Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Loving What I Have

"Mona With Curly Hair," by Olaf-Jan, Norway

I wanted to post a photo of the woman who takes my latte order on Fridays, while I'm waiting for my daughter to finish her Gymnastics class.  However, although I chat with her every week, I'm too shy to ask to snap her photo.  So I will post this photo of Mona Lisa instead, with hair that looks a lot like the Latte Lady's.  The first time I met her, the Latte Lady's long, curly hair was swept up on top of her head in a bun, with big, uncontainable chunks spilling out--in short, the kind of hair I have always admired and wanted.  So, of course, I asked her what I always ask someone who has that kind of hair:  "Do you like your hair?"

Of course, she said "no."  She then went on to tell me about the lengths she goes through to straighten, flatten, blow-dry, etc., so her hair will be straighter. 

This will be a short post, because I have stuff to do, and it's about not really about hair.  It's about taking time to like what we have.  Lately I have been writing posts about my kids and parenthood and conflict, and how challenging it can all be at times.  I have written before that these intense moments capture my attention, but I need to say that, percentage-wise, they make up a very small part of my life as a mom.  And although I might make it sound like I would change my kids or my situation, I have numerous and frequent moments when I recognize that I really have a great deal going over here.

This weekend we went camping, and since the weather was absolutely beautiful, I had occasion to put sunscreen on my kids.  And I was slowed down enough to truly soak up the enjoyment of rubbing the lotion on their little faces.  I said all of these things, like "Hold still!," "Don't wiggle,"  "Be careful so I don't accidentally get it in your eye, it stings so much when that happens!"  All of that was true.  But really, I was just prolonging and savoring the opportunity to gently hold their little chins, and rub their cute little noses, and have them standing still, so close to me, for a little bit longer. 

I have been blessed with two of the most beautiful children ever.  They are healthy and bright and curious and energetic and loving.  Most of the time, I adore taking care of them, and I can't wait to see who they grow to become.  They do so many things right, and even their "wrong" is still just a part of learning about life on Planet Earth.

I just needed to say that, because it's true.  And I'm all about telling you the truth.

Comments, hmmm....?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How My Kids Drive Me Crazy

A few years ago, I had a cool conversation with Austin child psychoanalyst JoAnn Ponder.  Not only did she totally validate me by saying that she feels that being home with kids is harder than any other job, she described the parent's work as being a lot like being a therapist.  "You have to be IN your feelings, but able to step OUT of your feelings," she explained.

I loved that!  It perfectly summed up the crazy-making part of being a truly effective parent.  Sure, there are a lot of challenging things about raising kids.  Lots of decisions to make: things like what to feed them, when is bedtime, where do they go to school, who should they hang out with.  But, at least for me, none of that is what drives me crazy.  It's that part of being like a therapist that drives me crazy. 

First, the first part, being "in your feelings."  To be a great parent, you have to be deeply, and I would argue, almost insanely, engaged.  You have to be tuned in and connected to facilitate the optimal development of an infant, toddler, preschooler, or older child.  This truth is the reason why you can't outsource your parenting to a computer game, Baby Einstein video, or boarding school.  Your kid might develop in relationship to any of these things, but she won't thrive as well as a child whose parent really cares about her and spends time in the trenches with her.  Some--especially some who have never had kids--say this kind of engagement is mere narcissism, namely, that I love my kid so much because he/she is MY kid.  For me, I love my kids because they're my kids, but I also just love kids.  I am motivated by a blend of wanting to help create happy and mature humans and a sense of responsibility to society and to my kids.

So when we are "in our feelings," the best barometer of our kid is our own feelings.  If we are open and connected to them, we exist in this bizarre state of symbiosis (only we're the same species, sort of!).  We muddle along with them, and we feel what they feel.  If they're happy, we light up.  If they fall down, we mirror concern and frustration.  This feeding-back process how kids learn to understand and internalize a sense of their emotions.  And it can be really fun and rewarding for the parent, too.  Our kids, with their not-quite-yet connected cerebral cortexes, rely on us to regulate their emotions.  I like to think of it as their making a remote connection into my limbic system.  "Thanks, Mom!  Much better now..."

Yet there's this second part, the "able to step out" part.  Normally, that just means that the parent and the child are not equals, and that the parent, ideally, has a greater level of objectivity and control, which he/she lends to the child.  Even this business about helping kids label the feelings that go with experiences shows that the parent is in a different place.  He/she isn't actually the one with the skinned knee, but rather the one who helps the child name and process the feelings that go with it.  So even though a good parent is tuned in and invested in what his/her child is going through, it is really important to be able to both be there and let the child have the space to have her own experience.

Knowing when I should step out of my feelings is fairly straight forward for me.  Being able to...well, that's the real challenge.  For one thing, all kinds of things, such as sleep deprivation, sickness, bad days, and other upsets can make my own feelings especially sticky in a way that can ooze out onto my kids.  When I am in need of rest or support, I am sometimes a little too connected to my kids' feelings.  Which is bad news, because they're all over the place!  And then there are the times when my kids are actively attempting to hook me in to their feelings.  For example, as another famous child psychoanalyst, Erna Furman, wrote, "The toddler's close but primitive relationship with the mothering person contains a kind of love which derives pleasure not only from mutual kindness but also from mutual irritation and conflict. times, hurting and being hurt are sought and felt as a form of being intensely close to each other."

I know that, when my kids are being little pests, they're not doing it deliberately to drive me crazy.  Who wants her mom to be carted off, after all?  They're doing it because they're acting out something they're feeling, and they probably couldn't put words on it if they tried.  Or they're tired, or hungry, or overstimulated.  Or teething.  Whatever!: they're still being pests!  The vast majority of the time, I take it in stride, maintain my center, and step out of the way.  But if I'm not on top of my game for some reason, it really does feel like my head is going to explode, and not taking things out on them is a big challenge.  Sometimes I send myself to Time Out.  Sometimes I give warnings that I am about to begin yelling, which no one likes.  And sometimes I actually do yell.  Mostly, I just wish for a vacation, or someone who will take care of ME for awhile.  I remind myself that the stress comes in finite pockets of time that eventually pass.  Sometimes, just for laughs, when my husband comes home from work on one of these extra-pesty days, I quip cheerfully, "Did you bring home any heroin for me?"

I'd love to hear your observations...leave a comment!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Where My Rights Begin

I want everyone to leave my blog, right now, and go over and read this one.  It's a post by Bernadette Noll, about what is, for me, the most fascinating and vexing parenting reality:  what to do, how to respond, when I get angry at my kids.

By now, all faithful readers of my blog know that I sometimes lose it with my kids, as evidenced here. To give myself credit, it doesn't happen often.  But it's so huge when it does, and it feels so overwhelming, that I find it absolutely compelling.  I want to understand myself in these moments.  And mostly, I want to find a reliable and principled way to deal with them.

So now I am inspired by Bernadette, and I was planning to write more on this topic anyway!  I got several comments on that post about smacking my son, folks saying how courageous I was to write it.  To me it doesn't feel that way.  It feels natural to write about it.  If I'm not ashamed to ACT that way with my kids, I sure shouldn't be afraid to WRITE about it. (Oh...but I was ashamed to act that way!  anyway...)

Here's what I wrote on Bernadette's "comments" page:
"Why isn't everybody in the world talking about these moments with our kids? In our ker-ay-zee world of war and suicide bombers, why aren't all parents taught, early and often, about these inevitable times?  Because they're just the very most important opportunities, that's all. Dealing with anger--that almighty mobilizer and protector of our selves--is the linchpin of our work as parents. Whatever we do, our kids will take as true, and bring out into the world. Just like all the other billions of humans are doing."

Family life is the greatest of intimacies.  It's about love and sharing, and it's also about our needs bumping up against each other.  When anger comes up, it is always our self telling us that we are ignoring and/or neglecting it.  The trick, especially with kids, is to heed that warning and stand up for ourselves, AND to do so in a way that we would feel proud to see our kids replicate.  I want to give my kids a way to deal with their own, and others', anger--one that will best serve them in life, outside of our unique family communication system.

When I am angry at my children, it is generally for these reasons:
  • They are behaving egocentrically, i.e., incapable--usually temporarily--of thinking of anyone else.  Of course!  They're kids
  • They are harming persons or property.
  • They don't "get it" about what's expected in a given setting.
  • They are demanding my presence, only in an unacceptable way--by acting out.  They need my authority and leadership (and often, a pillow).
  • I am overwhelmed and undercared-for in some/many ways. 
I'm going to be writing more about this, and I hope you'll be reading and chiming in.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Blue In A Red State

Dear Senator Cornyn,

As a constituent and someone who has worked professionally to improve the quality of health care, I would like to be kept apprised of the conclusions of the Senate health reform working group of which you are a member.  Specifically, I would like to know what you feel are the most pressing areas of reform, and which areas you would go on record to support.  I agree with you that our country is large and diverse, that our health care system is complex, and that there are many problems.

I appreciate hearing your bottom line--that you would like to protect the private market players and individual choice.  However, I am skeptical that the private market will just stumble across the kind of efficiencies you mention, without legislative pressure.

Tricia Mitchell

From: ""
Sent: Thursday, October 1, 2009 8:24:41 AM
Subject: Thank You For Contacting My Office

Thank you for contacting me about efforts to reform our nation's health care system. The American health care system faces a myriad of complex challenges: rising medical and prescription drug costs, a lack of stable insurance coverage, and a medical bureaucracy that is increasingly difficult to navigate. I appreciate having the benefit of your comments on this important issue.

I am well acquainted with the frustration of many Americans struggling to meet their health care needs within the current cumbersome system, and I understand the urgency to implement sound revisions. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), spending on health care will account for nearly 17 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2009—totaling as much as $2.6 trillion. Health care costs have more than doubled over the last ten years and far outpaced wage growth, and I believe that meaningful health care reform is very important. However, I believe reform can be achieved by lowering the cost of health care without spending more money and without giving Washington more control over the decisions of doctors and patients.

Health care affects every American and I believe we need to take the time to listen to the patients, providers, families, and small businesses that will be significantly impacted. America has a highly complicated system and it is important to ensure that changes are thoroughly considered and not hastily passed by Congress. It may interest you to learn, that I am helping lead a Senate health reform working group that meets regularly to discuss the most pressing areas for reform in our nation’s healthcare system. It is important that Americans have access to affordable health insurance and therefore, I believe we must reform our health care system, emphasizing individual choice and trusting patients, their families, and their doctors—not lawyers or bureaucrats—to make health maintenance and treatment decisions. I am committed to improving access to quality, affordable health care, and you may be certain that I will keep your views in mind as I work my congressional colleagues, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to address this critical issue.

As Congress works to reform our health care system, I will adamantly oppose the creation of a Washington-run government health insurance plan, which I believe is unequivocally a gateway to a single-payer system. I believe that a new government-run health insurance plan will devastate private insurance markets by acting as a competitor, regulator, and funder. Independent estimates have found that such a plan could result in 118 million Americans losing their current health benefits, and leave 130 million Americans to rely on a government-run health care plan. Additionally, I cannot support punitive health benefit taxes on small businesses, which will hurt wages and jobs.

Successful health care reform will put patients in charge, and improve the insurance system so that providers will compete for their business by delivering high quality care at affordable prices. I appreciate having the opportunity to represent the interests of Texans in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.


United States Senator

517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-2934
Fax: (202) 228-2856

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