Friday, April 26, 2013

Middle son blues

I am so mad at myself.  I have been a terrible mother to my middle son.  He is 4 and terribly needy for my attention.  Which I almost never give him.  Because he's also constantly acting out and constantly dragging his feet when it's time to leave or darting into the street when it's time to stay.  He defines acting out = attention seeking.  I know what he needs is more of my love and more of my attention and more of my patience and more of me.  And I don't want to give it to him.  I want to get more time away from him.  He needs me and I don't want him.  Not the him he has been lately.  And that's why I am being a terrible mother to him.  I know I have to change this and truthfully every single time he's asleep I tell myself - tomorrow will be better and by 7:05 he's challenging me.  And I just don't want him to.  I want coffee first.  I want quiet cuddles.  I want love and kisses but I don't want challenges.  And I don't want to battle his will to do what he wants to do.  And I don't want to think critically about how to respond.  And I don't want to empathize with his feelings.  I just want him to be good and I just want him to be easy and that again is why I'm being a terrible mother to my middle son.  So, I am mad, but I am also sad.  Because I know I'm doing this and I can't even make myself stop.  What is it?  Older son and I have discussions, poetry, pleasant talk, dialogue.  Youngest son and I have a new skill of walking to practice, and cuddles to give, and diapers to change.  Middle son and I?  That is the problem.  He's the jumping bean loud and obnoxious and throwing his body all over the bed when I'm trying to hear oldest son's reading.  And he's the belly flopping, body jiving, hopping fool when youngest son is trying to take his steps to the couch.  And I am always telling him he's in the way.  And he must feel so terribly sad about that.  And yet he is in the way.  I do need to hear older son read or help younger son walk but I too easily forget that he needs to feel that he's not in the way.  And I often don't recognize that.  And I often don't take care of that.  And that's why I'm being a terrible mother to my middle son.

This weekend I have vowed to make changes.  Spend more time.  Give him more of my love and affection then he's had in too long.  But I also am fearful.  What if I fail?  What if I can't?  What if I don't.  What then?

I gotta go.  I just felt inspired to pick up my middle son from day care and go get some ice cream.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What I want for my kids.

You know what I want for my kids?  I want them to not give a shit about what people think (of them).  I also want them to give a shit about how people feel.  I just don't always know how to install these themes into them.

There is a herd mentality to raising kids.  I am not saying I'm completely unaffected by it, I am affected.  But, I don't (typically) cooperate with the herd but I'm always Always ALWAYS conscious of the pull.

Example:  School Picture Day
This week, my 4 and 1 year old's daycare had school picture day.  First off, it's crappy photographers with crappy backgrounds.  They know they'll make big money on these kids so they ask to come.  The teachers arrange the children and coax smiles and pictures are snapped.  Picture day is coming, the flyers announce!  In my head I make a mental note, "get nice clothes out."  Day of picture day, 4 year old WANTS to wear his favorite Buzz Lightyear and Woody shirt.  Total favorite shirt in every single way.  I spend about 30 seconds listening to the "pull" of cultural norms, "it's picture day, shouldn't he wear something nice?"  Then, I have the duh moment.  No, he shouldn't wear something "nice" he should wear something special.  And this Buzz and Woody shirt is very special to him.  That, I want to capture in a photograph.  So, off we go to school.  When we arrive at school it is immediately and abundantly clear that TODAY is Picture Day!  Every little girl I encounter has on a dress, a bow in their hair, pantyhose, sparkly shoes, curled locks.  Every little boy I encounter has on a cute little button up shirt, with a vest, sunday shoes.  And then, there's my kids.  4 year old with a buzz lightyear shirt and a pair of baggy sweats and the still stuck on temporary tattoo from 2 weeks ago, 1 year old with a frog onesie.  And I think they look absolutely adorable.  And I could not be more proud.

I know I'm counter-culture in many ways.  I only hope my kids will understand, will be okay with it to.  How powerful are the cultural themes, how strong is their pull, will my kids bend to them, shouldn't they anyway for a while, how will I know what to do?

The List

I am a mental health therapist, by trade.  I work with college students aged 18-22 (+).  Working with this age group is pretty interesting.  They are defining themselves, identifying the aspects of their personalities they like/dislike.  They are examining their childhoods and criticizing the mistakes of their un-cool parents.  And they are shaping their futures with goals and ideas.  It's cool.  Except that I'm raising kids while these "kids" are looking back.  So, in my mind, I always have this checklist going.  What does it take to make them "turn out all right?"  I have to know.  It's the most important thing to know!  So I have a little list.

One day, I was being particularly list-driven and I shared it with my husband.  I prepared him for my realization and I think he expected to be blown away.   (I mean, it is THE LIST of essential ingredients to successful kids).  So I delivered him the following list.  The list that took me about 3 years to complete and the same list that I have validated in rigorous follow up interviews for about 5 years since.  Ready for it?  Here it is:
Things we really need to turn out "all right" or to be "all right"

A mom who is loving and nurturing, kisses all the boo-boos.

A dad who does things with you.

Mom and dad who tell you the truth, even if others may think, it's age inappropriate, better to be told the truth than to know your not being told the truth by the very people who teach you to trust.

That's it, folks.  That's the list.

You probably won't be surprised to know that my husband was utterly underwhelmed.  I think his response was something along the lines of, "yeah, I already knew that."

And, awesome news, we already do that.  But in parenting, I so often make things more complicated than they already are.  My mind has to take the concept and throw it up onto the old poker stick in my brain and spin that baby around on every single angle and examine it, make implications about it, make predictions, relate it to other things, separate it from other things, decide its meaning, decide it's value, decide its worthlessness.  And, honestly, if I couldn't do that I wouldn't be me.  I do that.  It's what I do.  And, it gives me pleasure.  It interests me.  It occupies my mind.  So I will do that indefinitely but I also will know that I am already doing everything on "the list."

The list makes so much sense.  Women are good at relationships and good at nurturing.  They just have maternal instincts.  And men are do-ers.  They do stuff. They are action oriented.  So, if you happen to be in a heterosexual coupled family system, you need a mom who's nurturing and a dad who's active in your life.  Those are pretty good basic requirements.  Of course, if your in a homosexual coupled family system I'd argue you just need those two areas covered, nurturing and activity-oriented relationships.  And your good!  The truth part is where it gets tricky.  I have found that the people who are most successful navigating in and around and out of love relationships, dodging the bullets if you will, and being open for the right people at the right time, are people who have trusting relationships with their parents.  If you know you've been told the truth, you can certainly count on it continuing.  If the truth is never given, why would you expect it ever will be?  And I am not suggesting that Christian families don't tell their version of "truth."  I believe they do.  They are being truthful when they indoctrinate their children into their worldview, that's their truth and it's not mine but it is theirs and that's okay.  Athiest/Believers alike, you must be told the truth by your parents.  The parents need to be transparent.  Open.  Flexible.  Easy to find (their soul/psyche, that is).

That is THE LIST.

Simple.  As so often everything really is.

Hell. That was a terrible lie.

Last night I was reading with my oldest.  He's been really into poetry lately so we've been working through a book of children's poetry.  Toward the back of the book there are poems for older children.  He's only 6 1/2 but he was intrigued by the drawings and wanted me to read them.  Many of these poems have Christian themes, not all, and not always overt, but they are definitely there.  For example, prayer will be mentioned, or God, or, as was the case last night, Hell.  Now, my son is always inquisitive to the meaning of words he's never heard before and as luck should have it, he's never heard of the word Hell before.  So he asked.  And I told him.  And I flashed back to age 7, maybe 8 when I really fully realized what Hell was and I was scared to death.  I remember understanding that a demonic place with fire and pain and torture and screaming existed "under" the world.  And that we would go there if we were "bad" enough.  This would have been right around the time that I also realized that it's considered sinful to be "proud."  Which I totally didn't get because my parents were always proud of me and telling me to be proud of myself.  So, if I was proud, would I go to Hell?  I was literally scared out of my mind.  I have a very vivid memory of the imaginary place in my head that I created during that time.  I can go there easily and see the red fire and the devil sitting there with his pitchfork all horned out.  I can hear people screaming.  Oh my god.  That is so horrible.  Poor 7 year old me.  

So when my son asked me so innocently, "what is Hell?"  I had to tell him about it, I'm definitely not going to distort it for him, I sure don't want anyone else to clue him in. As these talks frequently go, when we started the discussion I had no expectations and as I usually am, I was pleasantly surprised with what he had to say.  Kids who have never been indoctrinated with themes of belief or rules with how to frame reality really have stunning insight.  Here's the parts I can remember:

"You know about Heaven, right?  The place some people believe exists where you go after you die if you believe in God and Jesus or maybe if you are just really really good?"  Yeah.

"Well, Hell is like the opposite of Heaven.  Hell is a place some people believe exists where if you are really really bad, you go there after you die.  And it has a man called the Devil there.  And there is fire and monsters and bad things." 
So, you mean, it's a trick to get people to do the right thing because it scares them with stories of monsters and bad things into being good all the time?

"Yes, that is what I think."

That's what I don't like the most about these stories other people believe, it's like they are trying to trick everyone to do things they want them to do by scaring them or telling them they get to go to a really good place.  That's not true though.

"Well, what is true, then?"

When you die, you just die, your body melts back into the Earth but it takes a really long time."

"Yeah, that's right, and that's called decaying.  And people are really sad when people they love die and that's why some people believe in Heaven, because it makes them feel less sad."

That deer we saw in the woods that day we were hiking was decaying.


I think Hell is a mean trick.

"Me too."

 We talked on some more about how life has meaning and the meaning of our lives is something each of us gets to decide.  I suggested that finding hobbies and pursuing passions and interests is one way of prescribing meaning to our lives.  I suggested being kind to others and doing the right thing just because it's right prescribes meaning.  And my son was inspired by those ideas.  So much so he decided he would infuse meaning into his summer vacation by writing a book of poetry.  I'm pretty stoked about that little nugget, we'll see if he still wants to do that in a month when school is out.

So all of this absorbed into my soul and after bedtime kisses were given and the kids were all tucked in my mind was spinning.  I am CONSTANTLY reminded that MY baggage is MY OWN and my son does not have the same fears/hurts/damage that I do.  I want to reiterate I was not harmed by religion, per say, but I grew up inside a box that framed my interpretation of reality.  I understood EVERYTHING, either directly or indirectly within the parameters of Heaven and Hell.  I went to Church every single Sunday and I sat at a children's table underneath a picture of Jesus and I walked up the stairs and saw him in a painting 6 feet tall and I was scared to death.  Because I knew that everything was not adding up.  And I was scared that if I could not get the "rules" down right, I would go to Hell.  Luckily, my sons do not have these indoctrinated beliefs.  We talk.  A Lot.  And we explain.  A Lot. 

They are natural skeptics and they are free thinkers and they are philosophical and they have meaning and purpose and they are happy and joyful and they are naughty and nice and they are imperfect and perfect to me and they are little miracles of evolution's birth and they are free from the lies and I am freer through them then I have ever been.


Friday, April 19, 2013

An agnostic mother's response to tragedy in the world today.

Last night, as I was laying next to my 6 1/2 year old sleeping son, I was thinking about this world that my husband and I have brought 3 children into.  I was thinking about the fact that the "right" answer to my fear is I'm adding loving kindness into the world in three human forms and that is the reason why I should choose to be positive.  But, since he was asleep, and looking so completely peaceful and innocent, I was not easily finding the right answer to be comforting.  I was sad.  I was sad because I was thinking about the parents who lost their kids to a school shooting in CT.  And I was said because of the boy who died at the Boston Marathon.  And I was said because in the future the unknown is going to happen and whatever does happen, my kids, randomly could be the victims.  Will all three of my kids make it through life?  Will I?  Will we all survive and not get cancer?  Will we all survive and not be harmed by terrorists?  Will each of the 5 of us in this little family unit live to the ripe old age of 90 and die blissfully in our sleep?

How do I love fearlessly when I am so fearful? 

So, I'm laying there snuggled up in bed with my son and the covers are around us and I am still shivering.  Clearly warm and cozy, he doesn't move an inch.  And I have this metaphor in my mind.  If I believed that God exists, and he 'works in mysterious ways' and he will someday take my soul to a heavenly kingdom in the sky, where I will be reunited with my loved ones and live eternally with them for the rest of eternity without ever having to fear any possibility of hurt/pain/loss entering my life, I would be so warm.  I think, if I REALLY really bought that, what would that be like?  And I thought, that would be so warm.  Like a big soft down comforter taken out of the dryer on top of me, a downy pillow of just the right plumpness under my head.

It's just that, the blanket I have is not all that warm.  It's scratchy.  It's lumpy.  It's still a little wet from the rinse cycle.  And try as I might, my feet always stick out the bottom.  I don't have "that" warmth.  And this helps me to really understand why people believe.  Because, you know what, if you can buy it, that this sub-reality is real...that this paranormal existential plane of "heaven" and "God" exists...then good for you.  I bet that feels warm.

I need warmth like that on nights like this.  I cried myself to sleep next to my big baby boy.  And I thought about all the ways that I could try and make each day more intentional.  More present.  More grateful.  Because I know that life is random.  And by chance, people I love will be victims of malevolence, or cancer, or car crashes, or ....  but all I can REALLY do about it is to not place energy into the possible/probable/maybe but instead place energy into THIS moment.  So, I pulled myself into my senses and I gazed at my son and I burned his face into my mind's eye and I smelled his head and I clicked the camera in my brain over and over again to hang out tight to the here and now.

What else can I really do?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Move On.

I have this amazing sister.  She was married to 16 years to a grade A asshole.  He basically was/is miserable and depressed and angry and she loved him unconditionally and cared for him completely all of their marriage in an effort to love him enough to fix him.  Then, she realized she couldn't.  So she granted him a divorce and she moved on.

She dated this guy, Max, about a year after her divorce.  He, was a kind/nice depressed/miserable person.  She didn't see it coming right away, she thought, eh, he's not "that" broken.  But, he was broken.  And after a year of that 'relationship' she realized that she couldn't make him happy either and that she was settling for less then she deserved.  So, she left him.  She moved on.

Now, she is Open.  Not bitter.  Not jaded.  Not guarded.  Open.  Do you see why she is so amazing?  If anyone has the right to be bitter and jaded, she does.  But, she's not.  She's completely open to finding love.  She says, love is the most natural emotion in the world.  Everybody wants somebody to love. 

She has met a new guy.  He's kind, warm, loving, Open, and emotionally available.  Their story has only begun but already it's obvious that they are suited perfectly. 

You know what she told me?  She said, "you know what the secret to life is?-it's moving on."

She's totally right.

Life goes on.  Move on or don't, the choice is yours.  But if you don't move on, you will be stuck.  And being stuck feels like it.  And moving on feels like that.  Good.  Move on.

Being a therapist, I am always talking to people about their lives, their emotions, thoughts, moods, ideas, beliefs, etc.  Some sessions are more existential than others.  But, fairly regularly, I have philosophical, existential conversations with people who are examining their lives and themselves.  And, it's a pretty amazing job.  And, I totally agree with my sister.  If I look at my own life and ask myself, why, really, why did I "turn out allright?"  Why, am I happy/content/at peace?  Why do I feel so okay when these people who I sit with do not?  One answer is, I moved on.  When things upset me, unsettled me, provoked me, challenged me, hurt me- I moved on.  First, of course, I felt the emotions, and I worked with them, validated them.  Then, I moved on. 

This begs the question, why can't other people move on?  What installs in us the desire to move on?  What prevents us from feeling motivated to move on? 

Self worth? 

And, with these three boys I (with my husband) am raising, what can I do to ensure they always move on? 

Teach them to live in the present moment?
Teach them to name their emotions and then lay them to rest?
Teach them to value themselves but to also not take themselves too seriously?

But, how?

Because moving on is a very very important skill to have.  I need my children to acquire it, it might be the most effective skill they have.  How do I make 100% sure they have it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

My Beliefs

Something bigger than me?  Absolutely.  The Universe is bigger.  The eternity of time and space is bigger.  The Whole is bigger than me.  I absolutely believe that something is bigger than me and every SINGLE creature.

A creator?  I don't know.  I'm skeptical, though.  IF a creator put the Universe in play, I think that's all this Creator did.  No plans.  No micro-managing.

Prayer:  Talking to your soul in loving kindness.  Asking your conscious heart to accept your unconscious desires.  Self-therapy.  Talking to that Higher Power.  Asking for LOVE to fill you (from the Universe).

After-Life:  Sadly, no.  Your body decomposes to the Earth.  You are never YOU again.  You are bits and pieces, particles, energy, atoms that get reorganized reshifted and redistributed to other things.  No gate.  No Heaven.  No clouds with your family members and your old pets.  But I truly wish it were true.  And I completely understand the need to believe this.

Hell:  Luckily, no. 

Karma:  Yeah.  I dig that idea.  Hey, it could happen?!

Mindfulness:  My every day goal.

A God who could both bless your home's inspection, allowing for it to be approved so you could sell your home (Praise him!) but who also would not step in to save the Jews from the Holocaust?  Completely and utterly insane. 

Why would GOD be working in your life in Iowa where you have everything you actually need and so much more and yet be completely off duty while children die in Syria.  What makes you so freaking special? 

The Bible:  Interesting historical document with many ways to examine and explore it.  Completely metaphorical and created with intention, which is exactly the problem. 

The Need for Humans to Believe in Something:  I completely relate.  I completely desire this as well.  The reality of how infinitely small and minute we all are in the scheme of life is overwhelming.  That we have not been plucked from the Earth, amazing, that our loved ones are alive, tremendous, that our loved ones have passed, understandable, it is inevitable.  We are passing time.  Neurosis invades, collective consciousness creates mystical experiences to generate control.  I get it.  It's depressing actually.  Love helps that.  Love love love.  Love.

Love helps all these things.

God = Love

That- is what I believe.

Just because I'm not OUT, doesn't mean I'm still IN

I am not OUT all the way as a nonbeliever.  My family, they know.  They know but they don't ask.  We don't discuss.  EVER.  My mother is a devout woman.  A strong Methodist Christian.  She is a believer through and through.  She has a prayer book full of things to pray for and I'm 100% positive that I am on the list.  Not just because I'm her daughter but because I've turned my cheek.  I know she MUST be worried.  But, she never says one word.  Not a single word.  I'm so incredibly grateful for that.  Grateful?  Yes, Grateful. 

I don't want to hurt my mom with a painful conversation about my views.  I think she probably thinks MAYBE I'll change my mind and I'm going to let her keep on thinking that, because it's probably getting her through.  But, I won't be changing my mind.  I've tried.  GOD I've tried! 


I have put in A LOT of thought.  I've taken away every example of Christianity and just asked myself the questions and the answers are the same every time.  I don't see it.  I literally do not see it.  That thing that Christians do when they take the leap and believe?  Have faith (small as a mustard seed).  Faithfully believe?  I do not see it.  It is not in my worldview.  It is not in my psyche.  It is not in my soul. I have other opinions, strong ones.  But, the Christian opinion, I do not have.  and, I am not going to have any epiphanies.

So, I keep accepting the bracelet's with a cross on it and the mustard seed pins and the FAITH sign for my house and the Cross carved from wood by my Uncle.  And I smile and say, thank you.  Because, that's not that hard for me to do.  And it makes my mom happy.  And she is a good mom.  And a good Christian.  And she's just doing her part.  And I get that. 

I'm not really "out" as a nonbeliever, implied-definitely, imagined to be-probably, but technically-no declarations have been given.  Until pressed to do so, I'll stay here, quiet and unbelieving.  But, just because I'm not "out" certainly doesn't mean I'm in. 

Belonging: I get it.

On the Parents Beyond Belief page recently the moderator provoked a conversation about Belonging relating to our children and installing in them this sense.  I totally get the struggle.  I admire those that haven't had it and I'm slightly miffed too (not really). 

I used to belong.  I belonged to a community that was huge, enormous really.  Probably 95% of all the people I have ever been in relative close relation to either familial or friendly my entire lifetime have been followers of Christianity.  Either extreme really, devout to the Christmas and Easter Only crowd.  But, collectively, the majority of the people I relate to and have ever related to in an ongoing, cooperative, relational manner are believers. 

They make up a club that I, do not belong.  By proxy, my kids aren't really in that club either.  But the thing is, they don't care.  I do.  It is my issue, this "belonging" problem, not theirs. 

Because truly they belong to this family, to our community, the schools they are in, the club sports they play, the friends they hold, the friends we hold.  It is really me that feels the effects of the break up from religion. 

Of course, I could say I belong to all those things that I said my kids belong to and that would be true.  And I feel like I belong there.  But, I also feel that I don't belong in that other group, the one that predominantly is every where. 

I wonder, since they've never "belonged" to that group, will they ever feel that they don't belong?  I think they'll feel lots of belonging feelings towards lots of entities.

I think, by the nature of the break up, I have that loss.  This is my issue, not theirs.  Good for me to remember.