Archive for September, 2012


indigo-orange wonder

September 26, 2012


‘If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.’

~Rachel Carson


Murphy’s Law

September 24, 2012

Yesterday I traveled over 400 miles, past rolling hills and pasture lands.   I drove along country roads and scenic byways, multi-lane highways and quiet lanes.  I passed million resident metropolises and tiny towns.  All the way to Philomath, Oregon.  Population 4,610.

Now 4, 609.

Yesterday all roads brought me to Murphy.  You know, our friend Murphy.  Wait.  You hadn’t met?

Let me introduce you.  Murphy lived out loud.  She was filled with a gentle sweetness.  She danced with a wild heart.  She ran races and came in last.  With a huge smile.  She loved with her whole being.  She would throw open a front door and announce “Murph is in the HOUSE.”

She defined persistence.  She found a way over or around when through didn’t work.  She held nothing back.  She was true to herself.  Later wasn’t on Murphy’s mind.  The moment was at hand.  That was what mattered.  Wise young woman, Murphy.

So you see, you were Murphy’s friend even if you didn’t yet know her.  Murphy gifted everyone with friendship.  Everyone.

So ask Murphy in, throw open the door.   Invite her to the house of your soul.  She can teach you to how to quiet your inner critic, how to set aside the restraints that hold you back.  She’ll show you how to walk with kindness, love with abandon, and how to plant joy.  She’ll stand beside you as you learn to delight in the effort, not focus on the end.

Yesterday the roads I travelled also brought me home.  And as I drove I watched a flaming red sun set on the horizon.  Intellectually I could say it was colored by the haze of distant fires.  But I know better.  It was Murphy.

Because Murphy isn’t gone.  She is right here.  In each one of us, her friends.  Look for her.  Recognize Murphy in the face of a stranger.  Watch her in the dance of your child.  Appreciate her as you set aside judgment.  Know her as you embrace difficulty.  Be with her as you walk in the world with peace and light and love.  When you feel her, when you see her, when you follow Murphy’s Laws, let me know.  Keep me posted.


no words

September 19, 2012

Passed. Loss of Life.  Eternal Rest.  Widow. Widower. Orphan.  We have words to describe death and we have others to identify the survivors.

Unless.  Unless it is the death of a child.  For the surviving parent we have no words.  Why?  Perhaps because the human heart of a mourning parent cannot be transcribed by the words of mortals.

Yesterday she was alive.  Today she is gone.

Today touch your child’s cheek.  Breathe in their scent.  Listen to their peals of laughter.  Taste their salty tears.  See all that they bring to the Earth.  Embrace all of their beautiful imperfectness.  Love them with an overflowing heart.

Then, please, release your love into the universe for my friend Phoenix.  Stand with her in her sorrow.  Hold her up in the days ahead.

Hold her, for the times when the Earth ceases to spin, when the sun cannot light the days.

Hold her, when grief’s gravity pulls at every cell.

Hold her, as anguish tears at her limbs.

Hold her, as memories of her daughter flood her soul.

Hold her in your prayer traditions, your quiet meditations.

Hold her.  For her heart is broken.  There are no words.  Only Love.


indigo-orange courage

September 18, 2012


‘Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.’  ~Mary Anne Radmacher






September 14, 2012

In the world of humans, especially in the world of parenting little humans, technology is often discussed in terms of minimizing, monitoring and eliminating.  But for the Great Apes, the human use of technology may be the cornerstone to ensuring their survival.  It is interesting to consider how a tool that is suspect for one species is crucial to another.

I have never been to Africa.

But I grew up 66 kilometers from Ivan.  Ivan, who for nearly three decades lived in a cramped concrete cage.  In a shopping center.  As the main attraction to draw customers.  Penned in.  Isolated.  Without grass.  Or sunlight.  He was finally, finally relocated to the Atlanta Zoo only after the bankruptcy of the store owner.  Can you imagine?

Yes.  Yes you can.  My children, by contrast, cannot.

My children still live 66 kilometers away from that mall.  But they don’t know stories about great apes like Ivan.  Their stories are of Kesho and Alf.  And while the Dublin zookeepers were astonished at the recognition and joy between the reunited brothers, my children were not.  “Of course they were happy to see one another!  They were apart for so long.  Almost three years!  Can you imagine?”

One generation.  In one generation technology has linked us to our primate cousins in a way our shared DNA has not.  It allows us to coordinate conservation, prosecute poachers, understand family structures, research roaming patterns, raise orphans.  But beyond all that technology draws us in.  It has made the world smaller and our hearts bigger.

Our most advanced electronic inventions return us to one of our oldest traditions- the telling of stories.  Anecdotes we can recount, images we can share, attachments we can give our children.  It allows us to communicate across the globe our deepest understandings of the great apes.  And each time our children connect to the great apes’ intelligence, wisdom, or emotional capacity, they see themselves.

It is a race against time to be sure.  Not all ape stories are of Alf, and many are far worse than Ivan’s.  There is much work to be done to turn the tide.  But how we see the creatures of the world directly determines how we treat them.  Technology creates awareness, elevates our consciousness.  It enables us to raise funds and lift political will.  All through the power of story.  For when the stories become sacred, the animals become numinous.  Our children become bards for the silverbacks.

I have never been to Africa, Borneo or Sumatra.  I have never experienced any of our great apes in their natural habitats.  Yet technology has transported me there.  I have looked into the chocolate brown eyes of a great ape and seen the reflection of a kindred soul.  In that moment I am attending an extended family reunion, communing with a proud and distant cousin, we become Homininae Familia.  And this experience I share with my children.  A narrative of hope.

Can you imagine?


¿Estas listo?

September 13, 2012

Monday morning at our house was disastrous.  The blush of the start of the school year had faded.   The kids were already tired.  And we had four more such mornings ahead of us.

Tuesday looked to be no better because I knew I would be obsessively worrying about the screw what was going to be implanted in my jaw later that day.

Wednesday, I fretted, could potentially outrank them both because I had no idea what state of recovery / prescription induced bliss I would be in.  Worried with good reason.  We still tell the story of our cross country move back in the summer of ’95 when my then-boyfriend-now-husband found me standing in the middle of the road.  It was an unusually cool Boulder day and the enormous shade trees lining the lane were apparently doing their job just a bit too well for my comfort.  I was standing in the dead center of the street trying to warm myself in a dappled patch of sunlight, staring off into the middle ground and mumbling something about a sweater made of sunshine.  And that was after taking a single Benadryl.

But back to Monday.  The kids were finally on their way out the door and I thought, we can’t do that again.  Actually.  Seriously.  We. Cannot. Do.  That.  Again.  And so I racked and racked my brain for ideas and finally (quel surpise) I decided to write them a letter.

It went something, well, something exactly like this:

I’ve got to say, this morning didn’t go the way I hoped.  I don’t want us to be snippy with each other, I don’t want us to get angry at one another.  I want us to love each other and help each other.  And I want the mornings to go in a way that reflects what is true:  that you are both tremendously amazing people.  Dad and I are filled with love and pride for who you are as a 6 year old and as an 11 year old.  And we know you can do so many great things in the world.  And, we know that this includes getting the things you need to do in the morning done.  So we’re going to stop asking and telling and nagging every 30 seconds.  Because I fear that the message that you get when we do that is that we don’t find you to be capable, amazing, tremendous people.  And we never want you to feel that way.

I’ve created a list for each of you of the tasks that need to be done each morning {one had a fancy title: ‘Eleanor’s I Am Capable List’, and Cole’s font was retro diner style}.  Please look it over and let me know if I’ve missed anything.  Each day it will be your responsibility to go over the list and get each task accomplished.  About 3 times each morning- every 15 minutes or so-  we’ll check in with you to see how it is coming – and see if we can help out.  In between those times we’re going to be doing the things we need to do for our mornings.  Eating breakfast, making lunches, and of course, drinking coffee.

If you get stuck and you need help, please ask for it.  We love you.  We want our mornings to be filled with that love.

I presented them each with the letter and their respective lists when they got home.  Vague interest.  A couple of shrugs.  A guarded sense of sure- I’ll try that.

But guess what?  The craziest things are happening…the lists are working.  Not to say it couldn’t go south in a minute, not to say the novelty of the lists won’t wear off.  But for now, in fact for two nows in a row, it is working.  We aren’t nagging.  They are both {are you sitting down?} ready for school ahead of time.  And the bickering was almost, almost non-existent.

So why were Tuesday and Wednesday not Mondays?  Both kids have the memory of elephants, they don’t actually need to be reminded about what needs to be done.  I think the difference was us, the adults.  We released our anxiety, we let go of frantically watching the clock and racing that against what was left to be done.  We treated them as the capable kids they are.

We changed the emotional air around us.

One of the hardest parts of parenting, or at least one of hardest for me, is acknowledging that my children’s actions don’t occur in a vacuum.  That how I am present with them impacts, even alters what they do.  I am not saying I am responsible for their every action.  That way goes madness.  Children are not robots to be programmed and set out to have perfect assembly line behavior.  But nor are they completely autonomously living in a bubble, impervious to our influence.  Why were Tuesday and Wednesday not Monday?  Because our children felt the fresh breath of change on their cheeks.

By suggesting that they were more, they became it.  Was it that simple?  Will it last?  Has bickering ended and promptness become a family hallmark?  And what about Thursday?  Will it go as well? It could be we’ve had two great days and they are the bellwether for a whole new kind of morning.

Or it could be the magic of the meds.  I’m still looking for my sunshine sweater.  If I find it I’ll keep you posted.


an army of one.

September 7, 2012

Cole went to the petting zoo this week.  No, not at Woodland Park in Seattle or Pt. Defiance in Tacoma.  It happened during performing arts class.  In the beginning of 6thgrade the students get to try out all of the band instruments to discover which one they might want to play.  Horn.  Flute.  Snare drum.  Or not.  For they can also choose chorus.  While the decision over which world language to take flummoxed Cole for weeks – Japanese…no, French…wait, Spanish!  There was no such doubt about this.  He couldn’t wait to try each and every one.  Tuesday he returned home solid in his conviction:  clarinet.  (Trombone ran a distant second).

So yesterday, in advance of the weekend rush, I went to our local music store and rented the woodwind of choice.  The look on his face when he got home was priceless – uncomplicated bliss.  All he wanted was to gaze at it, assemble it, reverently touch the keys.  He had yet to make a sound out of it (they didn’t have the required reeds in stock) and that made absolutely no difference to Cole.  You could see note after note float through his imagination.  Beauty in the eye of the (be)holder.  His delight was palpable.  How could we not appreciate a child who wants to create?  Well, I’ll get to that part of the story…

This week Cole has also had incredible stomachaches.  In our family, that can mean a lot of things.  On the one hand, it is absolutely how he manifests stress.  So, it could be, that the beginning of middle school is creating so much anxiety that it is giving him abdominal pains.  On the other hand, this week we also bought a loaf of gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread at a local bakery.  My guess is there could have been some cross-contamination.  Which would also give him these exact same bellyaches.  Or, it could be a combination of both.  Regardless, at the end of each evening when he should be asleep he has spent at least two hours with his arms across his middle, bent over, moaning.

Last night I got to escape for a few hours with dear friends – wine and wisdom.  When I got home the lights were all out but Cole was still awake.  We talked through a range of tried-and-true options that might help him feel better.  Cole’s novel solution was to ask if the clarinet could sleep in his room, sure that would alleviate all pain.  I reminded him that we’ve tried that with new books.  It doesn’t result in much sleeping, so, no, the clarinet would remain downstairs.  I went to bed.

And then, about 45 minutes later, I heard something.

I got up, went down the dark hall, and sure enough, the slit under his door was illuminated by light.  I opened the door and there he sat, stomachache clearly forgotten.  10:45 pm and he was wide awake, the grin on his face faded quickly to panic and guilt.  For it wasn’t his abdomen he was holding, but his clarinet.  ‘This was an incredibly unfortunate choice’ I bit out in a ferocious tone between clenched teeth.  I grabbed the clarinet.  I stalked out even as he was calling to me ‘make sure you take it apart and put it gently back in its case’.  I had no intention of doing either of those things.  I wanted to sleep.  I crawled into bed.  I closed my eyes.

I just lay there.  Mulling.  Granted, I was angry that he had heard my rule and broken it.  But what stuck in a repeating loop was the sense that I had also gotten mad at his joy.  ‘Well, next time.  Next time I’ll approach it differently’ I grumbled.

And then I found myself padding down the completely darkened hallway.

Because each time is the closest opportunity.  Waiting for ‘the next time’ was passing off into the future what I knew needed to happen at this moment.  So I opened his door, shuffled across his floor, curled up next to him on the bed.  ‘I could see in the twinkle of your eyes how thrilled you are to be playing the clarinet.  I can tell by the way you talked about it at dinner that you had thought about each and every instrument and carefully chose this one.  I know that your heart is beating with wild excitement about this new adventure.  I get it.  And I understand it.  And I love you.  {a few quiet breaths}.  And you need to know that when we give you boundaries they are not made idly or without thought.  You staying up until almost 11 o’clock on a school night is going to make school tomorrow and Friday incredibly difficult.  We’ll talk about what happens next in the morning.’  There was a gentle little sigh, he snuggled a little closer.  I kissed his forehead and left his room.

We have joined, and he feels understood.  Someone in his world, someone in his family, in the quiet of the night, gets who he is at the core.  He knows that I am with him.  He knows that I understand his heart’s desire, that I can see him on the inside.  Instead of stomping on his joy, I am holding it tenderly in my hands.  Instead of being his combatant, I am his compatriot.

Joining is a powerful act.  Taking a deep breath, setting aside our indignation, our anger, our disappointment and turning to be beside our children may be the most important steps we take.  Our boundaries and our values remain unchanged.  But instead of standing in conflict face-to-face we stand with them at their side, reach out to hold their hand, and guide them forward.  When we shift to the side we move out of the way and make room for our children to learn instead of blame, we teach instead of punish.

Joining.  An army of one.  Will you enlist?  Keep me posted.

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