Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Power of No Words

It is said words are power.  Words can do anything, make anything happen. There are so many of them.  How to arrange them, pick them, put them in the right order is always the conundrum. 
Every now and then, people will say the right thing in an impossible situation.  Most of the time, people stumble over their words.  Or use words they know won’t help but are most commonly called upon when one must acknowledge an unfortunate turn of events.    
“I’m sorry,” or “How can I help?” or some other grouping of words that can, in no way, ease the pain or express the depths of our feelings. 
When I was 20, I had my tonsils removed.  I had been sick for a year, and finally the decision was made.  A tonsillectomy on a child is a day or two of being down, but on a 20 year old, with no complications, we were told two weeks.  I laid on my mother’s couch for a week.  Unexpectedly, my Daddy showed up.  He sat in the uncomfortable rocking chair next to the couch as I tried to be polite.  I guess I fell back asleep.  For the next week, my mother either was out or retreated to her bedroom - to give us space I guess. My Daddy rotated between the uncomfortable rocker or under my feet at the end of the couch for the entire week.  
And here’s the catch:  I don’t remember him saying ten words the entire week.  He would show up, ask how I was doing that day and if I needed anything. I never needed anything because my mother was doing all that work. Instead of leaving, he would then read, or watch TV, or nap, or just sit.  All day.  Every day.  Sometime in the afternoon, he would kiss me goodbye, and tell me he would see me in the morning.  
Then I started watching him.  He is not a touchy-feely man or very expressive.  He avoids conflict, probably because he doesn’t have much patience and can be short tempered.  But the way he can sit in silence is an extraordinary gift.  He holds pain for people, if only for short periods of time.  He can sit with the sick or the elderly, and click on a baseball game, and say, “I’ll bet you five bucks the Braves win.”  Even though I would bet he has never watched a complete game in his life, being that watching sports bores him.  In turning on that game and sitting there, he is taking the cancer away or lessening the loss of a loved one for just an afternoon.  He allows people to retreat to a happier place ever so briefly.  He has the rare ability to just BE with them. Few or no words are spoken. 
In the last months of my father’s father’s life, the Alzheimers had made my grandfather paranoid and anxious.  My Daddy drove the hour to his parents house several days a week to do his thing - just be with them. I was with him once and I was sitting in my grandparents now quiet living room with my Daddy and my grandmother and my grandfather.  My grandfather was upset about the kids hiding in the trees in the front yard.  My grandmother kept admonishing him that there were no kids out there.  The kids had been gone for years.  I was in silent shock at seeing this person who used to be my grandfather act like this.  This was the conversation for an indeterminable amount of time.  My Daddy wasn’t saying anything.  He was reading a paper or something regular that shouldn’t have been happening because we should have been trying to do something for my grandparents, something to help both of them.  
Finally, my Daddy got up, folded the paper, and walked outside without saying a word. “What the fuck?” was all my 20 something brain could come up with. “Don’t leave me here with them like this.  I am scared.”  But I was still frozen solid, words failing me.  
So I sat in the living room listening to my grandfather worry about the imaginary kids safety or learning that these kids were scoping out his house to rob him blind in the night. I listened to my grandmother tell him there were no kids - sometimes gently and lovingly, other times exhausted and exasperated. This is how it was with him - we had to tell him things over and over and over. I might as well have not been there - words were failing me.  I didn’t know what to say or do. 
After awhile, my Daddy came back inside.  He told my grandfather that he had talked to the kids and the kid’s parents.  Everything was ok.  They were just playing and there to keep them company.  My grandmother and I just watched in awe as my grandfather finally starting settling down.  
I was so ready to blow out of there at that point.  I was exhausted, frightened and needed to go.  
But my Daddy picked up his book and settled in on the couch, saying nothing. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Take Back My Family - Spring Update

Last summer, I decided to Take Back My Family.  I had an aha moment and decided to make grand, sweeping changes.  We went gung-ho with the changes in the fall.  We cut back on kids activities and many social engagements.  
Those were the biggest things.  We were so tired.  And those big changes enabled us to indulge in things like...washing clothes, cleaning our house, going on date nights.  
Our kids were not as excited about our efforts, and staying home to wash clothes and clean house wasn’t exactly an easy sell.  
Articulating some of our changes is difficult.  Yes, they helped more with the housework.  They took on new responsibilities.  Helping with laundry, cleaning, cooking, and yard work was not something they bragged about to their friends. Taking responsibility for things at home also helped them take responsibility for things at school.  My ADHD son almost always completes his homework and turns it in without reminders, and that wasn’t even one of our goals.  We were only hoping he would get it done, expecting to offer huge support and reminders for him. Just recently, my eleven year old daughter prepared breakfast for our family of five all by herself -- perfectly scrambled eggs, baked cinnamon rolls, and cut up fruit.  We were shuffling them through their activities, then shuffling them at home - eat, bathe, homework, sleep.  They had no sense of personal or family responsibility.  They wanted it more than they knew, even though they couldn’t articulate it. 
They also had more time to play with friends.  We had their friends over most weekends last fall.  We had bonfires most weekends.  They were so dirty.  And tired.  But it was a different kind of tired.  They were not exhausted from constant running.  They were tired from fresh air and playing.  
Another unexpected change is all the talking.  We talk all the time.  ALL.  THE.  TIME.  We talk about friends and social issues at school.  We talk about books and the news.  We talk about ethical dilemmas. We talk about making problems smaller, not bigger. We talk about music, videos, sports, how shells are made.....we have so much more time to talk. 
We eat better.  We eat out more than I’d like.  My younger kids will eat almost any plain vegetable I put in front of them.  For example, broccoli or asparagus or artichokes or brussel sprouts or salad, as long as they aren’t mixed together or, God forbid, have any sort of sauce or dressing.  My older daughter is grumpy if there isn’t a healthy option - like if I order a pizza without a salad.  They will only drink smoothies at home now because I don’t add sugar and now they don’t like the taste of commercial sugar laden smoothies.  Their foods of choice are still chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, pizza, and white pasta though. 

I learned to ask for help.  My husband travels most weeks and I am not working now, so I was everything - mother, chef, tutor, Boy Scout troop leader, Girl Scout troop leader, maid, shopper, costume maker, doctor, nurse.....etc.  I was doing a poor job at everything.  I asked him for help.  And he helped! We are working together now on many things.  
We did not do many of the changes I wanted to do.  We didn’t take weekends away as I wanted.  We didn’t do family yoga.  Our house is still rarely clean, although it is better.  We are still busy with many activities.  We did not drop off the grid completely.  I am still not able to rejoin many of the evening activities that I used to enjoy for myself - book clubs, nights out with friends, service projects - because of the unique learning needs of my kids, and they need me at night.  I have started going out with friends on some weekends and leaving the kids home with Steve.  He enjoys being home after traveling so much during the week and I like getting out.  Win-win. 
It isn’t perfect.  It never will be.  But it is better.  Way better.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Only a Desire for Connection

Lindsey and Bruce posted on introversion.  I celebrate their writings and am thankful to know myself a little bit better today than I did yesterday. 
I am never able to explain most of my inner workings to anyone, including my husband and even myself.  But I can feel these fissures. And I know them viscerally if not intellectually. 
I can not explain to my daughter why watching the Kardashians is such a waste of time.  I can not put into words why I can not stand to watch things like this, or Real Housewives.  When I tell her that I didn’t even watch this crap when I was her age, she responded with “of course you didn’t.” I heard only the words.  I absolutely did not hear, “Please don’t remind me of the embarrassment that I don’t have a mother who is not cool ANYMORE, but I have a mother who never, ever experienced being cool.” 
I have never been able to talk pop culture. I don’t know the names of actors and their movies and their boyfriends of the day.  I don’t know the right brands of clothes or shoes or make up to purchase. When conversation turns to this, I am quiet.  Not only am I bored, but I feel so uncool.  And then I shame myself and ask why I can’t know this stuff.  For God’s sake, it isn’t rocket science.  
Now, I also can’t talk on the other extreme.  I can’t pull poets names out of the air or stream endlessly about philosophers or ancient Greek or polymers or symbiotic relationships.  (It was a stretch just to come up with these words). Or rocket science. 
There are other conversations that are hard for me.  Sports.  I know about the NCAA Basketball tournament in March.  My husband’s family does a pool so I play.  I usually come in dead last.  I pick my teams by where I would most like to visit.  Or places I have been.  I always forget if the New York Giants are a football team or baseball.  I don’t know the difference between an umpire or a referee.  
I also generally don’t talk politics.  I can almost always see both (or several) sides and can be swayed easily.  I don’t trust much of it, and I find that when people want to talk politics, they just want to thrust their beliefs on you, making for a shallow one sided conversation. 
Recently at a cocktail party, I was talking to someone about the lost art of diagramming sentences, and how kids aren’t able to understand how words work together anymore.   How the relationship between a verb and an adverb and a noun and an adjective help make cohesive sentences so that one can better understand and articulate their thoughts and beliefs. 
My friend put her hand on my wrist and looked me in the eye and said, “This is boring me.  I need to get a drink.” 
I laughed because it was funny, and of course I understood this was not an exciting topic to most people.  I did not stand there alone and beat myself up saying, “Why? Why? Why do I do this?”   
What I didn’t do was consider this interaction from an introvert’s point of view. One of the comments on Lindsey’s post declared, “I love being able to connect with others, but not on a superficial level.” 
I don’t remember what led to my diatribe on the structure of sentences, but there was some connection.  It didn’t start with someone saying, “Hey, can you believe that housewife from New York just paid $5,000 for hair extensions?” Even if I don’t like it or am uninterested, I do have enough social skills and awareness not to respond to that remarkable insight by proclaiming the benefits of knowing adverbs intimately. 
Perhaps the conversation was concerning a current 5th grade project or someone said their senior was having a hard time completing his essay for a college entrance application.  I was simply enjoying the people, and making a connection about something that creates passion within me. 
Is wanting to connect on a deeper level solely the domain of the introverted? I doubt it. And I’m not even convinced talking about sentence structure isn’t just a different part of the shallow end.  Just a less crowded part of the shallow end perhaps. 
Being overwhelmed and overstimulated by too many ideas and too many people is most definitely the familiar terroir of my internal landscape.  
I like parties and gatherings and connecting with others.  Often, the anxiety that I feel ahead of time is never felt at the actual event.  But sometimes it is. 
And on those nights, I just excuse myself early, go home and curl up in my bed with Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Cleaning and Fairies

We were spring cleaning over the kids second week of spring break. Spring cleaning like we have never done. My youngest daughter is six and I finally was able to give away their little tunnels they used to crawl through and their toddler rocking chair (although not without tears rolling down my face as I cleaned and dusted it for its new owner.)
The only way I can clean like this is to enter a zone, a zone where all I do is focus on the project, fast and furious.  I try my best not to feel anything or take walks down memory lane.  I become as close to a robot as humanly possible. In the middle of my zone, loading pages of artwork into the recycle bin without focusing on the fact that I will NEVER get little art like this again, my 11 year old daughter, who is closer to 12 now, comes in my room with a stack of papers she is ready to toss. 
“Mom, I need to know, once and for all, are fairies real?” 
Out of my zone, thrust back to my life, instantly, unexpectedly, and nowhere to go.  With my hands in the cookie jar, my jaw hit the floor, and I was, maybe for the first time, speechless. 
She was holding all the letters that her own fairy, Fiona, had been writing to her for years.  
With a rare exception, I have hated Fiona all these years. I hated having to be Fiona. When Chloe was in Kindergarden, some evil mother had written to her daughter one night claiming to be a fairy, her own special fairy. In all fairness, I doubt this mother knew how her spark would burden me for years.  But many nights, wiped out from the exhaustion of three young kids, I had to remember to sneak in and write made up stories from Fiona.  I also had to learn how to make fairy dust, and come up with reasons why she didn’t come every night, or why she couldn’t be photographed. 
I now understand these white collar criminals who are finally caught and exposed when they say it all started with just a little shifting of money, and eventually morphed into them stealing billions.  I have experienced the slippery slope. 
Why would another kid get a special fairy and my kid didn’t?  How could I explain that to my five year old? From an early age, they always understood that different families have different rules. Why, oh why, couldn’t I apply this concept in the fairy situation? 
Well, clearly, I didn’t think it through. Of course I didn’t.  All the Kindergarden girls had a special fairy, I had a three year old son, and a year old baby, and a husband that traveled all week.  If I tell her the fairy notes were written by the girls‘ mothers, the other mothers would hate me and then she might figure out the easter bunny, tooth fairy, and Santa Claus were all made up, and holidays would be ruined and their childhood destroyed. So, I scribbled a note after emptying the diaper genie and here I am right where I deserve to be. After years of lying to my daughter, impersonating some invented fairy, in the middle of my almost impossible zone of cleaning, with my jaw on the floor while my daughter grasps all the letters and demands the truth. Now. 
After the initial shock, I did what any self respecting mother who has pretended to be a fairy in our woods for years would do.  I told her if she ripped up those letters and threw them away, that Fiona would be in great danger.  The bad gremlins would know immediately and go after Fiona first and then the rest of the fairies.  All of the fairies would turn on Fiona and she would be cast from the forest and be a  homeless fairy and  spend the rest of her life searching for a place she could call home. 
I didn’t really do that, but in that instant, I thought about it.  I asked if we could talk about it later, and she said there was nothing to talk about.  DID YOU, OR DID YOU NOT, WRITE THESE LETTERS? 
I got my angry voice on and said we needed to table it for later. I instructed her to keep the letters.  
For the letters are magical and not only contain history and knowledge, but  special powers that reveal themselves only when the time is right.