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A new direction

December 4, 2018

One of the things I’ve been working on recently since forever is a focus on the positive.  Here’s my new plan:  I’m going to keep a running list of healing, inspiring, or funny things here.  When I reach 10 (that was the plan, then I didn’t have time so this time I’m up to 12), I’ll post.  Here’s the latest installment:

  • Friendsgiving:  Baby time.  Joyful noise.  Loving presence.

Alan’s still got the Dad Reading magic: here, with Ellie, baby Matilda, and Jacob.

  • At the grocery store, I asked the cashier how life was for her.  She told me about being excited about moving to a new communal space where she and her housemates would cook together and she could walk to work. I wished her luck in her new space.  And then I went back after I was almost to the door, to tell her that she had made my day because her energy was so kind and positive, and she told me that she had been stressed about moving but my wishing her luck helped her feel more positive.  We made each other’s day better.
  • Theresa said:  “The way you show that you love someone is to treat their body how they want it to be treated.”  Also:  yesterday she built a “castle” out of Jenga blocks and announced that it’s the home of “Dolphin and his husband Shark.”
  • Audrey brought flowers to her Sunday school teacher for no reason, just to appreciate her.  And she created a tablecloth of packing paper and invited our guests to write what they were thankful for on it:

    Audrey’s table cover, complete with things many of us are thankful for (books! family! hobbies! nature!).

  • Watching The Muppet Movie and listening to Kermit the frog sing “The Rainbow Connection”–“our” lullaby–was the best.
  • Ten days ago, I went for an hour-long walk by myself.  At start, I thought:  I could fold that laundry first.  But cooking makes me happy too.  Those essays won’t grade themselves.  And then I overrode those voices and just left.  And as I walked, I paid attention.  A red door in a white house.  Shaggy nest high in a leafless oak.  A Mondrian-painted garage.  The interesting architecture of houses and yards built into hillsides. This pinecone.  Light rain skittering on fallen leaves.  A release of obligations.  A return to joy.

  • Strong legs to walk and run.  Strong arms to lift and occasionally carry my children.  Strong lungs to huff up steep hills.  Strong mind.  Strong heart.
  • Surprising Alan at his 8k cross-country race on Saturday morning.  Loudest cheerers:  the Frindells, of course.
  • Jamie and Audrey played Candyland with each other for multiple rounds, each telling each other “Good game!” afterward.

  • Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead.  Best read-aloud book we’ve read in a long time:  magic, friendship, funny characters, and this message:  “Keep moving toward what makes you feel most alive.”
  • In the pouring rain and terrible traffic and being hangry, I was telling the kids I was trying to look at the positive things and commented on the twinkle lights in downtown Bellevue that we could see.  Jamie: “The lights make the trees look like dancers.”  And he has been telling us such great stories about Transformers, about trains, about secret agents (the series Secret Agent Jack Stalwart is quite popular).
  • A week ago, I left to pick up my girls at the bus stop–I had been working on my lesson plan for the next day, and time was tight.  I was a block away from the bus stop when I saw the school bus drive past the stop and keep going down the street.  My watch told me the bus was exactly on time, and I was still too far for the driver to see me, and it was raining so maybe he couldn’t recognize my umbrella…and what do bus drivers do when there are no adults to greet young kids at the bus stop? I had no idea.  And only one option:  to run down the bus. Six blocks later, the bus pulled over on a major street.  I dashed across an intersection against a red light (frantically waving and shouting at the passing cars to stop for me), lungs and legs burning, to bang on the door.  This was when I saw the number: it was the wrong bus.  The unfamiliar bus driver came to the door, surprised and perhaps dismayed to see this panting and now crying woman waving her umbrella and asking about our bus route.  “Don’t you have a walkie-talkie or something to radio the other bus?” I asked him.  “No,” he said. “You can try going to the bus stop.”  Six blocks away, and now I was really late for pick-up.  Still crying, worrying about my girls and their feelings of uncertainty and fear around where’s mom? what’s wrong?, I called the kids’ school as I started jogging back the six blocks to the actual bus stop.  The school secretary, who is the World’s Most Wonderful Elementary School Secretary, was in the process of calming me down when I saw the girls coming down the hill towards me with another little boy from our bus and his grandma, who was going to take them all to her house until she could get a hold of me.  The girls were mystified but not as upset as I was, and they said comforting things to me as we walked back to our house (and then Theresa asked for hot cocoa, to which I enthusiastically replied yes).

And now it’s Hanukkah, and we can light the menorah (without my knocking over the lit candles…yikes).  It’s also Advent, and we can get out and light our Advent wreath.  And celebrate our village, and kindness, and strength, and all kinds of light in the darkness.


Some lightness

November 10, 2018

Here’s some lightness and gratitude:

  1. Theresa and Jamie informed me on the way to my school a few weeks ago Friday, when their teachers had professional development all day but I had to work, that they did not want my students to call them “adorable” or “cute.”  When I asked what “cute” meant, Theresa said, “‘Cute‘ is for puppies rolling around in the grass.  I’m an ocelot who hunts.  I’m not cute.”  They then told me to tell my students to use “heroic, serious, and strong” when referring to my children.  #cuteisforpuppies
  2. One of my students brought me homemade sushi last week.
  3. My kids have gotten into show tunes, which warms my heart.  They requested “Do You Hear the People Sing” the other night as their bathtime prep music, and Audrey’s favorite tunes are mostly from My Fair Lady.  And of course, everyone likes Hamilton.
  4. My officemate and dear friend Katie’s drama students threw her a surprise baby shower a few weeks ago.  Katie had no idea, and cried, and her students cried, and her student teacher and I cried, and they were all happy tears of love and support and joy. And now baby Jaycee is here for all of us to love on.
  5. Several of my colleagues-turned-friends planned our school’s first Equity Summit: a day of workshops for kids on topics like homelessness, racial identity, how to listen and have difficult conversations, how to be an engaged citizen (hosted by our local state representative!).  Love these educators and their passion for building up students.
  6. While Alan and I went to my beautiful cousin’s wedding in Maine, our village teamed up to watch our kiddos:  my in-laws, plus two of our friends from church, and our neighbor teen who is their favorite babysitter.
  7. I am reminded of two things from my women’s retreat:  1: SLOW DOWN. Not everything is an emergency, no matter how badly I want it off the to-do list.  2: Take a break from the news, including social media.
  8. I told my dad about how my kid with sensory processing issues has such a hard time with haircuts and toenail trimming, and how I spend a bit of time almost every night while the kid is asleep working on either hair or toenails, mini flashlight in my mouth as I try to maintain the kid’s desired length of each.  My dad sent me a headlamp in the mail.
  9. How easy is it to make sure my husband has a good birthday?  Step 1: make chocolate cake (or cupcakes) with white frosting.  Step 2: have the kids plus our dear friends and their kids sing happy birthday.  Step 3:  let there be bourbon.
  10. Their second grade class had a potluck in the school cafeteria, the first of several geography-themed potlucks that their amazing teacher coordinates each year.  We ate delicious food, including their retired-minister-turned-classroom-volunteer’s famous pound cake, and then my kiddo with ASD wanted to go out to the garden to play.  Two other kids from the class came outside too, and I watched with uneasy focus.  This kiddo has had a hard, hard start to the school year, and I worry constantly that other kids will be mean to this kid, won’t understand this kid’s different way of experiencing the world.  And that night, all three kids–and then more joined in–raced around in a made-up game of zombie chicken tag (or something like that), and I could not discern any difference in how my kid played compared to the other kids.  Those moments of reality grounding my imagination-based fear are so helpful, so healing.

Bonus:  Alan is re-learning German with the help of an app called DuoLingo, with such incredible sentences as:

  • You do not know the bear.
  • The cat was eating the duck.
  • The mice are reading a book.
  • The woman likes the cow.

Bonus 2:  Dante’s Lunch, a trailer for Coco that I could watch over and over again.

Bonus recipes:

On Curses and Power

October 1, 2018

I have been so sick to my stomach these past days.

I have not been a victim of sexual assault.  And yet the fear in my gut about the potential for being a victim has been there for a long, long time.

Now there’s rage, too.

On Saturday I watched an all-female performance of Richard III by the Seattle Shakespeare Company and upstart crow collective, an all-female theater company dedicated to the classics.  Richard III is a tough play, the villain taking center stage from the first lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent” and ends in a bloody battle where he is killed by his many enemies.

Among those Richard betrays and manipulates and traumatizes are four women:  Queen Margaret, whose husband and son were killed by Richard’s team York; the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother who can’t stand him; Queen Elizabeth, whose husband and brother-in-law are betrayed and whose young sons are murdered by Richard; and Lady Anne, whose husband was murdered by Richard.  They are have powerful monologues, giving voice to their suffering and grief at Richard’s hand.

And yet.

While the men in the play (and in the Henry VI cycle which precedes it) connive and battle and cause things to happen, the women have words.  That’s it.  Curses, sure; some of which end up being prophetic.

But really, words are all they have.  Not actions.  Not revenge or retribution or even agency.  They just get to talk about how Richard has harmed them for perpetuity.

Richard, the villain, dreams in Act 5 of all those he has directly murdered or had sent to their deaths.  In his dream, the ghosts whisper the same refrain:  “Despair and die.”  He wakes to mutter, “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!”  There is a moment where he almost feels sorry for what he has done…and then morning comes, and with it the battle, and he claims again, “Conscience is but a word that cowards use, Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe: Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.”

And I could not help but think of Brett Kavanaugh and Senators Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn, Cruz, Kennedy, Graham, Flake, Tillis, Lee, Sasse, and Crapo.

And the priests and bishops and other “holy” men in the Catholic Church.

And all these abusers of power and privilege who not only deny publicly and seemingly also privately that they have done no wrong, but who also believe that causing suffering is unworthy of attention.

Those who grill a victim and presuppose the accused’s innocence, and then wonder why more victims don’t report their assault.

Those who demand “due process” (Sen. Kennedy), not remembering that Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam also had due process for the murder of Emmett Till, as did countless other perpetrators of violence where due process was had but justice was not served.

Those with power and privilege need to be held accountable for their actions.  Those who enable the powerful at the expense of those harmed need to know that they are part of the problem, and that if they will continue to “be on the wrong side of humanity,” then they should understand the consequences.

King Richard in the play did despair and die.  Maybe not as a direct result of those curses, but such appropriation of others’ very beings cannot last.

I tire of hurling curses at those who scorn the suffering of the lowly, the vulnerable, the scarred and traumatized.  But maybe, maybe our collective voices will make some demonstrable change.

To those who have been victims of sexual violence:  We see you.  We stand with you.  We believe you.

And it’s time to take to the streets, to the voting booths, to the halls of power, to wherever privilege is assumed as an entitlement, to dismantle it.  With our own forms of power.

When I Remember

July 11, 2018

When I remember, my kids are polite and kind and generally cooperative.

When I remember, my kids have imaginations that see “a duck lying on its back waiting to get a tummy rub” in the clouds, or create stories modeled on books they’ve read (like pretending to be ponies swimming from ship to shore, a la Misty of Chincoteague).

When I remember, my kids are so fun to be around.

When I don’t remember, like yesterday, my kids never listen the first…or second…or tenth time I’ve asked them to do something.

When I don’t remember, my kids cannot remember the simplest routines, like “take your shoes off and put them away upon entering the house,” or “put your dirty clothes into the hamper,” or “flush every time you poop.”

When I don’t remember, then everything they do irritates me, and I become snappish at them.

And then that is what they remember, and they become snappish at each other, and have short fuses themselves, or in the case of one sensitive soul, do everything in their power to make things right for me because that kid can’t stand it when I’m upset.

When I remember, I set things right the night before I need to take them somewhere, so I’m not trying to get four people ready simultaneously.

When I remember, I stop the flow of nagging and yelling even though sometimes it feels so good to release that annoyance at these small people who cannot remember what they’ve been trained to do for years.

When I remember, I write down things I’m grateful for (even if I have to stretch it) instead of the litany of things that aggravate me, since the list will be too long and writing it down will just upset me even more.

When I remember, I write down funny things my kids say:  Like Jamie in frustration the other night saying, “I’m so exaggerated!” (meaning exasperated).

When I remember to take care of my basic needs first, I can also remember that they are still working on learning to be part of this family community.  I can be calmer and more patient and more understanding.

And then that is what they remember, and then after a day like today of calm and patience and understanding, when I finally lose it with one child whose snail pace is not metaphorical but actual, who “forgets” every routine and practice, whose stubbornness rivals the most stubborn people I’ve ever met–this child closes their eyes and tells me between deep breaths, “I’m using my words even though I want to yell.  I think we should just go to bed because we can talk about this when we’re not tired and upset.”

I gave that kid a high five and expressed my admiration and respect for their ability to express themselves calmly.

Someday, I will remember these seemingly endless summer days:  The never-listening, the not-following-directions, the messiness, the explosive temper…I record those here for posterity, to show my children that, contrary to what my mom says about my childhood (“You and Jeff never did that”), they occasionally preyed on my very last nerve.  But I hope I don’t remember it in too much detail.

I hope I will remember the any-reason-for-ice-cream-is-a-good-reason moments, the Lego creations and the loving notes, the dinners on the back deck, the reading and the swimming and the bike riding.  The successes and appreciations and kids curled on my lap, head against my heart.

A story

April 30, 2018

Here’s what I’ve been afraid to say:

Last August, one of our kids was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Not afraid because I’m ashamed of the diagnosis, or of the kid.  Afraid because I want to protect this kid’s individuality online and in person.  I don’t want people to judge this kid by their label–what many people know about autism is the stereotype: “the kid in the corner rocking back and forth, flapping their hands and making strange noises.”  That’s not my kid.  I don’t want to put details about my kid on the Internet before they are old enough to say, “That’s too private” or “Yeah, okay, you can publish that.”  I post funny or endearing stories and pictures of my kids, and I post far less than I used to when they were babies, because as they get older, their story becomes more theirs, less mine.

But part of it, part of this diagnosis and this journey, is mine.  Telling my story on this blog has become a way to figure out myself, to connect with others, to possibly make someone else feel that they are less alone.  Or even to make myself feel less alone.  So here it goes, Worry Wolf and Fear Flamingo be caged.

The autism spectrum has many possible symptoms:  language impairment, social deficits, repetitive behaviors, anxiety, ADHD, sleep disorders, sensory processing issues…(if you are at all interested, you can read more about it at these resources:  HHS, Autism Self-Advocacy Network, and Autism Speaks).

I joined a Facebook group for Autism Moms of Seattle, and one comment struck me, from a post indicating a person’s kid had just been diagnosed:  “Getting that diagnosis really is a roller coaster of emotions.  Relief.  Validation.  Fear.  Sadness.  Grief.  Determination.”

That about sums up everything I’ve been feeling since August.  Determination to get the kid an IEP as soon as possible (which felt like an eternity and which also possibly went a lot more smoothly than it does for other parents in other schools).  Sadness about both adults and kids who don’t understand and the resulting rudeness or dismissiveness.  Relief that there are treatment options available, even if the waitlists are often a year long.  Fear of the kiddo’s social isolation, of their confusion being in a world made by and for those without autism.

I do try to maintain perspective:  there are many symptoms of autism that are more challenging (non-verbal, GI distress, sleep dysfunction, etc.) that my kiddo does not have.  Every parent has something to worry about for their kid.

Ultimately, as parents, what we worry about for all of our kids boils down to this:  Will you be okay?  And I mean, will they, can they be happy and live fulfilling lives?  Will the kid with anxiety be able to cope with it, or will it become debilitating?  Will the stubborn, rebellious kid be able to strike a balance between being who they are and being able to take direction from an employer?  I can’t speak for every parent; I just know that I want this so desperately for each of my three children:  will you be okay?

This diagnosis is not necessarily at odds with living a happy, fulfilling life.

I have read some beautiful and heart-wringing stuff about parenting a kid with disability.  Beth Woolsey writes about her son here, and Carrie Cariello blogs every Monday about her journey parenting her son who is on the spectrum (most blog entries of hers leave me in tears, her writing is so beautiful and she is so honest)–here’s a sample, a letter to her husband about this parenting partnership.  A Diary of a Mom’s writer Jess posts this about getting the diagnosis, a real and loving message to parents who just found out their kid is on the spectrum.  (She also has a lot of opinions about sending positive messages to our kids on the spectrum instead of “fixing” them, which I appreciate.)

I worry a lot about the present for our kid:  are we giving them what they need?  Should we send them to a different school?  I understand that my normal doesn’t have to be everyone’s normal; not everyone follows the same path or interacts with the world in the same way, and that’s good and healthy and everything.  I understand that we have the opportunity to teach other kids about the beauty of difference, even as my Mama Bear crouches ready to launch at those damn kids who laugh at my kiddo who is learning, just like they are.

I worry that we do not know what we are doing.  There is a mystery to this kid, a way of thinking and of seeing the world that I don’t yet understand.  The kid has a fixed mindset that I don’t know how to make flexible, and I can’t tell which responses are habitual and which responses are real.  How do I help a kid whose articulation of reality is confusing and inconsistent, who sometimes focuses obsessively on the negative, who says things that are patently Not True as though they are the Truest Truth (even though this kid is so smart and should be able to tell the difference)?

I know.  The future is uncertain.  It just feels more uncertain for this kiddo.  Will they learn social behaviors that will allow them to function around their peers?  Will they be able to complete tasks that they find annoying in order to keep a job?  What is cute and quirky at age 6 will be at best irritating and at worst offensive at age 15 or 35.

Will you be okay?

I’m not writing about this because I think anyone should feel bad for my kid, because this kid is amazing in their own unique way and has their own gifts and strengths like their siblings do.  I’m not writing this so anyone feels bad for me either.  I’m writing to break my own self-imposed silence, because silence is never helpful or healing; to speak my and our family’s truth; to explore all the facets of this parenting and humaning thing.

Practicing, Not Preaching, the Work of Love

February 16, 2018

I have been vacillating wildly these past few weeks–and even more in the past few days–between two views of humanity:

  • that people are inherently good, helpful, want to love and be loved, have flaws and can be redeemed, and
  • that people suck.

Whenever my team teacher had students read Enlightenment philosophers, students inevitably sided with Hobbes:  that humans in their natural state were violent, afraid, and that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  They had no use for Rousseau’s idealized state of nature, or even Locke or Montesquieu.

When events occur like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, I am inclined to agree with Hobbes–not because of the violence of the perpetrator, though that is horrifying.  Because of the comments and attitudes afterward.

My students, in their conversation today about the school shooting, reported what they had seen on social media or heard from others at our own high school:  people making comments that joked about, derided, or condescended toward victims, toward the idea of school violence in general.  As evidenced by my students’ and my own observations about reactions to this shooting, or any other violent act, or any comments on any article online anywhere, people are thoughtless, rude, closed-minded, self-righteous, and ignorant.

And then things happen like this:  I got to help students at my school prepare for our second annual Diversity Assembly:  a completely student-created, student-organized, student-led celebration of diversity, acceptance, and allyship.  I watched three student leaders invite, include, and create this assembly from the ground up in two and a half weeks.  I watched five students grip their speeches and stand on shaky legs and speak their truths about who they are and how we can all be better allies to those who feel marginalized.

And then I find out about some of my own students’ incredibly poor choices, choices that are hurtful and disrespectful and directly oppose everything I’ve been trying to teach them about empathy and awareness.

And then my kids’ first grade teacher made booklets for each of her students, and each page in that booklet contained a note from every kid and adult in their class.  My heart melted when I read what their classmates, teacher, and instructional aide wrote to each of my kiddos–even to the kid who often has problematic behavior in school.

I’ve been swinging back and forth between these two ends of the spectrum of human nature, when of course in my core I know the truth:  that we can be both good, helpful, kind, redeemable AND rude, thoughtless, cold-hearted, condescending.  As much as I would love to think that I walk the walk of open-mindedness that I preach, I know I often fall miserably short.

I will come back to center, to the Middle Way, as usual.  I need to remember to practice everything I preach, including love and open-mindedness and heartful listening, even when it is damn hard.  Even when it feels impossible.

I need to remember what I told my student who feared backlash after her speech at the Diversity Assembly:  “because there’s always backlash,” she said, “even if it’s just one person being a jerk.”

I told her what keeps me going as a teacher, and if I were to generalize, as a person:  that we plant seeds.  We likely will never witness their growth, if they grow at all.  We may never know the impact our words or actions or example has on another person.  We just have faith that those seeds will blossom eventually, in a month or in five years or after decades.  The faith in the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

This faith in our human-ness neither condones nor mitigates these unnecessary and unconscionable deaths, and it does not supplant my fury at those in power who do not act in any way, small or large, to prevent such acts of violence.  The only thing it does is make me able to face my children, my students, members of my community, and keep doing the work of love.

Which, for this moment, must be enough.

Audre Lorde and The Worry Wolf

February 9, 2018

When my friend’s daughter’s anxiety got really bad, my friend and her spouse would talk to their little girl about the Worry Wolf, this creature that gave her nightmares and insomnia and stomachaches.

The Worry Wolf comes around my house too.  He goes hand-in-hand with Fear (what animal would go with Fear?  Not a frog.  A ferret?  A fox?  A feral raccoon?).  The two of them gang up on me, gag me, paralyze my rational brain and send me down a spiral of negativity.

This Worry and this Fear have also silenced me, especially here.  I wrote last year about trying to consciously do things that scared me (karaoke was conquered in December!).  But in my writing about parenting and teaching and thinking and seeking, I have been too afraid to share my truths.  In part because I have a hunch that my family member’s shutting down all communication with me, infrequent though it may have been, was a result of my speaking up.  In part because some of the things on my mind are not entirely my story to tell:  they involve the stories of my children, my mother-in-law, and I have been figuring out how to walk that line between their privacy and the part of the story that is mine.

Example:  One of my kids has come home several times this year saying they don’t have any friends, that recess is often a time of walking around the playground without anyone to play with.  This kid last year was inseparable from R.–even their kindergarten teacher didn’t make them switch line partners because the two of them were always together.  This year, R. is in a different first grade, and another kid has chosen R. to be their only friend, meaning R. is not “allowed” to play with my kid anymore–and R. does not seem to mind this, which breaks my heart on many counts.

The Worry Wolf tells me that no one wants to hear my story.  That the Silence Breakers of the #metoo movement have valid and important stories to tell; that immigrants and refugees and people of color have valid and important stories to tell.  That I am not struggling to make ends meet, that I have never been violently assaulted, and therefore I should shut my privileged mouth.

Audre Lorde, one of my role models, has a lot to say about silence in her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”  She says:

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself.  My silence had not protected me.  Your silence will not protect you.  But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

For every real word spoken, we are bridging differences.

Maybe some bridges will break.  Maybe I cannot live an authentic life and simultaneously always please others.  No bridges can be built with silence.

So.  As my next decade approaches, I want to face the Worry Wolf and the Fear…Flamingo?, and feel the shakes and the constricted throat and the tears, and speak anyway.

and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

–Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”

Celebrating Joy and Parenting Wins

January 1, 2018

Patrick would have turned 40 today.

Our friend Jen eloquently posted this message on Facebook about him:

His message was always to take joy. Here is his take on Fra Giovanni’s “Take Joy,” from Tasha Tudor’s eponymous book, which Paddy put into his own words when I was writing my college senior essay about the last year of my beloved grandmother’s life:

No peace lies in the future
Which is not hidden in this present instant;
Though much is taken, much abides: take peace.
Though your fears are great, your heart is strong; take heart.
Though your eyes are dim, your spirit is bright; take light.
And though there is sorrow, there is also joy; take joy.

In honor of him and his consistent focus on the positive, in spite of the fact that our brains are wired to make negative thoughts “stickier” than positive ones, I offer up four parenting wins that happened last year.

1:  The Frindell Club

One of our kids was having a very, very hard time managing anger and frustration.  This kid resorted to hitting, biting, saying nasty things, and lashing out in whatever way possible.  I finally had this heart-to-heart, being experienced in having a hard time managing anger and frustration (just ask my parents):

“We always notice when we don’t make good choices about our big feelings.  What if we notice when we do make good choices?  If you really, really want to slam a door or hit someone or say unkind things, and you don’t, tell me and we’ll have a mini celebration.  And I’ll do the same when I really, really want to make a bad choice and don’t.  So it can be the Mommy-Kid club.”

This kid wanted to make it more inclusive, so it became the Frindell Club.  Now whenever we are upset and want to make a bad (Sarah Rudell Beach would call it an “unskillful”) choice, and don’t because we take a deep breath or walk away or grit our teeth or whatever it takes, we high-five the nearest family member and exclaim, “Frindell Club!”  And we try to notice and praise when our kids do too.

2:  Animal Technology

Also in the realm of helping upset kids, one day in sheer desperation I took two stuffed bears and made them repeat the conversation the kid and I were having:

Bear 1:  “I’m so mad!  I want to hit someone!”

Bear 2:  “Why are you so mad?”

Bear 1:  [growls]  <–yep, my kids sometimes growl.  It’s like parenting small animals.


The kid was so fascinated that all intensity melted away, and another sibling came over to offer the bears advice about the most constructive way to handle the situation.  The original kid started calling this role playing “animal technology.”

It doesn’t work every time.  But when it does, it’s magic.

3:  On Cussing

While bathing one of the children, they dropped a bath toy and said, “Damn it!”

Stunned, I asked them what they had said.  They repeated it.

I explained that this was a bad word, that grown-ups shouldn’t use it but sometimes do, and that its meaning is asking God to curse the world.

This kid crumpled into tears and exclaimed, “I cursed the world twice today!”

But I bet they won’t anymore.

A related example:  while walking in some woods near my parents’ house, a different child said, “Fuck off.”

“What did you say?” I asked as calmly as possible.

The kid repeated the statement, and I saw then that it was graffitied on a large rock nearby.

The downside of having kids who are able to read.

I explained similarly tho this kid that these words were cursing words, and that no one should say them.  The kid then tried to explain this to a sibling, who of course wanted to know what the dangerous word was.  I managed to get the original child not to repeat it yet again.

4:  The Birds and the Bees and the Condoms

I did not think the conversation about prophylactics would be started in a community center bathroom.

My kids saw a condom dispensary in the women’s restroom while making an emergency trip post-swimming, and asked about the picture.  Of a condom.  In use.

“Let’s talk about it when we get to the car,” I said.

They already knew vaguely how babies are made, so I explained that sometimes people want to have sex but not make a baby, so they use this thing called a condom.  Only for when you’re much, much older (as some of my children are already talking about who’s in love with them and who they’re going to marry).

One of my small ones:  “Oh! So [two people we know] just got married, so they must need to use one sometimes!”

Me:  “Yes, but let’s not ask them about it…” (imagining the top-volume greeting the next time we saw either married party:  “Hey! If you don’t want to have a baby but you still want to put his penis in your vagina, do you have to use one of those things we saw in the bathroom?”

I don’t think they’ve referenced it since.  At least not loudly and in public, so win.

I do think Paddy would have laughed his hearty laugh at these stories, especially the last one.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions anymore, but a few years ago I read about people who were choosing a guiding word for the new year.  Two years ago, mine was Trust.  Last year, it was Balance.

This year, it’s Joy.

Take joy, my beloveds.


Praise song: for church ladies, for learning, for daily miracles

December 1, 2017

The world burns.

And in addition to being mostly in news deprivation, because the hurricanes and the earthquakes and the flooding and the fires, and oh my Lord is this freaking Armageddon but without Bruce Willis?, I need to focus on something positive.

Elizabeth Alexander wrote “Praise Song for the Day” for Barack Obama’s first inauguration.  I watched her read it, probably shivering inside her long winter coat as she read it to the millions of people tuned in, as I and my students and colleagues were, to that historic moment.  She describes the simple tasks of daily living:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, 
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

So: this starts with a funeral.

Our neighbor, who had lived for years with Alzheimer’s and for the past few years in an adult family home–her husband visiting her every day–fell and hit her head, and died peacefully two days later.  I went with other neighbors to the funeral and noticed this:

Joy, my neighbor, had been a Church Lady.  She had sewed vestments and altar cloths.  She had been on various liturgical and church-related committees.  And her friends–Carol, Caroline, and Irene–sat in front of us at the funeral.  They had organized the flowers in the sanctuary.  They had directed the rosary prior to Mass.  And as soon as the funeral ended, they went to the reception to help set up.

Both of my grandmothers were Church Ladies.  And yes, of course, some Church Ladies are like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady:  condescending and holier-than-thou, worshipping the religion but not the tenets of forgiveness and inclusion that its founder promoted.

But my grandmothers and so many others of their generation were, and are, kind Church Ladies.  The ones who bake pies to fundraise for the new parish roof.  The ones who organize the prayer list and say the rosaries intended for those who need them, and bring communion to the sick and elderly, and visit the homebound.  They decorate the church and run the funerals, all without praise or even acknowledgement.

They have names like Betty, and Mary, and Linda.  They are getting old, and some of them, like Joy, are dying.  Then women with names like Kathy, and Cindy, and Susan will have to take their places.  Eventually women with names like Michelle, and Lisa, and Jennifer will have to take over too.  Praise be for the Church Ladies of the world, the ones who, to paraphrase Tina Fey, get stuff done.

Praise also to the small miracles that happen–not without us noticing, but often without us acknowledging our gratitude for their appearance:

  • Theresa lost her four favorite stuffed animals at church a few weeks ago (yes, four–that girl has so many stuffed animals that we are practically a plushie zoo).  I called the parish.  I called one of our Church Ladies who always goes to daily Mass.  I called a friend who works at the parish school.  None could find the two bunnies and two foxes, one of which she got as a newborn from the hospital and is irreplaceable.  I went to the church on my next day off…and found them.  St. Anthony does good work, people.
  • When my parents came to visit us for a week in October, they not only helped me clean and organize our garage, but my dad vacuumed our van.  On their vacation.
  • Today I facilitated a culminating discussion on women’s issues in The Scarlet Letter.  Before the discussion, I made them watch a TED talk about emotional awareness and how to have hard conversations with people they may not agree with.  They had solid conversations in each class, and it seemed like (at least I hope this is an accurate assessment) that they really listened to each other.  At least a couple of students said they learned something from what their peers shared.  It sounds cheesy to say so but I will anyway, that these moments of horizons broadening, of worldviews shifting, are what make teaching the best job in the entire world.

The world burns.  It has burned before.  Hope is the space between despair and naive optimism.

Praise to Rebecca Solnit, who wrote Hope in the Dark which I’m listening to now, who reminds us in her introduction of both James Baldwin–“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced–and Martin Luther King, Jr.–“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

I’m trying to pay mindful attention to what Virginia Woolf calls the “little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”

“Praise song for walking forward into that light.” (Elizabeth Alexander)

Musings on Mothering

September 26, 2017

Mothering is about being okay with bodily fluids.

My Mother’s Day last year involved children gleefully peeing in the woods…and one of them missed their aim, and peed on my leg.

This past Mother’s Day was spent mostly cleaning up vomit and diarrhea from the kiddo who got the stomach virus that later leveled me for a full day.

Last spring, another mom chased after my son onto the school bus, because he had fallen on the sidewalk before I could get to the bus stop, and was bleeding from an elbow scrape.  She bandaided the scrape and emerged triumphant from the bus, glad to have given first aid to one of the little villagers in our small section of the neighborhood.

As Theresa said once, “Help is love.”

Mothering is about worry.

When our kids struggle–nothing life-threatening, nothing horrifying, but even so–I worry a lot.

In telling my newest Big Worry to a wise educator-mama-friend, she told me, “That hasn’t happened yet.  That’s a pre-worry.”

I am really good at pre-worrying.  If there were a doctorate in pre-worrying, I would have passed all exams plus written a thesis already.  Summa cum laude.  A PwD.

I felt so stuck.  So unable to help this kid.  So unsure of how others in our village could help.  So not enough.

And then:  Maybe loving this kid isn’t enough in the long run–love cannot teach social skills or resilience or problem-solving.  But maybe in this moment, love is enough.  I can’t sit beside this kid in school and help defend against kids who tease, or walk through a multi-step assignment, or talk into being cooperative for another lesson.  What I can do is tell this kid, “I’m glad to see you” in the morning and after school.  Sit and read.  Listen.  Snuggle and tuck into bed.  Love gently and fiercely simultaneously.

Mothering is about sanctuary.

Last May I got into the shallow end of a pool with 28 kindergarteners and their teacher who was giving them an introduction to water safety.  On the way, three different kids (only one of whom was mine) were talking to me simultaneously about three different topics, each convinced I was attending to them and them alone.  Once the teacher instructed everyone to climb into the pool, two girls (one of whom lives down the street from us) whimpered in fear and drew back from the water.  I lifted each one gently into the pool, staying with them to ease their anxiety and make sure they felt safe.  Despite the whole swimming experience taking two hours (from leaving school, walking to and from the pool, getting all the girls rinsed and dressed…), it was so much fun to help kiddos in that way.

One thing I noticed about all the kindergarteners we were with was that each one of them interacted with every adult present with a spectacular level of trust:  that the adult nearby will help if needed, that the adult cared about them and would keep them safe.

Fr. Lyle, our substitute priest for a Sunday, gave a homily on overcoming fear.  He started with an anecdote of being a missionary in West Africa, where his compound was attacked by bandits with machetes, who injured some of his fellow missionaries and stole from the compound.  The story brimmed with violence and fear, Fr. Lyle sparing few details.

One of my kids climbed into my lap in the pew and asked, “Mommy, are there people like that here?”

I explained that we live in a safe house, in a safe neighborhood, and that our neighbors all look out for each other.

Later that night, the same kid asked me again:  “Are there robbers here?”

I told this kid that I had special protective powers that would shield our house from robbers, and sprayed imaginary Anti-Robber mist all over the kid and bed, and then over the whole house.  The kid asked this was my Superpower.

“Yep,” I told my kid.  “Mommies’ Superpower is to protect their kids.”

Then, a month later, the same kid had bad nightmares.  Like, fever-induced hallucination nightmares.  In trying to put this kid to bed a few nights after the original nightmare, I tried to get the kid to imagine a place where they felt super safe.

“My safe place is with you,” the kid said.

Mothering is about being the grounding, centering force for my children to always come back to, the surety when all else feels uncertain or scary.  The place where they are always accepted, always known, always belong.



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