Thursday, March 28, 2013

That feeling is called Shame.

A game of chase is under way.  6 year old and 4 year old are running around wildly, darting behind couches and leaping over stairs.  They are thrilled with idea that they just might be captured and they just might escape.  A rush of adrenaline ensues.  Taking turns grabbing and tickling each child I am conscious of playing fair.  After I nab 4 year old boy, I nab 6 year old boy.  Keeping the playing field even makes the game more enjoyable for everyone.  Some competition for my attention is ALWAYS in play.  I tell myself it's got something to do with their male-ness.  They compete for my affection and my attention all the time.  Literally.

Ooops, I got 4 year old twice in a row, a few more times that big son.  Maybe tickled 4 year old with a little too much vigor.  Big son gets jealous.  Because the game is physical it turns to wrestling on the floor.  At first they wrestle just me, taking turns plowing me over.  Then, a brother wrestling match ensues.  Bigger son being, well, bigger, gets a little rough.  A little rougher the next time too.  Pretty soon, he's too rough.  He's jealous and he's too rough and little son cries.  And cries.  Because crying is little son's way of staying little and getting some attention back his way.

I have to correct big son, it would be wrong not to.  I challenge him, "your being way too rough,"  "you know he's smaller, you know he's younger, don't do that."  Big son gets rough again.  Way too rough.  I come down harshly.  "Whoa, not okay, I'm feeling really frustrated at you, you are being way too rough."  Big son knows he is.  I can see it in his eyes.  He knows he's been way too rough, and he's ashamed of himself.  He's ashamed of his inner anger and his inner adrenaline that felt so good when it got released on his younger brother.  He sulks.  He cries.  He is so angry.

Big meltdown ensues.  Big son is in pieces.

"Whoa, what's this about?"


"Talk to me, tell me what are you feeling?"


"Sit with me, tell me."

"I'm mad."

"Who are you mad at?"  I anticipate his answer will be his brother.


I don't expect this answer.  I think.  For a while.  Then I say, "are you mad at yourself for losing your temper?" 


"Ah, I see.  That feeling is called Shame.  When you are mad at your self for doing something bad that felt good to do, that's called, Shame.  And feeling Ashamed doesn't feel good.  But being ashamed of yourself, doesn't make YOU bad." 

I know WAY too many people who have lived their lives in shame.  I know WAY too many people who have guilted themselves and held themselves victim to the experiences in their lives that were shameful for so long that they have literally ruined their entire lives for it.  Shame sucks but it's also a normal emotional state that will occur and also, being an emotional state, will pass.  If you let it.  I want my kids, when they encounter shame, to name it.  Then I want them to learn from it.  Then I want them to let it go.  I don't want them to believe they are bad and need some higher power to cleanse their sins.  I don't want them to believe they are ALL that and a bag of chips either.  I want them to know they are HUMAN.  They have impulses/desires/wills that tell them to do all sorts of things.  I want them to know that they are entitled to thinking any thought that pops in their head because everybody has weird thoughts.   I want them to choose loving kindness over spite or vindictiveness or meanness or cruelty.  I want them to work hard to not act on the impulses that are mean but I do want them to acknowledge that those impulses are within them.  Because they are within every human being on Earth. 

I just want my kids to work hard to be good humans.  I want them to always choose love over hate.
And I want them to feel ashamed when they chose hate and I want them to call it shame, learn from it, and let it go. 

So often I feel like religion is a crutch for the experience of shame.  Everybody easily talks about Christian hypocracy and that is an annoying aspect of religion but what I really think they mean is why be a Christian only on Sunday?  Because it doesn't make sense to the non-religious why Conservative Christians won't allow for, say, homosexual marriage.  Because marriage is a choice of love.  And I'm always on the side of love and I'm not a Christian.  So, why not be on the side of love?  If your not on the side of love, really, that means your on the other side.  And that does seem pretty hypocritical since Christianity is about Christ's love.  Anyway, back to the shame problem.  I know a great number of people who have a problem with shame.  Shame is a central feature in their lives, their entire existence is built on a foundation of Shame.  Feeling ashamed is okay.  When you have done a bad thing, by all means, you should feel bad!  But, why do so many people hold on to that feeling?  I think for some of these people, their religion is a crutch for that experience.  Religion holds it up for them.  Because they are supposed to be sinners of course, but they are also supposed to ask for forgiveness, from a God.  Not from themselves, from God.  So, they sin, and they repent, to God.  But not to themselves.  They are not worthy.  They are sinners.  They are bad.  God has mercy on them.  Whew.  Thank God for having mercy on them because they show no mercy for themselves.  Sure, some people can be religious and not live in containers of Shame, of course they can.  Just like a lot of people without religion can live in containers of Shame.  This isn't a causal relationship I'm hypothesizing.  I'm just hypothesizing that for some people, including my father, religion has been a crutch that has continually allowed them to shame themselves.  My father continually looks outside of his self for mercy and grace.  Something bigger, his God, will have mercy on him because he sure the hell isn't going to, he's a bad seed, a sinner, a shamed man.  Let me tell you, that's never gotten him anywhere but heartache-ville.  He is a generally good guy but he's never worked all that hard to be the best person HE could be because he always has looked at God for saving him from himself.  And, I think that's pretty sad. 

So I will install this simple recipe into my children's minds and hearts.  When you do bad, you'll feel bad, and you should.  Then step up to the plate, call it what it is, rectify what you can, make retributions if your able, and let this shame go.  No one is perfect but if you try really hard, you'll be pretty damn good.

A letter to my son

My dear son,

You are only 6 ½ years old.  You came home from school yesterday with a shiner on your eye.  You were playing chase and inadvertently slammed your face into a classmate’s knee.  You were so sad.  Sad, not because you are physically hurting, though it did hurt.  You were sad because you knew that today when you went to school, people would notice your eye. You would be different.  You told me so. “Mom, can you please keep me home from school until it’s gone?  No one else has an eye like this.  I will be the only one!”  

 You are only in Kindergarten and you already know what it is like to crave conformity. 

Someday you will be in your mid 30’s, with a couple of kids, and you will know the world as I know it.  Or sort of but similar to me you will understand things that you yet do not comprehend.  Because I am your mom, I wish I could explain everything to you right up front and tell you where all the keys are that will unlock your mind and allow you the freedom, the total freedom, to be just who you are.  But, I can’t do that for you.  I am your mom and I am also a therapist and so I know a little bit about this process.  And I also know that you must experience these problems.  You must go through the process of painstaking agony at being “different” than the rest in order to get more comfortable with being uniquely you.  I know that you have to go through it but I still don’t like it.  I want to tell you (and I maybe did) that one day you will want to be different, you may even choose to be different.   

You may have looked at me like I had green hair.  

You may have said, “why would I ever want that.”  

 I may have felt my heart break just a little.

But I see you tonight go into the bathroom (because it has a lock!) and make your 4 year old brother a birthday gift of drawings that you neatly place inside a Tupperware and then wrap up with scotch tape and paper.  I see you gift him this artistic creation.  I see his joy.  I then see him lock himself into the bathroom and create for you the very same gift.  Complete with Tupperware sealing and scotch tape.  He gifts you your “birthday” present even though it isn’t your birthday.  You thank him, sort of (and I am pleased).  You are gone in an instant, on to different things.  He deflates ever so slightly because he can sense your gratitude is apathetic. He wanted to be just like you.  But he can’t reinvent the wheel and your gift can never be exactly recreated and to him, that was a small puncture to his ego.  Yet he quickly moves on to wrapping up more paper goodies for me, for our baby, for dad and he rebounds and recovers.  He has no way of knowing that this was a small training exercise that will prepare him for worse blows.
It’s not lost on me that you want to be like all your peers and your brother wants to be like you and baby brother wants to be like both of you.  We like to be like other people.  Being different doesn’t feel right.  It’s in our DNA.  We are encoded with this program that says, “copy everything everyone else does!”  Don’t believe me?  Just look at your baby brother intently and then make a show of sticking out your tongue and watch what happens next!  

So, I take note and I don’t continue my agenda of trying to make you see the world through my lens.  But I still tell you that different is good.  Because it is.  But I also tell you that conforming is natural.  Because it is.  And, I bank on hope that this is the right approach to take.  

So you are off at school now with your black eye.  Well, deep red today, purple tomorrow, black the day after that.  For the next few days you are going to be different, son.  Classmates will ask you questions.  Peers will jest you.  Bullies may make fun of you.  You may hurt.  You may feel embarrassed.  You may cry.  You may feel alone.  You may feel like you don’t have a friend in the world.  But I will be there.  I know you will rebound and when you do, you’ll be a little bit stronger for it.  You’ll need that strength to deal with the ongoing thwarts to your ego that will be essential ingredients to your developing identity.  So to that end the means have justification.  But, I also hope you will keep this experience in mind so that when someone else is different, you remember that it feels bad to be told so.  And all I can do is hope you pay it forward, son.  

Someday, please pay it forward.  That way your experience gets to also have a humanistic purpose.

P.S.  I will be available all evening for extra hugs and lots of comfort. 

I'm not Pinterested

I pretty much hate pinterest.  I hate it because it exaggerates both my ADD tendencies (start everything, finish nothing_ and it inflames my guilty (everyone else is pinning THE best books to read to your kids-shouldn't I?).  And, I really hate it that it challenges my counter-culture feelings in the WORST way.  If I have an idea to do something, make something, go somewhere, write something, whatever, and that idea is popular culture-I will NOT do it anymore just BECAUSE it's popular culture.  I know that's pretty stupid, but I can't help it, I feel compelled to resist BECAUSE something is mainstream.  And, really, there are tons of "good ideas" on pinterest that I won't do because it's too cliche now.  Ugh.  I can't even stop myself from being so bullheaded.  

Let's take, for example, house hold organization.  I am a working parent, of three children.  My job is, luckily, not really stressful, and I have a lot of freedom, but still, 5 days a week 8 hours a day I'm not home.  So, my home is in total disarray.  I don't like to do housework, and even though I actually like a clean house (who doesn't) I don't practice any system of making it look that way.  Pinterest has gazillions of charts and plans and schedules and organizing tips and probably, I could learn a thing or two.  But if I get on Pinterest and see that my stay at home mom friend has pinned 5 new home organization tips that I deep down think are good ideas, my first instinct (this is so sad) is to rebel BECAUSE someone else I know (who I don't relate to in identity) thinks it's a good idea too.  

I can't be the only person who thinks like this, right?

Aren't we all sort of wanting to be original?

P.S., I do have a pinterest "account" but I don't pin and I look at pinterest about 2/month when I'm bored and feel like torturing myself.  And for the record, I know I can stop.  And for another record, I think it's a genius idea to have a virtual web board and I would really like to have the boards with no followers and no-one to follow, is that even an option?


To video game or not to video game. That is the question.

Here's the short answer.  Not. 

Why does our culture have a love affair with video games?  Why does nearly every single child my oldest's tender age of 6 1/2 that I know have a DS and a Wi and probably some other game system?  Why do we as adults encourage video game culture to unravel in our young impressionable children?  

Our oldest has to to to the YMCA during the day when his school is on spring break.  We are a two parent working family.  The YMCA has some Christian foundations.  A lot, actually, it's in their mission statement.  But, I am okay with it.  It is what it is.  We talk about it in our family.  We intentionally discuss it.  The principles and morals they hold we actually hold, as so often it works out that way with us and Christian themes.  We dig it.  But, here's the thing, they have a Wi at the Y. 

We don't have a Wi.  We won't ever have a Wi.  We don't have a DS, or other game system.  And, we never will.  

When you take your kid to the Y for school's out care, you let some things go.  You can't control the world around your kid.  I accepted that about 3 days into Kindergarten.  Most of what goes on, you are oblivious to.  Hopefully, good communication has been incorporated prior to these experiences so your child will come home and talk through things that are confusing to them.  Hopefully.  

My child loves to play video games.  I know, it's probably such a strong desire because we don't have them, and shame on me and all that.  But, it's more than that.  He loves them!  He is super competitive and video games offer him plenty of chances to explore that drive.  But, I hate them.  I mean, HATE them.  So, what do you know, the YMCA lets kids play the Wi while waiting for their parents at the end of the day.  Which means that when my husband arrives to pick up our son, who has almost reached the front of the LINE to take his turn on the Wi, our son has a fit.  A FIT!  Because he was all sorts of jazzed up to get his turn.  FINALLY!  HIS TURN!  And then here comes bad ole dad to ruin all the fun.  Tantrum ensues.  Ugly.

This is a perfect example of why I hate video games.  They foster unreal experiences (virtual) of extreme excitement, competitiveness, drive, etc.  And these unreal experiences coupled with intense emotions create an atmosphere ripe for mishandling intense emotions.  My 6 1/2 year old, yes, in part because it is forbidden, has a horrible time handling the emotions he feels when he plays video games.  And it is upon us, as his parents, to stop whatever we are doing (which we will) to guide him through this explosion.

What pisses me off is that when we are able to reunite at the end of a long day and enjoy one another and reconnect and be just, together, we can't.  We are thrown immediately into an extremely emotional situation where we are on different grounds and have different stakes and are different but equally valuable feelings and thoughts and ideas.  And we are in conflict.  And this is why I hate video games.  I want to pick up my son and be with him.  Not the him that he is when he's on video games.  Eventually, after an hour or two, he is back.  And we chat.  And we talk about this experience.  And he doesn't understand how we feel.  Because he's 6.  And, much as I would like to say I understand how he feels because I was 6, I don't fully understand him, because I'm not him.  But we try and we wrestle with the common ground and we try some more.  

Ugh, video game culture....I hate you!


Praying isn't Funny, son

My awesome dad visited us recently for the weekend.  Conservatively religious man that he is, I know it pains him that my children don't have formal religious experiences.  And I know that he must have lots of worries about my soul and the souls of our three, unbaptized, boys but he doesn't really ever say that and I'm grateful to him and I am also pretty impressed with that.  I often remind myself that it must take a lot for my dad and my mom (though they are divorced) to hold their tongues when they see me living a lifestyle so counter-culture to religious indoctrination.  I would like to think that they see me as a good person who's doing a pretty darn good enough job at bringing up their grandboys and so they are resigned to hold back.  That doesn't stop them, however, from indoctrinating those grandboys.

I have pretty much come to accept that my mom and my dad, separately, are going to tell my children that Jesus is the son of God and is the key to salvation.  I'm pretty sure they are going to tell them that Jesus loves them.  And I'm pretty sure that they are going to tell them that God is in Heaven.  Some people might suggest that I should not be okay with that.  But, I am okay with it.  I'm okay with it because I can talk to my kids, later, about what that all means.  I can tell them, when grandpa leaves, the truth; that no-one really knows but different people believe different things.  

I actually need my boys to see the influence of religion from safe family members so they can have a good familiarity with the concepts and the ideas.  I feel like it allows them to relate more to religious people and Christian themes, which they will need to do to live in this midwest world.  

To tell the truth, my boys find religious ideas a little bit, well, funny.  So, back to my dad's visit.  He was helping out at bedtime, reading books and tucking in the boys, who share a room.  First, he tucks in oldest son.  Now, my dad is a guy with a big ole personality.  He's very very loud and truthfully, kinda crazy.  In the very best way, mostly.  So, tuck tuck goes the covers and then a kneel to the floor, prayer hands, here he goes, "Dear God and Jesus in Heaven, watch over boy while he sleeps and keep him safe from harm, Amen."  I, sitting on the other boy's bed, pause.  I feel tense.  Not because I am shocked by his words, but because I am worried what my older son is going to say.  

He doesn't say anything.

He laughs.

He laughs and giggles and roars with hysteria.  This, to him, is the funniest thing he's heard all day.

I cringe.  My poor dad.  :(

Undeterred (or maybe just hopeless) dad moves on to younger son.

Same prayer.  Same response.  

Oh boy.  I have some work to do, I think to myself.  

Now, in the moment, this all happens pretty quickly and my dad, being pretty manic (literally) moves past quickly as well.  Out he goes, lights are off, kisses goodnight, end of bedtime routine.  But, it doesn't end for me, internally.  I know at that moment that my boys need to learn respect for religion.  The true conversations we have had with them about religion have backfired just a bit to the point of a lack of formal respect for the practice of religion.

I know some people, particularly some athiests, feel that we should not respect religion, but people instead.  And, I see their point, but I don't agree.  For my children, I want them to have respect for the practice of religion.  Mostly, that is because they will be rubbing shoulders with practicing Christians their entire lives, so they must have respect.  At least they must SHOW respect.

A few days later, my husband and I addressed the giggles.  With sensitivity we discussed the importance of valuing other people and the beliefs they hold.  Somewhere in the talk I uttered the phrase, "praying isn't funny,son."  And he got it.  But I did ask him what he thought praying was.  And he said, 'talking to yourself?'  And I said, 'oh yeah?' And he said, 'maybe, or maybe talking to the Universe?' And I said, 'oh yeah?  Cool-I like that.'  

And that was a pretty neat conversation.  

Sorry, dad.  : )


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Secular Easter?

“When are you going to hide those eggs with jelly beans inside of them?” 

“Is the Easter bunny going to bring us something for Easter?”

These are some of the recent questions posed to me by my 4 and 6 year old boys.  These questions haven’t exactly come at the easiest of times.  When picking my 4 year old up at preschool, juggling a baby on one hip and assisting him with his coat and hat, he inquires when those jelly beans are going to happen.  I had an impulsive and quick response, “soon, dear.” 

Wait.  What did I just say?

Obviously, Easter has come to us before.  Last Easter was a blur as we were busy preparing ourselves for the any day now birth of our third child.  It just sort of passed.  The year before I vaguely recall buying some bunny related goods and the year prior to that I have actual pictures of dying Easter eggs with my then very young sons.

Not much has changed about my worldview in the last few years. 

But, my sons are now a lot more conscious about the world around them.  They know things.  Things that I did not know when I was their age.  They know, for example, that we are a family that doesn’t believe.  And they know that there are many families that do.  They know that, in fact, nearly everyone they know lives in a family that practices beliefs of God.  And they know us to be “different.”  And we know they need to be respectful of others beliefs and we have to work hard to relay that to them, because to their little skeptical minds, believing in the supernatural is a bit, well, funny.  

I grew up in a conservative Methodist Christian family attending a country church faithfully every week.  I had a great upbringing and the Christians I interacted with were good folks.  I can’t complain.  But, I did have a lot of questions.  Questions that were not exactly welcomed.  Questions that had answers that did not make any sense.  I didn’t lose my religion because I was abused by religion.  In fact, religion was a beautiful part of life until it wasn’t.  I lost my religion because I don’t believe the things that it touts.  I simply do not.  For a long time I wished I did.  I am well past that stage now.  The new stage I have found myself in is the gap between my peace of mind and the way the majority of the community we live in indoctrinates children (including, by proxy, my own) into the Christian world view.  I can’t exactly stop it, and I do my best to talk to my kids about it.  But with Easter, comes a quandary. 

I’ve pretty much deduced that my kids want the following out of Easter:  Candy, Gifts, Treasure Hunts, and they don’t know they want this part but likely they would enjoy dyeing the eggs.  In that order, I believe this is their motivation for Easter.  This doesn’t support my very anti-consumerism/materialism beliefs so I’m actually really good with not handing them these experiences.

Still, that little tiny voice inside me asks, ‘are you robbing your children of memories of Easter baskets, dyeing eggs, seeking treasures inside little plastic eggs that are hidden in our family home and yard?’  Because I had those things and my experience was good and my memories are wonderful.  And I thoughtfully answer it:  Maybe.  But, what I am giving them instead are memories of hikes in the wood over Easter weekend and a treasure hunt of searching for just the right leaves and just the right rocks to explore.

I can’t actually give my children the same childhood I had, because I am not indoctrinating them into beliefs of faith, but I can give them a great, secular, childhood.  A beautifully natural life, filled with hikes and caves and explorations of the Mississippi River.  I can give them these things that I did not have and I can give them a reason to celebrate every day, not just Easter. 

So the next time that my 4 year old greets me with a question about religious practices when I’m shuffling papers and focusing on zippers I’ll try harder to tell him the truth, “son, we are going to have a wonderful weekend full of treasure hunts and family fun.”  And that is just what I intend to do.