Archive for August, 2010

Natty

We all have our edge.

In yoga class, usually in some crazy-stretchy-balancing pose our teacher says: Go to your edge. Play that edge. And my mind screams: No! I will not! The edge hurts! I’d much rather stay in this comfy spot right here. But I usually go at least a little further, a little deeper. Maybe because I follow the rules when I’m in a class, maybe because I know that, despite my protestations, it’s good for me and will probably feel good too. In any case there definitely is an edge.

There is an edge in any activity we participate in. In romantic relationships there certainly is, as in: He just pushed me right over the edge and I lost it! Sometimes the edge pops up after dinner when the dishes are stacked in the sink but one partner has slumped onto the couch instead of stretching yellow latex gloves over their hands. Sometimes an edge rears its head when a new good-looking co-worker is mentioned, or another round of advice is offered instead of a shoulder to cry on. There is no predicting where that edge lives in any given relationship but it is most certainly there.

The same can be said for parenting. I’m pretty good at pushing past my edge when one daughter wants to wear her pajamas as her outfit, when another wants to try out what its like to take a bath with her clothes on, or when another wants to save toenail clippings in a tiny red satin box. The edge is pokey and irritating but I get over it with the help of thoughts like: What’s the big deal? and in exchange get happy, independent thinking children. But lately a topic has popped up that has brought out an edge and instead of scraping myself over it I am crashing headlong instead.

In short, Echo wants dreadlocks.

The fact is that her hair wants to dread. It is the tangliest mass I have ever seen. Every day. Even after brushing. Even with conditioner. Even with de-tangler and even with routine, daily maintenance. Her hair is simply always tangly. The other fact is that she does not enjoy hair care. Clips, head bands, pig tails, braids, hold very little appeal. And even though, on occasion I manage to regal her with made-up-on-the-spot stories about a monkey sneaking in to the county fair, or about Polly the Walrus who meets his fairy godmother while walking home from school, and gently tease the knots out, she is routinely not interested.

Yesterday I even chased her around the kitchen table. A game of pursuit, in which I occasionally lunged forward and dragged the brush through her locks, was the only way she would participate in any grooming at all.

And Echo is no  fool either. When Xi, the child most concerned about appearance, looking pretty, and grooming, warns her: Coco if you don’t let mama brush your hair do you know what will happen? You’ll get DREADLOCKS!, Echo scans through the mental images she has of dreadlocks, pairs them with the idea of never having to brush her hair again and says: Good!

When I try to coach myself over the edge, even momentarily, with the question: What’s the big deal? My first response is: judgement. Although I can handle the judgement of others as they curl up their noses at my girl’s dirty face, or as they question my choice to sit down on the sidewalk and hold my flailing toddler instead of “laying down the line and showing her who’s boss”,  somehow defending her purposely tangled (by me!), hair seems beyond my abilities.

At one point, because I possess the very same knotty hair as my daughter, I considered dreadlocks for myself. As one often does when considering a new idea I went straight to google and entered “white girl with dreadlocks”. My interest came to a screeching halt. My very first  foray landed me on a blog dedicated to the discussion of white girls with dreadlocks, where readers could post their own opinions, and my oh my. I read, at most, five responses and because of the strength of those opinions, the very disgust, outrage, and repulsion that those people felt, I fled from that site like my pants were on fire.

So there is judgement to contend with, that’s for sure. But the other thing is aesthetics, or more precisely control of my daughter’s appearance in other areas. I wonder if her hair is dreaded if I will want to straighten up some other aspect of her; wipe her face more frequently or persuade her to choose an outfit other than the one she has played in for the last three days running. Will I? And if so, is it worth it?

Right now her hair is smashed up into a bun. And she might just wear a bun forever-after, or at least until she wants to brush it, or until I get more confidence.

August 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm 15 comments

Not Laser-Vision, Toddler-Vision

The perspective captured by this photo is why it takes a family longer than half an hour to leave the house.

This view of the world is why children do not march in a direct line straight to the family vehicle, climb in without haste, and buckle themselves up immediately. An adult, or as one might say to themselves in a fit of impatience, a normal person might glance at the clock, grab their keys, check the mirror for stray food particles on the face, and leave, taking five minutes tops before they are out the door. A grown-up might even walk out the door, straight across the yard and into the car where they strap the seat belt, adjust the mirrors and regulate the volume of the radio without a single pause or extra thought.

Adults might do this but children never will.

Adults and children do not see the world in the same way.

As the photo above clearly indicates, the world of children is made of details. There are discoveries to be made with each step, treasures that we, in our hurry to get somewhere other than where we already are, miss entirely. I found this photo while uploading our camera onto the laptop today. It seems that unbeknownst to me Echo has been helping herself to the camera equipment and taking a few illustrative shots from her world. As iPhoto scrolled past a close-up of her foot, an artsy side-angled view of the rug, and a spacey orange glow (a lightbulb?), Echo showed no surprise. Why would she? They make sense to her.

My earliest memories are of a golden shag rug, three colored ovals in a row, and footlights lining a path. For the longest time these were just images that played in my head. Only later could I imagine where I might have seen those things, and what they would have meant in the adult world. I was in my teens, paging through an old family album when I first saw the shag carpet in the background of a faded seventies-era photograph. I’m sure my mother, visiting her mother, set me down on that glorious floor covering for tummy time as an infant. The three ovals, I later discovered, formed the old logo of a television company and was something I’d probably stuck my face against as a furniture-gripping almost-walker. The fuzzy footlights still exist along the path leading to my grandmother’s front door. My early understanding of them must have been abstract and hazy due to my smashed-cheek perch on the shoulder of my father as he carried my sleepy body to a waiting car.

It’s helpful to remember that my experience is not unique. Children everywhere are seeing dazzling, odd sights, right beneath our noses. What we see is the day spread out before us; that we will need to leave the house in the next half-hour if we are to stop by the gas station, run to the grocery store, fill the cart with groceries, and return in time to make three-cheese enchiladas for the Morgenstern’s potluck. What our children see is the deflated balloon within their fingers, the light coming through the potted fern, and the magnet that rolled behind the book-case.

Children do not move slowly on purpose. In fact, if we took the time to consider how many wonders there are between the living room floor and the car seat, we might see their movement as almost lightning quick. But sadly I don’t often take the time. I wish I would. I do not harass my children to get them to hurry. I try to give them ample time to fasten their shoes, or even change their mind several times about which shoes they actually want to wear. I ooh and aah over the dandelions they find on our way to the curb. I come up with games and make-believes that make getting into the car and then into the car seat fun. I laugh while at the grocery store, even say yes to several of their ideas when my initial response might have been no. I try not to say: If you don’t hurry up and get in the car we probably won’t make it to the potluck that you were so excited about!, even though it feels like that is exactly what might happen.

But I do these things, at least in part, to make my life easier. Stopping to ooh and aah over dandelions ends up being an efficient way of getting them to move past them and into the vehicle. The make-believes I come up with, more often than not, are not for our mutual pleasure, they are to expedite the buckling-up procedure. What I mean to say is that I do not actually see the dandelion.

I think most of us do not see the dandelion.

We do not see even half of  the mundane attractions that capture the attention of our offspring. We see someone moving slowly and we take it personally. This is why parents yell at their children, why they yank arms and threaten time-outs, why they say incredibly stupid things, and get grey hairs. If we actually saw the ant on the sidewalk for the amazing phenomenon that our boys do we wouldn’t care about the Morgenstern’s potluck. If we saw the inside workings of the toilet with the same jaw-dropping astonishment that our daughters do we wouldn’t hurry for anything.

The reality is that we probably will never see these things the same way our children do, but we can try. We can make the attempt, actually stop our moving feet, and put down our bags. We can at least give ourselves the opportunity, maybe even leave seemingly random photos in the iPhoto library as a reminder. Maybe even going so far as to make the dirty underside of the kitchen stove our desktop image so that we never rush these sweet, fuzzy-eyed, little people ever again.

August 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm 6 comments

Two Loves

My little girl wearing my big father’s watch. Yum.

August 29, 2010 at 11:23 am Leave a comment

Two Orders of Cellulite, and One Order of Teen Acne, Please

There is a theory out there, and bear with me because it can seem pretty crazy, that when a new being enters this realm they choose everything about their circumstances. They choose their parents, their physical appearance, their level of intelligence, everything. The idea is that a soul will be born into a different body thousands of different times in order to learn everything possible about the human existence.

The tall blonde cheerleader that lives in the midwest, born to a bank teller mother, and an iron worker father is just one specific experience. The ranch house, the knees that knock, the severe acne during the teen years, the dog allergies, the week chin, all of these aspects would have been chosen ahead of time to gain the specific knowledge of what it is like to live with those qualities.

If you are to embrace this theory as a parent it certainly results in less guilt. Not just on behalf of the children at the end of the block that are screamed at by their mother on hot summer nights, although any kind of balm for that kind of powerlessness is appreciated, but on behalf of your own children as well. In our family it would mean that two of our children chose to have two homes, that the experience of separate households, contrasting parenting methods, and a patchy residential schedule was actually sought after.

Like I said, it’s a wild idea, and  the parental cogs in my head question it critically: That doesn’t seem right. Since one home is by far simpler, easier, and more beneficial to the child, certainly the responsibility then lands on the parent to CREATE that for the child. The parents could, for the sake of their offspring, not separate, stick it out, and work through their difficulties. But that’s just it, if the new being wanted a single home experience, or the experience of two parents that stayed together despite the disharmony and grief, they would have chosen that very thing.

I agree, it’s a bit like the chicken or the egg, an easy way to explain away poor choices or give up our parental aspirations but I don’t think that’s exactly the point. I think the theory can actually be taken as a call to action, not to do anything in particular, but to be the most authentic possible version of yourself. If not for your own personal comfort, then for the sake of your child. If you believe in attachment parenting, empathy, or home-school then by all means act on your beliefs, as this is what your child, before they were even a microscopic speck, chose for himself.

(And before this gets out of hand and misinterpreted as pro-life propaganda, think again. Under this theory the being that “lives” just weeks as a teeny embryo, only to be lost to miscarriage or abortion would have chosen that unique experience as well.)

If your ten-year old would rather stay at her other house eating sweets and playing video games instead of at your house working on math sheets or practicing the hula hoop, then so be it. Although you have other wishes for her, although you have an entirely different set of preferences, although your heart breaks at the very thought of seeing her less, how can you know that this isn’t the precise experience that her little soul requires?

I know, it’s heady stuff.

On the micro level there can be great comfort. Instead of pangs of guilt for having passed on my tangly-hair gene to Echo, I can assume that tangly hair was part of her cosmic order. Instead of dreading the teen years because you know the acne that sprouted all over your own cheeks will surely make an appearance on your boy, you can rest in the thought that a spotty teen complexion is what your boy’s soul selected from the menu of human existence. Instead of swimming upstream, fighting the tides, or submitting hail mary court filings, you can try on this theory, pull your perspective back to the widest lens and trust that what is happening is just what your child requested.

If parenting this way  is too passive or fluffy for you, try it on yourself. Maybe those particular thighs, the ones with the stretch marks around the sides, the cellulite along the back, and vericose veins near the knees are the perfect fit for you in this lifetime. Perhaps that heartache you suffered as a teenager, throwing yourself onto the thick pink carpeting of your childhood bedroom, is precisely what your soul needed at precisely that time in your life. Perhaps everything you see and feel is exactly right, and because you embrace it, because you let it in all the way, you will wring every enriching drop from its fabric and not have to do it again.

Maybe this is all just a convoluted way to get us to simply accept the circumstances of our lives, the shapes of our bodies, and the fate of our children. Maybe. But in any case I like to think that, at least with this theory, there is something to be gained. Peace of mind, certainly, but more than zen awareness there is also the notion that you are serving your children by honoring their own custom path, that you are putting check marks on the boxes of a cosmic experiential checklist, that you are not standing in the way of what is most needed by everyone.

And really, it’s interesting to think about.

August 28, 2010 at 9:20 am 1 comment

Ear Plugs Required

We were surrounded by parents and children yesterday. From sunup to sundown. Our precious play group, after weeks of trying but failing, managed to gather at the local water mecca. Turquoise water, trolling for shady lounge chairs, a lazy river, three water slides, splashing, lots of splashing, swim diapers, and lots and lots of children and parents. Ordinarily, surrounding myself with adults as they attempt to control their children, would drive me crazy, absolutely bananas, but the water park yesterday was so absolutely, mind-blowingly LOUD that I was impervious.

Most likely, a good number of parents were shouting: No running! No splashing! Watch out for your sister! Get out of the pool or we are leaving!, but I heard nothing. Instead I gazed around in my chlorine induced haze assuming the best and turning my eyes if body language veered toward anything remotely uncomfortable. What I could hear was my children, such as Echo squealing in delight, in my lap as Xi drove us around the lazy river. Try as she might to keep us relatively dry, Xi’s seven-year old coordination nevertheless steered us straight into wild squirts of water that blasted us directly in the face. Or Xi’s proud whoops as, after gentle escorting from Papa, she made it down the orange slide. And my own laughter! My goodness, apparently nothing gives me the giggles like powerlessness over torrents of water landing on my head and face.

We flip-flopped our way out in the late afternoon, Echo finally naked as she yearned to be the entire day, in order to make our way to the Welcome Picnic for Xi’s new school. I was prepared to disagree with the parenting at the water park but in the end was saved by the cacophony of splashing water and screaming children. I was not prepared for the parenting at the picnic. In fact I was poised to enjoy myself, to surround myself with like-minded parents that, like us were opting for an alternative style of education, something out of the mainstream. I assumed their parenting methods would follow suit.

I was wrong.

The picnic took place amid cottonwoods and pines, and the children were curious about what lay beyond the picnic tables. Parents chatted in groups keeping an eye on their offspring while reacquainting themselves. If any of them had taken even a moment to follow their kids into the woods they would have noticed that not five feet into the trees there was a beautiful teepee structure made of branches, the kind of thing with a door and a roof that is absolutely irresistible to young people, and also quite safe. But nobody did. Instead they barked threats and warnings from where they stood. Liam! Stay where I can see you! … NORA! Get out of there! It’s almost time for dinner. Come here! I’m counting… 1…..2….. Good girl.

Ugh.

And it didn’t stop there. Dinner brought out new threats (Sit quietly or you’re in a time-out mister.), more inane statements (Honey, we don’t slide under the table during dinner.), and more discomfort on my part. The only consolation is that these parents are not the teachers. The teachers themselves are incredible, letting children fully express themselves, maintaining realistic expectations, and leaving praise of mindless obedience behind. What’s more, they actually like kids.

We continued our parent/children marathon by topping the night off with a birthday party. My shoulders immediately began to relax as we wound our way back onto familiar parenting territory. The usual awesome party action ensued, a pinata, trampoline tricks, a treasure hunt, presents, and ice cream. I watched the action, sprawled on the warmed-by-the-day grass, but what stood out for me wasn’t anything to do with the birthday per se. Our sweet friend sat nearby, her round belly a sign of further adventures to come as she adds another girl to her brood. She is fantastic. And what made an impression is that her partner, the father of the new baby but not her first two children, is getting his introduction to parenting through her.

With a model like that he is sure to use empathy instead of threats, make sense instead of non-sense, and actually enjoy his children.

I’d like water parks to be filled with splashing, screaming children, and that kind of parenting. I’d like that kind of parenting to be the norm, not the exception, the kind used at school picnics across the world. Apparently progressive educational practices teach the children grace and empathy but do nothing for their guardians.

Sigh.

August 27, 2010 at 9:58 am 11 comments

Powers of Desperation

In the deepest dark of night:

Echo: Mom I don’t want you to turn into a grandma.

Me: Oh?

Echo: ‘Cuz I still want to nurse.

Me: Oh. Well the grandma part happens a long time from now. When you are a grown up and have a baby. And by that time, when you’re nursing your own baby you won’t want to nurse on me.

Echo: Why not?

Me: Because you’ll be an adult and you probably won’t even think of nursing on me.

Echo: But I’ll still want to nurse! Even when I am a grown-up!

Me: Oh? Well if I am a grandma and you are a grown-up and you feel like you still want to nurse we can talk about it then.

Echo: I don’t want to be a grown-up.

Me: Oh?

Echo: Yeah! (sobbing)

Me: Well it’s still a long way away. You just turned three so you’ve really just started. Do you look forward to being a teenager?

Echo: No. I don’t want to get any older than a pre-teen.

And then she stayed awake. From that conversation around three forty-five, until morning. Tossing and turning, falling asleep just long enough for me to relax and fade out, and then she’d wake right back up again. She wanted to nurse again, she wanted to get up, she was afraid of the reflections of the alley light sneaking past the edge of the shades. She wanted something, anything that wasn’t happening already. As the light started to creep into the room my desperation came to a peak and I flung myself to a seated position and bawled my eyes out. Of course, I was soon followed by a sobbing toddler who hung herself on my back crying out her own confused, vicarious grief.

I explained my angst in detail to a sad and sleepy Nathan, and then Echo and I both crumpled back into bed. Further exhausted by our shared outburst she finally fell into a true sleep. It was the kind of sleep that could only be maintained if I did not move a muscle, if I didn’t even breathe. My ear was folded beneath me like a taco and I still did not move, preferring this half-sleep to conversation or rising.

And then it happened again, the next night. Three forty-five until morn. The fear of her mother becoming a grandma and thereby removing the option of nursing was shelved, but fear of the light remained, which upon closer inspection meant fear of the dark. I have very few coping skills in the middle of the night, my patience runs out as sleep knocks at the edges of my consciousness. I feel trapped, even punished by a daughter that won’t let me sleep. In the light of day there is less drama but in the dark of night it feels like the end of the world.

Determined to sleep through until morning Echo and I took a long good look at her fears before closing our eyes the following night. We talked a lot about what light symbolizes, and where shadows originate. We talked about the walls of the room and that they held only she and I in one bed, and her Papa and sister in another. We talked about how safe she is, how well Papa and I look after her, but she was still afraid. At one point she wanted the covers up over her head, and I snuggled her in a warm mummy-like cocoon, but that only resulted in a still fearful but now sweaty child.

That’s when I though of the magic bubble. Our nine-year old calls it the white light, but since dark and light were part and parcel of Echo’s fears I instinctively chose Magic Bubble instead. I used my parental powers to cast a strong, invisible, hovering bubble over my girl that would last her the entire night and protect her from harm. She wanted to know a lot about this new fandangled structure. Could she touch it? Did it fall onto her skin or perch above like an umbrella?She also wanted to know how I came by such powers and I told her I acquired them simply because I believe.

And I did. So desperately. I could see it hovering over us, rainbow swirls catching in the dim light. The air beneath it’s tent sweetened and clear. Perhaps our shared  hope is what made it real. All I know is that it worked.

A solid night’s sleep.

August 26, 2010 at 8:36 am 1 comment

Dear Lady at the Coffee Shop

Dear Lady at the Coffee Shop,

I noticed that the sounds my daughter was making bothered you. Your vociferous grumblings, along the lines of: …screaming and crying children… bah! … were heard from the booth in which we sat, and were not much appreciated.

When I set my boiling anger aside I can find empathy for you. Perhaps you were tired after a long walk into town. Perhaps you were hot and looking for a nice place to rest, read your paper, and sip your iced coffee in peace. Perhaps you never had children and the mere sight of them causes your heart to stir in uncomfortable ways. Perhaps you fought with your lover in the early morn and could not handle any further outbursts of emotion. Perhaps you always grumble when hearing the cries of a child, a habit you learned early on and cannot drop.

Any version of my wild imaginings allow me to love you a little bit and hate you a little less.

But I’d also like to give you some information: parents do not want their children to scream or cry. Their pain and suffering is something we seek to prevent with all the might and skills that we possess. We especially do not want them to scream or cry in the cafe and disturb old ladies drinking their coffee and reading the paper. Many parents will avoid public outings altogether so as to preserve the relative peace of the non-reproducing public. Other parents will yank their children roughly by the arm, dragging them to a discreet location where they can spank them for expressing themselves in such a way, where the parent can unleash a stream of their own insecurity and shame for having bothered a person such as yourself.

I am not one of these parents although I too, in my own way, seek to please others, to make them smile at my child and feel happy to see us, not inspire them to grumble irritatingly at the sound of her discontent. But while I long for your approval, I will not sacrifice my girl in order to receive it. I believe she is a human being with equal rights to downtown coffee shops. When she cries in dismay I choose to hold her, finding that response far less disturbing than escalating the situation and noise with violence and threats. In fact, the screaming and crying you mentioned while flipping through the news lasted less than ten seconds and was followed by an hour of quiet contentment.

Perhaps this information might also prove helpful: a bagel arriving with cream cheese instead of butter is upsetting to a three-year old. So might the position of a water glass, or a beloved squeaky shoe falling from the booth and into the depths that lie beneath the table. There are hundreds of small, seemingly unimportant instances that can cause torrential grief in a small human. Their world is littered with emotional land mines, but thankfully, in my opinion, children are not yet shackled by social constraint. My girl didn’t see you behind us in the booth, and in any case wouldn’t know that unleashing the secrets of her heart would be disturbing, to you or anyone else. Where you, or I, suffer from withholding our pain, she does not. Her heart is clear and unfettered.

When I heard you, over the whimpers of my cradled girl, I wanted to spring up and shout in your face. Imagining carrying out this reaction, so out of character for me, entertained me long enough for my heart to still, for my focus to resettle on my girl’s tangly locks. You don’t know. You simply do not know. Your heart is tucked so far within, so far from the surface that you think it is my child’s cries that disturb you, not something that you brought along, something old, and faded and permanently imbedded. You do not know, or do not remember what heartache feels like when you release it immediately, what it sounds like as it echoes off the walls of a cafe.

I am no longer mad.

Love,

Me

August 24, 2010 at 10:46 am 7 comments

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