Monday, September 27, 2010

Break in the Story

When children are small, and parenting encompasses most of life, we share anecdotes about our children.

The good ones:

"Joey took his first steps today!"

"Maggie wrote her name in cursive!"

And the bad ones:

"Bobby pooped his diaper and smeared it all over the walls!"

"Jane cussed out the lady at the post office!"

We smile and nod, sharing all of these triumphs and horrors as parents. Much of our conversation and validation centers around knowing that our child is "normal", and that there is hope for them and for us. We care nothing, really, for their privacy, because we feel like we are not talking about their lives, but ours. They are an extension of us, they are our lives. Or, at least, the work of our lives.

And then something weird happens when they become teenagers. Suddenly, we can't share all of their doings and goings-on. Somehow we have handed over to them their lives and we are just in this strange peripheral orbit around them, desperately trying to keep them in balance, or from colliding into everyone else in the system. Now, the events of their lives are theirs to tell, not ours. Now we embarrass them, or we violate their privacy. We interfere.

Which sort of stinks, because now? Now the stories get really good. And more than ever, some validation would be great.

Oh, man. How come all my best material is off-limits?

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Last night I had a dream.

I was in a room full of people I knew and I was standing up front giving an object lesson. I held in my hand a Zero food bar. Now, I don't know if this product even exists. The salespitch of a Zero food bar was that it had zero calories, and yet it was "food". I called someone up to the front for a demonstration. I asked her to quack like a duck and waddle like a duck, which she did. Clearly, she was for our intents and purposes, easily identifiable as a duck. Then I "took away" her quack and waddle and asked her to just stand there. Now did she seem like a duck? The point that I was making in my dream was that food is supposed to nourish us, give us energy. Calories are energy. If we take the calories away, then how will our bodies recognize what we put into them as food?

When I woke up from the dream, I clearly knew in my heart that that was not the point of my dream.

I've had a rough time of life lately. I feel like I just don't get anything right, and then to make things worse, the things I get wrong I feel like I'm not allowed to talk about. That is an incredibly frustrating position to be in, especially when one of my primary coping mechanisms is writing. So instead, I shrink up and criticize myself for this or that, try to eliminate this part of my personality and that part, try to not be this way or that way. Say different, act different, be different---anything other than what I am, and that just leaves me feeling even lonelier, even more confused. Like a shell, an empty shell.

With all of me gone, I feel like a zero. Unrecognizable even to myself. And yet, like calories, I'm still trying to figure out if I'm needed, purposeful, nourishing, or if I'm just misunderstood and condemned.

So, I think that was the point.

Otherwise, that's kind of a weird dream, don'tcha think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trash the Demons

I've got 'em.

I talk about it all the time, it seems, on this blog. (sorry.)

It's not really a perfectionist demon--though some would argue with that. I don't know, maybe it is. It's more like a "should" demon.

I spend much time every day thinking of things I should be doing, and am not, and feeling guilt over it. I also spend time each day thinking of things I should have done, and feeling guilt over it. This is not right. I KNOW THAT. But I am ensnared by the demon!

Like right now, for instance. I am thinking about how I should be exercising--since the other thing I'm always thinking about, whenever I'm not thinking about what I should be doing or should have done--is how fat and out of shape I feel. And you got it, I'm feeling guilt.

Okay, now since I just wrote that, I'm thinking about how I should not have eaten that bowl of ice cream at 10pm last night. (But it was Moose Tracks, and I couldn't help it!) And now I feel (a little fatter) and guilty.

Now, I'm thinking that I should go engage my four-year-old in some kind of creative play instead of studying incessantly (and barely keeping up) and blogging while he is watching a cartoon. And I feel guilty.

It never ends. I think about what I should be doing for my children, what I shouldn't have said to my children, what I should be doing to study better, what I should be doing to increase my testimony, what I should be doing to clean my house, what I should be doing to serve more and not be so selfish . . .

But you want to know what put it over the edge? This is the moment I realized that I truly have a problem, a categorical demon of the most demonizing kind:

Yesterday as I was working in the kitchen (because the demon had been sleeping or otherwise distracted and I actually did a whole bunch of things that I should have been doing! Cooked a great new dinner, planned a creative Family Home Evening lesson, baked yummy chocolate treats for afterwards . . .) I was about to toss some onion skins into the trash, when the demon showed up with a vengeance.

"You should put those in the compost bin," he snarled in my ear.

But I didn't want to walk outside, even though it was maybe 20 steps there and back. And my compost bowl was being washed. So, I brushed them into the trashcan with (yes! I know!) a small bit of guilt.

Then, after opening a can, I looked down to see that the recycling bag I usually keep next to the trashcan was gone, and I was feeling a little too lazy to go get it, so I sat it on the counter and stared at it. And the demon said, "You should recycle that! What kind of responsible citizen are you?" It was evil, I tell you.

I realized that I have so many goals, so many expectations, that they even include my trash! I have this stupid goal to see how much compost I can accumulate each week because it feels so unwasteful and self-reliant, and I have a goal to see how full I can make the recycling can and how empty I can make the trash can! Do you see the madness? I know it's a problem when even my garbage has to be perfect, and I'm feeling guilty if it's not!

I couldn't take it. I even started to laugh. I am crazy! I am twisted!

I admit to you here, that in an act of self-preservation, (sorry, Mother Earth) I brushed that can from the counter into the trash can.

And here I am the next day. Still feeling a tiny bit guilty. I wonder if I should fish it out?

Save me!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Practice Season

When I wake up on Sunday mornings, I usually insert a General Conference DVD to listen to while I shower and dress in my room. I want to start the day out with something to uplift me, focus my thoughts away from bacteria and protozoa, and the Constitution, and Erik Erikson . . . and onto loftier things, things of greater significance, though they sometimes float in the background only of my mind.

This morning's talk was by M. Russell Ballard, I believe--I never actually saw the screen, only heard his voice--and it was about the power of mothers in the lives of their daughters. I found this ironic, since the only power I feel like I've had in my daughter's life this past week is the kind that has her miffed at me and feeling unjustly heaped upon with consequences. He made the point that women and mothers have an influence in this world that cannot be rivaled, and because of that, Satan works very hard to undermine the value and worth of women. The world, under his influence, sends forth the message that women are to be objectified and lusted after. Elder Ballard emphasized that it is mothers and women who have the power to counter that influence and raise daughters who know who they are and for what purpose they were created.


I sat in Sacrament meeting with my restless brood. I was proud of myself for not making a big deal about the fact that one son had worn his black Vans instead of his black dress shoes, instead glad that he was there, sitting beside me. Cell phones had somehow made their way to church, and I was keeping a careful sly eye out for their usage. Conor was on my lap, off my lap. Next to me, down the row. On my lap, off my lap. Facing forward, making the people behind us laugh. During the next "on my lap" phase, I happened to glance over at a bench where an elderly couple sat, quietly reading their scriptures.

No distractions. Just quiet pondering. Imagine!

I did. With arms full of Conor, and eyes that never go off duty, I thought to myself, "Wow. Someday I will be able to sit quietly in church and have these amazing spiritual experiences each week!"

But then, just to let me know that I still qualify for spiritual experiences, I felt the whisper, "Yes, this is their season to read, this is your season to practice."

They are two different seasons, to be sure. I am in school right now, reading and reading and reading in preparation to become a nurse. But please don't leave me to care for any patients! I haven't practiced any of that yet. Similarly, I know the feeling of having time and peace to read and study and feel all of the stirrings of what I need to do. Putting them into practice is something entirely different.

That's what I'm in now. Practice season.

Through my mothering, I get to practice all of the commandments, virtues, and examples espoused in the scriptures. Forgive more, have more compassion, speak a little more softly, repent more often, teach better. Love better.

Suddenly, with that realization from the Spirit, I saw how far I have to go, and how much I need this season in my life. I need the practice! And what better way to practice than to have my children around me. I no longer envied the elderly couple quietly reading.

I'll take the practice. All I can get.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kiss it Goodbye

I remember what it felt like to be kissed for the first time. The anticipation alone is indelibly imprinted in my mind, but the softness, the warmth, that connection of his lips to mine? It was on a Halloween, and he had snuck over to my house in the dark of late evening, where I met him on the back porch. I knew my parents would not approve, and he hadn't done anything in particular to deserve that kiss (a well-planned date, a flower, a song), and yet even in the scandal of it all, it was all I wanted. I was fifteen and a half and a junior in high school.

That first kiss set in motion a series of way, way too many subsequent kisses. Giving them away like they were nothing of value, except that they gave me some illusion of having some value myself.

Let me tell you something. Remembering that experience as well as I do, how it felt to be a teenager, the first stirrings of high-school love, the longings of my heart and a growing-up body does nothing to make it even an inkling easier to deal with my own children going through those experiences. When I learn of sneaking around and kisses? Well, I want to lock down the world, ground them all, and curl up in a ball and cry at the loss of their innocence and my own foolishness all at the same time. It feels like a betrayal in a way, but I'm not even fully sure how. (Don't ask Freud.)

Why, oh, why can't they just take my word for things and not have to try everything out for themselves? Because I've told them to save, save, save their kisses! I hate to see them chipping away at their hearts, giving pieces away that they can never get back.

I can feel the secrets climbing the walls of the house, like a fog. If only they really could understand the omniscience of a mother's intuition. (Then again, maybe it's good if they don't.)

Somebody's heart is bursting with the newness of an experience they'll remember forever today, I just know it.

Mine is broken and sad at the loss of something that will never be the same.

Karma sucks.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sing Me an A

So, I sang the National Anthem in front of my entire Political Science class today.

That's right, folks. Did I intend to do that? No. Did I hope to find some way to do that when I left the house this morning? Not on your life. But somehow, at 8:40 in the morning (talk about the dawn's early light!) there I was, at the front of the room filled with sixty-some-odd very ethnic students who all are citizens of this country and who all have gone to school in this country, singing the National Anthem. And why was I performing in this way, you ask? Why? Well, I'll tell you.

Because no one else knew it. The National Anthem! "Oh, say, can you see!" and all that jazz!

It happened in a blur. The professor walked in, intense from the get-go. He's almost 70 years old, and has a major political chip on his shoulder, it seems. Right away he kicked out most of the many students who were hoping to add his class, and left others with standing room only. I was sitting right in the front of the room, dead center--my chosen spot in every class--and he began to engage in a fairly engaging monologue about what government is and why it matters to us. He told us that the very reason that he, and every other professor, has to turn away students from classes is precisely because of government--a government who has spent its resources funding a "ridiculous" war, and thus cannot spare any change for educating its own citizens. (I'm not sure if California's state of affairs is entirely due to the war, per se, but that's a different post. One that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.) Anyway, he was sufficiently outraged and up-in-arms (pun intended) about the whole subject. And as he spoke, somehow it happened that he asked for a show of hands of who could sing the National Anthem.

So I raised my hand. But, see, I thought it was simply a question. For polling purposes, you know. So, he invited me up to the front. I said to him, "Now, whoa! You asked who could sing the National Anthem, not who would! That's entirely different."

And I think my playfulness broke through his shell just a bit. So, he said, "I'll give you an A to come up and sing it."

To which I replied, "I'll earn my A, you don't need to give it to me."

So he dangled some extra credit in front of me, and I'm thinking, "Is this guy for real?"

So fine. I'll sing it. I actually sing the National Anthem in the shower more than any other song, with my own improvisations and everything. He asked for other volunteers, but was only met with lots of "I don't know the words," and "I'm not sure how it goes."

I got up in front of the room, and I began to sing.

Well, actually, first I looked out over the sea of young faces and said, "Shame on all of you!" Then I began to sing.

Thankfully, he stopped me before I had to hit the high note. (The shower acoustics really come in handy right around then.) He told me I could sit down. And he told me I had a nice voice, which was really something coming from a crotchety professor.

Then, he asked for someone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Did you know that only four students in the room knew it well enough to do it? Four! One said, "I know the beginning, but I lose it at the end."

"Indivisible" really throws them, I guess.

Appalling, that's what that is.

I wanted to show them the video of my then 13 year old daughter reciting from memory the Declaration of Independence. C'mon, people! It's your country! Where's the love?

The good news? My goal of becoming memorable to each professor has been successfully accomplished on the first day of class. The bad news? At the end he told us, "Now, if you do everything I say. . . watch every speech, read every document, do all the online assignments, carefully read each chapter and do all the study questions. . . I can guarantee you. . . a D in this class."


"And a C in this class is very, very respectable. You want an A? You better come and tell me you're a Doctoral student in Political Science."


How defeating! But, I'm thinking it's a good thing I'm starting out with extra credit.