Parents

Mom dad me

Parents!  If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent!   If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking.  If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.  

For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.  Humanity, consisting primarily of me.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.  Ugh, so embarrassing!  Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.  

We all do our best right?  No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.  However, if we do our best, well done us!  That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.  To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.  Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole?  You decide.

These days I am a parent.  Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.  I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”  Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.  Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”  I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.  Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.  Attitude is everything!

Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.  Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.  I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.  Ego talk? Probably.   Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.  Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.  As for my misread on the choice of life partners?  Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.

I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.  All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.  What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?  Could we have done better?  Certainly.  The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.  No blaming or finger pointing here.

Back to my parents.  They worked hard, or at least my pops did.  On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included.  Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect.  To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics.  Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps.  My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life.  The intensity must have been nearly unbearable.  Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure.  No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.  

My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs.  We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood.  It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled.  In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt.  We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together.  So it goes.

In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown.  I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.  With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.  “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.  My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.  Phew!  

By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.  Distance allows perspective.  Perspective provides the chance for healing.  Healing allows courage to blossom.  Courage creates the possibility of change.  Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a universal gift.  

Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.  It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.  Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.  

I love you, mom and dad!  I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.  Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Willow

Willow

 

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a weeping willow tree, growing dreamily on some mythical property that I would call my own.  My own at least for my fleeting time here on earth, then to be left to the next generation of inhabitants who would call that very willow tree their own.  Trees have largely become part of the background these days. In our modern, screen intensive society they are nearly invisible.  These heroes of Arbor Day are now little more than things one passes on their way from this place to that.  Willow trees however still hold the power to beckon, at least to me. Their presence suggests that whimsy is indeed an ancient art to be witnessed and perhaps revered.  Not to say that all fall under the Willow’s spell.  No, I’m sure not all, but I do.  The waking dream of a willow tree’s branches swaying in the wind calls forth the notion of magic to me.  And in this, I know, from overheard conversations that I am not alone.  

Have you ever had a dream that you were certain was real?  So sure that when you awoke, you rose quickly to confirm that what you imagined during sleep was in fact reality?  I have many times.  Few of such dreams have involved trees, fewer still have involved the willow.  That said, I have had more than a few waking moments when a willow tree transported me to the threshold of a dreamlike state.  What is it about the weeping, drifting nature of this particular arborescent giant that inspires fantasy?  Having finally planted one in the front yard, I am amazed on a regular basis by the seemingly supernatural power of the breed. 

Waking in a stupor after a night of poor sleep or poor decisions I can instantly find myself revitalized by the mere sight of the flowing branches of the tree we at my house have named Willo after my youngest who came by that nickname through some random twist of wordplay with friends.  His older brother and I planted it as a gift to him one day while he was away with his companions.  Upon returning, he saw the sapling and beamed with knowing.  

This whimsical, and now with the passing years majestic tree makes me want to sway along to the wind directed cadence of the natural world that persists in spite of my human agenda.  It makes me eager to shake off any negative feelings and fuse with the larger world, with the universe even, to the beat of the ancient rhythm that rules this place.  The pulse that has guided the world since long before our coming and will conduct it long after our time to rest has passed.  

It’s just a tree, in a yard, in a neighborhood, in a city, in a country, on a planet that has spun for millennia around a sun that has burned for a near infinity of lifetimes.  Still, to me, it is somehow something much, much more.

The Sleeping Ninja

King Size Bed copy

Vintage random thought.

“There’s a kid in my bed,” I thought to myself.  Out of context, that phrase could raise a red flag or two, no?  The kid in my bed, however, was my youngest who had asked me several hours earlier, “Daddy, can I sleep in your bed?”  To which I replied “No.”  

Hmm, perhaps he is a budding somnambulist, or maybe he’s just confident enough in his ninja abilities to believe that he could enter my room, and then my bed without being detected.  Either way there he was sound asleep, peaceful, wonderful.  

Acceptance is not always synonymous with surrender, or in this case defeat.  Acceptance, in my opinion, is one of the pillars of ‘Minimal Damage Parenting.’  Minimal Damage Parenting I believe is the best we raisers of offspring can hope to achieve.  It’s a foregone conclusion that when it comes to parental duties, we will at some point fuck up royally leaving emotional scars at various depths which will ensure the lucrative futures of those in the fields of psychology or psychiatry for generations to come.  So I accepted the fact that I had a sleeping boy inhabiting the easternmost part of my king sized bed, rolled over, smiling about the amazing good fortune of playing father to two truly lovely young men, snuggled my face into my pillow and clocked out.

“Dude…you peed the bed!”  

As the words left my lips, I put a last moment spin on my inflection in an effort to remove any note of anger or shaming.  

“Sorry, Daddy.”  

“It’s okay buddy, but please let’s strip the bed and throw everything in the washing machine.”  This was not the first time my son had had an ‘accident’…in fact, he was a chronic “sleep pisser.”  Some parents get bent about this kinda shit, but I’ve decided that, other than doing more laundry than the average bear family, it’s no big deal.  I’m quite confident that it’s not his idea of a good time and that he will eventually grow out of it.  

Acceptance, not of bad behavior, sloth, disrespect, cruelty, etc., but of things which ‘just happen’ and will eventually stop happening can only be positive.  I believe this is what healthy parenting is all about.  Shame is a toxin.  As an adult, we may choose to partake in the use of toxins for the purpose of overcoming our inadequate coping abilities, the quelling or social anxiety, or whatever.  Children, however, don’t have the same “recreational” luxury.  However, they are vulnerable to psychological toxins and are unlikely to choose exposure to them of their own free will.  Were you ever shamed by your caregivers?  If so, pretty awesome right?  

Shame is a prime mover in our society.  It’s an under lurker that bears no face on the surface but wears a monster’s mask under the bed.  If you feel that you bear no shame you are either lying, unusually lucky or a psychopath.  

DEFINITION

Shame:  /SHām/ Noun:

A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

So says the dictionary.  Interesting interpretation.  I find it curious that this definition of shame put all onus on the one bearing shame and none on any outside influence that may be assigning it.  Is all shame real, or is some shame framed for us by those who simply want us to feel bad about circumstances that displease them?  Have you ever had a bad day?  Have you ever taken that bad day out on someone who had nothing to do with it?  I have…ugh!  Just writing it here makes my stomach turn.  Yes, I’ve been that entitled asshole.  And I’ve seen them, at gas stations, in restaurants, in the workplace, and of course, at Walmart.

So back to parenting for a sec.  Kids are easy prey.  They are vulnerable.  They are trusting.  They don’t know how to discern the difference between reasonable accountability, and unreasonable judgment.  How many apologies for shaming do we get before we’ve cried wolf one too many times?  If we are able to ask forgiveness at all?  I ask this not in an accusing tone.  Rather in the spirit of circumspection.  I didn’t have the misfortune of pissing the bed, but holy shit do I have my share of issues.  My sons don’t deserve my shame.  They don’t deserve any shame at all.  Did I mention that shame, in my opinion, is a toxin?  

Being a parent is many things.  Hopefully first and foremost being a parent is perpetrating the act of helping your children find a path to grow into the best possible versions of themselves.  Shame has no part in that journey.  If you disagree, well, as they say, shame on you.

The​ Patience Cat

The Patience Cat

The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?

Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency.  Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?

As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly.  In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.

So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.

This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring.  Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!

Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.

Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.

I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.

Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?

 

PostScript:

If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not.  I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.

Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

The​ Living Room of an Old Person’s Home

Old persons living room V5

The living room of an old person’s home has a thing about it.  “Their thing,” to be precise.  Such a place usually has a particular feel, scent, dust/grime quotient, and a frozen in time quality, that is both haunting and intriguing.

The carpet, the furniture, and the wallpaper all have born witness to the arc of a life or lives that have gone from actively growing, reaching, and achieving to stillness, passivity, unwitting disengagement, and ultimately decay.  Once the occupants of this place were counted in the numbers of an up and coming vanguard generation.  The status quo creaked and groaned under the pressure of the change they demanded, finally acquiescing as a new world was forged by the sheer force of their will.  So it is with each generation.  Cliche warning: change is the only constant, until it’s not.

“Dad jokes,” ha!  The beginning of generational culture division is humorously summarized in those two simple words.  Dad jokes are the harbinger of connectivity obsolescence which makes them extra funny, or awkwardly morbid.  Take your pick.  

Getting older is a foregone conclusion, getting wiser is not.  Dad jokes are optional. An aging generation can opt for continuing education, the conscious act of learning about and remaining connected to the next generation, or not.  These options bear the seeds of individual cultural choice that if not planted wisely may well find their harvest in the living room of an old person’s home.  

I’m not saying that redecorating is the key to staying relevant.  Of course, such endeavors require the allocation of resources that may or may not be in short supply depending on personal circumstance.  Following trends and continually updating one’s position in this world is a slippery slope to be sure.  The justification for such efforts is inextricably tied to the end goal.  What can we expect a quest for relevance to yield?  

Social evolution is historically proven, factually undeniable.  To remain relevant one must acknowledge, embrace and act in accordance with the principles lifting that wave.  Here we are confronted with the specter of “Identity.”  The crescendo of identity formation is represented by the metaphorical “brand new living room” conceived and actualized at the pinnacle of a life where we make our victorious statement, whether we realize it or not.  “We’ve arrived,” and here’s the interior design masterpiece to prove it; insert modernist decor, steampunk accoutrements, colonial, mid-century or whatever statement seems fitting to illustrate the reaching of one’s personal triumph at the perceived summit of their material journey.  This perch is a victory that in its very achievement can, if we are not vigilant, become a living tomb.  An apex reached may by definition offer only descent as a next step.  That’s where choice, and particularly choosing to step outside the box becomes an engaging, challenging, potentially life-affirming if ego-threatening moment, and at best, a most welcome alternative to programmed obsolescence. 

I’m not suggesting that we don the sailor outfit our mother’s had us wear for our four-year-old portrait, or the nightmare ruffled pastel leisure suit style tuxedo we wore to the prom a thousand years ago.  I am however suggesting that resting on accomplishments of any kind leads to the possibility of disconnection from the inevitable; from tomorrow, the day after, and so on.  Retaining accrued wisdom while remaining open to fresh, if potentially identity challenging perspectives means we still get to be ourselves, but in liquid rather than solid form, metaphorically speaking.

Being relevant is not an inalienable human right.  Being relevant is a quest that requires constant attention, adjustment, acceptance of that we do not yet fully understand, and most importantly the willingness to allow for the possibility that identity is ephemeral.  In the game of relevance, personal commitment to evolution is the only winning strategy.  Identity, if not fluid, becomes the anchor that prevents us from riding the wave of social metamorphosis.  The real kicker is that our identity issues have the superpower of invisibility as it relates to our ability to honestly see ourselves as others see us.  Ugh!

If I find myself in the weeks leading up to my death stripping wallpaper, tearing up carpet, and fondling paint samples, it will be no more than a physical manifestation of my desire to understand the current consciousness of my children’s or my children’s children’s world.  My last valiant effort to understand and assimilate the language, challenges, and opportunities that are continuously spawning in perpetuity outside the soul prison walls of the living room of an old person’s home.

#metaphor