Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Parenting: Level Intense

Some days, the best and worst of parenting swirls together in one giant feel and I think, “This. This is the real thing.”

Our kids’ school noticeably increases the expectations of the students each year. Work that got rewarded in second grade because “I can see you understand and I can see you’re trying” does not fly in third grade. Little A, who needs to test every limit to make sure he knows right where it is, has been finding that out.

We warned him about sloppy handwriting, we showed him strategies for checking his work, we stressed the importance of reading carefully…. Then his Friday folder came home last week. His giant stack of worksheets (parents of elementary school kids, you know what I’m talking about!) had a full range of grades, a rainbow of scores ranging from red to purple. They ran the COMPLETE gamut of possible number grades.

There’s no doubt he can do it. The missing factor? Motivation. He wants to “do homework in school” so he can come home and play; he sees no need to do homework to the new, higher standard. Whatever he brings home, he does over (and over!) until he gets it right. So he’s learned that doing it right the first time is faster. It’s those “I did it at school” papers that have fallen largely into the purple end of the spectrum.

Luckily, supporting him as he does some of his homework has shown me that he’s a big picture guy. He may be slow to memorize certain spelling words, but if I explain that “destructive” has the same root as “construct” then he remembers to use the “ruct” in the middle.

It took me a weekend of despair and a sleepless night Monday night, but I woke up Tuesday—at five o’clock—with a plan. I got out of bed an hour early to set up our lesson. I pulled up two chairs at my desk and his grades on my laptop. Then I wrote out a chart with ten rows of ten boxes and got some game markers. I was all set.

After breakfast, I invited him to a meeting. After one complaint—“It’s about homework, isn’t it?”—he settled in. He absorbed the information SO quickly that I’m eternally grateful I had it ready to go! He helped me set up the game pieces to represent 100s, then helped me slide them over to show what happens to an average when a few low grades sneak in. He got it!

With only the slightest hint from me, he figured out what happens to his yearly grades if one marking period is low and three are high vs the opposite. And with only the slightest hint from me, he remembered that he’ll have more choices in the future (robotics or rocket design school!) if he has good yearly grades.

Newly motivated, we went to check his homework one more time. And then, because God, fate, or the universe decided to shower us with good fortune, he went over his science one more time and—all by himself—realized he’d left three questions blank. I had the privilege of saying, “Awesome! You just went from at-best-a-70 to maybe a 100 and all by checking!”

I sent him off to school, happy as a clam, and then I collapsed with my coffee for five minutes before starting work. After all the stress, all of the head-desking, all of the late night “how do I walk the line between stressing him out and showing him what’s important?” thoughts, I hit it. I offered the right lesson, the right way, at the right time.

Best of all, he took the ball and ran with it. In all my various experiences of teaching, that’s the moment—the rare and precious moment—that makes it all worthwhile. When someone takes something I show them and goes with it. As a parent, I've learned to savor these moments.

He’s heading far beyond my reach. I’m so proud of him! And exhausted. And elated. And drained. And hopeful. And anxious. And proud.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Saying Yes: Bonus

This silly little example of saying Yes to myself makes me smile.

I have odd hair; it's not really curly, but definitely wavy and frizzy. And, thanks to a thyroid condition, it sometimes falls out.

My favorite styling tool of all time is my beloved red comb for curly hair. It straightens as much of the frizz as can be straightened, without flattening the waves or pulling out extra hair.

Shortly after S. turned one, I got sick. When I got better, I decided to attempt the "I'm taking care of myself even though I have a toddler" thing. So I went go to a fancy hair salon. There, I got a haircut that absolutely required that I blow my hair straight. So I got the Brush of Evil. I hated it, but I stuck to it, religiously maintaining my new cut.

Then...I took S. to my new salon to get her hair cut. Like any toddler, she felt entirely free to say, "No, thank you. I'd rather not have my hair cut today." Actually, she screamed and cried and kicked and squirmed. Then the stylist, trying to physically hold my daughter in the chair, said, "Don't you want your hair cut so you can be pretty for your daddy?"

That's when I said, "Hell, no." I said no to the stylist. No, you are not physically restraining my child. No, you are not teaching my daughter that a haircut makes her pretty or that she should aspire to be "pretty" or calling her father's unconditional love into question to make her do what you want her to do.

I never went back to that salon, but I kept the Brush of Evil for TEN YEARS. I don't know why--I mean, I spent good money on it? It was there? I honestly don't know why. But I kept using it as it dragged all the wave out of my hair--and dragged out my hair!--and the little balls fell off the ends of the bristles until it actually hurt to use.

Guess what? I just said Yes to myself and got rid of that Brush of Evil.

I'm using the red comb now.

PS Now we all go to an AWESOME stylist who loves to hear how we want our hair cut and help us out with that. Let me know if you'd like her info.

Saying Yes: To You

In this three blog series, the first entry looked at the bleaker side of life, particularly as a modern woman. The second entry gave you all some insight into how I see the world and why I think we have hope in general. This blog--if all goes well, I want this blog give you personal hope. 

I freely acknowledge that I've borrowed this hope from others, but it grows as it's shared.

This whole series began on a Sunday about a month ago when our pastor solved the internet.

No, really.

I can't remember everything he spoke about that morning; in fact, I asked the rest of the family what they heard that morning and each of us had a different take-away. (That's great inspirational speaking, by the way!) Here's what I heard:

"We are closest to saints when we truly sit with our sins."

Of course, this uses Christian terminology, but substitute the words that suit your journey--sainthood can be enlightenment, transcendence, peace, unity, nirvana, or what you will, just as sins can be flaws, mistakes, regrets, hurtful acts, or whatever feels right to you.

I want you to adjust the language and then savor that thought for a moment.

It hit me like a ton of light that morning--the world needs exactly THIS. All the anger that we carry? It comes from hating parts of ourselves. And who do we hate, who do we spew on? Two kinds of people. We despise those with the flaws we don't have so we can feel better about ourselves. We rage at those with the flaws we do have because they embody what we hate about ourselves, admit it or not.

Don't believe me? Check out the comments on a political post online somewhere. Observe the dynamic of the comments, certainly, but also notice your own reactions.

Now suppose that you took a minute to fully and honestly sit with yourself, flaws and all. Think of the post and comments of again. What happens? I know what happened to me. I starting thinking things like, What if I'm wrong? and What if there's something I don't know? I lost any desire to argue; I felt content to bear witness to what others needed to say.

Here's the really, really awesome part.

I loved my epiphany and the feeling that came with it so much that I kept (keep!) returning to it. When I do, another little bit of self-criticism dissolves, making space in my head and heart. And amazing things keep stepping up to fill that space!

A few days later, I read Glennon Doyle Melton's new book, Love Warrior. She writes many honest and inspiring words, but one idea took root in my new soul space--Say yes to yourself.

This idea makes a cool Venn diagram with our pastor's idea. Both concepts overlap in encouraging us to embrace our full selves, but Glennon's idea of saying Yes to myself carried me to a way of acting on the peace I'd found in my epiphany.

Not long after I read her book, I came across this article on saying no. I'd like my daughter to be better at this than I am, so I read it eagerly...but it didn't quite do it for me. Yet, in her book, Glennon tells an amazing story about speaking her truth to a would-be catcaller. Without hatred or anger, she holds her space. She didn't say no to him, she said yes to herself.

I want that.

I want to acknowledge my flaws, my needs, my pain, my past, and my dreams, my strengths, my joys, my love. I want to say yes to all of me because, not only does it feed my soul, it spills over into everyone I encounter. This is the loaves and fishes, everyone.

As I've begun looking for ways to say yes, amazing things have leapt into my life, like
--Hamilton. The kids and I have surrendered fully. I love sharing this with them, love rediscovering my love of musical theater (since 1985), love learning new things about writing and theater thanks to the super-talented artists involved, and HOLY CRAP, what a story!
--Multiple writing opportunities. I am sitting with the reality that I'm not ready to go for them yet, but they exist! And I did enter a poetry contest.
--So many beautiful moments with the people I love. I love saying yes when I want to listen to my children or laugh with my husband.
--We went to the premiere of The New 8-Bit Heroes, which made me want to dust off my old dreams and do something.
--And I have fun times when something like this happens: A friend posted an article reminding me how precious the people in our life are. Immediately after that a favorite artist posted a link to this beautiful song, which reminded me of this TedTalk that I'd saved. And my soul felt full. I'm ready to spread the hope!

So, it's taken a month to put together this post. Maybe I procrastinate--I sit fully at peace with that flaw. Or maybe the seed of hope just keeps blossoming into more to write about. In any case, let's say Yes to hope, to writing, to peace.

Look around, look around out how lucky we are to be alive right now!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Say Yes: The Ages of Humanity

Part Two took a while. That's okay. At this stage in life, we often turn things in late. Keep reading to see what I mean!
I’ve always thought that humanity’s growth paralleled the growth of your average human being, even acknowledging that the average of anything is an abstract concept and doesn’t exist in concrete form.

It’s not a terribly new idea, but think about it. For a large part of humankind’s early existence, we kept pretty busy just trying to get from Point A to Point B, put food in our mouths, and not die. Sounds like toddler life to me. Then, by the “Middle Ages” we advanced to the lovely stage that includes bullying, a black-and-white take on matters of law, and a complete inability to deal with hygiene. Does that sound like second grade to anyone else?

I look at humanity right now and think, Holy crap, are we ever in the teen years.

Seriously, how many of these describe A. Teenagers, B. Our world right now, or C. Both?
—We have moments of brilliance
—We have moments of utter imbecility
—We argue endlessly about which is which
—We stay up WAY too late for our own good
—We put off taking care of ourselves because we’ll never get sick
—We ignore what we can’t see (Pacific garbage patch, anyone?)
—The internet
—We elect insane morons to be…well, anything…just because they’re popular
—We can be colossally shortsighted and inconsiderate
—Our hearts are beginning to stretch large enough to include others

No need to grade the quiz; I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea.

And it’s not just me! I’ve always thought the Bible, which has the advantage of being written during multiple stages of history, reflects that. If you’ve ever raised a toddler, admit it—you sounded a bit like the Old Testament God at times. You make these crazy specific and absolute rules about things you never thought anyone would NEED a rule for. In my case, “THOU SHALT NOT CARRY LEGOS IN THY MOUTH.” The Old Testament God had a thing about wearing mixed skins, etc. I’m sure there were reasons.

And, much like I’ve dropped the Lego Law in my house—it’s just not needed now—the Bible shows a new approach in the New Testament. Jesus, kind of like that hip church youth leader you get in middle school, says, “What if I told you the only law is love?” That’s when the twelve and thirteen-year-olds fall in love with how cool they are and start correcting everyone who doesn’t think the same way.

I’m not the only one who sees this, either! If you’ve got the time, check out this fascinating address by the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, who sees a similar progression of understanding.

Like many a teenager’s parent, I’ve often despaired for our future. I’ve had my share of Really? and You thought that would work because….? and Duh moments as I’ve contemplated our collective choices.

It’s always the case, in any learning, that the closer you come to mastering something, the more unpredictable your performance is. An orange belt in karate may miss the target on ninety-nine punches out of a hundred, but they’re mostly pretty ineffective punches. A brown belt, on the other hand, may misplace one punch out of a hundred, but it’ll have some power behind it. Which does more damage?

And, as teens approach mastery over large life skills, they get cocky and nearly die. As our human races approaches a point where we CAN, conceivably, meet the basic needs of all humankind, it seems like we’re killing people for such dumb reasons. We’re making those tragic, late-teen mistakes.

We are approaching mastery, though. This amazing Ted Talk cites research that shows our circles of compassion have gotten bigger in recent years—we care more about people we don’t know personally than we ever have before. That is awesome! Way to go, world!

I cannot say enough about organizations like The CompassionCollective that combine the people-power of celebrities and ordinary folk, leveraging it into a force for good. Or people like Brandon Stanton at Humans of New York who shares stories we’d never hear otherwise. Now that, people, means we’re feeling our power. We’re getting ready to lead a balanced life that includes compassion.

Hope lies on just the other side of this stage. Think of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a world where our shared home planet is safe and stable enough to let us reach out to other worlds. Maybe it would help if some Vulcans make first contact and parent us through this next stage, but maybe…

Maybe, like parentless teens in all times and places, we can see the consequences of our actions, pull our shit together, and let our hearts expand. I say, Yes, let’s do it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Say Yes: In the Beginning

I look for the light every day, with nearly every breath. Right now, that search has hit a magical plateau where so many things seem to be coming together--for this brief moment, I can glimpse the pattern. It is gorgeous!

I'm going to start you where I began. It's dark and there's a bit of language. And I almost skipped sharing this part since I missed posting on Suicide Prevention Day. That's ridiculous, though. We all share the dark at the bottom.

And it's always the right day to share the bits of light we find. Hang in there with me for the next few posts--I promise seeds of the light lie in the questions below. I'll try to take us to see the beauty blossom!

Always remember that love, light, and help surround us. Talk to someone. If you don't know who, find ideas here.


new rites of passage
for emancipated women
in a brave new century

born innocent, born whole
each ego, each most partial judge
condemns each victim, each ego

self-on-self crime

our shining victory
as liberated women
in a sophisticated century

is surviving ourselves
only almost suiciding
hearing our own cries for mercy

at that last moment
when there’s one last shred
one last breath, one spark

devoid of hope, devoid of dignity
but moving forward,
still forward for some reason

if momentum bears us
through that moment
we buy a second life

a chance to fight
--every day—
to love ourselves



who robbed us
and how and, really,
of what?

what do we lack that
overflows in
the merest animal?

a will to live
a burn to be
a desire for the best, for


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Mother Poem

So I'm collecting some of my poems on the widely varied faces of motherhood to send to a contest. It's always educational to see where I was, how I felt, what I was thinking back when.

I've been thinking of this particular poem recently, anyway. I like it when something I've written comes back to me and I think, Yes, that's it exactly. It gives me hope as a writer!

But more importantly, this poem gave me hope as a mother. The measure of our pain reflects the measure of our love, like a pool of water reflecting the sun. And we all stand in that truth--together.

In a grey twilight arena
I stand
Face up and arms down
The blood of a thousand cuts
To my heart
Pooling at my feet

Clear drops form
And bead and trickle
Down my skin
My arms, my wrists
My fingertips

Morning tears of exhaustion
Course down my body
Chased by midday tears of tension
Meeting tears of evening frustration
And midnight despair

Motherhood flows over me
Rolls off my belly
And down my legs
Sliding silently
To collect on the stone

Ever expanding, ever silent
The current flows
A shock races up me
A light snaps on
My arms rise up

I look left
Fingertip to fingertip
I stand
Recognition sparks

Another mother
Another pool
The same cuts
And toil and tears
And to the right

The connection crackles

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dumbo After All

Both of my children, blessed or cursed with vivid imaginations, struggled with movies in their preschool years. They’d fall into the movie, totally immersed in the story and its outcome. Any dubious outcome stressed them out, so I searched high and low to find low-suspense movies for them in those years.

With Little A. a newborn and Big A. traveling for work again, I really, really needed three-year-old S. to watch the occasional video. Don’t judge me. Dinner and a movie for her meant I could feed Little A. and eat my own dinner, too. Win-win-win.

So I tried her on all the lightweight Disney films I could think of—I mean, Cinderella has no bad guys, really. Right? It’s not the legendary source of endless children’s traumas, like Snow White or Bambi. Nope. She wouldn’t go for Cinderella. I tried movie after movie. Finally, she asked to see the Dumbo video we’d inherited from a friend. I had never seen the film, so I just gave thanks for my good fortune and popped in the cassette.

Well, if you have seen Dumbo, then I don’t need to say anymore. If you haven’t, well…it’s not my favorite movie of all time. So many aspects of that movie, while perhaps standard when it was made, are just…profoundly troubling to me. On top of ALL kinds of bullying, including “adults” bullying a child, this stunning children’s film includes an imprisoned mother, nefarious scheming, surreptitious drinking, hallucinations, racial stereotypes, and a disturbing look into the treatment of circus workers and animals in the past.

And my determined three-year-old daughter picked THIS movie to love over all others. She asked for THIS movie every time Big A. traveled for work…which was about once a week that year. And so I watched it far more times than I ever wanted. And she watched it far more times that I wanted her to, which worried me. What would she make of all thatstuff?

And yet, nearly nine years later, it occurs to me that maybe I owe Dumbo after all.

My daughter’s confidence leaves me in awe. Her amazing personal integrity gives her a rare natural acceptance of others. She’s literally so comfortable with herself (in most ways; no one’s perfect) that she just appreciates other people as they come. Okay, I hope some of that comes from her parents’ unending and unconditional love. I know her first school overtly encouraged students to love and appreciate each other in all their differences. And I give credit to her current school, where peer pressure reinforces individuality.

But, you know, Dumbo gets seriously dumped on from the moment of his birth. Yet the movie makes it clear that he, his mother, and Timothy have the right idea—Dumbo’s awesome. He rocks, no matter what anyone else says or does.

Best of all, Dumbo doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone but himself to succeed. Without even speaking a word, he finds his “wings” and soars. His unique abilities have value; he learns that without devaluing anyone else.

Maybe that’s not such a bad message to be exposed to over and over in your formative years.