With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Friday, July 23, 2010

Addendum

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, when my daughter was two and my son was less than one year old, I needed to go the ob/gyn for my first annual checkup in a while (I had been pregnant, recovering or nursing for the past several years). We lived in Northern California without family close by and our community was not nurturing or supportive. I needed to find a babysitter for the hour appointment as I could not conceive of getting the exam with two little ones in the room. So I looked on internet sites for babysitter referrals, found a promising candidate and printed her resume and references. Both references confirmed that she was reliable and trustworthy, so I called her and asked her to come on the day of the appointment, a half hour early just so I could check her out.

When she arrived, we spoke for a few minutes and then I went to the bedroom to make a call while she played with my daughter. I talked with a friend, and I confided that my antennae were up and quivering with this woman; I was not thrilled about leaving the kids with her. My friend said, “Oh, it will be fine, just go.” So, reluctantly, I did. When I returned, the kids were fine, though in the same positions in which I left them. I left my purse on the counter to check on the kids and came back out to pay with a pre-written check. After the hasty departure of our sitter I held my daughter close and asked how things had gone.

“Wee-hem cried,” she said. “Why was he crying?” I asked, concerned. “He was in de crib a yong time,” she said. “Where was the lady?” I asked. “She on computah” said my daughter. So I went to the office and found the computer off – the keyboard and monitor wet from something spilled on them. With growing alarm I checked my purse and found all my cash gone. Fortunately no credit cards were stolen. After my husband recovered our computer and we talked with the police we found that this woman had attempted to use our computer to create false resumes for more babysitting sites. We felt she spilled on it purposely to hide her movements, but my husband could find every site she went to and every document she created (he’s in technology). This woman was wanted by the POLICE for stealing people’s resumes and references, and she had scammed several families in San Francisco out of thousands of dollars by taking deposits for nannying their infants – and then fleeing.

Words can’t describe the sick feeling I had, the horror and the shock. I left my babies with a criminal. For ninety minutes their safety had been doubtful. I had tried to do my best to vet a good person, but the references I called knew only about the real individual on the resume, not the person who had stolen her name. Several weeks later, this woman was arrested and put in jail. The arrest was big enough that it made the newspapers. We never heard of her again, and I did not leave my children with anyone other than a family member for a whole year. No doctor’s appointments, haircuts or nights out without the children, or unless my husband was home.

I tell this story as a follow-up to my entry on finding oneself. I have told perhaps three people about that incident as my embarrassment, shame and lingering horror drive me to hide the experience. I tell it now to emphasize that we can love our children so passionately and completely, but because our society does not help us, parenting can become soul-draining. Many people lose jobs when their children get sick because they have to stay home with the child and have no childcare safety net. I have the luxury of staying home to “protect” and raise my children myself while my husband earns enough to feed them daily and keep a roof over the heads, but many don’t have that luxury.

Despite the fact that our basic needs are met and we live in a safe neighborhood, there is a feeling that the children are really not “safe” and that it is up to us to guard them from every type of harm. Our home can be viewed as a haven but also as a fortress that isolates. Once we raise the children to adulthood, it becomes our responsibility to get them to a good college (pay for it), help them graduate and find a job, and live happily ever after. This is too much pressure. As a friend recently said to me,” I would jump in front of a bus for my child, but I don’t want him to BE the bus.”

I realize that I have to let go – of fear, of control, of perfection - so that my children and I can be happy. I have to trust in their basic safety, and let them gain independence at a normal rate, and they need to develop life skills and trust in themselves. Their growth will enable all of us to have adventures, either individually or with each other. Staying safe and stuck in a comfortable routine will stifle everyone’s growth, and won’t make anyone’s life better or more fulfilling. But . . . I am still very careful about babysitters.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Finding your Self Again (and again)

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Howard Thurman

Several nights ago we dined with a group of friends on an outdoor patio overlooking the mountains. The view was beautiful and the temperature warm; it was the kind of night where you risk sliding off your chair if you stand up suddenly, and have to glance behind at your pants/skirt/shorts to ensure that the sweat stains don’t reveal too much. During dinner two friends regaled us with stories of their week-long cruise to Bermuda without husbands or children. I laughed at their funny quotes and people-watching experiences but their account was moving on a much deeper level. Both of these women, who are passionate, beautiful, artistic and funny, felt that they were seen and appreciated as individuals for the first time in years. As a result, they could see and appreciate their own selves for the first time in a long time. We discussed how we all lose ourselves in the roles of ‘mom’, ‘dad’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’, ‘professional’ and forget to listen to the rhythms of our own desires. The main question being: how do we find our “selves” again, and keep them?

The topic has been on a lot of minds lately; I opened the Raising Happiness July newsletter by Christine Carter (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/) and saw “Are You a Miserable Parent? I love my kid. I hate my life.” In her email Carter refers to the article “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting” (New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/). The article is fascinating, though a bit depressing. In brief, children take more than they give, and when you have children later in life you know what you are missing. Every parent has to give up most of their external sources of joy when they have kids, particularly between the kids’ ages of 0 and 6 (I hear adolescence is no picnic, either). I’ve read a lot of advice on how to capture your Self again, and not just for one week every five years. Anne Lamott recently wrote:

“I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.” (Sunset Magazine, http://www.sunset.com/travel/anne-lamott-how-to-find-time-00418000067331/).

I agree with Lamott that quiet time for reflection reinforces our self-awareness, but if you are stuck in the hamster wheel of your habitual worries, grocery lists, and calendar planning, quiet time does not help. (I understand – from a number of sources – that I am laughably bad at being quiet, so perhaps this issue lies mainly with me.) For me, satisfaction and renewal most often come from new challenges, new people, and adventure. I reflected on this for the past two days and realized that in the last five years I felt most alive when I volunteered in the Arizona desert with unique individuals (who did not know me as a mom or a wife); when I rafted the Royal Gorge with my husband and a few close friends; when I went downtown to take Spanish classes from amazing immigrant women at El Centro Humanitario; and when I aspired to athletic competition normally beyond my grasp.

I think that to recapture ourselves (or our Selves) we have to break out of our routines and get outside our comfort zones. Regularly we need to meet new people who challenge us and who look at us in new ways. We need to leave our children behind occasionally (though a welcome reprieve this is always so difficult to do) and complete a physically, or emotionally, or mentally challenging task. Daniel H. Pink write in Drive that people most often found satisfaction when challenged, not in mere relaxation. Don’t get me wrong, parenting and maintaining relationships remain two of my biggest challenges, but they are habitual challenges and as such they lose their power to jolt my awareness.

I welcome any thoughts or input on how to keep growing, keep redefining oneself. It takes time and energy to put ourselves in those situations, but the energy and passion that we receive make the investment more than worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back from the Wedding

I feel a bit rusty as I sit before the keyboard, blinking furiously to keep my red-rimmed eyes open and my brain functioning. We just returned from an 8-day trip to the heartland of the USA and a family wedding in which my family members played various roles. My husband performed groomsman duties, my daughter delighted in being a flower girl, and my older son acted as a “ring master” as the youngest put it. (That particular individual spent the wedding ceremony in the play room with a saintly babysitter and the reception chasing down the Cleveland Indians mascot). The party was held at Progressive Field in a gorgeous suite and my three children danced the night away at other guests’ peril, performing break-dancing moves at random and grabbing any suitable partner – meaning, any partner whom they recognized.

As I showed wedding pictures to a close friend yesterday I was surprised at how lovely and happy we all looked. The fatigue created by eight nights in a hotel room (OK – for five nights we had two rooms that connected) blurs the edges of my memory and renders the happy events slightly out of focus. I’ve had similar feelings when I view pictures of my oldest as a baby – if ever I look happy or together in the photos (this is, admittedly, rare) I’m surprised. All I remember is colic and sleeplessness.

I shared our trip with a close friend who said their family declared, ‘no more hotel rooms’. I'm not sure we can make that statement, but it has a certain appeal. (If anyone out there can reassure me that hotels get easier as the children get older, please do so now!) I have to believe that in the future I won't be jumping up in the night at every cry or complaint that comes to my ears; scolding children running across the hotel floors, jumping off the beds, crying at top volume in the hallway or elevator; or trying to find gluten-free food in the morning breakfast offering (which we usually attend VERY early as someone always rises prematurely and awakens everyone else).

We are so lucky to be able to travel at all, I know. I also realize that four or five nights of quality REM sleep will cause all the happy events to come back into focus and the fatigue to recede. Events like the magical corn-hole game - this needs to be introduced to suburban Colorado – which I occasionally managed to win; fishing at the town pond and watching my daughter catch a sunfish independently; spying as the cousins captured ants and spiders together. (On one occasion they put an ant and a spider together in a jar so spidey could have dinner. When he declined they were affronted. “But the ant looks so delicious,” they said seriously.)

I offer many thanks to my mother-in-law for her gracious hospitality and efforts to support me and the kids whenever she could, especially during the days our menfolk were gone to bachelor party activities. Much fun was had with my sister-in-law, with whom I shared a sneaky computer viewing of “The Bachelorette” and later caught up with the show on ihategreenbeans.com. (Check it out if it’s not too low-brow for you – so funny!) Family connections were re-made and reinforced; a new family made through marriage, and my own family bonded by both the good and trying moments. Not a bad eight days, on the whole. Congrats to John and Katie and thanks for a great party!