Archive for the ‘language’ Category

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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.

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broadcast news

March 1, 2013

My VW wagon hipster-mobile {hey.  it isn’t a minivan.  Let me ride in glory.} is old school enough to have a tape deck.  It holds only a single CD.  There are no fancy buttons on this sound system.  Honestly, the only one I want is ‘repeat’ so the kids and I can sing our hearts out to Katy Perry’s Firework without me being completely paranoid about the next song starting before I can hit the ‘back’ button.  {I don’t count ‘back’ as a fancy button.  It is the digital analog of R<< and we had that one in the 80’s}.

{you don’t have to feel like a waste of space
you’re original, cannot be replaced}

Yes.  I own this CD.  Before I owned this CD I knew three things about Katy Perry.  1.  Her hair was occasionally Cookie Monster blue.  2.  Glee did a cover of ‘Teenage Dream’  3.  I cried every time I watched the ‘Night of Too Many Stars’ duet of Firework with Jodi DiPiazza, an 11 year-old living with autism.

{If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow}

So yes, I own this CD.  It is out of character enough that seeing it in my car actually made my friend Kelli burst with surprised laughter as she slid into the passenger seat recently.  In my defense, the holidays were crazy.  In my defense, the one song I had heard was fabulous.  In my defense…you are right.  No defense.  Just epic fail.  Parenting style.

Because you see, I didn’t buy it for myself, I bought it for Cole.  Have you seen the cover art?  Enough said.

I thought it would be great to give our kids music for Christmas this year.  Instead of simply downloading something from iTunes, I thought it would be fun for them to unwrap it.  And it was great.  Or at least my choice for Eleanor was.  Jack Johnson’s Curious George soundtrack has been delightful.  Cole’s was Katy Perry.

{Maybe you reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road}

So you see, I own this CD and it lives in my car.  And what felt like 12 times this morning I hit the ‘back’ button so my daughter and I could belt it out on the drive to school.  It was a lovely way to spend the time together.  And as I listened to her pip-squeekingly earnest rendition, I thought about all the messages in our children’s lives.  I thought about where they come from.  About what we say and what we leave unsaid.

{You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July}

When our children are very small the only messages they get are ours.  As they grow, the chorus of voices heard includes teachers and peers, and parents of friends.  As they learn to read and have more media exposure, the voices grow louder, sometimes drowning ours out.  But what about those first messages?  The ones that come from us?  What if we were to create a soundtrack over the course of a day?  What would the tunes be?  And how about the lyrics?  Sometimes it is a spoken word piece filled with angst and worry.  Sometimes a sweet ballad of reassurance.  And sometimes we channel our inner boy band, singing a pop song full of catchy lines a bit light on substance.  And sometimes, it is instrumental.

The wordless tunes.  The songs we stumble over.  We hum along, hoping it will be sufficient to fill the void.  The void created by topics we don’t want to address.  The subjects that make us cringe. The ones we wish would simply go away.  Your past.  Your partner’s past.  The loud sounds coming from the house next door.  Grandma’s funny smelling breath, even early in the morning.  Why we need to wait to buy groceries this week.  The people on the street corner holding signs.  And what the signs mean.

If the music to these songs are purely instrumental, it doesn’t mean your children aren’t hearing lyrics.  The are.  It’s just that the verse is coming from other sources.  They hear jokes at recess.  Swap stories on the bus.  They see it on social media.  Just because they are no longer two and no longer asking why every 37 seconds doesn’t mean they aren’t curious.  They are.  And they will listen with radio ears to any broadcasting frequency.

Have you watched a broadcast in the middle of a breaking story?  When no one knows the outcome and the details are sketchy?  Even the most experience journalists trip over words, have awkward pauses, make bad connections to a reporter in the field.  It’s okay.  We understand.

So do our kids.  It’s okay if we begin with ‘this is really hard for me to talk about, but let’s have a conversation’.  It’s important for them to hear ‘I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, but here’s what I know’.  It’s freeing for them when you start with ‘I used to feel this way, but I’ve changed my mind’.  It lets them know we are still growing up, no matter how old we are.  Introducing topics doesn’t have to mean a lecture series.  In fact, it is the law of inverses.  They listen more intently the fewer words we say.  It can simply be woven into the fabric of our everyday discussions, for the more often we talk about these subjects, the easier it becomes.

Why not be their 24 hour news source?  Why not be the channel they turn to first?  And what about the human-interest stories, the ones we broadcast in between the news cycles?  Is there a track you have on repeat?  And is it the one you want them to hear over and over again?  Keep me posted.

{Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It’s always been inside of you, you, you
And now it’s time to let it through}

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the sound of silence

October 25, 2012

This morning at breakfast Eleanor announced that she has seven super powers, and she wanted to list them for me.  The first was reading.  To be honest I missed whether or not she listed the next six because I was overwhelmed by the wash of relief.  A feeling that do-overs are possible, that Mulligans can make a difference.  Let me explain the back-story so you can appreciate the sense of parental redemption.  To get to it, though, we first have to visit the back-back story, the one that begins in my childhood.

Once Upon a Time, I was an Indian Princess.

No.  Seriously.  I was.  The reason that I bring this up (despite the unenlightened name and stereo-typed activities that took place back in the late 1970’s) is that there is one moment from that elementary school experience that has shaped me enduringly enough that it impacts my parenting all these years later.

In our YMCA father-daughter group we sat in circles.  We sang songs.  We made crafts.  We built pinewood derby cars.  We went camping.  The trip happened in the late spring. In the Pacific Northwest.  It’s not hard to imagine that the whole time was spent huddled in soaked tents watching the rain relentless pour from the skies.  I think it was the final straw for my Dad, turning our first year of Indian Princesses into our last.

But despite the rain, or rather, because of it, the camping trip was pivotal for me, too.  But in an entirely different way.  You see, at the end of our year together, the fathers handed out awards to each young princess.  Now it may well be that these awards were decided upon with haste and desperation, the leaders trying to come up with something, anything really, that even remotely matched each little girl.  All I know was that I was awarded ‘Best Camper in The Rain’.  And I’ve doggedly held on to that title ever since.  Somehow it made me feel plucky, spirited, adventurous, optimistic.  It was a label that stuck.  A label that became part of my self-definition.  There have been times over the years when, instead of groaning or whining or pouting I’ve said to myself ‘but I can do this!  Because I am the Best Camper in the Rain!’  Even if I were saying it half in jest, I was thinking of it none-the-less, and it changed my choices.  And it has made me incredibly aware of the labels we give others.  Especially our children.  So I was flabbergasted when I realized a few months ago I had made a labeling mistake.  It wasn’t the misuse of a moniker, but its inverse.  The implicit label left by silence.

Cole has always been a voracious reader.  Up to this point Eleanor, by contrast, has been indifferent to books.  She would listen or read, but she didn’t embrace it, there wasn’t a zest for it.  I didn’t push it, I didn’t force it.  I didn’t want to create a comparison between the two children in which she came up lacking.  Instead of focusing on the written word, we had emphasized math as her superpower.  She was MathGirl.  Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t doing calculus, trigonometry or even long division.  But as parents of a daughter we wanted to try and coat her in armor that protected her against the pervasive societal messages about girls’ abilities in math (and science and technology and engineering …but I digress).

But late this summer it finally dawned on me that maybe she didn’t see herself as a great reader, a lover of books, because we never gave her the feedback that she was.  Eleanor has no way to create a relative comparison to Cole – with a five-year age gap he is currently better at everything.  I became suspicious.  Is she not gravitating to reading because we aren’t reinforcing it the same way we did for Cole?

And so, a stealthy propaganda campaign began.  I thought it would take a herculean effort to change course.  I was wrong again.  It only took one small moment.  In the first week of school, as she sat reading a new library book, I quietly whispered  ‘Eleanor.  Look!  Look at the back cover of your book – it says this is for readers ages 8-11.’  Then I leaned over conspiratorially and continued ‘Do you know what that means?’ Her eyes lit up, the grin from her six year-old cheeks reached up to her ears as she shouted  ‘I am Reading Girl!’

The subtle alchemy of parenting is sometimes more potent than we imagine.  For Eleanor, books have become a source of magic.  Maybe it’s coincidental, maybe it’s developmental, maybe it’s more.  There is a fine line to be walked.  We don’t want to Rah-Rah-Sis-Boom-Bah every moment of our child’s life, never allowing the space for them to grow their inner voice.  Conversely, we need to be aware that when we are silent we are perhaps muting their potential.  There is a gentle middle ground to inhabit when we come into awareness.  What messages are we sending?  Which labels are being received?

Eleanor has seven super powers.  One of them is reading.  As for the other six?  I’ll keep you posted.

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indigo-orange: magic

October 10, 2012

‘Words are…our most inexhaustible source of magic’

~Albus Dumbledore

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Lost in Translation

March 22, 2011

The scene Monday morning at the breakfast table included a bleary-eyed boy lamenting the list of after school events this week.  Piano Monday, field trip Tuesday, allergy appointment Wednesday, class Thursday, rehearsal Friday.  Which lead to the plea:  “Can’t I skip some?”  Of course, we, as parents, launched into the importance of honoring obligations, fulfilling commitments, blah, blah, blah…it wasn’t until we were well into our diatribe that I realized he doesn’t want to ditch these days, he loves each adventure.  (Well, maybe not the allergy appointment).

And I was struck by the immortal words of Vanilla Ice:  ‘stop, collaborate and listen’.

What was Cole really saying?  On a regular week he has, at most, two after school commitments.  Three additional activities this week were coming together to form the Bermuda triangle of exhaustion.  What he was trying to express was a sense of the too-much-ness.  Having finally caught on to my own misunderstanding, misreading of his intent I asked “are you overwhelmed?”  “Yes.”

Ah, now this, this was a different discussion altogether.  This was a joining of forces, a sharing of strategies.  We articulated our own action plans for when we are overwhelmed:  can we rearrange the events?  can we alter the outcomes?  can we prep for any of the days in advance?  In this case the answers were no, no, no.  So the best we can do is take a deep breath and narrow the focus on the now.  What is on the list for today?  Let the others just be.  Constrict our view and release the future, for worrying can’t change tomorrow, but it can stress us today.

The morning served as a reminder to model our own coping strategies to help build the tools in our son’s tool box.  And today?  He woke up, cheery, eager for the field trip, not at all concerned with the other commitments on the horizon.  As for my future career singing the wisdom-filled lyrics of Vanilla Ice?  Yes, well, I’ll keep you posted.

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P*rf#ct!

January 12, 2011

The single worst word we can say to our children?  Perfect.

Okay, maybe not the single worst word, but definitely one in the top ten.  Why?  Because expectations of perfection linger in their minds well after the seemingly innocuous comment leaves our lips.

Perfect!  When what we mean is – you did something – set the table, made your bed, accomplished your long division, managed to successfully do the laundry, correctly.  Perfect sets the bar higher than any fingertips can reach.  It says we presume that which is beyond human is possible.  It burrows into our subconscious and drives us to the extremes of frenetic, unending work.  Or the inverse, in which we never try to begin with, frozen in place due to the incredible fear of failure.

Many of our children expect perfection the very first time they attempt a new task.  They crumble in despair when they flounder.  We need to help them see that a life filled with trials and errors, ups and downs is a life worth living.  The journey of learning can be filled with its own joy, regardless of the outcome.  Strive for excellence.  Acknowledge failure.  Show your child that…

…you know what? That’s enough.  It is night, and there is a beautiful snowfall happening now that will have melted by morning.  I’m going to go out, lift my face to the heavens, and appreciate the magic.  As for my fall from perfectionism, I’ll keep you posted.

[Here’s the irony: I wrote about perfectionism, posted it, and decided to revise most of it.  My recovering type A personality (I think I’ve relaxed myself down to at least an A-), still hears the irresistible, yet unattainable, call of perfectionism.]

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