Tag Archives: children

Blind to Blessings

Some days I can so clearly remember being little, being at my Grandma’s house, the sound of the piano in the rumpus room, the rhythm of her low-heeled pumps walking across the kitchen floor, the feel of the cool green leather recliner I liked to sit in.

A feeling of dark anger wells up in me, that I had no idea how precious it was. That I was a spoiled brat wondering what toy she would buy me later, how soon we would leave for the movies, if she’d remembered to buy my favorite ice cream for dessert later.

And now I am painfully aware of how good my kids have it. Shelves full of books, rooms full of every kind of toy, the Netflix queue full of instantly available commercial-free entertainment. Not to mention video games, neighborhood friends, a field across the street and blackberry-filled woods next door, art supplies and a whole desk in the living room dedicated to creative pursuits. And two parents who engage, converse, interact, explain, listen, cook and clean, hug and kiss.

Etc. Etc.

And a dark anger wells up in me to think of how much they whine and complain and wish and pine and argue.

I try desperately not to hate. But I hate the fact that humans are so blind to blessings. And now, when my eyes are finally opened to how wonderful my life is, it is all tarnished, continually, day after day, despite all my best efforts, by the attitude of the young family members who WILL NOT STOP begging and bitching.

All I can think is that surely I ruined it for my Grandma. I know how hard she tried to make my time at her house a living paradise. And I know damn well how much I begged and bitched.

And the wheel turns.

Must-Read Blog for Parents

Karyn at kloppenmum has so much to share with those of us on the path of parenting: great anecdotes, well reasoned ideas, inspired perspectives and the valuable support of her warm, non-judgmental approach.

Here’s how she describes herself on her blog:

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I’m part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. My challenge: read at least three posts and leave at least one comment. (Lurkers confuse me.) Then, why not join the revolution?

I was lured in with the idea of revolution, based as it seems to be on attachment parenting and a healthy balance of seemingly opposite ideas, such as giving children respect but also limits.

The revolution as she presents it doesn’t seem to be something distant and impossible, but rather close to home, and within one’s own heart. It’s not based on concretized manifestos that mandate behaviors but instead allows for and actually encourages individuals to work within their own situation, listen to their own intuition and take into account each child’s personality and needs.

I appreciate being inspired without being commanded, being reasoned with but not being judged, being presented with wonderful new ideas and theories while at the same time being encouraged to mull them over and share my own interpretation instead of being required to accept them whole cloth.

So, why not join the revolution, or at least pop over to kloppenmum and see what it’s all about?

Diaper Guilt

As someone who considers herself a natural, alternative, bordering on the hippie kind of Mama and homemaker, my guilt over using disposable diapers has been excruciating, but, hey, since my last child is showing signs of potty training, it’s almost over.

On Ghost Mountain, Lompico, California, circa 1990 -- Back in my seriously hippie days

I lodge no complaint against the holier-than-thou attitude of the cloth diaperers. I know they are in the right, fulfilling yet another of the requirements of the “Natural Living” standards that gets you in the club. I completely ignore the ECers (“elimination communication,” where apparently you follow your barebutt, legwarmer-wearing child around with a bucket all day) since who even wants to reach that kind of saintliness. I’m only human, after all.

But how many of them have gone totally carless for nine years, like I did? Relying solely on a bike with bike trailer or buses, whether rain, shine, gale force winds… no matter what? (And yes, this was with two, then three kids, not as a single childless person!)

Yeah, I thought so. They toted their righteous poop catchers  home in some kind of earth-polluting monstrosity. (And hey, even the electric cars are tied to resource depletion, so don’t even start with me!) My near-decade of pedal power has to count for something.

I did try cloth diapering for about three months with my third child. This was during the two years I didn’t have a dryer, but had to either use the clothesline in the back yard or, when the Oregon weather would piddle for days on end, I’d have to use wooden racks, shower rods, the backs of chairs, etc. (Yeah, and how many have done THAT? So see, I do have some karma in the bank…)

After the three months it just sucked unbelievably bad. Like not even worth being in your lousy club bad. Maybe if I’d had the money to invest in the fluffy-bunz-smooshy-cozy-ne’er-do-leak covers and the pre-fold-half-caf-double-back-flip-twisted inserts, it would have been a true joy. But with some old hand-me-downs and some stuff I found at the thrift store being the only diapering system within my financial reach, it was beyond craptastic.

So as I begin to wonder which will be the last pack of evil throw-away pee soppers I’ll ever buy, I can also feel myself relax into the possibility of being a real, 100% grade A certified natural human, once I’ve shed this terrible addiction to convenience.

You’ll have to excuse me, now, I think I smell something untoward that’s gonna put another black spot on my record…

Grandpa’s Fruit Tree

My teenagers hate it when I try to share a story from my past. Yesterday I was trying to tell my 19 year old about how as a kid I had records with story books so I could listen to Heidi and Mary Poppins and such. She could barely be bothered to look at me and as soon as I paused she left the room.

I was immediately reminded of my Grandma’s face that day when I was maybe thirteen years old and she tried to get me to try a peach ( I think it was a peach – it’s extra-damning that I can’t even remember that detail) from a tree that my deceased Grandpa had planted years before. As a kid I despised almost every kind of fruit, and for her to be practically begging me to take one bite of some stupid gross fruit just seemed mean. Hooray, the man I barely remember grew some nasty stuff I hate, why are you torturing me with it?

I can still see the desperation turning to pain in her eyes as she realized I wasn’t going to even pretend to nibble the peach.

Now I know how long it takes to cultivate fruit trees. Now I know how profound it is that a person can reach across time and space with the literal or figurative fruits of their labor, extending their love even beyond the grave by the thoughtful and loving things they did with their lives. She was trying to teach me this, wanting me to participate in this miracle, wanting to see that their years of hard work for posterity was truly going to nourish the generations to come.

Not that this compares with my stupid stories about listening to 45’s. I just remember my own disgust when I see it mirrored in my child’s face, in her refusal to even humor me for a couple minutes. In her self-centered ignorance about what it means for the past and the future to be connected in a meaningful embrace.

That I can only completely understand what her eyes were saying from this distance, when the peach and she and my Grandpa are all long gone, makes me feel like the biggest fool ever.

Give the Gift of Your Attention

Although I think Buddhism has a lot of good advice to offer parents, sometimes there is an idea that simply jumps out as speaking directly to those whose job it is to nurture children, such as this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.

When we are interacting with our children, do we stop our hurried, multi-tasking activity and look them in the eye? Do we give them our undivided attention, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully? Have you noticed what happens when you do this, how the child lights up, tunes in, seems somehow relieved?

I think I manage this with a fair amount of frequency with my own children (although no one’s perfect, and I am daily guilty of glancing over, nodding and saying, “uh huh” just to let them know that I’m pretending to listen to this tenth identical announcement of what their imaginary friend likes to eat for dinner.)

But what I’ve noticed is really magic is when you do this with someone else’s child. The effect that it has not only on the child but on the relationship between that child and your child is astounding to me.

Some days, when my kids are playing with neighborhood kids, I might look out the window and see them playing too rough or doing something unkind, and I holler out the door, just to let everyone know I see them.

But other days I’ll go all the way outside and strike up a conversation, not even mentioning the undesirable behavior, but just some kind of engaging interaction where I let them tell me what they got for Christmas or their trip to grandma’s house or whatever. I stand there, really listening, with the same amount and quality of attention I’d give an adult friend.

When I leave to go back inside and the kids re-engage in their activity, they are energized, cooperative, and seem happier. They somehow magically find something that’s fun for BOTH of them instead of playing aggressor/victim in some fashion or other.

Not forever, of course. Conflict will reemerge at some point down the road, but there will be at least a good half hour, if not more.

Have you noticed any magical results of the gift of your attention, either with children or people of any age? In situations of conflict or any other circumstances?

How Much Negativity is Normal?

First thing this morning, I roll out of bed after that jerk alarm clock so rudely woke me up, stumble into my daughter’s room to wake her for school, and before I’ve even had a sip of coffee I am confronted with this:

The previous evening we had had our (unfortunately) usual conflict over homework and bathing. Evidently it had hit her pretty hard, to generate such a sad response.

First, if I might be so callous as to point out the positive aspects of her letter:

1. She wrote something without being ordered, cajoled, threatened or bribed! Writing being one of the things we had argued about yesterday evening.

2. The lines of communication between the unloved daughter and the monster Mama seem to be pretty open, so that’s a good thing.

3. She has apparently learned my secret weapon (the guilt trip) well enough that she was able to turn it back on me. A+ and four gold stars for that one!

4. Her cleverness seems to know no bounds – notice how she puts a witty, guilt-inducing spin on the standard closing of “Love, So&So.” Pure genius!

Now to the negative. I know that I, for one, felt this exact way from about age 5 until age just a couple of minutes ago, and I fully expect the feeling to recur any minute. Is this my personal neurosis that my poor daughter has either genetically inherited or otherwise picked up from my toxic emotional environment?

Or does everyone go through this as a normal stage of growing up?

On the one hand, I think it is natural for every parent to want to cultivate and maintain the health and happiness of their child. What better satisfaction is there than to see pure joy upon that sweet little face?

On the other hand, without some trials in life, we would be fluffy, weak and pathetic creatures. To allow a child to feel a serious, profound connection to reality, even though sometimes that involves discomfort, is to allow a child to grow as a genuine person and, eventually, to become a capable, functioning adult.

I think especially in the Attachment Parenting world, we are prone to err on the side of eliminating all possibility of frustration, sadness and discomfort in the name of physical, emotional and mental health.

So is this letter an unpleasant but expected sight on the parenting journey, or is it, as she intended it and as I intended for my parents, a no-holds-barred condemnation of the quality of that journey?

All I know right now is, she ventures further away all the time as she grows and explores the world, and that’s natural. I hope that every time she returns to my embrace, she feels the warmth and affection that I’ve always had for her, and always will.

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?

Trail Mix Mama

Does an image from your past life ever flash across your mental screen?  You know, from those days gone by when your life was more your own, whenever that was, when you could go alone into the bathroom to do your business without small people screaming and banging on the door, when you had the time and energy to follow a sudden inspiration, when you had the freedom to arrange at least part of your life to go just the way you want it.

Yesterday, in the midst of the multi-tasking madness that is my daily routine, I was muching a few cashews, purchased purely because my husband and kids like them, when I suddenly remembered that I used to carry around trail mix in my backpack.  I would buy the ingredients separately from the bulk bins of the health food store: almonds, walnuts, dates, sunflower seeds, raisins, cashews.  I’d combine them into a big jar, and then I’d pour a couple of cups worth into a plastic bag and carry it around with me as a snack (or emergency survival tool!)

Why do I not do this any more?  I think the reasons shed much light on why I don’t do a lot of things I like to do anymore:

  1. I often can’t afford to buy quantities of expensive nuts and things
  2. Small children can choke on nuts, raisins, etc. so I couldn’t share my concoction with everyone
  3. I have to coordinate mealtime/hunger management with the entire family, so I am not at liberty to simply quench my own appetite whenever I fancy a nibble

Hank and Hank's Mama - 2007

 

What do we give up to set off down this path of parenthood?  What things that literally or figuratively feed us as individuals do we let fall by the wayside so that we can do what’s best for the new unit, so that we can harmonize with the new group we’ve created?  Which parts of me have disappeared into my existence as my children’s Mama, and someday, when those children no longer need me as much, which parts of me will still be there?

“To Suffer Is Not Enough”

I was taught by my mother and grandmother to be a martyr to the cause of the family.  They had to constantly worry, fuss, struggle and work to make sure everyone else was happy.  Their own happiness was just a shy smile to see others enjoying life, and then it was back to the grindstone.  They’ve been shining examples of selflessness, which is a difficult act to follow.

So when I read passages like the following by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” it is like a total release of all the anguish built up over the years of believing that suffering is a sign that you are caring enough, doing enough, loving enough:

The ocean of  suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land.  The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being allowed and even encouraged to have happiness as one part of your reality is a dream come true.  Not just my own happiness, of course, but the happiness of all beings.

And we don’t have to get rid of suffering entirely to be happy!  What a concept.  How many of us are waiting until conditions are perfect before we can be happy, whether it’s getting the bathroom sink fixed or having our child cured of his cold, we feel we must not allow ourselves happiness while there is still something amiss.

Hanh continues:

When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it.  But don’t overlook all the healthy trees.  Even while you have pain in your heart, you can enjoy the many wonders of life — the beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, the many flowers and trees.  To suffer is not enough.  Please don’t be imprisoned by your suffering.

“To suffer is not enough!”  I will suffer, and I will feel that pain, and things will be amiss, and I can work towards eliminating that suffering, but while I’m traveling that road — I am allowed to be happy!  I am allowed to appreciate what beauty and pleasure still exists!

I am reminded of the story of the man chased by a tiger.  He falls over a cliff, and realizes that he is hanging by a root which is slowly pulling out of the dirt, with a snarling tiger waiting on the cliff above, and sharp rocks far below ready to make pulp of his flesh.  In the midst of this, he sees a little plant growing right beside his cheek, smells the perfume of the plump, perfectly ripe strawberry, plucks it and savors its juicy sweetness.  Who among us has the courage to find and appreciate joy under such pressure?  How do we cultivate that kind of awareness and focus?

Do you suffer from a martyr complex?  Have you found any ways to overcome your tendency to color the whole world with the pain of the worst thing that’s happening in your life right now?  Can you care for the sick tree while drawing inspiration from the healthy ones?  Are you waiting for an end to all suffering before you experience joy?

The Last Puzzle Piece

My 8 year old daughter and I recently did a 300 piece puzzle together.  It’s a really cool one with animals doing all kinds of silly things, the kind of puzzle where you grow attached to the various little characters and scenes within the whole picture.

So when we got to the end and we were missing a piece, I was quite disappointed.  “Great, we lost one!” I said (probably too loud) and proceeded to spend the next two minutes looking all around, even in other rooms, since the baby is notorious for taking off with little important bits and eating/losing them.

Just as I was giving up in despair, my 8 year old giggled and produced the piece from under her seat.  Grrr.

Now, she comes by this joke honestly, as it’s a tradition for my Dad to pull this trick on my Mom and I, but when he does it, he is standing at the ready as we put the last couple pieces in.  He doesn’t let us look around for it, he just swoops in and takes the glory of putting in the last puzzle piece.

My daughter and I discussed how this trick might be more fun for all in the future, and causing Mama extra stress is not part of the equation, but the whole experience made me realize that though there are 300 pieces in the puzzle, the most important and special one is the LAST one.

And how, don’t we all want to feel like the last puzzle piece?  There are billions of people in this world, many, many individuals in our communities and families and schools, but don’t we each want to feel like the one who will be missed if we aren’t there?  Don’t we each want someone to panic and search desperately for us?  Don’t we want to feel so precious that the whole project of life will be incomplete without us?

How often do we intend to make someone else feel like the last puzzle piece?  Our child, our partner, a dear friend?  And is it something we can do for a stranger in the grocery store, to look into their eyes and smile like they are the small bit we’d thought was lost but then we found it?  What joy!

I hope when you are here at Wise Way Tribe, you feel me reaching out across the time and space that separates my typing from your eyes moving across the screen, and that we can meet with a true connection.  I hope you know that your presence makes my puzzle complete.