Archive for October, 2009

empathy delivery

girls' pumpkins

Why does the journey from 6 p.m. until now, when the kids are asleep, sometimes feel like an eternity? I was making dinner (note to self: do not start cooking brown rice when it’s already after six. No matter how good the sushi rolls are, I’ve lost my culinary audience to sleepiness, by 7:30.). Echo was “helping” me cook, which meant telling me, repeatedly and in great detail, why she needed the knife, and Xi was orbiting my body with a giant, helium butterfly balloon that kept smothering my face with it’s buoyancy. (Why is it that no matter what size the house is, the children prefer to play within six inches of my body? ) And while I batted the balloon away from my nostrils for the tenth time, and hid the knife behind the teapot, I thought to myself, this is what empathy delivery is for! We all need to have moments like these recognized. So here goes. I hereby declare empathy for any and all:

  • that struggle between the hours of 6 until bedtime.
  • that return to the bed 3 times to re-help their little one fall asleep, just to repeat the process a half hour later with their older one.
  • that are spending their first days and weeks with their newborn and worry about each little detail; wether or not their baby is  nursing enough, what that particular sound means, wether or not they are doing it right, etc.
  • that are recovering from surgery.
  • that miss their sister.
  • that finally get to move back to their hometown and realize they are a little afraid.
  • that want more romance and sex in their relationship, or want to want more sex in their relationship.
  • that are in love with someone that is not available, or is not their partner/husband/wife.
  • that have moved away from their town and feel lonely.
  • that think they want kids but are not yet in the right place for it.
  • that feel regret for how they recently treated someone.

Here’s to you, to you all.


October 30, 2009 at 10:09 pm 3 comments

Don’t forget to let me know about someone that needs empathy. I will include their situation in this weekend’s empathy delivery.

October 30, 2009 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

O stands for horse

I found myself musing about empathy skills today, when my children came up with some “feelings” they were feeling. For example:


This is a necklace Xi has been wearing lately. The “O”stands for horse, as in h.”O”.r.s.e. (I love the six year old mind and how it can modify any object, situation, or event to match their current obsession). So I asked her how she feels when she wears that necklace, and she said:

“I feel like I want to wear it for the rest of my life.”

Well, I surely can imagine a feeling such as this, but technically it lacks a certain… precision.

And then Echo has been making this face lately:


I showed her this picture and asked her how she feels when she is making this face. She said:

“Like I want to hit something.”

Again, the sentiment is crystal clear, but you wouldn’t find this emotion on the Center for Nonviolent Communication website.

On a side note, Echo really has been hitting things lately.

“This is my wacker-cracker! And I am going to whack you! Whack! Whack!”

“Ow! Your whacker-cracker is hurting me,

will you whacker-cracker something else?”

So I began to muse over empathy, and vocabulary. I certainly thought, in the back of my mind somewhere, that we were raising empathy geniuses. Well it turns out that I am just “above average” when it comes to empathy, according to this empathy test. Ha ha! Who knew?

This “news” sort of brought me back down to earth. I shouldn’t look for tests and vocabulary to verify empathic skills. Empathy is not meant for that realm. Instead, I should watch our six year old, who is afraid of cats, make room on the couch for our big feline beast. I should watch our two year old wield her whacker-cracker ever so gently against the tip of my shoe so that she can keep whacking, and I can stay safe. This is where to look. And, as it turns out, these girls are doing just fine. I don’t need a test to tell me that.

October 30, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

baby lizard incites tazmanian devil


Here is the scene:  Xi has a fever and is watching a movie,  Nathan and I are analyzing something in the kitchen, and Echo is to-and-fro-ing with chatter and various props. She returns from a foray delighted with a baby lizard wrapped in a blanket.


“Mama can you help me redo this sling for my baby?”

“Sure, how’s this?”

“Yeah that’s good…..NOOOO!!! That’s too strong on my back!”

“O.K….., how’s this?”

“NO! That’s not right! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”, and falls to the ground.

I think: uh oh, and glance at the clock- 7:50pm.

Papa chimes in (yeah for papas!):

“Coco, how about something more like a belt to wrap the baby?”

Pops right up, tears dry instantly, “Yeah! A belt! That’s a good idea! That will work!”

I think: phew, close one!

I use a tiny strip of fabric to wrap that plastic lizard expertly, perfectly, strapping it securely around Echo’s little chest. But…

(I wish I had larger type for her response.)

“NOOOOO!!!!!!!! That’s too BIG! No, No, NO!!!!! WAAAAAAAAHHHHH!”

Too big? oh dear

She rips the lizard off. I reach for her, she reaches for me, but her reach turns into a rhino charge that then pirouettes onto the floor. She is a screaming, writhing, TAZMANIAN DEVIL. She is literally a blur. I lean in to comfort her and she screeches. Nathan turns to look at her, and she screeches. This lasts for a while and we’re at a loss.

And then, risking my life, I scoop her up. She twists and wails, and I say:

“I’m just going to try this out.”

I walk toward the bedroom.

“I don’t want to go to sleep!!!!!!!!”

“You don’t? Even when we go in here…. and turn down the shades?”


“Even when we close the door?”


“Even when we get under these cozy covers?”

“Yeah I do want to.”

nurse, nurse, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I lay there with her and thought smugly: mother knows best ( and I thought it in a sticky, sweet, preachy, kind of voice). And then I silently LAUGHED and LAUGHED and LAUGHED. I do not!  Most often we use that phrase to justify a controlling act. Sure I had some evidence to back up the sleepy verdict but let’s face it; I was just plain old lucky.

I have returned from that same bedroom holding a very sleepy, but very not asleep child, too many times to get smug. It doesn’t matter how sleepy I think she is, or how much I think I know that she needs to go to sleep, if she isn’t ready she isn’t ready. Tonight I walked toward that bedroom with a good idea, and  an open mind, fully prepared to return the tazmanian devil to the awake world. But as it turns out, she was ready, and nobody lost an eyeball.


October 29, 2009 at 5:03 am 3 comments

pumpkin empathy

Echo was feeling chipper and chatty tonight so I grabbed the camera. Earlier in the day we had escorted Kris, Elliott, and Sascha to the dentist for their appointment and I thought she might want to talk about it. It turned out she wanted to talk about the pumpkins decorating the lobby, something that had been bothering her, and I was able to put a little bit of empathy on film.

October 28, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment



When I was pregnant with Echo I felt really alone. Nathan would say how funny or strange that seemed since carrying another living being inside my body might be the least alone I’d ever be. But “alone” isn’t just the physical reality of being the only one in the room. I felt alone even with another human being within me. Alone is a feeling, and feelings don’t always coincide with physical realities.

More than two years later, I’m still thinking about that idea. Alone in spirit.

Echo and I rode over to Kris’ house  today and I realized that she and  I live only blocks away from each other, yet are often completely isolated from one another. She is in her house feeding, playing, and holding her children. And I am in my house feeding, playing, and holding my own. As I rode through the neighborhood I wondered how many other parents am I passing? How many of those silent houses shelter another mom or dad feeding, playing, and holding?

How many of them, though inside a crowded house, feel alone?

When I was pregnant I felt alone because the person nearest to me was not pregnant, and though he is amazing, I knew he was not feeling the same things I was. No matter how often you say “we’re” pregnant, it still isn’t true. No one can deliver that baby for you,and that can feel lonely.

What helped, at the time, was empathy from someone who had experienced something similar. It felt good when my midwife visited and told me tales of kicking her husband out of the house because she was pregnant and wildly pissed off. It felt good to go to birth class and see other bellies. It felt good to hear stories I could relate to, from people I related to.

Now I am parenting in a way that flows against the current of our culture. To parent with empathy as a foundation can be a lonely enterprise indeed, as this is not the norm. Odds are your mother-in-law (or neighbor, or  grocery clerk) thinks you are crazy, your own mother may feel these choices are a direct attack on her parenting, and nine out of ten parents at a birthday party do not parent as you do.

Today, even more than when I was pregnant, I need people I relate to, to hear me, and share with me. I need to cross the divide, to make it the few blocks to my friend’s house, and hear her talk. I need the simple text that reconnects me. I need lifelines that keep me from being alone in the crowded room.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I only know that if I feel this then someone else might feel it too. And if they do feel this way, it might help to read these words late at night while their children sleep. I am reaching across the divide.

October 27, 2009 at 5:00 am 5 comments

i feel so irritated by your feelings

PEAS Farm, missoula

I find it the most difficult to provide genuine empathy when:

  • I am having a difficult time myself (upset about something else, feeling defensive about the feelings the other person is having, etc.)
  • I am hungry, cold, or need to pee.
  • I don’t understand WHY the person is having these particular feelings.

The last one is the kicker. I almost always have to pee, to some degree, and I almost always have something on my mind that provides a bit of distraction, but if I am able to understand why my child, partner, or friend is experiencing their feelings I can cope.

We went to a fantastic celebration at a local farm today to carve pumpkins, drink fresh warm cider, and ride ponies. And Missoula turns out for these things like you would not believe, so many good natured children and parents. The sun was shining. Our coats were off. There was the smell of hay in the air. Basically heaven, in my opinion.

And then, inexplicably, Xi starts to act funny, well scared actually. We sidled up to a picnic table with our farm grown pumpkins to settle in to some good old fashioned carving and Xi was scared. Scared? She didn’t like the goopy pumpkin guts, that part I anticipated and was ready to do all scooping necessary. But she kept saying (and crying) she was scared and couldn’t articulate why. She eventually said she wanted a small round table by ourselves, which of course was not available. I finally put her between Bella and Echo and she calmed a bit, but I was so irritated.

Her feelings felt so inconvenient.

And then the ponies. Ponies! Nope, too scared. Even with essential oils for bravery on her wrists, too scared.

Xi scared

Poor Xi.

It sure can be tricky. You try to summon the empathy even though there are major mental and emotional hurdles to get over. Then you get there and guess what? The kid may still have the feelings. (They may still behave the same way no matter how much empathy you muster.)

So why do it?

Because in her heart, the day she was scared and couldn’t say why, will be recorded. And she was not put on the pony to “sink or swim”, she was not ridiculed or ignored. Her heart will make an imprint of the hugs, the love, and the patience. She may even remember the day as a pleasant one.


October 26, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Older Posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 31 other followers

%d bloggers like this: