My son and I had a “your life isn’t so bad if you really look around” conversation this morning. It may have been the first one we have had. I purposely avoid comparing our lives to other people’s lives for several reasons. One is because everyone has pain and your pain and my pain may be different, or even seem less severe, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am in pain. Another is because he is 7 and let’s face it, 7 year olds don’t have the brain development necessary to really understand that across the world somewhere is another boy just like him who’s life sucks – bad – and we can’t even really do anything about it from here. Not directly anyway. However, this week has been challenging for both of us. The last few weeks really. This morning we were talking about getting his hair cut for his uncle’s wedding and school photos. He was upset because cutting his hair makes him “so itchy”. Now, I know that haircuts are challenging for my son. Lots of kids with sensory issues have a hard time with haircuts. He hates the razor, it doesn’t feel ticklish or funny, it feels like it hurts. He doesn’t like the scissors either – he feels like he is getting poked or pulled or hurt in other ways. He feels attacked. And a few times the stylist has told him they weren’t hurting him, and then nicked his ear or neck. It’s better than it used to be. We used to have to hold him down and only got haircuts every 6 months or so. But. We weren’t going to the stylist today. He didn’t need to freak out about it today, before school. So I told him to stop. I said that being itchy after a haircut isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are lots of worse things and he needed to chillax. He asked what the worse things were and I said “kids who are hungry because they don’t have enough food.” He said “or kids who are orphans.” I said “or kids who don’t have a home and have to sleep on the cold hard ground who are orphans.” It actually helped. He was then thinking about other kids who’s lives were harder instead of worrying about being itchy. And then my fussiness about people being in my way in the kitchen as I prepare his lunch for school also seemed pretty petty. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.
We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?
String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.
They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.
This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.
I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.
But, did they shape me the most?
What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?
The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.
This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.
But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.
So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.
We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.
I have had many friends writing about the Olympics this year. I have read many things and even seen some videos. I feel that since I have a special connection to this place – without actually being from there – perhaps I should share what I know. My opinions will no doubt differ from everyone else’s, but they are mine and come from a place of thought and introspection.
Being married to someone from a different culture is not always easy. There are enough differences in the way we do things and in what we expect that it can get frustrating. There is also a lot of fun in it. I always have something new to learn about my hubby or his family – like an onion – peeling back the layers. When you learn about other cultures, especially when you become immersed in them, it changes your way of thinking. It gives you the gift of new perspective and allows you to look at the beauty inside of the things you see as negatives. It allows you to realize that you are lucky and highlights that not everyone lives like you do.
This is what I know about Sochi:
Sochi is beautiful. The city, the surroundings, the Black Sea, the Caucasus mountains jutting straight up from the sea, the rocky pebble beach, the forest and the historical buildings – it’s all just so lovely. It has lovely gardens to walk through and beautiful places to dine and shop during the summer tourist season. The culture I personally experienced for the most part is a mix of Armenian and Russian. The population is over 20% people of Armenian descent and my husband’s family and friends mostly fall into that category. They have lived in the area for generations, but they have kept much of their Armenian tradition and still speak a local Armenian dialect in the homes for the most part. Almost everyone I know from Sochi speaks both Armenian and Russian. They have noticeable accents that differ from the Russian accents in the area. Just like in the US different parts of Russia have different accents.
Sochi is the place my husband’s family fled to when the war in their home of Georgia took all they had. It is just across the border from where they spent his early childhood. Some of the stories I have heard are enough to break my heart. Thinking of my husband as a small boy suffering under war conditions, and his parents just trying to keep him and his brother safe and fed, it hurts to hear some of it. He honestly hasn’t told me a lot himself. He is a proud private man and he doesn’t want to talk of the past. When I ask a question that I don’t even think of as related, it is then that I see how different our childhoods were. I have heard some stories from his friends, and parts of his family. His mother, since living here, has shared a few very poignant stories that just break my heart for all of them. Georgia is the place his great grandparents fled to from Armenia during the Turkish Armenian war (or the Armenian Genocide, depending on whom you talk to.) But Sochi itself has been war torn for centuries as well. My husband’s family actually lives in Adler which is a suburb of Sochi. From his backyard and his uncle’s front yard, you can see the new Olympic village by the sea. We visited the ski resort where the snow sports are being held when I was there. It was one of the most beautiful places I have been, and I have been lucky to have seen most of the North American Rockies – including up into the Canadian parts.
This area of the world is not like the area of the world I grew up in. (small town western states in the US) Russia is not an especially safe place. While I felt safe in Sochi, I also knew we were targets being Americans and I tried to keep a “lowish” profile. Staying with his family, in the neighborhood where they know everyone and everyone watches out for each other, I think that was part of my feeling safe. When we went to town and to see the sights, we had an uncle or a brother or a father in law driving us. They were all generally very aware of our surroundings. I took care not to wear flashy clothing or jewelry. We didn’t carry a lot of money. Interestingly, I felt very safe at the beach or in his or his uncle’s home. When we were in Moscow I did not feel safe. I didn’t feel safe in the cab or in our hotel room, and I didn’t feel safe out on the street the next day or at the airport. Before we went to Russia I looked up traveling tips on the US Bureau of Consular Affairs. (travel.state.gov – great resource) They had a warning about traveling to the Caucasus mountains for Americans. Since the proximity to Chechnya is fairly close and Americans have been known to be targets of Chechen terrorists they actually advised against going there, especially alone. It also warned against Americans going to the area in Georgia where my husband grew up and where his Grandma lives. The US does not recognize Abkazhia ** to be a country, so not only were we encouraged not to visit, my son and I could not, in fact, even apply for a visa to go across the border. The Russian Police are able to stop you at any time and ask for documents. Visitors are required to register where they are staying. If they do not, they could be taken to jail. From what I hear, Russian jail is the last place you want to end up. Visitors are encouraged to carry all passports, visas, ID and proof of registration at all times. We were stopped pretty much every time we went somewhere, but mostly in the car. Traffic stopping points are every few miles and you must show proof of ID, car registration and such. I was only asked for documents once or twice, they mostly focused on the driver.
Russia is not “enlightened” in the way we Americans think is enlightened. There is a lot of racism there. In fact, when I went just 5 years ago I only saw two people of African descent the whole month I was there, even in Moscow. I saw them on the boardwalk in Sochi where there were people selling tourist souvenirs. You could pay to take your picture with a parrot or a monkey, there were special treats being sold like ice cream. The Africans (who my husband said were there as university students) were dressed up in what I felt was supposed to be traditional African attire and you could pay to take your picture with them as well. I was of course appalled, but my husband assured me they make amazing money to help them pay for school. I am told this absence of people of color is changing in the Moscow area. I was told it isn’t generally safe for people of color in the larger cities, I hope that is changing. My husband, being Armenian, has seen a lot of prejudice against friends and family. We know someone who legally changed their kids’ last names so at school they would be treated better. Good paying, not back breaking work is difficult for them to find, public and police treatment of Armenians is poor, racial violence in certain parts of Russia happens a lot. My husband has a friend who experienced public beatings more than once at school in a larger city by their “brand of neonazis” often referred to as Cossacks. Once at a restaurant the waitress asked my husband if our son was “mulatto” – which is the same word you think it is – a word for mixed race children. My husband just said yes. I couldn’t tell that there was any animosity in the question – just curiosity. There were disabled men, mostly, in the city. They were dirty, obviously homeless or close to it, begging. Or not begging and pushing themselves around on a makeshift sort of cart that they pushed with their hands. I could tell there are not services for them there. If you don’t have family to take care of you when you are sick or injured, you are lost. There was a drunk man in long underwear who lived in the small area where there were large garbage containers for the neighborhood to dump some of their trash at. Or if he didn’t live there he found his food and other necessities there. There are also “gypsies” there who beg on the street. They wear amazingly colorful clothing and many necklaces and bracelets. They are not dirty, they look different than the other people who beg. They are treated very badly by pretty much everyone. Seen as a nuisance. One of the reasons my husband stayed here in America was the opportunities he didn’t have back home because of his skin color. Women are not treated well, in my opinion. (my husband would disagree) I don’t believe they have equal opportunities to do as they please in the business world or in school. They are expected to get married and have children – if you do not, there must be something wrong with you. Most women I know do all the work at home and for the children, even if they work as much and as hard as their husbands outside of the home. Many women stay in the cooking/secretary/teaching/retail fields. If there is domestic abuse there is no one to call to help you, except possibly a male family member. It’s just part of life for some women there. Homophobia is rampant and violent. I know many people have seen the shocking videos lately. I can barely stomach them. These are the same “Cossacks” who are violent toward people of color and women. Another place of extreme violence is the armed forces. Young men are required to do a certain amount of service in the military and many die in training. Not from the difficult conditions but from the violence visited upon them by higher ranking soldiers. Mafia is pervasive and everywhere.
But these things do not describe the people I encountered. Most people don’t socialize with any random person at the store or on the street. They find small talk with strangers to be unnecessary. So the people I encountered in general were my husband’s family and friends. They were all lovely. Generous, kind, giving, loyal, protective, funny, happy even in the face of bad circumstances and very social. People got together every day there. The neighborhood ladies would have tea or coffee every day and the norm was to have people come by for dinner once or twice a week. When we were there people came to almost every lunch and dinner to see my husband and his new family. The women were beautiful and kind, the men were loud and laughing. The children were expected to have fun and run around like wild monkeys, which was really very nice. It really was a very beautiful place to visit. The neighbors all know each other and help each other out and watch out for each other and each other’s kids. It’s expected that moms get together with the other moms in the area and let the kids play. Every day. They find it very strange and sad that we don’t do that.
The living conditions varied widely. In downtown Sochi there were large, lovely, new apartments, and older areas with buildings starting to be run down. There were brand new malls and little stores where you could just buy meat, or bread products, or milk products. We frequented a baby store that just sold diapers and baby food and bottles and such. Out where my husband’s family lives there were large lovely houses with gorgeous gardens and land around them, and there were trailers with outhouses and no plumbing. His uncle who lived just up the street had a gorgeous little fruit garden – cherries, grapes, strawberries, fruits I had never seen before. Just beautiful. They harvested the grapes and made wine. Whenever we went over someone climbed up into the tree (my husband, his cousins, his uncle and father were all like monkeys that way in my mind, they climbed easily and frequently) and got fresh cherries or persimmons to serve with tea and cookies. There were neighborhood children who had extremely nice clothing and who were fat and chubby and healthy. They had expensive toys and everything they needed. There were neighborhood children who came to play with my son’s toys (family had all brought over things for our toddler to play with) and who were so careful and delighted with the shiny new things because they didn’t have any toys themselves. One day when we took a back way around the area to go up the mountain to where the skiing and snowboarding Olympic games will be we drove by gorgeous large mansions, and little hovels I still can’t believe people live in. One home was a metal grain silo cut in half on it’s side. Dirty children were outside, pigs were walking in and out of the home, there didn’t appear to be electricity or water. There were literally first world type areas and third world type areas within minutes of each other. They are proud people who work hard and play hard and love their families and help each other.
They have also come to distrust the government and to try to find ways to either take advantage of the system, or find a way to work around it. This seems as natural as anything else they do. Perhaps when your government is so corrupt you just have to do what you can. Maybe this is why when I mention that some of the Olympic construction was not done in time, they simply shrug about it. They have come to expect government corruption, greed and inefficiency.
When I tell my husband the stories I have read, about people being hurt, about people who worked on the Olympic construction being denied pay and accused of theft and arrested and then abused at the police station, when I tell him about the outrage of the animal rights activists, he gives me a funny sad look and says “that’s what happens every day there.” He has come to expect that from his home.
I am glad that the Olympics has brought into the international focus the human rights issues and I am glad I have had friends who want to hear my take on it. I don’t expect there to be much change any time soon though. When I ask my husband why Putin doesn’t seem to care what the rest of the world is saying about his country and him, he says “Why should he care? He was the president and then the prime minister and then the president. Who will stop him?” and indeed it seems like he is as powerful as one can get in that area of the world and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks or says.
I want my friends to know that while there is danger and sadness and things I think should change, and hope do change for the sake of my family, there is also beauty and wonder and very lovely people. Please realize that every place has it’s problems and this place is no exception. But also that every place has good in it as well. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other.
People ask me what my Russian family thinks of the Olympics. I think they feel pride. Part of that pride comes from Russians always acting like Sochi isn’t really “part of Russia” – due in large part to the large community of Armenians. When I tell most Russians here that my husband is from Sochi they say “Oh. You mean he is Armenian.” I think they are proud that not only was their beautiful city chosen to be the site of the olympics, but also that by choosing the somewhat excluded city, it gave them a firmer “we are Russian” foothold. I think they have worked hard and sacrificed to make the Olympics successful. My husband’s aunt was evicted from the the home they owned and moved to a new apartment complex on the other side of the city. They used to have 2 areas to rent out to tourists. Now they just have room for their family. There are many many other stories like this. I think they are excited to see all that comes with the Olympics and want to make it a nice place for the international community to visit.
When people ask what *I* think of the Olympics, it is hard for me to put into words, because I feel so many different things about it. I have been aware of the human rights problems for the last 8 years or more. Long before the anti gay propaganda law and long before the Olympics. I have tried all of those years to point these things out to others. Mostly without anyone noticing because it wasn’t a big deal until the Olympics were scheduled there and the new law was passed. I have tried to bring these horrible conditions to light in my corner of the world. I have also tried to share parts of the culture in hopes that Russia and the US can stop thinking of each other as inherently different and as enemies. I have tried to spread the idea that I think would be best in international dealings – which is that we are all citizens of the world. That borders do not have to divide us and that they certainly don’t define us.
Quite honestly I have never cared much about the Olympics at all. I watched gymnastics and skating as a kid and that was pretty much it. I have a fascination with people who work that hard and dedicate every moment of their lives to this one point in time. But I really haven’t ever cared much or tried to watch the games much.
What I feel about the Sochi 2014 Olympics is this: I feel the people who actually do care about it are being ripped off by Putin. I think he has made this not only a partially unprepared for and unsuccessful Olympics, but also opened them up to criticism from every corner and for every little thing due to his bigoted law and his general attitude to the rest of the world. As my husband says “he just doesn’t give a f**k.” And he doesn’t. I feel sad for that part of it. I feel frustrated that what is supposed to be a coming together to celebrate our differences and to change them from barriers into ways we can connect, has been turned into a bad experience for all by one man and the few people who support him. I feel angry and frustrated that Russia as a whole is being seen as bigoted, violent and homophobic, because I will be honest with you, I think the horrible violent crimes perpetrated against the gays (and the people of color and women and young men in the army and the disabled and more) comes from a small percentage of the population who see themselves as better than the rest. And they are being told they are better than the rest by the government as well. I feel the same when I hear people from other countries think that we are all fat bible thumping gun freaks because I know most of us are not. I feel pride in the beautiful city I came to love in the short time I was there – I feel like they are trying to handle it with dignity and grace. I feel scared that something horrible could happen to athletes or visitors or all of the people there, whether it’s from terrorism or from regular every day bigots. I feel very angry when I read my friends who say “Russia sucks” or “Russians are bigots” or “Those assholes over there deserve all the bad press they get.” Because you know what? Every single person I met over there, and almost every single person I have met here who is from Russia are kind, caring, decent human beings just trying to get through life like the rest of us. I feel sad that they have come through so much oppression and pain and war and indigence to make a decent life for themselves DESPITE their government and oppression, and they still have to fight against more of it. I feel frustrated at all of my confused feelings. I want to watch the Olympics to try and steal glimpses of my husband’s home (even though I really don’t care much about the actual sports or athletes) and I don’t want to watch so I can support my gay friends. Though if I am honest with myself, the best way I feel I can support the LGBT community in Russia is to continue to try to bring light to the things that happen there and keep chipping away at the misconceptions about both sides. If I am honest with myself, I don’t think Putin gives a crap whether we watch or not, the Olympic governing body does not care either, and in the end it really does nothing if the countries themselves have not pulled out of it. But I support those who feel this is the best way they can help and send support to the LGBT community over there who most definitely suffer great atrocities. I love that this Olympics has brought these problems to light to more of the world’s population and I am hopeful that when the cameras leave in 2 weeks that the support and work does not. Because the bigotry won’t leave then either.
In the end, in two weeks, the world will stop looking so closely at Sochi and at Russia. I hope that they will have learned something from all of this instead of it being another passing fad. I am sure there are ways to truly become involved, organizations that are helping, senators to write to about amnesty for the people who desperately need to leave, funds to raise, people to send. I hope in the end it is not the games or the athletes or the image of a serious and proud Putin that we remember. I hope it is not the turning off of a tv that we remember. I hope it is the struggle of people in every corner of a massive country who need freedom, who deserve dignity, who should not have to worry about safety. And I hope that we will have something to do with the transformation of the lives they live.
** Abkazia is a part of Georgia that was the reason for the Civil war when he was young. They have declared themselves to be independent.
Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.
I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.
1. Pain is inevitable.
Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.
It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.
2. This moment will never happen again.
This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.
3. No one can live like this all the time.
When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.
4. Life is easier with those you love.
Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.
I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.
** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.
7 years ago today I had my first cancer surgery. A few months ago this would have led into a long post about how my life has changed and the bad side of cancer. I might include a few things I have learned that make it “not so bad.”
I have been meditating more again lately. (insert shaking of head and “why do I ever get off the old meditation train” lamenting)
The other day I had a realization. Like a smack to my face.
That isn’t our story anymore.
Well, it is our story. It’s our beginning – me and my little family. But it isn’t our ending. It isn’t even our now. Our lives have become much more.
This is our story now:
Get up, snuggle with the boy and the 4 legged boy, get stuff ready for school, feed people, clean up after people, go to school. Some days I get to come back to school in a bit and spend my time with amazing amazing little people in my son’s class. Some days I meet some mommy friends for coffee. I love those two days the best. Some days I go home and do housewifey stuff. Some days I have physical therapy or doctors appointments.
I go get my boy after school and realize that the whole day I have been breathing. I haven’t been holding my breath to find out what went wrong at school today. My son is doing so well and is so much happier than he used to be. So much more confident.
We go do our after school stuff – therapy or swimming or karate. We go home and do homework and read books and take baths and I smell his clean bathy smell. He does math. I can’t tell you how much I love this. He does math. In his head. All the time. It’s like he just thinks that way. I know… he must be someone else’s child. But he does. And I love it. We snuggle in bed while I read him a bedtime story and he falls asleep. And then hubby comes home and we watch a show together. It doesn’t matter what, it’s just nice to be alone for a bit, and we snuggle with the 4 legged boy. And then we go to bed.
Lately the boy and I have been going to meet up with friends more when we have a day off of school or on weekends. We both enjoy this. The boy has been playing with neighborhood kids. And we had a big birthday party for him at our house and all the kids had a blast, especially mine. We went on a little ski trip. I haven’t been able to enjoy a trip like that for a long time. This Saturday I am having some of our friends over to make gingerbread houses and snowflakes. Today I made 11 graham cracker gingerbread houses and I ate too much icing. And I realized that I had been breathing the whole day. I wasn’t holding my breath waiting for a migraine or kidney stone or chest pain to knock me over. I wasn’t waiting to feel week and exhausted and have to go lay down. I actually feel comfortable making plans with other humans because I don’t have a migraine every single day and I have more energy since my pain has been better and I am not spending every moment I can in bed. The pain is not gone. And some days I am still exhausted. But I can breathe.
The depression I was living under has eased up. When you feel poorly every day it’s very difficult to be happy. Add to that all of life’s ups and downs and it’s difficult to get through any stress. Physically feeling better has helped. So has getting back to my old self some. So has letting go. Letting go of the things I can’t control.
I had a conversation with my pain doc the other day (who is amazing by the way). It was a lovely conversation, even though he was jabbing me in the face and head with needles and injecting burny stuff into me at the time. He had asked how my family was and I asked how his was. He said his wife and he were just busy with their kids. Just running here and there with the kids. He coaches his boys’ sports and he watches his girl’s sports and they go to teacher conferences and do homework and he loves it. He loves it all.
And I said YES.
That is life. Life is all those lovely little moments, all the “day in day out” lovely things. And not so lovely things. It’s life and it’s so so good. He knows, as I do, that you have to enjoy what you can, when you can.
I have been contemplating something since a friend of mine brought it up and today I witnessed it first hand. I decided I need to “talk” about it to help myself work it out in my head.
Our PTO at my son’s elementary school is very involved. I have in the past helped with a committee that brings in lunch for the teachers once a month. I think that’s a nice use of PTO resources and it tells the staff we appreciate them. I love being involved with my kid’s school. I volunteer once a week in his class and I try to volunteer anytime help is needed such as the book fair or turkey trot. Recently a friend of mine was in charge of the “fall festival” and I helped set up a few things the day of the event. I would have liked to have helped more but I had been really ill. We usually go to PTO sponsored events at the school such as the fall festival, welcome back ice cream party, and those sorts of events. They don’t cost a lot and they are a fun way to be involved with the school and I feel they foster a sense of community. I am able to meet some of the parents I don’t normally see, and see how my son interacts with other students.
Then there are the serious fund raisers. Some families really get into these events and try to outsell (produce, whathaveyou) each other. I am torn about these things. First of all, I think that we should be expecting more from our state and federal funding to fund whatever the school needs. We shouldn’t have to donate a dollar every 4th Friday so the kids can wear caps for computers. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthy goal, it’s just that I think our funding should come from the community (yes, taxes. why is it ok to spend 22% of the budget on war and only 3% on education?) In my sister-in-law’s old school district it sounded like the local companies were very involved in donating and I think that might be a good avenue to look into. And it’s not that I am against helping out at school. I just think that if we keep funding things through the PTO instead of demanding it from the avenues the funding is SUPPOSED to come from, we will never get the community to give what they should. I think that an educated community benefits us all and I don’t think that we should skimp on it. I also think that having children sell things people don’t need is teaching bad life skills. It’s consumerism at it’s worst – you don’t need a single thing in that catalogue, but you buy it because it’s your friend’s/neighbor’s/coworker’s kid. You don’t need those thin mints, but you buy them…. well you just buy THEM because they are delicious. But you get my point.
So, what happened today that made me stop and think?
I volunteered at my child’s school today. I do this every Monday. But this Monday he had asked me to also go to lunch with him. Recess is between my volunteer time and before lunch, so I stayed for recess as well. Today was the day that the children who sold a certain number of “butterbraids” were taken on a limo ride for lunch with the principal. Which, is actually kind of an awesome reward for little kids. We didn’t do the butterbraids fundraiser this year. We have done it before and these things are delicious. I know I could have sold plenty of them, people love them, but we had just moved and we had been sick for weeks and I just decided not to do it. Well, when we got outside the limo was waiting for the few kids who sold 12 butterbraids or more. My son didn’t really get upset he wasn’t going, but some of the kids did. They said it wasn’t fair that only some kids get to go on a ride (and I didn’t argue with that). They said they sold butterbraids too, they should get to go. One kid even said she sold 12 and she should get to go. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but she was upset. You know who I noticed wasn’t complaining about it, but was still looking longingly at the Limo? 2 kids who’s parents struggle. 2 kids who I know don’t get to do most of the extra “things.” 1 one of them only has one parent who is young and works very long hours.
This made me stop and think.
A friend of mine mentioned recently that these sorts of fundraisers are unfair to kids who don’t have a lot of financial resources. I tend to agree. Who do we usually sell to when participating in these sorts of things? We sell to family, friends, co workers, neighbors. Generally, if our family doesn’t have a lot of financial resources, our extended family doesn’t either. Generally our neighbors are part of the same socioeconomic group we are part of. Generally our co-workers make around the same salary we do. So, in sending home fundraisers that come with a “reward” at the end IF you sell enough of them, you single those kids out. Those kids often don’t have the ability to sell enough to get the reward, or even to sell any. They go to school and see their friends being rewarded for selling crap no one needs and they feel badly because they couldn’t sell any crap.
Then there are the fundraisers that involve cutting labels or boxtops from the package of the products we normally buy. I understand – it’s all marketing. If you buy x brand you get more boxtops than if you buy from the store brand. That’s how it got started. Good marketing. But here’s the thing. How often do you think those kids who live in lower financial situations get the name brand cereal? So, this month we had a “boxtops for education” drive. The classes who brought in the most boxtops get a special reward. I believe it was a pajama and movie day. So, the whole class has pressure to bring in boxtops and I can imagine at the upper grades the kids realize what is going on and start to “encourage” each other to bring in more. And then, who is left out, again? The kids who’s parents can’t (or won’t) buy the most expensive raisin bran.
Even the fall festival leaves kids out – some kids can’t afford $8 to go spend 2 hours at the school having fun. For me $8 is a great deal for some Saturday night entertainment for me and the boy. But for some people that’s out of the realm of their budget.
I know most of the fundraisers (which feels like they happen every month) involve a suggested goal and a reward. Even nights where you can go to a certain restaurant for dinner and get money for the school involves the parents shelling out money.
And there is one other way that kids who don’t have “as much” get left out at our school. This one isn’t just related to finances though. This one is related to kids who have 2 parents that work. I am lucky. I can almost always go to my son’s class when there is a valentines party or the class music program or the kids are reading a special story they have written. We have enough two income homes (whether out of necessity or out of the desire to work outside of the home) that I see kids’ faces fall every single time. And I feel sorry for both the kids and the parent. Not everyone can make it to everything and I think it’s really hard to explain that to a 5 or 6 year old.
I am not sure what my proposed solution is here. Maybe some of my friends will comment about it and get my wheels moving on it. I will continue to support what fundraisers I can/feel ok about supporting at this point. I don’t have anything against the PTO or it’s activities. I know those parents work hard and they are doing what they feel is important for the school. Next year a good friend of mine my be the president of the PTO. I will help her out with what she needs. I volunteered for my son’s preschool PTO and thoroughly enjoyed the people I got to spend time with and working with the school. I just don’t think that it’s fair to segregate kids who already feel like they are on the outskirts of the school’s society.
Our school is pretty good about involving everyone. When we go on field trips they give parents the option of helping to pay for “students in need” to go on the field trip too. I appreciate those sorts of things the school does. I just wish there were a way to do get what the school needs, support the parents who want to be involved, and to not make children who are less advantaged feel worse about their situation. Maybe there is. Maybe it starts here and now with parents who feel the same way I do….
There has been a large amount of press this last few weeks about weight, and fat shaming, and people not feeling good about themselves – or about people feeling good about themselves despite living in a culture that tells them they shouldn’t. Or about people who work really hard/hurt themselves/go to extremes to feel good about their body.
A friend of mine posted about it today and I loved her post because it wasn’t just about the societal issues. It was also about health. It inspired me to talk about my own story.
My opinion on this comes from a different point of view and I feel it is a valuable opinion that might help others out there.
First, a little background.
Most of the women I grew up around were a healthy weight. I remember them talking all the time about needing to lose weight though. My mom was proud of the fact that she was 98 lbs until after her second baby – she was also short so it wasn’t an unhealthy weight for her. After that she was always talking about the 5-15 lbs she wanted to lose, though I never saw why she needed to. Some of the other women in my family had closets full of different sized clothing because they were constantly trying to lose weight and went up and down the scale. Most of the women in my life, however, were a healthy weight and they were not super active, but busy with family and work and such.
As an elementary school child I was skinny – much more skinny than most of my friends. I remember being teased about it a little. Not much. I was never athletic – I was clumsy and didn’t enjoy running or sports or PE. In middle school and high school I was healthy – definitely not over weight but not super skinny. I still didn’t enjoy sports or exercise, except weight lifting. I had injured my ankle twice and had to do physical therapy after surgery. Part of that included going to the gym and I liked feeling strong and healthy when I could lift weights. When I was sixteen I went through some situational depression. I lost weight and the doctor had my mom give me carnation instant breakfasts in addition to anything she could get me to eat. That was the last time in my life I was underweight. When I went to college I put on a few pounds – the freshman 15 – because I was eating top ramen and noodles and cheesecake. I did exercise at the field house though and enjoyed that, especially with a friend.
During college I was put on a bunch of medicines for “psychological issues” and many of those had a side effect of gaining weight. After that I perpetually went up and down on the scale. Dieting, exercising, losing weight, then gaining it back again, being sedentary, eating poorly. Most of the time I was a little overweight. Sometimes I was a lot overweight. That’s hard to say. But it’s true.
When I was 24 I had my gall bladder out. I found out that gall stones are often a result of extreme weight loss, which I had recently experienced. I had been dieting in a very unhealthy way and lost a bunch of weight and my body created gall stones and by the time they took it out it was gangrenous. I had a horrible recovery, staying in the hospital for 28 days and numerous drains placed to try and stop the abscess in my gut. I was so weak and sick when I got out I couldn’t walk around my apartment. Little by little I gained back my strength, but I don’t feel like I ever really got back to the health I had before that. I was also putting a lot of partying miles on my body. I’m sure that didn’t help.
I look back now and I wish I had realized the wonderful thing it is to have a healthy body. I wish I had realized that having a body that could run and jump and exercise and take a walk without asthma acting up or my vocal chord collapsing was a wonderful thing. I went through periods where I was more active and physical – running and eating well and going to exercise at the gym. I went through times in my life when I was less active – rather sedentary – and didn’t use my body at all. I went through times when the fuel I put into my body made me feel healthy and clear. And times when it muddled my brain and other body parts. I went through times where the work I did was very physical and I enjoyed being strong. I went through times where my work was very sedentary. But through it all, one thing never changed. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.
Wait, let me say that again. I didn’t know how wonderful it was to have a body that worked well and allowed me to use it in strong, healthy ways.
And then cancer came into our lives. And my body forever changed. I won’t list all the ways it has changed, but there are a few that are important to this discussion. First – I have asthma. AND a paralyzed vocal chord. Sometimes breathing is difficult. Especially when I am exercising. Protip: Ya gots ta breathe to exercise. I have several parts of my body that are permanently damaged in ways that cause me extreme constant pain. I have limits to what my body can lift. I can no longer lift weights with anything but my legs. I can’t lift my body in any way – no push ups or pull ups or burpees or whathaveyous. I can’t lift my son. I can’t even do many of the household/gardening type activities I used to do – my pain flares and I am down for days. Carrying groceries is a monumental task. I no longer have a thyroid and no matter what they tell us, a synthetic pill just doesn’t completely replace the natural chemicals your body makes. I have fatigue issues. Many thyroid patients do. I have found ways to deal with the pain, with the help of some awesome doctors. But I have yet to find ways to deal with the fatigue. Still hoping to find that part of the puzzle. I get sick extremely easily. It seems we are sick every month and when that happens, I am in bed unable to complete daily necessities, much less exercise.
And now – now I see what a wonderful thing it was to have a healthy body. To have a body that worked the way it is supposed to. I see what I shouldn’t have taken advantage of. But… that is the way of health. You never really know what you have until it’s gone. You don’t truly appreciate being healthy until you aren’t. You don’t truly appreciate having a strong body until you don’t.
When I read these articles about “losing weight and being healthy and crossfit and boot camp and if I can do it you can too”… it makes me angry. It makes me angry that I can no longer do those things – because I think if I could again I would. I would never stop running and lifting weights and doing crazy crossfit workouts. If I could feel strong again I would never want to let that go. It also makes me angry when others don’t realize that not everyone is like them. Not everyone CAN do those things. That “if I can do it you can too” attitude isn’t the truth. I want to scream: “There are plenty of people out there who literally CAN’T do what you do. So stop shaming others and go enjoy your healthy body.” I love that they are encouraging others to use their bodies in a healthy way. If you encourage in a certain way, then it WILL help. But shaming others into feeling fat and “not the way they could/should/ought to be” is wrong.
Could I do more? Yes. I could. I should. I work towards that. But my body will never be the same. I will never do what I did 7 years ago. I will never be strong and healthy and full of energy again. I will never feel like I once did. I honestly think about whether I will live another 20 years and what I will feel like at that age a lot. The other day I said “blah blah blah in 20 years…” to my husband. He said “do you think you will live to be that old?” He was teasing. And he wasn’t. I don’t want 20 more years of pain and exhaustion. I don’t want to live in a body that often feels like a prison.
What’s the point of this post? The point is this: I encourage everyone I know who has a relatively healthy and strong body to use it. Use it in ways that make you feel good and alive and happy to be here. Use it in ways that make you feel like you are the king or queen of the world. Jump and dance and run around with your kids. Ride a mountain bike. Climb a tree. Go on a zipline. Run up a mountain. Feel the sun on your face. Backpack with your friends. Go to the school jogging club in the mornings with your kids. Take martial arts with your friend, or boxing, or ballet. Go rafting and ice skating and slide down slides. Go to concerts and dance until you want to pass out. Do all of this for those of us who can’t anymore. And do it for your family. And do it for you. Don’t do it because you want to see a certain person in the mirror. Don’t do it because you feel like you have to weigh a certain amount of pounds. Do it because it feels damn good. Do it because you are alive and you want to FEEL alive. Don’t put pressure on yourself to weigh in or measure up or have a certain body type. ENJOY your body. That’s the magic of the human body. It can be enjoyed. And the more you enjoy it, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the more you enjoy your body. It’s a wonderful “mysterious” cycle.
Use that cycle – love your healthy body – allow yourself to realize that all that really matters is if it works well. And if it doesn’t, well, you and I have a lot in common – and we still find ways to be happy and love life. That’s the big secret. Love life. If you do that, the rest is just gravy.
I started to write this blog post after a good friend and I had a conversation about ISMS – racism, sexism, classism, hatred of homosexuals, etc. She talked about the fact that we all have ISMS. We all have points of view we were taught or developed as young people which give rise to treating people differently because of who they are. Some of us never see them, or we believe they are correct and that we should continue to embrace these points of view. Some of us strive to see the ISMS we have and try to learn more about them and consciously cut them out of our lives. Or at least stop and think and not use them to treat others differently or spread hate.
During this conversation I mentioned that she and I are also lucky to have friends who call us out on our bullshit. Which she agreed to wholeheartedly.
Let me say that again. I am lucky to have good friends, who believe the same way I do and who know my heart enough to say “dude, that’s not ok, in fact, that’s pretty downright disappointing. I expect more.” Because you know what? I expect more from myself too. Sometimes we don’t see the little prejudices we have. Sometimes we don’t realize that we are being a big fat jerk. Having friends and family that love you enough to tell you that, because they KNOW you want to do better, THAT is a gift.
So then something happened last night that has left my heart hurting a little. And I felt I needed to finish this blog.
When I call my friends or family out on stuff, it’s not because I want to hurt them or I want to make them feel like they are jerks, or I want them to be all upset with themselves and feel guilty. It’s not because I am attacking them. It’s not because I think I am better than them. It’s not because I don’t ever do the same types of things. Cause I do. I do.
I call my friends and family out on stuff because I want my friends and family to do the same. Because I feel relationships in which people are honest with themselves and in which people care enough to help each other or want to help each other improve creates a better society.
I always think about the suffragettes or the civil rights activists – if they hadn’t found each other, hadn’t talked to each other, hadn’t realized that telling each other “dude, that’s not ok” HELPS their cause, they would have gotten no where.
Here comes the problem – there are times when it’s appropriate to call people out on stuff. There are times when it may not be. There are times when saying “I don’t agree, I think that is wrong” will get you exactly no where. There are times when it will hurt the relationship more than it helps. There are times when people will get angry and be hurt and that doesn’t necessarily help anyone. There are times when people will get angry and distance themselves – because no one wants to be told we are wrong, that’s the nature of humans – but they will look back and realize there might be something to it. There are times when you have discussed the topic with someone you truly love and you know you will never feel differently about it, and neither will they. And so, to protect that relationship you have to learn to avoid that topic. You don’t compromise how you feel, but you just don’t talk about it with that person.
There are times when losing the relationship is worth telling your truth. Like when someone is being hurt physically, when someone needs your help desperately, when it’s just the human thing to do. There are times when standing up for what you believe is worth any consequence.
You have to be the one to make those decisions.
So, if I say something that feels like it’s embarrassing you, or making you feel like a jerk, or feels like I am saying you are wrong, please know that even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time, I am doing it because I love you. I don’t put that much energy into people I don’t love. Trust me.
I have had the opportunity to hear from several friends about hard stages in their kiddos’ lives this week and it made me think. Here are some things I wish I knew “then.”
1. Your child will neither sleep with you for the rest of your life or be ruined for the rest of his if he sleeps in your bed. Let it go. You both need to sleep. All kids are different. Some need reassurances at night-time too.
2. In many other countries they don’t use canned baby food, sippy cups or soft spoons. At my mother in law’s house they handed a 1-year-old a nice tea-cup with warm juice in it. She drank it just fine. She also ate small mushy table food. You don’t have to do everything the way your mother or mother in law or doctor or the parenting magazines say. If something seems right, try it, be flexible if it doesn’t work. There is no one way to do it, and there are a thousand right ways.
3. Everyone is different. That doesn’t mean everyone else is wrong. Every kid is different. That means no parenting trick will work the same on every kid. That is ALL ok.
4. Doctors don’t always have the answers. Or know what is best for your child. Listen to their advice, do your own research if needed, make up your own mind. Look for answers elsewhere if that’s what your gut tells you to do.
5. Your mother in law or mother might have some good advice… I’m just going to put this here and walk away.
6. You will feel exhausted, dirty, cranky, hungry, uncomfortable with how full your bladder is, and overwhelmed when you are a parent. It’s ok. It happens. Trust me when I say you aren’t alone. When you are young you think your parents have it all figured out and know exactly what they are doing. When you grow up you realize no parents really know what they are doing and most are winging it much of the time. And you finally know what your mom meant when she said in exasperation “can’t I even go to the bathroom alone?????”
7. Kids are PEOPLE. I know, take a deep breath, this one’s a doozy. Kids are people. They come with their own little personalities and preferences. They will not always do what you say, what you telepathically try to convey to them, or what you are quietly hoping in every single bone they do. IN FACT, they often do the exact thing you don’t want them to do. Like take of their diaper in the McDonald’s play land, or yell at some little old lady who just wants to say hi. Here’s the thing, that’s ok too. Your job is not to dictate, force, or pressure your child into doing what you want them to do for the rest of their natural born lives. Your job here is to provide for their physical needs. To give them shelter and food and clothing to the best of your ability. To provide for their emotional needs – to give them love and compassion.Your job is also to help them find the way to making their own decisions, and hopefully most of the time, choosing the path that is best for them, the path that is healthiest, kindest, and most wise.
8. You can learn more from them than they will ever learn from you.
9. Childhood is about messes. Childhood should be about exploring and learning about the world around you. Stop worrying about where the paint lands or if the markers are getting on the table. If you can’t stop worrying, put down a plastic drop cloth and let them keep going. Let your child enjoy the sand/mud/bubbles/rocks/paint/tape/paper/fountains/straw/woods/streams/bugs as much as possible. Let them wear clothing they can get dirty in. Don’t worry if the hair is perfectly styled. There is a time for that – but on day to day basis, let them be kids. Let them get messy. Let them get chocolate ice cream all over their face, or sand in their hair. Kids wash. Clothes wash. These times are important for both of you.
10. There are moments. Truly magical, amazing moments. When your child plays with the garden hose and has a look of sheer wonder on his face. When you come home from somewhere and they yell MAMA and come running to you and jump on you. When the worst day can be turned around by a gummy toothy grin. I am not saying you need to follow your child around trying to capture every moment and not lose a one. I am not saying that if you do miss a moment you are lost. I am certainly not saying you should berate yourself for time away from your child. I am saying, be open to the magic that is childhood. Put down what you are doing once in a while and just BE with your child.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream.” speech.
It’s a work of eloquence and art. It’s something I admire and something that lifts me up when I read or hear it.
I didn’t want to write about this – because while it has a special place in my heart, and it has a special place in history, I simply don’t feel worthy of writing down my thoughts about such an amazing man and his words – all of them.
However, I really feel the need to share this story.
Coincidentally, my son and I started reading the next book in our Magic Treehouse Book series this week. It was about the Civil War. In this series a young brother and sister go back in time. It’s an imaginative way to learn about bits of history and to learn about other people and cultures.
Last night the part we were reading talked about a tent hospital on the edge of the battlefield. The children decide to help the nurses and one nurse sends them around to the tents with food and water to serve the wounded Union soldiers. In the first tent it talks about what the men looked like and what the children see. In the second tent it says “everything was exactly the same, except all of the soldiers were African-American.” The boy goes on to talk to one of these soldiers a little about the war and he learns what the war “was about” and what slavery was.
My son stopped me at this point and asked about slavery and war and a few other hot topics. And then he says “what is African-American?” Now my son has several black classmates and we know two families we have gotten together with regularly who are mixed race families. I said “you know, people who have darker skin like “Jacob.” He and his brother and dad are Black Americans” – not wanting to confuse him by saying African-Americans again, since he knows quite a bit about Africa and knows it’s on the other side of the earth.
He stopped and looked at me, shocked, and said “You mean “Jacob” is a black american??? Why didn’t he tell me?”
He had never seen a difference between himself and his classmates.
I didn’t want him to think about it. I wanted to keep him innocent to these things. We talked a little about how we are all really the same and we talked a little about slavery and the horrible way people have been treated in history. He told me “Mom, you know the only thing that matters is what you are like in here, right?” and he pointed to his chest and I praised him. I said “yes. Yes it is. It is the only thing that is important.” And I loved that.
I stopped. I wanted with all my heart to let it go – to let him keep not seeing the colors and races and creeds and gender and “differences” of people. I wanted to let him be, for as long as he could be, blind to these things. And I admit I did. I stopped and I let it go.
Tonight we read the next chapter. It talked about young boys in the war and the conditions on the battle field and how they didn’t have enough water and food. It talks about a young drummer boy.
My son brought up the slaves and the “black americans” again. I had thought about it all day. And I came to the conclusion that I am not helping him or anyone else if I allow him to continue not seeing how other people are treated.
It’s a lovely thing – a child’s innocence. A lovely precious thing.
However, it’s also a privilege in this case. It’s a privilege my son can afford and other children can’t. It’s an innocence children of color have to give up much much younger far too often.
The moment I realized that was the moment that I realized his privilege serves no one if he doesn’t learn how to use it to help others. So we talked. We talked about how people of color and different religions and women have been treated historically and we talked about how they are treated now. We talked in broad, general strokes, but we talked about how lucky we are to have what we have.
While I hope that one day there will be no reason for mothers to talk to their sons about the privileges they enjoy, that day is not today. I hope one day that little boys like mine have no more privilege than the next little girl or boy. I hope that one day when a child asks what a racial term means, mothers everywhere can say “Oh, that’s an old saying that we don’t use today” because we will be all one global family – no differences in how we are treated and how others are treated. But that day is not today. I hope that one day children will be taught about all of the wonderful civil rights people enjoy. Not just white people or black people or men or women or Americans or Europeans or heterosexual people or Christians – everyone across the world. I hope that they will learn of the fights we fought and the pain people went through. I hope it is but a distant gleaming memory of a time when humans overcame all of our prejudices and all of our fear and hatred and pulled ourselves out of darkness. I hope it is a mark in history when war and inequality ended. I hope it is celebrated near and far.
But tonight, tonight I talked to my son about how people are sometimes treated, and how wrong that is, and how he can help. How speaking up is one of the most important things he can do. We talked about how the voice our culture has given him is one of the most important tools he has and that when he sees inequity, he needs to speak out against it.
Tonight my son went to bed a little less innocent. Maybe, just maybe, he will be better for it.