My son’s age is a constant reminder of how long I’ve been without my sister, Cristi. This year, he turned ten. This year is the tenth year of her not being here. This day is the tenth year of her not being there, though we found out ten years ago tomorrow.
Every time I think about this, I think about an image of a 29-year-old woman on the brink of blowing up her career (for good), touching all the lives of the students she worked with, and the laughter she brought to my family. Forever frozen in time, and now we only have her memory to hang on to.
We are back, traveling again, celebrating family, sites, and death. Two of the deaths we are going to celebrate are the lives of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother, and grandfather. We will have a memorial around the family farm, celebrating their lives, their legacy. At the same time, our immediate family will hold tight to the memory of our sister, daughter, friend, who died ten years ago, much too soon.
In the midst of this intimate memorial will be nearly 4 generations of people. People who wouldn’t be here or have come together without my grandparents. And, then, of course, there will be the people who couldn’t make it. Maybe it was money or time, or in the case of Cristi, maybe it was because a life was taken too soon. We will celebrate. We may cry. We will share stories. We will laugh.
Then, we will depart and go back to our regularly scheduled lives. Some of our travels will take us to exciting new adventures. Some of our adventures will take us to the normal routines of daily life. Wake up, go to work, go to school, get dressed, eat a meal. We go on living while the dead do what dead people do according to your respective beliefs.
I was raised in the Catholic church. My husband and I are raising our son with Christian (Protestant) – Catholic views. Yet, I hope for an afterlife that is kinder and more loving than that which these religions preach. I dream of an afterlife where our loved ones are walking with us, guiding us, our guardian angels. I dream of an afterlife where we’ve made pacts with each other, and we are each others soul mates. Where we are learning some spiritual lesson, every day, and we have the support of those around us. There is no accident when it comes to where we are.
In this moment, I am writing this at a yummy café near where my mother’s new job is. Near where high school friends are employed and helped me with certain esthetician tasks. Near where I’m meeting another old friend for lunch. Near where I’ll meet up with my family at a beloved fabric store (that happens to be having a tent sale today). None of these things happened the way I envisioned. And, it’s all working out perfectly. I will take this sign on this tenth anniversary of my sister’s death that no matter the heartache we’ve had or is to come, everything is unfolding as it should.
Using oils to help my son isn’t something new. I started applying them on me and Levi as soon as I got my first package.
What is surprising, though, is how often I use them in conjunction with helping him find emotion. He got in trouble, again, at school. Sure, part is the age, but part — why can’t he just remember?
Then, I have to consider. It’s taken me how long to learn to identify and name my emotions? And, he is only eight years old? I must give this young one at least a grain of salt.
This particular week, he had two days in a row where he was disrupting his class in some way. His teacher purposefully addresses the outcome that wasn’t met to incite a conversations with parents or care givers. She marks off the one of four student-learning-expectations that were not followed. Often, though, our darling son “cannot remember” what happened.
Levi has a very distinctive “flight” response when he doesn’t want to talk about a thing. He clams up. He freezes. And, he runs away. Usually, he runs to his room.
As he’s gotten older, Peter and I have gotten more stern about telling him to stop, come to us, and try to talk.
I have tried to articulate emotions – attempting to model by showing him through me, like this action makes me MAD. We sometimes try to name what we think he’s feeling, choosing a few different words to see if we land on something that resonates with him.
This particular time, those strategies weren’t working.
So, I went to my oils and grabbed Balance and Citrus Bliss. I told Levi to take his socks off, and we both sat on the living room floor. I grabbed his feet and I massaged a drop each of the oils on each foot. I talked, specifically, about something other than the bad behavior.
Within a few minutes, he started to open up, and he was able to remember that he talked out of turn in class.
I love this power of touch, this power of aroma, this power of these gifts of the Earth.
Levi participated in his First Communion last Sunday. He has accepted this rite of passage I’ve introduced for him, but he hasn’t had any particular high or low emotion about it. He certainly loves getting dressed up for church, always insisting on wearing his Sunday Best.
So, in many ways, this Sunday was no different. The biggest difference was that this was First Communion, so we had to arrive early for set up and photos.
He was excited when we arrived. Most of his 2nd grade class was also participating in this rite of passage. I had to read, so I had to leave his group 20 minutes before mass started. The typical, “Mommy, don’t go!” commenced. I pealed myself away, and readied myself at the church.
I saw him, and his class, again just before church started. We were all waiting outside, for our cues. Levi asked me to sit with him, and after getting permission from his teacher, we arranged a way for me to join them.
What I hadn’t noticed at the time was the sort of typical emotional roller coaster my son ventures on, daily.
After I was done reading, I joined him in his pew. His behavior wavered from paying attention to mass to small misbehaviors. Small misbehaviors that I worked on correcting. Pay attention to this. Control that. Mind yourself. It’s not time for questions. It’s time to pay attention.
First Communion went without a hitch. Levi couldn’t help but tell me that the wine was less than desirable. The small misbehaviors continued, along with the small corrections. Usually, we don’t allow treats post-Mass when small misbehaviors are so consistent. But, today was special, so full participation in the reception was, in my mind, mandatory.
We walked over, and it was quite full – both First Communion families and regular Mass attendees. So, I found a space next to one of his friends, and pulled up a chair for only Levi at this already crowded table.
One mom invited us to brunch, knowing we didn’t have plans. I made a call to check in with my husband, but there was no answer. I checked in on Levi, and everything was buoyant and fine. Then, I needed to chat with another mom. I was gone, maybe, 45 seconds. When I walked the 20 or 30 feet across the school hall, Levi had leapt from his chair in tears!
I escorted/chased him towards the bathrooms. I wanted to be able to talk to him, privately, without any onlookers. He walked into the men’s bathroom. I scolded him to come out, and we went to the unisex bathroom. Tears, quick breaths, red face. Finally, he says, “She took your seat!”
The best I could decipher was that his friend’s sister took the last remaining seat. A seat that Levi had assigned to me. A seat I never knew was vacant and certainly didn’t assign to me.
We couldn’t even leave because there was always someone else to chat with. Levi only wanted to go home. I told him if we went home, we’d miss brunch.
After two brief chats, both with parents (and principals!) who assured this was a normal phase, we went to the car.
The poor boy was still a mess when we got home. We tried to help him name what he was feeling, offering sad, mad, frustrated, to no avail. We gave the poor boy time outs hoping he’d be able to ponder more, to no avail.
Finally, we settled on making him sit in my husband’s for some parental snuggles while I made frosting, all of us in the kitchen. I also took him aside and rubbed his feet with Citrus Bliss and Balance – the goal to help him be more open to his feelings and even them out. Soon, his mood changed. He was never able to fully tell us what was going on, but he was able to lighten his mood.
We were able to finish the cake, he changed, we lunched, we had cake.
Then, almost two hours later, Levi wanted to know when we were going to brunch. Among other connections we are still working on – cause and effect tops the list. Although we ended in a good mood, the progress always seem slow trying to help him make these emotional connections.
A photographer friend noted how common it was for her women clients to refuse photographs of themselves. They are too ashamed of how they look, so they erase themselves from their children’s lives for shame. What happens is that children, when as adults looking back, children then have no photographic keepsakes of their mothers. Their mothers have been erased from their lives.
I was horrified at the thought of my son looking back when he becomes a young man only to find no pictures of me or his father. Sure, we’re not model beautiful. Yes, we have our own identify issues, but to erase ourselves from our son’s life because of shame of how we look?
I was simply horrified.
Until that day, I had accepted that I needed to be in photographs. But, that need was limited to special occasions. At Levi’s birth. His birthday parties.
When I heard that anecdote years ago, now, I resolved to be in Levi’s photos unashamed.
I have tried to make a routine of taking little selflies whenever Levi and I do something. Maybe we’re getting coffee or playing in a park. Maybe I’ve taken him volunteering or brought him to a social justice something. Maybe we’re with friends.
I also take pictures of Levi and my husband, lest that stage be forgotten.
I always cringe looking at certain pictures. Criticizing myself for my looks. Continuing to be very uncomfortable while trying to be unashamed. I try suppress the shameful thoughts while I embrace the things I love: my son and my husband and the moments we share.
I am my son’s mother. My husband and I are his immediate role models. I want my son to be able to express his emotions. I want him to look back at his childhood with fondness. It takes a sense of courage I never considered.
It takes acceptance of where I am. I cannot figure out how to get more movement into my days. If I can’t get more movement into my days, and I eat a moderately healthy meal, and I know there are obstacles stacked in front of me, then I need to be somewhat okay with what I present.
I am not sharing this to say: do this. Rather, I am sharing this to capture this journey I am on. How I have faced hating how I look, being ashamed, facing the model I am to my son, and trying to assess how I want to show up in life.
I am trying to remember that I like it when I am truly cheerful, despite my (perceived) flaws. I am trying to remember that I like having even emotions so that I can be present to whatever situations arise.
I can’t be present when I am dwelling on things I cannot or am unwilling to change. So, I must face them with owning who I am and being unashamed about that person. I have a story, just like we all have a story. I am living my story, and it is unique to me. It is special for my family to share, and I have to be present for them. And, to be fully present, I will not be ashamed.
I started drying my fork, and then I noticed part of my lunch was clinging, viciously, to the tines. In that moment, I was transported back to when I was a preteen, staying with my uncle and aunt for a month during the summer.
Here, in the present day, the work dishwasher is on the fritz. While we’re waiting for parts to arrive, we now have to wash and put away our own dishes lest the kitchen sanity spiral out of control. A colleague put a few signs up on Monday when they walked into a complete disaster of a kitchen – dishes piled everywhere. We all have important jobs to do, but no one wears the title of janitor or maid, so cleanup really has to happen per your own incidents. I’m reminded of the adage, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean up after your own mess.”
So, I’m scrubbing away at my semi-curry stained lunch (I made cheesy noodles last night for dinner, loaded with turmeric because the family can’t tell the difference, and I think it’s a fun way to sneak in an anti-inflammatory and whatever other great things turmeric does for you). And, I am transported to this warm summer where I was washing dishes with my aunt’s nephew. I suppose that’d make him my cousin once or twice removed (I’m not sure of the count).
My cousin didn’t clean a dish thoroughly. He left a spot. I was trained to return dirty dishes to the washer so they learned how to was dishes properly. And, as I did this, my aunt interjected. She said, “No, not in this house,” and with a flick of her finger, she knocked off the spot, rinsed the dish, and handed it to me for drying.
I think my aunt was trying to teach me about teamwork. Many hands make light work. We all make mistakes, but if we have the organizational goal in mind, we’ll get there. We’ll be kind, rather than right.
So, today is World Kindness Day. How have you contributed to our greater societal good? How were you kind today?
My husband was kind to me. He poured me a big glass of wine. I read Levi three books at bedtime, and he read me one. He read nearly every single word of 8 Silly Monkeys. I offered our back porch for a friend to store some things while she’s getting ready to move.
So, thank you flick of curry for reminding me that it is better to be kind, than to be right, on this World Kindness Day.
We are on tooth three. Levi has, now, lost three teeth. It seems like the first two teeth were over a year ago – but I think it was really just last spring.
I have a problem. That is, I forget to be the tooth fairy. I remember all the way up until bedtime, and then, somehow I forget.
So, we did a few things wrong this time. First, I forgot to be the tooth fairy. Second, I had previously instructed Levi to put the tooth in a bag. I was helping the Tooth Fairy – so she wouldn’t have to dig around under a pillow for the tiniest tooth you have ever seen. Rather, the Tooth Fairy simply has to fumble around for a bag, replace with the agreed upon trade ($1), and be on her merry way.
Levi was so excited about this tooth. In fact, he thought he lost it before he actually did because it was so wiggly, it wiggled to one side of his mouth over another that the gap left was enough for a tooth! It took another week for the tooth to actually leave his mouth, dangling by a thread the whole time. He even pulled it out this time. I did the last one – and that was awful, it made a noise. I think my son is more sensitive in the gums than I was.
Finally, the tooth leaves his mouth. It is a Sunday. he is thrilled to no end. The whole day goes by with references to what might be. He even sneaks it under his pillow before I could prep the whole bag scheme!
And, 9pm rolls around and I get into my nighttime routine. Then I go to bed. Then, I wake up, first with the husband leaving for work, and second with the small boy shrieking in terror, “The Tooth Fairy forgot to come! My tooth is still there!”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Parent fail. Danger, Will Robinson.
“Oh, no,” I reply. “I bet she got really busy. I bet if you put the tooth under your pillow one more night she’ll come back.”
“Okay,” replies my skeptical son.
That night, I forgot again, to instruct him to put the tooth in the bag. But, I had a reminder on my phone. I would not forget! Bedtime comes, and goes. An hour goes by. My alarm goes off. Must be tooth fairy.
I enter his room. The light is low, as we’ve been keeping it on for 6-year-old fears. He is sound asleep. I slowly put my hand under his pillows, there are three. He doesn’t move. He is very sound asleep – out to the world. I pat around under his pillow. I cannot feel the tooth. I pat more, reaching further, towards the wall. I cannot feel the tooth.
I cannot feel the tooth! And, I remember, I didn’t have him put it in a bag! Argh! Night two of this? Seriously?
He has scooted down, so I gently remove a pillow, and another, and another. Pillows strewn about his room, there is still no tooth on his bed! Now, I start to remove covers. I cannot believe he’s not waking up. I still can’t find the tooth!
There is something miraculous about this stage of boy – sound asleep to the world, thankfully not wetting the bed, but awake at 6am, every day. After about 5 minutes of pawing and patting in his room. I give up and devise backup plan. I gently put this pillows back. I gently put the boy back. I gently put the covers over his snuggled body. He stops shivering, and cuddles his rabbit further in the covers.
I tip toe out the room. I go to the back room, grab a sticky, go to the kitchen, nab a pen, grab a plastic bag.
I construct my note.
I know you lost your tooth. But I cannot find it. Here is 50 cents. Please leave your tooth in the bag tonight, and I will come back one more night.
The Tooth Fairy
I sneak back into his room, and I gently push the bag and note and acquired fifty cents under his pillow.
In the morning, the small boy looked under his pillow, but he didn’t understand what he had. I had to explain it to him a few times before he got it. Bottom line, kiddo, the tooth fairy couldn’t find your tooth, BUT, she knew you lost it so she is giving you half the value. Find your tooth, put it back under your pillow (hey, how about in this bag she left?), and then you’ll get a dollar.
I had told him that he needed to find the tooth after school, but how can you do that when that’s the only thing on your mind? So, he found the tooth before school. I still don’t remember where he said it was.
That night, I remind Levi about the instructions. After an entire day has gone by, he unfortunately forgot. So, I had him get the note, and I reread it to him, and I reexplained it to him. He got the gravity of the situation: NO TOOTH, NO CASH. So, together, we put the bag under his pillow, and this time, the retrieval is much easier. I go in his room, with a new note that reads:
Thank you for following my instructions. I am sorry I couldn’t come the first night. Here is your dollar for your tooth.
The Tooth Fairy
P.S. Keep this bag for the next tooth.
The next morning, he forgot to look under his pillow! So, I remind him, and then he’s not excited about the dollar.
Right, the kiddo still doesn’t get money. He still thinks it grows on trees, or at least mommy and daddy. And, we’re trying to incorporate a value of work by charging for odd and regularly needed jobs around the house. But, mommy and daddy aren’t consistent enough for the message to stick.
So, the dollar sits by my bed stand for over a week. Until tonight.
Today is Veteran’s Day, and Levi and I had the day off. So, we had the whole day, together, alone. A few times today, I had Levi demonstrate how wiggly his other front tooth is. I even had him twist it back and forth like a soda can top, loosening it just bit by bit, as much as he could stand.
Until. Until he asked for something more to eat and the brown bananas weren’t good enough. He asksd, then, for an apple. He asked for it to be cut up.
“No. Eat it the way it is,” I demanded.
“Okay,” he agreeably agreed.
So, he sat next to me on the couch. Chomp. Crunch. Chomp. Crunch. Suddenly, he is searching for something. I thought he dropped a piece of apple.
“Mommy! Look! It came out and I didn’t even feel it!”
We had to write two notes to the tooth fairy. It is now 9:00 pm. I am going to wait another 20 or 30 minutes before I go in there to deposit the next dollar. Hopefully it will be more appreciated than the first.
[NOTE: I’m reluctant to post this post. This pontification of how to manage relationships in a day, I fear might come off as manipulative. But, that is not my intent. A friend said to me once that when entering a new workforce, it’s one’s job to figure out how to communicate with all those different personalities. We all need information, so how can we get the information we need to get our jobs done? It’s from that thinking that I write this – we all have ways in which we try to get things done, and I am interested in exploring the strategies behind those ways.]
It’s amazing to me how much strategy goes into doing a thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s parenting, being a wife, a sister, a daughter, a colleague, a boss, a volunteer, a volunteer board member… All roles involve some level of strategy. As an INTJ (Introvert, Intuition, Thinking, Judging), sometimes dubbed “Mastermind”, strategy speaks to me. Regardless, I find it interesting the aresenal of strategy must one employ some days to simply get things done.
In general, my basic tactic is this: assume curiosity, listen, and ask clarifying questions. I try to suppress whatever judgements I might have, reverse the situation and ask questions. I try to be sure I have compassion in my heart, otherwise I come off as sarcastic and rude (as evidenced in my later example). This tactic, though, works best when I plan for it.
Let’s continue with a different sort of example: raising children. I decided that I would not be (100%) my mother. I love my mother, no matter what. My mother, though, made choices based on her situation and what she knew. A lot of those things are the same: enforcing boundaries, recognizing needs, putting your kids first for many things. Some things are different like when we let our kids watch TV, when my husband and I decided to put our kid in school, how we negotiate punishments. I have been using a tactic, for example, where I respond with “asked and answered” when asked, repeatedly, the same question. “Mom, can I play Pac-Man?” No. “Why not?” Because I said so. “Mom, if you do this thing, I’ll let you play Pac-Man with me.” Asked and answered, Levi.
That’s a benign difference though. My mother had her own “asked and answered”. One point where we differ is food. I hated the food wars I had growing up. Being forced to eat spinach (canned, which to this day I despise, though freshI thoroughly enjoy), and the fight we would have over a tiny tablespoon – having to choke it down in all its sliminess. So, I don’t want to have food wars with my son… but he used to eat everything. Then we sent him to preschool, at the same time those taste buds of his started developing, more, in earnest. Suddenly, my child who used to eat everything (and is to this day commended as a “good eater” despite his pickiness!) became a very picky eater.
Suddenly, I was faced with a picky eater while working 40 hours a week, plus volunteering. Time is of the essence, and fighting over food isn’t how I want to spend the two hours we have from when we get home until bedtime. So, I started enabling the simple palette of buttered noodles, cheese, and apples. To the point that my child thinks that he can decide what’s for dinner! The audacity. As such, the tactics change. Did I give you a choice for dinner, Levi? “No.” Okay then. Steadfastly, we’ve been employing a tablespoon of everything – finish that, and then you get more. Don’t eat any of it? Then it’s served for the next (and the next if necessary) meal. I am not a short order cook; I am a mother with limited time on her hands!
Groups outside the family are notorious for strategy. I employ strategy when picking up the phone, constructing emails, choosing what to and what not to say to colleagues and supervisors. And, in one space, (at least one space) there is one individual, who I think takes joy in my screwing up. I expect him to call out my mistakes, while I imagine him gleefully rueful at his computer. So, I am prepared with strategy: THANK YOU sir for pointing out the error of my ways! Here is the corrected thing so that we may all move forward, quickly! Your guidance and mentorship (truly meant) are very helpful!
As I write this, I know how sarcastic it sounds – but I really don’t use sarcasm when it comes to these situations. A sarcastic strategy would only do a disservice. In fact, I fear for the sarcastic strategy because I think it would be more likely to backfire. I often wish sarcastic strategies would work for me, but I fear the disservice because it’s only been a disservice to me. (Maybe being sarcastic about a household chore, only to have it go undone when sarcasm was used to encourage it getting done.) So, imagine my delight when I heard on NPR this morning about how a campaign to save Troy’s Public Library from the tax cutting block worked, likely because of sarcasm!
Back in 2011, after a series of funding cuts that affected many municipalities, Troy’s library was slated to turn into a storage facility. After many repeated, unsuccessful attempts to get voters to turn out in support of funding the library – a group of citizens launched a sarcastic campaign: they called for a book burning party two days after the vote! (Read more about the Troy Book Burning Strategy.)
Not all strategies work for every situation. While I might “kill my colleague with kindness” to spite his rueful nature, I might forget where i’m not expecting it. Sometimes, when in situations, I might even choose an envelope pushing strategy, not unlike the Troy Book Burning, to call attention to a situation.
What kind of strategies do you employ? What are your most successful strategies that you use to get a job done?
The salsa was made. 9 cups. The guacamole was created. Maybe 2 cups. It was packed. It was ready. Now all we had to do was get the rest of our stuff: swimsuits, towels, water bottles. We’d have to stop on the way to get ice. But, then, we could play, munch, and build community with my fellow staffers.
“Levi,” I called, “It’s time to go.”
It was only a mere 20 minutes since my husband had left for work. Clifford, via PBS Kids, was humming along on Levi’s computer.
“Come on Levi,” I attempted, again, “We have to get ready.”
Nothing. No noise at all. Was I so engrossed in salsa and guacamole that I didn’t hear… well, something?
I walk to the living room. The computer is humming along with no audience.
I walk around the couch, a foot into the hall, and I turn left.
“Odd”, I thought, “his door is closed.”
So, I open the door. The newly created “fort-bed” was closed. There was silence. I walked over to the fort-bed, and I lifted the cover. There was the boy. He had put himself to bed. He had put himself down for a nap. It was 2:17. We needed to leave now to beat anymore rush hour traffic and visit with staffers for about two hours. This boy was out cold. We were not going to make it.
My colleagues were without salsa and guar, but I will bring it in the office tomorrow. We’ll have a reprise of our “staff fun day.”
It’s these kind of conflicts, though, that boggle my mind. How are we supposed to navigate all of this? All of these responsibilities and ideas of where we should be. Staying focused on multiple goals (multitasking life!) in order to serve all the masters we serve.
I made a choice. Experience has taught me that rested children are happy children. I want to build our home for success, and that means ensuring one’s basic needs are met. Sure, I went without bonding with staff, but my son is more important. I may not be at my job next year, but I do plan on having my son.
Later in the evening, I was validated with my choice. Levi woke up two hours after I caught him napping. After we had a simple dinner, he confided, “I’m in a much better mood.”
“Oh? Were you in a bad mood before?”
He shrugged his shoulders but offered that the nap certainly helped. And, all day he was polite! Pleases and thank yous for nearly everything! He was cuddly and fun to be around. The monetary pay is crap, for being a mother. But, when I can get a Levi hug – life is better.
For more recent reading on the crazy imbalances we subject ourselves to – choosing work over family life, and the strange dichotomy between men and woman, read the following.
Children’s actions show how they feel. Difficult behavior is often an emotional reaction gone off course. Behind every behavior is a feeling/emotion. Children who feel bad are likely to behave badly. Children who feel good are likely to be good.
Children misbehave when:
They act out feelings inappropriately (scared, insecure, sad, angry, excited, jealous, worried, frustrated, confused);
They are bored, tired, ill, hungry, too many expectations on them, feel misunderstood;
They need attention or feel unwanted;
A consequence is too sever, may seek vengeance;
Your requests are unclear, unrealistic, or not age appropriate;
Suffering a blow of self-esteem;
There are too many rules and not enough routines, rules are too rigid;
They want their own way and you refuse to give in to an inappropriate request; and/or
They are are exploring their world and do not realize their behavior is inappropriate.
I would classify myself and my husband as “Authoritative” parents. We are not authoritarian, where rules are unclear and extremely rigid. Nor are we laissez-faire parents who began free range parenting at infancy. We do not grasp fully onto certain concepts of peaceful parenting, as we generally feel that there is some value to instilling respect through some fear.
Regardless of our parenting style, our choice of using time outs, our choice of not eliminating spankings, our choice of making Levi do lines – all as consequences to his own bad choices, we are a part of the growing paradigm of “feelings based” parenting. It’s not new, other cultures have been treating child rearing this way for millennium.
What do you do, though, when your child acts out? Are you more inclined to give time outs? Do you talk about feelings? How do you negotiate parenting?