Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Some odd synchronicities:

Last night, on the daily Simpsons rerun, was the episode where the TV anchor Kent Brockman used an obscenity on-air when Homer dumped hot coffee in his lap.  We never heard the word, only saw the shocked expressions of the TV audience.  I thought it was an interesting coincidence, given my oldest son's use of a word my father found so offensive.

Later I was glancing through this week's programing on The Diane Rehm show--one of my favorite sources of news analysis.  This holiday week is all rebroadcasts, and yesterday's was an interview with the author of "Charlatan":

The bizarre story of "the goat gland man," John Brinkley, a marketing genius and medical fraud who amassed a fabulous fortune in the early twentieth century implanting thousands with goat testicles to restore sexual virility.


Pope Brock, journalist and author

The "goat gland man"???  GOAT BALLS?????  When "balls" was the word from my son's mouth that upset my father so much?

Oh, that's too funny.  I called Connor over to show him and we both howled.

My dad replied to the message I sent him.  He persists in his belief that the word is so inherently bad that its use in his presence constitutes egregious disrespect.  It is such a bad word that everyone should know it's bad, and therefore its use doesn't constitute an innocent mistake.  That language is used in the locker room or with prostitutes not with people who love you and deserve your respect....Should you use that language when interviewing for a job?  It is gutter talk and belongs in the gutter...Perhaps we agree to disagree, but I will continue to object to language like that when used in my presence.  As bad as I am, I think I deserve more respect just because I am old if for no other reason.

My guess is that the nature of my reply dissatisfied him, where I explained it was probably my fault; I don't think it's such a bad word and don't really object to him using it, but Connor has learned something about being sensitive about his audience when he chooses a word.*  The implication is that the word is not inherently evil, but is in the 'ear' of the receiver.  That smacks of a kind of relativism, and I think that's where the real fight was.

I did try again, though.  I said that all he would have had to do is say simply, "Connor, I really don't like that word and would rather you not use it around me."  Connor would have most likely said, "OK, Grandpa.  I'm sorry."  And that would have been the end of it.

Truly, isn't what would warrant agonizing over all night and finally, reluctantly, a bit embarrassedly, approaching a child's parent be a scenario where the child knew the word was offensive, and used it anyway?  To me, that's what would be worth losing sleep over--that would constitute disrespect, and downright meanness.  And that would ignite my concern.

It's curious my dad couldn't seem to tell the difference.

He said he'd not heard the incident when my FIL yelled at Scott, but he said my  mother told him about it and he was surprised.  Dad said he received a message from my FIL apologizing and saying he regretted his behavior. Dad wanted to know if I'd heard from him. 

Well, I had. FIL said he hadn't meant offense.  He denied yelling, said Scott had been close to him, said he'd used the same level of loudness as Scott, and agreed with me that Scott hadn't heard him.  He added he wouldn't be bringing the dog any more.   I suppose this amounted to an apology in his world.

That constituted such an inaccurate minimization that I'd responded to say that Scott had been at the far end of the living room while FIL had been in the kitchen, so they were not in proximity, 'yelling' as a term was debatable, but his voice was certainly raised, and if Scott had not heard it the adults at the table had.  I said I didn't mind the dog coming, but if we were going to treat her kindly than he'd have to do the same with my kids...that I have nothing against setting limits, but it has to be done respectfully:  yelling at someone in the presence of others doesn't qualify as respect.

Interesting that he would make a much more detailed apology to my father than to Gary or myself; he's not responded to that last message of mine and I don't expect him to.

I wasn't asking for an apology anyway.  I'd respect him more if he was to acknowledge the inconsistency between the level of indulgence he expects toward the noise his dog makes and snapping at my kid for having a loud voice, but an apology is beside the point.

Also interesting is the peculiar juxtaposition of dynamics.  In the one case my older son meant no disrespect yet my father persisted in being offended...in the other my FIL did mean disrespect, but it fortunately didn't reach it's intended recipient.  In the case where no harm was intended,  my dad pushed beyond his usual reticence to say something, and in the case where harm was intended the implication was that since it fell short of it's target I should say nothing.

I ponder these things.

*I forgot to attribute the remark I made in my message to my dad yesterday about audience/generational sensitivity to a comment Palemother made in response to my Balls post.  Thanks, Palemother--it really was helpful!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Taking action

Glad you and Katie made it home safely.  I hope it was with a minimum of aggravation.  Bet you'll be glad to sleep in your own bed tonight.

Look, I need to say something about something that happened.  On Christmas Eve you yelled at Scott and were very harsh because he was talking loudly in the front room.  It shocked me, first because he didn't seem that loud to me, and second, because on and off we'd been listening to Kate barking all day, and you yelling at her to be quiet, and we'd been nothing but gracious and tolerant about it. No one yelled at Kate, no one asked you to take her out.  And yet you spoke that way to an 8 year old boy who was excited about Christmas Eve finally arriving.  He'd been awaiting that moment for months.  Furthermore, he was in his own home.

I think you would feel offended too if we presumed to yell at Kate if we were in your home.

I decided to wait to say something so I could do it with some care. But the only thing that kept me from saying something right then and there was that it appeared Scott had not heard you.  If he had been hurt by what you said I would have spoken up.

You would never talk to my dad, or me, the way you did Scott.  I have nothing against setting limits, which is why I'm setting this one:  a rule in our house is that if we want something we ask for it respectfully.  I don't think yelling at someone in front of everyone qualifies.

I'm sending this with as much care and respect as I can,


Hi, Dad,

I'm glad you guys made it home ok.  I hope it wasn't too much of an ordeal.

I'm sorry that Connor offended you on the way to the restaurant.  If I'm understanding correctly what happened, he was telling a story and said something about being hit in the groin, only he used the slang that rhymes with 'walls'.

I suppose that incident is kind of my fault.  I'm not really offended by the word.  It's kind of like the word 'fart'.  Some people consider it a bad word, other families don't.   So I don't treat it like a forbidden word, like the 'f' word.  They're allowed to use it.   I have tried to work with Connor on being appropriate in terms of cultural and generational sensitivity and it looks like he had a tin ear last night.  But I don't believe he meant any disrespect.

I have to say though, that if we lived in an ideal world, the person you would have approached would have been L.  I can't say that he meant no disrespect when he yelled at Scott for being too loud after dinner on Christmas Eve.  He was truly the one to be disappointed in:  after more than 24 hours of listening to his dog barking, putting up with his dog being in the way as we moved around the house, and listening to him shout at her when she barked, he's yelling at my kid, in his own house, for being excited on Christmas Eve?  And I didn't even feel that Scott was being that loud.  And the only reason that I didn't say anything myself was that I don't think Scott heard him.

It's ok to disrespect a child, I guess.  There's no way L. would have spoken to you that way, or me.

And the inconsistency between you feeling you had to tell Gary you were disappointed in him for not saying something to Connor, and L.'s being allowed to do what he did...well, I just don't get it.  If I were to say something to L. about his behavior,  no matter how I bent over backward to be polite,  it would be considered to be unforgivably rude.  I don't get that either.

And frankly, I don't think it's right.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Balls (update below)

I've disappeared into company-land; 5 guests arrived on the 23rd.  Oh, wait.  My father-in-law brought his dog.  As far as he's concerned the dog is a person, so I have to say 6 guests arrived on the 23rd.

This morning 5 of the guests departed.  My niece doesn't fly out til later this afternoon.

The house is ringing with the silence.  The boys and my niece are still asleep.  Bliss.

I came up the stairs and went into the kitchen.  My dad was standing at the coffee pot and had just begun a conversation with Gary.  He stopped when I walked up.  He said something like,"oh, nothing." I said, "Go ahead", and he said abruptly, "I want to talk to Gary."  So I left.

But that didn't stop me from pausing on the steps to listen.

Dad told Gary that he was upset by something disrespectful Connor had said in the car last night.  We'd driven in separate cars to a restaurant my MIL had taken us to, so I'd not heard it.  I instantly feared the worst.  There is a dynamic in the relationship between Gary and the boys that's really ugly and perhaps it surfaced to bite:  something will happen that will frustrate the boys...Gary makes a remark or takes action that doesn't soothe the roiled waters, but is a match to flame...the boys explode, swear, speak disrespectfully to Gary...call him stupid.  I see this as a serious problem, and is going to get worse as they get older if he doesn't find a way to deal effectively with this.

Taking a walk with my niece in the woods the subject turned to how she would parent someday:  "I'll just do as my dad did.  Make them fear me early and then the rest is easy."

There is something to be said about parenting-thru-fear.  It certainly reduces the potential for awkward moments.  It makes for anxiety-free meals in restaurants. It means never having to be embarrassed by your children.

Fear can be effective.  And it tends to be easy, and convenient.  For people who advocate this as a method of parenting fear is synonymous with respect.

I've taken a risk in my own choices in parenting.  I am big on respect, but I believe it is a two-way street.  This means that if I want the respect of my children, then I have to earn it through demonstrating my credibility.  This is a process that has begun at birth.  It means that I have needed to invest my energy into attunement with them.  I've gotten to know their cues, their signals.  I then become their co-regulator, by making adjustments to keep them in internal equilibrium.  I can do this through monitorring external conditions and knowing when they've had enough.  When external conditions can't be adjusted I can do it through putting my energy beside them in empathy.  When they were little it frequently meant I didn't have the luxury of shouting at them from across the room to get them to stop touching something fragile:  it meant I had to follow them, and substitute another desirable object if they came under the sway of something forbidden.  Eventually I didn't have to do that anymore when they began to develop their own empathy and understanding of others' precious objects.  My job was/is to be their regulator until they developed the maturity to do it on their own.

It takes a lot longer, and a lot more effort than fear to parent this way.  But I think it pays off in that their respect for me goes well beyond fearing what I'll do to them if they step out of line.

Gary got it about not using fear of punishment as a parenting tool.  But he did not get it that he needed to replace fear with something stronger and more enduring.  Over and over he'd miss their cues, fail to see that they were becoming overloaded, and then blame them when they acted out, which would stoke the fire even hotter.  Then they'd call him names or worse.  I've told him that it really worries me that these conditions are present, and while he'll admit it's a problem with potential for some real trouble down the road, he persists in avoiding learning how to deal with it more effectively.

The boys do not call me names, and in general are respectful of adult authority.  They don't call other adults names.

I feared Connor had lost control and had been blatantly disrespectful to Gary in front of my parents.

I heard my father say, "I was...really shocked when Connor said that, and I was disappointed in you for not saying something to him and I was disappointed in myself for not saying something."  Gary said, "Yeah.  I kind of cringed when he said it."  Dad:  "Oh, it about doubled me over.  I thought about it all night."

I continued down the stairs, thinking about this.  In general, my father is not the type to tell someone if something bothers him, and he's very offended if someone tells him that something he's said or done bothers them, so it must have been pretty egregious for him to get this exercised.

Shortly after I had Gary alone and so I asked him what Connor had said.  Gary said Connor had mentioned having been "hit in the balls."  That's it?????

OK, so let's back up 4 days to the 23rd when my FIL arrives with his dog, Katie.  This dog is wife, girlfriend, sister to him.  He can't refuse her anything, so she looks like a grotesque barrel on sticks, with a little tiny head.  The morning they were to arrive he sent a message saying the day before she'd rolled in some dead salmon near a stream.  He'd bathed her, he said, "but the aroma still lingers".  No qualms about bringing her into our home.  No qualms about letting her lay on our sofas, because it meant she wasn't hogging the bed he slept in.  In fact, he gushed about "what a good girl she is, sleeping on the sofa so I could sleep all night."

Once in our home she barked whenever our dog went near my FIL (jealous), and so he asked us to take him out of the room.  She parked herself in walkways where I was trying to cook so everyone was continuously having to step around her and barked at no provocation at all.  Then he'd shout at her.

I woke the next morning, Christmas Eve and lay considering the situation.  Four days stretched endlessly ahead, and I thought I'd approach it as a game.  This was the hand I've been dealt.  I'm internally weighed down by the death of my friends' son.  There are nine people in my house, and an extra dog.  The adults, with the exception of my niece, brother, and partly my father, are very self-centered.  One of the children is hyperactive.  My MIL, who is also highly anxious and self-centered is going to be part of the mix.  I have 3 major meals to fix, and though I've been pre-cooking and preparing for days now, my organizational skills are so faulty I'm not sure how to coordinate it all. I'm not sure if I've planned sufficiently.  How am I going to play this hand?

The fact that this is the last time I'm doing this was my ace in the hole.

Somehow Christmas Eve dinner tumbled together perfectly and it was a marvelous meal.  The boys, particularly Scott, having waited 365 days for this moment were deliriously happy and playing together in the front room, adjacent to our dining area.  The adults were at the table and my FIL rinsing dishes in the kitchen.  The noise level was high in general from so many people all talking.

Suddenly, FIL shouted from the kitchen, "Scott!  Stop that shouting!  We can hear what you are saying without you having to yell!!!"

I was stunned, and then furious.  We had been listening to his dog bark, and him yell at his dog all that day from the moment they arrived the day before, with good grace and no complaint, and now he's telling my little boy he's too loud, in his own home, on Christmas Eve?

What's even more bizarre is that it would be considered rude for me to say something to him about trespassing some boundaries, and setting others:  if Scott's on his lap and shouting in his face, he has every right to say something.  If Scott's in his home and shouting, he has a right to say something.  If Scott's in our home, and we're not reprimanding him, he has no right.  Yet, my father feels free to confront my husband about what he saw as a lapse in his parenting, because my boy said the word "balls?"  He lost sleep over it?

There are so many things wrong with this picture it makes my head spin.

I really thought I was going to say something to FIL.  I told Gary he needed to say something to him, but I know he won't.  There were a few minutes I had alone with FIL when I was doing some dishes and I could have said it then.  Was it merely the force of socialization that stayed my tongue?

I didn't speak because...I didn't feel compelled to, in that moment.  I don't know if it was cowardice, or maybe it was wisdom about timing.  Maybe I flatter myself.  Perhaps it was knowing that he would see himself victimized if I did.  His feelings would be hurt, for telling him that his actions had hurt my boy's feelings.  How ironic is that?  Perhaps it's just the pointlessness.  If he's the kind of person who would yell at an 8 year old on Christmas Eve for being too loud in a loud house, he's not the kind of person who would get it anyway.

He'd demonstrated a classic illustration of people living in glass houses, throwing stones.

Interesting that my father would feel moved to do something beyond his comfort level, talk to Gary about something Connor said, yet feel no compunction whatsoever to speak with FIL about his--to me--far worse behavior.

I'm so glad they're gone I can hardly stand it.

I asked Connor about what happened in the car.  He said he'd been explaining to my mom and dad why he didn't want to ride with his other grandfather in his truck to the restaurant: The Dog rides with him in the front seat, but is jealous of the space by the window.  As my son explained to my parents, "she steps on my balls."

I realized I left out an important fact about my FIL yelling at Scott.  Scott had not appeared to have heard him.  I didn't see a change in Scott's face, or his play.  As I said, the noise level was high anyway;  and FIL was in the kitchen while the boys were at the far end of the living room.  I think his voice didn't rise above the general din.  I asked Connor later if he'd heard what Grandpa said, and he said he had not.  I suppose that was part of why I refrained from saying something in that moment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It was an informal service in a winery, on a gray and foggy Friday.  After all the ice of the prior week the parking lot was sodden and puddled.  My shoes were soaked by the time I got to the entrance after parking the car, and an hour later the seam with the sole split.   A dispirited day.

Many of the photographs taken over the years of David's life, many that I recognized, had been enlarged to poster size and ringed the meeting room.  Someone had taken great care to exhibit his accomplishments:  his art, wood and iron working, images of good times with friends.  He was an accomplished athlete, and his uniforms from the various sports he played were hung.

I'd wondered to myself, when the roads were frozen and I couldn't get there, if the community was taking care of Greg and Toni.  Ah, but they were.  If my friends could not have their son back, then the town strove to give them the next best...a soft place to fall. Local restaurants donated the food for the memorial.  Neighbors set up the displays, hung the posters, prepared and set out the food.  Members of David's posse were like 4 guardian angels.  One of them facilitated the service, soliciting stories and making sure any one who wanted to speak received the microphone.  They were so tender to Greg and Toni, and to each other.

There were at least 200 people there.  Former teachers, parents of friends, and many, many friends.

He was such a beautiful young man, and so loved.  How I wish we could have been celebrating his marriage instead.  The gauze between a wedding and a funeral seems so flimsy.

A meditation on planet grief:

In our space ship we have many destinations, and some we want to avoid at all costs.  We give a wide berth to black holes, certain asteroids, comets.  And sometimes, we find ourselves caught in a gravitational field we are not strong enough to escape, and we're inexorably pulled.  We crash.  The worst we've feared has happened, and we're broken on planet grief.  The laws of physics that govern the very movements of our bodies, the cement-thick atmosphere we breathe, crush us and we gasp, nearly wishing we'd not survived the impact. We sink, deeply below the surface and we say goodbye to the people we once were.

The miracle is, we are still alive, and in searing pain, but oddly, there is comfort to be found here too.  There is kindness here, and even terrible beauty and joy.  In our deepest anguish, there are moments of tender solace in the gaze of someone who's been there, in a moment of humor that can unexpectedly lift the spirits.   Loss transports us to a world where we would never go if we could choose.  We're chewed and swallowed by it and perhaps some of the anguish is in exchanging our old context, our former lives, for our new.  Perhaps this is the purpose of a funeral, or memorial. When done ideally, it sets the precedent--to demonstrate that this new world cuts like knives, and yet beauty and love can be found, and maybe can get us through.  In days of despair we lose sight of this, but sometimes we have glimpses of hope.

I thought some more about my doubts about intimacy with my friends, not just Greg and Toni, but Marti, Mindy, Kathy.  I'd tried to locate the feeling inside of love for them and felt dismay that the 'feeling' was elusive.  I understand now it's because there's a difference between love which is the drawing-toward and love that is the already-entwined.  The tangible feeling of attraction is merely sensing the pull of another's gravitational field.  Once there, we live on this planet with love a background force...everything we do is in relation to it but we often don't experience it as a force outside of ourselves.  I was trying to locate the 'attraction' feeling.  My friends and I are 30 years beyond that.

There is comfort in that conclusion.

And so I will incline my love toward Greg, Toni, and their daughter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


The roads have been very bad in the Pacific Northwest, and so I've not been able to get to my friend, David's mother. It's supposed to warm up, melt the ice in the gorge, hopefully in time for the memorial on Friday.

David's death has revealed to me some fissures in the fabric of my community.

I approach the topic with trepidation, because it seems wrong, in a way, to even think about the ways this effects ...me. I was not a cherished adult in his life--I have no right, if I'm not devastated as in the loss of a Beloved, to even consider myself affected. It seems presumptuous, sacrilegious. How dare I profane their grief.

Yet I feel flat.

I wrote earlier today: "It’s funny how far the ripples reach, how it affects people he probably didn’t even know exist."

There are the primary affected: those who loved him dearly, felt responsible for him and feel the burden of responsibility now. And there are those of us, or perhaps I shouldn't speak for anyone else. There is me, who doesn't know him well enough to grieve honestly for his own sake, but grieves for the anguish of his parents. And has to confront the question of how close I am to them really, and indeed to any of my friends. What is love, what is intimacy? I try to locate a discreet sensation inside and it eludes me.

This is complicated by the fact that in coming to terms with my unhappy marriage and what I'm going to do about it, I've largely isolated myself. The time I've had to myself with the kids in school I've guarded jealously, and surrendered grudgingly while I wrote, and thought. Any claims on my time have felt like overwhelming demands. I've gone through the motions with people when I've had to, but usually I'm just waiting until I can be alone again. In general my history with friends is a sort of credit for closeness, but what is there to back it up?

And do I really care?

That's what I mean by flat. Rudderless, disoriented. Aimless. Even thinking about thinking is hard.

I feel guilty about this eddy my friends' grief has swirled me into. It seems selfish and trivial in comparison to the raw suffering that is their lives right now and for the future.

Perhaps that explains that peculiar tendency toward distance I experienced when I received word.


There's a hidden challenge in the fact of a close someone's suicide. My guess is that as it is causing me to examine what constitutes close friendships, his family may be examining what it means to choose to live. Although theoretically the doorway out of this life is in our hands, most of us live with the perception that it is barred and inaccessible. David's death leaves the door ajar, especially for those who are in so much pain at his passing through it. Years ago my friend Marti and I watched a movie called "Night Mother" with Anne Bancroft and Sissy Spacek. It was devastating; a young woman announces her intentions to her mother and the mother spends the whole night trying to talk her out of it. If David's family could have argued with him, they could have asked, perhaps, what about them? If he can pass through that exit, what would he feel about them doing the same? Perhaps he was in so much pain he would have been beyond that care reaching and influencing him. Perhaps he would have turned up his hands and said, "no. I wouldn't want you to go this way. But I'm hurting so soo much. And I'm asking you, please pay this price for me to have peace. Your pain will purchase my freedom. Please?"

Saturday, December 12, 2009


There are things I'm unable to reconcile.

Around the world hundreds millions of people live in the most wretched of conditions. I surfed to do some fact checking and found a UN report from 2003 that said 25,000 people in the world die each day of hunger. Somewhere, millions of people live in constant fear of violence and are forced to choose between being monsters in order to survive, or die.

Living with this knowledge requires some interesting machinations. One is to not think about it. There are various ways to 'not think about' it: literally not allow it to cross one's mind, or if it does, to keep it firmly in the realm of abstraction, like watching an engaging movie, or reading a heartrending book.

Other people can't casually dismiss inequity and resort to other means to rationalize. We quote Jesus and say there will be poor always. We believe that we have the privilege of our security because we lived well in a prior life, as a matter of luck, or because of some virtue we possess in this life. If we believe that god rewards good behavior, then the converse is that he punishes bad; therefore people who are in bad circumstances must have done something bad. Some people are just glad that it's someone else, not them, and choose to not question further.

There is a schism between the given that everyone deserves to have enough good food to eat, warm dry shelter, clean water, and the fact that the majority of the world's population wants for these things. I really cannot enjoy my comfort the way I would if I knew that a decent standard of living was accessible to all. This is a discrepancy I just can't reconcile, yet must live with.

The worst has happened to my friend Toni. She got the news Thursday afternoon, and it was conveyed to me through our mutual friend, Marti Friday evening.

I've known them since 1982. They were part of a circle of friends I met in my climbing days, through my then boyfriend Charlie (When we broke up, by default, I got the friends. I feel grateful for that.). At the time I'd thought this would be my community forever. Yet so much of our lives were in flux...for me relationships came and went until I met Gary in 1989, but I stayed in touch with this group, mainly through the women. We went to each other's weddings: Kathy & Michael and Toni & Greg the same year, after years of co-habitation, then Marti & Sam. Mindy & Steve had already been married a few years when I came into the mix. We staggered the births of our children, which was foolish, because it meant we weren't much support to each other. When Mindy and Steve had Alec, I had no idea what it meant to be a new mother and wouldn't for another 13 years. By the time Toni and Greg had their son, Alec was nearly 2 and at a stage that wasn't compatible with an infant. It was years later before Marti and Sam had their son, and I was the very last to have children. I benefited, I think, because these women had grown wise in what it meant to have a newborn, and able to be tender to me in a way I had not been with them. They went through their early mothering years in relative isolation.

Parenthood changed the things we did and the amount of time we spent together. Toni and her now ex-husband Greg moved 2 hours up the Columbia River Gorge 17 or 18 years ago when their children were 6 and 3. I moved on to other climbing and skiing circles, eventually ending up with Gary. Marti and I started a tradition of breakfast every Friday morning, which endured until I moved to St. Louis. We resumed when I returned 5 years later, modifying it to every-other week, and to accommodate the restrictions of Gary's lost job. The women of the group would sporadically see each other. We've made an effort to meet regularly for dinner, every other month.

I was not a part of an extended circle of adults that was a constant in the lives of any of these children, now grown. I wasn't a surrogate parent to these children. Greg and Toni formed friendships in the small community they moved to, where their two children went to school; did these friendships serve the function of extended family?

In The Oregonian this morning:
A man's body was found near railroad tracks west of (a city) on Thursday, officials said Friday.Union Pacific Railroad workers on a westbound train spotted the body at about 10:15 a.m., said a detective of the County Emergency Services in a news release. The Sheriff's Office deputies located the body of a white male, 20 to 30 years old, lying close to the tracks in an isolated area west of the city near the Columbia River. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday, the detective said. The man's identity is being withheld pending notification of his family.

The next of kin have been notified. They have the notes. The man is the son of my friends Greg and Toni, dead by his own hand on his 24th birthday.

I'm looking at the weather. It's not quite 7 am, and we had freezing rain yesterday. The main highway along the gorge was closed yesterday due to 'extreme icy conditions'. The state route on the other side of the river is open. It's 26 degrees and I'm not sure I can get up my driveway. In a little while I'll call Marti and see what she thinks about our ability to get down our hill (she lives up on the ridge too, about 9 miles east of me. She has 4wd, and we were going to take her car, assuming I can even get to her house). Our plan is to go, to take some simple appetizer food the family can set out for people who come to visit, make ourselves available for errands, to abide.

This situation exposes how far we've allowed our intimacy to drift. I realize I don't know the things an intimate should know. If I had been part of the extended family circle that raised their David, there would be no question. I would have received the news nearly the moment they did, and I would probably be there right now. But I don't even know if they have people there with that kind of familial urgency, amongst their friends and neighbors in that town. If they do, have they already been inundated with food, and with people? I've known Toni nearly 30 years, and Marti has known her longer. But David I hardly knew at all as a young adult.

I'm also dismayed with how easily I slip into considering this tragedy with the same rationalization I use to stay sane when I put food in my mouth while knowing there are hundreds of millions of people who have none. It's like a gravitational pull, the inclination to stay remote. I'm caught between two gravitational pulls, the one of friendship which has cooled from lack of attention, leaving me vulnerable to the pull of distance.

But at this very moment, as I sit here, with my sons safe downstairs (for how long? The death of David merely underscores the fragility of safety), my friends are shattered under the weight of loss that squeezes the air out of their lungs. They've entered a new universe, a new gravitational field, which is organized around their son's suicide. Its field is relentless, and crushing. Every breath they take pulls it in. Every exhale is a sob, even when they're cried out.

Around the world a mother cries over her hungry, dying child. I try to not think about it as I prepare the meal for my family. It's discomfiting to recognize the same impulse to use the same strategy as I think of my friends 80 miles away.

I'm not a stranger to grief. I do not want to think of myself as someone who runs and hides when someone is devastated, the ways strangers to grief often might. This is grief of a different order, though, than losing my sister.

While searching for Mrs. Spit's post on Abiding I found a post on Glow In the Woods on how to support a babylost mother. While searching Mrs. Spit's site I also found this:
If grief is not the same, I find myself wondering, to what extent can others participate in our grief, and to what extent do we grieve only on our own? And how do we share and recognize the grief of others? How do I recognize the sadness of friends, of family, of our church? I am thankful that others miss Gabriel, I am thankful that he was a child of a greater community of friends and believers, not merely an accomplishment of mine and Mr. Spit's. But how does this actually play out in real life. What does it mean to grieve as a community or a family? Is it an act we do separately, while in the same space, or is it something that builds and ties and binds us to one another, and helps us each become more fully human?

How do I respect the grief of others, at their tragedies, and abide with them in their sorrow. To join in the place of grieving and give my physical presence to them, so that I may be with them as they grieve. --Mrs. Spit

These thoughts will go with me, as we go to be with our friend.


The roads are still closed, and very bad where Toni lives. The weather is supposed to begin to warm today. Perhaps the roads will be safe Monday. Marti can't take any more days off work; she maxed her time off when she was moving her parents from Idaho. I'll go by myself, tomorrow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


"...while he moved forward violently, he was immobile, he was hurtling round a fixed point." Ian McEwan, the child in time

I dreamt the other night that I was with my SIL. We were preparing food to take to a gathering. A most beautiful, exultant song was playing and my very being pulsed to it. Every atom of me throbbed. And then my SIL's voice cut through: "I'm glad you are having such a good time, but do you think you could (do such and such instead)..." Instantly the music ground to a halt, like one of those special effects like a turntable needle scraping along a vinyl record.

I blinked and looked at her. Her face was bland as her words. Yet the music had stopped, it had been sucked right out of the room. I didn't feel badly, though I understood I was meant to. Instead I was interested and curious, and that's what I woke with. I laid there in that quasi-awake, quasi-asleep place and pondered a bit over that.

I was with the mechanics of the maneuver, and the wonder of my response to it. In thinking about what she said I considered the contrast between the words and the tone. She clearly was not glad at my happiness, and instead experienced it either as an inconvenience to herself, or something that was a selfish indulgence on my part at her expense. It's not an uncommon way of expressing displeasure...I may use this device sometimes myself when I'm trying to get the kids out the door and they're absorbed in something else. Present in the dream interaction was a strong sense of unspoken 'rules'. I was to know she was unhappy, but though I was to change my behavior, I was not to let on that I knew she was unhappy. I was to register her remark as an innocuous observation, even as I was to do something to satisfy her, but not let on that she'd been dissatisfied.

Again, that's a dynamic that's familiar. I've seen it in action all my life; it's a shaming device...meant to influence the behavior of someone else. All my life I have responded to it with shame--experienced it as a stinging. In the dream I did not, and as I lay there I considered that.

Then there was the matter of the melody. It kept playing in my head too, a lilting, cajun-type fiddle lead. I enjoyed just listening to it and recapturing the feeling it evoked. It was tantalizingly familiar, and then it came to me. Though altered to a cajun arrangement, the intervals were that of the old Tommy James song, "Dragging the Line": "Loving a free and feeling spirit, hugging a tree when you get near it, digging the snow and the rain and the bright sunshine...dragging the line". Funny, how the lyric, "Dragging the line" sounds more like a dirge than an affirmation of freedom. A paradox.

I've been having dreams that seem to have a theme of a glass ceiling. In one I had an aspiration to go high, to a high point of a city. But the vehicle I chose, a taxi and driver, took me low. In another, I'm a Transformer, blue, soaring, powerful. And I'm hamstrung by power lines. I walk along a path I think is going to a destination, and at the last moment it turns, back toward where I came from.

This week my cousin Sheri pulled the Ace of Cups Tarot card on her blog, Wild Women of the Universe. She actually pulled it twice. It's a card of abundance, of transcendent joy. And yet I feel myself pressed against this invisible barrier. And I experience light being bent to conform to some sort of gravitational pull I don't understand.

It was this gravity I wanted to transcend the other night when Scott was so distraught. I suspect he needed me to transcend it too, to show him convincingly that his well-being could come from another avenue than my anger with his brother. Somehow, though, I found myself pressed against curved glass, my movements directed on a well-circumscribed path, away from the transcendence I sought for both of us. I could not get through to the other side.

Since Sheri had already drawn the Ace of Cups this week, she pulled another for clarity, and got The Moon, reversed. She said it's a card of "deeper understandings of the forces at work", the hidden being revealed through the channels of intuition.

I long for this.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Does perfect bewilderment and frustration count? (or, No God Moments For Me) Updated Below

Just in case it (perfect bewilderment and frustration) doesn't (count), I won't post the Perfect Moment Mondays emblem.

I'm assuming the headache is menopausal. The hot flashes are a clue. Some days I just wake up with a headache that I'm resigned to having in the background all day. Now I'm waking in the night with the headache and the desperate sensation of too much heat. I remove the blanket and sheet, wait for the headache to subside enough to sleep again, and then wake shortly after, cold.

So this morning was a resigned-to-a-headache morning, on the same day that Gary's going down to the bay area to meet a guy he's hoping to finalize employment with. I took him to the airport about 11:30 and returned home.

Scott and Connor have reached a revolting development in their relationship. They are two unstable elements and under certain conditions come together with volatility (sudden explosions) and unpleasant byproducts (noise, name-calling). They're like ammonia and chlorine bleach and once they get going it's as impossible to separate the byproducts back into their component atoms. This makes it very difficult to find a peaceful resolution to the various conflicts that sprout.

A typical interaction: something happens, usually the initiating event is missed by one of the adults. Sometimes they're playing and one of them gets hurt. Sometimes Scott is being hyperactive, which annoys Connor. Sometimes Scott says something innocent and Connor responds with uncalled-for scorn. Whichever adult is present will usually start with whoever's behavior is obvious, "Connor, keep your hands to yourself!" Scott: "YEAH, Connor!" Connor: "Shut up, you big fatso!" Scott: "Yeah, well you're a.....!" And while the adult is trying to put a stop to that the child not being addressed in that particular moment is making faces at the other one behind the adult's back so that the child being addressed is becoming more inflamed, setting off the nuclear chain once more. Jesus, sometimes I hate children.

Scott was hyperactive tonight and went downstairs. I heard Connor saying, "Stop, Scott...Just stop, would you? Would you quit, I'm getting really mad at you!" I went downstairs to tell Scott it was time to come upstairs if he couldn't be in the same room peacefully with Connor, but not before Connor called him an 'asshole' and "hurt my feelings."

The really curious thing about this was the irrationality. Even by a kid's standards of behavior this was irrational. Scott's fury stemmed from the fact that I'd gone to get him with a severe affect; he felt I was angry with him and not his brother. Repeatedly he demanded that I get angry and direct that anger at Connor. And the more I wasn't doing it the angrier he got.

This is the thing about kids that stumps me. There was no way I could reach him to explain (though I tried) that not only can I not get angry at will, and at the behest of someone else, but it had sure sounded like Connor had asked him nicely enough to stop. He only got angrier.

The fury and tantrum went on long enough that I had time to remember a sequence that my cousin Lori described in an episode of her own child's anger:

1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart

Similarly I remembered a post by Mary P. Jones about difficult moments with children called "The God Moment"

I at least thought about being mindful in this tricky parenting moment. It was hard to listen above my own clamor for this to all just go away: oh, my aching head. What the hell do I do with his demand that I feel something I didn't feel? I talked to him about understanding that it had felt unfair to him that I had seemed angry with him when I came to get him, and that he felt Connor deserved my anger too. I told him that I knew it must feel terrible inside his body. I told him I knew how awful it felt to be so angry and feel it trapped inside his skin. But he could not release that demand and I could not get to the place inside where I could find the words to help him release it. (Did I fail in being empathetic? I was sincere, I do know it feels awful, but how much of this empathy was just an effort to get him to shut up? Could he sense it?) He wanted to go talk with Connor, and he wanted nothing less than my righteous indignation on his behalf.

Since he kept pressing and no inspiration came from God I had to be explicit. I looked him in the eye and said with finality "I can't be angry on demand. And I'm not angry with Connor." {anguished and angry wailing} "Now we can go downstairs and talk to him, but we have to have rules. I'll explain the rules to him too. You have to take turns, you can't shout at each other, and you can't call each other names."

I took down from the bulletin board his classroom's template for conflict resolution and we went downstairs after I briefed Connor on The Rules. I let Scott start, and another testament to kid irrationality was that his and Connor's versions of what happened pretty much matched up: Scott wanted to roughhouse with Connor; Connor said no because he figured it would lead to trouble; Scott started taunting and making fun of him to try to goad him into tackling him. On some level he knew that he had provoked this particular fight. Clearly the heart of this was between Scott and me, not Scott and Connor.

A bright spot in all this was that the conflict resolution model kept the discussion fairly even and they responded when I'd assert The Rules if they started to get heated. When I asked Scott to repeat back what Connor had said he objected on reasonable grounds: Connor was first supposed to repeat back what Scott had said. So apparently this conflict resolution stuff they're practicing in school is sinking in, at least the procedural stuff. Maybe there's hope.

And I guess that has to be enough of a God moment for tonight. We went upstairs and had a relatively peaceful dinner.

An hour later Scott wanted a bath, and me to read to him while he was in the tub. When I came in with the book he glared at me and said, "I'm still mad at you and I still want you to get mad at Connor!"

Perfectly tough night.


Update 12/7/09

Thinking about Mrs. Spit's comment to the original post made me think some more about last night, and the curious nature of Scott's and my conflict.

In retrospect, it was like a Zen koan, and I may have been on the right track, but somehow didn't go far enough. I certainly can't say I'm there today. I think the God Moment I'd like to have realized is the one Mary and Lavender wrote about where the conflict dissolved in the meeting of the two hearts. This would have been infinitely more satisfactory to me, and I suspect to Scott, too. In fact, Scott was counting on me to find a way to resolve us into that uniting of our hearts.

To his mind the only way he could get there was if I was angry at Connor. Where I was on the right track was in knowing that there had to be something deeper Scott was yearning for. I knew he longed to know that I felt his pain, he wanted to feel connected to me. He was telling me that his sense of fairness demanded that I be angry with Connor. For him this was the only way union could be achieved.

And I was stuck on the fact that I did not feel angry with Connor, and that in this case Scott had provoked Connor. So even if I could somehow jinn up the feelings at will, they wouldn't have been truthful. And for the life of me I could not find the way between, where I could give him the feeling that he needed, without walking through a door that felt fraudulent to me.

And I suppose one of the barriers to resolution for me was my frustration with my helplessness in resolving his need, his demand, with reality. And because I was frustrated I was irritated and I could not connect with my compassion for him. So even though I had a sense that it wasn't so much my anger with Connor he wanted, but my compassion, my own desire that this strange paradoxical puzzle go away seemed to motivate my words. The words were correct, but the feeling beneath them was not deep enough.

How do I get beyond that barrier of my own desire that a conflict end for the sake of my own comfort?

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I've just passed my blogoversary, the second one, on November 26. And I realize that in the past couple of weeks, the premise of my blog has shifted.

I began with a decision before me that I decided to blog my way through. My decision was whether or not to stay in a marriage for the sake of staying married.

This was a more complicated path than I realized at the beginning. There were a number of tasks I needed to work my way through first.

One was to get some clarity on whether or not the unhappiness in our marriage was due to some fault in me. I needed to satisfy myself as to whether I was generous enough, reacting too much, expecting too much. Could I change something in myself in order to remain in this marriage in a way that made a generative atmosphere for my sons?

I also needed to know if staying, or leaving, would do more harm to my boys.

I needed lots of time, and thousands of pages of writing to really look at those questions.

My cousin Sheri over at Wild Women of the Universe pulled The Star as the Tarot card for Thursday. She pulled it for another of her commenters, Quiet Dreams, but it could have been for me as well:

The renewal indicated with The Star card is one of re-discovering who you REALLY are, dropping any facades or roles that you have been filling and carefully shedding the parts of you that now seem "fake" or "put on." It's not that you were intentionally doing this to fool people (even though at times you may have even fooled yourself -- temporarily), it was more a function of upbringing, old beliefs and survival.

The reflections of my past two years have revealed the function of "upbringing, old beliefs, and survival." In responding, Quiet Dreams could also have been speaking for me:

Definitely. In the house I grew up in, there were very strict ideas about what it meant to be "good." I have been learning to expand my definitions for a while now and learn that those "survival" days are over.

This blog has officially changed from being about a decision whether or not to divorce, to a blog about the process of divorce.

My vision for the process:

We can do it amicably. We can do it without lawyers so we can minimize the hit to our resources.

The boys remain in their house, with Gary and I rotating in and out on a weekly shared-custody schedule. Hopefully we can be amicable enough that we can buy or rent another place and share that.

I'll need to find work. The nature of, the hours of, are yet to be determined.

It's strange to be in this latency period, where the decision has been made and the basics agreed to, but its implementation is still ahead.

I've been thinking a lot about a movie that I watched with the boys over Thanksgiving, called "Rudy". It's based on a true story, and though not all the movie elements hew to the factual history of this man, the essentials do. From childhood he had a dream of playing football for Notre Dame, even though he was small and light. His grades weren't great in high school, certainly not for admission to Notre Dame. Four years after graduating from high school he's working in the steel mill his father works in when his best friend is killed. This galvanizes him to live his dream and he leaves for South Bend Indiana after the funeral. The strength of his desire persuades a priest to admit him to Holy Cross, the junior college in the same town. If he has the grades, maybe he can transfer to Notre Dame. Over 2 years he applies 3 times and isn't accepted. He discovers he has dyslexia, which was the cause of his poor grades in high school. On his fourth try he is accepted, and then bends himself to the task of being a 'walk-on' player for the football team. For two years his function on the team is to be a stand-in for opposing teams to help get the players ready. Finally, for the last home game of his senior year he is allowed to dress with the team, and is even put on the field for a play.

I've wondered for the past week or since watching the movie at what sustained Rudy's desire for all those years and set-backs. What would keep him connected to that reality he finally realized? (Even though in truth he had to scale it back: his dream had been bigger. He'd wanted to be an active playing member of the team. However, there is no denying that what he achieved is impressive indeed--he was on the team for 2 years, in addition to being a graduate from Notre Dame.)

He had a Star that he followed and kept him connected to a reality that everyone, even his own family, told him was impossible to achieve.

I have a Star too. Mine is less clearly defined than Rudy's, but I think, like him, has been guiding me since childhood.