Archive for the ‘connection’ 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.


The Neighborhood of Make-Believe

April 4, 2011

A few years ago, while looking wistfully out the window at the house down the hill from us, Cole whispered ‘I wish I were in their family’.

He said it so quietly, so still-ly.  I yearned to pretend I hadn’t heard.  My heart plummeted and bruised my toes.  My cheeks began to flame with the prickly anticipation of dread.  The air rushed out of my lungs and made an audible ‘OhhhHHhh’.  He looked up at me with a face of innocent inquiry and I tried to scramble, casually replying ‘um, why is that?’

The neighbors down the hill were friendly, yet acquaintances we barely knew.  But I knew enough to preemptively cringe at what I surmised I would be given; a list of the ‘mores’.  More toys.  More vacations.  More motors; boats, cars, kid ATV’s.  More hours to stay up late.  There were plenty of mores.

‘Well, if I were in their family, I wouldn’t have Celiac Disease and I could eat whatever I wanted.’  I had projected onto Cole my own insecurities, my interpretation of what I assumed he would see lacking in our family, that I very nearly missed his profound and simple wish.

But sometimes, our kids’ wishes are based in materiality.  And when we hear these, it is difficult not to jump defensively into the litanies of we can’ts, we won’ts, we never wills.  We reflexively jerk into adult responses due to adult responsibility:  is it safe?  practical?  financially viable?  Yet our kids aren’t criticizing our ability to provide, they are simply imagining outside of their box.  Their words aren’t loaded with the social commentary we presume, they are simply dreaming a different reality.  We need to listen to these wishes, not for the content on top, but for what it tells us about what is important to our children underneath.

But sometimes, our kids’ wishes degrade into whines.  By osmosis, or more likely by sheer bludgeoning of repetition, at our house the wish of the elder became the wish of the younger.  ‘Aaannnhhh, I wwwwwiiiiiiisssshhhh we had a booAAt’ became available in stereo, and I began to lose my mind.  When out running errands with the two of them I contemplated complex and circuitous routes that would utilize only landlocked roads; anything to prevent the backseat passengers from glimpsing the kayaks, canoes, yachts, pleasure cruisers, fishing vessels and ocean liners that dot our town’s waterways.  Sometimes, wishes require action.  So I bought a piggy bank.  A cheerful, ceramic, polka dot piggy bank that lives on a shelf nestled amongst the art supplies.  If current rates continue, they will have saved enough for a dingy by the middle of the next century.  And the boat moaning?  It has magically ended.  The little ‘boat bank’ has calmed the waters, reassuring them that no matter how big the dream, there are small steps they can take every day to reach it.  Hope floats.

It is a powerful moment when our children trust us with their wishes, and it provides us an opportunity to share our own.  We can explore with them the duality of gently holding our wishes and living contentedly now.  Together we can listen for the bells and whistle of the red trolley, just waiting to take us to The Neighborhood of Make-Believe.


Uneven Ground.

February 28, 2011

‘You.  Are.  GROUNDED.’  sputtered with the shock and sting of betrayal in the parent’s voice.

‘I hate you!’ spat with the unique venom of teenage outrage.

When we say ‘you are grounded’ what we mean is:  You scared me – I need to know you are safe.  You broke your word to me – I need to be able to trust you again.  You took advantage of me – you defied the boundary I set.

Yet when we say ‘you are grounded’ what they hear is: I am taking away your freedom.  I am more powerful than you are.  I can control you.

There is a breakdown in the message, a disconnect between how it is intended and how it is interpreted.  We want them to learn, all they feel is punished.  We want to rebuild the bond, not deepen the rift.  To rejoin, not sever.  So how can we call to them in a manner they will hear?  How do we find a way to return both parent and child to the core connection of the relationship?

There is a subtle language and yet profound actual difference between grounding them and helping them to become grounded.

It is a shift from tough love to love tough.  It is not the grounding of grinding, pulverizing into small particles we are after.  It is the grounding of burrowing, helping them replant themselves firmly in the solid surface of the Earth.  Not the clipping of wings to prevent flight, but the nourishing of roots to encourage new growth.  And to do that, we need to teach, to illuminate for them the pathways of healthy decision-making.

For they are floundering in these teen years, seeking to define self in a morass of questionable and contradictory influences.  While they want your comfort and guidance, they have forgotten how to ask for it.  Rush in, just as you did years ago, and embrace them as they wail.  Swaddle them tightly with love, understanding, clear boundaries and unambiguous expectations.

When working to help them reground, you are providing a pause, a time out.  Not the time out of sitting in a chair, in the corner, alone.  It is similar to the time out a basketball coach will call during an emotionally charged moment of the game in order to huddle with her players, get everyone to take a deep breath and return to the action from a different perspective.  It is an attempt to commandeer the physical and emotional states and redirect them in a more positive manner.  The coach isn’t setting the players apart, she is bringing them in, enveloping them in a group hug, and reminding them of her guidance, her wisdom.  It is a chance to break the cycle.  To reteach that which they have unlearned.

And, much like basketball, it is about the spin.  Whether you isolate them or embrace them, the boundaries are tightened, the limits contracted.  The range of their freedom is diminished.  The difference is in how you fill the void.  If we sequester them from their world, they blame their parent and spend no time in self-reflection.  If we instead stay with them, there is opportunity to reshape and repair the relationship.

And once they have become grounded?  Reset the expectations, release them to rejoin their peers. Oh, and be ready for the next round.  And keep me posted.


Way Back Into Love

February 7, 2011

Falling in love is the easy part.  Falling.  Endlessly.  Breathlessly.  Eyes bright with dizzying anticipation.

Yet eventually we all must land.  And the landing in love?  It isn’t always smooth.  Sometimes there are rocks and thorns and things that go bump in the night, and our hearts are bruised by the scission in the relationship with our partner, friend or child.

We land.  Broken.  Dazed.  Confused.  Eyes dimmed with the bewilderment of the jarring turmoil.  What happened to the dreamy nine month old who smiled and cooed and somehow transformed into a tantrum-y toddler?  What happened to the bestest of friends who suddenly isn’t returning calls, and when you meet doesn’t quite look into your eyes?  What happened to the partner with whom you cocooned yourself in witty banter, private jokes, secret smiles and now you share mostly calendar appointments, carpool responsibilities and discussions about the purchase of durable goods?

An emotional trespass has happened, and you need to find a way back.  Or not.

Is the chasm too deep, wide and treacherous?  If the path back is too fraught with peril for your heart, body or soul, then no, there is no going back.

But what if the wound is not quite as nasty, instead maybe created slowly over time by an imperceptible drift that is only suddenly apparent as you peer across at one another from isolated silos of loneliness?  Then there is a decision to make.  Do you want to again embrace them?  Is the rift one you want to mend?  Will things be different?  Absolutely.  Do you need time to mourn the change?  Yes.  Will things be less than they were before?  Yes and No.  Falling in love is about the façade.  Each person only exposing their best side to the other.  Now we get a chance to be with their whole being, and with that comes the release to be our complete selves as well.  The transgression strips away the outer layers and provides us with the opportunity to communicate at a deeper level.

To repair the relationship, we must forgive.  Forgiveness is not merely absolution, it is creating the space within yourself to move forward.  We climb the narrow and precarious steps to the top of the silo, grab a handful of grain, and leap once more.  The fall will not be a free one, without care as the wind rushes past your face.  This fall will be foreshadowed with the knowledge that the landing may hurt yet again, may yet again be strewn with sorrow.  But during the flight we can release the seeds of passion, friendship and caring to be spread once more on newly fertile ground.  We take the risk in the hopes of reaping the rewards of reconnection.

The world you discover after you find your way back into love is deeper, quieter, full of meaningful and grateful glances.  It is a world filled with grace.  I hope you find your way back, and I wish you soft landings.  Happy Valentine’s Day.


Three Points of Contact

January 8, 2011

When Cole was a toddler and learning to climb the ladders at park play structures, my dear friend would instruct both of our boys declaring ‘three points of contact’.  It was a brilliant way of describing the need for each child to always be touching the ladder with some combination of three of their four hands and feet before proceeding upward to the next step.

The mantra of three points of contact has stuck in my mind over the intervening years, and has expanded to cover more than physical ladders, but emotional ones as well.  Whenever I feel a disconnect happening with one of my children, I reexamine where we are on our ladder.  Are we making three points of contact?

Points of contact are ways in which we communicate and receive love.  And the dance of it all is that both the one reaching out and the one receiving the contact need to feel the connection.   Case in point, kisses.  Kissing my children on the cheek or forehead is, to me, the most natural way to express my affection for them.  They, in turn, prefer to rub it off.  Yes, for whatever twisted reason, they both abhor kisses.  So, we’ve come to a compromise.  I kiss.  They rub.  But instead of exclaiming ‘ooooohhhh gross!’ they gently whisper ‘I’m rubbing in your love now’.  We both are delighted and we both feel connected.

Hugs, however, are a different story.  They are all about the hugs.  My four year old will wrap herself around me, clinging with arms and legs like a baby chimpanzee, humming in my ear as we bond.  My nine year old, on the other hand, will literally throw himself at me, and if I am not ready, nearly knock me over.  When he first started to do this a few years ago I did not recognize it as affection, it seemed too filled with aggression.  But filled with sweet intent it was, and so his hugs continue today to be about deep touch to express connection.

Yet points of contact need not be physical.  Creating a blueberry smiley face in their pancakes.  Writing a secretly coded note and sneaking it into their lunch bag.  Playing their favorite song first thing in the morning.  Taking a slightly circuitous route home so that you can drive up their favorite steep hill in town.  There are 1000 ways to stay in touch, to be in communication, to say I love you.

Points of contact need not take place simultaneously in the space-time continuum.  Cole and I share a passion for reading, and he has his nose in a book as many hours of the day as he can.  We’ve actually had to ban books from the dining room table at mealtime.  Seriously.  Who bans books?  Anyway, we use reading as one of our points of contact.  We have a special journal and every few weeks one of us writes a message, and the other responds.  I use it as a forum for encouraging him when he is frustrated, reinforcing great decisions he has made, or apologizing (again) when I have made a mistake.  I write carefully and with intent knowing he’ll reread our entries over and over.  He uses the journal to propose project ideas or to ask for help processing something that has happened at school.  The beauty of our write and response pattern is that neither of us needs to be in the same room at the same time for any of it to take place.  It gives both of us the opportunity for quiet reflection as we reach out to one another.

When my children feel disconnected they often times will ask us to make up a story.  What they mean is:  help me decipher what happened today, I can’t quite see my way through it, and in the end please reassure me that everything will be okay.  Our tales involve a whale named Bubbles, invented by my late grandfather who began the tradition spinning yarns for my mom.  Since the birth of Eleanor we have added a companion to Bubble’s adventures, a plucky little fish named Pêche.  (Pêcher is the French verb ‘to fish’)  The allegories of Bubbles and Pêche give us an opportunity to interpret the events of the day from a safe distance, providing the kids with narratives that take them through the deep and treacherous eel-infested waters they trespassed and return them to the safe shoals of home.

As children grow, they rise higher on the ladder of life and the potential falls come from more dire circumstances.  The length of their arms and legs hold them farther from us.  The self assured attitude and sense of immortality of teenagers practically demand that they attempt to climb the ladder showing off for friends using fewer and fewer points of contact, contorting their bodies in rather death-defying manners.  It becomes harder for us to touch them, to find those points of contact.  Yet, ironically, when they ask for us the least they need us the most.  Keep reaching, keep extending, keep making those three points of contact.  As for the ongoing parables of Bubbles and Pêche, I’ll keep you posted.

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