A Short History of My Daughter’s Life as a Mother…


Both Mother and Daughter

My daughter is a born mother. I am (in my own opinion) decidedly not, despite my long desire to have children and be at home to raise them. I would argue that mothering is more science than nature in my case. But I have watched her in fascination for some time now, all the while struggling with the faint discomfort of someone raised by a 70’s era mother who, like most of her sisterhood, ran from the kitchen and child-rearing as a sole occupation. Our mothers sought to have a bigger life than the one that was offered to them and there has been a burden on us, their daughters, ever since – to expect the same.  Some wear it more lightly than others to be sure, but there can be a guilt at work for wanting to stay home. Perhaps it is connected to the lack of a paycheck associated with it, but being just a mother is only given lip-service as an occupation. And yet, here is this girl who is  two generations away from Gloria Steinem, obsessed with baking, asking for cross-stitch lessons and mothering her brothers and sister, and sometimes me, and I think, aren’t we supposed to be pushing her out of the kitchen?

She was born an adult, and at all of 11 years of age she acts with perfect comfort embracing the responsibilities of the business of our home. There have been moments where it has been hard to tell which one of us was leading in this mother-daughter dance we do. She has been my equal in certain subtle ways since she first weighed in at 3 tiny pounds of certainty, and her imitations of me, which have not always been flattering, began at a profoundly early age. The most curious part about it was how really clear it was that it wasn’t a recreation of me personally that drew her. It was the role of motherhood that she aspired to.

It didn’t start out this way. If you went by our earliest conversations about “How you get a baby” you would never have suspected that she would be who she is now. I can still recall the frantic, panicked conversation she had with her frantic, panicked mother who was trying to merge onto the Southern California freeway system (I am always trying to get on the freeway it seems) with no sleep and the equivalent of the new Starbuck’s Trenti in her system.

“I don’t want to have a baby!”

“Well, you don’t have to.”

“Well how do stop it from happening?!” she asks, starting to cry

“They have medicine you can take so you don’t have one.” I say, wondering why we were having this insane conversation anyway.

“Well, I want the medicine!”

OMG. “You don’t need it yet!  You don’t have to worry about this right now. Can we just let mommy get on the freeway and worry about this later for the love of all that’s holy?”

She was 5 at the time…

And yet, despite this, in her tiny heart resided the sensibilities of a born mother, which despite the aforementioned conversation were clearly evidenced by the arrival of her younger brother when she was 3 years old. She found him irresistible in every way, announcing to all and sundry, “This is MY baby” and showing him off.  She watched carefully the pattern of his care and at the slightest cry from him, little hands would appear out of nowhere and begin pulling at my clothes, undressing me as she announced, “he’s hungry.” And more amazing still to me was when I would lie down to nurse him, she would lie on the other side, putting him in the middle, and stretching her tiny arms as far as they would go, around us both, making herself part of the tableau.

I admit, I am sensitive to the idea that I am unfairly making her care for the children that I had or agreed to take on, but she really did sign onto this with me during one of our early conversations about whether or not we were the best place for her two young cousins. Could we give them what they needed if there were 6 kids? She asked what would happen to them if we didn’t do it and I told her about foster care. And she told me that it wasn’t happening. That no matter what I decided, she wasn’t going let that happen. She wasn’t being defiant, she was being who she was. She just knew the answer deep in her own heart and wasn’t afraid of stating it.

Also, the boys, when asked to meet the same mark, well, they are just ever so slightly more lame in some incomprehensible, DNA-related fashion.  I’m sorry guys (Mommy totally loves you), but they’re just different.  I can give you evidence of this genetic difference. When the triplets were born and we had absolute teams of people coming in to help care for them, not one of the men ever knew which one they were holding. They visually could not tell them apart. They were not identical. 3 different eggs. None of the women had this problem. I found that fascinating. Our brains are built differently, thank god, and I value them as well, but we’ve stopped pretending by now that the male and female brains are similarly structured, right?

So, through all this, my daughter has been the blessing I never knew I was going to get. She forgives me for all my many mistakes as a parent.  She has been my hero and my partner in holding our family together, and it must be said, she is amazing. I miss her terribly on the weekends (especially now that she has become my chief ally in the current war against the 2 year old). I didn’t expect it to happen this way, but my gratitude for who she is as a person knows no bounds. I could even begin to do this without her.

To say that I rest uneasy at times in our partnership wouldn’t be overstating it.  I am not looking to produce a resentful young adult who felt that I had kids and made her look after them, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have held onto the words of a young cousin, the oldest of six herself, and her observation about the younger sister who just always seemed to know she wanted to be a mother. It reminded me that it was alright to have motherhood be one’s highest aspiration. After all, feminism was about being valued for our choices as woman equally, no matter where they took us, not just being free to choose from the “Man Menu”.  I wish for my daughter whatever she most wishes for herself. She is one of the best people I know.

 

 

 

 

 



In a Hundred Words or Less…


Dictionary Funphoto © 2007 Manchester City Library | more info (via: Wylio)


As part of the adoption process, I was asked recently to describe myself. I didn’t really know where to start. In fact, I drew a blank. Reserved, a bit tense and edgy, good in a crises, someone who uses humor to deflect, deals well with ambiguity…tenacious? Maybe.

Am I tenacious? I never thought of myself as being so. Far from it, my whole understanding of myself prior to having kids was of someone who had trouble following through on things. But then they (who is ‘they’? The Universe?) gave me three babies at once, all with medical issues, and it was a job that there was no walking away from. To make things even more challenging, they gave it to me to manage under incredibly trying personal circumstances. Then they gave me another baby and another no fail situation in a child who needed copious amounts of therapeutic interventions. And more trying personal circumstances.

And then, one by one, two more babies arrived. The first one brought with her challenges that eclipsed the previous four in their needs on a quantum scale. And while the second one came bringing nothing else but the start of the long journey to a new life, it was still a responsibility there was no walking away from. And they came with even more terribly, terribly difficult personal circumstances surrounding them. But these ones came with something else. They came at some point, with the possibility of giving the job to someone else.

You can quit this one, they said. And I considered it again and again. I told myself that I could, that I would, that it was alright not to do something this hard, that the cost was too high. I was given ‘permission’ by many people around me to put the burden down, that maybe it would even be best for the kids, all of them, if I did. But I couldn’t in the end. I just didn’t know how to quit showing up. For any of them. When did that happen I wondered?

Am I tenacious? I guess I am about the kids, the things that really, really matter to me. I don’t care strongly about much else, I’ll freely admit it. But it turns out that when it comes to the 6 most important things, I am very tenacious indeed. I have failed a thousand times as a mother, spectacularly at times. But what I’ve learned is that I have an ability to refuse not to come back to the job. I will keep showing up, at times against impossible odds.

People often mistake this part of me, because the boatload of things that I’m willing to walk away from dwarfs the QEII. If the path is blocked, there’s always another way. I won’t beat my head against a wall trying to force things to be what they aren’t. Not interested. I’m not an adherent of black and white when it comes to reality. But on those select few things where I do see a clear path, well, you walk it. More than half the battle with kids is showing up. Everyday. No matter what. Even when you’re getting it wrong. You don’t quit. You show up for more even when you think you’ll get it wrong again, because eventually, you’ve got to get it right. Marriage is much the same sometimes. Those things are clear to me.

So, am I tenacious? Every now and then. It’s a matter of what’s important. I still don’t think I know how to describe myself very well, but I’m learning. I know there is a fairly large discrepancy between how I see myself and how others see me, and I’d like to close that gap a little, because I think it leads to greater authenticity. So perhaps I could safely add tenacious to the list while I try and get closer to finding the words I should have. Have you thought lately about how good are you at describing yourself?



JUST BRING ON THE LOCUST AND GET IT OVER WITH…


It’s started. The beginning of the end is here. The Ten Plagues.  The punishment of God upon our people. Woe be it unto all those who didn’t believe.  Out of fear, I will be marking the door with lamb’s blood, but really, nothing can save us now.

My daughter, who is an angel on earth if ever there was one, disappeared last week, almost overnight. In her place, for 48 hours was an alien creature armed with a stony expression and burning coals for eyes that shot death-lasers of hate at me, and everyone around her, anytime I dared speak. The alien creature spent the whole of the 48 hours making snarky asides to any conversation, whether she was in it or not and provoking fights and dissension with those around her. When she wasn’t doing this, she was stomping around the house, slamming doors and shooting us glares of contempt.

We’ve seen little signs of this before now. Every so often, in the course of the normal day, you’d look into their eyes and you’d see something peeking. A little crazy that wanted to come out to play…but that was still years off, right?  Oh, wrong…SO. WRONG.  My girl just disappeared. Like overnight!  I had no idea that it would be this fast, but when I think about PMS and how fast that arrives, I guess I should have figured it out, because it’s like a dose of PMS, but on Human Growth Hormones.  Perhaps I will entertain myself by thinking of it as “The Cream” and “The Clear”.

My Bestie, The Dragon Lady, was all tea and sympathy for her, “Oh, maybe she needs chocolate!” she said over the phone.  “What she needs is gin, a cigarette and some Valium, but as this isn’t the 1950’s what I’m going to do is offer her some chocolate and a hot shower.”  But the message of what she was saying got through to me.  My Darlingest One was unconsciously dipping her big toe into the waters of The Sisterhood and she would need love, and a guide…and a horse tranquilizer from time to time, but hey, don’t we all some days?   So After the first approximately 6 hours of it all and finding that she had actually barricaded herself into her room to cry with rage and confusion, I brought some tough love into the mix, since she had proven to be utterly intractable in the face of every other piece of love, reason and understanding.

I took a deep breath and stormed the room, ordering her to march herself into my bedroom and get in bed. Then I announced that she would now be subjected to forcible hugging and comforting.  Once she had wept a little more I broke out the understanding and empathy for how hard her day had been.  And then I talked her into a hot shower to help her feel more herself, then back into bed for more cuddling. Basically, I tried to draw the roadmap to self-care for her.

This is not to say that I got the whole 48-hour event right. We clashed, I ranted, we cried and made up, dogs howled, swine gnashed their teeth and men fell, because perimenopause and teenage hormones, as previously noted, are bad. They’re BAD!  At other various times the two girls, my preteen and my five-teen year old were secretly at work sharpening spoons into shivs in their respective cells so they could go after each other in the exercise yard, occasionally triggering a lockdown. Sisterly love, I am told, sometimes looks like this.  One of the nicest women I have ever met, back in our church-going days, once admitted to me that she made her younger sister drink perfume, just because.  I suggested that a real older sister would send her perfume as a reminder for all birthdays and Christmases. How did I get here?

One of the chief features of this hidiosity seems to be the fact that they are unable to assess their own state. They think they’re fine. It’s you (and all the other clueless bastards in the house) who are the problem.  The other exciting discovery I made is that for much of this, there is no right answer. You can’t win and you can’t head it off; you’re just going to have to experience the event.  I think my early assessments here are correct, and it leaves me speechless with horror and fear. I think I’m going to miss my babies over the next few years and I hope they’ll come around for brief visits, but by and large, I fear it will be these evil aliens who will sleep in their rooms at times. I mean, it’s not as if there’s some sort of strong family history for hormonal stability at work here.

Case in point, the following week, her two brothers became snake-charmed as well.  The Golf Pro kind of freaked out a bit. He’s so mellow that he didn’t have an actual mood swing as a teenager. But I argued that if you think of them in single terms, if you isolate their behavior into individual events, then it seems actually kind of normal. However,  if you take that one of them and their head full of bad hormones and have all their interactions take place with 2 other people who have heads full of bad hormones…well, that’s just bad science folks.  Don’t put three people who have undeveloped brains, bodies being poisoned by their own body chemistry and poor social skills together. The results aren’t good.  Then you add the five-teen year old and the 7 year old, who imitates everything, the perimenopausal parent and the coping-challenged 2 year old into the mix, and seriously, I don’t know why the Golf Pro even comes home at all. And I don’t know what’s to become of us all.

To top it all off, during the 8am Friday school drop-off, when I told the 2 year old that he could have a lollipop for breakfast, from his little rocket seat in the back of the car, he screamed “I Hate You.”  #FML. But, during one of the breaks in the storm, I got to hold my baby girl in my arms and watch this video with her. I guess those will be the moments to look for to keep us connected over the next few years…




The Other Woman…


Tea-ceremony Roomphoto © 2007 Masahiro Hayata | more info (via: Wylio)


I first noticed their relationship on Facebook when I was doing a routine maintenance check of my son’s friend list. Huh. My son is friends with the PTA president from his school. I’m not friends with the PTA president, I thought, feeling again both the irony and gratitude of my son having superior social skills to me. Well he’s become pretty good friends with her son this year, I thought, I guess that makes sense.

As the year went on, her house became his preferred after-school destination and she and I eventually became ‘Facebook Friends’ and every now and then she would remark on how she missed him as well when he was gone over-long at his fathers house. Oh, that’s nice I thought, she doesn’t find him annoying. He hasn’t worn out his welcome. He’s behaving well when he’s over there.

And then the moment came when I realized she was more than just the mother of a friend. She was the Other Woman. That day, he stormed into the house, home well before the regular time, and trying to contain tears of rage and hurt, wordless with anger and frustration. What happened, I asked? There had been a fight. In the way of 11-year-old boys, roughhousing had gotten out of hand. Push had come to shove. And although no one was hurt, he could hardly spit his anger out and I put everything aside to try and help this son, who is often my most short-fused child, cope with this moment. But as I was talking to him, I recalled something. The first thing he had reached for upon bursting in the door was his iPod Touch. He was, of course, friends with his friend on Facebook…Uh oh. Two and two came together fast in my head.

Were you going to write something on his wall? I asked, because just stop right there and calm down. One of the worst things you can do is write your anger up in a public forum. This will blow over but if you do that, you are inviting everybody into your private business, and that’s a very bad idea. I went over the whole social media policy with him right there, until he seemed reasonably able to promise he wouldn’t write anything on his friends wall. I mean it, I said, wait until you calm down. These things blow over. Promise? Yes, he said again and we went on to talk a bit more. And although his anger didn’t seem to dissipate too much, he went to his room to chill for a few minutes.

But an itch in the back of my mind kept at me and I checked Facebook just out of caution. He didn’t write anything on his friends’ wall. He wrote something on Her wall. He wrote something awful about her son on her wall. Something including a prime four-letter word we don’t let him use. He wrote it for her and all her friends to see, many of them, one presumes, the parents and other PTA members at school. Oh. My. God. And just like that, we were in a whole different moment. A whole different, potentially crappy moment from which there could be no escaping the judgment of who knows how many other parents besides the recipient. Oh Crap.

The whiplash of my voice dragged him from his room and I think I could hear the sound of the ocean in my ears as I stared at my son. This child I adored. The one with the long history of letting his temper get the best of him. The one with the easily touched pride, the one with the amazingly high I.Q. that he had masked so extraordinarily well in this moment and I was horrified at what this could mean for him. I was furious that every word of logic and reason had been thrown out even as it left my mouth. “Delete it,” I demanded, “and get in the car. We’re going over there for you to apologize to this woman.”

That’s not all I said. I probably fit more scathing and castigating disapproval into that three block ride than at any other time in his short life about how ill-conceived an impulse it was. About what if the mothers of his friends at school see that? What will they decide about him, as well as his brother and sister based on his willingness to publically address another adult like that? We talked about Facebook and rage, we talked about actions taken in the heat of rage, we talked about my rage. And we talked about how I wouldn’t spend his childhood apologizing to other parents like his grandmother had done for his father. We also said goodbye to his iPod.

She wasn’t there when we arrived, but he saw his friend…and immediately began to laugh. Predictably, all was forgiven, which is what I could have told him would happen if he had ever bothered to listen to what I was saying about 11 year old boys and scrapes and feelings blowing over (for the record, no I don’t really think he will learn many things from my words. I actually know it doesn’t really work that way). And as they made up, his mother drove up. And then the laughter was over as it was time to face the music. I told her that Middle Son had something he needed to apologize to her for and I stood behind my son while he braced himself to do the right thing.

She, it turns out, had not seen the post; although I made him tell her about it anyway, because decisions that poor should produce discomfort. Or better put, according to a friend’s bumper sticker, “Stupid should hurt.” But I hated that we were in this position at all. I prayed that having two boys herself would help her to be understanding about the idiocy that they can find themselves in.

What actually happened was totally out of the realm of my understanding. She wasn’t mad. There wasn’t even the pretense of a stern parental face of disapproval. Both my son and I stood there braced for her reaction and she did the most extraordinary thing. Her face was utterly transformed by compassion as everything about her posture gave itself over to this child. She enfolded him immediately in forgiveness. And then she reached out and her hand touched his face, held his cheek as tenderly as I have done myself and I never saw anything beyond that moment, so stunned was I.

It was a moment that triggered a thousand things for me. I don’t know what it triggered for her. Her attention, thankfully, was so focused on him that I doubt she noticed my mouth fall open as I was struck by so many things simultaneously. Her stark empathy, her forgiveness of my son in my place, the easy physical contact, the total lack of judgment, her willingness to absolve him from any burden and her total lack of offense. There wasn’t even a question of forgiveness.

All the way home I examined my own surprised reaction to this moment, mostly my shock and surprise at not being harshly judged and what this told me about how I still came to the world. How completely I expected to be judged. No other outcome had occurred to me, it was only a question of how severe would be the blow. Why was I still living in this mindset? More importantly, was I passing this belief down to my children?

She could not know my shock at that gesture. Not one of the people I come from could have made that gesture, not even the kindest of them would have made the move to break that invisible barrier of physical space, the reserve is that deeply ingrained. And in that moment I understood, his relationship with her was different. It was a relationship of it’s own. In that house he would find something that he hadn’t found at home.

Don’t get me wrong, in reaction to my desperate desire for a more physically affectionate childhood I am very physical with my kids. I have had almost no barriers between their space and mine, often laying about at home like a mother lion with cubs piled all over her. I have only recently moved to reclaim my space when the number of children on me threatened to become suffocating. But with other people, even my closest friends, I am no longer able to cross that space. It’s the legacy of a reserved childhood.

All of this is why she is such a likely candidate as the first ‘Other Woman’ in my sons’ life. And after the first tinge of jealousy passed, I realized that she is exactly who I would want for him. She really likes him. She has shown him unbelievable tenderness and patience. The kind of tenderness, kindness and benefit of the doubt so absent from my own background that it stunned me into complete silence when I saw it.

She is the first female outside the family that he has had this kind of relationship to. The fact that we are not friends is the very thing that makes her the Other Woman. We are not ‘not’ friends either, but if we had been very good friends, her liking him the way she does would have been something that I still shared in, instead of something that was exclusively his.

This is the part where he (and his siblings after him) go out and discover how to like and be liked in the world, how to place value on his relationships with other people. It’s the first step into an independent world, where he will define himself, without my presence, in the eyes of another adult. It’s important. And it’s the first real moment illustrating a truth I’ve know for 11 years now…that from the moment a child is born, they are in the act of walking away from you.

He likes to tell me that she’s nicer than me and that her chocolate chip pancakes are better, but it’s the first chance for this child to hit me with that “his parents are so much cooler than you” right of passage. And I know this child, I know him so well, because he’s so like me. And I also know that differentiating from me, when the time comes, will be a stickier thing for him because of that, and I will have to try hard not to be surprised if he has to strike at me more deliberately because of it.

In the meantime, I think this will be a good first experience for him. She likes him it appears, enormously, and I will always be glad for women in his life that turn a face of approval on him and treat him well, who show him affection without judgment. And in the end, we have to let them love other people…as much as they love us. But in a way, it also felt like a small goodbye, as I became a little bit smaller in the landscape of his life. Don’t these moments always feel like that?



Where is My Inner Chinese Mother?


I am not Asian enough with my children. This is not a new feeling for me. I felt this way long before Amy Chua and the WSJ decided to run her article, the one with the regrettably inflammatory headline about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and just piss everybody off.  Nope, I felt not Asian enough long before that, but until I read her article I wasn’t really able to quantify why my parenting actions didn’t match up the standard of excellence that I thought I’d have.

When I embarked on my efforts to become with child, I completely expected that said child would be as carefully tended and enriched as any of the other children appeared to be around him. I would be paving the way, laying the genetic path for a new generation, who would go on to save the planet and reinvent world cuisine in a way that would make Ferran Adrià weep bitter tears.  Dreams of second language immersion classes, piano lessons, readings of poetry and the classics danced in my head. Then I had the actual kids.

There were piano lessons, which should have come with combat pay and they do indeed attend Japanese language school every Saturday morning but since those 3 and a half hours only the only exposure they get to the language I’ll be as shocked as anyone if they retain any of it (although I don’t necessarily believe their exposure to a second language is wasted and I absolutely haven’t given up on Spanish since we live in California).  We had Asian intentions, but they were married up to Western follow-through.

Like the rest of America, the WSJ excerpt from her book got the girlfriends and I talking. As a group, we tend to be less interested in fielding emotional responses than understanding what about the article produced the furor and what, if anything could be taken away from it all.  My girlfriends and I run the gamut of expectations and actual achievement among our children and we have a great acceptance of this. Parenting is about as personal an endeavor as there is, tailored so individually to suit each different family that right answers are very difficult to come by. Advice and collaboration trumps judgment in all ways when it comes to how we parent.

Our resident Chinese parenting expert, who just happens, conveniently, to be a Chinese parent herself and no slouch in the areas of high self-esteem, self-confidence and academic success, gave her opinion. “She’s a Chinese mother with no soul,” she explained amidst bringing up points about Confucianism and Legalist origins in Chinese parenting, issues of biracial identity and the different value system immigrant parents place on things

We have long noted that our Chinese friend comes to parenting her twin girls with very different expectations and attitudes than we do. This is the same girlfriend who once told me and another girlfriend to “channel our inner Chinese female”. We both shuffled uncomfortably, exchanged baffled glances and were forced to announce, “We don’t have one.”  And it was as true as can be. We don’t. But there are plenty of moments in parenting our kids that we both admit we wish we had one.

A very large part of the reason that I was interested and open to Ms. Chua’s very candid and intimate invitation into her home and parenting dynamics was that I has recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book “Outliers: the Story of Success”.  One chapter in particular discussed Asians and math.  Along with discussing certain cultural advantages he felt were inherent in the language and number systems, he chiefly identified an attitude and ethic stemming from, of all things, the agricultural history of rice farming in Asian societies.

The understanding of success being equated to effort is very different in Chinese culture…“throughout history…the people who grow rice have always worker harder than almost any other kind of farmer.” Rice production is more intensive and grueling and requiring of skill than the history of Western farming and this cultural legacy has meaning.

Most of, if not all of my friends, approach things like talent at math or science to be innate in some way. It is still requiring of effort to be successful, but Gladwell argues we fundamentally believe that you’re either born good at something or not.  The Chinese believe that such success and achievement has everything to do with how much effort you are willing to put into mastering a subject in a way that we excuse ourselves from because we want to see skill to begin with before we deem the effort worthwhile.  This might be where the chief difference lies.

Gladwell argues with clarity that cultural legacies matter deeply and I think that in our need to apply the whitewash of equality as rapidly and as liberally as possible, we loose sight of this.  I’m not saying that it should be emulated. Ms. Chua is an extreme example, and she knows it. But I can see in myself that very Western belief that talent is a matter of birth and that perhaps if I were more ready to put in some of the kind of efforts at the kitchen table over homework achievement that she does that we would see better results.

I am sure that there are plenty of Chinese children for whom this style of parenting is less than efficient, and I’m still a fan of trying your best to parent to the temperament of the child, but why discount such an extreme and extremely candid view of this other culture of parenting? What I’m saying is that there was so much more to Amy Chua’s story of her family and it’s foolish to let the trumped up title claiming “superiority” get in the way of a really interesting and important cultural exchange.

In the meantime, I will take her honesty and extremity as fuel into the furnace of my own parenting, I will continue to question why I feel stressed about asking my children to do even the most basic chores, and I’ll stress about being able to give them more effort than I do while my father’s voice continues to ring in my head when I look at report cards that are less than straight A’s “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.” I will worry, as I always have, that I am raising a house full of under-achieving little slack-asses, who will end up working for my Chinese girlfriends kids.

Perhaps that will be the new tagline for my blog from now on, “Raising Hopeless Slack-Asses Since 1999” Perhaps I will just think about challenging my ideas on what my children and I can achieve and try a little harder to do more.

More complete articles about Amy Chua’s book can be found at Slate here and PBS here and at Gawker here.

And a more measured rebuttal was rus in today’s WSJ



Arizona…and Giving Children the World.


Light in Arizona

www.hiren.info

After reading a recent post over at mom-101 about explaining the unexplainable to your child, I began to think about the many things we have had to talk to ours about.  In the end, we’ve only just scraped the surface of the vastness of the human condition. It’s early days yet.

For instance, they are largely unaware of this latest moment in Arizona, which at 11 years of age might be appropriate I think. I’ve been listening for any reports of chatter on the subject coming home from school, but nothing has triggered any conversations as yet.  I suppose when situations like this do come across their radar, I tend to have 2 main goals. The first is that they are not left with an unreasoning sense of fear about their world and the second is that they grasp the true breadth of the tragedy. The people who are injured by the act certainly, but in cases like Arizona, the actions of a very young man in the service to madness and the unholy grief that his family must be experiencing as well, to find themselves sucked into this wormhole of pain and media madness. There is plenty of sadness and grief to go around and those wounded deserve our reverence and respect.

There is a whole history of man’s inhumanity to man that they have yet to learn about and I hope to be able to temper that learning with compassion and an offsetting dose of stories of the many, many moments of heroism and acts of genuine grace also contained in our history.

It’s an interesting job to be their docent at this age, as they stand on the edge, getting ready to expand outside themselves into the bigger world of human history.   They are beginning to becoming aware of 9/11 in an abstract way, but are too young yet to know the real context of it once you add in the human stories that came out of it. Those personal experiences are what pull it out of history and make it a personal event that you can internalize, and they are important. I think it is crucial to make that connection as best you can before you reach a snap decision about such things. They should never, ever be black and white. And it’s OK to say that some things are bigger than our judgment or understanding of them; that some things only deserve a reverent sadness.

John Lennon’s birthday coincided this year with their awakening to the existence of a band called the Beatles. That he was not only shot but that he was shot by someone who claimed to be a fan was almost beyond their grasp. The idea that some people suffer from the kind of madness that is without cure or rational intention was a tough thing to tackle, but I trust there will be a long time to build upon their understanding over the coming years.

Another interesting moment came when I had on Ken Burns documentary on The War and while they were in my room, they were not paying much attention to the TV. And then they heard the voice of the announcer when he began to talk about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I can tell you that 3 little Japanese-American heads stopped what they were doing and swiveled toward the TV. “Wha? Huh?” “Say What?!” “Mom?!  Oh yeah, I think, looking at the three sets of eyes turned my way, that’s got to be a bit of an identity crises. That talk led to the understanding that we had used nuclear weapons against Japan and a bare glimmer of the conflicting views on that action and it ended with a chipper sort of, “but we’re good friends now!”

I don’t put the news on for them to watch just yet, hell, I don’t even watch the news myself, because televised news anymore is more like watching an hour of grim death than being genuinely informed, and who the hell needs that when you can build your own newspaper on the internet. I don’t think they’re ready to take in that much hardcore ‘reality’ all at once.  They also they don’t know about Hollywood yet, which I consider one of my better accomplishments.  No one is desperate from fame or is measuring themselves against some size 2 model. Yay! And a couple of years ago, in a moment of irony, they learned about same sex marriage from the very people who didn’t want it taught in our schools to children. “Mom, what are all these people doing over there holding up signs. What’s Prop 8?”

Out of all of it, the moment that stands out in my mind was when my then 1st grade children were playing in my room and by chance there was some footage from the war in Iraq on a special reports promo of actual combat, firefight, the whole bit  and both boys stopped what they were doing, their attention grabbed by the sound of gunfire. They stood there, riveted for a few moments and then Middle Son asked in surprise, “Is that real?” and Oldest son answered before I could, saying “No. They don’t have wars anymore.” OMG. There was my child saying the most sane, rational, should-be-true-if-only-it-were-true statement, and it was going to be up to me to tell him that mankind just wasn’t that good yet.

Sometimes being a Mom seems like it’s the biggest job of all…

*here’s a link to an article on HuffPost with suggestions about how to talk to your kids at times like these.





Failure to Dock With the Mothership…


RAD Mantra...

I think it is no secret that I have been stressed of late.  If we know each other on Facebook, then it is really no secret, since I made my Facebook timeline submit to forcible support the other day while I crawled through a series of pride-swallowing phone calls and other things that must be done when the safety-net suddenly gets cut out from underneath you. Sometimes, that’s the only way to keep your balance…by sharing and hoping someone out there will throw you a rope.  Someone did…and by making a series of positive statements I was able to affirm for myself that I was indeed making it across the rickety bridge.  There are a few more to be crossed, but I think I can lead the children through it, even though they don’t know they’re being led.  Leadership always involves more knowledge than you can share.

But, in the midst of it all, the thing I forgot to factor in was my 5 year old, my daughter, the one with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The one that cannot be parented in the normal way. Traumatized children cannot be parented in the same way as the ones without trauma. In fairness to me, it’s not always easy to constantly straddle and attune simultaneously to the world they exist in and the one that the five other children live in.  Sometimes, when they seem to be doing ok, you can lose focus on the fact that their attachment to you isn’t like that of the other children and the next thing you know, you’ve fallen out of your ‘Therapeutic Parenting’ role. You slipped and just let you be you…and that’s always when they hand you the bill.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) comes in two general flavors: Inhibited and Disinhibited.  Those are the starting points. From there, they can zig-zag all over the list symptoms and ways this disorder presents itself.  But generally speaking, they will start in one camp or the other.  Our daughter is in the ‘Disinhibited’ camp.  She comes to the world like Alexander, where everything is Be Conquered or Go Home. Whatever the type they happen to be however, the battle (and it will be a battle, make no mistake) is to successfully affix a normal attachment between them and one caregiver. After that has been achieved, if it is, then from there they will hopefully have a blueprint to successfully model all future attachments.

We have made progress over the past 3 years, but never as much as I’d like to believe. I have had to learn how to become that “Therapeutic Parent” that she needs, and I am still very much learning. In the normal course of things, when we come to parent our kids, we rarely come to it so clinically. But for RAD kids, they will be saved no other way.  One person has to be willing to go and stand in the storm with them and lead them out. And that storm around them and within them is a howling of the gods.

In an ideal world, that one person has a very good support system, because it’s a relentless job. Most of the time that child is focused on you like a laser,  24/7. They are inexhaustible in their energies and strategies, because they remain in a constant, vigilant state of hyper-alertness. For them, they are engaged in a battle for nothing less than their very survival. This has been hardwired into the brain trauma they have experienced at the most crucial developmental stages of their early childhood.  At times you can well end up feeling as if you have attachment disorder yourself.  And all this effort can be frustratingly empty at times, when they will, with a gesture or a word, show you once more that you are still discardable.

So, yes, I’ve been stressed this week. Terribly stressed. Terrified and feeling without safety. And in the midst of it, my daughter lost her way again because my focus wandered in the moment.  And these kids, RAD kids, are so hyper-aware of your state, and reactive to it that sometimes all it takes is one asteroid strike on the mothership, and like a badly wired escape pod, they will pull the emergency cord and  just detach, floating free into space again, determined that they can survive without you. They have no idea that they are wrong.

And in that moment, all you want to say is…eff it. Because no matter what else you’re trying to do, all crises management has to stop and you have to go after that detached escape pod. You have to put everything and everyone else aside and bring them back into the docking procedure.

I can relate a recent moment that might illustrate the reality. My 5 year old daughter, the child who has been with me, with the exception of a few short months, for over 3 years as a part of our family. She has called me Mom from almost the beginning, zeroed in on my stress, which reads to her as instability of her environment, and said “Mom, you really only have 4 children, cause we’re only living with you for a little while.” That’s a survival statement that says she’s ready to go if things get dicey. Notice that it doesn’t occur to her that staying with her family or her adults is the safest place to be.

Hearing that statement you have to struggle with the knowledge that the most intense efforts of your life as a parent have achieved such incrementally small successes at times. And you have to lock down the feelings of unfairness that you aren’t even allowed to be stressed, even when it is so justified. And you have to pull out the much worn script of the Therapeutic Parent and begin it all again.  For the RAD kid, you have to be “On” 24/7 . There are no carefree moments, no moments of casual parenting. Everything you do can seem weighted down with the most impossibly heavy layers of context.

And then, you do it anyway. Because it’s your child. Because you cannot afford to lose even one pod. Because despite your exhaustion you will never quit on any of your children. Because they are lost, alone out there in the void and failure is not an option. No one gets left behind.

Attachment Disorder – as it appears in our house:

Control issues. Most children with reactive attachment disorder go to great lengths to prevent feelings of helpless and remain in control. They can often be confrontational, disobedient, defiant, argumentative and manipulative

Anger problems. Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior. Children with reactive attachment disorder may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high five that hurts or hugging someone too hard.

Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. Easily replacing caregivers, showing no marked preference for a primary caregiver.

An underdeveloped conscience. Lack of empathy. Children with reactive attachment disorder may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

Also included are hypervigilence, sleep disorders, food issues, poor response to discipline and consequences, physical contact issues, hyperactivity and a desire to be constantly stimulated, difficulty learning cause/effect, poor planning & problem solving, pervasive shame, poor communication strategies and failure to produce interactions that facilitate demonstrate mutual enjoyment, appearing to be on guard or wary, engaging in self-soothing behavior lack of eye contact, rage, aggression, lying, stealing, hoarding food, an apparent lack of a conscience, nonstop chatter, a desire to wield control, and a desire to create chaos among others.



A Prayer…


A little prayer I found today:

“Let me change what I can.

Let me accept that which I cannot change.

Let me ignore that which I cannot change or accept.

Let me run away from that which I cannot change, accept, or ignore.

Let me lock myself in the bathroom, hold my hands over my ears, and hum about that which I cannot change, accept, ignore, or run away from.”

Amen.

–>

–>

–>

–>

–>

Image for a prayer



Lying to the Children…Again


So, do we ‘lie’ about Santa?  Sure we do. I lie to my kids all the time. I actually look for opportunities to do it.  I LOVE to do it.  In fact here’s a quick confessional: I have lied to my kids about them having born with 6 toes, I used to tell them that once they went to bed it was nothing but clowns and ice cream parties for the grown ups.  I have lied about one of them having to have belly button surgery and I have told them elaborate stories about how they were so small when they were born that we used to keep them in a shoebox on the bedside table. I lied to them about trying to teach them how to play dodge ball when they were 18 months old and that it didn’t work because they weren’t really good enough at dodging back then. Actually, that one may not have been a lie. But there have been about a thousand other such moments and I will undoubtedly try to lie to them about  6ooo more things before I die.  I think it helps to build their “truth meter”.  It also alleviates some of the extreme monotony of parenting. I lie, a lot…but not about anything important.

I stubbornly lie to them about things like Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Beagle even in the face of their certain knowledge that it is me.  I like to maintain a slight air of delusion around the house.  I believe it will cushion the blow for them when my senility kicks in next year.

Personally, I have nice memories of believing in Santa for about 2 and a half Christmases. Then my older brother happily set me straight on the matter. Because that’s what older siblings do.  And that is how it will go for our younger children too in the keeping of a family tradition. But those were a golden couple of years filled with having both parents still and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special every year and watching my mother put all these wonderful ornaments on the tree one by one. It’s the last time I remember loving Christmas until the kids were born.

Our current status in the Santa Lie stands with the 10 year olds now knowing that we are Santa (I’d be pretty worried if they didn’t), the seven year old I’m not sure about, I suspect the 5 year old still believes in Santa, but she knows the presents come from us, and the two year old will learn about Santa for the first time this year. And he will believe in Santa for as long as his 10-year-old sister can manage it, because she has already taken over his holiday education.

Where you stand on the Santa thing can be a real issue between parents. I remember the father of my older 3 children taking me totally by surprise by announcing to me during the pregnancy that he wouldn’t be lying to his children ever by telling them there was a Santa.  I was very upset about that at the time. These days I just think, “What a jackass!” I mean who tells that kind of thing to a woman waiting to give birth to 3 babies? “Hey I’m going to be ruining Christmas for these kids once they’re born.” (To be fair, I think all men have at least one jackass moment during the pregnancy. I had the biggest fight of my life with the 7 year olds father about the college education of a child who hadn’t even been born yet. You really want to try to time these things well with a pregnant woman)

The interesting thing is, that same man who was so determined to give his children only the brutal, unvarnished truth later  hired someone when they were 2 years old to come to their home fully dressed as Santa on Christmas day.  It’s one of a select few truly redeemable moments that I pull out of the deck when he’s completely stopped making sense to me and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to continue forward in any semblance of partnership at all. I like to believe, in the end, he looked at the faces of his children and allowed the season and their childhood overtake him.  Children will do that to you…which is why we have Christmas in the first place.