Monday, August 30, 2010

Who Needs Fantasy Football?


When you can create a fantasy school?

Two days before school starts, Lola and I sit down at the breakfast table to make a list of the kids that will be in her class this year. Because she attends a multi-age classroom, there are always some kids who return from year to year, and others who are brand new.

Somehow, this morphed into Lola creating a list of kids who would make the best classroom possible. She adds friends from our neighborhood, babysitters "if they were my age," and our dog, CB. There's a pretty good ratio of boys to girls and a total of 23 kids in all. From this, we move on to designing the curriculum.

Lola decides that Science studies will consist of learning about guts, goo, and critters, Math is when they will count bugs, divide Trader Joe's meringue cookies among the students and multiply brain strands. Reading will include some chapter books, but mostly Babymouse and Calvin and Hobbes comic books ('everyone needs to giggle, Mom'). Throughout the year, the kids will write their own spooky and funny plays, create their own foreign language, engage in "Real Art" by doing it as well as studying artists, and have PE every day. PE will include dodgeball, kickball, softball, and running obstacle courses. History will be studied mostly by cooking recipes from important historical periods, and Social Studies, well, duh, "we'll be social together," Lola informs me.

She thinks that school shouldn't start until 10:00 AM, despite the fact that she is up at 6:15 every morning, just to give the kids time to hang out in their pajamas with their parents before going off to school. It can go until 4:00 PM, but the kids get at least an hour for lunch and two half hour breaks for snacks or recess, plus one hour of dedicated recess. Four days a week they can have school at the school, but on Fridays they should go somewhere - a museum or a park or a water park or someone's back yard or "a science laboratory to watch them do actual science and then I can tell them that that is where I'll work when I grow up because I'm going to be the best scientist ever and sit in Albert Einstein's chair."

Oh, and Lola doesn't want to charge tuition. This school is free. Sign me up!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Learning All the Time


I heard someone say once that the reason we get defensive when someone insults us is because there is a part of us that believes in the veracity of the insult. Think about it. Don't we usually come back with, "No, I'm not!" or some such defense or proof that we are not, indeed, guilty of whatever our accuser has said we are guilty of? I know I do that. Once someone says something about me (unless it's my kids - I long ago figured out how to let go the slings and arrows of being told I'm the meanest mother there is), I am immediately driven to prove them wrong. I see my girls doing it with each other, too.

"She called me a butthead!" Lola shrieks.

"Well, are you one?" I ask.

She is offended. Until she realizes that her bottom is most definitely not on her head and giggles. I remind her that just because Eve is older than her and flung the insult with a great deal of passion, does not mean that Lola is, indeed, a butthead. And if she were one, is that something under her control or not? If not, then it isn't much of an insult, is it? That's like calling the dog a dog. No matter how loudly or indignantly you say it, it's just the truth and not derogatory. It isn't his fault he's a dog. He just is.

Like most of my parenting tactics, however, it seems that I must repeat this speech for both girls somewhere between half a million and two billion times before they actually either recall it on their own or think long enough to apply its actual meaning to this particular situation.

Why is name-calling so effective? Who first discovered that it had the power to stop another human in their tracks? Name-calling is like the sound bite of relationships - rarely accurate but effective at grabbing attention. I know that when my girls descend into "jerk" and "idiot" they have simply stopped attempting to solve whatever misunderstanding they are having and are simply trying to get the point across that they are MAD. I'm pretty sure the names are designed to hurt feelings, too, although neither of my girls would admit that they purposely wanted to hurt her sister. When we all sit down later to discuss the issue, sometimes I ask them for a character sketch of a jerk or an idiot or a butthead and, once we have all of the traits down on paper, it turns out that neither of them fits the description. So why is it so much easier to label other people with mean names than it is to say we are simply angry or frustrated or hurt?

I wonder if it is because calling someone else a name puts all of the blame outside ourselves. If we admit that we are upset, not only does that make us seem vulnerable, it somehow invites personal responsibility into the mix. If you are a jerk, however, it must be all your fault and I am teflon-girl. Certainly when I am accused of being a jerk or an idiot I have a moment, however fleeting, of panic. Is it all my fault? Did I make a huge mistake? What have I done?

I suppose that if I remember to think about the fact that I am probably not really an idiot (or the worst mother who ever walked the face of the planet), I might see that I have hurt or confused this other person inadvertently and, by not becoming defensive, maybe I can find a way to solve the problem without hurling some insult back first.

Easier said than done, but this is one of the opportunities having Eve and Lola has afforded me to look at my own behavior. Hopefully, it won't take me more than half a million reminders to do things a little differently.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Semantics

This summer has been a tricky one for Lola. Honestly, I think it has actually been more of a trial for Bubba and me, but it started out tough for Lola with this.

I got some feedback from the naturopath, who suggested we run some tests. I spoke to my therapist who had me answer a series of questions rating Lola's behaviors in different situations. I confided in Carrie who pointed me in yet another direction. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? Bubba was not convinced. In fact, he was horrified and offended. Not his little girl. She is just quirky. Different. One-of-a-kind.

The therapist is fairly certain it is ADHD. Even though Lola has never been in trouble at school and her attention span is terrific, her need for constant motion, both asleep and awake, coupled with her inability to transition and low threshold for places like Costco, spell ADHD to her. She suggested we have her formally evaluated and try a course of medication. I nearly stopped seeing her for that. The fact is, I'm not going there yet. Nowhere near yet. Lola is lovely. She is wild and crazy and irreverent and funny and unpredictable and clever and the most loving child I've ever met. The possibility that medications would change her into someone who is calm and quiet all the time scares the crap out of me.

Carrie, on the other hand, asked me to check out something called SPD - sensory processing disorder. Jackpot! I printed out a thirteen page checklist and Lola and I sat down with a highlighter to mark it up. The list was broken down into sections for each sense: hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell. Within each of those sections, there were questions about hypersensitivity (oversensitive) and hyposensitivity (not sensitive enough). We knew all of these things, but seeing the pages striped with bright green marks, leaving not very much white space behind was pretty telling. Lola is incredibly sensitive to smells and sounds, but craves touch (wrestling, squeezing, bouncing, twirling, tickling and being upside-down) and taste (sour foods like lemons don't even make her cringe and when the last pickle is gone from the jar, she gets a straw and sucks out the juice). The more I looked, the more we found Lola in the pages of this list.

My therapist warned me that "SPD isn't an official diagnosis, but is often a part of ADHD," but I'm still not going there. It's not that I'm resistant to Lola being ADHD, it's that I don't think she is. Truth be told, I'm resistant to Lola being labeled anything at all. Every time I talk to someone about SPD, the "D" (disorder) makes me cringe. I've found the "D" standing for dysfunction in other places and I really just want it to stand for "difference." Lola is intelligent enough to know that she is different from most other kids and she is the one who came to me complaining of some symptoms, but I really don't want her to begin thinking of herself as disordered or dysfunctional. Before we headed to the doctor's office yesterday, I sat down with her to let her know I was going to share the checklist with the doctor and ask for some ideas from her. I wanted to be sure she was comfortable with that and didn't feel as though anything was "wrong" with her or that she had anything to feel badly about. She seemed okay with it, but once we were in the exam room and the doctor and I began talking, she curled up on the table facing the wall and burst into tears.

Thankfully, our naturopath spent several years as an occupational therapist before becoming an ND and she has some tricks up her sleeve to help Lola begin to integrate her senses better and feel more comfortable with them. Bubba still isn't convinced, but he's willing to look the other way so long as the things I try with Lola don't require a diagnosis or a prescription. I get how he feels. Lola is special and lovely and wonderful just the way she is. Neither of us wants her to change and we certainly don't want this magnificent child to be labeled as something lacking or deficient or abnormal. This is a delicate dance I'm learning the steps to and I'm not sure I want to be on this dance floor.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dad's Visit


I invited Dad to dinner last night in my dream. When he was alive, before we truly trusted our relationship, that was our way. Instead of meeting one-on-one, we would find ways to come within each other's radius in public and invite the other one to come along.

In my dream, he just happened to call me when I was staying with a friend who was going through a nasty break up and I asked him to join a group of us for dinner that evening. He was pleased. I was pleased. Dad and I both had a terrific public face and we were proud of each other's accomplishments, so presenting each other to our friends and acquaintances was always a safe bet. We would both rather die a thousand deaths than make a scene and trusted each other's predictability.

"Do you think I'm insane to be having such a hard time breaking up with a guy who is such a jerk?" my friend cried as we dressed for dinner.

I don't recall exactly the advice I gave her in the dream, but it was gentle and supportive and indicated that I knew exactly how she felt. I spoke to her as someone who is now happily married and, as such, proof that there is life beyond dating a jerk. I reminded her that no relationship is perfect, including my marriage, but being in one that makes you feel less of a person is simply not worth it. I was proud of my compassion and understanding and she was grateful.

I woke up before we got to dinner so I didn't get to see Dad. Ever since he died, I dream about talking to him on the phone or getting letters from him, but I can't ever actually see him. I pondered the peripheral nature of his appearance this time and ultimately felt good that we got past the "I'd like you to meet my dad" nature of our relationship in life. Unfortunately, it took my depression and Dad's cancer to break through the surface and lead to trust and brutal honesty. We had three years of true, sometimes ugly, this-is-who-I-am talks and were able to learn so much from each other. I think that it was my willingness to admit that I hit rock bottom and ask for help that led him to a counselor in the last six months of his life. Even though I'm certain he knew he was going to die, this Marine-who-didn't-ask-for-help-EVER found a therapist to help him work through some of the things that were hurting him the most. The fact that he went was astronomical. That he shared this information with me was even more phenomenal and indicated a level of trust that I will cherish forever. I am pleased that it gave him some comfort. I am sad that he learned that asking for help is less of a sign of weakness and more of a sign of trust only in the last six months he was alive, but I am so glad that he died knowing that he could seek assistance and be rewarded with love and understanding.

I'm still not sure what this dream means, but anytime Dad shows up I'm happy to receive him. Today will be spent basking in the warmth that his visit prompted.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Validation

Is there anything you do that you don’t require some sort of validation for?

Recognition.
Credit.
Acknowledgement.

Humans are such social creatures. Does that make us need validation from outside sources? Does that feed in to our “look at me” attitude? For other beings, things are more utilitarian. Build a nest so you won’t be eaten by predators on the ground and your eggs won’t fall to the ground. Hunt so that you can eat.

We have Twitter and Facebook so that we can constantly update our social networks with information about what we’re doing. “Just cooked the most fabulous dinner.” “Seeing the new release of Terminator:Salvation.” We post photos of ourselves and our children, videos of ourselves playing Guitar Hero, links to events we’re promoting or involved in. Are we creating connection or feeding our own narcissism? Are we showing off?

When I look at the kinds of things I do that I don’t require some sort of pat on the back for, I’m not sure there are many of them. When I spend a chunk of time planning, shopping for and creating a delicious meal for my family, I want some feedback. I want someone to say, “Wow, sweetie! That rocked!” or “Mom, please make this again!”

When I think about my book and what I want from it, I have to say that it isn’t one of those things. I truly wrote the book for myself. It would be sprinkles on the cake to have someone say they loved it or that it reached them somehow. The frosting would be the fact that it got published at all. I don’t expect or need, or even particularly want to sell a million copies and get rich from the book. The process of writing it was huge for me. It was an exercise in doing something solely for myself, solely to prove to myself that I could do it. The focus, the absolute selfishness it took to find the time to engage in the research and writing of the book, knowing that the chances it would be published was a way of saying to myself that it was worth doing simply because it was something I wanted to do. How do you justify spending five years of your life doing something that will probably not pay out financially at the end?

The answer, for me was that I wrote it because I was absolutely compelled to do so. To this day, I write because I can’t NOT write. I don’t write for a paycheck. I don’t write for an audience (much), because when I do I’m necessarily not happy with my process or the product. I write because I have to. And that is one of the things that I do that is pure.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Girlfriend

We all have that one. The one that saved our life. For some of us, it was in high school when we felt like the poster child for awkwardness. Others of us discovered her far earlier or far later, and I honestly don't know whether it's the same for guys, but we all have that friend.

Mine is "Peaches." She came in to my life right after Eve was born, before I knew I would need saving. Before I knew that those endless days stretched out before me would drive me right in to the looney bin. She showed up with her daughter and her endless optimism and her vast knowledge of local parks and her open-door policy and her bright, sunshiny love. She brought her imperfections without apology and her acceptance of mine without reservation.

Our burgeoning friendship felt warm and broken in from the start. Settling down with the perfect cup of tea (Peaches is from England and still makes the best cuppa I've ever had) to watch our babies and chat, I never felt awkward or unsure of how to say something. It was as though our newness as parents offered a buffer to any of the mistakes we might make in our new relationship as well.

The thing about a girlfriend like that is that you are still expected to have your own life, too. It isn't like a new romance where the intensity is so great that you exhaust each other by spending every waking minute together. Peaches and I still traveled with our husbands, took our kids to visit grandparents and had other friends, all of which gave us endless things to discuss when we were together. Over the years, we became so comfortable in each other's houses that our kids (by now, four of them - two mine and two hers) began calling us their two mothers and were often just as likely to come to either of us with a question or concern when we were all together.

Three years ago, Peaches and her family moved back to the UK, just as our daughters were about to turn seven years old. Seven years of growing up together, taking art classes and gymnastics together, sharing holiday dinners and having their first sleepovers at each other's houses had formed a bond that was difficult to stretch from here to England.

Three weeks ago, they came back for a visit. They stayed with us for a week and it turns out that the bonds held just fine. The kids played together from sunup to sundown and had a neverending sleepover. Peaches and I cooked together, parented together, folded each other's laundry and chatted for hours over cups of tea. Our friendship feels like that favorite book from your childhood that you go back and read throughout your life. Each time, you see it through a slightly different lens and learn something new, but it never fails to cheer you up and remind you why you fell for it in the first place. Time and distance haven't got anything on me, girlfriend!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sanctuary

My mom moved to the Oregon Coast when I was in 6th grade. I'm sure I had been there before, but discovering it as an adolescent during the summer before I entered Junior High school was breathtaking. I didn't yet know anyone in town and that meant I was entirely free to be exactly who I was. No posturing, no primping, no peer pressure. I was simply free to be a kid frolicking on the beach.

Three blocks from our house there was a beach access road that led to some of the best tidepools I had ever explored. I quickly mastered the art of the tide tables printed on the inside front cover of the phone book and became a beach rat. I hopped from rock to rock, venturing farther out each time to peer in to these miniature aquariums and watch hermit crabs scuttle around, feel the sticky Scotch tape tentacles of anemones, and watch matchstick sized fish dart through the seaweed. Supremely secure in my athletic abilities, I was comfortable leaping from one jutting rock to another over wide expanses of water and sand, landing just shy of getting my sneakers wet. I would come home with pockets full of abandoned shells to set on the back porch and my mother just shook her head.

"Don't you want to find some friends before school starts?"

"Nope." The truth was, I was pretty shy, anyway, and I wasn't sure I would know what to say to anyone. And that summer between sixth and seventh grade is a tricky one for girls. I wasn't 'developing' yet, but I knew all about it, thanks to Judy Blume books, and I wasn't comfortable talking to Mom about any of that stuff. I also wasn't sure I wanted to have anything to do with puberty. I was pretty safe in my little kid cocoon and I was sure that making girlfriends would change that. Tidepooling gave me a way to escape and do what I wanted when I wanted to. The kids who had lived in this little town forever were probably sick of the beach, anyway.

For weeks, I continued collecting the bounty of the beach. I found Japanese fishing floats and one morning I arrived at the beach to see a group of retirees clustered around a dead sea lion, shaking their heads and wondering how it got there. Another day I discovered that the beach was blanketed in blue jellyfish the size of my hand. This place was a vast playground for a curious adolescent. I decided I would never tire of it.

At some point, though, school started and I did make friends. I became more interested in clothes and boys and school dances and talked on the phone for hours at night, stretching the eight-foot phone cord around the corner from the kitchen so as not to be overheard by my mother. But at least three afternoons a week, I escaped to the beach to clamber up the rocks and watch life in the tidepools by myself. This place was my sanctuary.

I miss the beach and every time I go back, I find a way to get out there by myself and climb around for a bit. I think that the most important thing I learned from those years was that no matter what was going on in my life, having that one place or activity that was just mine was vital. The beach was a place for me to just be and somewhere along the way of marriage and motherhood I lost the ability to respect the need for such a place. Today, that place is here, on my back porch with the dog lying next to me, listening to the birds flit from feeder to feeder and stop in the fountain for a quick bath and a drink of water. There aren't any tidepools here, but one thing is the same; when I'm here, I am just me. Not Mom or wife or co-worker. This is my place to just be.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Stories, Stories Everywhere


I do love people's stories. Judging by the immense popularity of memoirs, I'm not the only one, and for a while I just assumed that it was because human beings are voyeurs and left it at that. But the other day I got to wondering if there was more to it than that and several ideas struck me.

As a child I wanted the world to be black and white. I was presented with the notion that there were two ways to do things: right and wrong, good and bad. The world was laid out before me in fairly simple terms and, for the most part, I liked that. I don't know whether it was my own mind that extrapolated this rule out to fit the rest of life or not, but I quickly decided that this notion of absolutes meant that if I wasn't the most-liked child on the block, it meant I was the least-liked. If I wasn't the winner of a game, it meant I was a loser. This led me to two things; a competitive spirit and lying. While I was certain of the knowledge that lying was one of those "bad" things, somehow I deemed it more important to avoid being a loser and as long as I didn't get caught lying, it didn't really matter that I was being bad. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I got caught. I suppose it might have helped if I wasn't so overzealous in my attempts to become popular that I explained to the neighborhood children that my father was gone often because he was an astronaut who routinely traveled to the moon to bring back green cheese for his beloved children. That was, admittedly, a bit overboard.

It was here that things got murky. Now, I was not only not the most-liked child, but I was a known liar to boot. And still, my next door neighbor wanted to play with me. It seemed completely wrong that she should be interested in anything about me, but she insisted that as long as I apologized for lying to her, we could climb trees and play hide-and-seek together again. I didn't quite trust the footings of this relationship for a long time, but as she was my next door neighbor and my age and her mother and mine were best friends, I said I was sorry and we moved on.

Needless to say, as I progressed through life, no matter how mightily I attempted to fit the happenings of my days into the neat and tidy categories I wanted them to go in, life was messy. I became quite preoccupied with "the principle of the thing" and often neglected to consider anything else. I wanted the boundaries to be clean. Except that I myself couldn't fit neatly in to any of those categories, either. So I continued to try and convince everyone around me that I could. Perhaps if they thought I was a good girl, it wouldn't really matter that I was completely unable to adhere to all of the tenets of good-girlishness.

Somewhere in my early twenties, I discovered that I couldn't be human if I wasn't willing to be messy and uncategorizable. Mostly, I figured this out by listening to people's stories. People who were close to me that I had already decided were "good" or "bad" began sharing information with me that made them decidedly human and much more interesting than I had previously thought. They also became funnier, more vulnerable, and more lovable and I started to wonder if, because they were willing to be human, maybe that meant it was acceptable for me, too.

Working in healthcare for many years after college, I was lucky enough to hear hundreds more stories. Amazing stories. Courageous stories. Devastating stories. Stories of human beings. I got to the point where I couldn't walk down the street without seeking out people's faces and imagining what kinds of stories they had in them. What things did they have to say that I couldn't possibly expect? I still love to coax stories out of friends and family members; especially those who think they haven't one interesting thing to share because they are usually wrong. Even if they think that the thing they are about to share with me is deplorable or shameful or frightening, I soak in their words as a reminder that the world is not black and white. Absolutes are very rare in nature and what makes us human are our stories.
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