Monday, August 5, 2013

Mommy, can you open this?

Accepting our children as they are. It sounds so simple. But how often do we find ourselves wanting our children to act, look, or be different from the way they actually are in that moment? How often do we want them to be, or look, or relate the way they were in a different moment, at a different time, and not accepting - despite all the evidence - that right here, right now, things are not the way we want them to be but are undeniably the way they are? 

---From Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I'm thinking about this, searching for a link to put in this post, pondering whether or not I can actually be this accepting, waiting for the slow Internet to hurry up already and "MOMMEEEE!! Can I have something to eat?" William, age two, pads into my room, forgets his hunger, instead grabs a childproofing doorknob cover from my nightstand, "Mommy can you open this, can you open this Mommy, can you open this Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, can you open this?"

I like the symmetry.

And the astuteness. Can I open this?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The brain is fallible, and kids can die in hot cars

Today is Heat Stroke Prevention Day, and the advocacy group Kids And Cars is marking the occasion by distributing copies of their safety education card, Look Before You Lock, to birthing centers across the country.

The card, which is written in both English and Spanish, is a genius of pithiness and graphic design. It leads with a personal story - a six month old, Mika, died after her father forgot to drop her at day care. This is followed by a brief explanation of how this can happen to the most loving of parents. And finally, it lists techniques for prevention (for example, keep a stuffed animal in the back seat, but place it in the front seat whenever your child is in the car).

Thank you, Kids And Cars.

People who think that loving, mature, committed parents could never forget something so ridiculously obvious are misguided. The brain is a fallible organ, like the heart, like the appendix. So saying, "I could never forget my baby in the car; I am way too committed as a parent for that; I could never be so neglectful" is akin to saying, "I would never have a heart attack; I care way too much about my family to let that happen," or "I would never let my appendix get infected, I am way too cognizant of my internal organs."

It seems different, but it's not . The brain messes up sometimes, like any other animal organ. It malfunctions.

Sure, some of our brains are more at risk, just like some knees are more at risk for torn cartilage.

And, importantly, certain situations (e.g. sleep deprivation, change in routine) can increase risk. For example, Mika's father encountered a road detour, which (I'm guessing) tricked his brain into thinking he had already dropped her at daycare.

And so...we can decrease the danger by introducing certain behaviors and modifying our risk factors....just like we can reduce our risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. But the very first step is realizing that it can anyone. None of us are immune, and no brain is foolproof.

Note: Gene Weingarten's 2010 Washington Post article, Fatal Distraction, radically altered my perspective on this issue. I can't recommend it enough.

Note: This post reflects my own opinion. It is not sponsored by Kids And Cars or any other organization.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Post my precious trauma

This blog is still here. I was surprised when I checked; I thought Google had taken it down for lack of use.

But it's still here, and so am I.

I'm different now, though.

Worse? Better? Worse and better.

The spring was traumatic. I had a traumatic event in the spring. The spring was marked by trauma. Trauma entered my life. I am now "post trauma." I am so very dramatic now and my pain is so very precious.

That's one thing about trauma; the pain can become My Pain. My Special Pain That No One Else Can Possibly Understand.  And it therefore gives me the right to be dramatic and mysterious and glamorous in my emaciated way, the air whistling through my bones - my empty bones which have been hollowed out by this blowing, exhausting, cutting pain, the pain You Would Never Understand, not You With Your Normal Life.

And now I - I! With my pain! - have the right to be bossy and wise. I can make lists: Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who's Been Through BlankityBlank," "Stupid Things People Think About Blankity," and I can be quiet and deep-eyed.

The truth is different. The truth is: Okay, yeah, I couldn't eat at first, so I lost four pounds. But I can eat now and the four pounds are back. I am not emaciated and never was. My bones are not hollow. There is no whistling air, no mysterious glamour. No one, in fact, has a normal life, and no one has a life without pain. And my pain is not precious, it does not make me special -- at least, no more special than anyone else, because everyone is precious and everyone is special and all pain is both unique and universal.

So yes, yeah, affirmative. I'm different now - worse and better - but I'm also the same as I always was, the same grumbly little person with gray hair and knobby feet and a too-loud laugh, full of life and irritation and boredom and gratitude, and happiness and sour grapes and envy and compassion and selfishness and ambition and understanding and apathy and wisdom and ridiculousness.

Note: I hope it's evident but in case it's not, I want to say that this trauma of which I speak (okay, allude) has nothing to do with the last post I wrote here, about losing a writing gig. That (losing the gig) was a rejection and a loss that made me sad, but that's all it was. The traumatic spring was something else entirely, and I guess I won't ever write about the details unless I do it anonymously. I wish it wasn't this way. I hate caginess and secrets, and here I am, doing what I hate...which just goes to show I shouldn't hate so much.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A scorned writer is a bitter writer

When I was 19, my boyfriend dumped me in a classic boyfriend way. It was the summer after our freshman year of college, and we were living in separate states with our families. I thought I detected something shivery in our long distance phone calls - a reticence on his part, a careful diminishing. Of course, in a classic girlfriend way, this made me clingy.

Eventually, he left his parents' home to attend a prestigious summer program, at which point he simply stopped calling.

Undeterred, frantic, slipping, I tracked down the main phone number for the prestigious summer program, then the phone number for his dorm room.

I called. The phone rang and rang, rang and rang, rang and rang. I called again, and again, and again. Was he just out of his room a lot? Or in it, but ignoring the phone? Every day, several times a day, I let it ring.

Finally, someone answered. Turned out, the phone wasn't a dorm room phone, but a pay phone, probably a lonely one in the stairwell whose rings were generally unheard and, when heard, ignored. I asked the hapless answerer to give him a message. He sounded vague about whether he could pass it on, as if he was standing in solidarity with my boyfriend's vagueness, supporting his desire for freedom.

Eventually, the boyfriend returned to his parents' house. I called, left a message. He called back.

"Don't you love me?" I asked, shameless.

"I don't even know what love is anymore, Evonne," he said. Even then, in my 19-year-oldness, I noted the hyper-drama, saw my future self rolling her eyes at us. I broke up with him, because he wanted me to, and because it was the only way to make him see that he might still love me. He let me break up with him, and he acted sad. I told him I didn't have hard feelings, that I wanted to be friends. We were so, so typical.

The summer wore on, and I let the resentment I barely knew was there build and build and build until I was I steeped in bitterness, like a teabag. I hated him. How dare he reject me? If he would just realize how good I was, he'd come crawling back. Not, of course, that I'd take him. Or at least, I wouldn't take him without some significant begging on his part, some bartering on mine.

A 19-year-old woman scorned.

How bizarre to realize that the feelings I've had about losing the writing gig that I lost (and about which I wrote two very honest, bitter, and cleansing posts, which I have since hidden from view) are essentially identical to the bitterness I went through the summer I was 19. (I keep saying that, I realize: 19, 19, 19. It's because I can't believe, really, that I was ever such an envy-inducing age. Me! How lucky I was, to have been so young.)

A 44-year-old writer scorned.

The similarities in the relationships are tremendous, boyfriend and writing gig. The high at the start. The eventual dwindling interest. And my reaction to the dwindling interest: I ignored being ignored. Instead, I gave everything  - I dug and dug and dug, scooped out my guts, arranged them prettily, surveyed my new emptiness, shrugged. Who cared about being gutless when I had ego? I was getting reflections of myself, multifaceted mirrors showing me what I wanted to see. My empty guts, my overblown ego....I didn't realize until this moment what a volatile combination that is; of course it would all collapse.

And then the rejection, followed by my immediate rise to "we'll be friends" and the knee-jerk pushing away of bitterness, and then, of course, the bitterness.

And ultimately, I hope, the leaving it behind? After all, I was happy in college, grateful that the relationship with my freshman boyfriend (who, I should say, was a good guy) didn't end up defining my four year experience. The rejection's bitterness lost its toxicity, then simply disappeared. These many years later, there remains only a little residual embarrassment about having been the clinger, tempered with a sort of tenderness for my 19-year-old struggling self.

Maybe I needed to steep in that bitterness to get through it, though. Does bitterness always lead to more bitterness? It didn't, in that case - though perhaps that was because after the steeping, I threw out the teabag, drank the tea and moved the hell on. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brown Days

Some days, of course, 
feel sort of Brown. 
Then I feel slow 
and low, 

(From "My Many Colored Days," by Dr. Seuss)

PS: Regarding my last post, the disease was pernicious anemia. The food was raw liver, which contains a lot of Vitamin B12.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The amazing woman who defied death

My father told this story several times when I was growing up. He was fascinated by it, and I was too (and so, I realize, he and I did have some common ground, after all. Not a lot. But some.)

As a child, I absorbed the whole story completely, including my own embellishments. It became so ingrained in my mind, that I never considered some of it might be myth.

In fact, I still don't know.

The story:

A woman became ill and sought treatment from her physician. He gave her bad news.  "You're sick, and there's no cure. You have six months."

The woman rolled with the punch. (Death? Ah, well.) "There's a certain food that I love," she told the doctor. "You can only get it in Europe. So I'm going there, and I'm going to eat as much of it as I want. Goodbye!"

"Goodbye," said the doctor.

And off she went. 

Six months later, she showed up at the doctor's office once again. "It's been six months," she singsonged. "And here I still am. You were wrong."

But the doctor knew he hadn't been wrong. The woman should have died. He was on the brink of something big. 

"What did you do during the past six months?" he demanded. "What did you eat, what did you drink? Tell me everything."

And so she did, and sure enough, it was the special food - the food she had craved - that saved her. 

After that, people who got the disease had to eat a lot of the special food, and some of them hated it, but it saved them too. Later, scientists figured out the exact ingredient that provided the cure, and they made medicine out of it, and that was that. People still get the disease, but it's no longer fatal. 

Was it pure coincidence, or was the woman brilliantly intuitive? That's what I wondered as a child. That's what I wonder now, too.

I like to think that the woman had some sort of inner knowledge, some incredibly exact intuition about herself, and that she craved the special food because she needed the special food, and by letting her intuition lead her, by doing what she wanted, by fulfilling her lifelong dream, she defied an early death.

After I grew up, I sat down with my father and asked him about the story.  It was basically true, he said, though of course the conversation between the woman and her doctor was likely not so cavalier. My father provided some clarifying details about the disease and the special food.

Through research, I was able to confirm some of the story. Yes, the disease used to be fatal. And yes, somehow it was discovered that the special food cured it, and yes, people with the disease had to eat the food, lots of it, in order to survive -- but now there's medicine and so the disease can be managed and people don't die from it anymore. (I'll reveal the disease and the cure in my next post.)

But as for the mysterious, intuitive woman? I can't find anything about her. For my father, who now mutters in a wheelchair in a nursing home, the woman is long gone.

Wouldn't it be great if he could cure his senility by doing the exact thing he wanted to do?

"I'm back," he'd say. "That was terrible."

"Tell me about the woman," I'd say. "Was she real?"

Friday, November 23, 2012

The wisdom of undoing

We're at the beach for Thanksgiving. It's morning, and my daughters, Anna and Clara, run across the sand with their cousin, back and forth, back and forth, playing a made-up game. It has a random name, so random that I can't remember it now.

While they run, I squat next to William, my toddler. He has found a bottle cap, and he uses it to scoop up sand. Then he hands the full bottle cap to me. I take the bottle cap and pour the sand out, then hand it back. We repeat this and repeat it, and then I get the idea to make a pile out of the sand he gives me, instead of just scattering it any old where. This way, we can be productive, we can build something together, create something. This will be good for us, I think to myself -- because sometimes (lots of times) I get distracted around him, this third baby. He doesn't get the single-minded focus that a first baby gets, or even the trying-really-hard-to-be-single-minded-focus that a second baby gets. He's stuck with third-baby-fragmented attention. But right now, in this instant of teamwork, we'll fix that.

I take the bottle cap as he hands it to me, and pour the sand in one spot, and hand it back, and he fills it and gives it back to me, and I pour it in the same spot, and little by little we create a pile. I am proud. Such a good mother.

And then William destroys the pile with one swipe of his fickle little hand. Down it goes, and he fills the bottle cap again and hands it to me.

So I just pour it randomly, the way I was before, and I think about how this 20-month-old understands - so much better than I do - how important it is to enjoy the journey itself.