Letting go…

All four of my children will be in “real” school starting Monday. I’m having a bit of a freak out about that, I have to tell you. After receiving an email from the principal for my oldest son’s school, welcoming us, encouraging us, I broke down. It’s hard to let go.

We have been homeschooling in one way or another since about 2003. We brought our oldest home after a rough year in Kindergarten. She’s always been outgoing and friendly. She loved preschool and she liked Kindergarten, excelling in reading and math and general awesomeness but she got teased every day on the playground. She liked to play alone and the other girls in her school gave her so much grief about it she cried every day when I picked her up from school. Teacher meetings, parent meetings, long talks with my daughter, “grin and bear” it moments, all came to nothing. We’d already changed schools once going from the Montessori school to a school closer to our house. It was too late to apply or get into a third try for the coming school year, so we brought her home, always thinking we’d make a switch the following year.

All in all, it’s gone well, I have to say. As we added kids we just slid them into the homeschool routine. It worked well when we traveled, when we moved, when we were living on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere. We hung out, we asked questions, we made observations, we argued and we struggled and we cruised for a long time. For as long as I was holding things together it really was a phenomenal time and then life changed up and they all seemed to need different things, things I could not deliver with any expertise or consistency. Last year, my daughter, having been home for most of her educational life finally stepped into High School, real school, art school, as a sophomore. She loved it and it loved her back.

I wrote last year of my decision to send Henry to school. It was grueling. His way of learning was so different from my way of teaching and long story short, I was leaking out all over the place where homeschool was concerned anyway. I was losing my mojo, not keeping up with Henry’s needs, falling apart in the bathroom because I felt I was failing them. I finally enrolled him at the neighborhood school so that we could both get what we needed. He loved it and it loved him back.

We tried a “real” school with Chet last year too, thinking the “game theory” approached they offered at the Chicago charter school would be perfect for him but you know, there is no perfect and he had trouble adjusting. He did great with the work but the classroom was overwhelming for him and often the chaos in the classroom kept them all from doing the work, which was the only thing Chet really wanted to do anyway. He did not love it and it did not love him back so we brought him home and I spent last year swimming in the guilt of being unprepared, questioning everything I tried, worrying about the present and the future and the past and all the while poor Miles cruised along doing his own thing, a little lost in the shuffle.

As the youngest in our family, Miles has the cushiest position and yet the strongest opposition to falling into line. His reading lessons probably sounded like I was driving spikes under his fingernails because he hated it so much. I was already burned out and he was getting the dregs of what I had left to offer and the guilt about that gnawed at me daily. I knew I’d put them all in school this year and the pressure ramped up then to “get them ready” for it but the more the deadline approached the worse we seemed to do. It remains to be seen how things will roll when Monday comes. Even so, when I questioned him on it this week he said, groaning, “Geez, mom. I’ll adapt. I always adapt. I’ll be fine, you have to let go sometime.”

And so, there it is. I am letting go a little, reluctantly, expectantly, with great fear and trembling and excitement because I have no idea what this year brings for us all. I imagine it will be a new kind of struggle and a new kind of joy and a familiar struggle and a familiar joy too. I imagine we’ll have moments of great regret mixed with moments of great relief. I imagine that I will adapt and that I will be fine because I have to let go sometime. It’s what we do as parents. We wish for them and we hope for them and in it we are always teaching them how to be their own people in the world. Parenting is letting go, a little at a time- crawling to toddling to walking to running- hair blowing in the warm wind, face to the sun, into the future.

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Leaning…

I’m pleased to have a piece up on the Ruminate Magazine blog today to help support the theme of this quarter’s issue, “Not Forgotten.” The struggle to be in relationship with a family member with Alzheimer’s is hard to articulate. No matter how prepared any of us might think we are for whatever lies ahead, life is quick to show us how little control we have. We felt as though we were always playing catch up with Chester. We were always one step behind the progress of the disease. This essay shows a brief moment of light, a glimmer of something eternal.

I hope you’ll take a moment today to check out the piece and if it hits you someplace, share it, comment, join in the conversation:
Leaning

 

Mother’s Day

REPOST: This essay was originally posted May, 2010. Since that time, I’ve found my perceptions of Mother’s Day have shaped to reflect the true spirit of the day. I read this one myself from time to time to remind me of the passion and the courage that originally fueled the real version of “Mother’s Day.” 

————

I know it’s been a few days since the US celebrated it’s own particular brand of “mother’s day” but it still feels important to post about it.

I hate “mother’s day” as I think I expressed last year at this time. I know many of my friends and readers love it, have awesome days of pampering and what not but frankly i just get cranky. I never USED to be cranky…it was not until after I became a mother that this started. I always thought it was the shallow nature of this “day for mother’s” that was so openly sponsorted by Hallmark. This idea that this ONE day of the year, a nice card or phonecall and maybe some flowers could really fill this weirdly empty spot in me. It didn’t. Nothing was “enough” for me. I dunno. I’m cranky. I just am cranky sometimes.

and yet.

I wonder if all along I knew there was more to it…and it turns out, there is.

Julia Ward Howe gives me my first real mother’s day this year…read her words, written to rouse the women of the civil war era, around a cause for justice, a clarion call for mothers to come together in the name of peace. Tired of seeing their boys killed and maimed, Julia began the first “mother’s day” in this country. It was not a day for “thanks mom” cards or flowers or gifts or pedicures…it was a day to remember their lost sons, to stand up against the brutality of oppression, the horror of war. This is what mother’s day is actually about in it’s inception. How I wish it were so now.

by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

saving grace…

Your Saving Grace is your self-awareness which prevents you from sliding into self-indulgence and bad habits. Your honesty with yourself may prevent you from deteriorating further. Become aware of your Saving Grace today. (Understanding the Enneagram, 90)

 

The enemy of my self is my ability to bypass reality and move swiftly into the non events of my imagination. When things are good I make this a separate place in my head with a door and a latch. When things are chaotic or transitional the door is gone, the latch is a faint memory, the floor space spills out into reality and hopes and expectations. My focus is cloudy, my boundaries are muddy. The enemy of my self then becomes indistinguishable from the rest of me, the snake in the garden, the tree from which I should not eat- both God’s creation, both pronounced “good” in those early days of the Garden.

This bit is important, both God’s creation, both pronounced “good” in those early days of the Garden.

I’ve never really written fiction. Apart from a couple of screenplays I still toil over from time to time I just never developed the voice and the skill and the passion for fiction. I have a number of great ideas but little time and less energy to follow through. And then in the middle of even writing that I think about the old joke about eating an elephant, one piece at a time. In pondering the elephant and the novel and the trees in Garden I’m left with this idea that I’m not so sure I’d even fancy elephant. I’ve never been much of a meat eater. I’ve never really written fiction.

It is here the lines cross, the metaphors mix and I’m left with this indeterminate feeling, this nagging in my noggin that perhaps the enemy to my self has been grossly mischaracterized in my psyche all these years. The enemy to my self is not outside of me, it is not separate place; a coach house, a rusting car in my yard, an uninvited snake wrapped around a valuable tree in the garden of my self. It’s all me, and perhaps, in the right context and the redeemed spirit, it is all “good” after all. Perhaps it is not the enemy of my saving grace at all.

Below is an excerpt of the first couple hundred words of a novel I’ve begun. It’s going to take freaking forever to complete. You may never see another entry, I’m just warning you of that. Even so, having written this small bit, the enemy of my self became a friend and I pronounce that “good.”

——————-

Whenever there are sirens everyone stops. Everyone stops and watches or they close their eyes and they bow their heads. Some pray, if they remember how to pray. Everyone waits for the machines to pass and the sirens to fade away and then things move again.

 

Gaia says that before the Fall they did this not out of respect for the siren but because the vehicles of that time could not pass otherwise. Gaia remembers so many things about what the world was like before the Fall. Gaia says that now we wait and we pray, if we remember how to pray, as some kind of unspoken thing, some tribute we don’t recall but that our spirits recall and so everything stops, everyone stops, whenever there are sirens.

 

Gaia remembers what life was life before the Fall because she was young then. She says that the world was dirty, people would throw whatever they did not want into the road. She said that the air was hard to breathe and that the people spoke harshly to one another. The world she speaks about makes our heads hurt and our hearts heavy. The world was strange before the Fall.

 

She is very old now and she can hardly move. She tells me that she sits still and breathes slowly so that she can live longer, so that she can see me grow up and see how the world will be for us next. Gaia may be the last one living who remembers it all and because I am always here with her she asked me to write it down. Gaia has said that there was a time when the people did not have to fear “the poisoning” but they feared it in any case.  She said that a touch could not make us sick. Calvin does not believe her but then Calvin has been the emissary of the Governors a long time.

 

in light of writer’s block…

Oh, blank page. You scare me. Every time I sit down to write and see you there, staring back at me, I break into a cold sweat. I check my email. I update my Facebook status. I answer the telephone. No matter, though, you are there waiting, sporting that blasted blinking cursor and an absence of words.

And so I dutifully put down words, just anything really, anything to fill the page. This is the exercise, running toward the cliff with no real idea of what lies below. Running toward the cliff with no real idea of whether or not I packed a parachute. Running toward the cliff with no shoes on, in skinny jeans, and a white tee-shirt and an oversized purse which may or may not contain my cellphone and car keys. Running toward the cliff.

There is no cliff. That’s the lie.

But, it’s a lie that gets us out the door and running or at least walking fast, somewhere unknown, somewhere we fear, we loathe, we long for, we desire for reasons we cannot remember when the dust kicks up and the sweat starts. We run into the blank page. We run into the blinking cursor. We run into

the brick wall.

It only hurts for a minute. That might leave a mark…or a meandering…to check the mail, the dirty windows, the empty refrigerator, the absent-minded snacking, the shredding of paper and chewing of pencils and juicy fruit. Then I’m back to running, toward the cliff, the character, the participles dangling with subjects unwilling to lend a hand no matter how dire the circumstances. The writing was never the risk. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a victory-

kids dressed,

breakfast made,

teeth brushed,

lunches packed,

homework checked,

laundry started,

floor swept,

coffee drunk

and the blinking cursor pounding loud as if to say, “what the hell is your point?”

Stupid, bossy, cursor.

parenting practice…

As I rambled on about this new idea I have for a book my daughter nodded absently. I tried to catch her attention with some buzz words and interesting angles. She looked up from her phone and smiled. “That sounds great, Mom” she responded and then she was gone again. I recognize that look. I recognize that tone.

I know I have said things like this; all covered in that absent tone, that false attention. I panicked a little and caught her eye again. “Can you put down your phone a minute?” I asked and she complied. “You’re not really interested in what I’m telling you, huh?” I pressed. She sighed and patted me on the back. “It’s great Mom, I’m interested.”

It isn’t that I thought she was lying. I know she is interested at some level. And I remember the when I discovered the world outside too. I remember when I went to my first party, heard my first Dead Kennedys album, drank my first beer. I remember when I became more me and less my parents. It’s exciting, being a teenager. It kind of sucks to be the parent in the scenario.  I get all misty eyed and then I get a little narcissistic. Beating back thoughts like, “I used to be cool.”

This happens, this growing up thing. It seems as though we’re always letting go.  That’s what we’re made to do as parents. From the moment they arrive in our household via adoption or conception, raising that child is all about teaching them to live their own lives, teaching them to live outside of our body, outside of our yard. It’s a risk, you know. A grief filled, ego crushing risk.

Be warned, I may do a lot of this wistful grieving over the next few….well, years I guess. Unless my Henry makes good on the promise he made when he was 7 or 8 to “always live in Mom’s basement” then I guess I’ll have to continue to practice letting go for a while yet.

guns and ammunition…

This is a rant. It’s all I got.

Another shooting today, this time in New York City. The Empire State Building saw bloodshed this morning and after the initial “newsy” tweets came the barrage of finger-pointing and sarcastic remarks and thoughtless, souless jokes and I fell to tears because it was all I could do. Sitting alone today, two kids at school and two kids away on a trip with their dad I fell to tears in the wake of yet another shooting and another wave of commentary, speculation, wry connections to political parties and religion and left or right wings and I fell to tears because it was all I could do.  Perhaps it is all any of us can do, really. Smug remarks won’t fix our broken spirits. Sarcastic retorts won’t keep this from happening again. There is no “perfect” candidate to vote into office.  There is no “perfect” solution to what ails us. What ails us is too deep, too rooted in mistrust, anchored to an absence of hope and an abundance of apathy.

“Us” is a big term, unwieldy, unmanageable. I can only speak for myself perhaps. I can only answer for my own part in how things unfold. It is all about being “local.”

I’ve tried posting about intelligent discourse where politics is concerned. I’ve tried to curb my own tendencies to fall into being a smart alec when confronted to non intelligent discourse. It seems to fall on deaf ears and I admit, often I don’t take my own advice when it comes to curbing my outrage when the news cycle revs up. It’s a struggle, there is so much machine to rage against.

It seems as though the only goal I can set for myself these days when it comes to political discussions and news of the world is simply this, “Try not to be an asshole.” Whatever I post, whatever I respond, whatever I think or feel I’m working the hardest to just not be an asshole toward my fellow man where politics is concerned. Heaven knows I am prone to fail at this and for that I am most truly apologetic because after all is said and done no matter who gets elected I really want to keep the friends I have and I’d prefer they didn’t think I was an arrogant asshole.

Lord knows, the discussion won’t miss the opinion of one more asshole.

I fell to tears today in the wake of the anger and infighting and loss of life. I fell to tears and prayers of “Lord, have mercy” because in the end, it feels as though it is all I can do. In the name of compassion and kindness, we fall to tears.

in defense of distraction…or…social media cures writer’s block

Much has been said lately about the destructive properties of sites like Facebook. It comes as no surprise to me that the information circulating now is that social media raises our insecurity factors and increases bouts of envy, that it might shorten our attention span, that it might help to erode our “in person” encounters. In a way, for social media addicts like me it is like telling someone who lives on Diet Coke about all the bad effects of diet drinks. They already know. Of course, they know but the draw of the thing they have come to love is stronger, in the long run, than the potential down sides.

This is where my diet drink comparison ends though because aspartame gives me a headache.

As I sat and stared at the blank page today for the balance of my writing time I found my anxiety level rising fast. I only have this small window of opportunity to write every day and that window will dwindle when two of my kids start going to “real school” in the Fall and homeschool ramps up for the other two kids at home. I’ll have to get up earlier, I’ll have to make sure there are clean clothes for people, I’ll have to pack lunches, I’ll have to herd everyone in and out of the car more often in a day, I’ll have to endure  long choruses of “I’m bored!” and “I don’t want to get up!”

The Fall is bearing down on me pretty hard these days and the blank page doesn’t help.

Writing will never be easy for me. I already knew that. Writing is something I have to do every day; like working out, like taking vitamins, like drinking water, like washing my face. If I don’t do it every day I lose little bits of myself all over the house. I think interesting things and then find they’ve dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the line. I get depressed, I get overwhelmed, I lose sight of myself. I have to write every day, in little “dribs and drabs” as Anne Lamott says.

But when even the dribs and drabs won’t come I begin to think in those moments that what I need to do is to shut myself off from the world. I need to leave Twitter, leave Facebook, stop reading things online, stop blogging, just develop a kind of tunnel vision and power through it all. I have this weird fantasy in those moments that I will finish a novel with all that extra focus, finish a series of books about the power of the mind, about the counter cultural wonder drug of “being present” and the publishing houses will be hot on my heels at last.

The big old evil online looms before me and I call it the enemy of all things creative, I crow about how stupid I’ve been, how many hours I’ve wasted commenting and “liking” and responding. I ponder whether I’ll go quietly or make a show of it, bringing together all the other online addicts and calling for a general boycott. When writers block strikes I get desperate, you see, and blaming just about anything else feels like movement. It’s the social media, it’s the lack of a good chair, it’s the phone ringing, it’s the aspartame.

And here then out of the blue it hits me as I travel one last time to my social media stash, mind a blank where words are concerned. I see a simple post from a friend. Her status update is one of gratitude, along the lines of “Thanks Facebook, for reminding me about the beautiful things in my life.” That stopped me short.

One criticism of Facebook is that it’s distracting and that much is true. I admit when I’m writing if I don’t close the Twitter or Facebook windows I find myself meandering there when I ought to be filling the blank page. And yet, there are moments, a great number of moments, when I wander off the blank page and find myself again. There are responses to a picture I’ve posted and I remember who I am again. Sometimes I troll my own page, my own Twitter feed to find things I’ve thought or photos I’ve taken or articles I’ve highlighted and I find that I actually have something to say there. I find small moments I documented, uploaded and shared, not out of bragging but out of gratitude. I find quotes that lead me to deeper thoughts. I find friends I have not seen in decades and would not have seen again if not for social media. I find theological and political insights I did not expect.

And sometimes too, I find inspiration that leads to words on a page…like these…

and an end to writers block.

So, you know…there’s that.

What’s a girl to do?

I have been so world weary lately. Elections and legislation fights, mudslinging, celebrity sightings, political gossip and pollution, the war on women, what’s a girl to do?

I’ve always thought that the operative word was “do.” What can I do? What will my elected officials do? What will Snookie do?

And I keep coming back to how little power or control any of us really have. The concentration of power resides in large oceans owned by a very few. We may dip our toes in once in a while but for the most part the little people in this world are lucky to have a pond or a puddle they call their own. We influence perhaps locally but what can we do in the bigger picture anyway?

No wonder so many of us just give up and abdicate our power. No wonder some of us don’t even try to find that ocean, don’t even try to dip our foot in that pool. No wonder so many of us eat fast food every day and make ourselves content to breathe polluted air and shake our heads at the death and destruction in the rest of the world and pray late at night it does not reach its hand out to pull us in as well. What is the point in trying?

What’s a girl to do?

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to meet a couple of young girls. One was around 8 and the other was in her early 20’s. I had two conversations with each of those girls. By way of back story I’ll tell you that for the last two months or so I’ve been trying to curb my “know it all” tendencies. Nobody likes a know it all, especially me. So, in conversations both online and offline I’m working on listening more and talking less. I’m having mixed results with that but I thought I was getting the hang of it here and there. It’s tough to be a recovering know it all. But the conversations with these girls though went differently. I listened and I heard their stories. I asked more questions and genuinely marveled at their responses. And then, I found myself talking. I found myself talking about power and about strength. I found myself encouraging them to find their way. I found myself telling them about strong women I have known and about strong women I have read or watched. I asked them to do the same, to revel in the fact that they are women, that they are mystery and wonder, that they are more than the fairer sex. When the conversations were done, we were all still smiling and I took that as a good sign. It was hopeful, at least it was hopeful to me.

What’s a girl to do?

A girl is to be loved and honored as equal because she is lovable and honorable and because she is equal. She is not a percentage of a person. She should not be treated that way. A girl is to be encouraged to be strong without injecting fear that she’ll be discarded because of it. A girl is to be considered dangerous rather than fragile, because women are dangerous, because women are powerful. We are a force of nature and our time is coming now.

World weary or not, I figure I need to put on the long lens here. That’s the best I can come up with in the face of elections and legislation fights, mudslinging, celebrity sightings, political gossip and pollution and the war on women. What’s a girl to do? As much as I fully believe we need to sit in the present, to continue to voice our opinions, to continue to move toward the oceans of power owned by the smallest population of the mighty I believe too that the real hope lies in paying close attention to the people we’re raising now, especially the girls among us. It’s not an “either or” it is a “yes, and” plan.

Do your part, vote your conscience, voice your opinion in places it matters most, march when possible, do your homework, open your mind, listen to your neighbor…and encourage those young and wise women among us. Encourage them to know and engage the world around them as if they are equal, as if they are valuable, as if they are the future of us all because they are.

The world depends on what that girl will do.

after training wheels…

The training wheels came off Miles’ bike yesterday. It was a hard sell, convincing him it was time he tried to ride without them. The trouble is that he can’t ride with the other two boys on the country roads out here, the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting.  In the end we wrestled them out of his hands and he seemed almost excited to give this thing a chance. There were many wobbly moments, followed by many flat-out fall overs. He could not quite grasp the “put your feet down to keep from falling over” piece. Dave tried, using the same method he’d employed with the other kids. I tried, using my best metaphorical language and calm understanding. He was still game to keep trying after failure after failure on the level ground. I’d say he was almost excited about the learning.

Then Chet and Henry rode their bikes down the long, slopey run to the fire pit and Miles wanted to try that. All I could see in my head was the end of that run and Miles crumpled in a heap someplace. I knew it would most likely end poorly so I tried to convince him to stay on level ground. He was having none of that. He wanted to try and in the end I thought that maybe a taste of the wind in his hair and that the advantage of the hill and perpetual motion might win him over regardless of the outcome. And so, I set him on the bike, holding the back of his seat, praying for an absence of broken bones and some small bit of faith that it would end well overall and he set off down the steep grassy hill.

I could not see his face but I hoped it was a moment of exhilaration, a moment of joy, a moment of maybe. I could see the faces of Chet and Henry near the bottom, happy and excited for him to try it, jumping up and down in support, shouting their encouragement….then the swerve, the fear, the handlebars buckling, the braking instinct missing and he steered right into Chet’s bike lying on the ground. He skidded to a sideways stop face planting right into Chet’s idle tires and it was done.

When we all ran up to him he was already in full tearful howl. I checked to make sure he was intact, no ribs broken, all limbs functioning. I checked for bleeding and scrapes and held him close to me as we sat on the ground. His crying was shouting and anger and embarrassment and fear left unchecked, out of the box, full of “I told you so’s” and “why did you make me’s?”

He would not get back on the bike. He kicked it full force and screamed at it and he would not let me offer him any comfort. He would not hear any words of affirmation or encouragement anymore. I told him he needed to try again, that it takes time and practice. He would not hear it. He wanted to be alone and so I let him stay there near the bottom of the hill.  When I came back a few minutes later he’d moved to the foot of the steps outside. He was drawing quietly with a rock on the slate stepping stones. I asked if he wanted me to find the sidewalk chalk but he said, “no.” He liked using that rock, he stated. I asked about his drawing and he told me it was of a boy, falling from a bike and that the boy was hurt. I asked if he needed anything and he told me he just wanted to keep drawing and so I left him alone with his work.

A few hours later I got a rejection notice for a piece I’d submitted a while back. I invented stories in my head about what might have happened, how not hearing might be a good sign, how it might mean they’d accepted it and if they accepted it, someplace in my head or heart I’d attached meaning. It meant value, for me, for my writing, for that piece. At the same time I prepared myself for the crash at the bottom of the hill. Before I’d even gotten the rejection notice I was planning for it. Disappointment sucks but planned disappointment might be worse. I’m hedging my emotional bets when I do that, planning for disappointment. I’m trying my best to keep my ego in place, to keep my expectations low so that when the crash comes, and it is bound to come if I put myself out there time after time, I won’t be too badly hurt.

The truth is that rejection hurts regardless of how well I think I might have prepared for it. I do have a choice not to show my work around. I can write all day long, sing praises for my own writing and talk about the book I’m working on but never show it to anyone. That’s safe, training wheels to keep things steady but the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting so submitting my work time after time means that for a while I may have to expect cuts and bruises and the impulse to stop trying altogether. It’s difficult in those moments just after the crash to remember the feeling of riding down that long hill, the blood pumping, the adrenaline coursing, the air in my face, on my hands and white knuckles, the possibility that with time and practice perhaps next time it will end well. I hope that Miles will get back on his bike and try again and I reckon, I may get back on mine.