With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Joy of a Tire Swing

When I close my eyes to remember our day at the farm I am overwhelmed by the memory of a grin so wide, the overlarge front teeth glow like neon. Not a Cheshire cat grin but a free and open expression of joy. My older son on the "horse" tire swing; a match made in heaven. Just a day after I had pooh-poohed tire swings as a metaphor for prayer I came face-to-face with three of the best old-fashioned tree swings I had ever seen. Turns out they're a great metaphor for childhood.

Like hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other Denverites I read an article about Sunflower Farm a few weeks ago (http://www.sunflowerfarminfo.com/) and with many of my fellow readers we jaunted farm-ward last Saturday. The parking lot was nearly full by 10:30 am, despite ongoing blustery winds, and an attendant noted the increase was due to their exposure in the Denver Post. A guest asked when they closed the gates and the man said, "Well, we try not to do that. It's hard to decide where to draw the line, you know?" I knew right away that this would be a great place. My kids were already convinced; on the way in we saw a pond for water squirters, a tree fort and rope bridge, swings, animals, tractors, and a hay bale maze.

My older two children, ages seven and eight, were in their element. Not afraid of any climbing, jumping or swinging feat, they were entranced by the novel fun into forgetting their "mature" age and the presence of countless toddlers. My four-year-old loved the activities, too, though he was a bit intimidated by the height of the tree house and the teeth of the goat, he was determined to follow his siblings and not be left behind. My husband and I were struck by the number of toddlers at the farm who were too young, we felt, to really do anything! And yet, seven or eight years ago we were among the hordes of new parents eagerly embracing all the child-friendly experiences we could find for our little one. What happened between then and now to make this farm visit such a rarity?

I think as the children grew we were entranced by each new stage and accomplishment, enticed forward by T ball and soccer, swimming and skiing. The children shed their ripped and dirty "civvies" at ages 4 and 5 and moved into the ranks of uniform-clad and practice-attending teammates. Weekends were taken up with scheduled games and chores in the yard. I use the past tense because my children have already tried and given up several team sports, not so much 'burned out' as turned off by the regimentation. They still want the loose freedom of exploration and new experiences. Last Saturday, as we watched them cavort on the tire swing and through the corn house we were struck by how perfect the farm is for our 'older' children; they plumbed the depths of its offerings far more than they had as toddlers. We had more fun, as well; after a delightful picnic on the grass we headed back for more activities while the families of little ones headed for the minivan - for a nap and home.

The kids took turns on the tire swing many times. My husband gave them a great big push, and they would soar off into the sky - the length of the chain providing for wonderful height - then rush back toward us on the ground, beaming and wielding a thumbs-up sign. Then off to the heights again, where I could only marvel at their lack of fear and their joy, growing so fast but still so young. Someday, after a great push, they'll soar off for real, and I can only hope they occasionally come back. For now, we'll practice on the tire swing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Harmony or Cacophony?

Jazzy strains of the Star Spangled banner permeate the kitchen as I sit down to type; my older son is home from school with a cough and he pieces a puzzle while singing as I try to collect my wind-blown thoughts and frame a coherent entry. We are gusting away in Colorado today - unfortunately it is trash and recycling pick-up for much of the neighborhood so the evidence of everyone's weekly snack, beverage, and reading consumption litters the streets. This disarray perfectly mirrors my unsettled spirits and emotional dust-up as I attempt to recover my balance from a fierce argument I had with my daughter yesterday.

She had been at a sleepover the night before and had the dark under-eye circles that never bode well for a child, especially as mid-afternoon approaches. As she and my son had their first-ever piano recital scheduled for 4:00, I repeatedly suggested that she nap. "I'm not tired," she insisted. Predictably she dozed off at 2:30 and I had to rouse her at 3:00, under the stress and strain of getting all of us dressed, brushed, combed and out the door by 3:15. She was not pleased to hear my overly-bright and cheerful demand, "Time to get dressed, NOW!"

A fierce battle ensued as she attempted to crawl into bed instead of into a dress, fiercely resisted each choice we laid in front of her (I had to recruit my husband to help), refused to comb her hair, etc. I handled the situation with all the grace at my command, which is to say, none. We carried her out the door half-dressed, unshod, and extremely displeased - and my voice was hoarse from shouting. Remarkably, she recovered on the way to rehearsal and emerged from her prep time beaming. She was (I may be biased) the star of the show, and her brother performed quite well, too, unscarred by our battle royale.

Why do I feel the need to confess our show-down? I have already told my friends at the recital, people on the playground at field day, and you. My Catholic roots show themselves in this need for exposition; as if I merely need to confess and apologize to have my sins forgiven. I do believe in forgiveness and don't wallow in shame, but I deeply regret adding this negative scene to the montage my daughter will remember as she recalls our relationship. I recently read somewhere that "task is inferior to relationship." So many times I focus on task - getting to the recital, being there on time, being dressed appropriately - rather than realizing that my relationship with my children is the primary objective.

I am glad that I made her go to the recital - in a dress - and that she had the chance to play and sing, and address the audience proudly. I'm not so happy with how we got there, but plan to stop confessing after I sign off. Reliving the experience won't make it better. As my daughter said to me after the performance, "Mom, I prefer to forget that, though it is really hard." Her comment reveals our (usually) similar wavelengths - and fosters my hope that our ongoing relationship will be more harmonious than discordant.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prayer as Satellite Transmission?

“But prayer can also be an opportunity to contemplate your presence within the divine All. God is the One through whom everyone and everything is joined to every one and every thing.” Kabbalah: A Love Story by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner (125).

I flew to Boston last Thursday and as I sat waiting for takeoff, I felt the adrenaline spike and sweaty palms that usually accompany my departure. Familiar refrains formed in my mind, “God, please help me be safe, please be with the children (the children aren’t ready to be without me).” I prepared to send the words into the ether, out and up in the childhood direction of heaven, as to a satellite dish that would magically beam them back onto the plane as it attained 37,000 feet.

Mid-satellite transmission, I stopped. I’ve been reading about several mystical and Eastern religions which have no room for this “God – as – dial-up” imagery. In these religions God, or the Tao, or the Spirit, or the Atman, is a creative current of life that runs through each individual, which we can only attain by going inward. So I halted my prayer, took a few deep breaths and tried to go deep (difficult in a crowded three- seat row with large neighbors). I remembered that I had said “I love you” to each of my children and to my husband, had left notes for all and baked banana bread as my last act before departure. I had really done all I could to leave a loving presence behind. I felt a peace that I was OK in this moment, and that if a crisis occurred I would hopefully rise to the occasion, as would many others on the plane who had the spirit within them. It was a lovely thought, and it got me through take-off, at least.

During my trip I was surrounded by love. I renewed wonderful relationships with old friends, immediate family, and new family – one of whom my dearest new nephew, only seven weeks old. That sweet baby had me immediately wrapped around every finger and a few toes. We sat in awe, six or seven adults at a time, watching baby sleep, or yawn, or – most joyous of all – practice a few tentative smiles. A baby seems a manifestation of inner prayer; after all, he is born new and agenda-free from his mother’s body, fresh from creation and lacking both ego and desire for control. So baby nephew was my prayer for the weekend; just holding him and watching my brother hold him filled my cup to the brimful.

I’m home again now, distracted by the needs of children who missed their mother and by routine demands of the household. Early morning wake-ups and homework, piano practice and playdates already threaten my inner balance. As I swing from one responsibility to the other I am tempted to turn upward in my prayer and requests for help, seeking my strength from someplace out and up – as a tire swing whirls from a fixed point on a solid branch. The memory of my airplane epiphany pulls me back to my reality, though, and reminds me that my fixed place is inside, a place where the dear faces and loving feelings from last weekend and all good weekends reside.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Giving Mom

"If you are a giving person, you don't expect anything in return. If you expect even a little in return, how can you say you are giving? You give and you get. Then if you don't get, you won't give. Such a person is wretched, always thinks of getting. If you give, do it for the joy of giving. This is an important verse to remember: "Wretched are the result-seekers." - The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita - A Commentary for Modern Readers by Sri S. Satchidananda, 2008 (23).

I just had to take a moment today, the day after Mother's Day, to belatedly express my admiration and gratitude for my own mom, who raised five children to happy adulthood. My mom is a joyful giver, donating food from her plate, clothes off her back and endless amounts of time to any of her children who require(d) help. When I was a child, I took her generous expression of motherhood for granted; when I was a teenager and young adult I was a bit shocked by her generosity. Growing into fuller expression of my childhood selfishness and informed by our culture (whose motto may as well be 'there ain't no such thing as a free lunch') I felt that she let us take advantage of her. I vowed that if / when I had children I would not give them so much, would make them work a bit harder for their pleasures, if not their daily bread.

I still battle my selfish demons, though having children brought me around the bend insofar as it's surprisingly easy to want to give to your children. I still grumble at their endless demands (and my husband often fears to express even a modest demand) but I am working on my generous giving; certainly any parent knows not to expect a return - at least an instant payback - on services rendered to their children. As I read The Living Gita last night, I was startled by this comment: "sometimes the Sanskrit term is translated as 'miser' instead of 'result-seeker." In other words, giving for any reason at all other than pure generosity makes you a hoarder of results, a miserable person - especially when the feedback is not forthcoming. On the other hand, if we give freely and expect nothing, we cannot possibly be taken advantage of.

Remembering my mom's capacity to care made me smile on the treadmill this morning as I ran into oblivion. She was famous in our family for stashing food in all locations - the car, backpacks, purses, briefcases, even coat pockets. After raising three starving teenage sons she was adept at purchasing whatever food items were on sale, even to stashing away a hoard of 99-cent cheeseburgers from McDonald's. One fall morning, mom pulled out a coat that had not escaped the closet since April. She dug into a pocket hoping to find some gloves, and instead pulled out a petrified cheeseburger that had inexplicably made it past the gauntlet of hungry teenaged mouths. We laughed until we cried at her expression, which was merry and a bit self-mocking. "Just write a book about me someday," she said, "call it 'A Cheeseburger in My Pocket and Other Stories." I haven't tackled the book, mom, but you are the star of this blog entry, for sure, and a star in the constellation of giving. Thanks~!



Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Have Fun!

“Busy-ness does not make us happy. Muller reminds us that the Chinese symbol for busy is composed of two characters: heart and killing.“

-From ‘The Trouble With Motherhood,’ by Christine Carter, PhD. April 26, 2010, http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/the_trouble_with_motherhood.

That just about sums up my mother’s day message: busy-ness kills our hearts. I read Christine Carter’s blog entry over the weekend and it shocked my eyes wide open. Of course I already knew that preoccupation with daily chores, errands and classes sucks the life out of a person – don’t we all know that? But I did not know that someone made a study out of it, and proved that people can only live without fun for two days before they start to fall apart with anxiety disorder, headaches, sleeplessness, etc (see her article above for details about this experiment, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as described in his book Flow.)

It is both hilarious and horrifying to me that many moms are willing to live their lives as a sort of experiment in productivity without diversion. Purposefulness without playfulness apparently robs us of our mental and physical health, which of course takes away from our effectiveness in all areas of our life. The best part of Carter’s article tells us that life does not have to be this way; if we take time to insert non-productive fun in our schedule, our happiness level will increase (and probably our productivity, too, but at this point who cares?).

I often feel that fun activities are those I enjoy by myself. For example, I just finished a 12-mile bike ride on this sunny, windy day – startled periodically by delirious woodpeckers and sunbathing prairie dogs. (Two of the prairie dogs were sprawled out on the trail – I thought they were dead until they jumped up and scurried for cover. They looked just like my friends and I when we baked as teenagers – even down to the body types!) Now that was fun . . . as my four-year- old would say, “Wahoo Daddo!”

But I also had a fantabulous time over the weekend on a mother-daughter campout at the zoo. Eleven girls and their moms got to spend an evening (including dinner and zoo walk), conspiratorial night of little sleep, and morning together. The girls’ electric chatter and wide-eyed wonder spread contagiously even to us yawny moms. You would think the lights of Colorado Springs, spread out below us, were fireworks on the Seine. A monkey zonked out overhead in a swing, a snoring gorilla, and a raucous peacock squawking from high in a tree; all these were sources of giggles and rapid-fire questions. We even fed giraffes: great, tall beautiful animals that clustered around us looking for crackers, their long black tongues snaking around all the bars of their enclosure, and the girls’ hair when they dared place crackers on their heads.

So much fun to be had . . .I am, in fact, going to put “have fun” on my list of 5-year goals. At the moment this list has items like: “be patient,” “be calm,” “be peaceful,” which all frankly sound good but boring. I think fun should be – if not first – at least prominently listed. To quote my little guy again, without fun, “you be in the trouble, mommo.” Have fun on Mother’s Day, everyone!