make homemade cards. I'm the one that bathes them, feeds them, gets them into clean clothes and finds their shoes when they are lost so that they will be ready to leave for the party on time.
My husband is the man who actually takes them to the birthday parties. Usually this takes place while I am home cleaning our house and cooking. Yesterday for example, I cleaned and scrubbed for four hours while my husband and sons were at a fantastic birthday party.
Therefore, my son is right. I am not the fun parent and I am not as entertaining to be around as his father is.
What do I DO about this though? Even when I am trying to be fun... arranging playdates, taking he and his siblings to the park, taking them to theme parks, taking them shopping, taking them to the beach, painting with them, taking them to museums, taking them on "adventures"... even then, I'm never enough fun in his eyes.
It's kind of depressing as a parent to think that even when you are doing your best, your kids don't think your best is all that great.
I'm discouraged to realize that my son would perhaps prefer for me to be a full time working mother so that I could pay for him to attend private day camp, rather than spend his entire summer hanging out and going to do stuff with his siblings and me.
I guess this is one of those first big steps in the breaking away/growing up process... that time in which your parent ceases to be someone you admire and becomes someone you find mildly annoying.
Just yesterday his little brother came running up to me to let me know that, "Brother says that little people know more than big people do. You don't understand as much as we do, because you're grown up."
"WOW!" I exclaimed, laughing. "IT'S HAPPENING ALREADY? I DIDN'T THINK YOU GUYS WERE GOING TO THINK WE WERE UNCOOL UNTIL MIDDLE SCHOOL. REALLY? DO YOU KNOW MORE THAN YOUR DAD AND ME ALREADY?"
"Well, um, yeah!" the five year old smiled. "A little bit more."
"HONEY!" I cheered. "HONEY!" I skipped into my husband's home office. "The children are outgrowing us! It's happened! They know more than we do already ~ and they're only three and five!"
"Wow," he laughed. "That was fast!"
We played it up and made a funny joke out of it, but the underlying message was real and unchanged.
Our children are already seeing right through us. My son already thinks he knows more about life than we do. At the age of five he would already prefer to spend his summer in the company of a "cool" camp counselor than his mother.
Like I said at the beginning, I know this shouldn't hurt my feelings.
It does, though.
I gave the kid life less than six years ago and already I've lost my utility to him. Soon all he may value from me ~ for a time ~ will likely be my credit card and chauffeuring ability.
I never really understood the Shel Silverstein novel "The Giving Tree" until I became a mother. Now the book cuts me to the bone every time I read it aloud to my kids. To me, the tree represents a mother nurturing her child.
In the beginning of the story, the boy loves the tree and he wants to play with it all the time. He is never happier than when swinging from its branches and eating its apples. The tree is so happy too, because she loves the boy. This part of the story reminds me of my three year old son who always wants to cuddle on my lap and still thinks he wants to live with me for the rest of his life.
Then time passes and the boy begins to view the tree differently, seeing her more in terms of what she can give to him rather than what they can share together. He takes and takes and takes until she has nothing left to give. He virtually bleeds her dry, taking even her branches and her trunk.
In the end, when he is old-tired-sad, the boy returns to his tree/mother and reflects quietly on how much she has meant to him.
I hate this part of the story. I don't find it remotely comforting that the boy finally appreciates the stump that he'd left half for dead years before. I can tell you right now, I'm not going to let my children suck me dry physically or emotionally... at least not if I can help it!!!
Perhaps though, the tree in the novel knows more about parenthood than I do after less than six years as a mother. Maybe she understands that her role is to stay strong and solid throughout the boy's life, not allowing herself to get her feelings hurt when he repeatedly rejects her in favor of friends, money, girls and worldly desires.
I suppose it's true that the role of a mother is not to judge, but rather to love unconditionally. With that in mind...
...despite his occasional snide remarks and heartfelt viewpoint that I'm about as smart as a rock, I adore my little boy and I really *do* want him to have a good Summer vacation.
Who knows, maybe spending time with me will turn out to be more fun than he thinks! Either way, I'll keep ya posted.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
I've been thinking about loneliness lately, and how motherhood for me has been a surprisingly lonely journey. Sometimes I wonder if this is something innate to my own personality ~ some introverted, introspective side of me that is merely exacerbated by my life as a stay-at-home mother.
Then I'll have a rare conversation with a girlfriend over tea or lunch, one of the many close friends I have who are experiencing the same stage of life right now, and in confidence they will confess that they too feel lonely and isolated at times.
It's weird how you can spend your entire day surrounded by little people who want your total attention - who will do literally ANYTHING to get you to play with them - yet still wind up feeling completely alone.
One of my dearest college friends recently shared with me that in her view, when you divide your life between home (mothers) and work (fathers) there is likely to be a sense of disconnect and loneliness because so much of the day and its various joys and struggles is not shared... not even with the closest person in your life.
This may be especially true for my family, as my husband and I long ago divided up our weekends so that we each have our own personal day in which to work on the things that matter to us as individuals; to hang out with our own friends; to experience adventures that keep our identities intact.
Before we were parents, we did nearly everything together on weekends... we spent long hours reading the paper over brunch at coffee shops, taking hikes, working in our garden, going to see bands at night. We had long, quiet conversations about politics, science, religion and art.
Now that we are parents, we still do some of those fun things - but rarely together. One of us is constantly covering for the other (it switches off) so that neither of us ends up feeling trapped or chained by family life. We want to keep the parenting experience as joyful as possible, and in order to accomplish this goal, you DO need a little space sometimes to actually miss and appreciate being part of the family. At least, we do.
My husband and I both think that this stretch of personal time is sacred and vital to the health of our family as a whole and to our personal health as human beings, yet there can be no doubt that leading a divided life does take away from the feeling of being a team. When you see your closest acquaintance only in passing here and there in the evening, it's easy to feel disconnected ~ no matter how much you love that person.
Yet, he is the only person on the planet who can truly understand what my home life is like here within these walls with this particular set of children. He alone knows what I am up against as a parent day by day as I struggle to nurture and raise them with compassionate values and loving hearts... grappling with the realities of their unique personalities and how they often clash or collide with one another.
Similarly, he alone can fully appreciate how amazing these children are - OUR children. How miraculous it is when they share moments of genuine love and affection for each other, the beauty of watching their minds expand day by day as they grow and soak up knowledge from their interactions with the world. He is the only person who could truly "get" how fantastic it was when our second son finally potty-trained himself after years of bowel troubles... because he is the only person who'd helped me change those nine or ten foul diapers a day.
My husband is in many ways my best friend. Sadly, I rarely see him. He's busy working his heart out to provide for our family ~ whose needs just continue to grow like the maw of some insatiable beast... haircuts, shoes, sports, dance lessons, pediatrician bills, field trips, school fundraisers, new clothes... and coming just 12 years down the pike... COLLEGE. Eek!
Realistically, we aren't likely to see more of each other anytime soon.
When I contemplate the loneliness of parenthood, then, and ask myself exactly what it is that mothers need to feel that they are part of a meaningful collective - What would I need to feel less alone? - the answer is complicated. A lot of it, for me, has to do with honesty and privacy.
As a single girl I related to other women and men by being totally honest at all times about my life - both its joys and challenges. My telephone was always ringing with the calls of friends... and when they weren't calling me, I was calling them. We 'kept up' with each other, having lengthy and personal conversations about the nitty gritty of our lives.
I *knew* what was happening with my friends and their relationships, as they knew what was happening with me. There were no secrets, just a very open stream of communication.
Then I got married. When you marry a person, a certain shield of privacy and intimacy goes up ~ stories that you might once have shared with your crew of friends suddenly become off-limits. Not by design, not by an arrangement made with your spouse. It's just part of the love compact.
This unspoken agreement goes something like, "I will keep our private business, well... private." It has to do with love and mutual respect, and the idea that while your friends might have understood and commiserated when an ex-boyfriend did absurd things like blowing his entire paycheck on new speakers while living off your credit card... it really isn't right to share all of the private details of a marriage.
What I've discovered though is that this sacred sphere that protects and supports a marriage is compounded a bit by the realities of parenthood. With three crazed small people running around screaming and hanging on my legs every time I try to answer the telephone, it isn't really even an option for me to call a friend when I'm having a rough day.
If I'm lucky, I might get time to put together a single sentence for a Facebook status: "LOL MY CHILDREN ARE DRIVING ME INSANE!"
Even were I to find the time, say during nap, to call a girlfriend... chances are strong that she wouldn't be able to actually take my call because she herself would be wrangling her own children. Alternatively, my working mommy friends are typically at work during naptime, and have even more pressure to focus on their children when they can finally spend time with their families at the end of a long day or week.
I live then, in this very strange transitional time - where I am lucky to have so many extremely amazing best friends and yet I rarely speak with them. I rarely see them. Not even the best friend that I am blessed to live with.
I still love all of them like crazy, and I know without question that they love me too. Many of them are the kind of friends that I can go weeks, months or even a year without seeing and when we get together it is as though no time has ever passed. I've been close to some of them for nearly 30 years. At some point we became family to each other - and family lasts a lifetime.
This doesn't change the fact that today is Sunday, my personal day, and once again I am spending my day "off" of mothering all alone. My husband would gladly spend time with me on my personal day but he's busy taking care of three children so that I can get this blessed break. In turn, I would gladly have spent his "day off" with him yesterday but - similarly - I was busy helming the family so that he could get his own well-deserved break.
There are friends I would love to catch up with, that I would love to call right now. Realistically, they are either attending church as a family (perhaps discussing the noticeable lack of Rapture yesterday) or spending precious quality time together with their husbands or wives.
Even were I lucky enough to catch one of them on the telephone, it would be pretty difficult to catch up on weeks or months of time that has elapsed since last we spoke... especially not just in a few minutes.
Yesterday a good friend of mine who happened to be joining us for dinner asked me, "So what have you been up to since I saw you last?" and it was hard to form a coherent answer because I really didn't know where to start or what about my life as a stay-at-home mother might be relevant to a single, professional man without kids.
I suppose that this blog may have ended up sounding a bit 'woe is me' and before I close it out, I'd like to clarify that point. I don't feel sorry for myself for having created a life role that can be lonely at times. My husband and I have structured our individual and collective roles like this because it is what makes sense to us. We are both strong willed independent people who need space in which to breathe, and we respect that about each other.
If my life is lonely, it may well be because I myself have agreed to accept loneliness in exchange for a little privacy and autonomy. I don't regret this decision at all. In fact at this very moment as I type, I am luxuriating in the absolute quiet of my home, blissfully uninterrupted by my beloved small children (who are off visiting their grandpa with their daddy).
Having the time and space in which to nurture myself makes me a better mother, a better wife, and a better human being.
I'd rather be lonely than lose my sense of self.
In 16 years the ground beneath our feet will shift again when our children are grown and out of the house... at which point my friends and I will likely not know what to DO with all of our free time. We'll probably have lunch together every single week, perhaps musing with regret over how much we miss the days when our children were small.
My husband and I will finally have the chance to reacquaint ourselves!
"Well HELLO THERE! Gosh, how have you BEEN for the last 22 years? I've missed you!!!"
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Tonight my husband and I had dinner with close friends Douglas and Anna* and their adorable two year old daughter. Our conversation was punctuated with a lot of laughter, which is pretty much par for the course with this wonderful family.
At some point during a lively discussion about Facebook and smart phones, Douglas made a comment about technology - "I don't really care what technology I have... I just want to have the same thing that everyone else has. I wouldn't mind going back 300 years to life before electricity, as long as nobody else had it either."
When he said this I immediately thought of the Rapture... which was supposedly meant to arrive for good Christians today at 6pm but never actually occurred.
I thought about how somehow it had been easier for me to mentally process the idea of all of us experiencing mass devastation at once than for me to confront my own individual health crises and fears over the past two years.
Why is it that when you think EVERYONE might lose their lives at the same moment to "ascend" or "descend" together, it isn't that scary or upsetting... but when you think that YOU might lose your health or life while all of your friends and loved ones remain, it's a lot harder to bear?
In the end, I think a lot of my strong emotions around these topics have to do with my internal conception of Fairness and Justice.
This may be a uniquely American thing... my own private Wild West mentality.
"Why Me?" I wondered when my esophagus stopped working a year ago. "It doesn't seem fair! I'm a good person, I deserve a good life!"
Yet when my father died of Alzheimer's disease two years ago, somehow it seemed less unjust. He was 83 years old, he'd lived a good life... and let's face it, a lot of people get Alzheimer's disease. My dad was definitely not alone in his horrific experience. As terrible as it was for all of us, I never felt like Fate had singled my father out.
Why is it that as a society we feel that it is more acceptable for a person to die at the age of eighty than the age of eight? Is it merely because as a collective of humanity, our average lifespan is around 80... so we're more comfortable accepting a death that is typical?
Why is it that I instinctively yearn to participate in the shared ceremonies, life goals and rewards that are valued by my tribe? Why is it that I want what everyone else has? Why have I always yearned to be like everyone else?
I didn't become a mother because I saw the rest of my friends doing it... (we were essentially the first of our group to get pregnant) ~ but I felt SO GOOD fulfilling my appropriate societal role. I was so happy to be "right on track" with my children and my family.
Similarly, why does my husband yearn so ardently to own his own home? What is it with the commonly held societal value for men that he resonates so strongly with - this archetypal desire to own a piece of land?
Douglas was talking tonight about wanting to have access to the same technology that everyone else has. He doesn't need a head start in life but he doesn't want to be at a disadvantage either. He just wants what is "fair", what is "just".
As a mother I've noticed that the urgency of this desire starts at a very young age. My small children become incensed with rage if they feel that someone else has been offered an opportunity unavailable to them.
"Why does HE get to go to school?"
"Why does SHE get a new toy?"
"Why does HE get dessert and I don't?"
Our 23 month old daughter who can barely talk in intelligible sentences grows apoplectic with grief and rage if she feels her elder brothers are being given a treat that she cannot share.
This profound desire to have what others have, to be like them and live a life that is considered good by the rest of the community... it appears to be an innate instinct that we arrive with on this Earth; some implicit part the human experience.
I don't have a brilliant insight into this fundamental facet of human nature tonight. All the same, it makes an interesting concept to examine.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of the parties in question
Friday, May 20, 2011
Once my husband returned home from his "Bike to Work" day, exhilarated from the ride and ready to be with our children, I quietly (and with his warm encouragement) left our house and journeyed with little fanfare down to the edge of a local cliff where I could watch the vast Pacific as the Sun set on May 20th.
I caught the last of its burnt orange radiance just when the glowing orb appeared to descend beneath the water, as it does every day when our planet has spun just far enough away from the Sun at this longitude and latitude. There was no green flash this evening, at least not one that I noticed.
Still, I made certain to imprint upon my memory the colors of tonight's sunset - pale pastels as it turns out; a light pink, a blue-grey mist of clouds below melting into the quicksilver sea. Dark silhouetted birds surfed the coastal winds - seagulls, crows and pelicans. A solitary fishing boat bobbed on the water at the horizon line.
As it happens I've been reading a book called "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy this week, in order to help my first private tutoring pupil with his Humanities work. He is a sophomore in high school and they've been recently studying humanization and dehumanization, along with the World Wars from the 20th century and the question of what life on Earth would be like after a third World War.
So the apocalyptic suggestion of tomorrow's Rapture as made by Harold Camping has made its mark even upon my tutoring work and I've had plenty of time to think over how lucky I am to wake and breathe each day. To see the blue ocean, taste its salt upon my skin as I walk along the rugged cliffs that frame its vast power. To really gaze in awe at what a bird looks like soaring through the air, its wonder of bone structure and feathers allowing it the wonder of flight.
At the same time I am struck by how significant a role humans have played in the endangerment of many species, including shore birds and fish, and I feel a deep and unsettling conviction that if our world (and by this, I mean human existence on the planet) ever does come to an end, it will be by our own hand.
This is surely something that most humans on the planet agree upon by now. We have temporarily restrained nature to some degree, but in the end we may well conquer ourselves and nature in her infinite power and patience will win.
What then, is the meaning of a flawed human life? What is the blessing and the promise of a small and fractious newborn who knows only to yearn for milk and human touch?
Why are we given this gift and the power of thought, if only to squander it in the end? I wonder why we taste the beauty of consciousness at all?
As always, the same simple answer arises. It is always, always the same answer.
Not just the love of another human being ~ not just romantic love, love of friends, love of children, love of animals. Rather, Love as an energy. Love as the invisible essence that fills the air between bird and sea, between sea and shore, between shore and this manmade truck in which I sit and type.
Sometimes I wonder with anger where God is. I wonder how such terrible things can happen in the world, and how any loving force could allow the death of children or the breaking of hearts.
Then I remember that God is another word for Love, and Love is everywhere. Love was in the tsunami wave that hit the Japanese shore, in the people driving along that shore, in the air above that shore, and in the horrific aftermath. Love is right here next to me in this truck, and all around always. Someday I *will* die - and I believe that the Love I have given and received, the Love that has blessed my life… it will all still be right here.
Love is like the ocean in front of me, in all of its many forms. If you heat the water it evaporates and turn into vapor, forming clouds. If you cool that vapor enough, it becomes moisture or even ice and returns to the ground as rain, hail or snow. The water cycle makes a great metaphor for where the energy of Love is at all times… it is in flux, all around us.
There are so many things I wish that I had experienced or accomplished in my life by the age of 35 that I did not - and so many things I DID do that I truly wish I had not done. It would be easy to lose hours or weeks in regret, but why waste that precious time?
Here I am meditating on this darkening sky, these rippling waves. In the end, even if this is all there is for me and tomorrow brings the End of Days - which I very seriously doubt - I know that I have succeeded in the most important thing - giving and receiving Love.
In some way then - just as ANYONE can- I've already glimpsed paradise. Shared my own private connection with the Divine… for which I needed no prophets, and no Rapture.
Upon reading this post to my husband, he played me the song that had sprung into his mind while listening - a tune by Bjork called "All Is Full Of Love". It made a nice accompaniment.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
There are some days as a mother when I find myself having to pretend that I'm a lot happier or more put together than I actually am. I think of these as the "Fake it 'til you make it" days - and today was one of them.
I woke exhausted this morning, feeling like I'd slept for less than an hour. Yet knowing that this was a work day (writing content) and that I had three hungry children waiting for their full morning routine, I forced myself to get out of bed anyway. I found myself singing to the kids in the bathtub even though I didn't remotely have a song in my heart. I talked with them cheerily about their teachers and school, their hopes for the day ahead, the coming weekend.
Yet while I went through the motions of our normal morning with them, I felt completely distant and unplugged... as though I was watching the interactions on television. I smiled at my children and thought to myself, "I love you, I really do... so why don't I *feel* love right now? Why don't I *feel* anything?"
The answer is pretty simple: Exhaustion. Possibly mixed with side-effects from the antibiotic I am currently taking. But more than anything, exhaustion.
On days like today, I have to actively remind myself to notice the beauty of the weather - the beauty of my children - the beauty of the world around us. If I don't force myself to see it, I might waste an entire day in vague blindness. I don't want to miss a second of my life. It sucks though to feel so remove emotionally from the content of the day.
I took my children to the park this afternoon after picking my son up from school and watched them play for an hour on the playgyms and swings... playing with them in the sandbox and helping them with the monkey bars. They were elated - laughing and running, spreading their arms wide in the air. They made fire truck noises on the large wooden fire truck and created large muddy 'sand pies' for me to eat in the play house.
My son and daughter were fully connected at that moment - completely plugged into their lives. There was no part of either of them that wasn't engaged in appreciating the day around them ~ in all of its messy, sandy, sweaty glory.
Yet there I was, three feet away from them - feeling as though I might as well have been watching a home movie. I felt a Universe away from my sweet babies.
I thought back to a summer ten years ago when I used to frequent that same park with my creative writing classes. I would bring groups of students every day from our classroom space to the park where they could eat lunch together and run around, getting their energy out, before we headed back the classroom to do more writing.
How vividly I recall watching young mothers at the park with their small children in those days, back when I was twenty-five years old and still hoping that someday I would find a true love of my own... have a family of my own.
I remember watching those women with awe and envy, wondering how one actually went from 'single schoolteacher' to 'married mother' ~ as though this was some vast leap through a space-time continuum with a trajectory unknowable to those on the outside.
Little did I imagine (although I hoped! How I hoped!) that ten years later I would be back at this same park with my own small children, watching them run and frolic together while I stood in the warm sunshine with my arms folded at my waist.
How is it possible, I wonder, that I can have everything I ever wanted and yet feel so far away from it? How is it possible that I have to force myself to focus on those beautiful little beings, not to take my eyes off of them for a second... and to fight strongly against the strong primal urge to lay down and take a nap?
I want to be PART of my life, and on the days when I am well rested and happy it is so EASY to connect with my children. So easy to 'plug in' to their vast energy and enthusiasm.
I never imagined that motherhood would be this tiring, or that there would be so many days when in order to truly pay attention to my own kids, I would have to dig so deep inside myself to find that extra bit of patience... that extra thread of sympathy.
Despite all of this, it seems so important to push on and keep on pretending to feel things until I actually feel them. My children DO deserve a mother that is really listening to them; they DO deserve a mother who smiles at them and watches them carefully while they play. They DO deserve to have someone loving them 100% - on good days and bad days. They need a mother who WILL take time to read through their stories, laugh at their jokes, hug them when they're having a bad day ~ no matter how my own day is going.
Whether today's temporary apathy stems from exhaustion, stress or a medication side-effect, my kids deserve parents that are 100% all the time. Well, maybe 99.9% would do.
I'm probably not the only mother who has to paste a smile on her face at times and dig in her heels to make the day a success - when all she really want to do is check into a hotel and sleep for a week.
In the end though, I'm glad I was able to at least make a real effort today. The great thing about faking it until you make it... is that at some point if you try hard enough, you DO make it. I had to fake happiness and energy today for a few hours, but tomorrow after a good night of sleep I may actually FEEL real joy and connectedness when I'm taking care of my kids.