Small Social Skills Theatre


Jog-a-thon water station

It’s Jog-a-thon time again folks!  School jog-a-thons are great! (Run, Forrest! Run!).  Forget about raising money for the schools and building in a life full of healthy exercise habits for the children, because nothing beats these school-wide events for the fabulous experiments in childhood personality testing that they are. They are simply designed to reveal the psychological make up of these future citizens of the world. Today marked my 7th annual jog-a-thon. Since I have six kids that means there are only 26 more to go! (I said run dammit! Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop.)

I am happy to report that today’s event had all the usual cast of characters: there’s the kids that totally buy into the process and give it their all, competition etched fierce and intense on their faces as they compete against their own personal best. There’s the one’s who try and game the system cutting around the inside of cones to shave the distance until some authority figure steps in with a lesson in accountability. The are the one’s who treat the whole things as a social event, chatting and waylaying anyone who crosses their path as they check their hair and clothing, and there are the one’s who try to minimize their enforced participation in the whole event by loafing at the water station until they are flushed out by an observant teacher to run another lap.

Some of them live totally in the moment, the Forrest Gumps, god love them. You say “Run!” and they do…backwards, the wrong way, across fields, swarming around teachers, off they go, startled into action, never once asking questions about why they are being made to run in endless circles. And then there are my personal favorites, the ones who pass you on each lap, giving you that look that says they’re going to give up every state secret they know. They’re not sure how it’s happened to them, but they know they have somehow stumbled into some school-sponsored program whose design was first conceived at Guantanamo.

I’m always late to volunteer for these events and that places me at the water station (I guess the thinking here goes, “if you can’t get organized enough to volunteer on time, how will you ever be organized enough to mark laps on the back of their bibs?”). But whatever, I’m just glad to help out. And it’s always the same at the water station. After approximately a lap and a half the entire grade level hits that water station all at once, panting like little Olympians. Kids are great the way they can run a ¼ mile and still look as if they were in the final 100 meters of the New York Marathon. From there on out, they will collectively stop for water on every single lap, and manage to look progressively worse every time you see them until you are finally forced to ask if they’d like the paramedics to be brought onto the field. All this takes place to the high-energy sounds of Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. The dissonance is thick by the end of it, I can assure you.

And when they’re done they get…a Popsicle. I wouldn’t take that deal any day of the week, so you’ve got to admire their willingness to get behind a call to action, and I’m a big fan of randomly tormenting the children. It gets them ready for life in the rat race glorious world ahead of them. When the music finally dies down and the Popsicle sticks have been collected, they round up these sweaty, sticky, over-stimulated little people and return them to their classes for the rest of the days education. I’ve often wondered what that looks like, but I’ve never had the courage to stay and find out.

Another especially good example of this kind of behavior-revealing activity can be found in the science class. Want to get to know your child and his friends at their deepest level? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Frog Dissection! In our district this year, the 5th graders were broken up into groups of four, given sharp implements and this guy…

Frog Dissection

Let the mayhem begin! Here’s what I saw during that exercise; some kids excused themselves to step outside in discomfort about 38 times, and though many of them just seemed to use it as an excuse to wander aimlessly around, a couple of them stayed out there for the entire class due to a true inability to embrace the spirit of animal autopsy. A few of the kids were very scientific as they went about the business of cataloging frog parts and a small number were unable to complete the dissection due to the gross out factor. And at least one table, made up entirely of girls, never even began the dissection because the group kept breaking down over leadership issues and personality conflicts. And lastly, there were a few boys at work in that house of horrors who did things to those frogs that made me think of a scene from the movie “Con Air” where Steve Buscemi’s character Garland Greene says “One girl… I drove through three states wearing her head as a hat.” Those are the one’s who will probably become doctors one day.

Think back…which one were you? In the mean time, volunteer, you can’t beat it for the opportunity to learn and be horrified. Plus, it helps out the schools.



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.

 

 

 

 

 



Solomon’s Sword


The Judgment of Solomon



(The arguments in my head all night long…)

Why adoption? Why now? Can I start by saying that I think remaining in guardianship would probably be the easier thing to do. Fewer uncomfortable decisions, that’s for certain. The easiest thing in the world would be to just not rock the boat. And I imagine that there exists the belief that leaving this as wide open as possible and trying to create a situation with as many options as possible would be the way to go. Before anything else, do no harm. But I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and it is not, in my opinion, the best possible way to guarantee success. Making a freaking choice is. Making a decision is. Letting the situation drift, what does that say to her? What does that tell her about her own importance?

This has not been an end that I have raced toward, but when I look at her and my other children, I can find no other reasonable option that honestly meets her needs, nothing else that gives her the absolute best chance of having a successful foundation. Those other options, they meet the needs of the people around her, not hers, and this is supposed to be about her before it is about all of us. And if you need to know the reason it won’t meet her needs, well, chief among them is the marks left on her by Attachment Disorder.

We’ve lived with those words for some time now and it all comes back to that. At it’s heart, how can I teach her to become attached if I am still in a holding pattern myself, still seeing myself as a placeholder in her life for the mother that isn’t available to her? She needs to be firmly and securely attached to someone at the beginning of her life so that she can be allowed to get on with the all the very necessary business of her life.

Over these last three years in my stewardship of her and her mother’s relationship, I have tried to be very, very careful, worked to the best of my ability not usurp her mother’s place anytime it could be helped. I have worked to the absolute best of my ability not to offer judgment of your successes or failures as you struggled with your addictions in the firm belief that the weight of it could not contribute to your success. I tried to offer you a clean slate, but there was always a time limit for how long we would all live our lives in stasis and I was clear with you about that too. Promises have to be made…and kept. No matter what.

Perhaps you could argue that some kids can live day to day with only a substitute mother, but this one can’t. She’s different. She’s special. She is not a child who can be satisfied with half measures. She needs fiercely to possess and be possessed. To belong, and she has made this need clear in most every crayon stroke she’s made. This is a child who shouts with her drawings. They are, and have been, pictures of families and Mommies and homes and she has been making them since she could draw. Pictures of herself with whatever people were presented to her as available for a family. For a child who had no clear family structure to lay hands on in her experience, she has always been remarkably clear about having one. Determined about that as she is about everything else, she lives it out loud and in this, as in so very many other things, she has always been her own light. Listening to her has always allowed us to know her deepest needs. She exemplifies one of my favorite Eunice Kennedy Shriver quotes “…the love of a family, nothing else matters. If you haven’t got a family, go out and get one.”

You’re asking for more time. I suppose five years out of the life of an adult is recoverable, an undesirable, but acceptable loss when you look at the arc of your time on earth. But for her, it’s been her whole life. You can’t be a mother to her now or any time in the foreseeable future and somebody has to be. She deserves to be chosen, claimed, told she’s wanted in actions rather than words.

While I understand your need to preserve a place in her life for yourself, for 3 years now, people have been trying to tell you that the way to having that place is through actions and choices, not by gouging an empty space in her life so that you can have a place to return to when and if you manage to assemble your own life. For her sake, it has to be done in the opposite way. Go out and really find your life. Heal yourself. Build a life…and then come and earn your way back into hers. I promise she will want to have that relationship with you. I have always and will always raise her to welcome a relationship with you when you are a healthy, positive and contributing factor in her life.

So, despite the fact that I desperately did not want to be the person to make these decisions, no one else has shown up to make them, and we would be lying to ourselves, all of us, taking the cowards way out by pretending we could just not make a choice. The life of a child goes on despite the fact that the adults aren’t yet ready to show up. Why should she have to wait?

So here’s me, trying to address the idea that I’m closing the door on you, her other mother. It’s more that I can’t hold it open this way forever. You’ve put her and I in the position of having to fight for each other. Fight hard. The damage all this has done to her is the very reason for having to take this step. More than most children, she simply cannot live in ambiguity. If she had been stable when she came to us, perhaps it would have been possible, but I just don’t think it’s a viable option. I have fought harder for her than any of the other 5 and she has fought harder for herself than any 5 year old should have to, and I still can’t give her a single promise or hope regarding your presence in her life. If anything, your situation has worsened rather than improved and I cannot just hold your place forever. I don’t know how to do that anymore and believe that she, and my other children will have their best interests served.

By this method I am legally buying myself a seat at her table forever. I am promising her that I will always fight for what she needs. I am telling her that she was important enough to take this hardest of steps for. This is also my way of saying that I don’t want my life, or hers, dictated any longer by people who lack the ability to arrange their own affairs, and I certainly owe that to my family after all I have put them through by choosing to stand in for this. I am doing this to teach her and the rest of my children one day that it is desirable to take steps to be the author of your own fate. That “you must make decisions based on who somebody is, not who you think they could be.”

In a life full of hard decisions, this has been one of the hardest and most complicated and I keep circling back to the Old Testament story of the baby who was claimed by two mothers before King Solomon. That story was all about judgment in various ways, and so, finally is this moment because I have to wonder if withholding judgment has caused you to mistake my feeling about this. I love you and I hope you get well, but none of this is even close to ok anymore. You have reached the place where you have asked too much. You were expected to show up as their mother and when you didn’t you bought yourself out of her life through your choices. I’m not sure why you think it should be otherwise.

And through it all there are my other children to consider. Why should they be asked to live this way anymore? There are not words for how big an apology you owe them. Your choices have asked sacrifices of them you don’t begin to imagine. They have rights and certain expectations that must be met. I try and remember that because of your own childhood, you cannot begin to know this. But that doesn’t mean that it can still be condoned.

I hope you will remember that they will still be here for you. They will still be here to be part of your life, provided that life is really healthy. I think anyone else would have stopped this long ago. You’ve had everything that we could offer you in the way of support, whether you knew it or not. You still do, but the work is yours and no one can do it for you. And no one can pay the freight on your life anymore, even though you might deserve it. It’s time to make different choices and there is still a lifetime of good choices out there for you to make, but cutting the baby in half won’t be one of them.





Because she makes me feel stronger…



Lately Found and a Roundup…


So, I’m wrestling with a post that might become 4 posts. Or get condensed down to 2 posts. Jury is still out for at least another day on that.




I still wish I was Charlie Harper from Two and a Half Men. Not Charlie Sheen, he’s a mess, Charlie Harper…What?!!




I’ve been tab hording again. That happens when the availability of information on the internet turns my brain into a jittery chipmunk with an espresso IV and a crack pipe. Eventually this behavior causes Firefox to implode and collapse in on itself, as you can see here…

Tab Hoarding - Ahhhhhhhhh!




I’d like a show of hands from all you who think “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” is an abysmal piece of lyrical crap, but you still can’t stop singing it when you hear it long enough. It’s missed it’s true calling as a means to wring confessions out of prisoners at Gitmo.




I totally wish I had more time to spend on the Food52 website. The more websites I search out the more I wish my skills were more than they are, but the future is open I suppose…




I have been reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” which has been really fabulous, considering that I’m not a reader of any of his books, but I can say that nowhere is his skill as a writer more evident than at the ending chapters when he writes about the accident when he was seriously injured by a reckless driver.




I’ve been losing sleep late at night to this…

Addiction




My Niece has changed her mind and had decided to contest the adoption of the two youngest children that we share (now you know about the posts I’ve been wrestling with), so this will only be decided with the greatest pain possible.




I still haven’t figured out how to fill the $2500 hole that opened up in my monthly income 4 months ago. But I will. Somehow. In the meantime, Reasons For Living #’s 1 through 6 are all oblivious, doing well and looking forward to their long weekend.




And lastly in the weekly round up, I am totally enjoying this site called Post Secret, which describes itself as “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”  It’s pretty cool. Click on these for a taste…

postsecret.com

http://www.postsecret.com/

http://www.postsecret.com/

(This one about saving the voice mails of the people you love…I have voice messages from my children on my phone from 4 years ago)

Cheers All…

Happy Long Weekend



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…




Far, Far Away…


Today was one of those days. One of THOSE days. The kind that by the end of it I was looking at pictures over at the Pioneer Woman’s site and wishing that I could magically be transported away into another life. One that has landscapes in it like these…

The Pioneer Woman picture

thepioneerwoman.com

Somewhere that looks like the renewing can begin.  Somewhere warm and soaked with good things and full of soul healing peace…

I spent the morning once again working on a solution to our current dilemma. In time, I’ll be able to write about it, but for now, it’s too fresh, too raw, too much. Instead, I’ll keep trying to reframe and bend the humbling forces that these tasks ask me to walk through into something soul searching and worthy. Tasks like spending four hours waiting to throw myself on the mercy of others. And then three hours among the Jerry Springer folk at the court for child support issues instituted by the county regarding our foster kids.

As I sat and watched, an entirely unwilling participant I was forced to entertain the idea that I might have to join this fray in time. I’d rather drive needles into my eyes. Money has always been one of the LAST things I was willing to fighting over. There is something absolutely gut-wrenching about listening to couples argue over the money needed to make children safe. Hearing them use phrases like “that amount is calculated on a 28% timeshare” and to know that they are referring to children.  To seeing people arguing 5 years after their relationship is over about the care and feeding of their children is demoralizing in ways I cannot describe. On the surface, knowing what the right thing to do is when it comes to your children seems about the least complicated thing in the world, but I guess I miss something.

Maybe when you’re alone you can pursue the kind of soul-intact sanctity of walking away. Once children are in the picture, however, you have to get into the trenches.  So, I will do the things that I never thought I could do…and by and by, it will be ok. But right now…it’s awful and full of indignity and fear. But it is also full of the opportunity the make the right choice and I also suspect that when I’m out the other side, I will find that I have come away with more of those character building gifts that sometimes only seem useful when the next storm comes. Whatever. Maybe, if I evolve to a high enough level, I’ll get to come back as this…

Wabbit!

I hope so. Because after the Jerry Springer show was over, I stopped and brought donuts home with the idea of creating some  good cheer to erase the trials of the day. But my newly-minted teen still ended up looking at me like she hoped I would step into a fire and die. And the baby was still peaking with his terrible two year old tantrums, and the impulse-control-challenged child still lost control and spewed rage all about, and the child who isn’t on target in science whinged his way through any attempts to study and the 5 year old and seven year old drew swords once more…and it all went round again. It was just as if the pilgrimage to hell had never ended.  And I have to admit that I couldn’t find my sense of humor about any of it, and I drove the parenting car into the ditch. Again. Those are the times when all you can seem to be able to do is call in the crews and do your best to pull it back out of the ditch, a little worse for wear, but eventually still drivable.

At the end of it all, I have to say, that even though I know it is an utterly useless, soft-headed wish, it would have been nice to have been welcomed home to some kind of tender care. Something that said we know you had a tough day, but we’re together.  You’re home now and safe and we love you. Something that looks like this…

A Hug

Once I recover, I guess I’ll have to teach them how to do this, by doing it to them.  But for now, I’m just going to bed, grateful that tomorrow will provide another 24 hours of opportunity to make amends and get it right again.

Cheers…



Stress, Ebola and Preteen Mood Swings…


Germaphobia and kids

The Doctors office. It’s on my list of things to do in hell when I get there. I don’t know if there’s anything crueler than locking a germaphobe in a tiny doctors office with a bunch of kids for hours on end, but they’ve been doing it to me for years. Do anyone else’s kids just sit quietly and wait? I don’t know. My kids do their level best to take the place apart. Maybe it’s because there’s almost never been less than three of them and they tend to egg each other on in all things, but it’s insanity to lock a bunch of people with boundless curiosity and no impulse control in a room full of things that they’re not supposed to touch. A room crawling with virus.

So the last week has seen us in our own mini-family land rush to various doctors offices across the county as we fulfill our commitment to the state by proving that we are not requesting permanent legal placement of two small children into a home that may be lethal to them in some way. That’s right, physicals and TB tests for everyone involved. Six kids and two adults. Yay. Break out the Purel and let the rodeo begin.

So yesterday found me for the third time filling out endless paperwork, telling people not to touch anything and pinning people down so they could be injected with immunity producing miracle drugs. Like Noah’s Ark, we broke them down two by two. The littlest two went with me first and lately doctor’s visits have been a prime opportunity for the 5 Year Old to indulge in the kind of soul-soothing drama that she requires. I mean, is there any place with greater potential to be the center of all adult attention? It affords repeated opportunities to wring your hands and ask in a quavering voice if you’re going to have to have a shot. And this can be done no matter how many times your exhausted adult has explained to you the full scope of the visit. It’s a chance for someone who already has issues with ‘dead air’ and nonsense questions to scale a whole new level of her own private conversational Mt Everest.

All the while, her brother is wandering around button pushing, touching, opening and closing and climbing anything and everything, and pausing every few moments to lick the excess Ebola off his hands. We were all sick two days later, but the shots were handled with relatively little fuss and chocolate handed out to calm people who have been manhandled in the name of science. It has long been my policy to stand in front of trembling children with absolutely giant sized, unwrapped candy bars held ready at eye level to both medicate and distract them once they have had the steel driven into their puny little arms.

Visit number second involved Middle Son and Oldest Daughter, who decided silently to enter into a competition for child with most personality in front of the doctor and the nursing staff. With 11 year olds, this is usually not something good, as eventually one of them will cross into the land of disrespectful speech and smart-alecky tone. On this visit it was my normally charming and gentle daughter who was overcome by a combination of sibling rivalry, impending vaccine stress and unsteady hormones. The combination produced a gentle, but clear talking to by the Doctor about her improper interactions with the adults in her general vicinity. I was a tiny bit surprised but I did not intervene. While I will not let someone abuse my children, I have no problem with their experiencing the natural results of their actions when delivered appropriately, and it was. Our doctor is very nice, but no push over. In the end, I also had to break up the stress she was unwittingly pouring out onto the nurse after the second shot by forcefully reminding her that the nurse was doing her job, not fulfilling a personal vendetta. She’s a very good girl, but I begin to see what people mean when they say that puberty is an alien abduction.

Visit number three involved my two ‘Stress Cats’ – Oldest Son and The Kid. I had back up this time in the form of the Golf Pro, but really, his effectiveness there was canceled out by the presence of the 2 Year Old. And here we go again, except the rodeo was for real this time. While we were still waiting for the Doctor, and telling the 2 year old to stop touching stuff and don’t lay on the floor until we were blue in the face, I drew the short straw on a diaper change and thoughtfully excused myself and 2 year old to the next room. Halfway through the change, I heard the screaming erupt in the other room and realized that I may not have drawn the short straw after all. It’s all a matter of perspective, am I right folks?

The screaming it turns out was from the finger stick. Oh great, I think, because that means that it can only go down hill from here since we still have 11-year-old booster shots and TB tests still to go. From there on out, both kids bordered on the edge of panic, greeting everything from the earphones for the hearing test (“is that going to hurt?!”) to the Otoscope for the ear exam (“What’s that?!!”) like skittish, wild-eyed, wild horses. In the end, both kids went down with stress, “My stomach hurts. I don’t feel good. I’m dizzy.” We had to skip the TB test because we couldn’t get them read over the weekend, so The Kid gratefully escaped having only gotten a dose of Flu-Mist up the schnoz. The 11 year old, well his panic got the best of him and he had to be held down. Like horses, you basically have to put your full body weight on their neck, pinning the non-shot arm underneath you and holding the other one down exposed. It also helps if you think about the drink you’re going to have that night.

Despite my all but burning the fingerprints off my hands with Purel, I am pretty convinced that I acquired 3 separate colds from the three different visits.

And we still have to take the two Stress Cats back to be rodeoed through their TB tests. Dear God…



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.