Saturday, January 21, 2017

How To Be Ugly-Averse, Not Conflict-Averse

NOTE: I got so stinkin tired of hisforwardslashher-ing that I switched them all over to "her."
                           
Because I'm a girl, that's why.

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I don't like alienating others. For a long time, back when I avoided alienating others in order to keep my first-born-pleasing-I-like-to-be-liked identity in tact, I believed it to be a flaw. I have always admired strength, and my unwillingness to upset others seemed quite puny and cop-out-y and, well, WEAK.

And back then it was.

But now that I am graduating out of my need to please...I am finding I still can't shake it. AH HA MOMENT IN MY THIRTIES: maybe the lengths that I go to not upset people are worthwhile lengths? Maybe this personality trait is rooted in my value of inclusivity...that there's more to gain from digging around to uncover what lies in common than sword-poking at differences. Maybe I refuse to be either offensive or defensive with regard to the world around me but rather understand-sive? And maybe, just maybe, it's not weak.

WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. I don't want you to confuse my consideration for others with indecision. Just because I am Switzerland-esque in my reservation to provoke a side doesn't mean I don't have serious convictions, or a side, in fact. This girl HAS her point of view. And she has no problem processing it out with anyone who asks. I am not described by friends as conflict-averse. Nor quiet. OBVIOUSLY! NOT! QUIET! I'll tell it to ya, oh yes, I will. In *charmingly* unsmooth and unpolished ways, I'll tell ya.

But - at least I hope - I'll do it in ways that make you least uncomfortable. You'll know that my intent is not to embarrass you. Or harass you. Or bury you. Or to "win." Or to make you shut up.

Even though I'm always right.

 :)

I just don't see what's to gain by adding an attacking edge to any discussion or action. I'd suggest there's a lot more to lose. As soon as the different-viewed individual gets to feeling that her views are becoming the object of judgement, you've LOST HER. There she goes, the very person you could learn the most from or teach the most to and ideally both. She will either fight (fangs out, anger escalating, Facebook comments irate, more in-your-face but internally farther and farther in her opposing-viewed-corner = losing her) or she will flight (silence, avoidance, finger-on-unfriend-button, not-gonna-talk-about-that-with-you-again = losing her). 

Damn.  

But what troubles me most is what happens next. Sure, you lost an opportunity. Or two. Or three. But if you lose ALL opportunities to engage in conversation with individuals who are in a different corner than you because you express your beliefs SO HARD and IN SUCH A WAY that it angers, offends, and/or insults the other....Whoooweee, people, that's dangerous as hell.

NOW... PLEASE DON'T BE MAD. Remember, I don't like alienating folks.

Well. You can be mad, just not mad enough to stop reading.

BECAUSE. I'm not asking for ANYone to believe her beliefs less hard. Or feel her convictions less convictedly (YUP, made that up). Or be more pliable and bendy and foldy to the very things she stands for or against. STAND ON, people! Stand on! Can we just do it WHILE being not-ugly, not-judgy, and not-insulty to those who aren't standing with us?

Last summer I came super close to F-ing up a friendship. I let something get in my head about what I thought was a character issue about this dear friend. And I let this thing fester awhile, meanwhile consequently being unintentionally weird around her, until she called me on it. And when I had to face myself and what I'd allowed myself to almost do (destroy a wonderful thing by letting my stupid self righteousness get in the way), I realized that the problem was all me. ALL me. I let my principles turn to pride. And THAT turned dark and ugly on my insides without me knowing it. And THAT twisted my thinking into something being her issue (when really there was nothing to begin with). Hey... there ain't nuttin wrong with principles alone... but watch out for that divisive, self-righteous pride when it comes provoking you. It has a way of sneakily hiding behind the honor and innocence of principles.

(Btw, I'm so in love with that phrase that I'm working out bumper stickers: "don't let your principles turn to pride" or "don't be pridefully principled" or "watch out for your P transforming to P"... wrinkles still being ironed out - stay tuned.)

(I'm kidding. I never make up one-liners and fantasize about them being famous bumper sticker sayings.)

(That was a lie. I do.)

BUT back to dangerous as hell. WHY? you might ask. Why is it dangerous to align your personal friends with your personal beliefs? I mean... That alone? Nothing. Really. As long as you have not alienated ALL your different-minded peripheral personal peeps ("p cubed"...not in bumper-sticker running). Not the ones who know where your hidden house key is or how many q-tips you use per week. But the ones in your outer circle who still are in-your-life-enough to care about how you are and MAY OR MAY NOT want to discuss your opposing views and ideals. The point isn't tearing off social etiquette bandaids at every single corner. It's that you are keeping those with whom you have owies (differences) near you. These aren't contagious diseases, folks... you aren't going to "catch" an opinion or a value. But what you might do, if you listen hard, is "catch" more about what they are about...whether you like it or not. And you might not.

But if you let every single one of your different-minded PPPs (or at worst push them to) leave your surroundings? You're in a vacuum. There's the Dangerous As Hell. It can be a super-lopside-y place inside a vacuum. I am annoyed every time I watch Campbell push around her little toy vacuum at all those small raging balls that go swirling and whirling behind that see-through plastic window... because of all their PURPLENESS... every last one of those damn balls is purple. All.the.same. In a vacuum.

In conclusion, here's a not-at-all-comprehensive (six, that's all you get), not-at-all-researched, not-even-at-all-tested-out list of:

THINGS YOU CAN DO TO NOT ALIENATE YOUR DIFFERENT-MINDED PPPs (and stay sane):


1) Know your audience. Such a classic.

Do you know a person who can engage heatedly and respectfully in a debate about something near and dear to her heart and then switch over to what sort of weather to expect in the coming week without a blink of the eye? Like, as in, fully passionate and then fully ok with moving on. Not carrying emotional distress with her beyond the borders of that conversation... In fact, fully enjoying the process and moved positively by the opportunity to do a little mind-stretching work out? I do.

Do you know a person who finds herself caught in a tension-filled conversation and then makes three wrong turns going home and spirals away into a fitful sleep after downing a bottle of wine because that type of dialogueing just rips her insides to shreds? I do.

And shouldn't each be handled accordingly? Know how hard to push. Know whether the other person wants to "go there." Know her state of mind and whether she's got the mental space to commit to a forum on her convictions. Know - what you have to say and how you choose to say it - if/when it has the potential to move from an offering to a slam for that particular audience. Tact isn't spineless. Tact is tact.

2) Internet: This one is so clear-cut and definitive, it scares me: take your differences of opinion to a private forum. The alternative incites internet drama and leads to unnecessary digging-of-heals. I received a comment on a post not long ago that challenged the article I posted. A) I wasn't quite sure what this Facebook friend meant and b) I SO wanted to know where she was coming from. So, I found out. Privately. We had a delicious little slice of conversation (over instant message... a step up would have been a distraction-free phone call but, HEY, a girl's still gotta parent somewhat...) confirming the things we did agree upon. Even if we left that conversation with her still wrestling with the particulars of the article I had posted, something valuable happened. Much more than had I retorted publicly in the comments section for everyone to see.

Public social media commenting seems to me similar to what happens when you publicly call out a kid (student or your own). When I did this in teaching, they (since most of my student population weren't scared-into-compliance type of kiddos) would SHOW ME UP. "You gonna call me out like that? I refuse to be humiliated, so I'll over-act-out to compensate," says emotionally distressed kid. Heals.dug.further. Really, whether they want to or not. It's more Murphy's Law in play than their-real-thinking-selves. I'd 100%-of-the-time benefit better from a one-on-one with the kid that nobody else needed to know about. That's when you get real-thinking-self out of a kid. Or an adult. Or an otherwise potentially patronizing internet "friend."

3) Check yourself. And your own emotional state. Are you yourself in your right mind (read: blood not boiling, finger not getting pointy, pits not sweating [more than normal], butt not edging off seat)? Restraint will never be regretted. Do you need to give yourself a pass because you're just too damn emotional and impassioned to trust your words? To be sure they will be tethered at just the right length? That they won't spew out all lashy and angry and ugly and red-faced (try the exercise of actually visualizing letters of words red-faced... my favorite would be "P"). There's nothing wrong with putting yourself in opposing-view-conversation time-out. I put myself in bathroom time out on and off all day long. My kids just point now. Don't make your friends point to the time-out chair when you're too hot-headed to be able to put your own self there. Your ego will like it better if you know how to manage your own timeouts. (It doesn't go so well when I'm at 100 degrees in my emotional life - read: MAD - and my 4-yr-old silently points to the bathroom door)

4) I'm not suggesting being the subject of emotional abuse. You can do your best to engage in no-fight-picking types of conversations with your PPPs only to have them bating you into ugliness every chance they get. I never said all was fair in the game of respectful discourse. When it becomes too unfair, YOU be the one to disengage. BEFORE you get emotionally hooked. You can get good at knowing pretty definitively where the conversation ship is heading before it gets all the way to dock.

But here's the twist... KEEP THAT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE. I dare ya. You can set boundaries about what you won't conversate about without removing her from your life completely. That might leave you with only the weather and how the local sports teams are doing and what grade your kids are getting in science, but -HEY- she's a PPP. Remember, she has no idea how many q-tips you go through.

5) Watch out for bully bullying. I actually feel sorry for bullies sometimes. Not because I have a big enough heart to empathize with the reasons for them being bullies in the first place (although that's certainly a worthwhile pursuit)... but because as hurtful and misguided and cruel as their bully behaviors are, nobody deserves to be bullied. Bullied back. What's "standing up to" vs. bully-bullying, you ask? I think it has to do with the difference between "Your actions are hurtful and don't work with me/us. As a result, you will suffer consequences that match your actions" and "I'm going to Freakin. Take. You. Down." How is squashing a person a just consequence for their attempts to squash you/those you love? Standing up for yourself/those you love doesn't need to mean a long term personal vendetta. If you ask me, that's what gets us caught up again in the Murphy's Law canundrum where the bully is caught in a closed loop of defensive bully retaliation. This bodes not well for anybody.

6) Look closely at your insides and examine your intentions. If your insides say "fixed mindset" then you will have not a shot in hell in what I'm proposing (yes, I stole this verbage - the "fixed mindset" bit - from High Plains Elementary School's mindfulness curriculum, although I'd like to think good ole Mindfulness would want me to call it sharing). Because you won't be engaging. At best, you'll be co-existing and at worst you'll be clashing. Fixed belief systems and fixed mindsets mean different things to me. A belief system is the product of hard, hard, hard work chipping and polishing and chipping and polishing away at the Beautiful Sculpture that has come over time to be What You Believe. Although I argue that there's always room for an added detail or a removed rough edge, it's pretty OK with me when people decide their Beautiful Sculpture is finished. It's ok for belief systems to be fixed. In fact, in a lot of cases, it means folks have been through a bunch.of.crap and know themselves damn well as a result. Go, BEAUTIFUL SCULPTURE! Rock on! For me, and forgive if it feels that I'm mincing words, the fixed mindset differs from the fixed belief system in that, in a fixed mindset, the individual's Beautiful Sculpture won't play dress up. Refuses. Will have a playdate (or a playhate) with another Beautiful Sculpture and then, when the super hero capes and top hats and ballerina skirts and suspenders get busted out by the host friend, the fixed mindset Beautiful Sculpture won't put any of the get-up on. Not even for a second, even though trying on the foreign stuff won't alter her solidness one smidge. Her imagination is not working. Her contemplation machine is broken. Her empathy factory shut down. Open mindset doesn't mean you're exposing your Beautiful Sculpture to pick axes. It means you are willing to "try on" some ridiculous looking accessories (to you)... It means you are willing to gain more understanding as to why the other Beautiful Sculpture has added them to their permanent wardrobe.. And, then, it means you get to FREAKIN TAKE THEM BACK OFF again! No damage done...

But it's certainly not a cake walk. The much less complicated playdate/playhate involves not just refusing to play dress up, but lifting the sculpture off your stand and using it as a weapon. Principled pride. Gnashing metal. Cold hardness. Beautiful Sculptures showing their Ugly.

Play well with others, Beautiful Sculptures. Having an open mindset means you replace judgment with curiosity. And curiosity it better. And certainly NOT more weak.


P.S. I might suck at all six, but I suck the most at #1 and #3 and #6. Just today I saw an acquaintance wearing a T-shirt advertising the Creation Museum and immediately assumed I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about her. Now, after writing this entry, I'm gonna have to ask her for coffee instead (DAMN YOU BLOG!). Which do you suck the most at?

P.S.S. If you disagree, I welcome it! Just #2 me. (Seriously, would love a discourse privately!)

P.S.S.S. If you have a bumper-sticker-printing company, just let me know when you want me to make your rich.



Saturday, October 29, 2016

NINE YEARS and TWELVE YEARS

This time of year is my favorite time of year. I love the colors, the crispness, the pumpkins, the sweaters, the bonfires...

Besides that, it holds my wedding anniversary (which is not a coincidence, since I was bound and determined to have a Fall wedding). Twelve years, Scott Gibson Arthur. Tomorrow, on the 30th, we will have made it to A DOZEN (is the designated gift Eggs? Donuts?)!

And, starting nine years ago, it became a season of a different type of emotion. We celebrate the change of season, we celebrate our union as a couple, and...

We honor and remember our baby boy, Duncan, who passed away on October 26 2007.

We've done a variety of things over the years to make this day significant (this year, we spent it flying home from San Diego!!). But one thing I always do is reread the following entry from that time period. It's called "New Kind of Normal" and I still don't think there's any better description for what the weeks, months, and now years since Duncan's death have been like for me.

To read that entry, click
here



Monday, October 24, 2016

If you have ADHD, read this,

It just plain super-sucks to live inside a being unoccupied by a functioning brain.

This is what it feels like:

The doorbell rings and you go into full-on panic about what appointment you forgot. By the time you get to the door you are cursing yourself AND your pits are sweating profusely. Thank GOD it's just an annoying walking political groupie. Then, while you are still getting your heart regulated and not listening to ALL THOSE WORDS, he freaking has the nerve to give you a pop quiz... Except you don't know it until he paused expectantly, waiting for an answer. You go with a safe bet: "The economy?"

You wake up every morning truly not knowing what to do with yourself... From the routine obvious (getting yourself and your kids ready to leave the house) to what to do with open, free down time (so many choices!!!). Inside my not-functioning brain: do I shower first, or brush my teeth first? Think. Think. Think. This didn't seem so hard before! What do I usually do? Wait. What am I going to do when the kids finish their morning show? I'll need to pounce into breakfast duty... But what if that interrupts me from deciding whether to shower or brush my teeth first? Then that question will HANG IN THE BALANCE... And, meanwhile, Campbell might wake up any minute so there goes personal hygiene altogether. What's that? You'd like fuckimg eggs for breakfast? A) I forgot eggs when I had them WRITTEN ON MY LIST at the grocery yesterday, b) I don't trust myself to cook anything that uses anything that needs turning off, and c) Campbell just woke up. You're on you're own.

You keep hearing a still small voice saying that you need rest, yes, rest, that's what you need. That's what will make your functioning brain return to inhabiting your body. So you commit to it like ITS YOUR JOB. You politely say no to things you'd normally say yes to, all the while not liking the way this comes off since you generally like socializing and don't want to be written off as inconsistently flighty... But you remember that not everyone needs to know about or hear your ADHD struggles so you commit to using words like, "Just in an overwhelmed place right now and pairing back temporarily" which is true. But really you JUST PLAIN FEEL LIKE A CRAZY, IRRESPONSBLE, INCOMPETENT, IDIOT who gets ovwhelmed by brushing her teeth or completing a sentence. That's what you really want to say. But you don't to the outer ring. To your husband and your inner ring, you start to share what you want to say, but you can't even get THAT out. But they know. Because this has happened before. And they know what you need: to be handled very tenderly while you feel so unsettled, confused, and moronic. So you now have said no enough to have the space to rest, so you can heal that "overwhelmed" place you're in. But GUESS WHAT? Since almost every single solitary thing there is to do in this life - including resting - involves your brain, it's hard to find respite in rest. You try going to the coffee shop - BUT ALL THOSE SENSES ARE OVERSTIMULATING. You try reading, but - seriously - the words don't make sense. Forget about even glancing at your phone or scrolling through Facebook: information, information, information. Where to file it? What to do with it? The best things, you find, are headphones with music, meditation, and napping. And even though you feel a bit like a mental patient fighting for her sanity (since nobody else seems to find READING stressful), you know you need it. You try to tell yourself it's temporary and the fog will lift and rest won't be a full time job.

You go to book club because you are having a somewhat clear afternoon leading up to it. You pride yourself in being authentic and real. And it feels somewhat shitty to have to weigh whether your cognitive faculties are in tact enough to go, when really you know you ought to be ok with yourself enough to go-and-be-stupid and everyone-else-can-just-deal. But part of ADHD is not being able to pluck the right words from the sea of them (did you ever contemplate HOW MANY there are???). You've got a bunch to express, and the modality to express it... And yet both your filter is not trustworthy (imagine turrets, except with ideas) AND your words are all wrong, going off on these paths you didn't want them to go on... So that, GUESS WHAT!!? Your attempts at being real and authentic only lead you to misrepresent yourself, which feels the opposite of real and authentic.

Your sense of humor... where'd it go? Turns out you need your brain to be funny too. And your sense of humor is something you love about yourself!! But when you try to be sarcastic or witty or cheeky during this period of time, it comes off at best as not funny and at worst at reaching and trying way too hard and likely both. Your timing is all off and your word choice is messed up and - furthermore - you can't figure out what IS funny. And besides that, funny tequires creative juices and when your using up every last drop of juiciness in you just to manage yourself at the basic level, there's no moisture left over for creative. Worst of all, you lose your ability to laugh at yourself - because nothing about how you feel inside is funny. It's scary. Scary takes the zing right out of funny. There's no room for it. 

You've instilled in your children the importance of responsibility and harp on them to manage their belongings. And you're wandering around the house every moment that you are awake, hollering, "where is my fucking phone (but really- fill in the blank)?" Except, for the kids' sake, that's only what the inside voice says. The outside one is silent while you suffer with the shame of your hypocrisy as you discombobulatedly race around mindless and crazed when you could just use the "find my phone" feature on the iPad sitting right in front of you. And when you can't follow the basic guidelines you've set for your children over and over again, feeling like a child yourself, you wonder "how the hell am I equipped enough to parent these darlings?" And the insecurity of that gets to feeling REALLY REAL. 

And time. A complete quandary. While you struggle with it even in clear times, when the ADHD fog is there, it is an entity that eludes you. You take turns obsessing over it, setting timers, back planning to consider it, making pick up and drop off and practice start times and end time as rigid and unforgiving as ever and ignoring it altogether, being sloppy with it and facing the consequences ashamedly. How to figure out just how important time is? How much respect to assign to it? You become the ultimate philosopher on all the things you-can't-figure-out, and setting your mind out to solve such unsolvable nonsense means it's even more absent for the things right in front of you you already feel ill-equipped to handle.

And since you can't size up which mistakes are the normal ones - the ones that everyone makes - and which ones are the ones that are annoyingly specific to you and your brain chemistry, you assume that everything you do wrong is uniquely your problem... and then you're on a little shame island. 

And then you have a night here and there where you drink. Alcohol. And when you are feeling the affects, everything gets better. Not because alcohol makes you do better cognitively, but because you don't have to be so damn concerned with your state. You are probably behaving just as frazzled as your sober ADHD self, but you simply don't give a shit. And you think about the people who are mentally ill, some with ADHD perhaps, who are roaming the streets homeless or lost or in debt or running from the police all while abusing substances and you think I GET IT. You get why one would want to feel this medicated way more often, and here You are with a family who loves you, friends who care about you, money to pay the bills and more, and a life that is full and whole and wonderful. This doesn't make you feel guilty for being not-homeless. And it doesn't make you feel guilty for going through internal battles when so much goodness and so many blessings are right at your feet. Mostly, it makes you super-sucked into the intimate awareness of the hardness of life. If you feel like your problems are big and get scared by the wonderfulness of the aid of alcohol during these episodes, life for these folks must be un-freakin-bearable. 


And then your husband (probably because he got freaked when you confessed the drinking thing) says, "why don't you try Ritalin again?" You tried it back when you went bat-shit-crazy after Campbell's birth and felt the benefits were inconsistent and, besides that, you were not liking having to be on TWO medications since lexipro was prescribed for the accompanying anxiety. So you didn't give it a fair shot, but you had a couple left over. Now, where were they? Oh yeah, still in the zippered side pocket of your purse. PHEW, good thing you kept this purse. And you take one. And you feel a difference. And then the next day you take another. And then the next. And then the next. And now you're a Ritalin junkie. Not because it means you're hooked on speed. You're hooked on feeling normal again.

Well, at least somewhat.

And like your brain decided to join the party that is YOU again.

And that's a lot less unsettling.




Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mixed messages

The other day one of my children (youalreadyknowwhoitis:Sullivan) wore his shirt backwards to school. It wasn't a generic t-shirt, mind you. It's important to clarify, because I want you to get the image right in your head. It was a bold-blue collared shirt. Imagine a stiff collar sticking upright in front of Sullivan's throat. He looked reverently priestlike and flamboyantly idiotic all at once. I don't care how clueless 2nd graders generally are... NObody could've missed this wardrobe malfunction.

Now, Sullivan is Sullivan: dreamy, marcher to the beat of a-drummer-nobody's-ever-heard-of, careless, uninterested in 99% of the details of life but obsessively rigid about the 1%. Shirt appropriation, clearly, falls in the 99%.

I am all about my kids doing their own thang with their clothes. Ain't nobody got time for outfit planning four kids. (Correction: Three kids...I do dress Campbell - BUT ONLY CUZ SHE'S ONE I'M CUTTING HER OFF NEXT YEAR - and she is dang cute **most** of the time).

I'm getting to my point.

Really.

I mentioned to Sullivan on the way to school that he had his shirt on backwards and...would he like to take a moment in the van before running out the door to school to switch it around?? I got the rushed, "No, no." Like I often do, which always sends the signal, "I got bigger junk going on in this here head... I can't be bothered with these ridiculously petty concerns."

Out into the world he went...

As is normal for me, I moved right on with my day. Didn't think a thing of it. And there he was at pick up, 6 hours later, looking the exact same way.

I slept great that night.

I happened to have a check-in meeting the following day with one of the teachers pulling him for special services. She.is.marvelous. The meeting was hugely informative and helpful. But I'm not writing about the meeting. I'm writing about society. And this teacher, let's call her Zelda, started out our time together, asking tenderly, "So... Did you know Sullivan was wearing his collared (there it is, again) shirt backwards yesterday?"

I answered that yes I did.

And I coulda stopped there, but I still seek approval and want to appear competent, so - for good measure - I added in cheerfully, "I asked the little guy if he wanted to switch it around before school and he was resistant!" (Can you hear me being cheerful?)

I smiled. And so she smiled. And then she stopped smiling, lowered her voice, and said, It's just that... I didn't want him to... You know...get made fun of."

Zelda is a rock star special Ed teacher, and I know that she totally loves my son. And she is totally tuned in to elementary school culture. And wanted to have Sullivan's back on this topic...

So know that Zelda and I are 100% cool.

But it got me all tripped up inside...

It just so happens that, additionally, I have had a couple mom friends share with me on recent ocassipns that they are worried their kids will get made fun of for this reason or that one. So, there it keeps coming round...this question of how and in what way we out to redirect our kids' choices or behaviors in order for them to be spared teasing.

And it seems to me we are looking at it all wrong.

Especially, ESPECIALLY, when we are simultaneously shoving messages about inner strength and individuality and approval-seeking only from within DOWN THEIR THROATS. At home (we love you exactly as you are), in books (to thine own self be true), on inspirational posters (be yourself, everyone else is taken), from the counselor at school (I don't know what the hell she tells them, but I imagine the previous three examples smushed together). We feed them this. And then we contradict it with subtleties, "You're going to wear that with that?" "Maybe it's time to look at how the other kiddos do their hair" "Have you noticed kids looking at you funny when you say ___ or ___?" "You gotta turn that shirt around, or else you might get teased." They pick up on these inconsistencies. They hear: Be yourself, but if that's too far different, reign that shit back in." Or at the very least, "Learn what it means to be same, learn what it means to be same. Learn what it means to be same. Then follow that. It's your (and everybody else's) due north"

The question in my mind isn't, HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS AROUND being made fun of??  It's HOW DO WE PREPARE THEIR HEARTS for when it actually does happen?? Cuz, let's face it, when it comes to getting made fun of... Or, to take malicious intent out of it... When it comes to just benign unwanted attention... It's not a matter of IF it will happen in a child, adolescent, adult, or senior citizen's life, it's WHEN.

So, back to Sullivan's shirt. Sullivan being Sullivan, his wearing it backwards wasn't a statement of self-ness, knowing and understanding the convention of front-wearing shirt society and consciously choosing "other". It is very very very likely, just as he noticed for the first time the other day which door we are talking about when we say "front" door (vs. the back one), that Sullivan's ineptitude for detail combined with comprehension issues and a dreamy noggin left him fully unaware about how he had dressed.

Now that's different than indifferent.

The way I see it, there're three ways one arrives in the space of "different," the space of not comfortable:

We have:

-uninterested/indifferent
-unaware
-unable

The first is the most-awesome-feeling vehicle for finding oneself in the space of "different." NOT HARD to own being different when you were the driver who got yourself to that place. I just finished a weekend in New York City, where convention is nowhere to be found, or at least the worship of it is smaller, quieter...and people wear what they want, say what they want, sing that they want when they want to, and the hair. THE HAIR! So many colors, lengths, styles, smells... Backwards shirts here are tame. And the people wearing them, and anything else I perceived as CRAZY, just straight up don't care. Uninterested. In. Convention.

But then there's the other two: UNAWARE and UNABLE. These guys are trickier vehicles in which to arrive at the space "different", because most of the time an individual didn't really plan to arrive there. They just arrived, sorta without choice. And may not like that they did. That doesn't feel good. At least not the first few times. It takes mucho practice being good with where you are when you find yourself in a spot you didn't plan on going.

AND THATS WHAT I'M  TALKING ABOUT.

THAT'S THE LESSON I WANNA TEACH SULLIVAN  AND MY OTHER OFFSPRING .

Not how to avoid arriving at different when you want to. Not how to avoid arriving at different when you DIDNT want to. How to be ok with different, even comfortable with it and familiar with it and mushed up against it, regardless of what got you there. Because it's GONNA FREAKING HAPPEN. And. IT WILL DRAW ATTENTION. That's how emerging homosapiens developing language decided on the definitions to those antonyms. SAME: other cavemen don't look at you. DIFFERENT: other cavemen look at you. Attention is an accompaniment to different. It just is.

UNAWARE is what Sullivan was with his shirt example. Unaware is what I was when, at my 8th grade graduation ceremony when I was called to the stage to speak and I was dressed to the nines in a brand new royal blue form fitting dress that made me feel me and beautiful and wearing my first pair of short little heels, it was called to my attention that I was dragging 4 to 25 squares of toilet paper behind me, lead square stuck to the base of the high heel of my right shoe. If I had had the choice between no toilet paper trail and toilet paper trail on that day, I DEF woulda gone with no. But I arrived at different via unaware. And it was practice. (PS. That's about all I can scrounge up about that memory but I am guessing an additional detail might have been a flushed face... But no teasing, no meanness...I  moved through that experience unscathed...again, practice!)

Now I'm gonna give you an UNABLE example. I was having a conversation with my father in law about his childhood experience of bullying. He has talked of it in general terms before, but I now was pulling out specifics... When I asked what his antagonizers did, he said they mainly threw his books out the window or tripped him in the hallway... No physical brauls or fights, per say. When I asked him what he can recall was the onset of his unfortunate position in middle school as "the kid who gets picked on," he didn't pause. He remembers in gym class in Jr. High the start. At that time and place, apparently, athleticism for a boy was a convention. It was "same." So, in  gym class, the kids were tasked with cartwheels. and Ric couldn't pull out a single solitary cartwheel. The teasing began. Mastery of one's body -  the ability to run, jump, catch, and be coordinated -  for a boy in his era...well, it was everything. Ric's abilities in this area at this time were few, and so, well, he came to believe he was "few" in worth, too.

He WANTED to get those legs up. He WANTED to get the momentum to form that circular movement. He WANTED to land on his feet. He just couldn't. He was unable. He was unable to remain "same" and so he arrived at "different" kicking and screaming. Doesn't feel good for "unable" to drive you to "different." Just like the  vehicle of unaware. It doesn't feel good, that is, until it feels familiar.

So I'm done with hearing adults talk about their fear of kids getting made fun of. KIDS WILL NOT GET MADE FUN OF (ongoingly) IF SAID KIDS GET PRACTICE WITH THE DISCOMFORT OF DIFFERENT. Mean kids (or rather, kids who are acting mean because their hearts are either overly hardened or overly fragile) leave COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT alone. They leave that invincibility syrum  alone. They don't touch COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT  with a ten foot freaking pole. CUZ, for teasers of our society (young and old and all that is in between), it's cryptonite to their ambitions: to inflict,  then watch,  discomfort with discomfort.

So, here's the response to uninterested (or indifferent) in convention . This one's  easy:

"You don't like my ___ (hair, shoes, attitude, book, laugh, choice of snack, choice of shampoo, choice of tattoo).

Got it. I do."

Here the answer to unaware of convention :

"Holy shit! I just walked the length of that gym with a mile of toilet paper dragging behind me!" And then you hold up the strip like its a streamer and twirl it around 720 degree, but no more, because then you'd have to give your speech looking like a mummy.

Or

"Y'all, I SUCK at dressing. I don't even remember underwear much of the time. The fact that I even HAVE a shirt on is a gift to High plains elementary school. I'm just gonna leave it."  Or replace that last statement with, "I am glad you let me know. I'll change it back at lunch."

Here's the answer to unable to meet convention :

"I'm just gonna say it. Cartwheels. Aren't. My. Thing. I could practice till I'm purple in the face and mine wouldn't look even close to your beauties. But you oughta see me in math class. I can work it there."

So that's what I'm gonna focus on in my parenting: Teaching my kids how to gracefully encounter and mush up next to the disomfort of different, NO MATTER  HOW THEY EACH INEVITABLY ARRIVE THERE...  Press right up against it  and have  so much practice with it until it doesn't feel uncomfortable anymore...so that it holds no power over them.  I'm gonna redirect  all my time and my breath from  teaching them how to avoid the moving target of adolescent and teenage conventions to  role playing and rehearsing and conversating about and grinding in  this lesson of comfort with discomfort. SO that if/when they choose "same," it's because they truly want it, not because they are avoiding its opposite...

OR listening to their parent.







Thursday, August 11, 2016

Five Things I Learned the Hard Way This Summer

Five Things I Learned The Hard Way This Summer


1. The library is not free (for people like me).

There should be a sign on the front door reading, "WARNING: This establishment's services are free ONLY if you are responsible and organized and On Top of Life." I owe $33 and some change on books and [mainly] DVDs I cannot find. This is one situation where having a bigger family is helpful; I keep opening up children accounts to dodge fines that have accrued. Since I'm working in descending order, my goal is NOT to have the 1-yr-old blackballed from the public library before she can talk. Or read.

2. I wish I had never introduced hand sanitizer as a viable form of hand cleaning.

It all started as my lazy approach to keeping entering-from-the-outside-world filth controlled (after our whole family kept getting sickness after sickness last school year). To avoid a battle each time we came into the house, I bought a four hundred ounce pump of hand sanitizer and set it right on the inside of our garage door. But now... now that we spend our days around like.all.the.time, the kids try to pull hand-sanitizer trick on me to clean their chocolate-frosting-hands and their mud-caked-hands and their GOD HELP ME poop-spotted-hands (it happens). No no no... CHILDREN... you cannot shortcut on poop. You gotta immerse under water with foam soap and sing the damn alphabet all the way through. Maybe twice.

3. The dentist ain't half-bad.

I was dreading our annual (**this is NOT the recommended frequency**) dentist visit last week where I had loaded in all three of the teethed children's appointments, plus mine. I got all of them through their appointments with bribery reminders and without major incident, and then it came time for mine. Sweet Lord above! I am reclined. I have my eyes closed. I can't yell or reprimand my children, even if I wanted to due to mouth-wide-open position. I don't know where they are or what they are doing. My dental insurance includes receptionist oversight of minors, right? I told my dental hygienist that I have been playing my cards all wrong by avoiding the experience... Next summer I will schedule weekly appointments.

4. A solution to the laundry situation = swimwear.

I don't know about yours, but my kids cannot seem to master the "Can it be worn again or is it dirty?" discernment required to know what constitutes a toss to the hamper. I swear I've explained the rules... If it has no spots and does not smell, it can be worn again. If you have not come into contact with an infectious disease, it can be worn again. And least of all - if you've had it on your body for less than an hour, it can be worn again. With All Of The Water that comes with summer (sprinkler games, water balloon antics, squirt gun wars, pool trips), my kids are in and out of dry clothing faster than you can say LAUNDRY NIGHTMARE, each time without consideration of "can it be worn again or is it dirty." I JUST figured out the solution days away from the summer's end: skip clothes. They go straight from pajamas to swimsuits. And pretty much stay this way the remainder of the day. That is, until they come into contact with an infectious disease...

5. Reading programs motivate kids but moreso obsess them.

I want my kids to read during the summer. I want them to do it, just because. But those are not my kids. My kids are the ones who fixate on rewards. They are fixators. And obsessors. And collectors. Put before them a summer reading program which draws young people based on their need to be positively affirmed with collectables and trinkets...and we have a match made in hell. Because "unlocking" each of their ridiculous reading rewards is on them. But driving them to wherever they pick them up is on me. (Never mind additional time-sucks of educational Scavenger Hunts that lead to the cheap little plastic whatevers). If I had to do it all over again, and it is between digressing in their reading over the summer or going through the hell that is Summer Reading Programs, I might have chosen illiteracy.

P.S. School starts today, so remind me about these discoveries in 9 months, K?




Thursday, July 28, 2016

Invitation to My Dinner Party

I have learned, finally, that I do better when I pay attention to my heart. Not the emotional life of my figurative heart, although that's entirely true as well. I actually mean my Heart. The physical one in my chest. It beats faster sometimes, like all hearts do. But it has taken me a lifetime to sharpen my awareness surrounding my physical heart's increases in tempo.

My heart has been a freaking yo-yo for the past week. I've calmed it, then recalmed it... Then read facebook. Then  calmed it. Then watched the news, then clicked on links connecting me to articles. Then re-calmed it. Then re-calmed it again. Then, again.

And I sure as heck know better than to write when it's going gangbusters in there. My experience of a fastly beating heart is lower functioning reasoning skills.

It's finally even.

So here I go.

I think pontificating about sensitive topics in the absence of sharing personal experience with the charged topic is like shoving a plate of food in someone's face instead of inviting the individual to your home for dinner. It's an intrusive, abbreviated version of what could have been a meaningful experience. We are good at not-framing...and getting better. We post and tweet and like and blast and shove all sorts of dinner (often with fastly beating hearts) into recipients' faces, whether hunger is involved or not, without them having the slightest clue about what got us there. Of course, they return the favor with an equally large plate of food. As much as we care not to admit it - particularly when others arrive at places different than where we are standing - I would argue that folks come to conclusions for reasons that would resonate with anyone put in their shoes. Their history, their stories, their relationships, their family of origin, their city of origin, their baggage. Brene Brown is quoted saying, "Maybe stories are just data with a soul." If we separate the soulful data attached to our personal life stories from our talking points, we lose. It takes time, but I'm a believer in STARTING with the story.

I'm starting with my own. And it's going to be a dang long dinner party. Find a comfy chair.

The events in our country's post-Independence-Day-week meant a lot of soul searching for me (in-between fastly-beating-heart episodes), and I needed to go on a wild goose chase for both my deeper, difficult-to-retrieve and right-on-the-surface memories in order to trace the dusty footprints leading me to my beliefs about race in this country now.


NOTE 1: I feel very, very confident that I screwed this up. I am not a real writer or researcher. I have not read one academic book on Race In America. I'm just me. Little ole me. I feel certain that I made at least one inference that was unfair and formed at least one conclusion based on faulty connections and made at least one blanket statement based on lazy generalizations. At best (and what I'll hope for), this will come off as dumb and at worst, potentially offensive and insulting. Please forgive me ahead of time. Whatever this writing experience lacks in smartness, it makes up for in honesty. Focus on that. Honesty. Of the author. Not her stupidity.

NOTE 2: I am not expecting this to change the world. Telling this story to myself is, as it turns out, what mattered the most. So, I wrote it for me. I'm just inviting you along if you choose.

NOTE 3: Memories are crazy things, in that they are often all wrong. Or, at the least, not reliably accurate. I suppose my whole point in encouraging "the telling of the story" is to demonstrate how we all come to the place we are in because of our life-acquired perspectives. Memories are not short of those, either. I haven't filtered my memories through any sieves but the sieve of me. Sorry if you were there, and I got it wrong.

NOTE 4: The statistics about population and demographics almost all came from susburbanstats.org, so as to keep the numbers comparable. When a suburb was too small to be noted on that site, I turned to Wikipedia. I only included four race groups (White, Black, Latino, and Asian), only because those were the most prominent of all represented.

NOTE 5: I began this entry the week of July 12th, thinking I'd hammer out a thoughtful account in one night. When that night turned into the next morning (Sweet Jesus, was that day of parenting tough) and I hadn't scratched the surface, it became clear to me this was a long-term project. It has taken a few weeks, pecking away, to get to publishing.

The Elementary Years

Raised in Louisville, KY.
Population: 597,337  Race breakdown:W(hite): 70%  B(lack): 22%  L(atino): 4% A(sian): 2%

FIRST GRADE:
I went to elementary school with a lot of black kiddos, a few black teachers, and one black principal. Mrs. Hodge-Trice, my 1st grade teacher, was my favorite teacher of all time. She was black. But I remember her most because at the end of each grading period she would buy a slew of toys and place them out on a table and, based on our work ethic in math activities, we were allowed to go select one. What kid doesn't like toys? Truly, human children are shallow creatures.

My principle, Mrs. Johnson, had the longest, most glamorously long legs and wore her hair in a highly-perched bun nearly every day. If I'm being honest, I thought Mrs. Johnson was the most beautiful woman I'd ever known up to that point.

I tell these stories because they said to me, while still color-blind, "Mrs. Hodge-Trice sure is nice. She likes me. I like her. She buys toys." and "Mrs. Johnson is who I want to be... she is smart, happy, and tall." (P.S. When I was in kindergarten, a girl on the bus said that I ought to check to find out if I was a midget... I mention this, because I have always been hopelessly short-legged and in elementary school particularly pip-squeak-like. Tall women made me salivate.). So, there really was no valuable take-away at the time outside of toys and height. But I do think visiting Mrs. Hodge-Trice every few years in her classroom all the way until she retired (The last time I returned with a fellow student, Rachel Jacobs, when we were young adults) sure was cool. And I think observing a black-AND-woman in a position of leadership as a child (principal may have well = God) had to have gone a long way. They were both ladies I admired and respected. And they are both black. That's not novel or all that unique. But it's a very special part of my story.


FOURTH GRADE:
Hillary Jackson was one of my buddies at Chenoweth Elementary School. Maybe I was an idiot, but I don't think I did the best-friend-thing in elementary school. I had lots of girl pals. And Hillary was One Of My Girlfriends. Hillary is black. Things were honky dory until I remember that at recess one day during whatever-game-it-is-that-3rd-graders-play, I must have somehow left her out. Did I not tag her for re-entry into a freeze tag game? Not invite her to do clapping games? Not pick her for my kickball team? Or maybe a group of us kept her "it" too long without offering to switch out? I didn't know what I did then, and I do not know now. But Hillary knew. And she told me about it. Her words were something like, "You're going to be like that... I see," and stormed off. You have to know that I didn't do Be Like That. If I hung my hat on anything as a young tike, it was least-likely-to-get-into-trouble-or-cause-a-rift. I was the essence of innocence, compliance, and non-conflict. Basically, I was a weenie. And so, I was dumb-founded by this. The next day was science fair day and my stand-up presentation board was right next to Hillary's. So I approached her about her earlier words, wanting to understand. "You know what I'm talking about," she responded. I SWEAR I DID NOT KNOW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT. What I do know is that although we remained friendly with one another for several more years, Hillary and I split up on that day. Something inexplicable was between us. And I let it happen, because I didn't know what else to do. I'm pretty sure I processed this out with my parents, because it bamboozled me so. I have NO CLUE what they said. None. But I, to this day, have a sad spot in my heart for having lost Hillary. And for her having lost me. It took a few years for me to reflect on this life event with any degree of clarity. But at some point I concluded that Hillary was noticing something that I had the priviledge not to
notice. She was noticing that we 4th graders were slowly ceasing to be colorblind. Perhaps her wordlessness surrounding it reflected that she hadn't quite put all of her observational pieces together yet either. But it was clear that she FELT it.

I tell this story, because it said to me, "Black kids notice stuff white kids don't." Even as I still assert
that Hillary's beef with me that day was most certainly something done unknowingly on my part, it still matters. It STILL matters. It still deserved examination. And discussion. I only wish there had been an opening to do so.