Monthly Archives: August 2011

AP and guilt

I was raised a Catholic, so I’ve got a head start on this guilt thing.

But I realized yesterday as I was making cookies that AP (Attachment Parenting) and Natural Living has become all about feeling bad.

It’s not enough for me to make my kids a good meal for dinner. That alone doesn’t make me a “Good Mama.” I have to have a treat ready for them afterwards.

And it’s not enough to buy some cookies at the store. A packet of Chips Ahoy isn’t going to win me that “Good Mama” badge. I have to provide a homemade dessert.

And it’s not enough that I make a treat from scratch that they love. In order to feel genuinely good about it, I have to let one of them help me.

And it’s not enough to allow their assistance. I can’t express one tiny bit of frustration, irritation or, heaven forbid, anger, while we make our treat.

I’m not saying anyone in the NL/AP world is trying to make me feel any of this. I’m just saying that these are the words of self-flagellation that torture me on a daily basis.

Does it not defeat the entire purpose of moving toward a better life if along the way (which is all there is) I am going to be a miserable wretch?

Isn’t the point to cultivate a life of meaning, love and joy?

Can you get there by way of constant, unrelenting negativity?

Master of My Own Destiny

It must be because the huge cultural extravaganza known as “Back to School” is banging on the front door, but I return again to the ghost that haunts me — the Master’s degree.

As teenagers we were assured that you can’t make it in life without a high school diploma. Check. When I quit college at 20, I was warned that I’ve never make it without a Bachelor’s degree. I went back to college at 32, a single mom with three kids, and rocked it, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors.

Has this piece of paper earned me any respect or validation? No. Tens of thousands of dollars of debt later, those in a position to hire still smile politely and roundfile my application as soon as my back is turned to leave the office. The new base standard is the almighty Master’s degree (cue angelic choir.)

I almost finished one in 2007. I could choose the path of regret, but I refuse. I hated my program and was only in it because I loved every minute of the accompanying opportunity to teach as a graduate fellow. I was marrying that man for his money.

And I still want to teach. My passion for language and deep desire to share it with others is the only reason I keep revisiting this unpleasant topic of validation-by-paper.

That crossroads is still there — to go further down the path of institutionalization, or just once and for all to jump outside the box and run.

The lure of respect, retirement, health care, all the fancy must-have perks of working in the system sing their siren songs beneath a banner embossed in gold leaf with my name, followed by venerable capital letters which would brand me as belonging to the Worthy Herd.

But the other path, that “road less traveled,” where could it possibly lead? How would a person walk it, and how would you know when you got somewhere?

I think the only way to arrive at a comparable level of respect and validation along an alternate path is celebrity by fame or huge accomplishment. Write a well-received book, found a successful institution, develop a new theory or become otherwise positively renowned and they will throw their honorary diplomas at you like confetti. And at that moment, rather than hungrily grab at them, you would smile a bit and half-interestedly watch them fall.

And if this path never leads to respect or validation by those who dwell in an office wallpapered with credentials? If the journey is never more than a humble scraping by?

Perhaps the most essential question is — how can I become one of them, participating in and advocating for a bloated, self-important system whose stranglehold on the job market might not reflect a legitimate need for more and more education but might simply reveal the epidemic of greed for tuition dollars?

But the most vital question for me personally is, shouldn’t I be willing to make any compromise rather than take the risk that I’ll never teach again?

From Furious to Curious

Maybe just a cutesy saying, but after I saw it on a Facebook wall photo, it stuck with me all day. In my quest to heal myself from my angry outbursts, I will consider any possibility to reach that goal.

I get the “curious” part on an intellectual level. Instead of lashing out in fury, allow your energy to focus on the situation with an open mind, allow your pointed rage to ask questions instead of shouting: “What do I need in this situation?” “What is most important here?” “What wonderful thing can I help bloom out of this chaos?” Or whatever inquiry fascinates you at the moment you find yourself about to blow your top.

Yesterday this technique, being fresh, was enough to distract me. There were a couple of situations in which I was able to turn my anger into an internal dialogue that siphoned enough of the frustration that I was able to be chill.

But then I went outside to water the garden. I’d been watching the sky all day and seeing big dark clouds come and go, hoping they would just go ahead and dump some of their load on us and do my work for me. No dice. So I’m out there, on edge waiting for one of the kids to come out shrieking, whining or begging, as is their habit.

And my new hose keeps kinking. Everytime I so much as breathe much less take a step the stupid thing twists and stops the flow.

The first couple of times I felt the anger, I remembered the idea about turning it to curiosity and I was very curious about what I could possibly be curious about in this situation.

About the tenth time it got kinked and I had to stop what I was doing and go over to untwist it, I was just royally pissed. What can I possibly want to know about any of this? I know why the water keeps stopping. I know what will happen to my plants if they bake all day in this Southern summer sun and get no drink. I know precisely how much they mean to me.

I learned that sometimes I am just tired and don’t want to keep encountering obstacles to accomplishing the things that need doing but which I have no energy for. Sometimes I am too tired even to be curious.

Which strikes me as frustrating, in and of itself.

Sprouts in the Compost

My first compost pile in a few years, not going fancy with any kind of contraption yet. Maybe ever. I’ve had success with just-laying-it-all-out-style, being able to turn things in easily. Why mess with easy?

But I’ve added so many seedy bits that now I’ve got sprouts growing out of my compost. Birth and death in one mound of dirt. Food from food. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (that would be the grocer who isn’t collecting…)

On the one hand, the beautiful cycle of life unfolding effortlessly is such a sweet surprise – uplifting, hopeful, fulfilling.

On the other hand, hang on! I need to be able to be rough with this mess, chop and dig and turn, cultivate decay. How am I supposed to ruthlessly recycle when I’ve got lovely delicate greenness volunteering out of the soil, offering a future bounty in selfless sacrifice?

Of course, I have a hard time thinning the things I’ve planted on purpose, too. Seems so cruel. Yeah, y’all are gonna have to die because your buddies here need some elbow room.

Gardening is a solemn affair at times, I tell you! A gardener is often inspired to consider philosophically that power of life and death being wielded, even with strawberry juice running down the chin…

The Choice is Yours

I used to think that parenting was all about helping kids make their own choices. After years of experimenting with this philosophy, I’ve had to adjust so that I don’t let my kids slam too many doors before they’ve even had a peek through the keyhole.

Looking back on my own life, I realize how huge every decision was, whether I made it for myself or my parents made it for me. Even seemingly small choices become huge divergences on the path of life.

Yesterday I took my 15 year old son to sign him up at a new high school. He wanted desperately to stay at his old one, but for various reasons such as our having moved out of district, not to mention the price of gas, the new school is a necessary change.

I felt terrible about it until we’d gotten him his new schedule which includes drama and computer classes. I feel like he has something to look forward to and can meet some people with similar interests.

He has chosen not to continue to play football. This feels like an even bigger decision to me, just because there are so many benefits and good memories generated by participating in school activities. While I don’t care about the pigskin in particular, it is the only sport he has experience in, and at this level of organized sports it’s too late to start something new.

I knew I had to turn this choice over to him.

I know some parents would push, some would push hard, but I just spoke to him seriously, trying to impress upon him the implications of his decision. But I know, having been a teenager, that there is no way he can possibly understand how big every decision is.

At this point, even though he is choosing, the responsibility for the future consequences falls on me for letting him choose.

Some days, this huge weight feels too big to carry. But somehow I take another step and move on to the next fork in the road.