Amazing Parents

Sometimes it\’s AMAZING. Sometimes it\’s just A MAZE.

The infinite track on the living room floor

When my oldest son was younger a friend of ours gave us a huge set of Brios that his three sons had sadly outgrown. We played with it for a while and then it got shoved into the corner of the room where it sat anonymously for a long, long time. As I type that, I am reminded of a man I once married, but that isn’t important now. What I wanted to say was how we brought it back out a while ago and rekindled the joy of that set.

We dumped out the big blue bucket and sorted through all the ramps, curves, straight aways, and forks. We stacked up the signs until we needed them. We stared at the pieces silently. And then we began. We took one piece and then another and then another and then one more. We just started laying out the pieces on the floor with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. It turned and twisted and went along as if it had a life, a will, of it’s own. There was a freedom in playing with it like that. Because no matter how many times you dumped out that bucket, those pieces made a brand new world each and every time. A random pretzel of where my train would go.

But somewhere I lost that joy. Somehow, some time, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I just flipped out. I don’t know. But somewhere I began to plan it out. I kept trying to make a better track. The random piece went back in the bucket in exchange for one that made me feel better about where my train would go.

Eventually it became the family joke. Mama up on Saturday morning at 5 am on her hands and knees on the living room rug, constructing the “perfect track” that I just knew I could build. It had to have every loop with a beginning and an end. There could be no dead ends, no loops without reason. My train could not be bothered with anything less. It had places to go, and I just knew I could figure it out. I remember I kept silently saying to myself that no train track factory would put a set out there without having each piece in that set for a reason. The perfect track had to be a possibility. Otherwise, there was no point in playing.

My kids, who used to play with me, suddenly sat around the room, far out of it’s reach, watching me with brows furrowed, wondering why I scolded them for touching it. I just needed it right. I needed it. And nobody understood that. I just wanted that stupid track to make sense. In fact, I dreamed about it, that beautiful, elusively perfect track.

Well, you know how it goes. The train track and all it’s pieces are back in the corner, in a bucket, waiting for it’s resurrection. For someone to notice it again. It’s a sad track right now. Lonely and without meaning.

Sometimes as I pass by that bucket in the corner of the living room, I secretly wonder to myself, “What did you do? ” Have I taken a perfectly good toy and, because of my unrealistic expectations, turned it into something that can never be loved or appreciated for what it simply is? Whatever that may be? When did I first begin to “need” it to make sense? And why? Did I really feel like my life was that out of control? Was I really that unhappy? Unrealistic? Did I really think I could build it like that? I guess I did.

Sigh.

Why do things have to be so dang frustrating? Why can’t the train track factories just manufacture perfect sets? For the love of all things holy, why? Don’t they know that some of us need it to be different? That we are tired and confused and we just still believe we can make it better?

I suppose this is the moment I realize that this is all figurative and that what I’m writing is in fact relative to my own life and not about a toy at all. That it doesn’t always make sense. And that the path that I find myself on cannot always be planned out and manipulated into something that looks and feels comfortable. There are loops that spin me around and change my direction for reasons that I cannot see at the time. And yes, there will even be dead ends when I least expect them. I suppose you want me to “get it” about now: There is no perfect track.

Ok, fine. You win. I get it.

(But to this very day, I still think I can build a better track.)

May 30, 2008 Posted by | Soap Box | 1 Comment

A teeter totter and the strong part of me I never needed

One good thing is that my son needs me to be able to feel the depth of his pain. That deep, scary, make-you-throw-up-just-thinking-about-it-kind-of- sadness, terror, and shame. When someone you love is ripped away from you. And you’re left standing there with your jaw hanging open, forgetting to breathe. You wonder what you did wrong. What did I say or do or was it just a look on my face? Was it just a solitary moment or was it a chronic series of years of failures? Is there something fundamentally wrong with me as a person? Something that I’ve been idiotically oblivious to or, even worse, frozen in denial by something so scary I can hardly stand to think of it? Am I the grim reaper or the elementary teacher that made me eat all my lunch?

I don’t know. Maybe all of the above. Maybe none. Maybe everyone is right and this too shall pass. But I doubt it. This feels too deep to ever really go away. This ripping away I feel will haunt me for the rest of my life. A little voice that I will always hear deep inside my head that whispers, “there’s something wrong with you and you’ll never be good enough and anyone who says otherwise is lying. Trust no one. Not even yourself. Especially yourself. Because yourself sucks.”

This is the same message I believe my son hears from somewhere inside himself. It is this same voice that goes up against me in battle formation for my son’s life. Because I am the person who says otherwise. I cannot be trusted. My job is to prove over time through my actions that what I say is real. That there are parts of my son that really are good enough. Good enough to be loved unconditionally. I want him to learn that. To feel that. And I want him to feel that from me, his mama.

The problem is that there is a fine balance here to be found when dealing with inner demons and fears and voices. Shutting them out means disconnecting from the pain, ignoring it, shoving it even further down inside of yourself for later. On the flip side is helping him to feel the pain, but it’s so easy to get stuck there. Letting the sadness and sense of defeat overwhelm you and paralyze you until you are left alive, but dying.

Somehow I have to help him feel his feelings safely. And help him come back to a state of regulation and feel a sense of healing and progression. One way I can do this is by modeling this balance. To demonstrate my own pain and be honest with my feelings of sadness and loss. But then to get up and dust myself off and go on. To be loving and open to be loved again. This will take me a long time. But I think I can do it. There is a part of me that is sitting idle. A strong part. And until now I haven’t needed her. But maybe now I do. And maybe now my son does too.

And like every other human relationship, maybe together we can learn the balance of beginning to love ourselves despite our fears and self-doubts until we can finally overcome them, erase them, and rewrite some happy thoughts for who we believe we are. And they won’t just be suggestive or lies. They will be real. We will really believe them. And it will be then that someone will finally be able to truly love us, because we will finally truly be loving ourselves.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | A New Paradigm | Leave a comment

Make me happy

I think everybody’s heard the old phrase “Ain’t nobody happy if Mama ain’t happy.” And we laugh about it, sure. But stop and think about it. Mama has a lot to do. She is the person who plans the whole household with meal charts, grocery lists, and calendars full of appointments to keep. She washes and folds your underwear and makes sure your socks don’t have holes. She wraps up wounds, but even before that she makes sure they never happen to begin with. She sweats over the stove in the summer and bakes sweet breads in the winter. Mama knows all your secrets. She believes in all your dreams. And she loves you even still. Yep, that’s Mama.

So what happens to the family unit when Mama is overwhelmed and exhausted and frustrated and alone? Is she able to really be present with her kids and meet them where they are, fill their needs as they are having them, smother them with her sweet affection? Probably not. Because her window of stress tolerance will be too full to take on anything else. So what can mama do to open up her window? Well, here are some things I like to do when I’m stressed out.

First of all, let me just say that it has taken me a long time to realize that my emotional health is vital to my kids’ emotional health. I mean, it seems simple enough. I realize that part. But it’s the actual follow through that I was stuck with. It was hard for me to take time to meet my own needs, or to spend the money on me, or whatever it was. I was just so caught up and overwhelmed with taking care of everybody else that it was hard to even see what my needs were. But one day I found that imaginary line of where the kids end I begin, and it was then that I decided to change things. I had to decide that day that I was important, that my window of stress tolerance was important. And not just to me, but to my family. In fact, it was not just my privilege to care for myself, it was my responsibility to show myself the same amount of love and respect and attention that I expend everyday on everybody else. That is my responsibility. And doing that will make my kids feel more loved. Because, like we always say, “Ain’t nobody happy if Mama ain’t happy”. And here is how I make me happy.

– I call my friend Nelly and ramble about nothing anybody else would listen to.
– I jump on the big trampoline outside that I had originally purchased for my kids, but now have claimed as my own.
– I write.
– I drive to the beach and put my bare feet in the sand while sipping a latte I bought on the way.
– I count my blessings.
– I listen to music on my new Ipod touch.
– I ride my bike around this little town, pulling the kids in the trailer behind me.
– I take a really hot “showther” (which is a shower where I sit down and put in the plug).
– I buy a fashion magazine and sit in bed to read it cover to cover.
– I eat a tiny bit of something that is not that good for me, but I relish every bite.
– I meditate on my spiritual beliefs.
– I do my hair in a way I’d never usually wear out in public, and wear it like that all day long around the house.
– I rent a gushy romance movie that my son would make fun of.
– I visit the Consciously Parenting Project forums and connect to other parents who “get it”.
– I make what I want for dinner, even if nobody else really likes it.
– I sit silently and feel my body just being alive.

What types of things do you do to regulate yourself and open up your window of stress tolerance? And how long ago did you realize you were worth it?

May 9, 2008 Posted by | A New Paradigm | 4 Comments