December 31st, 2006
You leap out of bed startled and sweating. What was that? It sounded like glass breaking but it must have come from another room. You stumble through the dark towards the kitchen. "Shit!" you curse as your foot is intersected by something sharp and pointy. You flip the light switch and pull a shard of glass out of your heal then another crash draws your attention towards the center of the room where you see your two year old son sitting by dish washer which is wide open. Shards of glass and broken dishes are everywhere. He sits there seriously examining the contents of the machine before picking out another plate then gleefully throws it across the room where it crashes into the wall. Being the grounded person you are your immediate reaction is sane and rational: "This," you say to yourself, "is the perfect time to organize a peaceful protest against global warming!" and quite certain that global warming is a clear and present danger to the future of all life on the planet you storm out of the room in order to grab your cell and get in touch with Al Gore.
Parenting gives you a real sense of the present. You may have a larger sense of reality and the world around you but children have a way of drawing you into the present, to acknowledge what Eckhart Tolle talks about in his book The Power of Now. Children aren't going to care what's going on in the outside world if what they're thinking about right now is a full diaper, an empty stomach, or their desire to sneak a boy into the house. Nope, children are going to do what they're going to do and you, if you're a proactive parent, are going to have to react to their behavior and tough noogies if you don't like it, that's how it works!
You may wish to teach your children your values but if you're not present with them there's only one lesson you're teaching: that your values are more important to you than they are. And what child--what human being--wants to hear that your ideas and values are more important than their thoughts, their feelings, their very existence?!? What respect will this attitude garner, what lessons will it teach, what will the quality of your relationship be if you ignore the shards of glass directly underfoot?
New years resolutions are typically focused on ourselves: Eat better, exercise more, balance the budget, etc. Or they're focused on the external world: become more active in the community, donate to a charity, buy an earth friendly vehicle, etc., etc. Resolutions are rarely focused on what you can see and hear and smell and taste and touch, i.e. the immediate where you have the most impact on the world around you.
Children force us to acknowledge the present, to, as Pema Chodron might say, to Start Where You Are. It may seem simple but trust me, it's the hardest and most spiritual thing you can do, this silly starting where you are thing. Sure, it's easy when there's a splinter of glass in your heal but not so easy when you must recognize that your words and actions right now have an immediate effect on your relationship to your child--and that relationship you have in the now, that human-to-human bond, will have repercussions that will ripple over this tiny blue dot for hundreds of thousands of years.
And no, I'm not making that up.
Don't you see? That's where it starts, when you run into the kitchen and act. Do you yell? Do you clean up the mess and ignore the child? Do you swat them? Beat them? Explain to them the consequences? Help them to clean up the mess? Grab a dish and throw it too? Or ignore it all together and go do something else?
What you do is everything.
Action and choice are the building blocks of reality, not values or ideologies. Children intuitively know this. They will see your energy, be in relationship to you and it, and this will effect their life and by extension of that their relationships to teachers, friends, and later employers, lovers, husbands or wives, and then their own children. If you have questionable control over your actions and choices in the immediacy of the moment to moment reality...if you cannot enrich the lives most immediate to you in the now...
What hope is there but the respondent folly of monkey mind?
December 25th, 2006
Up early, coffee, presents. To bed late, post cleanup, relax. Motorcycle rides and rain, picked some decent gifts (overcame gift giver's block of one week previous), cooked turkey, ate turkey, sat, sit, sitting, writing, saving, publishing, bed.
Stockings one, two, three. Three had coal as a lesson, as a joke, with a poem. I'm so creative, I'm told. Curious George is free from the wrapping, the new dishes have been broken in, the old will be packed away for six, seven, eight years until one day they are needed again and the memories will be consumed with the foods I eat off them. There's chocolate everywhere and wrapping everywhere and dirty dishes everywhere and new memories everywhere and who the fuck is going to clean up this mess?
I'll do my part.
The little one says it's the best Christmas ever. She always says that. We always put our all into it. No, we don't buy her the most or the best. And not everything is bought or new. But we choose and plan and plan and choose and make every piece of scotch tape matter. I hope she always says today's Christmas is the best ever. Up early, coffee, presents. To bed late, post cleanup, and relax.
Sitting, writing, saving, publishing, bed.
December 24th, 2006
The other day I was watching a program on The History Channel about the history of Christmas. At one point they were interviewing modern day people about what they thought the meaning of Christmas was and a woman answered that when she was a child it was about Church and wonderful meals and family and now it's just about shopping. The woman says this while standing in a mall with a kid at her hip and packages at her sides.
Aslynn raised an eyebrow.
When it's come to making plans whether they be Thanksgiving dinner or say get tickets to go see a band I've typically been a follower. Other people made the plans, other people got the family together, other people, not me, made sure things happened.
Over the past five or six years this has changed quite a bit. I've bought tickets on a whim to go out and see John Lee Hooker (just a few months before he died, in fact) and organize motorcycle trips for groups of anywhere from one (myself) to twenty people. True, I still would prefer someone else plan Thanksgiving and my tendency and lacadasical preference is to wait till only a few days beforehand to get the dominos setup but I'm out there, I realize something that I never really did most of my life: these things don't randomly come together.
There are wonderful people in this world. They get the family together. They make the meals. They get out all the knick knacks and make the house beautiful. They know it's not magic but it is too, it is magic for them making it all come together and most people, like I was, just follow along without seeing the simple magic that beams from them.
Cherish these people! Tell them, "Thank you."
I'm ever so grateful for a lifetime of people who took me to Christmas Eve services (my favourite of the year), to those who got the decorations out, to those who's kitchens smelled like love, to those that knew that to give a time like Christmas meaning we (you and I) have to do that with our thoughts, our words, and our actions.
Merry be your journey,
December 22nd, 2006
I wasn't feeling so good today but I'd taken PPL (that's fancy white collar talk for Planned Paid Leave) and had planned to take my daughter to finish up some last minute Christmas shopping for her mom. As with previous years she had no list weeks ago acting as if she didn't know this mom person or the things she likes but today had a list of ten items, most of them fairly expensive, and was a little put off that I simply couldn't get everything (yes, I would be the one to completely ruin Christmas by not filling everyone's stockings with MP3 players). So there I am, not feeling well, and trying to explain the "Money doesn't grow on trees" lesson to her yet again and feeling a little more than frustrated (I take issue with repeatedly explaining the same idea to someone more than three times and did I mention I wasn't feeling well?). Yet somehow we managed to make it to the end of the day, to the gym, and tonight we'll all sit down and eat some healthy Thai and get our sci-fi fix for the weekend.
Parenting, as with spirituality, is most difficult when you're tired, stressed, or struggling with chronic pain or illness. This year I've been challenged by all of the above and it just seems like it's a never ending challenge to be in a headspace with emotional, mental, and physical pain and be spiritual, be grounded, and be there with your children.
So that is exactly when it's important to be able to find your spirit, to be able to be grounded, to find a connection with your child--and arguably with anyone you value. That being said I'd like to share the following podast with you:
The Spirituality of Parenting (a Speaking of Faith episode from American Public Radio).
December 21st, 2006
Don't tell me how to parent. That's it. That's all I have to say. Simple enough. It's not your goddamn business so please, unless I've opened the door, asked for your input, or you have some stake in my daughter's upbringing please, please, please, don't cross that line and project your own opinion on me.
I would appreciate it.
This is a pet peeve of mine, admittedly, people who can't keep their viewpoints on parenting to themselves. It's one thing if someone wants to share their views on politics or religion as these are areas of debate and personal conviction but to butt into another person's personal relationship with their child?
I realize people have strong points of view but it's not like it's socially acceptable to walk up to a married couple and say, "Hey, I don't agree with the way you two are communicating, I think you should have more heart to hearts and in fact should schedule those every afternoon before dinner." Most people would find that invasive and at some point you're going to get the finger for butting in where you don't bloody well belong.
Yet for some reason a substantial percentage of the populace does not understand nor respect this simple and reasonable boundary when it comes to parenting. True, it takes a village to raise a child but if you don't have legal guardianship or have been given responsibility for a child by a legal guardian or have been asked for an opinion then keep your damn mouth shut (it's called manners).
Parents don't appreciate unsolicited advice and believe it or not they get A LOT of it. Personally, I believe most parents shrug it off as another spouting off at the mouth by others who are generalizing and acting like experts where the underlying indication is that the know-it-all knows better than the parent who's been raising a child for one, two, five, or fifteen years.
What's the point of all that anyway? Do people who do this somehow think they're being helpful to me, someone with years of child psychology under my belt (not to mention one year of being a nanny and six years of being a parent)? Do they think just because they watch Dr. Phil every other day that they somehow understand the stages of development, interpersonal communication, or the like? What the hell?!
And believe it or not there are different breeds of the seemingly ubiquitous "parenting expert". There's the non-parent know-it-all who doesn't seem to get that listening to them is like going to the dentist for advice about a rattling catalytic converter; parenting is a little more than abstract and conceptualized theory! There's the relative or parent who, having their children out of the house now thinks it's their job to unofficially adopt yours (and give you minute by minute instructions on how it "should" be done--I mean they're older so they must know better, right?). And then there's the loving parent who thinks their theories on parenting are golden because hell, they're a parent and have been for awhile, yet their child is constantly lying, throwing tantrums, and manipulating adults without consequence. Yeah, I'm really going to listen to them, they're obviously super successful at helping their child become a well adjusted human being. And then there are those people that, though their children are fairly well adjusted, believe that this is somehow a basis for forcing their religious and/or political views on you because, hey, they're from X religious and Y political party and their kids aren't acting out in the way yours did last week so it must be because your family doesn't do X and Y (forget the fact that their kid is acting out in other ways that your child isn't!!!). And worst of all is the person who in a conversation that starts "Looks like it might rain today" learns you have children and suddenly has all the answers to your particular situation that they know absolutely nothing about. How arrogant is that?
So I'm not going to apologize and here's what I'm not going to apologize for:
I'm not going to apologize to you for our first phone conversation where you as a non-parent rambled poetic for twenty minutes about what I "should" be parenting like and what I was doing "wrong"--without any indication that your criticism was welcome nor even relevant to my family situation. I'm not going to apologize to you for politely commenting on your child throwing a tantrum while we were at a restaurant when I'd spent the previous five or six months allowing you to parent in your own way (your business, not mine) and yet you'd spent that entire time criticizing how I choose to parent (my business, not yours)--and for the record it is my business when I go in public with a child (or adult) and they make a scene. I'm not going to apologize to someone who yells at one child for breathing and lets the other get away with murder and then tells me I'm "too strict" and I should force gender stereotypes on my daughter--a sphincter says what? And I'm not going to apologize to those who think they know better because they have a certain belief system--belief systems don't raise well balanced children!
Well balanced and loving parents do.
You see, I don't parent based on how I feel. I don't parent based on a psychological framework, a social one, a spiritual one, or a political one. I have this silly little idea called results based parenting and the funny thing it's pretty simple. You might call it trial and error. I try something. I observe. Does it work? Yes? No? I learn, I continue forward. Reality in the present (and memory of the past) is my compass to parenting. Does Jung's theory on children help with my daughter? Yes? Okay, I'll work with that. Does my daughter respond to an authoritarian hand or a soft one? Ok, I'll work with whatever has the positive result I'm looking for. This is in large part how I parent.
Take for instance a little discussion Vipassana and I recently had regarding our daughter. Now in the past when she hasn't had school on a weekday I've either had to work from home or bring my little girl into the office (an experience she's learned to expect and tolerate). Now that she's old enough we've started to discuss letting her stay at home alone. One of the issues with this is being able to trust that she'll act responsibility without adult supervision; in our case that means complete her chores before playing and listening to music. Vipassana wanted to write lists for her and if she completed those every day, we could trust her to be home alone. I wanted to leave her home without lists as I felt if she was responsible enough to stay home she was responsible enough to be able to know our expectations (of which we continually remind her).
So yesterday I gave the little one a hug then locked the door behind me as I left her home alone for the day. Vipassana and I somehow managed to agree we'd try the "no list" option and see how the girl did. At lunch I stopped by the house to check on her and she proudly showed me not only the chores she'd done, but some extras she did (such as organize the DVD library in the living room). When I got home in the evening all her chores were done and she'd even taken the initiative to practice her saxophone without any instruction.
This is results based parenting. We tried something. It worked. So we'll stick with it. If it didn't work we might try the list (yes, I am willing to try things I don't necessarily agree with) or we might come up with someone else. We try, we watch, and we grow from there.
This month I've been expressing my views on parenting but in my defense I'm not throwing it in your or anyone else's face. You're making a conscious decision to come here and consume my opinions, my experiences, my views. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm not saying this is how you should do things, I'm just saying here's what I think, here are some experiences I've had, do with them what you will. And for today's rant I'm expressing another view, that I don't appreciate, nor have any respect for unsolicited advice, especially from people with questionable track records in parenting. This does not make me a hypocrite--I am not expressing these opinions to you without your consent--and frankly, parent how you feel best, that's your job (not mine!). This is simply my rant, my response, my 15 minutes of fame throwing shit back in the faces of all the know-it-alls that think-they-know-better: having an opinion on parenting doesn't mean others want to hear it and having the ability to copulate and procreate doesn't exactly make you an expert in the field.
December 19th, 2006
There is, I believe, a general cultural consensus that mother's have a mysterious non-physical bond with their children. We don't call it psychic but I think a significant proportion of mothers will admit to having moments where they know their child is in trouble (or getting into it). Frankly, the closest most come to consistent psychic experience is as a parent.
Though I am not a mother nor a biological parent I am slightly consistently psychic and ever so slightly more than a parent and can say from six years of experience that being a psychic-parent is a--well--an "interesting" experience. Background in child psychology aside the ability to sometimes know how your child will be acting in a week, a month, or a year, can at times be a godsend while at others provide nothing more than the knowledge that ignorance is bliss and you'd really, really like a side of ignorance with that thank you very much.
It can be uniquely frustrating. As an empath I value it most when people are being completely up front with me and sharing their thoughts and feelings with me, especially if those thoughts and feelings have anything to do with my existence in their life. That being said I don't like when my daughter obfuscates behind superfluous, vague, or misleading language. I can see through that, past that, I know something else is going on and more often than not I know what that something is. So not only does verbal jousting come across as insulting both to my intelligence and to my oversensitive sense of empathy, but it frustrates me.
Because silently agreeing upon a habit of superfluous, vague, or misleading communication can handicap if not plant the seeds for destroying a meaningful relationship.
Stuff like that happens with a kid when you're not a psychic, but as a psychic you see it coming, you can smell it like the smell off that dog doo you think you may have stepped in on your walk through the park. Dang that dog, you think, I was having such a good time walking through the park!!!
However sometimes the best thing to do is simply stand back regardless of whatever sensations or visions you might have. Just because you can see days or weeks or years down the bend doesn't necessarily mean you're meant to intervene in the timeline. The human race is not made up of beings that learn the easy way. You can tell your child not to put a fork in the power outlet but it works a hell-of-a-lot better to allow them to find out on their own (I actually told my daughter to try it and see what happened--she did not attempt to replicate that experiment!). And if you analyze everything they do, predict what's going to happen with this friend or that, verbalize all these perceptions you've been having they will resent, not respect, you for it.
That's a hard thing for any parent, but especially for a psychic parent. You've gotta let go of the bike. You know they're going to be wobbly for a bit, fall over a few times, but you must give that bike a good push and insure they know that balance, well, it's a really, really good thing to develop. No babysitting or pontificating will do that as well as providing them with the right experiences which allow them to explore and grow and yes, grow away from needing your supervision and at times, you.
That's the hardest part about being a parent: preparing your child to be a solid, secure, and emotionally healthy human being that can survive on their own without you.
How insane is that?
December 12th, 2006
Bodhisattva's find their buttons. It's necessary, absolutely necessary, just one of those (hugs) steps on the way to enlightenment. Oddly, once finding a button the bodhisattva may simply do nothing more than observe as its being pressed...
And then, like a scientist studying their own heart, mind, and soul, they watch the gears and cogs turn and turn and turn--waiting--wisdom will fall into place. The bodhisattva stands back with mental notepaper in hand jotting down their observations. They understand Newton's Third Law of Motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) except the "actions" in this experiment are of the heart (emotional), the mind (psychological), and of the soul (spiritual). And then, being a good little scientist, the bodhisattva will do something most would find perfectly masochistically insane:They attempt to replicate the results.
Maybe you don't have high pie in the sky aspirations like becoming enlightened in this lifetime, you're only interested in becoming a "good" parent. You understand why it's important to discover your own buttons (so your kids don't start using you as the main attraction at their puppet shows) and maybe you've realized just how much warmer your household is the less you allow your children to push your buttons (i.e. you're not always pulling your hair out) but you're still not convinced the cost-benefit analysis of understanding and accepting your children's reality to be worth the trouble. I mean, you're the parent, a.k.a. "God", and they should just buck up, follow your rules, mold into the person you want them to be, and then everybody can be happy, right?
Why concern yourself with this sappy self-help rambling psycho-babble?
Sometimes finding a little piece of wisdom is as easy as untying your shoe laces, taking your shoes off, then putting someone else's on for awhile.
Lets put that into practice. Forget about your buttons for a bit. Can you do that? Forget who you are, how you view yourself as a parent, what you want to get out of the relationship, your hopes, your fears, and what values you want to instill in them. Forget about your insecurities and personal delusions and all that felgercarb. Untie, take off, try on, tighten.
Watch. Listen. Pay attention.
Don't judge, don't assume, don't project your fancy bullshit of an "adult" reality on them (if you think you're somehow different then you need to reexamine your assumptions). Accept them as a complete human being with legitimate feelings, wants, and needs. They deserve the same warmth, understanding, compassion, and companionship you thirst for every time you look in the mirror and find tired eyes staring back at you.
Once you've done that...untie, take off, put your own shoes back on, and tighten...then take a deep breath...or two...
Now it's time to reexamine your relationship. Is the gospel you follow helping your interaction? Is your communication effective? Do you really understand who they are or are your assumptions creating more of a mess in the long and/or short term? Are you actively engaged in an honest, complete, and life sustaining dialog with them or are you repeating your same old patterns?
Two dogs can bark all night in the moonlight yet nothing is accomplished.
For thousands of years captains have guided their ships by the stars. Guide your relationships by the constellations of the hearts, the minds, and the spirits. And if it's overcast take responsibility for your course and purchase a reliable compass. Pay attention to the light houses. Keep your maps up to date. You may not appreciate the rocks you've avoided but trust me, that little bit of navigational expertise is worth the time and effort.
P.S. There is nothing finer than to be accepted and loved though you are understood.
December 11th, 2006
If you don't believe in evolution I challenge you to have a child. Watch them. Listen to them. Sit back and pay attention. They're proof that the universe has intelligence and that intelligence has formed into something short with two arms, two legs, an ego, and worse yet, a mind.
Babies pop out and realize quite quickly that their behavior, specifically crying and acting cute, can result in immediate gratification, i.e. food and attention. No, they're not sitting there thinking hey, I'm going to act all cutsie and get me some love'n, but--and yes, I remember many of these experiences quite well--they are consciously engaged in getting what they want whether it be the warm flavor of a mother's breast or that bright blue toy just outside the crib's bars.
For a baby the world begins with two people and two people only: themselves (who they aren't yet consciously aware exists as something separate from the external universe) and their mother (who they aren't yet consciously aware exists outside of themselves). Slowly that world begins to broaden: new voices, new faces, new sites and sounds. Some might be scary, some might be friendly, some become common place like that daddy thing and those other smaller things called brother and sister. Baby learns that each of these new shapes and forms have different characteristics and personalities, that each has something new too offer. No, sister doesn't have milk but sister has this hard chewy stuff that tastes better than milk and brother has these really cool toys, much cooler than baby toys, and daddy will lift baby up in the air and tickle baby but sometimes daddy yells at baby.
As baby becomes toddler and toddler becomes child, child tries this and child tries that and child tries everything. What works? What gets me that toy, that candy, that extra hour of TV I want to watch? How can I stay up later, get more attention, have more food, more love, less work, less difficulty?
(On a related but important side note...adults do the same thing.)
Most children aren't completely conscious of what they're doing but at the same time they're not completely innocent either. Say for instance a seven little girl wants a new dress. She's seen it in the store and it's perfect, reminding her of that one she saw in that Disney movie. She knows mom'll say no because mom's always saying, "That costs too much," or "You already have a dress," or "What, you're going to wear that to school like some kind of fairy princess?" so, wanting less difficulty and to own this dress she waits until they're in the mall and mommy's taking care of the new baby who's throwing a tantrum to get attention then grabs the dress off the rack and holds it proudly in front of her pappa and puts on the cutest face she can muster before saying, "Daddy, wouldn't I look pretty in this dress?"
Children don't have jobs, they don't tend to have money, and they don't typically have resources to get what they want--with the exception of those they spend most of their time around (which is typically mother, father, grandparents, brother, sister, etc.). So they study and they study hard. They want to know every single button their mom has so they can get pizza for dinner--or so they can avoid angering her. They want to know every single button their father has so they can get a ride from school early on the motorcycle--or keep him from getting angry about that report card. They want to know how mom and dad's buttons can be played against one another and so on and so forth and even if it all in the end works against their best interests and long term future the ability to interact and manipulate with the universe in order to gain something is everything.
Children are evolutionary geniuses.
Moral of today's diatribe?
Know your buttons. Uncover them, discover them, highlight them, circle them three times with a Sharpie. And when they're pressed shout out, "Red flag," and watch how you react and see how they react then stop and learn and listen and watch and ask yourself is this the right reaction, does this button facilitate or hinder the relationship I want to have with my children, does it help me parent them, to love them, to encourage them, to help them become the most well rounded, healthy, and vibrant human beings they're capable of being?
December 10th, 2006
Good parenting is in part about providing our children with a solid foundation on which to build their lives. We attempt to provide them with our values, to teach them to do X, Y, or Z, and to make their day to day life stable enough to accomplish these goals.
I'm not here tonight to argue which values are the correct ones to teach a child nor to say we should teach them A, B, and C, instead of X, Y, and Z. This is not intended as a Platonic dialog; I don't wish to change or modify your views on parenting.
What I am here to suggest is that the values we attempt to teach our children can easily backfire on us and that the quality of our own foundations is what is most important to the upbringing of theirs.
Say for instance you've told your little girl they can succeed at anything they put their mind to. They hear this over and over since they were three and it's the same exact lesson you tell your son. One day your daughter is on the playground. She asks to play kick football with the boys and they say, "No, you can't, it's a boy's game." So she comes home crying and argues, "But you said I can do anything I want to," and you explain that there are groups of people in life that will prevent you from reaching your goals because they're ignorant fuck-wits--sorry, this is an eight year old we're talking to so we tell her the "life is unfair" speech.
And then boom, we don't realize it but our growing child has internalized the idea that life isn't fair and that putting their mind to something can be a complete waste of time. End results? Hard work and personal responsibility isn't as powerful a force as a group of boys, a teacher, a future employer, boss, or partner. They start blaming life for what happens to them instead of taking ahold of the reigns.
Say for instance you have a son or daughter that you raise alone because you got a divorce years back. You date quite often but aren't interested in a serious relationship because your x had cheated on you so it's date, date, date, and you try to keep your parenting and dating separate. You tell your child, "We don't need anyone else to be a family, we don't need a man/woman to be complete."
And then boom, the child sees you living a double life. On the one hand they hear you saying you're strong, don't need anyone else, on the other hand there appears to be a revolving door to the bedroom highlighting a certain hypocricism in the verbal lesson. Maybe they grow up with a "I'll use you, you use me" perception of relationships, maybe they won't be interested in one, or they may simply overcompensate in the other direction saying, "I'm going to give my cild a two parent household so they don't have to wonder how to relate to the new guy/gal passing through like a ship in the night."
Say for instance we teach our children political, religious, and spiritual tolerance and they're at school and are told that they're going to hell because they don't believe in Jesus as their personal Christ and Savior or that they aren't a "real" American because they don't support Bush's policies...
And then boom, the child realizes there are hateful ignoramuses out there and respond in kind by learning to show intolerance towards these people unknowingly being a paticipant in a cycle of misunderstanding and non-listening that's been going on for thousands of years.
Now I don't intend to fatalistically argue that there's no point in trying to teach our children values. True, there will always be competing factors out in the external world competing to win out over the lessons we strive to share with them. Most of us aren't psychological genuises, experts of the human psyche who can peer into a child's mind and catch the ebb and flow of the thoughts and emotions thus knowing the perfect placement of a thought, and idea, a lesson. What I am trying to suggest is that children are smart cookies. They don't simply take one lesson or mantra at face value but take all of your lessons and behaviors and skills and weaknesses and then they set that beside what they see in the world outside the family and then start to make what inferences they can, both logically and emotionally, and go with that.
From a mathematical sense if you tell them X but act -X, then you've effectively canceled yourself out--does it really matter that the external world is teaching -X? Children, just as adults, are more likely to take their lessons from those they can respect and look up to. So be someone they can respect. Make sure X means X in thought, word, and deed. Be aware that a few words can be twisted into a poison if said at the wrong time (hence my reason for writing about ideas of what family is--the idea of family, unfortunately, all too often becomes a twisted poison in children--and yes--adult's--hearts). So look at all your lessons, examine every behavior, and question everything you do not only as a parent but as a human being. Oh, and the more solid, substantial, and "real" your foundation is the more likely you'll be able to help your child build the same thing for themselves.
December 7th, 2006
I don't care what the dictionary defines "family" as. I don't care what any political or religious group says it is nor do I care much for the uneducated definitions of country and culture. I don't care for these boxes, these judgmental little definitions that say this is family, that is not. Human history is bigger. Culture is bigger. Family is bigger. Reality is, well, slightly bigger.
Whenever some right wing conservative starts talking about family I cringe. "This is family," they say, "and that isn't." I cringe because this is highly ignorant, historically speaking, and socially it's unfounded poppycock. The modern American idea of family is based on a twentieth century ideal which usually consisted of one man, one woman, children, a dog, and a white picket fence. Families that didn't fit into that norm either attempted to create an illusion of fitting in, felt shame, or were simply seen as abnormal. Even now where single parent and mixed families is the norm we've still got this absurd notion that the nuclear family is what we should be if we're normal.
I'd grown up in a nuclear family. I had one mom, one dad, an older sister and a younger brother. My parents had their arguments but they had jobs and the day in and day out was fairly predictable. On the weekdays we went to school. On Sundays it was church. Every summer we went on vacation. Breakfast at 7am, dinner at 6pm. Birthdays, holidays, and what have you. I lived in the same house from age 3 to 17.
I'll be honest, in my twenties I felt pretty lucky because I got to see how mentally and emotionally damaged people were who didn't grow up in solid house holds. I mean, they were fucked up and they didn't have a father or didn't have a father that wanted them. The trauma resulting from these experiences was clearly evidence in their adult lives so it was obvious, yes, all to obvious, that the lack of a nuclear family had harmed their psyches.
Except for one important detail I came from a nuclear family and was about as fucked up as they came. And I'm not an exception, by no means. I've known hundreds of adults and to date coming from a nuclear family has not been an accurate prognosticator of their well being, success, or sanity. If not then why do we continue to believe in this silly idea of family that really is nothing more than an idea that helps us understand most five cent sit-coms(1)?
So let me tell you my definition of family: Family is comprised of two or more people who consciously decide to commit themselves to one another's health and well being.
I don't care if you have two parents, one biological parent, are an orphan, or are a "test tube baby" that grew up in a gutter--if you have anyone who is committed to you they are family and you can grow up to be a well rounded person who's got their proverbial shit together. It's not about quantity, it's not about sex or gender-so lets agree to move away from these simplistic and retarding ideas of family and adopt a larger one: Quality relationships with others of quality who are committed to our health and well being usually leads to further health and well being.
Since I don't feel I'm getting myself across:
Quality committed relationships promote health and well being.
That being said I want to share something with you, a breath of fresh air I heard on Word for Word from American Public Media called The History of Marriage. Educate yourself. And learn to be family to all of human kind.
Footnote 1. Everybody does not love Raymond.
December 4th, 2006
I have never been an alcoholic nor will I ever will be. I tried once in my youth. Two days of cheap Merlot in the darkness of the small bedroom I was renting up on the hill. By day three my body would not allow me, much less entertain, the thought of consuming any further alcohol. I went on the porch, smoked, and that was that. I have a glass of wine from time to time, a beer here and there, and once a blue moon I like to get a good buzz and enjoy the company of a good friend. I can't rightly say I understand how one's body would allow them to drink on a daily, much less weekly, basis. I can't completely empathize with someone who drinks because on some level they cannot help themselves. And yet if I were to choose a reason, a solid foundation, an excuse for drinking non-stop it would be parenting.
Lets face it, parenting is difficult. When they're young they're a hand full. We have to show them the ropes, teach them right from wrong, clean up their messes, and slowly, ever so slowly we teach them to clean up their own messes. As they grow older we find we're putting more and more time, energy, and yes, money, into them and receiving less affection and fewer "thank you"s in return.
Yesterday, for instance, Vipassana, my daughter, a friend's twelve year old daughter, and I, went down to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to see the Star Wars exhibit. Somewhere between the moment we entered and before we got to the main exhibit my daughter decided it was time to "act like" a teenager: aloof, introverted, unresponsive, depressed, irritable.
So here's the situation: my knee's having one of it's worst days, it burns and I'm limping and on top of this my stomach's taking issue with something I've eaten over the last twenty-four hours. If I were to be purely selfish I would have gone straight home, jumped into bed, and pulled the comforter tight around my legs and hips and arms and faded away-but no, I'd planned this little outing and I was going to hold in there and take these two twelve year olds to the exhibit even if I felt dizzy, even if my left leg felt like it was on fire, even if my daughter acted completely ungrateful to be there.
And sometimes that's just how parenting is. You may want better for your children, a better life, a better education, a better Christmas morning, you may want a genuine connection with them, one that grows and depends over time. Instead you find as your youngster grows into a teen they're more apt to shy away from conversation and connection, sabotage interpersonal communication, and experiment with
Psychologists commonly refer to this phase as "identity formation".
Personally, I believe the idea of "identity formation" is ass-backwards twentieth century psycho-babble and is an excellent example of why I switched majors. Life is a continuum that begins at begins before birth and ends at death. Our identity, who we think of ourselves as, changes and evolves with time. There is no concrete period where "identity" forms and magically sticks.
Identity is dynamic, it's always changing. Want in on a secret? Identity changes most during periods of extraordinary change!
Puberty, for instance. We start growing hair. Our perception of kissing goes from "icky" to "I want to try that". We begin to menstruate, masturbate, stress about our looks, our clothes, and get caught up in all the social games everyone else is playing as they being menstruating and masturbating themselves and each other.
How about some other one's most of us are familiar with and may have already experienced:
(in terms of my "identity formation": many times, yes and yes, no, yes and yes, yes, no, no and yes, yes and for the most part, not really, yes, yes, and lots of what have you, respectively)
Change is difficult and becoming a teenager is double so for parents and children alike. I don't have the answers-I don't believe there are any easy ones-but this story, Showdown at Punk Palace, is encouraging to me.
December 3rd, 2006
This month I'm going to write about parenting.