Monday, March 31, 2008

Not enough time...not enough focus (extended moan, depending on whether or not I'm interrupted...or should I say *when*)

I spent the last week in a sort of funk, restless, but spinning wheels. Empty when it came to writing in my diary. Not having much to say so going to the blogs, but all the time thinking I should be doing something more purposeful. A classic definition of restless; needing to do something but not knowing what.

I'd taken a hiatus from America Right Or Wrong and World War IV. With WWIV I got stuck on some of his assertions that go to the case for the war in Iraq, and attack some of the evidence that the justification was fabricated. His rationale is densely worded, and it's going to involve some focused thinking to see if his claims have merit. Similarly Right Or Wrong is dense in sentence structure and idea linkage. I'm also suspicious of my receptivity to his case: there there is a certain kind of historic nationalism that runs deep in this country with strains that are positive and negative. Negatively expressed, they shape a belligerent stance that reaches deeply into a kind of populist sentiment that isn't necessarily benign, despite the laudable American values of democracy, fairness, equality, and rule of law.

I feel a kind of humming of familiarity when he discusses some of these forces shaping American national sentiments and behavior, and I want to look more closely for myself.

It's odd that this has an almost spiritual dimension for me. Somehow informing myself about this seems to satisfy a spiritual hunger in me.

To give my mind a rest I read Saturday, by Ian McEwan--subject for our book-reading-group discussion next month. I also used the time I might ordinarily write to read Jennifer Lauck's memoirs, the three that are published.

But here are the things that are on my list to find out:

Obama vs Clinton? Is Obama the inspirational choice--the choice of the heart, and Clinton the rational choice? I've heard a couple of Obama's speeches, none of Clinton's. A friend sent this my way and it was my first exposure to Obama. Not a good first exposure if one wants to be objective. My friend says that Clinton's speeches are inspirational too; I need to seek out some of them and see. Moreover, I need to compare their platforms: what do they want to accomplish if president and how do they propose to do it? All of this means I need to think more clearly about whether or not withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within 18 months is a good thing; I need to acquaint myself with their health care proposals, as well as get a working knowledge of the present one and where it is failing. I need to check out their plans for the economy, especially since our current one seems to be in flux (and I'm not sure what is being meant when I see headlines about new regulatory changes in the Fed--and what that means for us regular folks).

I have a thorough thinking-over to do in considering the logistics of leaving Gary; coming up with a plan, what I need to know to do this right. Aside from all the mundane details, like dividing retirement accounts, insurance policies, childcare, I think I owe it to both him and myself to clearly lay out what it would take to make me want to stay. ...And, what does it mean to go back to work, and where should I go? Funny how long I had an aversion to returning to my profession and now I don't feel as allergic. I don't know if that's another effect of the smoking moratorium (and it certainly solves the problem of a drug test upon employment)--less of a need to stay in the womb of home. I worked in home health before, and it was my preferred setting. I did have breathing space between patients to do some thinking and reflecting, and so it suited my need for solitude as much as a full-time job can, but that was 8 years ago. I'm older, not in as good shape. I felt confident about my ability to move large immobile people then and I'm not sure now I could do it without hurting myself or them. Hospital and nursing home settings are definitely unappealing, but at least there'd be help close by if it was needed.

I watched Frontline's "Bush's War" last week on Monday and Tues. I think a whole college course could be taught just on mining the website alone; looking at some of the extended interviews of the players, following the timelines.

And, a whole college course could be taught out of the footnotes of Lieven's American nationalism book. Picking it up I realize how much I need to know about Zionism and the founding of Israel and everything that has followed.

A while ago my cousin on her blog confided her ambition as a child to 'know everything'. I want to know everything too. I want to be paid to do nothing but read books like America Right or Wrong and follow every footnote; read every book and magazine article in the bibliography, trace back Western style thinking and philosophy to the Enlightenment and beyond, see for myself if the Founding Fathers really intended a Christian, Christ-centered nation when they founded the United States. In some ways though it's like the sorcerer's apprentice: every bit of information penetrated seems to merely divide into more things to know.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I smoked pot for years.

My first experience of it was when I was 19. I enjoyed it very much, and never saw a reason to stop aside brief hiatuses while pregnant and nursing.

I graduated from college, was productive and successful in my career.

I take that back; there was one reason to stop, and I did, for about 5 years, upon moving to St. Louis. As a mother of a two year old the people I met were parents--my entire circle of friends were parents of Connor's friends--very different from the city I'd moved from. There I'd lived 18 years before becoming a mom, so I had many different circles of friends outside of parents. Among other parents is not really a seemly place for a mom to go seeking sources, which is why I didn't smoke pot in St. Louis.

I didn't miss it.

Upon returning to the Pacific Northwest I resumed friendships with old friends and returned to that former pleasure too. Since I'd stopped easily in the 5 years I was away from it I had no fear of addiction, and I thought I'd never stop again. I enjoyed it and felt no guilt for that enjoyment.

I'm aware that there are others who would see it as a guilty pleasure.

Here's how I used it: for me it was a gateway to the interior. It facilitated my transition into a reflective mode. I did a lot of writing and thinking while stoned. Writing my thoughts was a joy under the influence. Since I was very young, in pre-pot days I'd found that writing created a sense of safety and inspiration inside--a place to find understanding and make discoveries. I've described it to myself as 'getting warmer'. I don't know if smoking pot facilitated this feeling, or made it easier for me to access it--or merely enhanced my pleasure in getting to this place. I do know that I felt safe, warm, and happy.

About a week before I had my epiphany that Scott's school was doing him harm I had a dream. In it I was going to go for a walk with some women friends and asked them if they wanted to get high first. They said no, and their reason was fear that the ember, or 'cherry' in my pipe would not extinguish, and would ignite the contents of my purse. In the dream I didn't think that was much of a reason, since I always knock the ashes out before putting the pipe away.

I told Sharon about this dream. This was during the time that I was in agony about all the different choices I felt I had in front of me, and the sense that to choose one was to sacrifice another. She wondered if the dream might be telling me that smoking pot might be part of what was preventing all the various pieces from coalescing into something coherent. She wondered if it might be a benefit to stop for a while and see for myself if there was a positive or a negative outcome.

Interestingly, it was the next day that I went to visit Billy's classroom at the new school. Now ordinarily, to take a chunk out of my alone time to run an errand like that would have been very painful. To my surprise, though, it wasn't that difficult. When I thought about it, I realized that knowing I wasn't going to be smoking pot made it easier to surrender that time. Then it was the very next day that I took Scott with me to the class and 'the miracle occurred.'

So there was validation, nearly instantly, that there was a good outcome in ceasing indulging in pot. I've maintained the moratorium, and though I largely don't miss it, there is one thing I do miss:

my private writing, my journaling, is not coming as easily. I've been experiencing a restlessness inside that makes it more difficult to settle into my thoughts and feelings so I can deconstruct them and mine what's there. I don't experience that cozy bubble when I write lately.

Sharon thinks the smoking-and-writing was a way of making it easier for me to remain in a situation that's been very uncomfortable. In that way I created a haven that felt safe and made it easier for me to tolerate what's missing in my marriage. Without it I'm exposed to the discomforts that I can either anesthetize myself to, or move away from. She thinks the restlessness is about a sense of readiness inside that it's time to act, make a change.

So I'm considering that. I need to know before I make a move that it's truly growing from my inner experience--not because 'my therapist thinks so'. I do know that I need to continue to allow myself to be exposed to this 'restlessness' so I can learn from it what I need to do next.

It seems important to be honest about this past of mine, in the interests of authenticity and full disclosure. I don't really know why here, or why now, but it is the truth, so I'm going to let it stand here, along with my fear that people I care about might think less of me on account of it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Becoming resigned

I'm caught in that peculiar place of being the emptiness that defines the spokes in the wheels, that gives the meter to poetry and to music but fades into background in the presence of what's obvious.

The stuck part is in being literally invisible, and experiencing the futility of pointing this out as being important, even vital.

Once again Gary said something this morning that indicates that he has no clue what I do. I think the anguish in this, is knowing that he feels very self-righteous in his belief that I don't 'do anything' except 'sit around and read books'. I realize that no matter what I do, no matter how frantically I run to create the sub-surface foundation that pushes up the tip of the iceberg of apparency, he only notices the last time he saw me taking a break, and defines me by that.

I feel the way an African American must feel who learns that some property that is owned by a corporation now and is worth huge amounts was once owned by an ancestor who was run off it or lynched. It must be very difficult to face the smug person who says it's time to 'let go and move on' with no consideration of whether or not they'd be as gracious as they're demanding the descendant be. The flagrant injustice of this and the futility of penetrating the fatuity of such a person would make it difficult to not hit them.

Yesterday I made inroads into my current book, and on the basis of that Gary said that's 'all' I do. Gone is the laundry I did, the grocery shopping, the hours I spend at Scott's school, the baking of some scones to prepare for Scott's teacher Billy's home visit, the checkbook-balancing, the numerous times I set aside what I'm doing in order to help a child who needs it. Gone is the week I was home with a very sick Scott; up in the night with him, taking him to the doctor, follow-ups, getting him medication and making sure he took it.

What I do is take care of the details that put our eco-system into place and maintain it. It's not like a clearly defined job, where the description is easily listed and bullet-pointed. It is like the skill of 'seeing', which is fairly unremarkable until one considers that as a skill it requires at least 8 sub-skill-sets, all working perfectly and in perfect integration. This is something very difficult to point out, especially to someone who doesn't want to understand. I don't just do discreet 'jobs', I sustain a system. And the system functions so well it disappears from consideration when Gary evaluates what I do. This system is a given, dropped on us by God, and what have I done lately?

What I'm becoming resigned to is that I will never ever be able to get him to see it. I'm just wearing myself out trying to find words to articulate it 'so he'll understand'.

On "King of the Hill" this example of paradigms defining reality was illustrated beautifully in an episode where Dale Gribble, a raving paranoiac, discovers that a girl in the neighborhood has the same DNA as his 'son' Joseph (who has an uncanny resemblance to a handsome Native American New Ager, John Redcorn). The obvious explanation to Dale is that aliens removed his (Dale's) DNA and impregnated the child's mother with it--making a daughter to him and a sister to Joseph. It never occurs to him, though it's immediately clear to everyone else, that the girl and Joseph may have John Redcorn in common. You can see the minds of the friends and neighbors working as they weigh the uphill battle against Dale's belief system and conclude it's just not worth it to convince him.

Even when I've been able to shed some light on the situation for Gary and he seems to understand, it's short-lived. He forgets and again sees the evidence of me reading a book as proof that I'm selfishly neglecting the family and riding the gravy train that is him.

Instead of hitting him I slammed a door (knocking moulding loose, which means I've set a bad example for the boys about not being destructive when angry. I'm aware I've also only managed to feed his self-satisfaction about my lack of self-control.). I left the house, found a wi-fi place and have been here for the past few hours. I didn't take the cell phone with me.

It's a bitter pill. People are not going to see things they don't believe already. It's a waste of time to try to show him what I do and how much it costs me. And how much it costs me to know he doesn't see it. It's painful to see how he magnifies his role and minimizes mine. Even if he spends some time alone with the boys and gets a taste of how crazy-making it can be, instead of translating that into empathy he's annoyed that I left him with them. Later, he forgets how difficult it was at the time and thinks I whine when I say it's hard and I need a break.

It matters if I care what he thinks. The fact that I'm experiencing pain over this shows I still care; but it seems it may be in my self-interest to jettison that. It may not be a matter of discarding; it's probably more accurate to say it's eroding.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Little Children" (spoiler--right--everyone else has probably already seen this)

One of the consequences of having children and living on one income is that we don't see current movies much. Amend that to current adult movies. A friend of mine doesn't have children, and she frequently funnels some recommendations in my direction--about a hundredth of which I actually get to see.

Gary took the boys snow camping last night on Mt. Hood. There was a window of clear weather that they went for; it's wet and windy here in town now so I expect this self-time will be short-lived.

(I was a little torn about not going. I hate to think the boys will only associate adventures like this with their dad. I'm sure that it seems entirely unreal to them since they don't have much direct evidence that I was once a competent and full participant in an outdoor life of climbing, skiing, backpacking.

The reality is that I have much less time to myself now, and then Friday I assisted at Scott's school by being a driver on a field trip to the Audobon Society. My decision fell on the side of recharging batteries and letting another nail be driven into the coffin that mothers don't pursue adventure. It will probably be a long time before they can comprehend the rigors of the life of the mind.)

So I took my friend's recommendation from at least a year ago and rented "Little Children." Today I'm permeated by the atmosphere of the movie, and trying to make some sense of the sensations.

The atmosphere is a sort of dread and despair. Various guises of ugliness; people behaving badly, shame. Clumsily seeking to alleviate aching emptiness.

This isn't a standard movie with a clearly delineated plot. It's more like a study of a small web of alienated people. And then there's this dispassionate narrator whose voice occasionally highlights the actions of the protagonists. I'm reminded of the narrator in the children's show 'Tellytubbies" where occasionally a neutral male voice will inform the viewer what the character is seeing, or feeling, or doing.

So there's an aspect of the movie that is reminiscent of children's programs, in a movie where relationships are souring like milk turning. The movie opens in a park where children are playing under the watch of four mothers. The one played by Kate Winslet, Sara, is apart from the others and obviously not taking pleasure in their presence. We're informed that desperation has brought her here; it is more painful to face empty hours alone at home with her 3 year old daughter than it is to endure the company of the other shallow and judgmental housewives. She copes by seeing herself as an anthropologist 'studying their ways.'

In my mind I'm holding this template of mothers in the park up to my chest, seeing if it fits and where it diverges. I've been very lucky to not have women like these other mothers in my life. (Competitive mothering) The mothers I've hung out with in parks have active lives of the mind, and we didn't need self-stimulation in the form of pecking at others. We talked about ideas, we talked about parenting and the challenges, we talked about parenting theories. And mainly we were informed by the point of view that children are works in progress--that you can't judge a child's character by his or her failure to behave according to adult standards of selflessness and generosity. We sought to mediate fairly among disputes and I felt a sense of safety with these women: if my child was misbehaving they understood it would probably be theirs next and we didn't judge each other.

So the movie opens with a group of mothers, one of whom feels alienated; the others sense this and take a kind of personal satisfaction in the difficulties she's having with her child. Then, into the park comes a man with his son. "The prom king!" the women whisper excitedly. It's clear this is a regular ripple in their lives, the presence of this nice-looking young man nurturing a small child. They never speak to him, only about him. Sara's daughter wants to swing on the swing next to the little boy whose father is pushing him; as Sara gets up to walk over one of the mothers impulsively offers her $5 to get his phone number.

Pushing their children together, they find a few things to talk about, feel some commonality and warmth. As he takes his leave to follow his son, Sara calls him close to her and suggests that they shock the other women by hugging. Then she suggests they go further and they kiss.

OK, I'm just not able to suspend my disbelief quite this far. Yes, she's desperate and bored, but I can't imagine that it's to such a pitch that she'd so completely leap beyond the bounds of what's considered normal behavior. This is a flaw for me in the movie, that their beginning is premised on this.

In the meantime, we've learned that a sexual deviant, who was jailed for exposing himself to a child has been released from jail and is living in their community with his mother. People of the community are in arms with a lot of righteous sentiments about 'protecting our children'. His mug shot that's widely distributed and posted shows a man with the kind of creepiness you'd associate with the 'classic' monstrous sexual deviant. He's the kind we're told sort of personifies an idea of sexual deviants, but we shouldn't be deceived because most of them don't really look like that. Most of them look like...trusted adults. This guy, Ronnie, though is the stereotype.

Brad is the prom king, and we're introduced to him through his play with his son. I felt a pang to see him lying on the floor beside a Thomas track, playing trains with the little guy to his intense delight. He was showing a level of playful imagination that I could never attain; I just could not play that way with my children. I feel like that's a major flaw in me, that I could not enter that 'let's pretend' world with them willingly, happily. I hated it, and I think it must have shown. They deserved better than that.

The narrator informs us that Brad keeps imagining Sara's kiss over and over. He hopes she'll come to the pool where he told her he takes his son. We see that though he appears to genuinely enjoy his son's company that he's not comfortable in his role of at-home dad; he feels diminished by his successful documentary-filmmaker wife, he has failed his bar exams twice. His wife has assigned him to study nightly at the library, but instead he sits and watches teen-aged skaters at the community center. They never acknowledge him.

One night as he's watching a van pulls up and a man's voice shouts at him that he's a pervert. It turns out to be someone he's acquainted with, Larry, a retired cop, who impulsively conscripts him to quarterback for the policeman's night league football team. We learn that Larry is the sole founder and member of a 'committee' to target and object to the presence of the sex offender in their neighborhood. He frequently will drive by the man's house in the middle of the night and harass them by honking his horn and flashing lights.

We learn that Larry has his own demons--forced to retire from the force after an incident where he shot and killed a 13 year old in a mall who was playing pretend with friends with an air gun at a sporting store. He has post traumatic stress disorder and his life keeps narrowing: to night-league football (which he takes very personally), a kind of hero-worship of Brad, and harassing Ronnie and his mother. His wife has taken the kids and left him.

We see a picture of Ronnie at home with his mother who loves him fiercely. We realize that though an adult, he is her child. We see that he's child-like, calls her Mommy. She acknowledges that he 'did a bad thing'; naively thinks if she could 'fix him up' with a woman that he won't have those 'bad urges' any more. They place an ad in the personals section of the paper.

She tells her son that he 'is a miracle. We all are.' She points out to him the miracle of humanity which reminds me of the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

"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."

So there are different aspects of 'Little Children'. We see a child that is nearly perfectly loved by father and mother together--but the achilles heel in that is the mother's implied contempt for the father. We see a mother who wears her daughter like a burden that she doesn't quite know what do do with, an annoying distraction. (Self-recognition, pang of guilt) There's a father who has driven his wife and children away, and deprived another family of their child. We see a mother's fiercely protective love for a very troubled man. We're made to feel sympathy for him, and horror and revulsion as we see the unvarnished truth of who he really is. He's a mother's son, and he's fatally twisted, as we see on his 'date'.

And all these elements come together in one night--a football game where Brad scores a winning touchdown and has his joy heightened at the presence of Sara in the stands cheering for him wildly...Larry sitting at a bar to celebrate waiting for Brad (who has completely forgotten him) and, stood up, goes to wreak his humiliation on Ronnie. Ronnie's mother has a heart attack in the confrontation and later dies in the night. In the meantime Brad, feeling empowered and flushed by his football victory, asks Sara to run away with him. Everything comes together in the park where she waits for him with her daughter. However, while walking to the park he stops again to watch the skateboarders and for the first time is included among them. He is invited to try what one kid just did--skating off a flight of about 15 concrete steps. Perhaps again he is powered by his football victory. Sara is still waiting when Ronnie stumbles into the park. She is terribly fearful, but then realizes he's oblivious to her and is wracked with sobs. She approaches him cautiously to learn that his mother has died, and in that instance can't find her daughter.

So is this a sort of healing moment? A point of crisis for each of them from which they move on? Sara is taking her daughter home. Brad, awakening to a circle above him, his policeman friend and admiring teen-aged skaters, realizes he is not leaving his family either. Ronnie, who's final message from his mother is: "Be a good boy" has realized the only way he can possibly do that is to castrate himself (an echoing theme in the movie: "he should be castrated, castrated, castrated."). As he is bleeding in the park Larry comes to him to tell him how sorry he is and suddenly is frantic to save the life of the man he'd been persecuting.

Lots of different elements in this movie, allowed to exist in juxtaposition, generating tension. Much of the tension is still unresolved at the end, which is what makes this different from regular movie fare. Kind of satisfying in the way that it doesn't satisfy.

Like life.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Painted into a corner

I started this post at least 2 days ago. The original title was "Zero sum game; collateral damage; safe, or unsafe":

I am not sure why the question of collateral damage has had such mass that my musings repeatedly fall into its gravitational pull. I suppose it may be a component of my larger meditation on the theme of the world being a safe, or an unsafe place.

I read a novel about Cambodia once; the upheaval there that was overshadowed, to Americans, by the war in Vietnam. (For the Sake of All Living Things by John Del Vecchio)

I was taken by an image of brutality that is still with me 18 years later. Young children, suddenly orphaned or separated from their parents, were thrust into an audition to be child soldiers. Khmer Rouge guerillas devised a simple test to cull from their captives the ones with the strongest survival drive, and the cunning to employ it effectively. They were tied to a circular frame together so they couldn't escape. Then they were herded off a cliff to rocks below. Those who caught on that they would need to maneuver the ring so they would be positioned to be cushioned from the fall by the bodies of the other children were good soldier material.

I've been haunted by that image ever since. The objective of the guerillas? Obtain an intelligent and motivated fighting force. Collateral damage? The children forced to participate in this macabre dance. The objective of the children? Survive. Collateral damage? Those who hit the ground first.

It occurs to me to wonder if there is a larger metaphor here. Is there a way that collectively humans are locked in a ring, the powerful attempting to maneuver to cushion their own landing?

A less blatantly chilling model (though the implications are the same) is the musical chairs game. A limited number of resources and if you're standing when the music stops you're out in the cold.

There seems to be evidence in the natural world to support the theory of a zero-sum game: "The strong survive", "Might makes right", the fact of predator-and-prey where one organism becomes food for another. The seemingly insatiable drive to win which is really blatant in young children (for years we've had no competitive games at birthday parties because young children can not stand to lose.).

It seems the perception of scarcity is an enormous motivator in violent conflicts. "Enemies" ultimately are those who want to deprive us of what we have. The perception of scarcity seems to be a driver in smaller, more interpersonal conflicts as well. Again I see it especially illustrated with children, and more skillfully (or not) concealed in adults.

I've painted myself into a corner with this theme. I don't know how I can consider the world a 'safe' place when these facts are staring me in the face and I can't answer them. And I can't seem to think past them. Furthermore, I can't bring myself to just push 'delete' and jettison this post. Maybe there's value in letting it stand as an open question to myself, and live with the tension it generates.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Story of Scott and Baseball Camp

Gary told me that Scott wanted to go to baseball camp. I’d received a brochure from the YMCA that described various units of day camps over the summer, and baseball for his age group and presumably experience was available.

I signed him up. Eagerly. Summertime with it’s multiple days of either no structure or structure-I-have-to-create is not easy for me. Ever, but last summer was worse. This would be Scott's first experience with full-day day camp and I was looking forward to it like a cold drink after a hot workout.

I dropped him off on Monday and left after introducing him to his coach.

When I picked up up Monday afternoon and asked how his day had been he initially said fine. Yet as the afternoon wore on he was saying he didn’t want to go the next day. I told him that we had made a commitment and that he had to see it through. Inwardly my heart sunk at the prospect of the threat to the time away that I’d been waiting for all summer.

Tuesday morning he didn’t want to go. So when I dropped him I asked the coach if things were going ok with him because he’d expressed hesitation about returning. The coach said he thought he was doing ok; it was clear he was inexperienced and so he was keeping him in the least experienced group. He added though that by Thursday they were going to have the younger teams playing with the older and he wasn’t sure how Scott would do…

That afternoon at pickup Scott was saying he wished he could get sick so he didn’t have to go to camp. This was an unusually strong expression of reluctance: he’d expressed reluctance to go to school before, but never to the extent of wishing himself sick. The dilemma for me was that the next day, Wednesday, Connor was going to a friend’s, and so was going to be the first free day for me in weeks of summer vacation.

Reluctantly I concluded I may have to wait a little while and observe Scott’s camp. I tried to give myself an out, thinking if he didn’t express reluctance again I could feel ok about just leaving at next drop-off.

He expressed ‘reluctance’ again.

So I decided to hang out, ‘just a little while’ (maybe I could linger a half an hour and still have a nice chunk of alone time to look forward to.)
So I checked him in and the coach told him to get his glove and go play catch. Most of the kids were paired up in a long line and balls were flying back and forth. Scott took his pack over to the shade tree where the other children left theirs as the coach and I watched. It took him an inordinate amount of time to extricate his hat and glove from the bag and then it took even longer because he had to put them on first, and then he had to zip the pack completely closed. It was enough out of the ordinary, how long it took, that there was a sort of awkward feel. Then he walked toward the line of children tossing balls, and actually walked right through the flying balls to take his place at one side of the line. He wasn’t hit, but I was astounded that he’d shown such little self-preservation and the coach acknowledged this by kind of laughing. It was hard to get the flavor of that laugh: was it, “boy he was lucky”, or was it because it seemed funny by resembling something from a Charlie Chaplin movie? Was it a ‘god he’s stupid’ kind of laugh? Or, a ‘boy I sure didn’t expect him to do that’ kind of laugh? But I didn’t have time to contemplate the nuances of the laugh because I was watching Scott and my anxiety gauge was rising. Everyone was paired up and he was just standing there. He had an uncertain look on his face, a sort of smile, but his eyes squinted against the morning light. He didn’t know what to do and so just stood there holding his glove. His face looked so vulnerable and I felt compassion at his dilemma in the sharp ache of my heart. The coach busied himself with something else and appeared to not notice. We waited. We waited. Several minutes went by and they were agonizingly slow. I finally said, “He needs help to find a partner and include himself.” The coach immediately singled out one of the helpers, a high school or college kid sitting on the bench nearby and told her to go play catch with him. As she walked out to him I used that opportunity to throw a tennis ball for Riser, our golden retriever who was still alive then, while I continued to observe Scott.

The girl would toss the ball, and it would hit Scott in the face. He did not seem to be able to get his hands positioned quickly enough to catch the ball before it would hit him, and it always seemed to take him by surprise. The girl was not cruel at all and adjusted her style; moved closer to him, made sure his glove was positioned first, threw it more slowly. He still got hit in the face, and he was heartbreakingly brave about it. He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell in frustration, he just dutifully ran to try to find the ball so he could throw it back to her. I saw it hit him at least 3 times.

I realized that it was going to take longer than a half hour for me to evaluate this situation and I sat in the car and watched some more.

The time for catch concluded and now they were going to play some other game that involved wearing a colorful vest of some kind and running. He was given a vest and could not get it on. The other children ran around him and he tried and tried (and tried) to reposition it and get it on correctly. It was upside down, it was backward. There were helper coaches on the field and no one saw that he was struggling, and no one came to help him. I felt like there was a squeezing hand on my throat, and on my heart as I watched. The first round of the game concluded and he hadn’t played at all. The second round began, and this time he walked up to the coach and appeared to have asked for help. The coach bent down and repositioned it. He began to run with the children, but I don't think he knew the parameters of the game; he was just content to run around. I don’t know if I had been an outside observer with nothing at stake if he would have seemed to stick out from the group the way he appeared to to me. To me it appeared there was something that was below the verbal level that seemed to distinguish him from the group in a way that children can often zero in on cruelly. Like Jerzy Kozinski’s “The Painted Bird”.

There was a lull where it seemed a logical place for me to leave. As I drove off I could see that he was turned away from the group, eyes fixed on our car.

Again I couldn’t bring myself to go. I told myself I needed to observe some more, but this time be unobserved in my observing. I drove the car around the block and parked where he couldn’t see me and I had another vantage. At this point the kids had turned to baseball activities again and he was playing catch with the same helper he’d had before. He was off in a smaller group with children more his own age.

At least twice I saw him get hit. I could see that the helper was being encouraging and kind, and again I was heartbroken to see how bravely he endured being hit—how dutifully he’d search for the ball where it had fallen after it had hit him. And how patient he was. Furthermore, even though these were all children his age I could see that no one was struggling like him. And there was the oddity that I’ve since noticed and articulated about him in the classroom: these kids were all aligned along a magnetic field called ‘baseball’. They understood the overall bigger picture of what they were participating in. They ‘spoke’ baseball. Scott…did not. He wasn’t only not on the same page, he wasn’t even in the same book, or in any book at all.

And I realized that this was not the time to stress sticking with commitments and goals once they are made. It was a mistake to have signed him up for this class—whether it was a beginning level or not, he wasn’t part of the basic baseball ‘agreement’ and therefore this was too advanced for him. And it would be unconscionably cruel to keep him there for 7 hours each day til the end of the week.

He was very relieved to see me and I barely managed to keep myself from crying as I took him to the coach and explained that this wasn’t the right setting for him and I was going to remove him. The coach was very nice about it; suggested other possibilities, different summer camps.

A few months later I’d followed up on a suggestion by his kindergarten teacher to talk to his pediatrician since he ‘wasn’t settling down to class the way he ought to be at this stage.’ His dr. suggested an OT evaluation. At this appointment the OT saw that he was not tracking objects with his eyes. He could not follow an object if she moved it from one side of his face to the other. Even something desirable, like a gummi worm.

That explained the getting hit in the face. It’s the reason we’re in vision therapy now.

Months and months later he did not speak of his experience there, though he’d notice the ball field whenever our route took us by it. This last time we drove by he remarked again that he’d had baseball camp there, and this time added, “Baseball is stupid.” I said that he’d had a bad start, and no wonder since his eyes hadn’t been able to follow the ball and he’d gotten hit. Then, he revealed a little more. He said that other children had told him that his peanut butter and crackers he had for snack were ‘gross’ and they wouldn’t let him sit by them at lunch.

This has been six months, and only now am I learning this. Information just can’t be extracted from him directly. It’s like peripheral vision, where sometimes an object looked at directly ‘disappears’. It can only be perceived in the periphery.

This is what I had in mind when I was thinking of the ‘space between’ moments, where there is a whole other world of feeling and experience that is very real, but may never be available to share with another person. I’m sure his 7 hours those two days at baseball camp must have seemed eternal.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Worlds within worlds

We experience and engage the world so much on the basis of appearances. Surfaces appear to be solid; and the moments that make up experience seem to flow sequentially and present a seamless reality.

This was always confusing to me, because I sense a gap between each moment where you can fall into a whole other world. It's like those stories where someone drops into another dimension of experience and is there for years--has an entire lifetime there--and yet when they return to their original reality only a moment or two has passed.

I've been fascinated for a long time by how 'reality' can appear to be so solid, and yet is not.

Growing up in typical white ecumenical protestant communities (my father was in the military, but white suburbia was pretty uniform wherever we moved--sort of mirrors the McDonald's concept) church and Sunday school were obligatory rituals. I saw and heard expressions of reverence around me, bowed heads, a certain 'prayer language' (full of Thees and Thous and "O Lord we worship Thee"s), but it didn't match what I was experiencing underneath. What I experienced was a sort of revulsion to this spectacle of people saying they 'loved' God, when the feeling underneath was so dry. There was no vocabulary to articulate my experience to older people, to ask why what people were saying felt so very different from their words. There were no words to articulate the shades of feelings that shimmered like colors inside--and the contrast with the absolute lack of color in church. (For any of you with children, you've probably seen Ratatouille. There's a wonderful scene in the movie where Remy is attempting to acquaint his brother with an appreciation of the experience of good food. Colors are used as a metaphor to describe the subtle delights.) (It's a great movie, even if you don't have children, by the way.)

Since there was no vocabulary to discuss the discrepancy, and no environment that was conducive to creating such a vocabulary, I was forced to conclude that religious life was a joyless chore that people did because they should. And they 'loved' it because they should. And the extent to which one could conform and stay loyal was the extent by which his/her worth as a person was measured. Love was a matter of will power. Obedience to authority was proof. When I was about 11, I had to admit to myself that I did not love God. Admission of that made me feel horrible, and too ashamed to tell anyone.

I have a sensitivity to unseen suffering. There is something about the act of minimizing someone else's suffering because it is inconvenient that seems outrageously wrong. The term "Collateral Damage" comes to mind. An objective gained, and anyone or anything that is in between is 'a regrettable but necessary loss.' Maya Angelou put it devastatingly when she said, the needle gives way "because the camel can't; the child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot." ( in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) Someone has decided that their own priorities take precedence, and has deemed that the price that is exacted from the other person is of no consequence.

I suppose in any situation of overpowering, however slight or however egregious, someone has decided that their own priorities take precedence over those of others. And, conveniently, the cost can be dismissed too, as is the realization that it is Others who are paying the price anyway. It's pretty easy to be casual about a price someone else pays.

I'm not quite sure where this post came from...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Back in the classroom

I remember how vulnerable I used to feel returning to a classroom after being away several days. I felt as if I'd gone to sleep and woke to a new world.

Billy's class is in the middle of a campaign. To illustrate participatory democracy a classroom project to elect a mascot commenced. Last week four characters were nominated. Today campaign posters were going to be made to extol the virtues and promises of the candidates.

I wonder if this would have had any meaning for Scott even if he had been in last week. It must have contributed to a sense of disorientation and isolation I think he feels anyway.

Four poster-sized sheets of paper were distributed. One group of children took the poster to a spot on the floor that also happens to be a walk-through. Scott was passing through the area.

Things just happen so fast, and conclusions are drawn so quickly. The children had let the paper slip to the floor, and the current of air it generated ruffled it. Scott was intrigued by this, as the edge floated over his shoes. He wiggled his feet to loft it up again. One boy spoke harshly: "Don't step on it!" and shoved him backward. Then he grabbed Scott's arm and moved him over to trade places and told Scott to 'go over there.'

Scott stared at him, with no hostility on his face. It seemed more like puzzlement. He gazed into Ben's eyes while Ben glared back at him. I walked over and asked Ben if he could find a nicer way to ask. Ben said, "He was stepping on the paper" and I said, "Then your request is, 'please don't step on the paper.' "

I'm looking at the incident as one of those exploded diagrams of machines that illustrate the anatomy and relationships of the whole and parts. I see that Scott was startled by the intensity of the response he'd received and he hadn't reacted to it in anger because he hadn't yet categorized it. He didn't know he had been disrespected. And with an open face he was looking to Ben for an explanation of what had just happened. Ben was all-too-ready to "tell" him: "You're stupid!" He didn't use those words, but there was contempt in his face. The way such a scenario usually unfolds is that child A's intentions are misunderstood, child B speaks sharply (and because child B is protective of his object his first response to a 'threat' is anger, and because he feels anger he assumes the other person is the source. If the other person is the source, then the other person must be wrong, bad, or "stupid." It seems very logical). Child A either 'gets it' that child B thinks he's stupid and gets angry back, or, if he's confused, waits for child B to 'explain'. Child B, still angry, does or says something to make the point clearer, that child B is defective. Child B internalizes this and may become angry in turn. It could come to blows. And it all happens so quickly. Trying to deconstruct it is like trying to separate baking soda and vinegar once the chemical reaction has begun

It occurs to me that there is a fulcrum point there where child A is defining the moment for child B as 'you're stupid and deserve me to talk to you like this.' Which means that on some level child B can accept this definition, or not. What typically happens is that child A's meaning is registered, and accepted, even as it is being angrily denied.

It seems such an obvious conclusion: if we're angry it's because someone else is the source. If we already assume someone is stupid, we're likely to perceive that they're being stupid again. We treat them that way, and their resentment for being treated that way predisposes them to act that way.

What I want to know is, is it possible to slow that moment down where one has the choice to internalize how an Other says we should define a situation? So instead of accepting and reacting to Ben's definition, can we instead say, 'wow, what's eating HIM? I'm not stupid, why is he talking to me this way?'

Too late I wonder if Scott was in a kind of limbo where his interpretation could have fallen in either direction--and by stepping in to correct Ben *I* actually pushed the definition to 'you were just disrespected'?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

In lieu of doing the laundry

Gary took the boys to a matinee. This means the first bit of solitude I've had since last Sat. Waste it on laundry? Oh no.

I sensed a major grudging vibe from Gary when they were funneling out the door. Now that Scott is better I think he's forgotten that the effects of the week would still be very much with me. I suppose it would mollify him if I was to do the laundry while they were gone.

I might be willing to do some laundry if my ipod was working. My ipod is not working because Gary disconnected it (by just unplugging it, not ejecting it) while it was syncing the podcast I was planning to listen to. I like to download Diane Rehm's talk show--she has the best analysis of any news program I've come upon yet. When I can't listen to the regular news during the week (say, having a sick child) her domestic and international "News Roundups" every Friday help me feel filled in.

I have a problem with listening to the news as broadcast on the radio anyway. I wonder if it's like the blind-spot that exists in the visual system. There's one in my attentional system too: sometimes when I'm trying to pay attention my very effort distracts me from what I'm listening to and I miss something. It seems like it's usually something crucial to the point of the segment too. With the ipod I can at least replay a section I missed when a child called, or my mind did some associative journeys ("Ramallah, that sounds like Allah which reminds me of Karen Armstrong's book on the biography of God which reminds me of the book my father mentioned by Robert Spencer called 'Muhammed: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion'--guess that's a clue as to the nature of the book, eh?--and now Karen Armstrong is considered to be an 'apologist' for Islam so that nullifies her scholarly status? Wait a minute--what were they just saying?"). Chores don't feel like such a waste of time if I can at least be feeding my mind at the same time.

Scott's ped and I re-thought the plan to delay antibiotics. I went and picked them up Thursday afternoon and yesterday he was skipping.

During his sickness I was reflecting on the fact that not that long ago any illness was a legitimate cause for alarm; any sickness held the real threat of taking someone away.

Teri Gross interviewed a man a week or so ago: Bart Ehrmann. His latest book is called "God's Problem" and it's about the perplexing mystery of the presence of suffering in the world. It was his inability to reconcile it that caused him to leave his born-again Christian faith.

The presence of suffering is the mirror thrust into my face when I consider whether or not the world is a 'safe' or 'dangerous' place. There's a part of me that shrinks inside when I take joy in the 'miracle' of finding an alternative setting for schooling Scott.

It reminds me of a sort of prayer fad some years ago, where the prevailing wisdom was that "God wants you to be happy", and so don't be ashamed to pray for that new car..." Then the voice that scoffed, and really couldn't be dismissed: "You're praying for a car? You're thinking God will get you a car? Do you think the millions of people herded into concentration camps didn't pray for deliverance?"

I suppose the bottom line of that voice is that it's crazy-naive to consider that Life in an intentional way can offer an individual miracles. The voice says with suffering at such a massive scale that it's the ultimate in egocentrism to think that if I can hold a vision in mind (for example, where I want to be and what I want life to look like once this process regarding Gary and marriage and employment and education has moved) that I can trust that the universe will shape itself in such a way to make that a logical outcome.

So the voice does at least 2 things: one is to ridicule me for daring to consider the world a 'safe' place. One is to accuse me of self-centeredness. Another is to attempt to 'prove' to me logically that it's absurd to consider the world safe. So the ultimate function of that voice is to convince me that the world isn't safe and I can't live in trust in it. Is this the same 'voice' that informs those in decision-making places that we must waterboard prisoners to keep us 'safe'? That justifies the domestic spying program, and indeed there are many who say, 'take away my civil liberties; just keep me (and mine) safe.'

It causes me to wonder if this is a sort of primal schism that manifests itself in the organization we see in humans today: authoritarian vs libertarian? Or maybe both poles are about safety and the fundamental disagreement is about how to go about it? Authoritarians seek to preserve safety by doing things the ways that have always been done (stressing obedience to principles that have worked) and libertarians seek safety in innovation and independence of thought?

Do I have to be convinced that the world is 'safe' first in order to come to the midpoint which acknowledges that it is both safe, and unsafe? Intellectually of course I know it, but I think my emotional orientation has tilted toward 'unsafe'. Is coming to that midpoint from a place where more than my intellect, but the rest of me is on board--is that akin to eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Day 5

When Scott spiked an even higher temp yesterday afternoon, on day 4, I took him to the ped. She found the source; a secondary infection in his right ear. Told me her philosophy regarding 70% of ear infections healing on their own and the dilemmas of antibiotic over-prescription. Said she'd write me a script and if he still had a fever Friday to go ahead and fill it and treat.

Gary objects. He wants Scott treated NOW: "I'm old-school." ('Old-school' is what my poor friend got subjected to when she came to visit over the Thanksgiving break. 'Old-school' means that any question of his conduct is answered with: "She should have been with her husband." It appears that 'Old-school' means you drive a car according to the way conditions should be, not the way they are.)

Scott's cough, if anything seems worse. He was running a temperature this morning despite having had ibuprofen at 3 a.m. {Me, up, doing the legwork, getting medication and water; Gary directing operations from the bed: 'Get the new congestion medicine' (I've already opened it), 'What about the ibuprofen?' ("I'm going to take his temperature first") 'Where's the water bottle?'--"Would you QUIT"}

I'm second-guessing my decision to have not started antibiotics right away. Could I have spared him this? Is it advisable to wait until tomorrow after all?

And Connor persists in the fantasy that Scott is 'lucky'. No school!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Day 4 or why I hate kids

Back up to last week where I made an agreement with Connor: we can adjust his bedtime from 8:30 to 9:00 if he can demonstrate that he's handling it well: that is, no adverse changes to his overall mood. With a little more discussion we adjusted 9:00 to 9:30 meaning his teeth are brushed by 9 and he can read in bed til 9:30.

The experiment seems to be going well; his mood is good and he's getting his work done for school.

Last night Scott's temperature spiked again so I resigned myself to no school today either.

He woke me early this morning with coughing. Got him a drink of water and some cough medicine, nearly asleep when I heard some noise downstairs. I got up to investigate and found Connor at the TV, preparing to play a video game. 5 a.m. "Back to bed!" "But Mo-o-o-om! Why!" Fortunately it was a rhetorical question and he didn't wait for an answer because my mind was turning: "Why not? Is there really any harm that can come from it?" Video games at 5 am seem wrong in the way that cola in the morning seems wrong, but is there a rational basis for that? "But I'm awake now!" he wailed. "Then read a book". Why should reading a book at 5 am be better than video games?

I go back to sleep with this uneasy dilemma. I got up to find him at the computer around 7:15. He said, "I got up at 5:30." As I walk past the dining room table I see that the Spanish homework I'd insisted he finish last night was in fact unfinished. There was a section with phrases that were scrambled that he was to decode in Spanish, and then their English translation. He clearly had not read the instructions and had merely written the scrambled word on the line--this on the few lines he'd completed. "Connor! You haven't finished this." Voice getting shrill for a 10 year old boy: "I can't do it! I don't know how! It's impossible!" In the meantime I've reasoned that the phrases are probably just scrambled versions of the translations he'd already written above--and I was able to confirm that fairly quickly. So I pointed this out to him and he's still loudly claiming that he can't do it. Scott's sleeping in the adjoining room and I really want him to stay asleep. I'm trying to compose an email for a friend. Connor bitterly complaining. I'm annoyed that he is not even attempting to push his mind forward a bit to meet this challenge and I say, "I don't even speak Spanish and I could figure it out."

He hates me. He wishes I was dead. He wishes he was dead. He wishes he didn't have to take Spanish. I've humiliated him and now he's angry. And now I'm compounding it by telling him that this is evidence the later bedtime isn't working: because he doesn't have the reserves to cope with his frustration. NOW I've made him mad by telling him he's stupid because he couldn't figure out his exercise when I could, and then when he gets mad I threaten to take something away from him.

He's done a pretty good job of describing a negative feedback cycle, except he's missing the seed kernel at the hub: he hadn't fulfilled his homework obligation. I ask him what would have happened had I walked past the table and saw that his homework was complete: Nothing, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Now he's a 'hobo', he's a 'loser' and I don't love him and never did. I like Scott better, and he's too depressed to go to school and can he have a day off? NO? "Scott gets to stay home and have a good time, and all I get to do is go to school and do homework and SLEEP!" He starts 'coughing'. Says he feels weak. I take his temperature. He reads it. "What's it say?" "100". "Let me see it." "I turned it off". "Turn it back on and take it again and this time let me read it." 98.2. He wishes he was sick.

And so on until I could kiss the bus driver, run out in my ratty pajamas and dirty hair and KISS him I'm so grateful he's taking this monster away.

I return to my email. Moments later Scott comes roaring out of the bedroom. Flings himself into the too-tight chair with me. "I had a bad dream!" "It sounds like a doozie." "I had a little brother, and he wouldn't BEHAVE. He wasn't following the hot-tub rules. He put his head underwater. He dumped his drink and his ice in it! AND YOU DIDN'T CARE!!!" Punctuated by hitting me. Yeah, I'm accountable for my behavior in his dreams, too.

I am a little stymied about the personal responsibility teaching moment though. It's as clear to Connor that the morning conflict was generated by me as it is clear to me that his troubles were ultimately self-generated: he hadn't done his homework. To point this out to him garners a blank stare as if I'd just told him that 2 + 2= 5. Or results in claims that I've 'rubbed it in', I've "made" him mad, and he's a total failure as a human being. I suppose there's a place in his development that's incomplete: where he can separate his worth as a person from the recognition that his actions and inactions have consequences. And that being called to account is not the same as being denigrated. And it's futile to try to lecture or shame that realization into him. Still, when I'm face to face with such a situation I feel like he's telling me that 2 + 2=5, and he really believes it.

Funny, there are a lot of adults who never get it either.

Ah, that's why I love to complain. If I do it right, really name the elements of my discomfort, I find the humor. And I don't hate kids nearly so much.

There should be a patron saint for complainers.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The awkward stage of childhood sickness...

At every time of the usual childhood sicknesses there comes this stage: not well enough to send back to school; not sick enough to be docile and bed-bound (read, "undemanding").

Also not sick enough to convince Connor who is in a snit about it being unfair that Scott is home and why can't he, Connor, have a day off too? (And I'll bet he's sniffing out anyone with symptoms at school to zero in on and hoover up some germs so he can too have the pleasure of illness.)

Several days of fever-depression have to be made up for and the chatterbox is wound very tight. "How much does that cost? What does it weigh? I want Optimus Prime for my birthday. Get me a transformer toy."

I bought a little time by having the foresight last night to ask Gary to pick up a couple movies for today.

What to do with this gifted time besides anxiously watch it slip away? Catch up online with some fascinating news segments that were obscured by kid voices when I was listening to them earlier on the radio? Do the checkbook (subtracting this month's sunk expenses, how much of a margin do we have left til next payday?)?

I really want to write, but it's hard to let go and do some satisfying drilling down when I'm waiting for the other shoe of interruption to drop.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I'm still smiling...

I dropped by Maddy's site for a little visit, and to my complete delight saw that she had mentioned me and my blog. And had given me the 'Banana Award for Blog Yumminess'. So, thank you again, Maddy. That's made my last several days a little more buoyant. And I'll display it proudly.

I've needed some buoyancy with Scott coming down with the latest affliction going 'round: some sort of high fever-juicy-congestioned-cough-like-mad malady. That was Saturday afternoon when it hit and his fever was still up tonight. So we're probably looking at a visit to the dr tomorrow if he's not looking a little better in the morning. This one has knocked the starch right out of him. Our usual rule this year is I've kept him home for a fever or diarrhea and right after the bus goes by he's entirely vigorous, energetic, and expecting entertainment. Not this time.

I've been making a little headway on the open-mind project though. I'm a little over halfway through Norman Podhoretz's book: "World War IV/The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism". I found a good quote today by Susan Jacoby, a fierce advocate for secularism in American political culture. A few years back she wrote a book called "Freethinkers", which challenged the assertion that the founding fathers of the US intended this nation to be a Christian nation (at least in the sense that the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons would have us believe). She was distressed to find that the people who came to hear her talk were all in agreement with her already. She lamented the absence of people with an opposing viewpoint coming to hear her out: "To see whether or not the devil has horns."

Podhoretz, on the other hand is blatantly preaching to the converted. He is not attempting to persuade anyone who doesn't agree with him already--he's already assumed a shared starting point that dismisses any disagreement as 'hating America'. He reminds me of a used car salesman who clinches a sale by steering his customer past any flaws so they don't have a chance to look more closely. For that reason his horns don't seem that sharp. I just don't feel that he's transparently analyzing facts and drawing sound conclusions.

What's true is that since this book was written in the fall of 2006 his ilk has largely been removed from places of influence within the Bush administration.

It is interesting to study them though, those far out on the right wing.