World Peace Starts With a Clean House

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com. I know, shocker it's not from my house.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com. I know, shocker it’s not from my house.

I’ve discovered that the secret to making this world a better place is to teach our kids to clean the house. Seriously. I don’t know about your kids, but mine are the laziest bums on earth. I try really hard to make them accountable for their actions. I refuse to pick up after them. If you put something down, please pick it up. Or better yet, put it away where it belongs in the first place. I know, I’m a dictator.

For example, take wet bath towels. Hang it up after use. If you choose to place it on the floor, pick it up and then hang it up. Or library books. After reading one, place it on the table. If you choose to place it on the couch or floor, pick it up and put it on the table. Or dishes. When finished with a meal, take the dishes to the sink, and after rinsing, place them in the dishwasher. Or shoes. Upon removing the shoes from your feet, do not leave them on the stairs or in the middle of the hallway. I think you get the general idea. It’s not a difficult concept really. Unless you’re my children.

I’m not sure why though. These have been the standard operating procedures since they were conceived. It’s not like I changed the rules and notified them through memos. It’s not like I didn’t offer trainings in these tasks. So I get a little irritated with them when the house is a mess and household objects are strewn about haphazardly.

I used to nag and bark and yell. Until one day I just had it. I sat down and finally shared with them my confusion in this matter. How? How is it possible that we still live like heathens? How is it possible that when I point out the living room is a mess, all I get back is a lot of indignant arguing? “It’s not mine!” “”It’s not my fault!” “I cleaned it up last time, it’s her turn!”

I asked them to listen to themselves. I asked why they’re wasting time and energy in assigning blame. I asked how this strategy is getting them closer to a solution. I asked how many times do we have to repeat this scenario a day, every day. And it suddenly hit me. This, right here, in my dirty house, is the root of our problems in the world.

I remind them of the recent news stories we’ve talked about–riots, the Confederate flag, race relations and systemic and societal issues that have created the current state of our union. I remind them that we personally had nothing to do with this country’s history of slavery, we personally had nothing to do with criminal justice biases in this country, we personally had nothing to do with the lack of education and economic opportunities in certain parts of this country. However, it is our responsibility to do what we can to rectify these issues. It’s not enough to simply say “Not me. I didn’t do it. It was like this when I got here.” It’s not enough to blame those who had an impact on these issues, and it’s not enough to say I’m sorry. It is our responsibility, even if it was not our fault, to make things right. We must all work together for a common goal. We must believe we are all on the same team.

I remind them global warming and the impact of pollution on our climate and planet is larger than the three of us and certainly started well before the three of us were born. But it’s our responsibility to do something about it now. Go green, reduce our carbon footprint, support systems that are economically responsible and innovative, pick up litter. Any and all of that. Work together. Cooperate. Stop blaming. Take action to make it right.

I tell them I shouldn’t even have to tell them to pick things up. I tell them they should know not to walk over toys on the ground or granola bar wrappers on the trail. If you see something, pick it up, even if it’s not yours. If you see something in this world, do something about it. An injustice, a waste, an underdog, a bully, a sorrow. If you see someone who needs help or a wrong that needs to be righted, it is your responsibility to do something about it. We are all on the same team. Even if you had nothing to do with the problem, it is your responsibility to be part of the solution.

Can’t we all just help each other, take care of each other? If you pick up your sister’s clothes, at some point she’ll pick up your toys. In the end, it all evens out if we choose to take care of each other. If we stop blaming. If we each just did the next right thing. Because if you’re modeling behavior, others will parrot said behavior. Because kindness is contagious, and if you do me a favor, chances are good I’ll do you a favor.

If we each adopted this attitude, the world would be a better place. And cleaner. I’ll be honest though, I have higher hopes for strides in social justice before a getting a clean house.

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sisters

sisters

Siblings. They’re hard. They’re good. They’re complicated. They’re everything in between. Jeffery Kluger speaks to this eloquently and in depth in The Sibling Effect. The relationships we have with our siblings are unlike any other. How they know us and what they mean to us are not concepts anyone else in the world will ever know. For these reasons and more, they’re irreplaceable and complex and intense. Being, having, losing a sibling is good and bad and ugly and hard and easy and close and strained.

My parents always hoped their three daughters would have close relationships. My two sisters and I have close relationships. Just not with each other. My older sister is five years older than me, and my younger one is three years younger than me. My younger sister and I were closer as small children simply because the gap was smaller and we overlapped in schools and developmental stages somewhat. My older sister saw us as dolls or pests. As small children we all got along well enough. As we each entered pre-adolescence and began to form our own identities however, it quickly became clear that we were each wired very differently.

To this day, we each proclaim that we are nothing like the other, yet when people meet the three of us together, they remark how similar we are. I do know we each have very different priorities, values, outlooks, and interests in life. I do know my sisters do not understand me, and so find it difficult to have a relationship with me because they don’t really know me or know what to do with me. I do know I do understand my sisters, and so have judged them for their flaws and failings, making it difficult to have a relationship with them.

I do know every family has their dynamics and each person holds a role within the family. The enabler, the scapegoat, the overachiever, the splitter, the peacemaker. We have our own family dynamics, but we all love each other fiercely even when we don’t like each other. There is never a doubt that no matter how uninvolved we are in each other’s lives, that if one of us is in crisis, we all scramble to protect and save and aid.

This wasn’t enough for my parents. They are grateful we love each other, but they wanted us to like each other too. The three of us have always known this. Most of the time when we get together for holidays, we get along well enough. By most of the time, I mean about half the time–it’s honestly a crap shoot. But even when we “get along,” the cracks start to show and the jabs and snarky remarks and eye rolls start to slip out.

This started to change about a year ago. My mother has not been in good health for several years now, and her health continues to decline with each new infection and hospital admission and oxygen tank. My father has gotten older and shakier and so very tired as each day passes. We are reminded of their mortality every day. Something about this has shaken some sense into the three of us. At different times through the years, one or two of the three of us would make attempts at strengthening our relationship. But something finally aligned for the three of us last year. Not a word was spoken, but the air between us changed, and all three of us began to make an effort at the same time.

At first, our attempts were tentative and clumsy and unsure. By Christmas, it was genuinely nice to be around each other and we enjoyed each other. This summer, my children will spend a week with my older sister and her family. We’re not best friends, but we’re really getting along now. We’re trying to live the idea that it’s better to be kind than right. It’s not all smiles and roses. We are still the same people, after all.

No, wait. I’m not. I don’t know about them, but I know I’m not. I know I’ve finally (mostly) (OK, sometimes) let go of my old script and expectations of them, and how they should be, and how I wished our relationship were different. I’ve learned to be the kind of person I want to be instead of hoping they would be a different kind of person. How? Not having all the time in the world helps. Knowing we’re all dying and that our family constellation will be changing in the inevitable future helps with motivation. I don’t want to be left wishing things had been different when I control if things are different now. And by “things,” I mean my experience of them, which is all I can control.

Their snarks and comments and actions–they could be so hurtful and alienating and critical and mean and callous and judgmental. I see now they were ironically just trying to connect with me the only way they knew how. So now I try to smile and thank them for the gift of themselves. Before, when I’d confront “bad” or “inappropriate” behavior or musings, I was rejecting what they were offering me, which is themselves. If these were tangible gifts I would never dare criticize it and throw it away in front of the giver. I may have no use for the gift, nor like it, so I simply won’t use it when they leave. But I hold it gently for a while before putting it down. Not every gift is to our liking.

I choose to let the words and actions be what they are in that moment. I’ve ceased hoping or expecting the people and the words and the actions to be different. I accept them, and I accept their gifts of themselves. In doing so, I connect with them.

I’ve found that this initial connection is warm and contagious, and encourages them to connect as well, so that we try to handle each other with kindness and gentle unconditional acceptance. We laugh instead of sigh, and tease with eye rolls instead of stare with daggers. We breathe more than we snark. Not all the time, but we’re practicing. I’m grateful we have a little bit of time to practice. Mom would be proud.

Posted in Mindfulness, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

What To Expect When Hitting Puberty

2015-06-29 23.42.26

News Flash! The Boy has officially embarked on his journey into the world as an individual human being. Before this, he certainly had his own mind and personality and wants and quirks and individuality. But he was, at the core, primarily a son and brother, guided and influenced by well, me. Last year his first pimple arrived with little fanfare on his chin. But I knew. I knew my days were numbered. My days in the role I played as the mother of a sweet little boy were coming to an end.

Of course I’ll always be his mother and be an influence, but it’s different now. My motherhood has shifted. He’s punched his ticket on the Individuation Train. It is clear he hit puberty. He even announced it one day after sex ed class. He said his teacher told him certain things would happen. And they happened. I’ll spare the Boy any embarrassment and won’t divulge details.

And oh, the embarrassment–that was actually a first sign of this new developmental phase. He became painfully embarrassed, as opposed to the run-of-the-mill embarrassment of “You’re my mother…Oh God…” Now, it’s “Don’t talk about me, post about me, take pictures of me, acknowledge me pleasepleasepleaseplease.” I tell him he’s not the boss of me and I’ll brag about him, complain about him, or embarrass him in any way I see fit. Because I’m a mature adult, you know.

Then he started spending more time in his room alone with the door closed. He was still just reading or playing with his toys, but he needed the space and barrier. He needed the privacy. Privacy for what? Nothing new. But he simply needed privacy. These signs heralded the coming day, and oh I knew this day would come.

And it did. Last week. We spent a wonderful vacation down the shore. One day, he learned to surf. He played in the ocean and on the beach the entire day. We spent the evening walking up and down the boardwalk with a friend. He didn’t get his ice cream for the night though, because he refused to change his attitude and yelled disrespectfully at me and his sister several times. His consequence–no ice cream. He wasn’t happy with it, but he was still amiable and enjoyed the night.

Until we got back to our room. There, he lay, covers up to his chin, eyes teary, lips quivering. “What’s wrong?” I ask. He is silent. I ask if it was the ice cream. He says no. I ask if it was the surfing, he says no. I ask a zillion things, and he says no, for the zillionth time. He is irritated at me. I am worried about him. About us.

Since when did he stop talking to me? I can’t lose him now! His teen years are coming! I need an open dialogue with him! Ack! We talked a little about that. He understands we have a close relationship, and he wants it to remain so as well. But he didn’t know what was bothering him. It’s not that he didn’t want to tell me. He couldn’t.

He said he wasn’t sad, angry, confused, or frustrated. He said he didn’t have the words for it. But it was something. He just didn’t know what it was, or what to say, or how to say it. And his wet eyes, they looked so sad, so confused, so…I can’t put words to it.

He didn’t know what to make of that moment, of how he was feeling. He didn’t even know what he was thinking. He just was. And that “was” was not positive.

And it is in that moment, looking in those eyes, that I knew. The day had arrived. Our relationship changed in that one moment. Where I let the strings loose a bit more. Where he faces his demons and the world in a different way. I am still by his side, but in a different way. His issues were no longer as concrete as wanting a toy, being hungry for food, feeling somebody was unfair. His issues are becoming more abstract now. He’s getting a case of the feels. And his mother is no longer someone who can or ought to help him through such feels.

It is in that moment that I knew my role as his mother had changed. There will be times I will be more protective, there will be times I allow him to make his own mistakes, there will be times of snuggles and giggles, there will be times of mutual eye rolls and sighs. Those things in themselves will not change. But the quality of our relationship has changed. Because he has changed.

That moment, he began to feel feelings he hadn’t known before. That moment, he became someone he was not before. That confused him, likely scared him. He still has mostly silly little boy moments. But those will dwindle through the years. The next few years will bring many moments of confusion and intense feelings as he grows into the young man his physical body has already prepared for his brain and psyche.

I’m left looking at him with a mix of pride and sadness. How he is changing, how our relationship is changing, and I don’t have words for it. But it leaves me with wet eyes and quivering lips as well.

Posted in Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Like It. Or Not.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com under Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com under Creative Commons

I am full of gratitude for having attended easily the best wedding ever over the weekend. Knowing the bride, I knew it would be fun. But this was truly a magical evening, aside from the love and joy of the nuptials. I had been looking forward to this event because I knew the bride’s friends were very diverse in personalities, backgrounds, and perspectives. I knew there would be a lot of interesting people there.

Turns out they are really kind and genuine people as well. It was a wonderful evening of getting to know new friends and revel in the celebrations. I also finally met the bride’s mother. I have admired this woman from afar for years now. From the stories I heard, and knowing the bride as an upstanding, kind, amazing woman, I knew her mother was strong, smart, kind, and wise.

I think we all know families with mothers like her. She’s the one who leads gently, firmly, kindly. She raises kind children who work hard and make a difference in the world. She creates a happy and joyful family unit. These are the families you want to be a part of, the families you spend a lot of afternoons and weekends with. These are the families who welcome everyone with open arms, the families that exude warmth and acceptance. These are the mothers you consider to be a second mother. The bride’s mother is one of these.

This family is a tight-knit family with the usual sibling rivalries, misunderstandings, power struggles, and tragedies. But this family also stays connected both despite, and in the face of, all of life’s struggles. This mother has shepherded several children, grandchildren, and her own mother and husband through highs and lows, times of uncertainty and times of celebration, and tears of despair and tears of joy. She has done this all with her head held high, a remarkably positive attitude, and a peaceful grace that comes from within.

I was thrilled to finally meet her. We exchanged pleasantries and genuine appreciation for finally meeting in person. The we chatted briefly about our children, and raising children. She said, “You should always like your kids. Always.”

I laughed and said, “I love my kids always, but I don’t always like them.” In her firm, kind grace, she said, “No. You need to always like them, even when they’re unlikable. Through all their stages, adolescence, everything. You need to always like them.”

She wasn’t judging, she wasn’t challenging me, she wasn’t telling me what to do. She was offering me something, but I didn’t know what it was yet. So I told her OK, I’d need to sit with this for a bit. Because I’ve always thought it’s OK to love someone while not liking him/her or his/her behaviors. I try to teach my children that it’s OK to have ambivalent or conflicting feelings.

So here’s the thing. I think she’s right. This is about unconditional loving kindness. This is about offering love and kindness not in the expectation or exchange of mutual feelings or positive outcomes. This is about being love. Simply being love. When kids don’t feel unconditional loving kindness from a parent, they don’t know how to give unconditional loving kindness. They grow up learning to love conditionally. They grow up learning some people and some behaviors deserve love, they grow up loving and expecting likewise in return. This is nice, but it’s not kind. It’s not simply being love.

And kids can feel it, when you don’t like them because they’re acting in unlikable ways. They’re testing us. Will you still have my back even when I don’t deserve it? Can I come back to you when I’ve fucked up? Will you judge or condemn me? I see now the underlying love isn’t enough. There must be the clear message that you’re not there to judge worthiness. There must be the clear message that the behavior may not be appropriate or acceptable, but that you hold space for them in their messiest times. There must be the clear message that you like and love every part of who they are, the messy parts that make you cringe, as well as the appropriate parts that make you proud.

When I’m acting in unlikable ways, it’s usually because I’m wounded or sad or hurt or angry or frustrated. It’s in these moments I most need a hug, a smile, a caress, and space to just be. I’m reminded people who are most unkind to us are the ones who need our kindness the most. It is in this space of acceptance that invites and allows the unlikable to transform.

See, I used to view acceptance as mere tolerance. I see now it’s more than that. It’s love. It’s being love, and thus inviting the unlikable to transform into like and love as well. Tolerance is saying, “Oh look at that. Good for you, but not for me. I’ll take a pass, you can go on your merry way now.”

I see now acceptance is an invitation, “Well hello. Please, come in. Ah, I see it is good for you, and not for me. And it would be lovely for you to stay a while, or leave when you’re ready, either way. But no rush, your company is welcome as long as you wish to stay. May I offer you a snack in the meantime?” Because really, who doesn’t like empathy served with a side of a fun snack?

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Sleep On It

20150604_213715

Recently I’ve been jonesing to get back up on the flying trapeze. How bad could it be, if I just go one more time again? Today I’m reminded why I shouldn’t. Because I still suffer the effects of the head injury from falling head-first from the trapeze over two years ago. Last night I spent the night in a lab for a sleep study. It wasn’t the 20 sensors they gooped onto my scalp that was so uncomfortable, but the plastic they shoved up my nose.

Then they woke me up after eight hours of sleep. I thought this was a sleep center?! They’re keeping me today until 6:30pm so that I can take naps every two hours. I thought this was heaven! Until these assholes keep waking me up after 20 minutes.

Because my short term memory is still shot, I had forgotten why I had to endure these daytime nap tests. I asked, and they reminded me that sometimes you can get narcolepsy from a head injury. Awesome, I tell my friend. How fun would that be if I had narcolepsy? She asks, Um, seriously?

No of course not. I’m just trying to be optimistic. And now I need to be realistic–no more trapeze for me. Just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I should. I am reminded I lack the moderation gene, and I have a slight impulse control problem. It might be fun and make me feel good in the moment, but it may not be in my best interest.

I’m reminded of this now, as I’ve been torn and ambivalent over what to do about a particular relationship issue. I know what I want, I know what feels good right now; but I also know what is good for me, and what is in my best interest overall. And they’re not the same. As is often the case in life.

Most of the time I love getting older. I love the feelings I’ve felt through the years that I never even knew existed. I love having met all the people in my life. I love seeing so many places on this earth. I love having lived through experiences I could never have imagined. I even love my mostly-salt-and-little-pepper hair. I love getting older. Except when it’s not so fun to act maturely.

I think my angst comes mostly from trying to fight accepting the mature and sensible decision. It’s not the decision itself that is most distressing. Sad, yes. But it’s the desire to override making the next right decision that has me worked up. And now that I’ve realized that, I’m at peace with the sensible decision. Well, I’m glad I was able to sleep on it and gain clarity.

Posted in Health Issues, Mindfulness | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Blame Game

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mollerus via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mollerus via Creative Commons

My children, bless their hearts, drive me insane sometimes. And by “sometimes,” I mean daily. They either love each other or hate each other. And by “hate each other,” I mean attempted homicide. They play lovingly and giggle sweetly with each other. Until they don’t. It’s at this point that they begin the snippy attitudes, whiny voices and screaming. And it’s at this point that my brain begins to bleed out of my ears.

When they were much younger, I used to try to mitigate the issue at hand. Look at the content of the disagreement, and try to find the truth that could set them both free from their locked heads and horns. As they got older, I told them they needed to figure it out between themselves. I reminded them this is a No-Tattle Zone, and they needed to be kind and respectful to each other. I reminded them to pick their battles. I reminded them they each have the power to walk away; that they each had the power to choose to set down the barbs and jabs thrust at him or her, or to choose to personalize it.

Sure, these tactics would help sometimes to minimize the duration or intensity of the argument. But by then, my brain would be oozing out of my ears yet once again. I’m surprised I have any brain left between the kids and my head injury. The second they lock horns and start to argue, my blood pressure rises and my soul seizes up momentarily. I don’t know about you, but I really cannot stand the whining and yelling. I needed to figure something else out.

Honestly I ran out of ideas, so I just breathe deeply often. I happen to breathe better when I lock myself in a room away from them. I have no idea if it helps the kids at all, but I know it helps me from screaming. It’s in this moment of taking a step back and hearing the back and forth between the two that it hit me.

They’re locked in a battle of blaming each other. It doesn’t matter what the issue at hand is. She didn’t take out the trash last time. He didn’t move out of the way when she asked. She takes his books without asking. He misplaced her bag. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is someone feels slighted or not validated. Someone feels something isn’t fair. Someone feels like they didn’t get the help or answer they deserved to get. They get stuck on blaming the other. You wronged me…

I point this out to them now, and urge them to not get mired in blame. But instead understand there’s an answer or solution that’s lacking. And seek a constructive solution instead. To critically think instead of critically blame. There’s a need looking to be met. How can we make that happen?

Whose fault it is doesn’t matter half as much as how to resolve the current impasse. But it’s not just my children who fall into this pattern. Spouses do, world leaders do, mothers with irresponsible children do. We all do it.

It may make you feel better, vindicated, justified. But I remind them it’s better to be kind than right. And it’s better to have a solution than nothing to hold on to other than icy stares and accusations and a feeling of being gypped.

You can’t do much with icy stares. Your lot in life doesn’t improve a bit after trading mean words. Act like a victim, and you’ll be treated like a victim. Act like a problem solver, and the issue at hand will be resolved.

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Truth of Divorce

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Image courtesy of pixabay.com

“Why did you and Daddy get divorced?” the Boy asked me about a month ago. Good question, I said. I told him I don’t know how to answer that right now in a way he can understand. But that I’d give it some thought and will get back to him on it. I promised I would eventually answer him. I asked him why he asked. He voiced some frustrations he felt about his father, and asked me if those were some of the reasons we got divorced.

That kid has some sort of Spidey sense. He just knows certain things. But see, I think we all know certain things, we feel them, our guts nudge us. I think as we age, we aren’t as connected to our gut feelings as much, as society tells us what’s expected, as responsibilities mount, as we mature. He knows something, he just doesn’t know what. I don’t want to lie to my kids. I also don’t want to overshare with them.

I had no idea what to disclose to them. A friend pointed out that my son’s relationship with his father is different than my relationship with their father, and that even if some of the frustrations are the same, it’s also different. I understood what she was saying. But I still didn’t know what to tell the kids.

Until today, when my gut, my Spidey sense, told me there’s a difference, and yet there’s not. So this is what I’ll tell my son. I will tell him that this is the only father he’ll ever have. I will tell him I will always encourage him to have a relationship with his father, and I will always support him in trying to have a positive relationship with his father. I will tell him that yes, many of the issues he’s identified about his father were indeed issues for me in my marriage. But that my relationship is different than the relationship he has with his father.

And this is what I’ll tell him. That sometimes relationships and good intentions don’t work out, despite trying really hard and hoping for the best. I will tell him that there’s a lot of reasons people break up, and that it’s never just one thing, or one person’s responsibility. And that each person in the couple will have different answers to this, especially as time passes.

I will tell him that the issues he’s identified about his father as frustrating, were in fact things I too had noticed. And some of those were frustrating to me as well. I will tell him that I made a decision after years of trying to ignore my gut, to instead change the relationship I have with their father. That I had to decide I was no longer able to or willing to remain in the same dynamics with him. We tried to change the dynamics by ourselves. We tried to change the dynamics with therapy. The dynamics and conditions of our marriage were no longer dynamics or conditions I was willing to live with anymore. So I divorced him and changed my relationship and dynamics with him, as I cannot sever my relationship to him.

I will tell him it was heartbreaking to decide that. I will tell him it was the hardest decision of my life. I will tell him that when he asks his father why we divorced, that his answer will likely be very different. But I will tell him this is my truth.

I will tell my son that he needs to write his own truth. That he can never sever the relationship of father and son. But that he can, throughout all the years of his life, decide what dynamics and conditions he is willing to tolerate with his father. That he can decide to honor his feelings in respectful ways with his father. I will tell him we all decide how much trust and value and expectations we place in all of our relationships–with friends, with family, with colleagues. I will tell him relationships come in all levels and types. I will tell him he will need to sort out what his gut tells him so he can write his own truth. I will tell him he may not know what that truth is today. I will tell him that his truth will change as the days pass into years.

I have learned to know when today is not the day to know something or to do something. And to be patient and wait in that unknown. And sure enough, one day, one moment, if I’m patient enough, I know. I will tell him today is not the day to know his truth of his relationship with his father, and he will know when it is.

Posted in Empowerment, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships | Tagged , , | 5 Comments