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Attempted fortifications

My consolation in knowing that my child is struggling, a lot and in a way I’m not sure how to help with, is that he has us, a reasonable stable family, and we love him and try our best to help him work through his stuff. Not every kid has that, so how indeed can they make it through those days when they hate school and feel like they have no real friends, and forget to do their homework, and can’t take it any more?  The stress is not only from everyday school stuff, like being surrounded by 90% immature kids such as yourself who aren’t thinking about kindness and courtesy and reaching out, but mostly the moment, and posturing and drama and survival. And knowing you’re different, your friends are different, and wondering how to fit in, and whether you want to anyway. And being the youngest at home and subject to a good deal of self improvement advice and teasing there too, and parents who are increasingly busy with work and all.

Also there’s this: trying to process all that “helpful” anti-bullying information such as, “Mom, did you know that there was a girl who was bullied so badly, she killed herself? And, sometimes I feel that way, and if things don’t get better, I…” And pretty soon he’s identifying with someone’s suicidal thoughts, thank you very much, school counselors. Whose idea was that, that every kid should hear that story? Now every day after school it’s me and my son talking over what he’s going through–nothing tremendous from what I can tell, but he’s taking every teasing, every innuendo, every deficiency of love and affirmation, as, maybe like what that girl experienced, which was actually too awful to mention to the sixth graders, thank heaven, but so he doesn’t realize that this is more about rolling with the punches. Right?

Other days he identifies with the boy who was bullied all through school and then when he became hiring manager at some important firm, in comes the bully to interview for a job, and it’s time for consequences, buddy! Those days are better. But it’s a real battle now to walk with my son through these feelings, and try to remind him that he’s strong, that he can handle this, that, yeah, sometimes people are jerks, but we’re all capable of being mean, or at least not as nice as we could be, but that’s just life. No, we realize that the counselor is not the sort of person one would want to talk to about that, but is there a way to tell someone you think would have the wisdom to keep an eye out? If not, just concentrate on learning, and keep your eyes peeled for someone else that needs your kindness. And be patient–people mature, and things get better.

And I pray that he’ll remember how much he’s loved, and discover each day those good deeds that the Father is providing for him to do, and be a blessing out there in the world. Because Mom is committed to working now, and can’t quit to homeschool you through this. I ask the siblings to pitch in with the support of friendship, and redouble my efforts to fill his love account to overflowing. And don’t you ever talk about suicide, boy, I want to say, because it makes me mad! Mad at people who aren’t loving, mad at people who are good intentioned but thoughtless, mad with grief. And I even tell him, I even say, the meanest person of all is the one who takes himself away from the people who love him. Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, but there it is, and by God I hope it doesn’t do any harm.

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family

 

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Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

Emerging from the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, for a while tripping and slogging along a rocky, muddy road, toward oneness in the end

“While one is yet only in love, the real person lies covered with the rose leaves of a thousand sleepy-eyed dreams, and through them come to the dreamer but the barest hints of the real person. A thousand fancies fly out, approach and cross, but never meet. The man and the woman are pleased, not with each other, but each with the fancied other. The merest common likings are taken for signs of a wonderful sympathy, of a radical unity. But though at a hundred points their souls seem to touch, their contact points are the merest brushings, as of insect antennae. The real man, the real woman, is all the time asleep under the rose leaves. Happy is the rare fate of the true . . . to wake and come forth and meet in the majesty of the truth, in the image of God, in their very being, in the power of that love which alone is being! They love, not this and that about each other, but each the very other. Where such love is, let the differences of taste, the unfitness of temperament, be what they may, the two must by and by be thoroughly one.”  – George MacDonald

I think it was when he was about the age I am now that my father was propositioned by a woman at a writer’s conference. Just came to his door, and offered to stay, he said. They had talked, perhaps had known one another in other from writing circles, I don’t remember. He managed to turn her away, and so told his wife and even his grown daughter the tale. It made me feel strange. Yes, I knew those were years of tension and conflict between him and Mom, but I didn’t like to hear about other women being in the picture. But I think he wanted us to know that his faithfulness was a commitment, a choice not based on whether one feels one’s needs are being met in marriage. It was a kind of dying to self that he hoped would bear fruit. And I believe it has, and will. It gave me a sense of security in the possibilities of covenant love, and a perseverance in difficult times that would have had to create out of pure conviction (and regard for the children) if I didn’t have it by example.

My Dad would win admirers. He is good to talk to, thoughtful, intelligent, able to help a person figure out what they want to say, and create a space of mutual learning and discovery. Bearded, fit, distinguished in an approachable way, he is not a flirt as such, does not exude male virility, but is very attractive to women longing to be listened to, respected, understood. And perhaps being a family man made him feel even safer to talk to. So they would respond, and he had to learn to deal with that. As well as the attraction he felt to those who seemed easier to be with than my mother at the time, less familiar, more mysterious.

Mom told me after the fact that he was partly in love with an artist friend for several years. My father and I paid her and her husband a social call once, and I liked her too. She found out I enjoyed sewing, and gave me a book about how to make soft toys, one I used many times and still own. Was it her of whom my father spent weeks painting a portrait? I can’t remember. An exorcism, my mother said. During that stage he listened to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen a lot, maybe to explore some similar longings and the angst that accompanies that kind of poetic but desire-driven lifestyle.

Dad told me something he’s learned from seeing others go from relationship to relationship, that they always came to the same issues, the same relational dysfunctions in themselves, and would mistakenly try to solve them by starting fresh. This was part of my education about the nature of marriage, as one of the means God provides for us to get past get past ourselves and break through to something beautiful and until then mysterious.

What about my mother? I have tended to think of her as not having the opportunity to be tempted to be unfaithful, and it is true that the life of a homemaker did protect one from certain relational opportunities. She also lost her youthful figure in her childbearing years; after giving birth to and rearing seven children, she never really got it back. But I know no one is immune to unfaithfulness, at least in thought. There were signals–“crushes” she would confess to with a grin, a certain way she would speak of a fellow she admired, someone in my parents circle of friends or connections from our lives. She gave herself license to speak of these men even to us, who had no idea it had any real substance. And when some time in the late ’70s we finally got a television, she enjoyed the escape into the romances of the soaps, against her better judgment and the way she had helped bring us up. She longed for romance, closeness, attention, and love.

I watched my parents for signs that they loved each other, was always relieved when I saw signs of affection, reconciliation, companionship, mutual help. I could also see it was a lot of work figuring out how to love and accept another person so local, so specific, so imperfect, and to let go of the expectation that they meet all one’s needs. Even the sight of them doing dishes together would foster an inner sigh of relief for me. I saw one and then the other trying new ways to show love, and persist at it when the other would test it for sincerity, as people will. They were making their way to a new stage, a rebuilding of the fortress of love in stronger stuff. So they made it past the empty nest, I hope past the “Do you love me?” “I suppose I do” stage. But even that can be called an accomplishment these days.

I’m thinking of all this as I move into my upper 40’s. Thinking of it, hoping to make some use of the observations I’ve made, hoping my interpretations are good and will be useful as my husband and I press on, are tested and tried by difficulties and temptations, and purpose to grow less self-centered, more loving, more accepting, more mature. We’ve made breakthroughs throughout the years, and by God, we’ll make some more before we’re done.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Ethics, Personal Growth, Relationships

 

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A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

Am I missing a strategic time to get back into a paid career path, by taking yet another year at home with my children? I’m back at home full time this year, with one son who is learning at home. My other three went back this year–one to community college (in Running Start, so technically he’s still in high school), one in regular high school, and one in middle school.

I enjoyed the work substitute teaching last year–it was a confirmation for me that I do want to keep working with teen people and that I have something to offer, if I can keep it alive. I keep coming back to that drive–to help kids busting into that abstract thinking, individuating stage figure out who they are as learners, knowers, feelers, doers, communicators. It’s a charge just to be with them–they’re so interesting, so varied, and so important to this world–not just in the future, but now. And they need all the help they can get as they develop their ethical principles, ’cause without ethics, how can they keep from adding to the mess this world is in, let alone be useful, or genuine leaders and heroes of all kinds? Over and over, when I read and hear of corruption and dishonesty in our leaders, and bovine acceptance in the workers under them, I get fired up about it–ethics! Ethics! And I mutter under my breath with Uncle Digory, “I wonder what they do they teach them in these schools.” And at home. Fresh-faced young people, some of whom are not so fortified against the temptation to incorporate cheating, meanness, theft, bigotry, conformity, laziness, exploitation, tyranny, arrogance, … into their personal repertories in some effort to succeed, rebel, or make a mockery of the best intentions of educators. So we work at that, questioning, encouraging, setting examples before them of greatness, and ask that question: Who do you intend to become? Not just what.

I still have the appropriate teaching license, and still feel young enough, though I would need to update my skills and learn a new groove–regular schedule, call in a sub when I’m sick, rules, paperwork, accountability to lots more folks. Coursework in the new technology, latest educational research, current cultural and psychological considerations. An internship or two would be great, and I need to make contacts in my home district, which was closed to new substitutes for several years so I had to commute.

But I am just not done with being a stay-at-home mom yet. Nor could I imagine having enough left over after teaching all day to keep up with home management and staying connected with my kids. Even with three in school full time, I’m amazed at how much of a challenge it still is get the house clean (they all still make messes, and have hardly any time now to pitch in), the pantry stocked and a bit of yard work done, organize bills, accounts, inputs and outputs, supply clothing, school supplies, and so on. And of course there are the roles of homework helper, proofreader, sounding board/consultant, after school driver, and planning assistant. I don’t do near the job I’d like to, though I’m making progress, and the kids are more independent, which counts for a lot. The older ones actually liked to hear about my substituting experiences, and were tickled to see me so energized.

I’ll take it a year at a time. My husband is currently shouldering the money burden so I can be at home more, and homeschool our youngest boy. We weren’t in a financial position to do that for several years, so it’s a privilege now. I feel very useful in my current position, for the housework and logistics even, but more for the homework help, support, just being there, having enough physical and mental energy to field concerns and questions my children bring to me, the ways I can try to fortify each young person in his or her individuality, sense of responsibility, commitment to becoming equipped to use their skills, knowledge, gifts to be a blessing. I get to ask them in various ways who they want to be, remind them they’re practicing with the folks at home who they’ll become. Not so pretty sometimes, and I’m not so proud of my own example sometimes.

On occasion I’ve try\ied to get out there, volunteer a bit, go to a few meetings, but when it comes down to adding more responsibilities, I have had to back off. I don’t want to hear myself turning a kid down for homework help, a tea date or invitation to walk the dogs together because I have to do a write-up or make a poster, head out for an event or make a bunch of phone calls. All I can manage is a few late nights to myself blogging, to see if I have anything to say, and learn to say it better.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Parenting & Family, Personal Growth

 

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I really don’t know how this came out, but I guess it had to. Is it safe with you?

I have bought the rights to this table and the generic cheer of the barista, for this hour. Weathered and sanded, golden wood table in round, metal-framed windows twice my height face an intersection, drive-thru between. Can’t concentrate on a topic–achievement testing for homeschoolers? Freud’s reality principle? Maybe just a photo gallery post or recipe? Then I am pulled into the music: “Hold me still; bury my heart” I see colors, cars moving, words: “UNITED Furniture Warehouse. BevMo! Big 5 Sporting Goods. Weight Watchers.” Cars on the four-lane in front–vans and mini-SUVs and sedans, earth tones and blue. The boat being pulled toward the launch. The maples and boxwoods lining the drive-thru and along the Wal-Mart parking lot burst with life and still free of wind-blown garbage. Guitar strumming minor chords, “Ohhh…” This one is bow on strings, and I my heart responds at the same time to caffeine, and the entrance into the resounding percussion, full riff of three cords and base line that follows the quiet entry into universal human themes. One of those sure-fire musical formulas for emotional engagement …Can’t…get…taken …in. Sounds like REM, so irresistible. Mental note to look for more music, try to learn some and call up my always-ready-to-jam neighbor friend.

I am two people, if not more. One, she steps back and observes people, society, ideas, and herself–identifying principles, drawing what conclusions she may. The student of life, the note-taker, philosopher, organizer. Filing away notebooks and journals, tagging photos, balancing bottom lines. Out in public, she hopes to drift around anonymously, not see anyone she knows. If she does, perhaps she’ll just make a quiet clicking noise to herself, and pretend not to notice them. As long as she has something to write or read, she’s happy to be alone at her table. Wanting to record, understand, get to the bottom of things and explain. Ideas and truth are the beautiful things. Not tidy conclusions and clear doctrines–wasn’t brought up that way. Deep and insightful things, articulate, intelligent, occasionally witty. At home she gets buried in to do lists and attempts to be a better housekeeper and homeschool organizer, translate ideas into practice. She is easy for me to identify–it’s done by objective observation.

The other one, she’s not so easy to describe–her aura flows along under it all, occasionally comes up dancing, laughing so much she cries, other times keening, or throwing things. Feels for people, falls for people, tired of living behind a veil, ready to brave honesty from others. Lately it seems like she needs more air to breathe, more music for sure. She’s drawn toward morning light, feels fulfilled after working the mixing bowl, has her hands in the soil, stops for bird song, poetry. All the beauty and pain she has ever experienced is still there, resonates in poetry and music, but how is it that so far, no one in her present world really knows her? Fact is, I don’t like her to be known–too embarrassing. But something about her is me, and maybe before I’m much nearer fifty, all the ugly beauty will have to show.

One evening in my twenties I waded into the alfalfa field beside my parents house. Almost dark, clouds boiled up from the earth and now rolling along with the wind currents from the bay. Playing the alfalfa like a piano keyboard on a tilt-a-whirl. Maybe I went there hurt or distraught–I don’t remember, but there was this sense of it not being fair that I couldn’t share the sensations with anyone, as if it was a concert, a great movie or a cheesecake. I could try, like my dad, painter, writer, sharing across a void, but sometimes distant from those nearby. Or I could, like Mom, call, “Come see!” and hope someone really would–come run around, arms up in the wind, and share, really share it all. The hard part was, and is, would anyone see, be able to overlap that sphere of understanding?

Once I started laughing at some funny human incident–I was so tickled I started to gasp, then without warning I burst into tears. Another time I was feeling pain, not even at the bottom of it yet, and I decided, just like that, all done, and swallowed my tears back down. There’s that shift, back and forth, and the gears grind too much, really. That’s all I know for now. So, bring on more music.

 

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And then there was light, but all I saw… men, as trees, walking

Family–to be face to face with people all day long, for most of our lives. Beautiful, awful human beings that we are, all together in a covenanted unit. Whatever that looks like for each one of us, it definitely heats up the growth and learning. Can’t help but face up to all those sins of error and omission the liturgy brings up for us to confess. No, that’s not the right phrase-that’s a liability insurance expression. But it’ll do, basically the same as “what we’ve done and left undone.” Yeah, errors and omissions. But the insurance in this realm is grace, from God, and from family and other folk. Thank God for that.

Back when we were newlyweds, we hosted a church home group with some other young folks–a couple and five singles. Two marriages came out of that community. Including Linda and Bob. “What? Oh, we’re just friends! Me and Bob? Ha ha ha!” Mark was the one who asked, saw it before I did. They were in their early thirties, a few months into marriage, when Linda shared up front how she was learning so much, had realized how selfish she really was. After a year or so, they conceived a daughter, and then Bob, a truck driver, was crushed when a truck rolled on him. Before he even met his little girl. Linda, grieving, was soon sharing again of God’s mercy. Severe mercy, C.S. Lewis would say.

I’ve never suffered so. Is that because the Divine Creator has a different kind of learning process for me? One with just the right balance of bringing me near my limits, and letting me get the point of the exercise? More light, please, but how about not all at once, like Linda had. Light shone in the darkness for her, and the darkness did not put it out.

 

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Book Notes: The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldman (1985)

Notes gleaned from the book, with [my comments]

The Challenge of Anger:

Anger is a signal (worth listening to) that something is not right: injustice, failure to address an important issue, compromising too much of our self… [inability to process or react to an experience in a better way… & maybe frustration and/or shame at knowing this about ourselves].

Women are taught that it is unfeminine to express anger, so we (& others) fear it. It may bring others’ disapproval; it signals the necessity for change [in situation and/or how we think about or handle it], which is scary.

“Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is…Anger is something we feel…It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention. We all have a right to everything we feel.” (pp. 3-4)

Good questions:

  • What am I really angry about? (clarity)
  • What is the problem, and whose problem is it? Who is responsible for what?
  • How can I express my anger in a way that won’t leave me feeling…[ashamed]…and/or powerless?
  • How can I communicate about the issue without attacking or becoming defensive?
  • If getting angry isn’t working for me, what can I do differently?

Venting anger does not solve a problem, and may rigidify the problem & relational patterns/rules.

We must use anger to clarify and change our own behavior, and resist the desire to force someone else to change.

Submitting to unfair circumstances inevitably brings feelings of depression, low self-esteem, self-betrayal, and even self-hatred. [Not so if a higher purpose is chosen for submitting, a spiritual or historical purpose “over the head” of the perpetrator.]

“Nice lady”:

  • stays silent, becomes tearful, self-critical, “hurt”; avoids open conflict lest she make anyone uncomfortable & expose differences
  • cultivates guilt and self-doubt to blot out feelings of anger
  • rewarded by society, but high personal cost

“The amount of creative, intellectual, and sexual energy that is trapped by this need to repress anger and remain unaware of its source is simply incalculable.” (p. 8)

“Bitch”:

  • vents anger openly, but ineffectively, reassuring others that she is out of control and doesn’t need to be taken seriously
  • the more infuriated, the more calm others may become [overfunctioning/underfunctioning]
  • tries to change the other person [never a very viable option]

Ineffective styles of managing anger:

  • silent submission
  • ineffective fighting and blaming
  • emotional distancing

Clarity:

  • What about this situation makes me angry?
  • What’s the real issue [for me]?
  • What do I think and feel?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Who’s responsible for what?
  • What, specifically, do I want to change [that I can change]?
  • What are the things I will and will not do?

[and let’s not forget to help the other person(s) ask & answer these questions]

Pseudo-issues hide the real issue, which is more complicated and difficult to address. There may be triangles with a third person, or the real issue may be with someone else (who am I really angry with?).

Use communication skills to maximize the chance of being heard and that conflicts and differences will be negotiated.

Observe and interrupt non-productive patterns: calm down and stand back a bit to sort out the part we play in a problem (response-ability, not blame), so we can change our steps in the dance.

Deal with countermoves (pressure to change back, even to negative but familiar patterns) from within and from the others involved, who have investments in the old ways of relating. This brings strong anxiety, defensiveness of attempts to disqualify what is being said. We choose to do things differently as others choose their own way (old or new).

Identify de-selfing: When too much of one’s self (including one’s values, wants, beliefs, and ambitions) is “negotiable” under pressures from the relationship.

Underfunctioning: a form of de-selfing (common to women) in which one accepts the role of the weak, vulnerable, dependent, or otherwise dysfunctional partner. This allows the partner to deny these qualities in himself and direct most of his emotional energy toward reacting to the spouse’s problem, rather than identifying or sharing his own.

Fighting and blaming vs. assertive claiming:

  • We do not have the power to make others see things our way and affirm our desires, plans, and opinions.
  • We do have the power to choose what we will do, and what risks we will or will not take to act on these desires, plans, and opinions.

“Right or wrong, good or bad, I need to make this choice for myself” is appropriate at times. We may fear the other’s reaction, but it’s their choice how they react and we can trust them to be mature about it. [And we can communicate our choice in a way that maximizes the possibility for a mature reaction, based on our insight into that person.]

At times the choice is between doing something that is likely to upset the other, and doing something that forces us to struggle with our own upset to avoid upsetting the other.

“Fighting and blaming is sometimes a way both to protest and to protect the status quo when we are not quite ready to make a move in one direction or another.” (p. 33)

Countermoves

Bowen (family systems theory): In all families there is a powerful opposition to one member defining a more independent self. [I don’t think that’s so in a very healthy family, or at least it might be weaker or confined to the least mature members of the family.]

Opposition to change goes in 3 steps:

  1. “You are wrong” with volumes of reasons.
  2. “Change back and we will accept you again.”
  3. “If you don’t change back, these are the consequences,” which are then listed.

[4. Punishment (verbal, passive, aggressive, etc.)]

Countermoves are an expression of anxiety, as well as closeness and attachment.

Our job is to keep clear about our own position in the face of countermoves–not to prevent them from happening or tell the other person they should not be reacting that way.

Internal resistance to change:

  • fear of going into unknown territory, especially if we have not seen many examples of balanced relationships (generational patterns)
  • surfacing of other unresolved issues, e.g. about our family of origin

[In all this it seems good to encourage the other person who’s feeling anxious at possible change by appealing to their higher motives–they, after all, surely desire growth and maturity in the relationship, and would be glad to allow positive change in the one they love. Surely they do not want to knowingly contribute to your painful, destructive de-selfing and resentment. “It will be worth the temporary turmoil in the relationship, dear–you’ll see!”

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Writers & Books

 

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