Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Little Guy quote of the day

"I'm going buy myself some time... and I'm going to sell my sister so I can afford it!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tech week with kids

The first time one of my kids was in a production, which was eons ago, the schedule called for something named Tech Week. Naive as I was, I didn't realize that meant "move in to the theater for the duration".

This is Dancer's Tech Week for Nutcracker. Her last performance coincides with the first Tech Week rehearsal for Jack in the Beanstalk, in which both Snuggler and Little Guy are featured. Here is what I have learned over the years about Tech Week:

  • Figure out the special stuff ahead of time. If you'll need hair supplies or specific shoes, don't wait: the store you're sure has what you need is bound to be sold out. Hair is another issue: the first year Dancer was in the party scene for Nut we had to try several methods of getting those sausage curls in her hair before we hit on one that worked.   
  • Good food and snacks are essential. For whatever reason, rehearsals always overlap at least one meal time. Be prepared to feed'em before they go, and again when they get home. Make-ahead meals simplify life -- and tech week is all about making things manageable. Portable snacks include hummus and carrots, apples and cheddar, slices of quesadillas, and lots of fruit. Nothing gooey like chocolate, which will get on costumes. No sticky juice; send water.
  • Remind kids that grown-ups get stressed, too. Have a talk about how the director is likely to be extra-irritable this week, but only because he/she wants the show to be great. Tell them their job is to listen for the corrections and let the rest slide off. Unless they're not paying attention, or not following directions, the yelling is probably not their fault.
  • Send/bring backstage entertainment. There's a lot of down time during rehearsals and performances. Forget electronic toys; the 'something to do' should be things several kids can participate in, like stained glass coloring books (bring colored pencils), simple art projects (no markers -- they stain), Klutz books, chinese jump rope,  and Mad Libs. Homework's a possibility, too.
  • If you're working backstage, your main job is to stay calm. Whatever else you're supposed to do, your real role is to keep the kids focused on doing a great job. Other adults will be annoying and will fail to do what they're supposed to, and you just have to calmly and graciously pick up the pieces and make it work. Don't explode, don't gripe, don't snark. Save that for a time when kids aren't around (or better yet, let it go entirely).
  • Expect meltdowns the first couple of days after the show is over. The kids will be tired, and the let-down after all that excitement is, well, big. 
It goes without saying that the main goal during Tech Week is to survive, preferably intact. Getting a modicum of sleep is essential, even if it means starting school late. Don't expect the week to be normal life plus; daily rehearsals and multiple performances make for a decidedly non-normal week.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A happy weekend, and complicated parenting

Eldest had a 7pm exam Tuesday night (!), caught a 10pm bus, and arrived home at 2am. I think she is genuinely thankful to be here, where everything is known and nothing is new except the paint in the bathrooms and kitchen. It is hard to underestimate how big a shift it is to go away to college: it's a new place and new people and a new level of independence, new responsibility and new problems to solve on your own. There's a degree of stress in all that newness which subtly erodes the fun and excitement of being away. Eldest has done a masterful job of handling it. I'm really in awe of how well she's doing.

Big Guy arrived for day visits from his residential facility on Thanksgiving and yesterday and today. He, too, has had a big dose of newness this fall, although it's been unalloyed by the kinds of positives that Eldest has had. There are new people in his life (many of whom are not happy additions), new structure (at least some of which has been helpful), and a new need for emotional self-sufficiency. It is an unpleasant situation for him, and he is desperately homesick. He has been working hard, holding up better than we expected. I am proud of him.

The family dynamic of having everyone home is both wonderful and complicated. It is good -- very good -- to feel that things are normal again. And yet normal is a mixed bag. It includes happiness and silliness and bickering; it encompasses thoughtfulness and annoying table manners; it extends to balancing seven people's needs, and being mindful of who is feeling left out or annoyed or needs time alone. It's wonderful, without necessarily being relaxing.

When the kids were younger, people would look at my lineup of little ones and stammer, "How do you do it?" I shrugged and smiled and said, "You do what you have to do" or "You get better at it as you go". There's something about being outnumbered by your offspring that drives home the grim truth that you're not in control. Once you've got that reality nailed into your brain, you can deal better with life as it comes. Which, I think, makes you a better parent.

At best, "being in control" as a parent means you swerve back onto the road enough times that you end up heading in the right direction. You re-orient yourself when life drives you off-course, and then re-orient again when you make mistakes, and yet again when you suddenly realize you were asleep at the wheel. The key thing is to know which direction you're headed.

Being in control isn't about being the master of our destinies; it is about wrestling control away from our reactions and teaching ourselves to respond.

Maybe I think this way because I'm notoriously easily overwhelmed. If I think about how I'm going to tackle the whole of my life (or even the better part of a day) I tend to hyperventilate. I find that it's better to know my priorities, quit drafting my master plan, and get working on the next thing that needs to be done. Because that much I can do. Usually.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What stands in the way of thankfulness

I love Thanksgiving: the food, and the family, and the relaxed, long weekend. But I've reached the conclusion that bounty isn't the way to spur me into thinking about what I have to be thankful for. I spend five hours on food prep, two minutes on thanks, an hour on eating, and several hours digesting. The proportions are all wrong.

The set-up is complicated by the fact that I am not a naturally thankful person. Thankfulness is one of those things I have to grind away at, like keeping the house neat and being patient. I need far more than a day a year to hammer it into my heart, so I tend to discount the official holiday as a kind of amateur event.

But I do want to be thankful, which means I have to cultivate the habit. So I've been thinking about the things that interfere with being thankful. Here's my short list:

1.  Lack of perspective. The most popular post ever on this blog was about the yardstick problem. It's an issue I remind myself of almost daily, because I have an astonishing ability to assume that the spectrum of wealth lies mostly above (rather than below) me. I daresay this is why I live in a city: if I didn't see the poor, the homeless, and the struggling, I know I would only marginally remember that they really exist. How can I even see what I have to be thankful for, if I don't see the full spectrum of the human condition?

2. Inattentiveness. Too often I choose to pay attention to the inconveniences and frustrations of the day, instead of to the good things. This is a matter of choice, and there are things I can do about it. At night I mentally review my day to recall all the things for which I can be thankful. That becomes easier when I remember to take the next step, which is to consciously take note of good things as they happen. Because I do the faith stuff, I try to remember to send up little 'thank-yous' many times a day.

3. Preoccupation. Being preoccupied is the best way to nourish inattentiveness. The more I focus on my worries or busy-ness or minor woes, the less I'm open to noticing all the good stuff going on in my life.

4. Brazen arrogance. This is the "I deserve it" assumption. I hope I don't have much of it, but occasionally it rears its ugly head. Maybe I deserve a break today, but I'm not sure what I've done that makes me more deserving than a dirt-poor, 12-hour a day sweatshop worker in a pollution-ridden city in China.

Knowing the obstacles is a first step toward becoming more thankful. The rest is a matter of plain old hard work, the day-by-day stuff of which lives are made... and made better.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In which our family will be reunited, for a day

It looks like Big Guy will be able to visit for a few hours on Thanksgiving. A social worker brought him over for a short visit today, and we have the green light. Snuggler and Little Guy were wildly excited to see their brother, whom they've only seen one since he left for his residential placement in September. The visit was shorter than anticipated and it was very, very hard for the kids to say goodbye. There are times I wish I had a rheostat for Snuggler's emotions and could turn down the flow; she feels things so intensely.

Eldest is one day away from being done with her whirlwind week. Her classes this term seem to clump exams within days of each other (as in today and tomorrow), she had a friend visiting for the weekend, a concert to sing in, two extra (fun) classes to teach, her job, and a list of homework that was so long it seemed to preclude sleep and eating and even the ability to construct a coherent sentence. But she's getting on a bus tomorrow night (after her 7pm exam) to come home for the holiday!

And so on Thursday all seven of us will be together for the first time since the end of August. It's been a long, feeling-the-loss-of-others time. It's been a time of adjustments, both emotional and logistical, a time of growing up and digging deep. I'm incredibly proud of my kids for how well they've done: Eldest, adapting to her first term at college; Big Guy, in finding his footing in his new environment; the younger kids, in re-shaping their lives with the older two away.

I'm looking forward to this weekend as much as the rest of my family. Yet reality often isn't as perfect as we imagine it will be. So I'm reserving energy to deal with the fallout of my kids' massive expectations, and for helping those who will remain at home cope with the pain of saying goodbye -- again -- after a temporary period of 'normalcy'.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, and a long, long list of things for which to give thanks.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fighting entropy

My dad has been visiting for the past week, fixing up our bathrooms and kitchen. And we now have sparkling-clean walls, plastered and painted, and the civilizing addition of towel racks in the bathroom! It is pretty amazing to be able to hang up a towel. I like it.

My dad is a fix-it-yourself kind of guy. Back in the day, I fixed things myself, too. But then little hands got into the wet spackle, or someone drew on the freshly painted radiator, or the carpet in the girls' room got covered in black glitter while I was busy trying to put up the coat hooks. I gave up, figuring that some day, when the kids were older, we'd get the apartment back in shape.

But thing fall apart faster once you stop trying to stay on top of household entropy. It's as if that doorknob knows it can jam, and the water pipe intuits that now is the time to rust through if it wants to maximize despair. The caulking in the tub sloughs off in an ecstatic frenzy, just daring you to ignore it. You fall in the habit of Repress the Mess, and frantically focusing on what still looks okay.

And then when someone comes in and patches your cracking plaster walls, a miracle occurs. You see fresh minty-green paint over neatly repaired walls, and there's hope. And you suddenly see that the cabinets need scrubbing and the stove could be cleaner, too -- and you find the energy to clean them.

In the book I just finished, one mom wrote a piece about how she got to the end of a busy new-mom day and realized with despair that everything she'd done would have to be done again the next day.
I've been thinking about that: if I could choose one thing in life to do and have it stay done, what would it be? 

I don't mind the laundry, or cooking, or even picking up (though I could do a better job at that), because those things fall into a routine, and routines have rhythm. On the other end of the spectrum I don't mind major crises, because then I put on my bunker mentality and focus on staggering through. It's the things that fall apart randomly, inconveniently, sporadically that get to me. Because they're neither here nor there, neither routine nor extreme, and there's no room anywhere in the schedule or budget to deal with them.

So thanks, Dad. It's definitely been a pleasure to have you here!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Procrastination starts with "I don't want to."

The question is why don't I want to? And my answer to myself is usually "I don't feel like it" or "I don't like doing that".

But the question remains: why? Why don't I feel like it? Why don't I like doing it? Sometimes it's because the task is tedious, sometimes it's because I don't have the energy required. But most of the time procrastination is about fear. We're afraid because:
  • we're facing something new, or
  • we're not quite sure how to do something, or 
  • we're fearful that we won't do it well, or 
  • we will somehow expose our incompetence, or 
  • we believe others will think less of us when it becomes clear that we're not as wonderful as we think they think we are.
For me, recognizing that I'm afraid of something is a major turning point. I think, Oh -- okay, that's fear. I can work through that! Once I know its shape and size, I can chip away at it or walk around it or ignore it or do something to start making progress. 

I've toodled around life for enough years now to know that doing something's almost always better than doing nothing, and that in a sink-or-swim situation, a shaky doggie paddle, no matter how poorly executed, is likely to do more for me than sinking on the spot.

My kids don't have that much experience with life. And for some inexplicable reason, they're not all that eager to learn from my hard-learned lessons. So I think a lot about how to help them build the deep-down knowledge that they can accept their fears instead of being paralyzed by them.

And that's where things get tricky. How do you balance the need to let a kid fall enough so that he has to dig deep (and discover he's stronger than he thinks he is) with the need to provide the emotional scaffolding that prevents him from really hurting himself? Where does the fine line lie between encouraging a child to push past obstacles, and forcing her to bump into problems that can also shake her confidence?

Eh -- I don't know for sure. Some days I don't know at all. But I take comfort from the fact that no one consistently gets the support/independence mix right. The way it works for me is that if I gauge everything correctly and remember to shoot up a little prayer before opening my mouth and my kids are unusually attentive and I'm nowhere near having PMS, then occasionally things don't go splat.

I can live with that.

The rest of the time I doggie paddle forward (or at least in circles), and try again. Because I'm not going to get any better at this parenting stuff if I stay, stuck, where I am.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Staying sane

When Little Guy went to kindergarten, he came home each night with a homework sheet that taught one word. Once it was the, once it was has, and one day it was I. The format for the worksheet was that there were blanks into which you were supposed to fill in the requisite word.

Since this was boring as all get-out, I didn't always require Little Guy to finish the homework right when he got home from school. In fact, one day I forgot until it was nearly bedtime, and then it was clear that Little Guy was too cranky to make it worthwhile to attempt to do the work. So I agreed that this time, this ONE time, he could do it in the morning.

No big deal. It was the paper with I. He wrote the word in all the blanks, and was cruising right along until he got to the part where he had to use the word in a sentence. Then he couldn't make up his mind what to write. (He still can't make up his mind about what to write. Ever.) As the clock ticked, and it came closer and closer to departure time, I urged him to write something, anything. "This wouldn't be so difficult if you didn't procrastinate!" I blustered.

And so Little Guy handed in his homework with this masterful kindergarten sentence: "I procrastinate."

His teacher laughed heartily. I did, too. And every so often, on a day like today (when a single side of a phonics sheet took more than an hour to do), I drag out the memory of "I procrastinate" to make myself chuckle. Because the funny things of prior times can still make me smile, even on the not-so-funny days. And it takes a little bit longer to go crazy if you're smiling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What my kids do with their free time

We use Singapore Math for school. So do our stuffed animals. Here the fourth grade class is doing a 3-D lesson on graphing. They are working hard, and making progress. Their teachers, Snuggler and Little Guy, are proud of them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Comparing our kids

Little Guy had phase one of his end-of-season soccer tournament today, and his team played four 20-minute games. It was an interesting experience watching so many teams play. Here's what I observed:

  • Every team had at least one weepy kid, or a child who thought his job was to poke with his shoe at the last shreds of grass on the field;
  • Every team had two or three avid players, kids who were hungry to play the game;
  • All the rest of the kids, the vast majority, were playing the game in an adequate and non-notable way -- and their parents, to a person, were all mildly embarrassed that the kids weren't trying harder.
I spent a while talking with one mom who lamented that her son didn't really 'get in there', and seemed to lack confidence. I told her that I hadn't noticed it, probably because I was more aware of Little Guy's tentativeness.

Then I told this mom about the time one of my children was in a performance and spent half the time with a finger up a nostril. Mortified, I sent increasingly frantic telepathic messages to my offspring, until I couldn't stand it any more and forced myself to look at another child.

I looked at a pretty little girl in a yellow dress. Who, as it turned out, kept flicking the hem of the pretty dress so her flowered underwear showed. And then I paid attention to a little brown-haired boy who was grasping his crotch in time to the beat. And then there was a bouncy chica who whipped her head from one side to another so that her braids smacked the kid next to her in the face. And a child who was so scared she stared in shock at the audience.

All these wonderful children were up on stage, and yet the only thing I'd been aware of up to that point was my child's finger up my child's nose.

Which just goes to show that often when we feel as if there's a spotlight shining on our children's embarrassing behavior, we're the ones shining it. And the norm isn't the best kids, it's the goofy ones. And learning to watch someone else's child is really a good thing. And the more we remember to laugh and shrug our shoulders, the better off we'll all be.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Just when you thought you knew what you were doing...

One of the truths of life: whenever you think you're getting the hang of parenting, your kids will prove you wrong.

Last night I was up late, washing still more dishes (we did a ton of cooking and baking yesterday), when Andrew called at 11:30, having forgotten that there's a 2-hour time difference between where he is on his business trip and where we are at home. After I hung up and finished cleaning up I read for a few minutes, and was just about to turn out the light when I heard the sound of bare feet coming out of the girls' room. I waited, figuring Snuggler would wander in, but she didn't. Then I heard the sound of the lock turning on the front door.

Yikes! I was out of bed and to the front door in a snap. There was Snuggler, in her pj's, starting to head out into the hallway. "Sweetie, you need to come back inside," I said, gently.

"No, I have to... you don't understand," she muttered.

"It's okay, honey. Let's go back to bed," I replied, putting my arm around her shoulder to guide her back into the apartment. She looked confused, and muttered a bit more, and then turned around and walked back into her room by herself.

Stunned, I wondered what to do. I'd never seen someone sleepwalking before, but this was clearly the real thing. I wondered if an odd interchange I'd had the night before with Snuggler had been due to sleepwalking, too. I pulled out our handy-dandy family medical guide. It said there's no inherent danger in sleepwalking, though people do tend to have accidents from tripping on things, and they should be prevented from leaving the house.

So sometime around midnight I put a pile of stuff in front of the front door, stuff that would make noise if it was moved. And I went to bed and went to sleep.

There were no more incidents. But it still feels weird.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy birthday, Dancer!

She's my sociable one, my athlete, my middle child surrounded by love. She smiled -- a real smile -- when she was ten days old, and spent the early years of her life enchanting the elderly ladies of the neighborhood.

For Halloween she has dressed as a unicorn, Emily Dickinson, and a giant apple pie.  She likes Star Trek, and reads voraciously. She dances through life, determined and graceful and organized and beautiful. 

There were overnight rolls for breakfast, and leotards and cooking supplies among her birthday presents today. But the best gift was discovering Eldest sleeping on the sofa. Dancer's beloved big sister came all the way from college late last night, just to be here for half a day.

Thank you for a dozen years of making our lives joyful, Dancer. We love you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When behavior is communication

Yesterday was one of Those Days, the kind that are forgettable because, well, who wants to remember them?

I awoke overwhelmingly irritated about something from the night before, offered my day to God (because I do that kind of thing, even when, as it turns out, I might as well have offered up my nail clippings), prayed for patience, snarled my way to the kitchen in a state of high hormonal bad humor, and realized that the day was going to be a challenge. My younger children are pros at assuming that when Mom's in a bad mood, it's because she doesn't like them. So I decided to forewarn them that my grumpiness was not their fault.

No one wanted to eat what I made for breakfast. It took the kids three years to get dressed. We started our schoolwork, and Little Guy was totally and uncharacteristically uncooperative. How is it that kids instinctually know the worst possible day to act up? Why couldn't Little Guy stay on track for half a subtraction problem? Where did he get this sudden delusion that he had the right to decide what he would and wouldn't do?

After a couple of hours of frustration and increasingly bad behavior from Little Guy, the lightbulb went on in my brain. And man did I feel stupod... er, stupid.

"Are you worried about something?" I asked my six year old.

"No, I'm anxious," he replied.

"Do you know what you're anxious about?"


I took a guess. "Are you anxious about what Mommy said about being in a bad mood?" (Though my mood had long since passed, bumped out by the more urgent need to manage Little Guy's outrageous behavior.)

"I think so."

"Do you remember that I told you this morning that if I was cranky it wasn't because of you?"

"Yes," he said, and then blurted, "But I don't know why you're upset!"

Oy. Oy-oy-oy-oy. I'd tried to sidestep having him worry that he was to blame for my irritability, and walked him straight into the anxiety of wondering what (besides him) could possibly cause Mom to be upset!

There's a saying that behavior is communication. Around here it's definitely true. If I were perfect, I'd always remember to look for the underlying cause of bad behavior instead of assuming it's just willfulness. But I'm not perfect, and the world isn't perfect, and some days we just have to sigh and toss our failures into the Bad Day pile and be done with it.

I snuggled Little Guy for a while, and read aloud to him. It didn't make a whole lot of difference -- his anxiety was too high by then to dissipate easily -- but it helped me wrap my brain around what I needed to do differently for the rest of the day. "Tomorrow will be better," I told my son.

And here we are at tomorrow, and lo and behold, it is a better day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stumbling into despair... and out of it

The alarm rang an hour earlier than it needed to yesterday morning. I made coffee and sat in the living room, alone, listening to the wind swish and the radiator hiss.Time like this is my 'sifting' time, when my brain begins to process all those things it hasn't had time to get around to.

On the dining room table lies a pile of mail that includes an announcement about a 'discharge planning meeting' at Big Guy's school. That's special-ed code for 'high school application process'. So I sat in the quiet and sipped coffee, mentally circling my profound reluctance to deal with high school for Big Guy, poking at it to see what sort of animal it is.

Big Guy is what we call a 2E kid: twice exceptional. He's extremely bright, and has extremely challenging problems. Ability combines with disability, and the combination doesn't fit in any of the usual boxes. His anxiety disorder is severe enough that he cannot attend a regular school, much less a school for gifted kids. And yet most schools for kids with emotional disabilities are geared toward those who underperform academically. So there's that: the choices are few.

Another problem is that many schools designed for kids with emotional disabilities are now packed with conduct disorder kids. Not a good mix for a kid who swims in anxiety. That makes the choices fewer.

But these aren't the reasons I was balking at beginning a high school search. The reason -- as it so often is -- is fear. I figured this out when I pulled up the web site of a school someone mentioned might be a good fit for Big Guy, and suddenly began to cry. It looked lovely, and like a place he would love. And yet for a variety of legitimate reasons I do not think they will accept my child.

I'm afraid that someone who might be able to save my child will turn him down.

I'm afraid that I will hunt and hunt for a solution, and there won't be a good one.

I am a person of hope, who sometimes stumbles on despair. For a minute I let myself fall, let my fears surge and wash over me. Being in the midst of them is the only way I know to truly see them, recognize them for what they are, and gauge their strength.

The wind swished soothingly outside the window, and my coffee was still warm. I held on to those not-insignificant comforts, sent up a little prayer, and decided it was time to move on. I can feel the fear, but start making phone calls, anyway.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Balancing the short and long term

Many years ago I worked as a director of marketing for a very large life insurance firm. At some point during my tenure the company went from being a mutual to a public company. That didn't change how life insurance policies were sold, but it did change the way the company was run. Because suddenly all that mattered was quarterly earnings.

Focusing on short-term profitability isn't bad, unless it distracts management from its longer-term vision. Unfortunately, soon after my company went public it became clear that short and long term plans were an either/or rather than a both/and proposition. I remember talking to my boss after about the third wave of major layoffs, in which truly essential people were let go because the goal was budget instead of efficiency. My boss asked what I thought of the cutbacks. I paused for a moment, then said drily, "Cutting off your leg is one way to lose weight."

I believe in thinking ahead, in factoring long-term considerations into your short-term plans. Or, as I frequently say to my kids, "Think through it before you do it."

Thinking things through is hard to do when you're a child, and you still need Mom to act as your frontal lobe from time to time. You're likely to make that cute little cardboard box into a bed for your mini-stuffed animal without considering that the 150 brass fasteners it used to contain now have no home. Or you forget that if you make all the tissues into dollies, there won't be any left when you start sneezing. Then Mom steps in and asks wearily, "What did you forget when you started doing that?" or (on a bad day) "What we you thinking?"

I feel I have a kind of moral obligation, especially since I have five children, to increase the population of future adults who have some modicum of foresight. So I strive to get my kids thinking for themselves as quickly as possible. Instead of asking, "Do you have your water bottle?" I ask, "Have  you forgotten anything?" As an alternative to "Put you literature notebook in your bag," I try to ask, "What else do you need for co-op?" I want my kids to develop their own mental checklists. It's slow going.

I also want my kids to think several steps ahead, to how others will feel or react to what they say or do, and to what might happen after that... and after that. It's hard to teach this, because kids usually catapult the cat out of the bag long before I can intervene to prompt thoughtfulness. So a lot of the thoughtfulness work is retroactive, and involves encouraging kids to make apologies even when they don't want to and eliciting ideas on what they could have done differently. That's not as effective as nipping the problem in the bud, but it's what I can do.

It occurs to me that this kind of thinking-ahead training lies almost exclusively in the realm of parenting. Isn't that an odd thing? That critical thinking, thorough thinking, the application of simple human thoughtfulness to every decision you make isn't considered education? Makes it all the more important to think ahead to what I need to teach my kids.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Should Calgon really take me away?

We had dinner at my wonderful friend Mary Ellen's house last Friday, along with our medieval arts teachers. Great food, good conversation.

At one point the discussion turned to the social repercussions of earbud-itis, a disease which plagues many teens of today. Mary Ellen commented that we are raising a generation of individuals, who isolate themselves in their interests instead of interacting with others. The teachers lamented the decline they've seen in kids' ability to resolve problems with one another. I observed that that's not surprising when parents "fix" sibling conflicts over which TV show to watch by buying each child a television. The discussion raised a question that lingers in my mind:

Why do we as a society put "make the problem go away" higher in our list of priorities than "build conflict-resolution skills in our children"?

Why do we heed the "I can't take this!" earworm that pops into our brains during so many of the rough spots of parenting?

Why are we so afraid of conflict? Why do we let our fears overwhelm the obviously better choice to invest in our children and teach them healthy coping skills?

Why do we as a society give up on problems so easily?

I'm not sure I have any answers here. But I'm interested in what makes us wimpy. I can see why a medieval serf would want Calgon to take him or her away. I can see why someone in the midst of a war zone would wish the same. But why do we?

Thoughts? You're welcome to speak up.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who wants to be a strong woman?

I have some to-be-respected forebears, most notably the formidable Hannah Dustin. She makes me look like mashed peas in the fortitude department. When life gets tough, it's useful having someone on the family tree with double the usual dose of frontier chutzpah. Kinda makes you ashamed to wimp out.

Last spring I read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Tough book, but full of hope. It's about women who have undergone -- and overcome -- hideous things: sexual slavery, acid in the face, utter ostracization because of a fistula. Having their stories as part of your mental repertoire of what people can survive is life-changing.

When you're familiar with strength like that, you start to realize that balancing what you want for your career with what you want for your child with what you want for yourself is barely a start. Being stoic when your kids are being impossible, or your spouse lets you down, or you make some humiliating mistake -- those are baby steps. Strength is about digging deep to get through whatever gets thrown at you, and maintaining your integrity in the process. Being a strong woman isn't at all glamorous; no one wants to have to be that strong.

But sometimes we do have to be that strong. Which argues for paying attention to how we spend our time and what we invest our energies in, so that if and when life gets rough, we'll already have a clear idea of what we value and which way we want to turn. There's a saying that character is revealed, not formed, in crisis. Here's hoping you have no great revelations any time soon... and that if you do, you find that you are quietly pleased to discover you are much stronger than you ever suspected.