This rug is the place to be these days. Kids, cats, and Littlest Pet Shop figurines convene here for hours. Yesterday the girls were hunkered down, speaking sister language about the characters in their games - what their names are, where they live, how many babies they have. In general I tune this stuff out, it comes into my ears as "kids are content" and thus I do what all parents around the world do when their kids are happily busy, my own thing.
Parents aren't fools. We let sleeping dogs lie, er, I mean, playing kids play.
Eventually their play changed tune and began to reach me. Their voices grew louder, higher pitched and anxious. In turn I felt my blood pressure rise. I am triggered by my children fighting. Even now, years and years down this path of parenting with empathy I still have to process my own feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and anger - called forth from sibling fighting, in order to be of any use to them as a parent.
Then I got distracted and turned away for a moment and when my attention returned I eavesdropped a little. To my utter delight they were explaining their perspectives on the situation. Each girl detailed how they came to the game with certain expectations and that now that those expectations weren't being met things were unravelling. They took turns. They empathized, nodding heads in understanding. Basically neither was happy with the direction of the game. They didn't reach a solution. Neither changed her mind.
They just listened.
Big sister Xi asked little sister Echo if she needed a hug. They held each other and rocked and patted backs. Giggles emerged. Then, just like that, they launched back into the game completely unattached to previous expectations, giddy and eager and open to the game going in an entirely different direction.
I didn't even leave my chair. They didn't even notice me snapping the photo.
These girls. These sisters that have fought their entire lives with tears and blood and week-long grudges, well, these sisters still fight. They are never going to agree all day, every day, and that's fine, especially as it seems they have learned how to fight well.
Air your feelings.
I am so happy. I am happy for me and what this means for our daily life. I am happy to have invested years' worth of time helping them process feelings. I am happy for the girls and what it means for them and their daily lives. And I am over-the-moon happy for the future selves of these girls - how easy they will sit in the face of emotional discomfort, how steady they will stand for the emotional discomfort of others.
May you always fight well girls.
Sweeping, packing, scrubbing, organizing. These are the actions necessary if you want to live in two places. We swung into the New Year with our sights on Santa Cruz. What stands between our snowy home in Missoula and our sunny home there is a project of epic proportions.
Have you ever looked in your silverware drawer? Like really looked into it? Like, looked into it from the perspective of someone paying to use that drawer for the next three months? It's sobering. Let me tell you. The old straws, broken baby spoons, crumbs and stray corncob holders are part of the landscape under normal circumstances, so normal as to be completely invisible, but that sort of stuff starts screaming at you when prepping for someone else to live in your home.
Now let's remember that the silverware drawer is a stand-in, a metaphor, for the entire house.
So I rented a rug doctor of course. It's amazing what a good rug scrub can do, talk about satisfying (if you're into that sort of thing). All of our rugs have been clean and fluffy and piled in the living room - which inspires all sorts of new imaginary games.
Surfaces are being cleared, selfies being taken. It's odd to put away all personal things, to de-personalize a house goes against our basic human instincts. We can see the bone structire of our house, her clean lines and tall ceilings. It's beautiful and erie and quiet-looking.
And then, because we are all just humans trying to fit the pieces of our lives together, our renter let us know that their plans had fallen apart and they would no longer be arriving on our doorstop. We've been carrying on, packing and cleaning at a less break-neck speed, simultaneously trusting and hoping that it's all unfolding just as it should.
By the time our next renter comes along our house will be that much cleaner, our lives that much more organized, our hearts that much more ready to jump into the next stage of our lives. But I can't help feeling like a bride jilted at the altar. We're all dressed up, ready for the event; it's hard to have just another winter day instead of a smiley cross-country trip.
This little bird is all that is left on our usually loaded windowsill. She's ready to fly.
1. There is no need to wear a bra. Sorry family relatives, maybe this is too much information, but seriously. By the time one actually leaves the house any initial wardrobe choices are buried SO FAR beneath a million other clothing layers that it really makes no difference at all what they might be. In fact I haven't worn a bra in days and I didn't even notice.
2. There are no quick dashes, as in, "I'll just buzz over to the store really quickly and grab a carton of milk." Are you kidding me? First of all, let's remember the layers as described above. Dang, just taking the compost out requires at least a couple layers of down. To go to the actual store you need the layers, plus a huge bowl-full of patience as you circle the car looking for a door that is not frozen shut. And just because you're allowed inside the vehicle doesn't mean you can just drive away. Nope. Definitely account for several more moments of deep patience as you freeze your ass off waiting for the car to be warm enough to actually move.
3. Kids grow. We trollop happily along through most of fall wearing hybrid outfits - basically our summer gear with some concessions like pants and closed-toe shoes. Then, while we sleep, Old Man Winter tip-toes in during the night and DUMPS winter on our unsuspecting heads. Next morning cue the scrambling and digging for last year's snow boots, mittens, and snow pants. And yep, you guessed it, they are all too small; snow pants hugging the crotch too tightly, levatating above the ankles, boots smooshing toes. This mashup up from Old Man Winter and Father Time is particularly tough to swallow.
4. We are all sucky housekeepers. My friend Romy and I talk about this every year. That lovely lemon-colored winter light comes streaming in through our windows at just the right oblique angle to highlight every single dog hair and rice cake crumb on the floor. The low angle of the brilliance makes even the tiniest crumbs cast huge long shadows (even after a good sweep), leaving one trapped between conflicting desires: for the sun to move along just a bit so that our homes don't appear so dirty, and for the sun to stay as long as possible - PLEASE GOD WE NEED YOU SUN.
5. We have cats. I think our fat cat, Nimbus P. Thundercat and our crabby calico gal, Frau have a feline pow-wow sometime in late October. They put their decade-long, love-hate relationship aside to meet in the yard, just under the thermometer hanging on the maple tree, and strike a deal. Frau is the brains of the operation so she lays it out. "Here's the plan: When that long hand no longer inches past the 10 degree mark let's lay claim to the couch. You get the left side, I'll take the right. And don't move unless the parents make you. Got it?"
And then Nimbus, ever the duffus, miscalculates and jumps the gun by a couple degrees, catching a few days head start of deep slumber and couch dominace.
So... my kids don't fight anymore.
Well.. maybe it's more accurate to say that my kids don't fight nearly as much.
Okay... maybe I mean to say that I no longer want to throw myself from the top of the nearest mountain due to the constant torture, torment, and anxiety of sisters actually looking for things to fight about.
And... perhaps most profoundly, for the evolution of the kid species and certainly for my level of pride and happiness, when they do fight
THEY WORK IT OUT.
ON THEIR OWN.
IN A HEALTHY MANNER.
For those of you that have read this bog over the years know that %50 of my posts detail my children's arguments. You know that the pink chair has been hotly contested for years. You know they have come to serious blows over the blue yoga ball. You know that in the midst of one very dark year, after six months of near constant fighting about the most basic of things (who gets which bar stool, who sits on the right-side of the car, who carries the goggles to the swimming pool, who carries the goggles back from the swimming pool, who walks next to me, who blocks the other kid from walking next to me, who gets to hold the door open) we even had an elaborate Forgiveness Ceremony, because I was so desperate to shift the dynamic.
I've given this a lot of thought. Certainly, at the peak of the worst fighting I thought about it constantly. I dissected possible reasons for fighting because I just. wanted. it. to. stop. Here are my ideas in no particular order:
1. Age difference. Supposedly, if you have a second child before the first child turns five the emotional effect is akin to one's husband coming home and saying "Honey, I love you soooo much I decided to get another wife. She's wonderful and great and I think you'll love her too. I'll bring her home and you can share everything! Me, the house, your favorite objects, all of it will now be for both of you.
But, if you wait for the larger age gap, the older child's brain has developed enough for them to see the new baby as a project that they share with mom and dad. The baby is not considered such a grave threat and the sibling rivalry is considerably lower.
We didn't do that. In fact when Echo was born, she was, after all, my first personally delivered baby and I was completely consumed with that monumental task. I joined Nathan in parenting his girls when Xi was an infant, so I had experience, but I wasn't hormonal or in charge and there really is a difference. To make matters worse Echo had colic and in order to keep my sanity, and keep my crying baby as happy as I could, I gave every other responsibility in my life to Nathan, including the extreme doting on Bella and Xi that I had been carrying out previously.
So there is that.
2. Circumstantial differences. Xi has two houses. Echo does not. Until this year, Echo was homeschooling, Xi was not. For a middle child like Xi, one very concerned about equality and fairness, things didn't always appear to stack up in a fair way. She resented the fact that Echo never had to be away from her mom. She resented the fact that Echo got to be home doing, (what Xi imagined), super fun things all day long without a moment of un-fun. I think she imagined all sorts of discrepancies beyond these basic ones and that cast a resentful pall over the whole scene.
3. Personalities. Echo is younger, Xi is older, but damn-it-all if Echo didn't constantly buck the constraints of the birth order. Would she let older sister help her do a single thing? No siree-Bob. Would she look to big sister as a source of information? No-way-Jose. In fact, instead of receiving information and advice from big sister Xi, Echo was constantly offering information and advice, and most galling-ly she was often correct. Crap.
4. They're flipping kids! Kids fight.
You'd think that, given the last several hundred words on this page, I would have been intensely sensitive to the current lack of fighting. You'd think I was monitoring it all and rejoicing every step of the way. The truth is that I am human and like all humans I suffer from a myopic view and often lack the daily awareness of the big picture. It only occurred to me last week that I heard my kids fighting in the other room and it was the first fight of the day, not the 500th. I also suddenly noticed that I wasn't running to sort it out, for the 500th time of the day. I also noticed and enjoyed that that familiar level of anxiety, high and constant, was not present in my body. I hadn't experienced that in a long long time.
What the fuck?
I mean, YIPPPPPEEEEEEEEE!
1. Age difference. Kids of differing ages are like fish in a fish tank. They occupy different biological niches. You've got the the ones near the bottom sucking up gravel and spitting it out. You've got the middle dwellers doing zoned-out horizontal laps. You've got the top dwellers rising to the surface and blissfully pip, pip, pipping air bubbles. Each in their latitude, doing their thing.
Where once my kids both shared the same latitude, where they viciously fought for resources (the blue ball, me, toys), now they don't. Echo still works the bottom zone. The floor is her domain. Today she has eight blue glass pieces, a squad of plastic native americans, and a storm trooper. She is happily narrating an elaborate, personal, storyline. Xi, now eleven, has grown long legs and hair and different interests. She now occupies the furniture latitudes. She can be found on the couch, at the kitchen counter. Her resources are the laptop, her book. Throughout the day the girls cruise their aquarium segments, only crossing paths and sharing worlds when they invite one another across.
2. Circumstantial differences. Now that both Echo and Xi homeschool, Xi sees with her own two eyes that daily life is daily life and Echo is not experiencing some grand party time while Xi is away. They share the same life experience and Xi is no longer jealous, or feeling leftout, or suspicious.
3. Who knows. Kids are mysterious beings.
Last night the girls were brushing teeth and our parental radar was picking up some strife. We heard things deteriorating and I did my last kitchen moves before heading up to see if I could help or at the very least get them closer to bed. When I got there Echo had climbed in bed, scowly-faced, and Xi was sort of standing around, sad-faced. I gave Xi a long hug like we always do before bed and she immediately started sobbing. I held her and waited. For all I knew this burst of emotion could be completely unrelated to the bathroom scene, since as all parents know, bedtime seems to be the go-to moment for unleashing all the random emotional baggage of the day.
Eventually she raised her head and sobbed:
"Echo it felt really bad the way you were acting toward me!'
I kept hugging.
Echo, seven, her naked shoulders barely poking out from the covers, said:
"I know. I'm sorry Xi. I was just so frustrated and tired! I know you were just trying to help. You were just giving me empathy."
Then the two girls, wiping tears, made their way and clamped their arms around each other, holding tight for a long time. Some deep sighs, some giggles, and then they were off. Off to happy, content dreamland.
My children are emotionally sound.
I stood there for a moment - reaching for the life lesson, my mind racing to boil it all down. Here is what I came up with:
Which is to say: IT WAS ALL WORTH IT
It's been so long since I've written I almost forgot my login password.
Now that I want to write again I feel like it's only fair to explain why I haven't wanted to write. Do you care? I don't know. There isn't a concrete reason, more a medley, a soup of thoughts. Here are some of them:
Does anyone else do this? My mom once told me that nobody was holding their breath waiting to see what I would do next. She meant it to free me up from worrying, to allow me to make choices based on my own interests. I took it that no one cared really, that it was a self-centered thought to even think there was an audience.
I always think there is an audience.
When I walk the dog and I choose to cross the street at a slightly risky moment, my brain immediately starts making up a story to justify my choice. In case someone is watching. In case I get hit by a car and someone asks: Why did you cross at such a risky time? I'll have my explanation ready.
For me, there is always an invisible audience, an entire bleacher section full of people questioning my choices. It's exhausting. You'd think I'd make way more conventional life choices because of those constant judges that surround me, but I don't. Instead I make my choices - to homeschool, to survive on less money in order to be with my kids, to live 2,000 miles away from extended family, to not brush my hair, or whatever the choices might be - and then spend huge amounts of unnecessary energy defending myself in internal one-way conversations.
Anyway. I'll always wrestle with the internal audience but I took a break from purposely presenting myself before an actual audience. It felt good.
Here are some of the things I've been doing:
It's been wonderful.
But here's the other bit:
Audiences aren't all judgemental. Audiences aren't all negative. Some audiences, just like that teacher group, are made up of people like you. People I like, people I love. Sometimes, avoiding a sense of judgement is lonely. Hiding from judgement hides me from people who celebrate, rejoice, and empathize and I don't want that. It feels good to be part of the larger world. It feels good, no it feels better, to share and be real no matter the consequence.
So this is happening these days.
We got some chicks on Echo's birthday. I had forgotten how downright cute little chicks can be. So sleepy! So earnest in their pecking! So weak and vulnerable! So loud! We have them in our mudroom where sometimes the peeping gets so big and insistent that Nathan trundles in and scoops them into a baby sling and wears them around the house.
But one of these little babies, the one above, named Penguin, is special. This little girl, at the slightest suggestion, reclines on her back and passes out. She becomes the slackest sack of sand. When she's fully reclined we can pass her around, walk around, and she never stirs from her limp, soggy, slumber.
It's totally unreal.
I don't exactly know where I'm going with this. I know that I feel fond of this little chick. I feel special about her. I feel like she is special. But then when I check in with my family members they feel special about different chicks. Nathan is partial to Earl, the littlest one. Xi is partial to Goldilocks, the yellowest one.
It reminds me of when Echo was a baby and a friend came over with her new baby. We put them on the floor and marvelled at their special perfectness. At one point my friend "ooohed" about something and I was curious as to why. I imagined that my baby Echo did something especially cute and I wanted to hear about it, but when I followed her eyes she was watching and ooohing over her baby.
We all feel special about our special someones.
It's fantastic actually. At Echo's soccer games we line up on the sidelines with the rest of the parents. We're all watching the ball, we're all rooting the girls on, but we all have one of our eyes particularly glued to our girl. What a perfect design nature is, making sure that we all feel intensely attached to different beings. We all are securing the survival and flourishment of different beings.
Echo turned seven on Thursday and I felt like no one else in the entire history of the world has ever turned seven. Our baby is no longer a baby. Instead she's a free-thinking, intellectual, highly empathetic, animal and nature loving, audiobook-obsessed, person. Surely that's never happened to anyone else. It's too profound. I feel it too deeply in an aching, panicky, celebratory kind of way.
But of course it does happen for other people. It is happening right now for a million other people. Bajillions of mamas, right now, are nursing their babies, looking them in the eyes and thinking: There is no one as perfect as you in the entire world. Just this weekend, a few blocks from our house, hundreds of parents watched their adult children walk across the stage in caps and gowns, and marvelled at the bestness and specialness of their particular ones. They wiped tears from their faces and never saw a more beautiful sight.
It's totally unreal.
How much love we feel for our special someones.
How much love we collectively feel. All that love pulsing and throbbing and jumping in huge spikes over chubby cheeks, popsicle stained upper lips, round bellies in bathing suits, hair perfectly pulled into clips, stumbles, leaps, new boyfriends, new skills, graduations, and weddings.
They are special, our special ones. Yet it's totally not special to love them, to almost crack apart with the enormity of it. That's happening, everywhere, every day. How can this be? How can that hugeness of feeling be invisible? How is it not popping and splattering all over us all? How are we stepping through it, doing ordinary things, saying perfectly normal sentences, with this streaming through our veins?
It's totally unreal.
In our children's book Some Monsters, one of the tricks for battling monster fears is to keep a flashlight handy and shine it into the dark corners every now and then. I think the same could be said for parenting. Totally triggered by something your child is doing? Bring out the mag light and do some serious poking around. Children are born good people, they aren't psychopaths that will grow up to kill, rob, and knock over old ladies if parents don't mash and mold them into moral folk. The goodness is there already, blooming, and when they mess up, or piss us off (That's what we mean by "mess up" isn't it?), it's usually for a good reason.
They have needs that aren't being met.
They are experiencing a feeling so unbearable that their primal brain compels them to an action that might discharge some of that emotion.
They have developed some belief about themselves or others in the absence of information.
.... something else.
The other day I walked over to pick Echo up from our friend Romy's house. She didn't kick and scream when I told her it was time to go, but outside the gate when she handed me her tap shoes to carry and I hesitated for a split second, rage flared behind her face and she jabbed impatiently, ready to lose her shit.
A few steps later I said, so sweetly, and non-aggressively: "So Echo... lately I've noticed that you've been mad at me. Kind of out of the blue, anger leaps out. Are you mad now? I'm confused because I don't understand why."
Know what she said?
She kept walking and didn't say a word.
I kept my cool. "Wow. I feel really sad that you aren't answering me. I'm so super frustrated by that."
"Man, this feels terrible." (Starting to lose a little cool.)
Then she said: "I don't want to talk about it!"
Me: "Why not?"
Echo, exasperated: "I just said I don't want to talk about and you're talking about it!!!!"
Then I did lose it. Totally triggered by this point I pulled out all the "info" about how at our house we don't do time outs and spanking, that we talk about things instead. And if we can't talk about things then what do we do??? I put "info" in quotes because really it was a veiled threat (If you don't talk about this, then what choice will I have other than something totally unsavory?) and also because Echo was certainly not receiving information. She was triggered too, and in that state no one hears information.
It got worse. I think I even decided I'd "play that game" too and joined in on the silent treatment. It wasn't pretty. Echo sat on the porch and cried. I steamed in the kitchen. I checked on her a couple times, each time a little more gentle and neutral. Eventually she was ready for deep sobbing and lots of hugging. I propped her on the counter and together we pulled out the metaphoric flashlight and took a look around her emotional mind.
It wasn't a quick process. There was a lot of empathy for all of the feelings Echo was experiencing, starting with the loneliness and sadness she felt out on the porch, then going further back, for the frustration she felt on the walk home, then further back, for the anger she felt toward me about the tap shoes. This part is hard for me, the part where I give her empathy for her feelings even though I am so tempted to say: "But I didn't do anything wrong with the tap shoes! Why were you mad at me?!", or "You were alone on the porch because you decided to be alone on the porch!" Empathy is for the feelings involved, not a condoning of actions, or an agreement about the "truth" of the situation. Empathy is acknowledging that her reality is real for her, and her feelings are valid regardless.
Plus, I was interested in helping her move back into her higher brain where we could discuss rationally the recent trend to be angry with me and to not want to talk about that anger. Empathy was going to soothe her feelings enough for her brain to feel like the environment was safe enough to re-open the executive function.
We kept shining the light. She was able to describe a feeling that compelled her to hide her feelings. She said the sensation was like being slapped anytime she thought to share her emotions. She said the feeling was dark green and lurked inside her, spreading across her whole stomach and chest. It was a scary feeling, like having an enemy inside that told her not to trust anyone and that it was shameful to share, and not safe.
You can just imagine my eyes popping out of my head can't you?
Now that her whole brain was back online we looked at when this began. She was certain the green feeling arrived before our trip to Santa Cruz but remained hidden because she was too distracted by all of the fun. Then she got real quiet, for several moments, before crumbling into sobs. She revealed that the scary audio story, Revenge of the Witch is responsible. Revenge of the Witch is a story we picked up at the library. In preparation for our trip I immediately loaded it onto the ipod. Echo started listening to it right away and I didn't think anything of it. From the outside she looked rapt as usual. Little did I know that Echo was scared out of her mind. She finished the entire six disc program before letting me know that she had been living a horror story through headphones for two days straight.
Anyway, she thinks she felt so scared by that story that the idea sprouted in her mind that you couldn't trust anyone, not even your mom.
So although she had been wanting to talk, although she had been wanting to share her feelings, that green presence in her torso slapped her back, and scared her from doing so. Our troubles would start because she wanted me to know what she was feeling without having to tell me. And when I failed, she felt angry.
Now our plan is this: When the green sensation pops up Echo will use her code word: "Giraffe". My response is to give her a hug and know that she will talk about whatever is bothering her later, when the green feeling subsides. We've tried it once so far with great success. She also is going to build a bonfire with Papa and perform a ritual that involves burning a piece of paper with the word DISTRUST.
There I was, walking along the sidewalk, pissed and triggered by this little twerp who was mad at me for no reason and giving me the silent treatment. Little did I know about Revenge of the Witch and terror, and green feelings slapping her from the inside and preventing her from speaking. Does it make sense to me? Nope. Not much. But that doesn't matter. It makes sense, to her. She isn't a misbehaving twerp, she's a person with her own sense of logic, rationale, and emotional landscape.
I'm so glad we pulled out the flashlight instead of the paddle.
I'm doing the want and gratitude two-step. Do you know it? It's the one where you sashay to the right with yearning desires, then shake your head and sashay two steps left with deep gratitude. Want and praise, yearn and thank. Sometimes it's a push/pull - Push: "Oh I want things to be different!", Pull: "Hold on there little lady, you've got things pretty darn good." Other times the two dance moves work together, not cancelling each other out, simply grooving in tandem: I want and I like. I like this and I want that.
We're back in Missoula. I feel like we went to the moon and back. Like we left the atmosphere and then, holy shit, we've landed with a thump on Cape Canaveral again - our space shuttle a very dirty minivan and an overpacked Subaru. We're left shaking our heads in wonder and bewilderment. Want and gratitude. Oh, it feels good to be here, and oh, I want to be back there.
SANTA CRUZ: It really was a dream. Easily some of the best months of my entire life. I wish I could send the scent through this computer screen - Bay leaves and salt breeze. Water molecules. Shaklee products. Rosemary and Cecil Bruner roses. Mix in childhood memories and you've got a seriously potent perfume.
I had no idea the need that time would feel for me. I had no idea I had a need. To be around extended family. To be supported in ALL the ways a family supports - with produce, with time, with interest, with shelter, with companionship, with understanding. Oh my god. Seriously, I didn't know what I was missing. And now I do.
There is a major Santa Cruz want/gratitude two-step at hand. I'm so thankful I had that time. I'm so thankful my family got to know me better. I'm so thankful Nathan and my Dad pruned roses for eight hours at a stretch. I'm so thankful that walking with my mom along ocean-splashed cliffs was normal. I'm so thankful for being able to cook for my gramma. I'm so thankful for Echo's private life, a life she spent with grandparents doing things we only heard about later, like making a comprehensive pressed flower report with Gramma Bonnie, or driving the truck (!?) with my dad, or painting an interior in the style of Matisse with my mom. I'm so thankful. I'm so thankful. I'm so thankful.
And I want more of it.
GOLDEN FRIENDS: You know that basket's worth of friends that shine like gold? The ones that matter no matter how much time has passed? Well this has been the year of the golden friends. When we left Missoula we stopped in Bellingham to give a workshop and stayed with Annie and family. Golden!
Then we trundled south and spent a couple days with my sister Emily. Yes, she's my sister but she's also the shiniest of golden friends a person could ever dream of. Golden!
We also got to make dinners with Seth and Kenya - friends that are family, friends that were Missoulians even before I was. We ate huge feasts of every vegetable imaginable, but the best part was smooshing on Kenya's belly, fireside, dreaming of baby names. Golden!
Then in Santa Cruz, Romy and her family, Romy who lives less than a block away from us in Missoula, came to Santa Cruz and stayed for two weeks. We lived life together, including late nights eating chocolate and watching bad movies in our pajamas. Golden!
Towards the end of our stay Laura, Kate, and Urmila came for the weekend. I lived with these ladies during my college year abroad in Granada, Spain. Talk about a fucking gauntlet! That year! We suffered daily through the trials of being a foreigner. Days and days of suffering intense humiliation as we navigated an unfamiliar world with an unfamiliar language. When the "Spain ladies" came for the weekend we talked for thirty-six hours, hurrying to get it all in. And laughed so hard that we were a little insane from it. Golden!
Leaving Santa Cruz sucked. But our next stop was Rachel Turiel's house in Durango, Colorado. I've only been with Rachel in actual physical proximity twice in my life, though we've been friends for maybe four years, yet it really doesn't feel that way. I sat on her brown couch in her osprey nest of a house and felt AAAAH. Golden!
Next stop was my Grandma's part-time home in Villanueva, New Mexico. A gem of a house at the end of a dirt road. It looks over a giant farm field and the Pecos River. It feels like a movie set in the middle of nowhere. We unpacked and waited for Andy, Andy my friend and housemate from my grad school years. He and I lived together during that early twenties, cooperative living, exploratory stage. He's the best. And there he came, trundling down that dirt road to spend four days with us in the middle of nowhere, hiking the mesa, and eating peppermint patties by the fire. Golden!
Heading north from there we slept over at Shanti's house my other grad school friend. I lived with her too and she taught me how to cook and clean and be an adult. She's golden. We slipped in in the late afternoon to a big pot of soup, a set table and the cutest little red-headed baby crawling his way toward us with a big friendly grin. As we had to hit the road early the next morning it was in no way enough time, but I got to hug them and giggle and sigh with pleasure watching Shanti hoist that baby around the kitchen. Golden!
It truly is an epic year thus far in terms of golden friends. I am so thankful. So filled up with their goodness and heart-pleasing presence. Perhaps you can hear that two-step rhythm...
Yes, I want more. I can't help but envision the town that holds them all, with my house right in the center.
OUR HOUSE: We returned to our baby! We are once again settled in, surrounded by yellow walls, eating snacks from our cream cabinets, and raking hay up from the earnest early spring grass. The two-step hit hard immediately upon entering though. We love this house, are so happy to be back to it, yet our renters simply didn't treat it as we would. Discovering damage to our gentle friend has been heartbreaking. We find the two-step yanking us back and forth. We're so happy nothing worse happened and so bummed that anything happened. We're so thankful for this beautiful abode, yet so wishing that things had gone better. And as the settling in continues my two-step also includes desires for the unpacking to be over already. Although, for the gratitude portion, we find ourselves noticing that we survived just fine for over three months with nothing but the personal items that fit in one plastic tub, a thought that has inspired intense purging! The minivan is now loaded to the gills with clothes and household items we don't love. I find intense pleasure in this. Smile.
FEELEEZ: What a sweet and earnest company this is. Feeleez grew bigger and stronger during the past few months. Nathan and I got certified in Positive Discipline while in Santa Cruz. I have a vision where every Positive Discipline facilitator the world over )it's an international organization!) has Feeleez at hand to help parents and children access and process emotions. I even was invited to a Positive Discipline lunch and met the founder Jane Nelson! She poured over Feeleez and went home with a game and poster, happy as a clam. That was cool.
Building Emotionally Safe Space workshops...
We brought our workshop to Bellingham, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Durango. In fact we hustled over the last few miles of highway to make it to a workshop here in Missoula, capping off an epic run. My heart fills every time I look out at the audience of our workshops. Earnest loving folks taking time out of their busy lives to learn something new, to further their relationships, and to help the children in their lives. I leave our workshops feeling like there is great hope for our world, great hope for our children and our children's children. Many folks have written to us saying that although they couldn't come to a workshop in person they still want the information. For these folks we are offering our workshop via phone or skype. We charge $150 and you can have as many people on your end as you like to share the cost. If interested, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We drove a lot to get home in our circuitous, friend-laden way. I had a lot of time to think, to dance the two-step, to praise praise praise the blessings of the last four months and to want, to desire, to yearn. Right now I feel like I am holding the pieces in my arms, the wants mingling with the gratitudes, and little by little I am setting some down, clicking some together into a possible life design, setting some just a little to the side to ponder some more. Others I've got clutched to my chest. I'm breathing those in, pressing them into my heart, hoping they slip in between the beats.
Holy shit guys. I don't even know where to start.
I feel like I've been on a meditation retreat. Away. Silent. Breathing. Except it's a retreat with every single family member (except my sister). Except no meditation has occurred save the meditation of wisteria blossoms and redwood seeds, the meditation of waves thumping and bay leaves sailing down rain streams. Except it's not away, it's home, the kind of home more homey than where you actually lay your head. Except it isn't silent - there are the waves I mentioned, the family conversations and the laughing. I guess the breathing is accurate. I've been breathing. Steadily, deeply, gratefully, sometimes in big thankful, desperate gulps.
Now you can see why I don't know where to start. The only way to describe my experience is with an analogy that hardly fits. I can say that I've been here. And it's been fucking good.
Last weekend we hosted a reunion with the ladies I spent a hugely pivotal year with fifteen years ago. That time together was so potent that the energy and love we feel for each other simply stayed paused for all those years, just to come crashing wildly to the forefront as soon as we set eyes on one another. It was a weekend to make a lifetime. Two days that reminded me to live big, love big, and say YES more. Oh how these ladies move me.
The day after they left (I didn't want them to go!), I came to, back to my current reality and became floored with panic and dread. I feel panic and dread I said to myself, like the good self-empathy champion I am! My mind wanted to make sense of it, find a reason for my discomfort. I noticed how I cherished the weekend and wasn't ready for it to be over. I noticed how much I have adored being here with my family and how, in some ways, I never want it to be over. I noticed that two weeks didn't seem like enough time to accomplish what we hope for before we go. I noticed that we have several workshops coming up that need organizational love and devotion. I noticed it all, in one full sweep, and it all made sense. But I also just felt panic and dread and there doesn't have to be a reason.
That's the set up.
All the previous paragraphs have been to let you know my emotional state, when Echo shouted for me from the bathroom. I was tenderhearted. So tender. What did she want? She wanted the United States Atlas to peruse while she pooped. So I trundled down the stairs, feeling pleased that the poop-entertainment-request was simple. Then I trundled back up the stairs and got back to the businessy thing I was involved in. She called again: MOM!!!! I ACTUALLY DON'T WANT TO READ THIS BOOK!!! CAN YOU BRING ME A DIFFERENT ONE??? I trundled again. A little more reluctantly this time. Still tender. Maybe slightly annoyed. MAYBE A DR. SEUSS BOOK???? MAYBE A BOOK I'VE NEVER READ??? I flipped through the bookshelf, looking for something that would pass muster. ACTUALLY I WANT TO COLOR CAN YOU BRING ME SOME COLORING STUFF???
Can you see where this is going?
I turned around to see if some handy coloring set-up was nearby. What I saw instead was a fort made of every living room cushion, and a kitchen table with a paint set, several water bottles, an ipod, some craft puff balls, toothpicks, and much more. No coloring set-up. So I shout-explained that I didn't want to dig around for coloring stuff as it wasn't convenient and also because I was pretty sure the poop situation was about to be over, seeing as how she had been there quite a while while I went to and fro.
Echo wasn't pleased. She was downright pissed. I pushed the door open and stood in the doorway as she turned red in the face with anger at me. NEXT TIME JUST BRING ME COLORING!!! OKAY!!?? Naively, trying to make sense of a ludicrous situation (foolish!), I asked if I should bring her coloring next time even if she asks for the United States Atlas, because that is, after all, what she had asked for. That didn't go over well. As it turns out she was done pooping so now I was at fault because the poop was over, I hadn't brought her coloring, and she did not want to read any of the books I had offered in exchange. She said: FINE!! JUST WIPE ME THEN!!
LIke a pissed-off emperor.
My fragile state crumbled. Despite my training, despite the training I do for a living, my response?
Echo, you know what this is? This is total bullshit! I do not want to EVER feel like I am having to wipe your butt out of punishment. And I didn't even do anything wrong! Total, total bullshit.
Ooops. Not my best.
She cried some more. I stood in the doorway, arms crossed. It wasn't great.
We struggled on. She asked me gently to help her wipe. We hugged. But when Papa came downstairs to help - Papa who wasn't emotionally stirred by the situation, Papa who hadn't started the day in a state of panic and dread, came on with true empathy. Echo ran into his arms.
He said: Darnnit. That didn't go very well huh? Shoot. You didn't have the book you wanted... and then mom wouldn't bring you coloring and you didn't understand that, and you couldn't get up because you had poop on you. Darn darn darn. That sounds so super hard.
Echo cried and clutched him. She let it all out as the empathy worked it's magic. Eventually she became curious as to why I had refused to bring the coloring and Nathan brought her close to me. He held her tight as she asked me about my reasons. I explained those and I also explained what it all felt like to me - that I was working hard to help her, that I was trying my best, that being yelled at despite my efforts felt terrible. Then Echo really cried. She cried hard and tossed herself into my arms.
I'm so sorry Mama. I'm so sorry.
That felt good. Curious, I asked about the punishment angle on the butt wiping. She said she knew it wouldn't work but that it felt good. In that moment she felt mad and like I had done something wrong and it felt good to throw a punishment at me.
Nathan muttered: Yes, punishment as revenge.
And that my friends is my take home message. Punishment as revenge. Remember that fancy emotional spectrum chart?
Echo's emotional state was somewhere deep in the red on the emotional spectrum and, as human nature will have it, she was unconsciously determined to feel better, to inch up the spectrum. So she lashed out at me because revenge was just that much higher on the spectrum, it brought just that bit of relief.
And remember that brain chart?
I was not able to get through to Echo while she raged on the toilet. She was too mad, so mad that her executive function had shut down. I wanted her to see how unfair she was being (total bullshit!) and that sight, that perspective was simply not available. It took Nathan's approach, warm strong arms, gentle rocking, and pure empathy, for Echo to move up the emotional spectrum, for her emotional system to calm enough to signal to the rest of the brain to open back up. Only then was she abe to understand logic (screaming at someone to wipe your butt doesn't make them want to wipe your butt) and to employ empathy (mom feels super sad to be yelled at like that).
Maybe there are a few take home messages:
a. It's hard to get into a good parenting place when you feel intense emotion (Panic and dread? Hello brain shutdown!)
b. Punishment is revenge and feels better than powerlessness or rage. No wonder parents really reach for it when things feel out of control.
c. No matter how much sense you make, a child can't take that in when they are upset.
Afterward Echo requested that she and I go out in the downpour and float leaves in the rain-washed gutter. I thought this was a terrible idea. My heels were still a little dug in. But I went for it. And good golly the fun we had! Those leaves were so fast! Our hill so steep! We raced them all the way to the bottom where they sluiced into a storm drain and then gushed into the creek. We stood on the bridge, drenched to the bone, and watched as our little bay leaf made it's way to the ocean.
d. I am so in love. With her. With us. With our family. With this town. With this time.