Friday, October 27, 2006

Honor Your Children

My friend Cyndi has a favorite quote that has touched me over the years of knowing her, the funny thing is it becomes more profound to me the longer it sits in my memory banks.

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.

I know I’ve told it over and over again, but on the day Devereaux was born, after fidgeting my way through recovery and chasing the loving devotees away from my bedside, I sat with my beautiful infant son in my lap staring long and hard into his beautiful chocolate brown eyes and wondering how on earth anything so perfect ever could have come from me. These first awe struck moments are the stuff that makes magic in ordinary lives, that give us meaning. These moments are the holiest of holy, because we are connected with the sheer tenacity of life and staring into the depths of true beauty. There is no more perfect moment.

But we must leave Eden, and start our lives outside the garden. There is spit up, and teething, first shots, and eventually temper tantrums, eating dirt, throwing up in the middle of the night, homework battles, undesirable friends…mountains of obstacles. And that is not all…

Nobody tells you about all of them. You start to get an idea, but just the slightest hint in about the sixth month of pregnancy, when people start telling you horror stories about their deliveries, or about why you MUST breastfeed, or why you simply MUST let your child cry it out, or why a certain kind of sheet is as good as putting your child to sleep on gasoline soaked rag. But even then, you have no idea how vicious the judgment of the parenting community will be.

I’m not really sure when it went into overdrive for me. It may have been when I noticed how the other mothers looked at me at playgroup when Devereaux was the only child who had to be chased all over the playground because he was rather like a balloon the air had just been let out of, whizzing around bumping into things and making obnoxious noises on the way. It might have been when I read on a birth board that other children just my son’s age were counting to 20, when we hadn’t even started working on it. Maybe it was just before his second birthday when a certain person informed me with haughty superiority that her son (I’m sorry, I can’t resist, who happened to be my husband) was potty trained at 13 months old! Maybe it was the first time I realized that other mothers actually had complexes about having had caesarian sections. Maybe it was the first time we were recommended to therapy, or for ADHD evaluations, or maybe it was just a culmination of all of the above and a little bit more. But there undoubtedly came a time that I began to worry, seriously, that I was not much of a mother. And more pointedly, that all of my imperfections were being passed on to my beautiful soft cheeked, brown eyed boys.

And this all sucks.

Now add to this anxiety a divorce, that really makes you question yourself and how good a person you really are, and all the nasty things that can be said in a divorce that makes you worry even more about your parenting skills, and some serious anxiety and temperament in a very sensitive child, and you have the recipe for a big bad case of Bad Mother Blues. And I’ve been suffering it for awhile, constantly second guessing my own choices, in fear of screwing them up and making them hate me, terrified of hearing the words that will always come in situations like this but make you bleed nevertheless “I don’t love you anymore, I only love my daddy!” Even writing that sucks the air out of my lungs, and it has been months since I’ve actually heard it.

So earlier today I found myself writing an email to my son’s therapist in essence asking for validation for going against the parenting peanut gallery out there telling me that the family bed is a horrible no-no. And then a few hours later I found myself discussing whether or not supporting a child’s choice of Halloween costume, even a costume that society at large might find strange, is good for a kid or not. A few hours after that I found myself reading a blog at Daddy Daze about how he worries constantly about passing his own baggage on to his kids. And it was at this point I stopped and said “WHOAH!”

And for one crystal clear moment I was back in that hospital room holding that perfect baby in my arms, and I knew…that day, a mother, just as perfect as that baby was born. And I need to trust her, because the best thing she ever did was to honor that child’s perfection.

In the middle of all this discussion and thought I spent some time with my eldest. I’d gotten off work early for an appointment with my lawyer then I picked him up from school and we came home for a decadent few hours of Lays potato chips, chocolate milk, and Shark Boy and Lava Girl. And while Max dreamed a better dream, Dev and I did too. He dug out a box of pipe cleaners that he had mangles in a bad transaction at day camp this summer and we quietly untangled and straightened them while watching the movie, and we each began to make little creations of our own. In the end, Dev carefully wound them all together in a creation he aptly dubbed “Love Man”

And also…”Love Man Gets a Great Idea”

And what have I learned from all of this? That Love Man will always have the best ideas and perhaps the ideas of the peanut gallery, pun entirely intended, be taken with a grain of salt. I know it because if you look at their faces, and into their hearts, they will lead you. Maybe the Ten Commandments didn’t get it wrong when “honor thy father and mother” was written but I think it was also only half right. Because honoring your children is to honor all that is holy in you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

You say goodbye, I say hello

When I signed up for small group ministry about a year ago, I was nervous. I really didn't know at all what to expect. Sitting down having relatively intimate discussions about life and spirituality with ten relative strangers seemed dangerous. But I wanted to make friends in my church community. I really hoped that there would be another mother of young children with whom I might connect in my group. On my first day I sidled in to the room and sat down. Face after face appeared in the doorway, none of them the young moms from the toddler room I hoped to see. In fact, I was worried. Most of the group was considerably older than I. How could I connect meaningfully with people my mother's age or older? Ah yes, agism alive and well in my UU body. Then she rushed in, rustling around creating a stir...a typical Mary Ellen entrance. She beamed her "I'm a sweet old lady" apple cheeked smile at us and told us not to mind her. But no one could be in the same room with Mary Ellen and not take notice. She is that woman, you'll notice her because regardless of what she says, she wouldn't have it any other way.

You have to get a mental picture of Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen has the picturesque charm of every sweet grandmother, school librarian, neat, tidy, and practically perfect in every way Mary Poppins you've ever met or conjured in your imagination. But let me tell you a small secret. Mary Ellen is no Mary Poppins. Mary Ellen is a mensch. The first time I ever heard Mary Ellen speak it was at our church's annual member meeting. We were voting on important matters of budget and conscience. But Mary Ellen defined the UU experience for me by rising and sweetly chastising the congregation for holding our annual meeting while the gay pride parade was preparing to begin. What kind of Unitarians do that? That, my friends is my friend Mary Ellen.

I thought about my friend Mary Ellen two days ago when I read Damomma's account of a scary incident. I thought about her for a lot of reasons. Small group ministry is supposed to be rather like Vegas...without the slot machines, stage shows or alcohol...but what happens in small group is supposed to stay in small group. I hope the laws of Vegas, small group and the divine Mary Ellen will forgive me for sharing this. Mary Ellen is the most committed atheist I've ever known, a strong, willful humanist woman. On this day we were discussing prayer, and she told us the only time she'd ever truly prayed was on the day that she rode in an ambulence with her son who had been hit by a car while riding his bike. Her prayer was not a request, it was a demand, "God!" she yelled out loud in the audience of a stunned paramedic, "Don't you hold this child responsible for my non-belief!" That's my Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen has had a hard year too, much harder by far than mine. Always busy with her work for hospice, caring for her aging and sick husband, she missed our last few sessions of small group last spring. "Under the weather," she reported simply via email. I learned during the summer that she had been diagnosed with cancer. It spread quickly and her doctors have spent the summer trying to keep up with it. As it goes with things like this, one week we would get an email telling us that she was doing better, the next week there would be some new challenge. But always the emails ended with a reminder that Mary Ellen needs her rest to fight this thing, so while cards and letters were very welcome, please don't plan to visit. But today the email was different. Today the email was simply it is time to say goodbye, here is her room number, if you have something to say, you'd better say it now.

Mary Ellen also told us that in her work at hospice, she often became very close to people and their families at the end of their days. It was not uncommon for families to ask her to pray at their bedsides or funerals. She said she didn't feel comfortable with this, as she was indeed an atheist, but a Unitarian as well, and she encompassed well our fourth principle, the right to free and responsible search for truth and meaning. So she would generally suggest that a family member or close friend might be better suited for the task. But occasionally, she said, she couldn't get around it. So when she prayed for these people, she tried to pray as she thought they would have prayed themselves. I am trying, and will continue to try to pray for Mary Ellen as she would do. By standing up and speaking out for what is right, by taking up the cause of the defenseless, by nurturing humor and compassion with a strong voice and a steady hand. And I hope you will too.

It's been a long time now since I've seen my friend, and I'm a bit afraid of what I'll find when I do go to see her. I'm so angry that she's saying goodbye, just as I was learning to say hello. But this is what life give us. I'm thankful I got any of it at all.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Where we are going is someplace we've been...

Here's a great poem from Jean Wyrick "Poem for an Inked Daughter."

I wanted to share this with you resonated in me. Not that I have a teenaged daughter showing up to dinner with dragons inked on her shoulder...nor did my mother care about my outrageous (and ugly) earrings when I was a kid. But we've all done it, looked into the eyes of these children and seen our own peering back at us with the same fears, defiance, frustration, and oh, yes...our very own humor staring us down and challenging us.

Remember that when you respond my friends. The best parenting advice I've ever read was "be the kind of parent you wished you had." If you take that on the surface, well that could be dangerous, I suppose, because we all probably wanted rich, famous and very lenient parents. But deeply...what did you want your mom to say when you were hurt? What might dad have missed that he shouldn't have missed? In the stillness of your heart, the answer to the kind of parent you want to be is the kind of parent you wished you'd had. And if you had that kind of parent...your kids are doubly blessed, because you got a mentorship.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

What are you made of?

"Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, that's What Little Girls are made of..."
I've been a big talker lately, haven't I? I can sit here smugly and write about seeking joy and forgiving and taking on new chanllenges...and yet I find myself frozen in fear, for reasons I can't quite grasp, at the prospect of walking into a courtroom, for a proceeding that has an obvious and expected conclusion, expecting no surprises. But still crazy afraid.

I came home tonight and consumed my new favorite comfort food, a chicken taco salad, heavy on the sour cream, and fitfully watched the episode of Project Runway that I missed last night. I respectfully got sucked in, but each time they went to commercial, I found myself up and pacing like a caged animal. Peaceful was not my name.

I climbed into the bathtub with the thought that my brain may slow down if I boiled it in lightly scented bathwater. But instead in boiled over...I suddenly remembered an article I read a few days ago and this voice, actually That voice, came thundering into my head, "Eileen, what are you made of? That's the problem, that's the question." And I have to tell you that my sweat shirt is still sticking to my body because I didn't dry off well enough because I needed to start writing this before it went away.

So the article I read was an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the much blogged about book "Eat Pray Love." She was infact talking to a reporter about her adventure which is chronicled in that book. And she said this,

"What has changed about the world, I think, is that women can now take those epic journeys, too. Joseph Campbell (whom I do love, by the way) always said that there was no such thing as the feminine heroic quest; that women have, mythologically speaking, never needed to go out there in the world and "find themselves" because, as life-bearers, as the living goddesses of fertility, we are already perfect and whole. Now, while it certainly is flattering to be deemed a perfected life-goddess, I for one don't personally relate to that icon at all."

It is really so true. I love Joseph Campbell, but this same statement has always bothered me, as does "sugar and spice and everything nice." And it continues in current popular music, when in his song, "Daughters" John Mayer tells us:

"Boys, you can break
You'll find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from
A womans good, good heart"

But girls we have our own quests to make...sometimes instead of away from tending the fire, we must quest instead to go through it. And to hell with them if they don't get it.

And I was sitting in that bathtub and it all fell down on my head. I'm not sugar and spice and everything nice. I'm not perfect or a living goddess. I'm on my own heroic journey. I am woman...and I'm learning...and I'm growing...and you can't stop me.

What I'm afraid of, I think, is walking into that courtroom, knowing that it's the biggest test of my life. I have to walk in there and find out what I'm made I a blow hard sitting behind a computer or am I a person on a quest? Am I sugar and spice and everything nice or am I real and confident and flowing? Will I be who I am, or will I be wearing a hockey mask?

My husband has a favorite phrase about getting ready for something big, "putting your game face on." But for me, this time, it's about taking my game face off, and seeing what is underneath. And I think he'll be surprised, at least I hope so. Because if it is what I think it is, it is nothing he's ever seen before.

It is nothing I've ever seen before. And it is amazing.

You are what you dig deep, right Neicey?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Forgive and Forget

Humans are hard wired for learning. Who knows why, but we've made it to this place in our development because we learn from our mistakes. As little children we touch something we aren't supposed to teach and some thundering voice from above tells us "No!" (And I'm talking about your caregiver's voice, not God's, but when you are less than two feet tall, there isn't much difference.) And we look at that object, not making a conscience choice to learn, but we memorize it, and we see it as a "No!"

"NO!" is the first word I ever wrote. I was four, and I had a felt tip marker and was starting toward my mother's ironing board with it. My older sister shouted "Eileen, NO!" and stormed away to get mom. So that is what I wrote on the ironing board cover. My mother didn't see the humor in it that I do know. That ironing board, the last time I saw it when I was about sixteen, still had the faded out "NO" written very clearly on the edge reminding me that this object was a big "NO!" Throughout my childhood, each time that thing was hauled out from the shadows; I felt varying degrees of guilt, frustration, and impudence in looking at it. What I never felt was forgiveness. I'm not saying that my mother never forgave me, although I can't say for certain that she did because we never talked about it. But the person who most needed to forgive me got taught the lesson of "No!" that day, but never got taught how to forgive herself. That, if you are as slow as she is, was me.

For all our abilities to learn from all sorts of mistakes, the biggest mistake we make in life is often one that we don't know how to recognize as such. The mistake of harboring anger, towards ourselves and others. Anger is a heavy ugly load to carry, particularly anger toward ourselves. And anger toward others, only inspires anger toward ourselves, because we are carrying around the weight of the mistakes of others with no lesson to learn from it other than "NO!" a lesson we all learned when we were under two feet tall. And so, we suffer.

How does one learn to forgive? I'll be honest and tell you I haven't figured it all out yet. But there is some wisdom in the old idiom "forgiving and forgetting." The idea was presented to me over fifteen years ago when I first read Life 101. When you break down these two words you get something very interesting, a concept that has helped me learn to embrace forgiving and forgetting. "For Giving" If you are "For Giving" well, that's a great thing, isn't it? In this case you want to be all for giving the weight of the problem up. Be for giving yourself credit for having made a mistake, and knowing that you won't make it again. Be for giving the person who hurt you the weight of the misdeed back, so that they too can learn from it. If you are carrying around for them, they will only learn that you are an emotional pack mule. "For getting" Usually when you hear the word forget it sounds like you are going to give up the lesson you learned, but that isn't what the word says, is it? It says you are "For Getting." But what are you for getting? I'm willing to believe that by being For Giving, you make room on your emotional plate "For Getting." Forgetting is making room for joy, for new experiences, for better than the injury you've been nursing.

I'm giving up some baggage I've been hauling short term and long term, because I'm all for getting some new beauty in my life. How about you?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Grapes and Wine

I'm an eater. Ask anyone who's seen me from the neck down, they'll tell you, yup, Ei's an eater. Now this is not to say I have an astounding sense of what is fabulous in cuisine, nor is it to say I even know what I like, but I eat really well. I eat when I'm sad, when I'm bored, when I'm get the picture. The one time in my life that you can tell that something is really wrong is when I'm not eating much of anything for an extended period of time. That is indeed a really serious sign. Other than physical ailments, it has happened three times in my lifetime - once was this spring.

But this tendency to want to just chew up life, gulping it down in large chewy bites is not limited to food. It is the way I consume information, relationships, even my relationship with the divine. I don't want to sample it, to savor the aromas, to feel the texture on my lips or to even admire it sitting on a plate. I want to ingest my life...infuse it into my very being. And I've realized that this has become a problem.

My weight is only a small indicator of how ineffective my approach to life has been, but certainly the most readily apparent, nagging reminder of how much I've sucked into myself without thinking, without feeling, without even enjoying. And how little I've passed up. How little I've let go. It is the ever present symbol of the baggage I tote from even my youngest days in life...dragging around thirty some odd years of impulsive cramming myself full of life, regardless of it's nutrient level or taste.

So here I am at 37 a few short weeks from 38 and finally saying "I'm stuffed...I couldn't eat another bite." In other words, to quote an old old commercial, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

I've never been to a vineyard. I can't say that it has ever interested me. As a whole I'm not really about drinking too much. This is not to say that I didn't go through my period of stuffing myself on the experience of drunkenness and released inhibitions and wild parties that left me feeling broken and restless. But I've never been one to really enjoy a glass of wine, a special cocktail, the best stout beer. I really didn't get it. I had a friend in Denver who had wine parties the way some people have Tupperware parties (and yes there really is a company out there that does this with fine German wines). I went to her parties, but I really didn't get it. I got myself their wonderful dessert wine and promptly drank the entire bottle by myself. If I had visited a vineyard though I quite imagine I would have stuffed myself indiscriminately on grapes while tromping through the vineyard, rather than saving myself for the wine once we entered the cellar. By the time we'd gotten to the wine, my stomach would have been protesting, telling me that wine was out of the already wanted to throw up.

I really admire people who know themselves. That know their wine. I've not really been that person in my life, as much as that is something that I've wanted to consume, it was just too much waiting for an eater. Wine isn't a pluck it off the vine, or shelf, or drive through window interest. Wine takes patience and education, and a very clear sense of self, meaning, knowing the difference between what makes a wine good to the world and what makes a wine your own special taste. I haven't had that kind of time to invest in wine. I haven't made that kind of time.

Now before Christie gets on my tail about aspiring to be a lush, let's be clear that this is my metaphor for the day. I've decided that I need to slow down and witness more and ingest less. That I need to smell some fruit that I will never taste, and marvel at the artistry of a cream puff that will never end up in the seat of my jeans. I need to pluck some grapes and make some wine. And when the wine is finally ready, I will savor it...because it is mine and it belongs completely to me. And hopefully, by the time it is complete, I will have plenty of room in the seat of my jeans for it too. Because I'm tired of hauling around an entire lifetime of impulsiveness like Marley hauled the chains of his life. It's heavy, and burdensome and unattractive.

I've decided that I'm not looking for another love to consume (or who will consume me). If I ever love again it will be because the perfect blend of fruit is delivered, by happenstance, into my open hands. It will be because that fruit ferments perfectly and is tended with caring skilled hands. And when it is consumed, I will experience it with every sense I have available to me. And if I never have the chance to make that perfect bottle of wine, I will die happy at spending the rest of my life cultivating the skills to do it anyway, rather than gorging myself on grapes.

However...I may still indulge in a handful of grapes now and then. Man cannot live on wine alone.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Warning...mind bending statement coming...

That's what I hear when there is a certain tone and frequency to the way my son says "Hey, Mom...."

"Hey, Mom?"

"Hmmm?" Pulling nose out of book..."Yes darling, what is it?"

"Do you think that God stays in heaven because he's afraid of what he's created?"

(Insert the sound of crickets chirping here....)

Well, what would you say if your seven year-old asked you?

Yes, I did.

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