Archive for the ‘communication’ Category


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.


soul sisters

May 10, 2013

Dear Mamas,

We’ve lost a sister. My friend Allison, who was diagnosed in winter, died on Tuesday. Her littlest is not yet out of elementary school.

She was quiet and tenacious and brave. Our friends gathered last night, held our hearts, and remembered Allison. It was her birthday. We were reflecting on her birth and death and wondered, how could we best honor her life in between? Her traits. Her strengths. The words that describe Allison.

But they are also words to describe you.

And me. And all of our sisters. Not identically. Not exactly. But there are pieces of Allison in each of us. The DNA of motherhood. Maybe you are quieter. Maybe your neighbor carries her stick-to-it-iveness gene to an extreme. Maybe your college roommate holds up her faith.

How can we carry her forward? We can begin on Sunday. On Mother’s Day. We each celebrate in our own way- if you have a toddler, you may be celebrating by going to the bathroom all by yourself. If you have a chatty preschooler, you may celebrate with an hour of silence. And if you have a teenager, it may mean getting them to hang out with you for an hour is something serious to celebrate.

Do what you need to do for yourself, Mama. Discover a way to ground yourself, reorient yourself. Find yourself.

Then find yourself in every Mama. Setting aside our voting records, our faith communities, our educations, our zip codes. Because it is easy to make assumptions about other Mamas. To judge them and to gossip about them.

Let’s not. Let’s be Allisons instead.

In the days ahead let’s reach out to the Mamas we know and the Mamas we see. The Mama who is too tired, too worn out, too worn down. The Mama who can’t imagine being a mother for one moment more, and yet does it anyway, because stopping isn’t an option. We’ve seen those Mamas. We’ve been those Mamas.

When we see a Mama struggling, looking even just a little bit lost, let’s reach out instead of stepping back. Let’s offer to carry her groceries to the car. Provide a smile of knowing as she stands next to a toddler who has melted onto the floor. Have a spontaneous sleepover for the friend of your tween so her Mama can breathe. And let’s reach out to the Mamas whose lives look perfect. Because none of us are.  And sometimes we are hiding behind façades that we’ve carefully constructed and forgotten to leave ourselves a way out. And let’s reach out for ourselves, because sometimes we are the ones who need help.

Mamahood isn’t always graceful. Mamahood isn’t always filled with song. But most of all, Mamahood shouldn’t be filled with isolation. Remember that Allison is in you.  When Mamahood is chaotic, call on her quiet. When Mamahood is draining, call on her tenaciousness. When Mamahood is overwhelming, bring forth her bravery.

On Tuesday we lost a Mama. One of our own. But there are billions more of us. Just think what we can do. So reach. Touch. Connect. And keep me posted.


pretty little liars

March 15, 2013

The truth is, Eleanor lies.

And every time she does it pulls on me.  I know it’s developmentally normal.  I know it isn’t a sign of weak moral character.  I know because I have researched it and read it and heard it.  I know my job isn’t to punish, but instead to not let the lie work.  A classic one that occurs weekly?  We are about to hop in the car for an extended ride and I’ll ask her to go to the bathroom.  ‘Oh, I just did.’  Instead of protracted she-said me-said that begins with no end in sight, I go around.  ‘Well, we’re going to go again.’  And we walk to the bathroom together.  The lie is nullified.

Children lie.  Especially early on, they do it for multiple reasons- to wish something into reality, to mold events to their preferred outcome, to change what happened.  I get it.  I understand.  I know what I need to do so this behavior is seen by her as ineffective and she shifts to other ways to relate.

And I can’t wait for this phase to be over.

Because the line between ‘trust and verify’ and assuming everything is false is exhaustingly thin.  I know to ‘go under’ the event and connect to her feelings.  Did a boy at school truly follow her every step during the entire recess?  Honestly, it doesn’t matter.  What she is trying to express is that she felt overwhelmed and closed-in by his closeness, regardless of how long it actually lasted.  So instead of spending energy trying to ascertain the duration of the stalking, we talk about how she felt, and what she wanted to do to feel safe.

I know.  I know all this.  And I still wish for a fortune teller’s crystal ball that allows me to see the future. To know that I am on the right path. A magic 8 ball that reassures me YES. {I’m not picky, I’d also happily accept: it is certain, it is decidedly so, without a doubt, yes-definitely, or you may rely on it.}

And then this weekend, it happened.  You see, it turns out lying is contagious.  There we were, in the bathroom, and Eleanor pointed at my inner thighs. ‘I don’t want to be rude, but why do they jiggle so much?’  Why, indeed?  I felt the pink of my cheeks turning from embarrassment to defensiveness, and deepening into shame.

And so I lied.

I looked right into her six-year-old trusting eyes and said:  I love my thighs.  A sentence I never thought I’d say. A sentence that I am now practicing into truth.

Because she’s exposed more and more every day to the lies of the beauty industry, it is time to hear the truth at home.  Truth in a big, loud, unapologetic voice letting her know she is beautiful.  I am beautiful.  Thighs and all.

Because lies become us.

I was told many years ago by a boyfriend that I was fat. Another said he wouldn’t go to a beach with me until I looked better in a bikini.  {I know, right? I could really pick them back in the day.} And I became those lies. I swallowed them as painful truth. Flat mirrors became warped Fun House reflections. Reflections that weren’t fun at all. I did not see an accurate image, but a twisted version of me.

But the truth? Turns out, it will set us free.

And it has. After saying my very big, very jiggly lie, I have been completely surprised. Because over the past few days my thighs and I have reached a truce. A trust. A truth. It turns out, after all these years of loathing, I like them a whole lot more than I ever realized. Huh.

So what un-truth will you tell your children? And how does that lie become profoundly authentic for you? Something that gives you room to breathe? To accept yourself in a way you never have before? Truthfully, I’d love to know.  So keep me posted.


My Cyndi Lauper Moment

October 11, 2012

[Remember a while back I mentioned there would be some posts with a lighter tone?  A slightly irreverent bent?  A more casual approach?  Well, instead of prefacing each one that way, I’ve decided on a name for them.  But that is for another post.  For now, here’s another sample of the name-yet-to-be-revealed posts.]

I grew up in the 70’s listening to the LP of Free To Be You and Me.  I loved every track on the record.  Ok- full disclosure- nearly every track.  ‘Girl Land’, I have to admit, creeped me out.  Still does to this day.  Interestingly, every woman with whom I attended Wellesley also loved that record.  It could be a coincidence.  It could be that every little girl in America listened to it.  Or it could be something more statistically significant about the environs of childhood and our proclivity to choose an all women’s college.  But I digress.  Back to FTBY&M.  My most favorite track was the story of Atalanta.  I think I need to write about that.  Yet another post.  But the one I’m finally meandering my way to mentioning was the one about the babies called ‘boy meets girl’.  You know, just after they are born and the stereotypes of what boys/girls men/women like and are like.  Then there is the great diaper reveal and things are not what they seemed.  The babies and their true identities are exposed for all to see.

This morning I am feeling exposed.

Because the thing about life lessons is that they sneak up on you and pounce with no warning.  Could they stand at a polite distance, shift their feet, fiddle with their keys, discreetly clear their throats?  Yes, but I guess then we wouldn’t pay as much attention.  Or, rather, our attention wouldn’t be fully grabbed and forcibly focused in quite the same way.  And they never arrive clearly labeled.  What’s up with that?  No blinking neon saying ‘Now you need to learn forgiveness’.  Or gratitude.  Or self-reliance.  Or whatever skill, characteristic or trait the Universe thinks it is time for you to figure out.


Mine arrived yesterday via a middle school exercise titled ‘Revealing Your True Colors’ (cue Ms. Lauper).  It was the copy of a photocopy of a mimeograph originally copyrighted in 1990.  That, my friends, is a full decade before the current crop of middle-schoolers was even born.  The language is simple, straightforward.  The process is slightly repetitive, all the better to actually catch a middle school personality in a rare moment of clarity.  No matter.  It still kicked me in the teeth.

Here’s the gist.  There were four steps to the process, but our story ends after step two.*  Apparently, you get the point a little faster as an adult.  Or maybe slower, since clearly I didn’t figure this out in middle school when, apparently, I should have.

Step One.  Visualize Yourself.  Put the following colors in order of preference:  orange, green, blue, gold.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.  Blue, green, gold, orange.  (for the record, the words you then learn that are associated with each one:  blue = harmonious, green = curious, gold = responsible, orange = adventurous.  Yes, yes, you can see that orange is appropriately the last on my list.  By the end it was revealed that my True Color order was blue, gold, green, orange…)

Step Two:  Read About Yourself.  Really?  What is a 4”x6” piece of paper with words in font size 18 actually going to reveal to me that I don’t already know?  The top third of the page says “I am warm, compassionate, communicative, feeling.  I want to find ways to make my life count”.  Yup, yup.  That’s me alright.  No surprises.  Then there is a section beginning “at school” followed by “with friends and family”.  Yes, yes, ouch, and yes.  All true.  All things I know to be self-evident.  We are now down to the final third of the page.  Given the large print, there is only room for 3 lines.  That’s okay, because you don’t need a lot of space to land a direct hit.  The nice part?  “I am extremely imaginative” the true part? “I respond to encouragement rather than to competition” (thus my hate/love relationship with playing games of any sort).  And now, the fatal blow.  “I react with great sensitivity to discord or rejection”.  I can hear your silence.  I can see you rolling your eyes.  I can watch the thought bubble pop up above your head.  Some who know me are saying ‘DUH’.  Others are saying ‘well, it might take her a moment, but she comes around and sees the value’.  Both are true.  But the word that actually caught me in this was great.  I knew I was sensitive.  But greatly sensitive?  Beyond regularly sensitive?  Huh.  Hadn’t thought about it that way.

Eleanor has a greatly sensitive nose.  She smells things those of us who are mere mortals cannot begin to detect.  It is, in many ways, the primary way she interprets the world.  This is the girl who will pick up a new shirt, put it to her nose, inhale, and say ‘Oh!  A shirt from Target!’.  Really.  Truly.  Accurate 100% of the time.

Cole has a greatly sensitive response to emotional undercurrents.  His behavior is a barometer of family stress.  When he was little time-outs were a disaster.  There was too much happening for him emotionally.  Time-outs amped everything out to the stratosphere instead of providing a space to calm down.  We had to abandon the technique- it did the opposite of its intended purpose.

I, apparently, am greatly sensitive.  And with just a slight bit of introspection, I can tell you that I am especially greatly sensitive to words.  Give me the smaller piece of cake?  No big deal.  Spend one less hour with me than someone else?  It happens.  But words are the way that I interpret the world.  Want to butter me up?  Send a card with a great quote.  Want to have me swoon with joy?  Give me a book.  Want to win my heart forever?  Write me love poetry.  Words are my language.

And this is all well and good until, well, it isn’t.  Our strengths are our challenges.  Our powers are our liabilities.  And when I hear the words of others, I listen to them with great exquisiteness.  The problem is, they most likely didn’t intend it.

When we lived in Boulder, Cole was a toddler obsessed with big, yellow construction equipment.  We would pack up and walk downtown to a city block that was being newly constructed from the ground up.  There were cranes and dump trucks and excavators and backhoes.  Or was it backhoes and excavators?  Because, really, I mixed them up on a regular basis.  I was interested in them for Cole’s sake, but I didn’t catalog the differences and store them in my brain because they weren’t meaningful to me.  But Cole knew the difference.  Because to him, it mattered.  Greatly.

All of this to say I am overly sensitive to words.  I am hearing a difference between chestnut, hazel, chocolate-colored, coffee-colored, cocoa-colored, nut-brown, brunette, sepia, mahogany, umber, and burnt sienna that may or may not be intended.  Sometimes brown is simply brown.  And now that I see it, I need to ask.  I may not like the answer (because I am greatly sensitive to discord), but I need to initiate the conversation to find out.  But first, I need to issue an apology.  If I have incorrectly heard or misinterpreted your words, or found exactness when the intent was the gist, I am sorry.  I am truly, completely, greatly sorry.  I will practice listening for gestalt.  I will try.  Let me know how I’m doing.  Will you keep me posted?

* If your primary color is Green, and the curiosity is killing you, send me a message and I’ll send along the True Colors in its entirety.  To all the other Blues out there.  Word.  I know your pain.  To the Golds.  We are simpatico.  To the Oranges.  Dude.  We live on different planets.  But I’d love to vacation there sometime.


¿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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