The Kids Are All Right

My daughter started school today.  I realize this isn’t a big deal, but bare in mind that she was previously a homeschooler with only 1 year of middle school under her belt and is re-entering as a sophomore in high school so it’s not exactly the same as simply going back to school. Thankfully, her day went well and she has friends in each of her classes.  She also got the theater teacher she was hoping for. The school has “A Days” and “B Days” so her classes will be different tomorrow. Hopefully her day, tomorrow, will go just as well as today.

Last night, to take her mind off of the first day of school, we went to see The Kids are Alright (directed by Lisa Cholodenko). It is an absolutely fantastic film! Annette Bening and Juliana Moore play a married lesbian couple with two children (played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson). Each woman gave birth to one child by using the same sperm donor. When their daughter turns 18, the younger brother talks his older sister into calling the sperm bank so they can meet their biological father, played by Mark Ruffalo.

The film is not about a lesbian relationship. It’s about what it means to be married and especially what it means to be family.

This is one of the most enjoyable, intelligent movies I’ve seen in a long while and I watch a lot of movies!

Dreams and Reality

My son thinks he had a seizure, yesterday, so has been undergoing a battery of tests, today.  He recently got huge tattoo on his back and an ear piercing. The doctor doesn’t think it is related to either. Thankfully, the EKG, reflex tests and CT Scan all came out clean.  He is being referred to a neurologist.

He came home last night complaining of being tired and said he was going to bed. I told him he looked horrible but he told me not to worry, that he was just over-tired which seemed reasonable because he has been working double shifts, lately. On Sunday, he worked a 16 hour day and that’s been fairly normal the past several weeks  He was totally coherent and speaking clearly so I didn’t really worry about him – at least not consciously.

However, I had a dream last night that my son had died and that I was completely inconsolable.  I couldn’t talk to people who were trying to comfort me because their attempts at comfort were far more discomforting than comforting.  Everyone was dressed in old-fashioned formal black attire as was I.  I also had a black veil covering my face that allowed me some distance from the other mourners. In the dream, I felt guilty for not offering hospitality to those who were exhibiting genuine concern.  But I was paralyzed.  No words would come forth.  I was completely mute.  So I was very thankful for the veil.

Then the dream switches.  I’m on a boat or on something like a boat with my mother (although she is nothing like my mother in real life).  Our lives are at stake because the ship/boat (I think it is more like a large boat) is about to go down.  We are being forced to leave the boat which requires packing up all of our stuff.   My mother doesn’t want to deal with leaving so is distracting herself by talking to friends on her cell phone while I try and gather as much of her stuff together as I can. I only have a small suitcase of stuff which is easy to gather together, but I do have a small piece of origami art that is very special to me.  Within each fold contains the things that matter most to me.  It is on a beam on the boat that is just out of my reach.  My mother could easily reach it from her vantage point if she was willing to undergo a slight balancing act.  But she is unwilling to make the effort because she doesn’t understand why I want to save a folded piece of paper.

I woke up from the dream to my husband telling me that he was taking my son to the hospital.  He really should have gone last night.  I’m upset with my son for not telling us that something was up last night, and upset with myself for not having been more consciously of what was going on. My subconscious obviously knew something was up!

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull in a bookshelf I don’t look at too frequently.  I had no idea I had the book and imagine it probably came from my father.  I had read it when I was about 10 years old and absolutely loved it then. It’s a very short little book so I decided to read it again.

I didn’t like it so much 36 years later.  Not sure if that means I’m getting cynical in my old age, or what.  It irritated me.  Of course, I haven’t been feeling well and life hasn’t been looking particularly rosy or hopeful, so maybe it is cynicism that caused the irritation.

Once upon a time, life seemed like it was about achieving your full-potential, becoming all that you can be and not letting the nuisances of every day life or the banality of normal societal existence keep you down.  But I’m 46 years old and have watched untold numbers of friends take huge nose dives while trying to achieve untold heights. Several walked out on their spouses and children seeking a more “meaningful” lifestyle and didn’t find it.  Another friend ended up completely bankrupt and reliant upon whomever would take him in because he was certain that by creating the company of his dreams, he’d become a millionaire.  Maybe it finally happened, but I doubt it.  And even if it did happen, did it contain the meaning he expected?

I do think you should go after what it is you want to do.  But at what cost?  If Cognitive Psychologists are correct, then what makes us genuinely happy is ordinary stuff like family and friends, not extraordinary achievement.  Richard Bach left his wife and six children because he decided he didn’t believe in marriage.  I don’t believe in marriage, either, but I think there is a lot to be said for commitment.

A lot of people claim Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about transcending the ego.  I don’t read it that way at all.   Chasing after your desires is all about ego.  Of course, there is also a lot to be said for flying for the sake of flying, eating for the sake of eating, raising children for the sake of raising children, and loving for the sake of loving.  I’m just not convinced you need to leave the ordinary things of this world, like spouses and children, in order to be extraordinary.

Speaking of leaving children, we have yet another vagabond teen staying in our home tonight.  This is the third kid we have taken in who has been kicked out of his house this year!  I seriously don’t get it. If your child violently assaults you or someone in your home, throw him out.  But if he comes home stoned or talks back or something like that, please figure out a more adult way to deal with it!!  Throwing him out on the streets is guaranteed to make him worse, not better.  If you aren’t expecting him to be homeless because you know he’ll likely find a decent place to stay, just know that most of us have our own struggles and don’t really want to have to take on yours, too.

Sorry! I’m just grumpy because I’m not doing much soaring, lately.  I haven’t been feeling well. Not sure what is wrong with me.

Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher

Just finished reading Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher and I am a little disturbed with how much I related to it.  Everyone always jokes about me being OCD, but I’m not OCD! I just have tendencies.

Except…

When she explained her childhood obsession of having vivid images of accidents and ambulances, I remembered doing the same thing.  I used to be scared to death to let my parents go out because I was certain they would die.  I have no idea why I was so certain.  I would sit in the middle of the room crying about how I knew they were going to die and they wouldn’t know what to do with me. I had horrible visions that were I freakishly detailed and realistic and I earnestly believed that I was somehow linked to all of the horrors in the world.  I prayed constantly to keep God happy, which is what attracted me to Sher’s book – the title resonated with me.I also played counting games with myself – if I just do this so many times, all will be well.

I never cut myself, but I imagine had someone mentioned it to me, I would have tried it.  Anything to detensify the intensity that was in my head. In high school, my fingers were constantly moving, either pretend typing what I or someone else said, or playing the notes of a song I had in my head on a pretend flute on my arm. I thought I had stopped this habit but my daughter brought it to my attention just the other day.  I was reading a book and my daughter asked me what I was doing with my fingers.  I was typing out the words.  I don’t notice I’m doing it so have no idea how often I do this in front of people without realizing it.

When my son was first born, I had detailed visions of kidnappers walking through the window and snatching him from his crib.  So he slept with us, where I knew he was safe.  I was constantly checking the stove to make sure it was off.  Sometimes, we’d be on the road and I’d make my husband drive back home to make sure it was off, even when it probably hadn’t been used that day.  Everything in my home, on my computer, in my files, in my drawers had to be perfectly organized and orderly because I linked disorder to impending doom.  Certain patterns would drive me absolutely insane because they weren’t appropriately balanced or because I’d get lost in them and not be able to break free.

After reading Sher’s book, I wonder how much this sort of obsession has to do with being taught that we can somehow manipulate God through our prayers and behavior?  We are taught that God is in control, but at the same time, we are taught how to control God through flattery and plea bargaining and are told this is prayer.  Of course, children are often taught this form of a prayer because it is an effective way to get kids to obey their parents and other authority figures. I remember being appalled when I was helping out in a preschool Sunday School class and a little girl had brought in new crayons. A little boy wanted to use them but the little girl refused to share. The Sunday School teacher demanded that she share saying, “God doesn’t like it when you don’t share.”  I was horrified, but that was how I was raised, too.  God doesn’t like it when you lie.  God doesn’t like it when you have sex before marriage.  God doesn’t like it when you talk back to your parents.  I think Sher is right – when we are young, we think of our parents as God’s right hand “man” and so confuse what it is God doesn’t like with what it is our parents don’t like – especially when our parents reinforce it by saying God doesn’t like what it is they don’t like.

For years, when anything bad happened, I somehow thought it was my fault.  I was the oldest growing up so was often in charge of my younger siblings.  When they got into trouble, my mother frequently blamed me for their behavior. She would blame me for her own behavior, too.  It was my fault that she knocked over a lamp.  It was my fault that she ran the stop sign. It was my fault that she couldn’t control her emotions.  I am very careful not to pass the same blame game onto my children, but sometimes I catch myself doing it and I feel horrible.  (I’d really like to be able to blame my teenage son for my high blood pressure!)

There have been times when I can’t get to sleep because I’m convinced I am the most horrible mother on the face of the earth.  I blame myself for every sadness, hurt or pain my kids experience.  I blame myself when they fall down or get bad grades.  I blame myself when they are heartbroken because a love interest has fallen through. My husband has caught me sobbing in the middle of the night bashing myself in the worst way for not being the mother I should be.  Sometimes he just holds me, rocks me back and forth, and says, “Shhh, It’s OK.  Shhh.  It’s OK.”  He has always maintained that I am the best mother his kids could possibly have and that I see myself so much differently than the rest of the world does. He and the kids think I am an amazing mother.  But it doesn’t help to tell me this when I’m in the throes of feeling like I’m the worst mother. The non-judgmental, “It’s OK” works much better.

Over the years, I’ve been slowly but surely letting go of my belief in a personal God. The more I’ve given it up, the more my obssessions and self-bashings have calmed down. I still feel a personal connection to God.  I just no longer think of God as anything even remotely personal.  Not even in the New Age sense.  I know God exists.  I just don’t think my ideas or anyone elses ideas about God are real.  They are ideas. Not God.  Even saying “God is Love” is a judgmental idea that is potentially dangerous for me. Thinking of God as “The Ground of Being” without any emotional value attached whatsoever works best for me.  God IS.  No need to fill in a blank after “IS”.

Obviously, I appreciated the book because it was honest and courageous.  Had it been a little shorter, I would have appreciated it even more.  In reviews, people claim that they can’t relate to Sher and that she was narcissistic, manipulative and uncaring.  I think her ability to express her relationships in a non-flattering way toward herself shows she cares immensely about others even if she’s not always able to express it appropriately.  Nowhere did I feel like she was writing this to put others down.  It was simply about understanding herself, her relationships, and her disease to the best of her ability.  It’s always easy to judge – especially when someone lays themselves bare as did Abby Sher in Amen, Amen, Amen.

Eighteen!

Tonight was my son’s 18th birthday.  He has been so excited about legally becoming an adult that he’s been driving his family and friends crazy.  Every day: “30 more days until I’m 18; 20 more days until I’m 18; 10 more days until I’m 18; 2 more days until I’m 18; 6 hours until I’m 18.” 

First thing he did this morning was to get his drivers license updated.  By law, teens cannot drive after midnight until they turn 18.  Now he can be out all night driving around town.  Wonderful!

I was at the grocery store and saw a stuffed bear in a black leather jacket and white t-shirt holding a box of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.  My immediate reaction was that it would be a great gift for my son!  He loves Reese’s and it was such a cute bear. But I must have been suffering a momentary slip into the past as a buffer to the reality that my son is not my little guy anymore. He would have loved it 6 years ago.  He might even find it endearing if a girlfriend bought it for him, but not his mother.  What was I thinking?  It really hit me hard, in the middle of the grocery store, that my baby is now legally an adult.  The years go so fast!

I remember getting on an elevator, holding my brand spanking new baby boy, with a woman who was admiring him.   As she got off of the elevator, she told me that her children were grown and that every stage is wonderful.  “Enjoy it.  It will be over before you know it.”   I can’t even begin to tell you how much that meant to me.  

When my babies were little, I was surrounded by overwhelmed moms who said just the opposite and would console one another with how horrible there kids were at various stages.  The terrible twos.  The narcissistic sixes.  The turbulent teens.  And when that second child comes along, many warned that the difficulties would grow exponentially.

Over the years, that woman on the elevator turned out to be a godsend.  I have never forgotten her.  When things got rough, I held on to what she said and was almost always able to see the beauty in each stage of development.  It truly is wondrous.  Even when you are up after 1:00 a.m. because your son has the car but hasn’t returned home yet and hasn’t bothered to check in because it’s his 18th birthday and he seems to think that somehow miraculously changes all the rules.

Ah!  There he is, just as I finish writing those words, thank goodness.  My beautiful 18 year old, home from wherever it is he’s been, wearing his brown bathrobe with a guitar slung over his back and a Fender fedora on his head. I can sleep easy now that my baby adult son is home safe and sound.

Jesus is in Your Tummy

My daughter told me today, that when she was little, various adults (including me, apparently) would tell her that Jesus was inside of her. Her young mind reasonably imagined Jesus to be in her stomach.  I asked her what he did?  Did he make her stomach hurt or tickle or anything?   “No.  He didn’t do anything.  He just stood in my stomach with his arms outstretched.”.

That made me laugh until I was crying.  Can you imagine thinking you have a man standing in your stomach with outstretched arms?  Good thing she grew out of it.  Ideas like that unfortunately become fact within some religious circles.

Resistance vs. Rebellion

I was thinking today about our current drug culture and how much addiction there is to not only drugs, but shopping, etc. because I was talking to a bunch of my son’s friends about why they think there is so much drug use at their school. One of the boys said it’s because “youth resists authority”. 

I woke up this morning realizing that although his answer may be true for much of American youth at this particular point in time., it isn’t true in general. In many countries, the youth are very respectful of those in authority and it seems likely youth was way more respectful of authority prior to the Industrial Revolution.

American youth doesn’t respect authority. And frankly, that seems to me fair enough. Many of the people who are telling our youth what to do don’t have lives worth admiring. Plus, many in authority are perceived as having made a mess of things.  

However….there is a big difference between rebelling and resisting.

It is likely that resistance is an important aspect of youth in some circumstances, but it becomes problematic when it is nothing more than rebellion. And if the reason kids take drugs is to resist authority, then that’s rebellion, not resistance.    Resistance would be taking drugs because you enjoy the effect despite the fact that authority insists you “just say no to drugs”, not because you don’t want authority telling you what to do.

So what I wonder is this – is there a correlation between addiction and rebellion against authority? What we rebel against we tend to strengthen. Kids don’t want authority telling them what to do so they take drugs and when they end up addicted, they have basically substituted one authority for another. The drugs now control their lives and the “authority” of the addiction makes resistance extremely difficult.

This seems to me to apply to all sorts of aspects of life, but more on that later.