Monday, October 12, 2009

The Studious Mother

"Kids teach us so much." The jumbo parent cliche.
I don't even know what people mean when they say that.

But I have discovered, like a new world, at least 1000 ways my kids teach me. Most importantly, I learned that "Remember when we had a dog and we tied him to a fish with a wee-cock?" (Blue around the time she turned two) actually means "I'd like a dog to walk on a leash, and I'd also like a peacock."

I've also learned, or rather come to the surprising place in my life where the opportunity has presented itself to note: Cauliflower is not for standing on.

In addition, I've learned much about myself, such as how my voice sounds and the skin around my eyes bag when I've been awoken in the middle of the night to change sheets or hold a bucket at the precise projectile distance.

I've actually learned that Blue's constant use of the word actually, actually comes from me!

I've learned that some piano teachers really stink.

But here's what I've REALLY learned. The first time I learned it, I was on the bus cruising through Seattle's tiny Chinatown. I was anxious about: school, money, being pregnant with some dude's baby and I barely knew him, having to deal with everyone else's responses to being a knocked up adolescent (okay, I was 25, but I looked 16 and that's how people treated me and now I have a lifetime of empathy for any teen who gets knocked up) and then dealing with a different set of opinions when I chose to have the baby, not to mention having to deal with my own tangle of emotions while having to make crucial decisions in which the entire world seemed to be claiming a stake.

So... where was I? Oh yes, I was on the bus. And I was stressed. And I could feel it in my gut. And I had just read that fetuses get emotion related hormones out of their mama's blood stream. So this baby was feeling anxious for no reason that it could figure out. And I thought to myself, "Self, why should this Being carry your anxiety? Let's give it a rest, a peaceful place to grow without imported anxiety hormones." And then I thought, "Wow, I guess this is sort of love, the responsibility love, the caring-for-another love." And then I thought, "Self, if being riddled with anxiety and stress are good enough for you, why should your baby have it any better? An early dose of anxiety will actually acclimate it perfectly to modern life. So, go ahead, wind your stomach into a ball, chew your nails and hyperventilate, enjoy it. Why deny yourself just cuz your preggers?"

Okay, not really. The question was actually, "Why wouldn't you want peace for yourself? You don't need a fetus en utero to give yourself a break. Love yourself! Live in peace, grow in confidence and safety! Self, let go of your anxiety for your own sake AND the baby's!"

And that is how I began to care for myself. What I want for my children, why is that too good for me?

My son can be a basket case. He's fairly happy-go-lucky, but once he starts wailing, it's anyone's guess as to what decade he might stop. He's done this since birth. The first 6 months, he spent almost every waking hour in the bath, which was the only place he would stop crying. That, and whenever I shoved a mouthful of boob at him. When he was three, he cried for most of an afternoon. After he cried himself to sleep, the neighbor lady scuttled over and proclaimed, "Wow! That was intense!" In worse moments, I've told him to get a grip on his emotions, (okay, loudly told him to get a grip), that it was necessary for his sanity and mine. Of course, he's only 5, where would he have pulled those skills from?

These tears wear out a mother and worry her. So I ordered the book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. It's in line with the rest of my parenting library: How to Talk so Kids Can Listen and Listen so Kids Can Talk, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, Non-Violent Communication, Playful Parenting, etc.

If you ascribe to the ideas proposed in these volumes, you will endure shock from the authoritarian set. Shock, ridicule and annoyance. You will also note that these tools are effective some of the time, but not all of it, which will leave you feeling like a total idiot when they don't work in front of your authoritarian friends (and that is the only reliable time they won't work).

The gist of Emotional Intelligence is the refrain: you can feel whatever you want, you just can't act however you want. This isn't news to our family, but I recently adopted it as a mantra.

I was uncomfortable with Coyote's depths of despair. I was unhappy with his anger, his sadness, his whatever crappy emotion: what if he gets stuck this way! like a bad face, or crossed-eyes. I took it personally too: instead of "WAAWAAWAA!" I heard, "You're a shitty mom and if you were any good at this job you would have fixed the problem before I even noticed it!! WAAA!" I mentioned this translation at a party and all the moms stopped and stared at me. I thought, yeah I just hit the nail on the head. Au contrair! One mom ventured in to the silence and said, "No, Sarajoy, they're just crying cuz they're babies." Well, maybe they could just SAY SO next time! Sheesh!

Anyway my prior attempts to coax, cajole, or sooth him out of it were more about fixing the problem and my problem with it, than about genuinely understanding him. And I'm going to say to you now, that I am really happy with the way this is going. Coyote is fussing a little less, but I DON'T CARE! I mean, I care that he's unhappy, but it doesn't get under my skin any more because it's okay for him to feel unhappy!

And there's more! I'm singing the same song to myself. Dear Sarajoy, it's okay to feel whatever you feel. You don't have to fix it. You're not going to get stuck in it. It's okay. And the more I say it to the kids, the more I say it to myself, the more I feel it. In my frustration, in my anger, in my PTSD from this past year, I'm fine. I'm even sort of happy when I'm sad because I don't feel this pressure to put a pink ribbon on every teardrop and find the f-ing cure already. We're not broken and I we don't need fixing. We've got feelings and they are fine.

And that is what my difficult child has taught me these past few weeks. Like a Buddhist, I am grateful for my child.

Also: happy lame birthday to me! I'm 34 and so much more... At least I'm not in the hospital this year (barfing, 4 bags of fluids and still didn't pee for 2 days), nor am I visualizing starvation like last year. I just bought a cream cheese, huckleberry danish at the farmer's market (where I bought mostly potatoes and squash and my tongue kind of curled up inside it's hovel and said "I'm soooo not ready for my winter palate!") and now I'm going to take a bath with a good book that I just bought at Auntie's. I picked out a couple Pulitzer winners because, you know, those people have really good taste, I've noticed. For dinner, I was dreaming of my favorite caramelized onion tarte, but now I'm liking the idea of take-out pizza and no dirty dishes.


  1. timely post!! We will have to check out some of those books. Ethan is our emotional boy... Your interpretation is spot on!! I'm feeling like you in many ways, including the carmelized onions, only I am 41! Yikes!
    Happy late birthday!


  2. Thanks for the birthday wishes! And congrats on your diving accomplishments.. especially being so OLD!

    I've found the books good food for thought and they provide another tool for ye old tool box, but none of them are a paint-by-number results solution, which is really what I want some days.



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