Sunday, December 21, 2008
The socialization process starts from birth, if not before, and the pliable clay that is infancy is molded into the image the adult sees fit. In exceptional cases, the person may be able to consider and question what is being taught; for most of us, it is the water we swim in. It isn't until we are older, and perhaps our lives aren't working well for us, that we reconsider some basic assumptions.
Very early, before we knew we were agreeing to something, we were agreeing to an abstract model of "the people we should be" and "the people we shouldn't". People we should be were selfless, generous, helpful, and generally didn't trigger negative emotions in important adults (namely parents and teachers). People we should not be were selfish, unwilling, stingy, unkind and generally anything else that triggered irritation or anger in important adults.
Manifestations of feelings that went counter to the first group, and were umbrella'd under the category of the second, were BAD, and by extension the feelings themselves were deemed BAD.
I suppose this makes sense in a belief system where human beings are born BAD, and that we will always be at war with our BAD nature until we die.
The covert message, intended or not, is that not only certain actions are wrong: our very feelings need governing too. If we want to be "good", then we can't even allow feelings that are associated with the second group to rise to our level of consciousness. Self censorship is born. And therefore the truth of our Selves, the Selves that are experiencing these feelings, are submerged.
We may feel called to by this submerged Self, all our lives. A feeling of a lack, which the Christians say Jesus is supposed to fill. Buddhists attribute it to the suffering that is caused by "attachment" to things, people, outcomes. Some people drink, others do drugs, others take risks.
For those who wish to journey back to this place of authenticity of Self, there are successive guardians at the gate. I met one Guardian last week, in the tacit agreement that choosing something for your self, without a "good reason" is selfish, mean, grasping. That was the scarecrow flapping in the breeze, this sense of agreement with what my feelings "meant" (something awful about me). If I acknowledge that the feeling inside from which springs the reluctance is a core "No", then I realize that an agreement I made before I knew I was making an agreement--is irrelevant.
I think I found a new Guardian yesterday when Gary took the boys on an all-day errand trip. Funny what I can think up when I have some uninterrupted time.
This Guardian is more potent. It's called Shame.
I think I will leave it at that, for now.
Friday, December 19, 2008
They've been home a lot:
Thanksgiving; kids off for a week from school.
Gary in Asia first 2 full weeks in December.
Snowfall starts on Gary's first day home; suspense each day as I wait to see what the school district will do. The boys cheer on the snow and I pray it doesn't shut down the schools.
Monday, schools closed.
Tues, west-side schools closed, Scott's open.
Wed, all district schools closed.
Thurs, west-side schools closed, Scott's open. Hard freeze forecast.
Woke today to news all public schools were closed.
8:00 Boys rise, overjoyed. (any school morning they would want to sleep far longer).
8:30 Phone call from MIL to say she wasn't feeling well and could we postpone dinner at her house on Saturday? If only the message had been so succinct. It took a ten minute story about a week of diarrhea and featured every single protracted discussion with the advice nurse. (I'm imagining the call center when her number comes up on caller ID: "It's Her again..." "oh no, it's your turn now.") She filled me in on all the details including descriptions of 'consistencies'. I kept my tone respectfully sympathetic as I reassured her that we can postpone our get-together until our return from Calif. I tell her I hope she feels better.
9:00 Demon drumming from below
9:01 Scott wants to know when we're leaving to get his Lego (reward for staying focused and behaved at school). I explain to him that we may not be able to go today because Gary took the AWD Subaru and left us with the front-wheel-drive van. Immediate heartbreak. Demands that I "jack up the tires". Patient monologues about icy roads and cars in ditches do not penetrate his disappointment. Call Gary to see what roads were like on his way down to work this morning. Says driving down the hill is do-able, even without 4wd: "Just keep it in second gear and slow down through the s-curves by the creek". No one is on the road, he says.
Unsure whether I will work up the motivation to try, I decline to make promises, infuriating Scott further. Finally I send him downstairs to be with Connor because I can't endure his whining any longer. Fortunately he goes.
The ensuing quiet is now available to be exploited, but for an indeterminate amount of time. I find my deep thoughts have gone into hiding the way a cat will dive under a bed when it hears children at the door. So I sweep a living room floor which is littered with Christmas tree needles instead. Mull options:
Which is worse? A dicey drive on questionable roads (at least the chains for the van have instructions!), or the unrelieved company of two restless and fractious boys? I decide to chance it with the car. There are two birthday parties tomorrow that need gifts anyway, and the cat's low on food.
There's also no gas in the van. Thanks Gary. There's no gas on this hill either, for about 10 miles.
As we drive down the hill the road goes from slushy to wet. We're heading to a perfect 90 degree T intersection where we will turn south to go to shopping center city where all the big chain stores live. Narrow country road, and I'm just about to turn left onto 185th when I hear sirens and see the big engine coming straight up the hill toward us. As I was already in the intersection and there are ditches on each side of the road--no shoulder to pull onto--I decide to jettison the turn and move across the intersection instead and squeeze over as far as I can on the right without sliding into that culvert. Once the firetruck passes I'm left with some awkward maneuvers on a road that suddenly has traffic in order to resume our route.
Once we're down in big-box city we wait for 3 light changes to get in to the complex of stores. I park and then go on hyper-alert to prevent Scott's accidental suicide. He has no concept of self-preservation, even at 7, and so I have to be vigilant for us both. He is given to stopping in unfortunate places to contemplate something on his shirt and I am continually moving him along: "Keep walking, Scott; we need to walk, Scott; let's head for the store, Scott..."
So I'm exhausted when we reach the automatic doors of the store and Connor asks if it's "always like this every Friday". I explain it is "like this" because this is the last Friday before Christmas. ( I'd hoped the snow would keep everyone home.) "Like this" means further vigilance on my part because Scott is oblivious to the trajectories of others and has an uncanny knack for getting in people's way and then stopping. "Like this" is sidestepping shopping carts and looking around people who are standing in front of the display that holds the items we're considering. "Like this" is saying "excuse me" over and over and dodging people. As we walk to the cashiers I tell Connor that of all places to be at this moment in time, this is the place I least want to be. He asks me where I'd rather be and I say, "Just about anywhere." He said, "Like where?" and I respond, "Walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals." He smiles and says, "That's funny. ...Do you know the meditation they do to walk across?" I say no, and he says, "Then you'd rather have 4 degree burns on your feet? You're exaggerating!" I explain hyperbole as the device for conveying strong feelings.
Connor will have some money left over after he buys his cd and he says he wants to get himself and Scott a soda and some candy. I think he means at the little restaurant in the store after we've checked out; just then I see the express line is open. I dive for it. We pay for our things and we're through the line when Connor says, "Now we have to go back and get the candy and soda!" I realize he hadn't meant going to the cafeteria. "Oh, no. We're not going back in there." Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place and it's just not going to happen that we go through another check stand unimpeded. For two sodas and candies I'm totally unwilling to risk it. Grumbling as we walk out to the car; calmed when I tell him he can get the junk food when we buy gas.
Once home I go out to get the mail. While removing my boots and getting into slippers Scott apologizes to me for having thrown my Christmas stocking behind the Christmas tree in a fit of pique when he'd thought I wasn't going to take him to the store. He tells me he went back and got it and rehung it. I tell him I accept his apology (I hadn't noticed it was missing).
A few moments later I notice a lot of dirt and tree needles on the floor where I'd swept earlier. Realize he probably drug all that out when he went retrieved the stocking.
So right now he's happily assembling his Lego and downstairs the demon drums have begun to sound. Connor bought himself an AC/DC cd so he could learn the drum parts. He's already been up here as I write wanting me to come and see. So it looks like a good time to get up and do laundry, and sweep up the dirt from under the tree.
Damn, he's actually playing those drums pretty well!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This is probably as close to alone as I'm going to get, other than stealing a little time at the beginning of the day by getting up early.
Wondering if therapy is cancelled tonight too. Really, it doesn't look that bad out there. I've been watching cars drive by just fine!
I'd lay odds on them being home tomorrow too. Friday it doesn't matter since Scott's got a half-day anyway.
Drat. I'd counted on this week as time alone to store up, much as the squirrels store their nuts and seeds for privation times ahead. Tuesday we leave for California, with 2 kids who hate long drives. To spend 5 days with my parents. Then drive back. So this mother bear is entering the cold season without a lot of underlying fat for self sustenance.
And I ran out of tequila for margaritas last week. Now that's something I should have stocked up on.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
So, time to go make The Most of this since I've heard rumor that more snow is supposed to begin falling tomorrow.
Ho ho ho.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Got a visit from a hummingbird this afternoon. I hadn't thought ahead so the poor thing was greeted with a frozen feeder. I'll do better tomorrow. The woodpeckers have been hard at the suet feeders and I spread some seed. Tomorrow I'll get some lard to spread on the pine cone hangings and press some seed into them too.
So, let's see if tomorrow is a Better Day.
Westside (west of the Willamette River) schools are closed tomorrow. Connor is rejoicing. I've forbidden him to tell Scott, who goes to an eastside school. If I play my cards right tomorrow I can still get a little time alone tomorrow. Connor wants to go over to a buddy's house. They live on 20 acres with a good sledding hill.
Now, if only they don't close the eastside schools tomorrow.
Already they're occupied with insults and counter-insults.
Worst-case scenario? A tree coming down or some idiot plowing into a utility pole and bringing down the whole power grid.
Sorry 'bout the sucky attitude.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
My ever-strategic mind started grinding when the forecasts started last week. Snow starting Friday? Clear and cold by Monday? Maybe the bulk of it will fall Fri-night, Sat morning, and they'll have the roads clear enough that they don't miss any school.
In the meantime the local television stations have been nearly hysterical talking about how all the snow-plows and sanding crews are "standing by"; giving tips on "staying warm" which includes, "Dress warmly."
It didn't start seriously until early this morning.
The boys are so joyful they can barely contain themselves, jumping around, grabbing me from behind for hugs, plowing into me, hanging on my shoulders. "Aren't you glad it's snowing!!!"
Fortunately they're so happy they don't notice my tepid response. Weak smile and nod. Trying to prepare myself for the worst--school closure. Which they're fervently hoping for.
So we're at cross purposes, my boys and I. And every moment they're broadcasting: "Look at that snow!" "Mom! Look! Snow!" (there's half an inch accumulation but it's coming down)
"There's enough to sled on!" "Let's scrape it up and pour maple syrup on it (like no leaves or mud are stuck to the bottom). "Mom! Mom! Mom!" Each "Mom" jolts me like electricity. And it's over and over and over. "Look at the grass! It doesn't look like much but it's an optical illusion because the hill slopes. There's really lots. Let's have a family snow fight!"
It's the hypocrisy wearing me out. The weak smiles. The trying to not look too dismayed when they say, "Maybe they'll close school!" The trying to hide the computer screen as I write this and he leans over me. "Come on, Mom! Go outside!"
Gary's back now from Asia. Came in yesterday morning. He's cheering on the snow: "We have three quarters of an inch already!" With him gone I've not had to indulge Christmas hypocrisy. He left on the first so we didn't get a tree or put up lights. So here at home I've been able to almost-forget about it, other than the countdown calendar that Scott religiously changes each morning. Gary didn't even take a nap when he got home; put up Christmas lights on our back porch which kept us awake long into the night. The timer was set to go off at 11 and I finally went and unplugged it at 11:10. Today we go and get the Christmas tree.
I just overheard on the radio that chains are required on all highways going through Portland. Hwy 26 is closed while emergency vehicles go to tow out the vehicles obstructing traffic for not being able to make it up the hill.
That's it. I'm sure school's closed tomorrow. Last year they closed it after I'd already seen the middle school bus go by. All day we were bathed in sunlight and watched the cars whiz by on the dry road.
I can't write a coherent thought because every couple minutes the boys have been interrupting me. Now they're outside and Gary's talking to me about airports, going through customs. This is why the notion of school closure tomorrow fills me with such horror. They're going to be off for 2 weeks the week after this next one, for crying out loud. Isn't that enough of a solitude drought?
Oh no, here they come! Sporting wounds from saucering into the blackberry vines. I guess they really could sled on that half-inch of snow, though if I'd been a good mother and monitored what they were up to, I wouldn't have allowed it.
CLOSE THE DOOR! (dammit)
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
This blog is one manifestation of a need for introspection that actually started long before there was even blogging. But about a year before I started it and continuing to this day there has been a need that has been so intense I've found it nearly painful to be doing anything else.
Mrs. Spit talked about the 'binary nature' of suffering. This reminds me of something I heard on the radio as I was driving somewhere. The speaker said that basically humans are binary creatures; at the very core of our being and interactions with others is a 'yes', or 'no' decision.
For several years I've had few whole-hearted 'YES"s. Among the few is writing in my journal, writing here, reading the reflections of other bloggers, solitude. Most of my 'yes's have been in the "if I have to" category. Dutifully cheerfully if cheer is part of the "have to". Yes, I'll drive some kids on a field trip. Yes, I'll read with a child at school on a regular basis. Yes, I'll volunteer in Scott's classrooms on Wednesdays. Yes, I'll meet a friend for coffee.
And YES I'll feed this place inside that needs silence, and solitude, and reflection.
But I just realized that there's a deeper application of yes/no.
I guess it started a couple summers ago when my mother in law hurt her back and wasn't going to be able to go to Alaska to see her granddaughter get married. She'd given Gary the money to buy her ticket and asked me if I'd take it. The seats were not transferable, and the price was non-refundable. When I called to inform her of this she was crushed to learn that go or not, she was forfeiting the $600 or so that was the price of the ticket.
I was crushed too, because Gary was planning to take the boys, and I was going to be home alone for 5 days. This was to be my island of sanity in the shipwreck of summer vacation. Gary had booked flights on 2 planes, one for her and Scott, one for himself and Connor. If she didn't go, neither would Scott. And of the two, he needed the most from me; and I most needed the break from being needed. She realized this, and asked if it was my "depression" that made me want to have time away from the kids. "Wouldn't most mothers, if plans changed and they had to be with their children, be glad to be with their children and not be disappointed?" She actually did say that, and beneath the words was the undercurrent that told me she was spoiling for a fight. What enabled me to sidestep the bait was a realization: a Feeling is a Feeling. It's not subject to 'shoulds'. Someone could just as easily be telling her that her back "shouldn't" be hurting. So I was able to tell her the Truth, without rancor: "Well, no one can tell another person how they 'should' feel in their body. And if someone is looking forward to something, it's normal to feel disappointed if plans change."
It laid the groundwork for me, to realize that the bald message behind the question is: "You should feel something different from what you are feeling. A normal mother would not feel disappointed. You should be a different mother."
It's sort of an obvious lesson, that a feeling is a feeling and not subject to the same rules as those for behavior. But I think that's the first time I understood this on a visceral level.
So fast forward a few years later when I've got Scott enrolled in a school that involves a commute. I try to set up a carpool, and some families express interest. As we start going through the process of mulling over schedules and looking for the shape of things, one family has a need to step up the pace of the decision-making process. In essence, they're asking that their urgency become our urgency, that the timing to get it set up be adjusted upward to fit their need for speed. They need a ride two days a week to an afterschool care for their 3 kids.
In the meantime, I'm intensely involved in Scott's special education process, and when I start to prepare him for the idea of riding with someone else some days, he adamantly balks. As we've been having some quality time in the car together riding to school, I decide to just go with that and withdraw from carpool participation. I offered to take this one family's 3 kids, though, one day a week, to the after care. It seemed like a nice thing to do, and not difficult, since they're not terribly far out of the way of my route home. I did reflect a bit on a sort of imbalance in the system, since I wouldn't be participating in the benefits of carpooling, and set my mind to do it anyway.
I don't know what they worked out for the other days of the week with the other families. I just get the kids to daycare on Wednesdays, as I've been doing throughout the month of November.
Yesterday I found an email from this family. It was to the general carpool group but essentially asking me if I'd take the kids on Mondays too.
This is an opportunity to reflect on a Bigger Picture of when people want something different. At the very basis of this is the question of whose will shall prevail? On a macro scale it looks like, "Who gets the bigger piece of cake?" Do I deny myself, or you? What it comes down to is whether my priorities and self-interest is going to be subordinate to yours, or yours to mine. A choice.
If we don't have a 'good reason' to deny the Other their will, there seems to be a strong pressure to acquiesce. If my reason would not hold up in a court of law, then I am obliged to comply.
When I examine this further, I see the components of this dynamic are thus: "Because I don't want to" is not a good reason. "Because I don't want to and-nothing-else" implies selfishness. An unadorned (with 'good reasons') "because-I-don't-want-to" is flying in the face of what 'should' be. I should be an open-hearted person. I should be a person who is generous. I should be a person who gives and expects nothing in return. And I should not feel reluctant. If I am reluctant that's being a person I should not be. I will override my reluctance, since it is preventing me from attaining the state of being this generous person.
OK, so there is this 'person' I'm 'supposed to be' and a person I am not (supposed to be). If I see the situation from the perspective of the other party involved, I see me as someone who is driving in a certain direction anyway, who has plenty of room in her rig. I see that I have a need, and there seems to be no reason to deny it.
Back to my own perspective where I realize what a reflexive thing it's been to see the world through other perspectives besides my own. I see in some ways it's a gift, yet it's two-edged. Because while I've been willing to see a situation from another's perspective, no one has been willing to see situations from mine. Or, I've been surrounded by people who simply didn't have the ability to take anOther's perspective. So this hasn't really been a level playing field.
Yes, and No.
When I look further beneath the Guardian at the Gate of thinking of myself as 'Selfish", when I see that there's a sort of general human consensus of this person we should not be, I find a calm place. There is a place deeper than this person I should not be. Instantly it's calmer. All the turbulence is caused by the anxiety of trying to avoid this specter. I see a place where there is Yes, or No.
Another component of the turbulence is the need to 'defend' myself from the specter, prevent it from being attached to me. This defense can take the form of denying it, overriding it, making excuses, or making the other person wrong for asking for something. Or defending myself in advance from their disappointment and possible anger. In the Deeper Place all that falls away. There is Yes, or No. And, No, all by itself is enough. It's its own reason. If pressed to answer, "Why not?" I can say, because at the heart of my being, that's What Is.
So the reply I sent to Holli and the message group was that for now I'm going to stick with the schedule I've got, and maybe increase participation later when Scott is more able to participate.
My cuz planted her foot in my nether parts in my comments several months ago. Just wanted to give credit to the inspiration and thought that's gone into this post. I've been thinking about it for months, Lori!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
So, in my remaining time I thought I'd at least go over to Pam's blog and see if I could remember how to collect her award.
Pam said such nice things that warmed my heart. They've been a steadying influence today as I negotiate my technological travails.
But as if to prove that life can be a Trickster Coyote, I can't 'pick up' my award to display here! It's been a while since I've done it, so it's like I always have to learn how to do it all over again. This must be the case today.
So, it appears the only digging I've been doing lately is just trying to get out from under some pretty mundane details. Anyone who's interested in anything of any depth will just have to "dig deeper".
Thank you, Pam!
Now, my next headache is the back-up. All I wanted was a thumb drive. But Gary had to buy a Western Designs behemoth with enough capacity for several hard drives. And, it has been a struggle to use it from day one. Which is why to this day I'm not certain if I really have my data backed up on it or not.
I'm still wondering if I restart my Mac if Word might restore itself to its original settings. Now that I know that I can open documents in Word, if not in Finder, has given me some ease. But the part of me that wants to be very very sure wants to see if the external drive really does have my data, and if that is restorable.
There's the rub. I can get as far as the page that shows my files I've backed up. I can select a file, but when I click on Open I get a text message that says:
By restoring a backup, you can recover files that may have been damaged or deleted.
Search for the file types in the "Back up To:" folder or browse and select individual files that you want restored in the "Back up To:" folder.
Then copy the search results or individual files to their original location or another location. We suggest you not copy the folder directly--doing so could result in the loss of other files in the original folder.
I see no commands or buttons that will enable me to copy my files to their original location. I see no instructions on how to create such a location, or if I need to. When I go to support I get a website that only tells me to follow the instructions on the text message I get when I open the file I want restored.
Mrs. Spit, can I use 'oy vey'?
When Gary went online to access our bank accounts, he was told that he needed to reset his online name code: the bank is no longer using social security #'s as the online code. So he reset that, and the passcode. Left me with those codes and went to Asia. Called from the airport asking me to move some money over from one of the savings account into his checking. He was afraid there might be 'sniffers' at the airport who would access that sensitive information so didn't want to do it there.
So I tried, using his online name and passcodes.
It won't let me in. I can't get in to the savings account to move money around. I can't help him, and I can't help me either: he paid a bunch of bills from the account I normally use and those checks were due to be drawn on. He's no longer available by phone, already in flight.
I figured he could take care of it online from Asia. Emailed him.
Bounce! Boing! Boing! The online alerts for insufficient funds start coming. I thought maybe something was wrong with the codes Gary had given me and asked him to email them. I tried to get in. Couldn't. Called Customer service. Some time ago Gary added some accounts to the basic checking he'd opened up in Missouri (this is the one I primarily use.). The new accounts originate in Oregon. He didn't change the first account to an Oregon one. It wasn't necessary; they were all integrated and we could transfer funds online easily. Now they're no longer integrated and when I demand to know why the voice on the other end of the line (after wading through a number of automated voices) has no clue either: "I have no way of accessing these accounts to get the information unless your husband is there to verify." I said that the bank should waive any overdraft charges because we'd been making good faith efforts to shift funds and could not because of a change the bank had made without notifying us. He said he couldn't help me because he couldn't get in to Gary's accounts to get information about overdraft.
Upshot: I can't do anything about this, either online, over the phone, at the ATM, or in person. I am among the entities that access to his account is protected from. (I asked in an email if he was trying to tell me something.)
I've sent a number of increasingly urgent emails to Gary, then surmise that for some reason he must not be getting them and called. Guess what, for some reason in the hotel he's in he's unable to get online. My messages have been going into a spam box and he's unable to open them.
I'm not as upset as I might be because we get an automatic payday deposit at midnight tonight, and it goes directly into the account I use.
I do hope we can get the overdraft charges waived though. I'm going to think seriously about finding another bank, hopefully one that's solvent, to move our funds to if they don't.
How's Canada's banking system doing?
I thought I had a post in me but right now I just feel this buzzing inside at the prospect of having lost ALL my documents; thousands of pages and hundreds of hours of writing.
I do have them backed up on an external hard drive, which I'm running right now in hopes that maybe it can somehow access my most recent writings since I last backed data up. And, I've never used it in field conditions, so I'm not feeling consoled. What if I did something wrong in backing them up and they're not available from there after all?
There's a part of me that wants to quit the word application and then see if it resets itself and I can get my stuff back...but I'm scared I'll lose it alllllllllllll if I do.
Trying to not panic...bring...breathing....under....control.....
Monday, November 24, 2008
Coherence won't be my strongest suit.
Witness today, where I've had on the calendar for months Connor's school conference. I signed up for it so long ago that it didn't stand out that I was creating a scheduling conflict when I invited Scott's school friend over to spend the night. I was going to be down at the school for Scott's school conference with Billy anyway, and Levi was going to be in the after-care program, so I offered to bring him home with us. I made the offer in the way that one may consider going to the spouse's high school reunion, Thanksgiving dinner with dubious relatives, or a mammogram. This kid has the most irritating high-pitched voice which grates like fingernails on the black board and if anything is even more hyperactive than Scott. The kids had been begging for a while, so I agreed to it while forgetting about Connor's conference at 7 pm.
Connor has no tolerance for Levi and so I suggested to him that he find himself a place to shelter for the night. I went to Scott's conference and got a call from Connor: his friend couldn't have him for the night, but he could stay at our house. I thought about it and determined that 4 kids might be better than 3 and so agreed to that. Hung up and then remembered Connor's conference.
It's probably a 20 minute conference, but with the 10 minute or so drive to and from the school it would be closer to an hour they'd be without adult supervision.
Connor and Scott I can leave with some peace of mind for an hour or so; Connor, his buddy, Scott and Levi would be foolhardy. I'd probably come home to blood and hair. There's also the element of the friends' parents, especially Levi's, who might be doubtful about their child being left in the 'supervision' of a 10 and 11 year old. And Connor's buddy's parents who may not want their child to be saddled with that responsibility.
It's probably a 20 minute conference, but with the 10 minute or so drive to and from the school it would be closer to an hour they'd be without adult supervision.
What to do:
(What I could NOT do was ask our neighbors across the street. They've already filled in thrice in babysitting emergencies, so they were off limits. I could not face asking them again.)
1) ask my next door neighbor, who is in the middle of a house renovation, to sit with them for an hour, just as an adult Presence in the house
2) ask the school secretary if I could bring all 4 of them and let them be in the school gym while we conferenced
3) reschedule appointment
The next door neighbor was willing, but she has a dinner commitment with the people who have already watched my kids 3 times. She would need to be there at 7:30.
No, the kids can't be alone in the gym.
No, there are no other evening appointments available on another day. Gary really wants to go.
Gary's unhappy at the boys spending the night because he'll be working late into the night to get ready for his trip to Asia.
So...I arranged for Gary to go by himself tonight and scheduled myself an appointment for tomorrow mid-afternoon. I think it'll work. Turns out Connor's friend can't spend the night after all, and if necessary his mom offered to take Connor for a few hours tonight if things are dicey with all four of them.
So far so good though. It's working the way it's supposed to (shhhh!): each boy occupied with his own friend, in largely separate parts of the house.
It's just the temporary nature of this peace, though, that keeps me from settling fully into a blog post that means more to me--in the words of Gen. David Petraeus, the calm is 'fragile and reversible'.
Lawd have mercy.
Friday, November 14, 2008
How can the solid world we experience have its foundation built upon particles that may or may not be there?
When do the physical laws we know cease to apply? Perhaps physicists have already answered this and I don't understand enough to know it.
As I thought about these things, I thought about religion. I thought about the extent to which it is applied. One of the criticisms that the fundamentalist churches have of more liberal churches is that they don't take the Bible literally enough. I suppose the reasoning goes, if you're going to be a Christian, then you need to live in accordance with God's will. And the Bible is that map of God's will. And if we don't apply it literally, well then our (Originally) sinful nature will make excuses to express itself.
As a former fundamentalist I can testify to how crucial a question this is. We firmly believe in Original Sin, which is the reason Christ came to earth to be crucified in order to redeem us. If you're a fundamentalist you believe that your purpose is to live lives that are pleasing to God. You also believe that you're continually locked in a struggle with your "old sin nature" which is wily, tricky, and will assert itself given half a chance. Adhering to the Bible is the antidote to this problem. And once you get started with literal application, there is no logical place to stop.
Lovingkindness is the way that Christianity is supposed to manifest on earth. However, following a logical progression of what it means to take the Bible literally leads to a paradox--it becomes the antithesis of itself. Today I read in a post of a lesbian couple whose son is enrolled in a Christian school. Noticing that one of the partners is frequently at pick-up a teacher asked if they were 'together'. A few days later the boy's mother is called into the school director's office for a 'word'. The director told her that this school has a birthday party policy--that no child can be invited to a party without everyone being invited. However, they were now changing this policy, because some of the parents may not "feel comfortable" with the boy in their homes. A 5 year old boy. They were changing this policy solely on account of this child.
When Jesus made the allegory of straining the gnat and swallowing the camel, it was precisely situations like this he was referring to. I don't know whether to be more floored at the injustice, or at the blindness of this school to what they are doing: they are changing a school policy which is meant to ensure that everyone is included, in order to EXclude a 5 year old boy. They're doing it unaware that they are swallowing the camel. They are acting as an agent of Satan, yet firmly and fervently believe they are acting according to how God would want them to act. Their hearts are hard, and hardened.
I can understand religion as a force for right-behavior, a vehicle for teaching people the kindest way to treat each other. At what point though do the 'laws' that govern Christian behavior cease to have jurisdiction and and different 'laws' apply?
Sadly, looking over Christianity's often bloody history it appears that literal application of the law results in violent ends. And it appears that lesson hasn't been learned yet.
Monday, November 10, 2008
The scene is Auschwitz, a present-day memorial, visited by a tour group. As the guide takes them through, she tells them that as new prisoners were brought, others were killed to make room for them. There is a rumor that one such group put God on trial.
As the program begins we are taken to an Auschwitz sometime before the end of World War II. A cell block of men, stripped naked, are paraded before a (presumably) dr who is evaluating them. Some are grouped to the right, some to the left, all given numbers. Half of them will be killed, but they don't know which half.
Returned to their cell block, not knowing who is to die the next morning, they are interrupted when a group of new prisoners, still in the clothing they'd been taken in, still unshaven, are thrust into the barracks. The prisoner in charge of the inmates tells them bitterly that because of the 'efficiency' of the German rails, the prisoners have arrived a day early and will be sharing the already cramped quarters with them that night.
Bitter feelings are expressed toward God, which are denounced by one man, Kuhn, as 'blasphemy'. It's clear that this is personal for him, a macrocosm of his conflict with his son Mordechai who he feels has wandered far from the faith. The rabbi Schmidt states that there is precedent in struggle with God, citing Job and the story of Jacob who was renamed "Israel" after striving with God all night . He gives support to setting up a rabbinical court with himself as Court Father. A German who was a professor of law agrees to be Head of the court and Mordecai insists on being the Dayan, or the Questioner.
First they must come up with a charge, and they decide upon murder, and breach of Covenant: God made a Covenant with the Jewish people, that they were His Chosen People...that God's favor would be upon them and He would "smite" their enemies.
Kuhn insists that Jews have strayed from the teachings of the Torah, have drifted from God and what they are experiencing is the consequence of this. He cites ancient Jewish history when the Jews have 'forsaken' God and been punished; this is the reason for the situation they're in.
Mordechai calls one of the newcomers, a member of a tiny Polish village. He asks if this man's village loved God and stayed true to the Torah. In great sincerity the man said that they did: "In our poverty the Torah was the palace in which we lived in splendor." Yet the Nazis came, killed his mother before him, forced him and the other survivors to bury their dead; forced them to take the rings from their parents' bodies and give them to the Nazis.
Another witness is called who says that God's punishments are not surgical, frequently not proportionate, citing the Flood. He suggests their ordeal is a part of a purification, a sacrifice, where only the best are sacrificed. This brings comfort to the man who had buried his mother.
Another, a Jewish scholar who was among the newcomers, adds that God's actions are not personally directed...that the conditions they find themselves in are not God punishing them personally, that His movements are vast and impersonal in scope. "We may hate the surgeon's knife, the the surgeon's act is an act of love."
"What use is an impersonal god?" asks one. Another retorts, "God is to be of use to us, then?"
At one point the proceedings are interrupted as prison guards flood in and remove the newcomers. They are stripped of their clothing, forcibly shorn, given prison garb and returned to the cell.
The dynamic is very different now. While these man had had the clothes on their back, their spectacles and their fillings, there had still been an illusion they could cling to of some sort of self-determination. There was silence, and then one of the newcomers spoke up and said he would like the trial to continue to conclusion.
Why didn't God intervene on behalf of His people? One man answers that it is on account of God having given humans Free Will. In a rage one prisoner demands that another tell his story of when he was taken, what happened to him. At first the prisoner demurs, but when the angry man says he will tell it regardless, the prisoner says if anyone is to tell his story, it will be him.
He says the children, among them his three sons, the oldest seven, were put on a truck. As it was driving away he ran after it, shouting for it to stop, to give him his sons. The driver did stop, and asked who were his. He said he'd thought the soldier was going to give them to him, and so he identified them. And the soldier told him to choose one. The children heard this, all of them crying, begging him to choose them. Where was his choice? Where was his free will, he asks. (The Head of the Court asked him if he knows what became of his sons. He said that two of his sons were twins, and he'd heard they'd gone to Mengele. He took comfort in this, saying he'd heard that Mengele 'likes' twins...)
I've been sympathetic to the argument of free will. It makes a kind of sense to me that when people exercise their free will and choose evil that this may have consequences for others who do not have might on their side. And God, having resolved that we should have the freedom to choose, is unable to intervene without violating our free will.
However, an impassioned argument at the end gave me pause. This man took over the questioning and asked the scholar: When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt--why were they in Egypt. "There was a famine..." "and God sent the famine? And when God told Moses to tell the Pharaoh to release the Israelites, what happened when the Pharaoh did not? He turned water to blood! He brought plagues, frogs, locusts, mosquitos, rats, and then boils. Did he bring it on just the Pharaoh? No! He brought it upon the entire Egyptian population, leaders and slave alike, except the Israelites. And then what happened?" The scholar, speaking more softly now replied that God had sent an Angel of Death. "And who did this angel slay?" "The firstborn son of every Egyptian." "From the rulers down to the slaves, every firstborn child was slain. NOT the Pharaoh, but the children, infants!"
"And what happened when the Children of Israel left, following Moses? Did the Pharaoh let them go in peace?" "No, he sent an army after them." "And when Moses and his people had crossed the Red Sea, did God let the sea close behind them immediately? No! He waited until the soldiers were in the very middle of the sea in pursuit and then let the waters close over them and drown them all."
The man went on, example after example. God's people being used as God's instrument to punish, to drive prior inhabitants from their lands. Whom God demanded that no mercy be shown, and when Saul, one of Israel's kings did show mercy God punished him. God's punishment to David for his sin with Bathsheba, not to just take the child they had together, but to cause that child to suffer in pain for 7 days before dying.
Powerful examples of where God had intervened, surgically, and personally, contrasted with where He had not. Why then? Why not now? "God is not good!" this man bellowed, "He is only strong. When he told Abraham to kill his only child, Abraham should have told him 'NOOOOOOOOOOOO!' God should learn mercy and justice--from US. Do you know what was on the belt buckles of the men who rounded us up? 'Gott Mit Uns'! We were powerful, when God was on our side. Now He's on someone else's side. He's made a new Covenant--with someone else!"
The guards burst in to take those who were slated to die. They covered their heads, with their hands, to pray.
All the arguments about God's role in the world, in suffering, in evil--in the crucible of a Holocaust prison. All questions we've had too, in the crucible of our own suffering. We're gifted with the ability to reason, yet this seems beyond reason. I'm struck at how we go around and around turning this wheel, and yet how open-ended the Problem of Suffering remains.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Read history, thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos — in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face, —
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.
Edna St. Vincent MilletMrs. Spit may not realize what a rabbit-hole she sent me down when she mused to me about 'the Problem of Suffering.' She articulated a concept that I've experienced, but was never able to find words for. I feel as if I've suddenly been gifted with a new language, one that permits expression of emotion which isn't permitted by my native tongue.
In some sense this absolutely was a test - in the sense that a test is often, at some level, binary in nature. A test is the idea of choosing. And so when I ask "why her, and not me?", it is obviously a test in that I have to accept that I probably would have been a good mum, and she was, at least in the brief moment I saw her, a bad mum. And she had 2 children, and I have none. There is a test in the idea that she has, unjustly what I want.
And that leaves me with a few options. Perhaps it's my political science and philosophy, but I am reminded of the problem of pain, as CS Lewis put it. Pain leaves us in a place where we either have to accept there is no God, because there is pain, There is a God, but he doesn't care about us, and has left off active participation in the universe, and that's why there is pain, or that there is God and there is pain, and the reasons and explanations of how both exist defy my explanation--Mrs. Spit
Instantly I'm reminded of Schrodinger's cat, in Schrodinger's box, where the cat is either alive, or dead. The situation is binary in nature. But...there is that place--before we look, where he either is, or isn't, alive or dead.
I think it's beyond the power of the human mind to conceive. When I contemplate it and try to juxtapose the two, I get a sensation of two like poles of a magnet repelling each other.
It's the collision of 'what is' with 'what should be'. The fact of a Basic Need, denied. By 'basic' I mean inherent: something we are born into this world programmed to expect. Food, water, shelter, touch, intimacy. When these needs are denied, either by being withheld or simple absence, our need doesn't go away. What 'should be' is that humans' basic needs be met. 'What is' is frequently the barrier our needs hurl us against, again and again.
I've met this place, over and over again, in the most mundane of circumstances, to the most profound. How many among us have been stuck on hold on the phone, awaiting answer to a pressing question, loath to hang up and go to the back of the queue, but caught between: "they're never coming back--my call has been dropped" and "They're about to pick up any second and if I hang up now I'll miss it"? For me it can be excruciating to be in that place between.
This place appears in my dreams. I've dreamed about going to Sharon, my counselor, with something important to tell her, and there are people there. I am caught in the space between where it is unacceptable for me to speak intimately in the presence of these people--yet it is unacceptable to leave without sharing these thoughts with her. I've dreamed of being kept waiting in restaurants, where the wait becomes unacceptable yet leaving and finding another restaurant seems futile too. Maybe my turn is next and I'd be leaving just before I'd get what I was waiting for. Very trivial inconveniences in a world of profound losses and suffering--yet what's in common is the tension between a need (on), and the lack of its fulfillment (off).
And perhaps it is this tension, this very suffering that carries the transformative potential. Perhaps this is the place where light hits a lens, and emerges transformed from the other side. A kind of beauty in its splintering. This is where atoms transform into molecules, where the gap is bridged between the two.
It seems to me to be human is to experience this place as a consequence of living. The posts I've been writing about frustration in children are descriptions of this place. We've encountered it early, and often, from the breast that doesn't arrive when we want it, to the toy some other child has just walked away with, to squirming from the discomfort and boredom of being trapped in a long line, and so on.
It occurs to me, that this is the Place that's pivotal to our ability to move on in our development as human beings, to borrow a concept also first posed by Mrs. Spit. She proposed it, and I've been running with it ever since. The usual response to childish frustration is to punish it, patronize it, attempt to gratify it. We learned early that part of growing up is learning to manage the feelings that happen in our bodies when something blocks fulfillment of a heart's desire. Some of us learned that our expressions of pain inconvenienced people who matter, and we were considered to be maturing to the extent that we could keep unpleasant emotions to ourselves and not bother anyone with them.
We are most often left alone in that excruciating place, with no skills to cope with the painful feelings there.
And it occurs to me that this is the place we need someone to abide with us. This is what we need from other human beings, and when we receive it, we grow. We need someone there to model the transformative power of these overwhelming feelings. This is part of the very foundation of our Souls. Incident by incident, having someone to abide with us in that binary place lays down a solid Self from which we emerge and stand; from which we launch ourselves into the world. Without it we still develop and grow, but there is a core hollowness in those bricks that build our infrastructure. Most of us carry this hollowness inside.
Oftentimes people marvel at the Power of having someone abide with them when they are suffering loss, and pain: not trying to fix the pain, or minimize it, but just be there as Witness. It is powerful because it fills a deeper need than Doing ever could.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The notion was tinged with intimations of moral character. Belief was an exercise in will power, an allegiance to an idea. In the United States the idea was God-and-country. You were a good, upright, moral human being to the extent that you hewed to Belief.
I thought I was the only person who had this experience: I have a Belief, but thoughts and doubts arise; believing that I am good to the extent that I Believe, I have to defend Belief from thoughts, ideas, doubts that might 'threaten' Belief. In fact, doubts and countering ideas/thoughts are a Sign of Sin and must be resisted. To the extent that I can resist them I am a good person.
I thought I was the only person who noticed that the stronger the resistance I mounted to any threats, the stronger they became. Belief became an act of Will Power: the ability to resist ("overcome") assaults to Belief. I prayed for forgiveness for my lapses in Belief; I prayed for strength to overcome this evil in myself (I attributed this evil to the concept of Original Sin.). I got good at screening my mind to prevent disturbing doubts and thoughts from getting through. It took an awful lot of energy, but that seemed like something I was Supposed to Do.
I assumed that other people were also involved in protecting their Belief, and I assumed they were better at it than me: why else would I keep having heretical thoughts? So I never thought to ask anyone what it was like inside of them.
As I inched away from the Christianity of my youth, the notion of Faith and Belief was reincarnated in other forms. Christianity was replaced by a Belief in positivity, which meant that "negative" thoughts caused negative outcomes. "Good" thoughts would invite positive experiences into my life, negative thoughts the opposite. The battle for control over my thoughts continued. I tried to screen out negative emotions (fear, anger, jealousy) before they would become negative thoughts.
Some form of this has persisted to this day. It often goes like this: I want something; it looks like I might get it and I'm glad; I feel fear that I might not get it; I feel fear that I feel fear and I try to screen it out, fearful that I'm poisoning the well. It's nearly reflexive, the default to putting up a shield to screen out negative thoughts--try to prevent one side of my mind from knowing what the other side is doing, I suppose.
Today I saw Belief from a completely new perspective. It was like Magic Eyes, staring at a random pattern on a page, and suddenly a hologram emerges--a 3-D experience springs from a two dimensional page.
I've been musing over the hierarchy of levels, a sort of spiral of development that Ken Wilbur talks about (A Theory of Everything). It makes sense to me that there are 'levels' that transcend themselves by combining and becoming something else, something greater. At the purely physical level this manifests as atoms becoming molecules becoming substance becoming object becoming system supporting something greater yet (yeah, yeah, I didn't include subatomic particles, but they're part of the assumption and have their place at the deconstructed end of atoms).
It occurs to me today that Belief is the bridge between atoms and molecules, molecules and substance, and so on. It's not about willpower at all--it's already there. When we 'believe', we're merely allowing ourselves to rest into that bedrock. Belief is what sustains us when we are between 'stages'.
The child who wants something he's denied is stuck in that moment, or atoms. It is not so much the object she craves, but the satisfaction that the object will bring. Desire torments him, and he longs for release. At that moment, she fully believes that this state will be permanent--she'll always suffer so. Perhaps on other levels he is reminded of other times when raw desire for nourishment, comfort, presence was denied or delayed. A child with a more sensitive temperament will likely suffer denial more acutely...a child who has a persistent temperament may be capable of wailing for an hour or longer. Atoms. The child is stuck in a moment and needs help, empathy, and understanding.
Molecules is the ability to sustain oneself through that stressful situation. Molecules is the ability to self-soothe--And Belief is the bridge between. The most basic lesson in Faith is the caring adult stepping in to provide, however imperfectly, the comfort the child had longed to get from the toy. The caring adult has the job of helping the child through the difficult moment, abiding with her in that moment (thank you, Mrs. Spit) and thereby teaching her that she can sustain herself when moments get hard. Belief is what connects fragments of a whole, to the Whole, and it is already there. We don't have to manufacture it, our willpower isn't needed to maintain it.
So now when I read, or hear, "Only Believe", it will have another meaning for me.
Dang it! Blogger won't let me link "abiding" to Mrs. Spit's eloquent post. Please go see it here: http://mrsspitspouts.blogspot.com/2008/05/abide-with-me.html
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I’ve been waiting for this moment, where I could talk to myself for a while. Do some writing instead of transcribing, and that makes me realize what it was that made the entry so short on the night Gary took the boys golfing. I was transcribing [old diaries].
Gary took the boys to the “Dew” competition, a sort of extreme thrill-rider’s show. So I have some time, though sadly it’s not unlimited. Reality tells me I need to do the grocery shopping, but I’m trying to cut it close to when they’re expected home, so that I’ll have used most of this time doing something I really want to do and not squander it on chores.
So a few thoughts have come my way recently and I wanted to explore them a bit. Brief conceptions that seem to tie in with other concepts. The idea of the quantum mechanic world—that at the essences of our atoms is mostly empty space, and in that space the electrons are, or might be. (And that’s not even considering the nucleus, which itself is composed of smaller particles). It’s very strange to think then, that the atoms that make me are mostly empty space, and therefore I am too. And that makes me wonder about the interfaces at the atomic and subatomic level, blood vessels made of mostly empty space containing blood cells that are mostly empty space. Muscle interfacing with bone, yet distinct—at the level of empty space what does that look like? Organs clearly delineated, yet at the level of empty space what do the boundaries look like?
(The idea of the different states of matter. I am here, engaged in all three states, liquid, solid, and gas—thinking of the respiratory system here—that all states are simultaneously at play because each has a different freezing/melting point, and boiling/condensation point, or moving to a gasseous/solid state. So if my skin and bones were warmed enough, they would become liquid as the atoms and molecules accelerate, and if heated further would break their bonds and scatter apart as gas.)
When I think of the interfaces, I’m not able to reconcile this chaotic, probability-driven state with the macro level that I live at. Here at the macro level things seem solid, with distinct boundaries between one thing and another. At the sub-atomic the laws are very different. How do we get to here from there? That’s where I start having imaginings of micro worlds inside at these smaller scales—perhaps an atom IS a solar system with living beings living on the electrons and experiencing THEIR world as a macro-world? Or perhaps WE’RE on an electron compared to something at larger scales that make ours seem sub-atomic. What if we are all only on an electron orbiting a nucleus in a molecule that’s part of the leg of a chair?
I’ve had conceptions like these, even as a child. Perhaps that’s why it’s in us as humans to have our collective stories riddled with “little people’, and giants. A sort of collective acknowledgment of this nature of reality, showing up in stories. Including religion…people who have glimpsed the immensity of the implications that it may be chance our very foundational elements are built on would I think inspire a great awe, and probably fear. My guess is that god springs from this apprehension of the core of complete mystery, and that doesn’t seem to reconcile with the “normal-scale” reality and the nature of matter that we see around us. I’m thinking about a passage from James Clavell in his book Tai-pan, where he described something called “joss”, which he says is god, devil, luck all in one. He ascribes that to Chinese religion, which I have no way of knowing if that’s for real or not, but it seems that comes closer to describing god and sort of the true nature we’re built on, better than other godhead religions.
I think most people in this world are not independent in this world. I believe that most of their thoughts, emotions, loyalties are an unchallenged submission to the authority they grew up in. Like Linda once said, ‘living thru the super-ego’. I think it is so much a background part of them that they don’t perceive it, that they are behaving and thinking in rote ways, in order to ‘be good’. When someone goes to church, it can be from a heartfelt desire to know God, and a belief that this is the vehicle that will take you closer, or it can be in obedience to a long ago message from authority that says, “Good people go to church.” And they “feel guilty” if they don’t, and feel proud of feeling guilty.
It may have been through the church that I began to have these revelations. As I think of it now I get a strong affirmation of the sense that we are truly alone, and we decide. I realized at some point that there was a vast amount of room between a “you should” and the number of possibilities left uncovered by that should. I think it was re-reading [while transcribing my old diary] about my thoughts as Rick [high school sweetheart] and I progressed toward more and more heavy petting that illuminates this: I hadn’t realized there were so many decisions open to make beyond the prohibition on sexual intercourse. In my very private self I noticed, at church, that the prayers and rituals left me with an unpleasant feeling, which I tried to resolve by forcing my emotions to line up. There was the feeling that that was required of me, but this is on so subtle a level that no one actually says it. (This is a part of me I’ve never talked about with anyone else—the place where I meet my experience and decide what to do with it.) Yet I think I assumed that that’s what everyone did, that is the people who chose to be good, and that everyone in their private selves were doing that too. That’s where I see that I’m really alone, and alone can decide my course and behavior from that very powerful place…I don’t know why I wrote powerful. I think it was from a sense of inhabiting and settling deeply into my cells, and more importantly into the empty spaces within those cells. To have my actions grow from that kind of intimacy within myself, and perceiving that intimacy. Thought self and morality on a micro, or atomic/subatomic scale. Anyway, it makes me wonder if that place, that is a mystery inside all matter, and ultimately seems to be a place of pure possibility—a sort of nothing that all we are comes from…is a source of the feeling and impulse that gave rise to the notion of god. I’m reminded of some of my thoughts on anxiety and emotion, and the notion that we all feel anxiety, it’s the force inside our nervous systems that impels us to act, but different temperaments respond or react to it in different ways. Where someone driving a car sees someone on a bicycle, in a flash comes the awareness that the bicyclist has made a decision to be biking whereas my decision was to drive and that difference creates potential energy that’s experienced as anxiety, which in turn can be experienced as hostility toward the cyclist, or guilt for not being on a bicycle (which can also lead to hostility toward the bicyclist), or I suppose even into a positive feeling about the bicyclist. (I’m thinking that may be the same mechanism that gives rise to god: the tension inside when one experiences this emptiness at our core—the force that causes us to personify that empty place, and reverence it, and worship it.) I’m remembering going with my grandmother and my great-aunt Mil for a walk in our Marysville neighborhood and my best friend’s father rode by on a bicycle. They didn’t know that I knew him. I felt a tension increase in the atmosphere between us, me and my two relatives. One of them said, “Looks like he needs to be exercising (referring to his large stomach) and the other one said, “That doesn’t do anything for the stomach. It only works for the legs. It’s his stomach that needs working on.” So they were sharing a criticism of this man they’d never seen before. Something about this man riding by raised the tension, or anxiety level and needed to be discharged with those remarks. I think that potential can be harnessed by charismatic people and it’s the impulse behind mob behavior. The collective orgasm of discharge of potential energy/anxiety—very powerful and usually destructive. That’s why association can be such a liability—just reminding someone of something can be enough to raise their anxious tension that makes them prone to see a neutral act as negative and a provocation. (I wrote ‘preoccupation’ first…guess my mind wandered. I’d replaced it with ‘provocation’ after realizing my mistake, and then felt compelled by my standard of honesty to include it. I wonder if that’s too rigorous a standard. I find myself doing it when transcribing my old diaries too—to try to get them as true to the original as possible including grammatical errors. (I suppose it can be considered as a way to keep myself honest.)
So anyway, I just feel a disconnect inside when I consider juxtaposing a world that feels so solid, tangible, and real with the conception that it is at its core emptiness and probability. Where does one change into the other? When do the ‘laws’ that apply at one scale stop applying there and different scale laws then apply? I don’t see the connection between “there” and “here”.
But I sense that there is an analogous place to that in me emotionally, and cognitively. And I suppose that’s what accounted for my anxiety when I was writing those diaries earlier—the fear that a possibility that my motives might be less than pure causing me to accuse myself that they weren’t pure. Yet it didn’t feel right, but I wondered if even that doubt could be trusted, since I stood to benefit from it. Anyway, I get a glimpse of some relief from that anxiety when I consider accepting that at its core, anything is possible. It’s possible that my negative feelings toward my MIL are grounded in my own selfishness and immaturity. I have to acknowledge that possibility, as well as the possibility that I’ve been unjust in the ways I’ve regarded her. Just set it on the table as a possibility in a range of possibilities, and don’t feel compelled to assign it to myself just because I fear it might be true…at least wait til the other possibilities have also been considered.
I’ve been watching “The Up Series”—a series of films beginning in 1964 when a group of 14 children at the age of seven (essentially my age) were interviewed by the researcher, and then filmmaker of the project. He said it didn’t start out to be a series, it was only going to be a one time project, a sort of indictment of the class society in Britain. I don’t remember at what point he said it had become “A life work”. As I transcribe my diary and through it have access to the memories from myself at a certain age, and to a certain extent the experiences, as I read some of this stuff I’ve written and then never read later, the term “Life’s work” resonates with me. These individual diaries have already accreted quite a body, and I feel good thinking about it as a life’s work.
Back to the film. I’m surprised at how I’ve been captured by the series. The last one I had was the one that ends at age 42, so filmed in 1999. I went online and saw that 49-Up will be coming out in theaters in October. So I get to see another one before having to wait another 7 years for 56. Anyway, there is something very compelling to me about having before me a span of a middle-aged lifetime, with different stages in development portrayed. It seems to be in harmony with this whole “taking stock” thing I’m doing in closing in on my 50th birthday—transcribing my diaries, and now this series. I suppose part of it is the notion of a life caught on time-lapse photography and then replayed sped up.
A phrase that stands out to me in a parenting book: how can we keep our behavior from making things worse in a frustrating and angering situation with children? And I extend that to the notion of how can I not make a situation with Gary get worse. I think there’s probably something about the insight of living in my cells that might be helpful. It is definitely my reaction to something that he does or a manner that he has that takes it from bad to worse.
One other notion: the idea of an ideal being a very good thing, but if you follow it to its logical conclusion it can lead to some undesirable outcomes and demands. As in religion, when there’s a difference in opinion historically there’s often a schism, and with both sides sticking to the letter of their law, they are compelled to brand each other heretics and fight religious wars. The letter of the law says we can’t accept homosexuals and its ok to harm them; but a higher spirit teaches tolerance and respect for everyone. But most fundamentalist Christians feel that if they are going to be following Jesus and living Christian lives then they must take it to its logical conclusion and bar gays from clergy, enable people to refuse to rent to them—in other words consider it lawful to discriminate which opens the way to many mean-spirited acts. For example, what if gay people have children? What if the birth parent dies and the other’s rights to that child are trumped by “family”—blood relations who may be hostile to a gay parent. If you take an ideal down to it’s nitty gritty, and it’s details, in order to be able to stay with it, you have to do it down to the nth detail. And the nth detail doesn’t work. The nth detail is inhuman, unkind, self-righteous. So is there a way that a law or ideal applies on one scale, but when getting into details it does not?
Maybe there’s no unifying theory. Maybe there are different laws for different scales, and part of the randomness, probability, and ambiguity of that situation applies to the point where one set of laws apply and another do not.
Ok, I’ll get a little more transcribing in before I need to go run my errands. I was at a part that’s interesting to me.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
For years, even before having children I was fascinated with the neurological processes that result in the behavior we manifest. As I've mentioned before, having children has been an opportunity to see these descriptions come to life, and to see the rather deceptive facade that apparent behavior presents. Books that were very helpful in articulating my understanding were "Listening to Prozac" by Peter Kramer, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Haddon, and any of the number of books by Temple Grandin.
Observing children, and their development, I see a stage where they have not yet developed a sort of internal narrative in which context to place the moment-by-moment events.
Suppose a child is waiting in line to get on a merry-go-round. This waiting has in itself been a trial for the child's immediate desire to be satisfied. He's been restless, fussy. Some might see that as a discipline problem. Some may see it as inadequate parenting. Some might understand that this little person hasn't yet learned how to manage the anxiety that desire can create. Some understand that some children have a higher tolerance to the anxiety such situations can cause.
So this child is about to get her turn, and then the gate is shut. The merry-go-round is full, and the child will need to wait longer yet. Here's an argument for schadenfreude being inborn. The child immediately ahead in line, the one who was last to go in may find pleasure in the first child's disappointment. The happy child on the ride might stick his tongue out at the other, perhaps every time the circle goes round. This might be nearly unbearable for the child left behind.
An older child, or more tolerant child may have a narrative in place. Waiting may still be difficult, but she has an internal narrative that understands the way the 'story' goes. Each moment is not eternal torment, but does indeed lead to a bigger reality of moving up in line and finally achieving the heart's desire. This narrative can sustain a waiting child so he is not stabbed so cruelly by the pain of frustration.
What I have noticed in Scott is that he doesn't yet have a sense of a bigger narrative in regards to school, and other situations. And this may be a result of his mind racing so quickly that he is unable to take in the features that would sketch in the outlines of the larger narrative so he can perceive it. So he is tortured by the jabs of the moment, the sounds of other children's voices, the hubbub around him. He is unable to contextualize it into a bigger story, and thus sublimate the discomforts. So he is at the mercy of every moment, and every distraction in it.
The extent to which he has controlled his behavior while being in a situation with little reward for him still impresses me. I see what it costs him to govern his behavior in class. I feel urgency for him, that while we have this window of his good will and innocence that we find a way for him to get some intrinsic reward from school. I've been extrinsically rewarding him with treats at the end of 'good' days at school. But ultimately he's going to need more than this to sustain his patience. His use of precious self-control is being squandered in just keeping him at baseline. It's like burning dollar bills for heat.
However, I feel that at this school, the adults he is with see beneath the mask of his adhd. I believe they see through to the person he is inside. They don't see him as Behavior Problem; and now that he has a diagnosis, they don't see him as his diagnosis. They see Him. I'm grateful for this.
I realize I need to slow my brain down too. I need to find a way to hold myself still long enough that I can also see the outlines of a larger narrative to place these events and these questions into. My son needs me to be providing the support of a more encompassing context, and I need it too.
Somehow that seems to involve slowing down something internally.
Something to talk about with Sharon tonight.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Three Wednesdays ago Scott was sick and my babysitter didn't come because he "didn't want to take a chance on missing any school". This resulted in my having to impose on Connor's friend's dad, with no notice at all, to come and take the boys to football practice, on his birthday. I felt so badly about that that I promised to take the boys for the next 2 weeks in a row. Yesterday was to be the final day of my atonement.
Last week I had to impose on the kindness of a neighbor at the last minute to get Scott's care covered when the babysitter in effect canceled again. That time I fired him.
I found a replacement, a girl who lives a couple miles from us to the west. She's also a junior in high school but doesn't have her driver's license yet. So the afternoon looked like this: I'd pick up Scott at 3:15, drive up our hill, home about 3:40, collect my stuff, feed the boys snacks, get Connor and his buddy started getting ready for football, drive over to pick up Jackie at around 4:15, bring her back to the house, show her where all the phone numbers and food and stuff was, leave by 4:30. Tight.
Connor wasn't upstairs when I came in with Scott (his bus drops him about 10 minutes before we arrive from Scott's school). I called out, and heard him say, "Hi, Mom" in a very quiet voice. I went downstairs immediately to see what was wrong. He said they had seen something awful. The bus had been stopped outside of one child's house, a friend of theirs, and the boy was getting off. Their driveway is across the street and his overjoyed yellow lab bounded up to greet him. Around a corner a truck sped and plowed into the dog, before the horrified eyes of all the children on the bus. Connor said, "She was killed instantly. That was good. But it split open her stomach..."
It struck me that it could have been Garrett hit. I absorbed the impact of that thought while tuning back in to Connor:
"I don't feel like going to football."
At first I protested, unsure if this justified missing a practice, thinking it might help clear their minds of that image. And I'm ashamed to say my strategic mind kicked in:
They don't go--I don't have to take them, drive out of the way to that school field and then across town at the heaviest traffic time of the day. That's Good.
That's two more kids for the babysitter. That's Bad.
They'd be amusement for themselves and not be any extra work for the babysitter. That's Good.
I told them I'd think about it while I went upstairs to call Maria, Garrett's mom and tell her how sorry I was. It was 10 minutes until 4. I wanted to leave to get the sitter about 4. First I called Gary, to see what he thought about the boys missing practice, and/or to notify him that he wouldn't need to pick them up from the field. Voice mail on the office phone. I left a message, coded "urgent." Called the cell. Left message with voice mail, coded "urgent." Called Maria.
She was shaken, yet strong. Had already moved the badly damaged dog off the road and was preparing to take a bucket down to sluice off the blood "so Garrett doesn't have to look at it as we drive off to football (his dad is one of the coaches)." (They're going anyway. Maybe I should make my two go.)
An image flashed for a moment of having to experience pulling your dead and maimed dog off the road, cover her up, to prepare to bury her later. I said, "I'm so sorry you had to do that."
To my dismay, I felt myself getting anxious. I'd caught the time out of the corner of my eye and realized mine was getting short. Yet, I could feel that this was not the moment to pull away from this conversation. It would be premature and just wrong. Then Scott started pestering me for a toy he was looking for. It even felt wrong to disengage from Maria long enough to tell him it was in the car. Then I glanced out the window and was reminded I'd left the van up on the road at the foot of our driveway in preparation for going to get Jackie. I also noticed a very unusual amount of traffic, so I wasn't comfortable about letting him to up to get it. He's getting impatient and louder, wanting an answer and I'm trying to be as present as possible for Maria and feeling more and more off balance: I wasn't doing anything well. I felt compelled to offer my services, even though I felt terribly hypocritical because I hoped the answer was "no". It was, in fact she offered to help me, by taking Connor to football!
We said goodbye, and I was free to go get Jackie. I asked Scott if he wanted to go. He did not. Since I only anticipated being gone about 10 minutes (queue up the "jaws" theme song) I let him stay.
My route to Jackie's takes me past Maria's house. The road was indeed wet. She must have taken the bucket of water down immediately after we talked. She would have had to carry it down a steep drive. To me there seemed to be plenty of visibility for a car coming around the curve just east of her house, the direction from which the truck had come. He must have been going really fast if he had been unable to stop.
Jackie's house is about another mile further, down one of the few side roads that goes down to a highway by the river. I'd expected her to be waiting in the driveway, but no one was there. I waited a moment, thinking she might be watching for me from the house, and then parked when she didn't come. Her house is up a drive that has an electronic gate across and there was no passage for a walker. So I called up the drive and was answered by two huge dogs, barking furiously. "Where are your people?" I knew they couldn't be there because those dogs could be heard for some distance. My head was ringing. It's 4:20. I decided to give her a little longer, just in case she'd thought I was picking her up at 4:30. I tried the cell, but there was no reception. I tried getting out of the car ("BARK BARK BARK") to find a pocket of connection and there was none. Turned on the news. Waited. Traffic problems all over town. A paving project on the highway below us. The latest emergency measure for the economy. Anticipation of the Debate. 4:27. I found a scrap of paper and wrote a note. Kept it neutral: "Hi, Jackie. It looks like I missed you. I waited a while, but then had to go." Name and phone number. Found a slot next to the number pad by the gate and put it there to be found. Sighing, back in car. Up pulls the school bus.
She got in and told me she was so sorry. Ordinarily the bus drops her at 3:50, but today they'd had to sit for 20 minutes down on the highway: big traffic jam. I remembered the repaving project, and then it made sense why all the traffic was on our road: frustrated drivers trying to bypass the clot. Maybe the man who had hit Garret's dog was one of those drivers, going too fast to make up the time.
Well, I had a babysitter again. But I wasn't out of it yet. When we got home I realized just how unrealistic it would have been to do what I had considered doing. I'd decided to not do the football run and I'd been thinking that maybe I could leave Connor and his friend with Scott for the interval before Gary could get home. Scott greeted me crying and furious. "They're being mean to me." What was I thinking? Two older boys and a younger brother? Conflagrations spring up between them with no notice. It happens so fast; a roll of an older kid's eyes, a disparaging tone, an insult slipped in sideways and they're off. Or, Scott deliberately pesters them to get a rise and it escalates. Each boy's own role in the conflict is invisible to him. It was a big mistake to have left the three of them together. This meant playing more catch-up, because within seconds of Scott embracing me for comfort he's kicked Connor as he was telling me about Scott's sins. So I had to send Scott to my bedroom to cool off. There was a time when Connor would have been driven, driven to retaliate. I'm glad to see he's at least grown past that. Now if he could just keep his tone respectful to Scott. I went in the room to talk with and comfort Scott, brought him out to tell the older kids in his presence that I expected them to treat Scott with respect and I expected Scott to do the same toward them.
Only then could I leave.
Sometimes it takes extraordinary energy to escape the gravitational field of home and kids. I wonder what next Wednesday will be like.
I did get there on time.
Photo of Scott posted below
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Monday at 2:30 was the IEP meeting for Scott. Individualized Education Program. Present were the school psychologist, the learning specialist, speech therapist, briefly an occupational therapist, Billy, Gary, and myself.
There will be another meeting, to actually come up with goals and a plan for implementation. For the life of me I can't think of how we filled an hour and a half, but we were talking, listening, discussing the entire duration.
I'd received calls ahead of time from the school psychologist requesting that I bring a letter of diagnosis of adhd from the pediatrician. We actually connected on the phone voice-to-voice on Thursday last week. I'd been feeling a bit exasperated because I had some errands to do and Scott had been waiting pretty patiently (teacher planning day, out of school) to go and buy a reward for having behaved well in class that week. (Yeah, I've stooped to bribery. Short term goals and fairly immediate rewards seem to be most effective with him.) I was exasperated because I'd just finished listening to a message from her that went on and on and on. Clearly a long-winded sort that takes a long time to articulate a thought. The gist of the call was the request to bring the letter of diagnosis.
I had one question that I thought could be answered succinctly. Do I have to have the letter physically in my hand on Monday, or can it be in process, in the mail? If I had to have it in hand, this was going to be one of the stops on the errand run, the doctor's office. Friday I was going to the coast for my annual book retreat to choose our next year's reading list, so if the letter was mandatory then Thursday was the only day I could get it.
So that made it worth tracking her down. While on the phone at the Trillium school office with a student worker I concluded that I didn't want the letter faxed to that office. It's a good idea to give students the work experience, but I just didn't have faith that the letter would end up where it was supposed to be. It took a bit of prying to find out which school the psychologist was at that particular day but I finally got a phone number.
She seemed surprised that I'd found her. She couldn't talk long, she said, because she was supposed to be in a classroom doing an observation of an autistic student. She then proceeded to launch into an incredibly roundabout way of saying the letter had to be in hand. My question was answered long before she was finished and I was trying to be as crisp as possible. As we were about to hang up I said that I hoped there would be a lot of tissues at the meeting.
Perhaps that's what opened the way for what came next, which made my (impatient) patience with her worthwhile. She said, "I want you to know that we have six of those meetings scheduled at the school that day, and we intentionally scheduled his for last so that we'd have a full amount of time, and more if necessary to really talk about him."
She told me that as a child she herself had been 'tied to my chair' with a length of jump-rope, she was so hyperactive. I gasped and she said she was nearly 50 and it was a less enlightened time. I told her I remembered that time too. She had specialized in adhd in her career as a psychologist, and wanted to tell me her story as a means of encouragement about Scott's prospects. I told her I appreciated that she would have empathy for him and she said, "Oh! He's an adorable kid."
So that was very kind.
I spent all day Monday preparing for the meeting. I'd had a sort of plan to cry all day so there wouldn't be anything left for the meeting and I could conduct myself with some dignity, but it turns out there was no need. I've crossed a line somewhere from dread of what is to acceptance of what is. I realized the meeting wasn't so much about them giving me bad news about my child; it was about figuring out a plan to get him what he needs.
So, the short story is:
1) We had a meeting
2) It was non-adversarial, I felt solidly that these people were on Scott's side and in agreement that the school system was not serving his needs.
3) With diagnostic letter in hand, supported by various tests and evaluations more services were going to be requested and probably secured.
4) We would meet again in 2 weeks to discuss a plan for implementation
5) Resources are very limited. Welcome to the struggle millions of parents before me have engaged and engage now.
That's the condensed version. The learning specialist asked if we planned to try medication. I said that I wanted to see how he did with the special services first. She then told us that at best she was going to be able to serve him 60 minutes per week. To people who have been-there-done-that maybe that's a huge amount of service, but to me roughly 15 minutes a day in a 7 hour day seems shockingly inadequate. I think she was telling us this to illustrate the impact we could expect from special ed: kind of like trying to turn an ocean cruiser by pushing against it with a canoe and a paddle. The reality of this didn't hit me until yesterday, after the meeting.
I think she may have taken some personal risk in bringing up medications and with as clear a tilt as she did. She said, "I'm not advocating for medications. I'm advocating for him. He should be enjoying school. He should be at the top of his class, he's so smart. He is so consumed with being tortured by his adhd he just can't take in what he needs to engage him."
I'd independently come to a notion that he is not getting the bigger picture, the underlying theme of school. In the same way he didn't get the underlying theme of baseball, was just being hit in the face over and over, neither does he comprehend there's a kind of grand design of school. Most of the other children absorb that by osmosis, that they are participating in something. And it has an underlying structure and meaning for them where they can begin to take satisfaction in mastery within that structure. Scott does not have this. So his behavior is at odds with the other children and with the classroom. In addition he has a serious communication disorder which keeps him from understanding what people are telling him. It really must be torture for him to be at school. It holds none of that secondary pleasure for him. It's an exercise in will power to keep himself reined in.
In a one-on-one setting he does quite well. It seems the chances for getting that are microscopic in the public school system. (Oh, what $10 billion per month going to Iraq could do...) Homeschooling is, and always will be an option. I don't think I am the best teacher for him, and to afford a tutor I would probably have to work full time. And since I'm the primary caregiver, when would I work, and/or who would take care of Scott while I do it? So if I keep him home he's stuck with me as teacher.
I'm beginning to grasp that he may be more profoundly affected than I'd realized. I would not withhold insulin from a child with diabetes. If his well-being is dependent on replacing some chemicals that are missing in his nervous system, then it's somewhat urgent to start soon, before he's entrenched in a negative posture toward school. And set in maladaptive behaviors.
More to think about. Waiting for a call from his pediatrician.
Sigh. My poor little boy.