Archive for the ‘autonomy’ Category

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Independence Day

July 4, 2013

The big news at our house is that Eleanor just lost her first tooth. The baby tooth is gone- making room for the adult one to take its place. And now there is a gap- a space- left open until the grown-up tooth grows fully into place. A change that takes place ever-so-slowly and yet will suddenly be complete.

And this reminds me of Cole. Who just finished 6th grade. At 12, he is {at least in theory} 2/3rds of the way through his life here at home. 18 suddenly seems not so far away. The baby teeth of his youth are gone, but he hasn’t fully grown into adulthood.

He’s in the gap.

The gap is an interesting space. It needs to be held open in order for growth to take place. It reminds me of a childhood toy my husband had. A moveable contraption called a “push-me-pull-you”. This is the essence of the middle years. As we back away, handing more responsibility to him, we need to, at that same time, maintain and even step up our emotional closeness. Pushing one way, pulling another.

His new-found independence means he is becoming his own island nation. It means we spend less time together as he is making choices, thinking through options, finding solutions. It also means that during the time we do have together, I am aware of the need to fill it with a more intentional connection.

Like the fledgling years of a new country, the middle years of childhood are spent trying on new idea platforms, exploring new territories, formulating a personal bill of rights. As Queen, my rule As Mom, my role is to allow increased representation. To invite his voice, and decreasingly wield my influence. It is, hopefully, a smooth transition of power with as few border skirmishes as possible.

And while I can see clearly this framework for change, I don’t know where he is actually headed. I’m not sure he knows, either.

And so, we mind the gap.

Making sure that where there was rule now there is counsel. Where there were boundaries, there are now open fields.

And still, there is love.

So to all the parents of tweens, Happy Independence. How’s everyone’s constitution? Keep me posted.

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Overhead Bins

April 20, 2011

Stale air.  Endless waiting.  Shoes scanned.  Lurch gateward.  Mindless stalling.  Jet-way’s incongruous temperature.  Plane entered.  Elbows out.  Arms lifted.  Eyes beady.  Goal clear.  Overhead bin.

We vie, pry, maneuver, shove.  We stow our cherished cargo, there, above our heads.  Belongings too precious to be far, managed by a baggage handler, tarmac to belly of the plane.

We sit, sigh, shift.  We feign relaxed nonchalance. Ever watchful, we observe fellow passengers shoehorn their bags, crushing our own.

Turbulence has us gasping, glancing furtively upward, fragile objects just beyond our care.  We stare with nervous glances, willing safety.

Flight lands.  Runway navigated.  Seatbelt off.  Lunge.  Twist.  Heave.  Valise stained?  Scented?  Scratched?  Case opened.  Disorientation.  Liquids burst.  Items disheveled.

Peer in.  What did you pack?  Overhead bins are where we store our valuables.  Our values.  The truths we hold to be self-evident.  These are the moral codes we live by, the standards we hope will become heirlooms, handed down one generation to the next.

What happens if the skies we fly are unfriendly?  Though we expect our children to embrace our principles, we need to recognize that they will interpret tenets uniquely, grafting our beliefs to their own ideologies.  Politics.  Religion.  Sex.  Sometimes, the trappings of who they are seem to reflect a completely different personal creed.  It is then that we are challenged to gingerly and without judgment unwrap the exterior to reveal that which is underneath.  Examining the middle of the trifecta, can a parent who attends church faithfully connect to a child who finds divinity nestled in the woods?  Do we need them to worship with us, or is the virtue seeking spirituality?   Can we reroute our flight path so we can cross ethereal con trails?  Easter.  How is the date determined?  The celebration falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  And there, where you least expect it, is the bridge from one form of faith to another.  The timetable for celebrating that most holy of days swirls around the nexus of nature.  Connections caught.

Overhead bins.  Contents shift.  Children choose.  Destinations unknown.  Actual landings?  I’ll keep you posted.

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R.O.U.S.

February 16, 2011

(fictitious) Dictionary entry:

Rodents Of Unusual Size |ˈrōdnts| |əv| |ˌənˈyoō zh oōəl| |sīz|  NOUN.

A gnawing mammal of the order: Rodentia.  Creature is physically distinguished by strong, constantly growing incisors.  Creature is behaviorally identified by unprovoked, surprise attacks in which they spring forth baring both claws and teeth mauling your jugular with uncanny accuracy.

ORIGIN modern, from romance + adventure ‘The Princess Bride’. You haven’t seen it?  Inconceivable!

(fictitious) Thesaurus entry:

Otherwise known as:  bully, tyrant, tormentor, thug, ruffian.

(actual) Illustrative Example:

Halloween 2009 Cole was sidelined by the stomach flu.  The beloved costume he had chosen months before was put into play all the following year for grand imaginative adventures.  Thus the assumption by me (and we all know where assumptions lead) of it being donned for All Hallows’ Eve 2010 went unchallenged until the last week of October.

Enter the R.O.U.S.

Out on the playground one chilly autumn afternoon Cole was dared by the bully to throw the bright, cheery red rubber foursquare ball at the back of an unsuspecting teacher.  Cole declined.  The horrible wrath of the fourth-grade tyrant was unleashed immediately, and the costume was thoroughly ridiculed.

Despite the fact that the bully lived in a completely different town, and thus there was no chance he would see the costume during trick or treating didn’t matter.  The teeth and claws of the R.O.U.S. had sunk so deeply, shed so much blood, created so much pain and anguish that the damage was permanent.  Cole refused to wear the costume.  I admit that for a moment I contemplated the ultimatum of ‘you go in that costume or you don’t go at all’ in an attempt to annihilate the power of the R.O.U.S.  But I realized the irony that in so doing, all I would actually prove was that I could be an even bigger bully.

With the witching hour fast approaching I found myself driving to the big box store to plunder the bedraggled aisles of lonely leftover costumes. Despite the dearth of options, Cole found a new costume with which he was genuinely thrilled.

And now for the heartbreaking moment.

On the ride home Cole, the tear-streaked cheeks finally showing a grin, asked to keep the packaging so he could take it to school to show the R.O.U.S. that he had, indeed, not worn the scorned garment.  Did I let him?  Yes, for despite my discomfort, I needed to honor his emotional place.

Sometimes in parenting we illuminate the issues, process the events, foreshadow the consequences, and model the expressing of feelings, but we don’t change the outcome.  Children may be sponges, but they don’t necessarily absorb what we offer them immediately.  We give to them our perspective, our life experience, and then we need to acknowledge the journey is ultimately their own.  But secretly I hope that the next time this R.O.U.S. jumps, Cole, armed with the learning from the previous experience, can hear the popping of the Fire Swamp and (metaphorically) singe that sucker, forcing it to release its hold and slink away.  Will it work?  I’ll keep you posted.

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The I in You

January 21, 2011

A child comes home with a poor grade on a math test, and the parent bemoans ‘Oh, I was never any good at math, either.’  They attend a sports match and return with a flush face and sparkle in their eye, and the parent exclaims ‘I knew you’d love it, just like I did when I was your age!’.

Our greatest hopes.  Our fervent joys.  Our darkest fears.

These play out, perhaps the most profoundly, in the small ways we stamp ourselves on the essence of our children.  It is the subconscious molding of mini-me.

We share the same nose, the same temperament, the same love for ice cream.  Whether or not our children are biologically linked to us through DNA is irrelevant, we are connected, we seek to see the similarities.  Children pattern us from the very beginning.  We smile, then they smile.  It is the call and response of the dance of generations.  And so it is a tangled web.   For who is to say what is their true innate joy, or does the mirror of our joy reflect endlessly in their experience until it becomes their own?  Wanting our kids to follow in our footsteps, thus continuing family tradition, has value.  But a straight jacket guised as tradition doesn’t nurture, it constricts.

In my family, straight jacket thy name is ‘piano’, and I was the one wrenching the straps.

I played my great-grandmother’s piano until the end of 10th grade and I have inconstantly wished over the years that I had continued.  My Daydee taught students for decades on that piano, and I wistfully imagined her sweet smile at the thought of Cole’s small fingers beginning their training on her ivory keyboard.  So I was giddy with anticipation when Cole began lessons in first grade.  To say it has been a disaster is a bit of a stretch, but it sure hasn’t been what I had envisioned.  Year one was full of frustration – Cole wanting to be instantly capable, and not ready in the least for hints from an overly helpful and hovering mother.  Year two was full of me employing both the carrot and the stick – equally ineffectually.  (I use the term ‘stick’ metaphorically, not physically).  Midway through year three we hit an impasse too great for me to overcome.  He, to put it bluntly, hated playing the piano.  And I had to see that what I had longed for- hearing music fill our house, a sense of connection to and honoring of Daydee was, in fact, drilling any love of music right out of the poor boy.

And so I embraced reality and surrendered.

I let him know I no longer needed him (because it really was my need) to take piano lessons.  He sat there, stunned, I’m sure.  Then he sat there longer.  And finally he cocked his head slightly and said ‘Well, I want to play the piano if I could only play a bit more jazz.’  And so at the next lesson Cole made his request, and now we are in the middle of year four with Cole the director of his own musical education.  I have learned to sit far away and simply be an attentive member of his audience.

When children explore new activities, new territories, new passions, they are able to expand their village, construct their own community, and create self-definition.  If we artificially narrow their exposure, we inhibit their ability to step out of our shadow.  And they can’t fully blossom in our shade.

Our children won’t love us less for being less like us.  Chances are, they will love us more.  The freedom to be loved, embraced and allowed to walk the path of their own choosing is a potent mix.  It shows how deeply we trust their capabilities and acknowledges how keenly they know their own mind.  They come from us, they are of us, and yet we must see their uniqueness, their own compelling blend of nature, nurture, experience and soul.  So, will Cole keep playing the piano?  I’m not convinced he’ll make it another season, but I am more interested in where he’ll go next.  Where will it be?  I’ll keep you posted.

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