Saturday, November 10, 2012

Please remember

that today Abbott said "I was in your tummy yesterday?" And you said, "Sure feels like that, buddy." And he said, "I will be in your tummy always?" And you said, "Yes you will."

Sunday, July 01, 2012

No story is a circle

This week I had to take our car in (recall!). As my back was being assaulted by the massage chair in the waiting room, two women next to me started talking about their kids, who had just graduated. These kids had both had trouble in school, and bad experiences with their teachers. I listened to the moms talk at and over each other as they boasted about how they'd gone to the schools, threatened to get the teachers who had failed their children fired, and that their children were not really dumb (their words), but the teachers were lazy and not doing their jobs. One of them bragged about how she had gone down to the school every year in elementary school and made them pass her kid.

Now, I'm the child of teachers. I went in with my mom every summer and helped her redecorate her classroom. And I have friends who are teachers. I know the incredible heart and sweat they've put into it. So immediately my back went up. But I knew there was nothing I could say to add to this conversation; I also don't have the most public-friendly ideas about intelligence. I've always thought that intellectual capacity is an empirical fact, like height. You have what you have. And, therefore, just like height, it is nothing to be judged on. What is to be judged on, I've always thought, is what you do with it.

So I sat there, back beaten up, judging them. Thinking, maybe you should have done your jobs as parents, and not left the complete education of your kid to these teachers! And you know, it's possible that your kids are not as smart as you think they are.

And then I thought, oh shit.

What if Abbott has trouble in school? I mean, I don't think I will go down to the school every year and force them to pass him, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't brag to complete strangers about it. But what if I saw something in him that his teachers didn't? What would I do?

And with that, I stopped judging those ladies.

Man, having Abbott has really harshed my judging buzz.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Good girl

Abbott doesn't like to be told no. I mean, that's not uncommon, right? No one likes to be told no. But with him, it's not like he just doesn't like to stop what he's doing. The way he cries, it's like he feels a deep shame for having done it in the first place. And you know, he's the only toddler I've ever known this well, so maybe they're all like that. But this morning I got an glimpse into why he might be like that.

I had a dream about my mom. It was Mother's Day and I had gotten her some kind of intricate (and frankly, very impractical) indoor sprinkler system, complete with permanent plastic flooring. But when I went downstairs to give it to her, she was sick. Really sick, like right before she died. And it was silly, me giving her this sprinkler system. In my dream, she asked me if I could go get her some printer paper. I told her, well, I know you like art; should I get you some colored paper? As I said it, I looked around and saw she had some stacks of colored paper that had been all cut up and used. And she stood up, and put my face in her hands, and told me, You are a good girl. You are a good daughter.

And I woke up. And cried and cried and cried. Harder than I have about her in years.

It's amazing to me how powerful a parent's approval is. And how I didn't know I still needed it, 13 years after my mom died. It's been a rough couple weeks at work.

We as parents have this power, and it's so simple. The night of Abbott's first school art show, I told him, "Abbott, Mom and Dad are so proud of you." It was the very first time I had ever used that word around him, but he got it. His eyes lit up and he said, "Mama? Daddy? Proud. Abbott." And he kept saying it over and over. He still says it pretty regularly, with that same look in his eye. He really feels it.

Now, we do tell him no when we need to. I can be pretty stern with the little guy. But the love is so easy to give. Why not just give it?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is there any inherent value to pain?

A friend and I were chatting about forgiveness today. He does it out of humility, an understanding that we all have weaknesses. But to some degree, it's also a coping mechanism, a way to stop spending energy on a painful or upsetting topic. I think both are right on target. I'm envious of that kind of clarity. Forgiveness, as I understand it, does the greatest good for the forgiver in the situation. I understand it intellectually, but I've never been able to actually do it. I just slowly suffer a little bit less. But if I think about it, the pain is still there.

Then a friend sent me this link, about being a woman in Somalia. It turns out it is the worst place in the world to be a woman. Sexual assault and general violence toward women is horrifically rampant, and there seems to be no end in sight. It's something that in the past would have sent me into a pretty deep depression about humanity. And there's a large part of me that feels incredibly helpless and hopeless about the situation. First thought: What can I do? Well, give money. OK. Then what? Like the charity on Facebook? I better watch that I don't strain a muscle. In the past, I'd have fantasized about quitting my job and becoming a feminist lawyer, but that's less realistic now that I have a family to support and my best-chance LSATs have long expired. Realistically, after the money and the Facebook, it's just me being upset about it. And what does that accomplish? What good does it do those women?

There's an episode of Six Feet Under after a main character's horrific attack in which he sees the vision of his dead father. This character suffers mightily for a while. At one point, he goes to confront his attacker, but it doesn't seem like this will help him move past the attack. His father says, "You hang on to your pain like it means something, like it's worth something. Well, let me tell you, it's not worth shit. Let it go."

And I think, maybe it's as simple as that. If I've taken the actions that I can, maybe my pain -- about myself or someone else -- is not worth shit.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Santa pause

If you've known me for a while, you probably know that I'm anti-Santa. For a lot of people, it's because of the lie. That's not the case with me. It's because I think the mythology sends the wrong message to kids: Be good because you can get material goods if you are. And, in my mind, the contrapositive is also true: If you do not get material goods, then you are not good. Or good enough. You get the picture. I'm also anti-Rudolph because of the message that sends: If you're different, we'll tease you until you're useful to us, and then we'll forgive you for having been different and call it even. OK? OK.

Jeffrey is decidedly pro-Santa. This has been a disagreement between us since before we had Abbott. He thinks it's magical, and that we should give children as much magic as we can, which is not very much, and only during a very short window of opportunity. I get that, but I've never thought that was compelling enough to compromise the value message.

Then this week, I finally heard an argument that I think might actually change my mind. I was talking with my friend Jake about Easter and religion and all of that, and Santa came up. He told me about an essay he'd read that said, among other things, that it teaches kids that adults lie. And that hit me like a brick. That is a really valuable lesson that I never learned.

I grew up believing that adults don't lie, that it was only something that immature people (read: kids) did. In fact, I still think about the first time an adult lied to me in my adult life. It was right here at my job. She just looked right in my face and lied. And I knew it. I was 23 and shocked. And I've gone through that shock and heartbreak again and again since then. It happened to me last week. I'm somehow perpetually naive (and, oddly, incredibly cynical), and I've been wondering how this happens to me over and over again. Well, bam. I finally know where it came from.

So if this is a way for Abbott to find out (in 6 or 8 years) that adults lie, that might be worth it to me. I don't want him going through this constant grieving of innocence if he can avoid it. I want him to know -- not just intellectually, but really know -- that people lie. And you have to have your guard up.

This hasn't completely changed my mind yet, but I'm definitely thinking about it. I'm sticking by that Rudolph thing, though.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Lives Remembered

Part of my job at the paper is to edit a little start-up section called Lives Remembered. We get submissions from readers about people they've lost, and I choose some of them to get reported and written up by a correspondent. Last year we did it on Veterans Day; this year it's coming on Mother's Day. I've been getting submissions for about a month and a half. There is a lot of loss out there.

I've read a story about a sister who has seen two of her brothers shot to death in the past few years, a girl (now grown) who bears the weight of causing her baby sister to choke to death, a mother who watched her daughter waste away from cancer, a mother who could feel her son commit suicide days before she found out that he had. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law, even a dog. I haven't cried every single day I've read these submissions, but definitely the vast majority. Last week I had a pretty involved email conversation with a woman who was her mother's primary caregiver while she died of cancer. This will be her first Mother's Day without her. Man, do I remember that. I don't think the healing even started until a year after she died. If that.

Anyway. I shouldn't have been surprised this morning when I realized my mom had shown up in a dream. The particulars are fuzzy, as always, but I think we just sort of shot the shit for about an hour. It was fun. And then, somehow, we moved back that hour, like a special Daylight Savings day or something. And then, in my dream, I had to get up and get going. Like, I should have gotten going at the beginning of that hour, but now everything was OK.

When I told Jeffrey about it this afternoon, he said, "Were you telling her about Abbott?" And you know, I don't believe in the afterlife. But when he said that, I'll tell you, I sure did want to.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that. Oh no, oh oh oh!

So you know that about me, right? If you went to school with me, if you have worked with me, or if (heaven forbid) you have been pursued romantically by me. You know I don't give up. It's something I get from my dad. And it looks like it'll be something I pass along to my son, too. I just didn't realize he'd be showing signs so soon.

Right now, he's obsessed with anything having to do with transportation, but he particularly loves buses, trucks, trains and boats. But don't get me wrong, the kid loves a stroller, too. Anything that takes people from one place to another. Whenever we hear any kind of sound -- a honk, the roar of an engine outside, a ship -- he points and looks upward. Like, stop, listen, this is very important.

So we've had a lot of jets training nearby, and when he first heard the sound, he stopped and said, "bo." And I gently said, "Buddy, I think that's a plane." And he shook his head, looked me in the eye and said, "bo." And I said, "Actually, you know, I think that's a plane." Head shake. "Bo." And so on.

The first couple of times he did this, I just thought it was so cute and hilarious that I kept it going to see how long he would do it. And, just like the owl trying to see how many licks it took to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, I was bested. Now I just say it once and say, you know, I think we can agree to disagree for right now. And then I think to myself, shit, this is going to be fun.