Thursday, February 26, 2015


Fifteen years ago today I woke up in my old life. I called my friend Jim to see if he was going swing dancing later that night but Jim wasn't home. Instead, his roommate Mitch answered the phone. (Ah, landlines) We chatted. We chatted some more. We talked about our recent failed romantic endeavors and who knows what else. Eventually Mitch invited himself to come with me to the coffee shop. We spent that whole day together-- played chess, ate lunch at First Carolina Deli, threw frisbee in the park-- and danced together that night. It was in the park on the cool grass and warm sunshine that I looked at Mitch and realized everything had changed. From that day on we were together. Five months later we moved to Idaho. Two years later we were married. Six years later we had our first baby. And this morning -- fifteen years later -- I was awakened in snowy upstate NY by a girl lying on top of me, the full long length of her, saying, "I love you, Mommy. Time to get up!"

resistance, disconnection, and Clarktime

There was a time -- about a year, in fact -- when Clark's response to every single request, no matter how minor or innocuous, was NO. (He was not two when this happened, by the way. He was five.) "Clark, please buckle your seat belt," "Clark, please wash your hands for dinner, " "Clark, it's time to put on jammies," "Clark, can you please clean up your legos?" No. Nonononono. Sometimes a screaming NO!!! 

I thought I had broken him somehow.

And then one day he said something amazing. He said, "okay." It was shocking. He started saying it more and more. "Clark, please put on your shoes so we can go." "Okay, Mama." Every time he did it I was stunned briefly. I realized it had indeed been a stage. The No Stage. We had moved on! But, of late, at 6 1/2, he has slipped back in. I'm beginning to believe this is just his way, his style.

My latest response is to look at him calmly, pull out my phone, and say, "Just a moment. I'll be with you in a moment. I just need to make a note..." When he asks what I'm doing I explain, "Oh, just making a note of how you are unwilling to comply with this very simple and reasonable request, so that I'll remember when you next ask for me to help you with something." Last night his next request came -- I am not kidding -- within two minutes. It's a problem, frankly, that I do too much for him anyway. So when he, mere moments later, asked me to bring him the scissors, I said, "No, I don't feel like it." He smirked. I said it many more times in the next hour, as it turns out he asks for my help about every five minutes. Each time he smiled a little, a sort of understanding smirk. Maybe it will work. At least it may teach him the reciprocal nature of relationships, rather than my lording over him and forcing him to put the dang cereal box away. And yet, perhaps at 7 years old, he is still too young for this reciprocal concept of help to mean too much to him.

A-Ha Parenting says that his unwillingness to be helpful and agreeable is about his disconnection with me, and that if I can fix our connection, his attitude will change. I will buy this. When he was little, probably around 1 and 2, I was so depressed and impatient, and I was not a stellar mom. He was a screamer then too, and sometimes when his screaming button was stuck on and my migraines were active and my patience was thin thin thin, I screamed back at him. Sometimes I was rough with him. Sometimes I put my hands on him. Sometimes I frightened him. Sometimes I hated myself. I feel certain that I taught him that I could not be trusted, that I was not entirely on his side. So, yes, the connection could use some fixing. (Or is this just the way of the world, his story and mine, and the damage done? Should we just go forward from here and hope for the best? I have no idea. No one has any idea how to do any of this, it seems to me. But I do take solace in Dr Laura Markham in that she says the connection can always be repaired, though it may take time and considerable energy. I choose to have hope.)

So yesterday I also began something else new: Clark Time. It's what A-Ha Parenting suggests (they call it Special Time), setting aside time that belongs to the child only, 15 minutes where you do nothing but be with him, and play whatever he chooses (actually they say 10 but that seemed too short to me). No fixing dinner, checking your phone, helping another kid. His time alone. Frances had gone upstairs to practice her ukelele and he asked for me to help with something, so I thought it a good time to introduce. I told him about it, told him we could do whatever he wanted except screen time. I set the timer. He chose for me to help him cut out paper puppets from his Mo Willems Pigeon activity book, and then we colored together.

The 15 minutes went so quickly for me that I eased the timer back a bit when he wasn't looking. Funny thing -- I didn't want it to be over so soon! Today we organized his Pokemon cards, and again I didn't want it to end. I had a great time. It will be interesting to see if it changes his behavior on a larger scale. I have no idea...

I've also started -- just last night -- taking a parenting class about play therapy. I will be trying out some of their ideas with Clark too. Will keep you updated.

It stands to reason that we can indeed heal wounds, and that we can show people we have changed, that we can be trusted although we could not previously. It's a malleable world we live in.

I teach a writing class and the women in it are my mother's age. I love them oh so dearly, think of them as very wise and wonderful. Yesterday I was talking about this issue with Clark, and they all said, "Don't worry. The relationship will fix itself." At first I took solace, but then I realized they are of my mother's generation, the generation that parented me, and perhaps they were speaking out of that generation's perspective and limited wisdom. My generation is certainly trying to do things differently than have ever --really -- been done before. The world is different now, faster moving with more pressures and choices, and we have seen how our parents failed us, not simply as individuals, but as an entire generation. Our parents were not prepared to parent in this new changing disconnected world. They didn't have the tools. We are trying to acquire them now. Godspeed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

snowbelt winter, and my kids at 8 and almost 7

I heard from two different folks that the sunrise this morning was spectacular, but I'm having trouble imagining that because it would require SUN and today is so completely soaked in gray that I feel it press up against me.

Yesterday there was sun. For the first time in a hundred years, a full sunny day, glistening on the snow, amazing, delicious. I walked the dog for a long time, even though the air was cold cold cold. I felt like I was drinking long pulls of cool water, the sun. That was yesterday. Today there is steel gray everything plus hail. 

I definitely have the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder. Cabin fever. Crazy person syndrome. The conviction that everything is heavy, everything is hard, everyone is tired, life is monotone and endless. Doesn't that sound great? 

We live in the SnowBelt and this is an actual Thing-- four cities in a line, snug up against Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, all writhing under the power of Lake Effect. We get more snow than anyone else in the country (although whenever I see those statistics I never see Alaska listed. Do they just think of Alaska in another class? Are they only interested in continental US? And how on earth does anyone live in the Alaska winter anyway? I cannot imagine. Rather, I can imagine--SnowBelt cold and gray but with less light and more dreary dreariness. What I can't imagine is how people live and work there and come out sane on the other end). 

It hasn't been snowing much this year. Winter is always gray and cold, but usually there is more snow, more of it blowing around in the air. I miss it. It's what makes all this tolerable. 

Ok, I'm done with the weather.

Frances says she wants to grow up and marry a regular guy and he will win the lottery (why he instead of she?) and they will live in a mansion with a pool and go to Disney world and have three kids two boys and a girl. And for work she will be a bartender. 

I said, "That's your plan? That's what you aspire to do with your life?" Wow. 

Clark said he is going to grow up and not have kids although the getting married thing is unclear, and he will have a cabin in the woods and collect shotguns. He will also have a house in the country. And for work he will be an artist. 

Who are these kids? And what on earth does Frances know about tending bar? For the record, they haven't been to Disney and no one in our family owns a gun, shotgun or otherwise. No idea. 

Recently I had two far away friends ask me to post again on the blog, a way to keep up with me and with the kids. And recently two new friends asked to see the blog so I forwarded them a link. Whenever anyone asks to see the blog I take a look at it too, try to see what they will see, and then I get a bit sidetracked reading about my kids when they were littler. So much of it I don't remember, and I'm so glad I have it written down. One of the posts I read was about toddler Clark and how to keep him in his bed at night, and I asked for help and suggestions. One of the comments (by anonymous) said: "OMG. Makes me so glad for picking a sleeping philosophy and sticking with it. Parenting doesn't have to mean giving up your life, your boundaries, and routines.  My suggestion? Toddler bed--not a fancy bribe, just a bed. In his room. (It's where one sleeps.) Put him back. And back. And back. And back. Period. I just don't see it as subjecting him to some awful powerlessness. Kids need to know that a trusted adult will make decisions, provide structure, be in control, and can be relied on to do just that."

Thing is, I wasn't always a trusted adult, I don't think. I wasn't always in control. Sometimes I pulled the van into the garage and sat in the driver's seat with my head on the steering wheel, sobbing. Sometimes when Clark wouldn't stay in his room, I would become every so slightly hysterical and scream a tiny bit and lose my cool. Sometimes the gray and the toddler hysteria and the schlepping of things and the lack of support and the complete tetheredness was simply too much for me and I would break. Just a little. I agree that kids need a trusted adult to help them cope with their big and confusing feelings, but sometimes a trusted adult simply isn't available. It's unfortunate. It's imperfect. It's the way it is. 

But now--now that they are in first and second grades, now that Frances is 8 and Clark is almost 7, now that they can dress themselves and feed themselves and empty the dishwasher and vacuum the family room-- now I can be a trusted adult. Now I can stand solidly on the ground and provide a home base, a place to reground, to regroup, to check in to see if everything is normal, is ok. Now I think of myself as a good parent (thank all that is good and holy). My earlier struggle was the primary impetus for the blog in the first place. Which perhaps is why I slid away.

But since loved ones have requested, and since I'm still teaching the memoir class and wanting to do some writing too, I'm going to spend some time here. Hello again! If anyone is still out there, hello!!