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!

Stepmom-O-Rama

Here We Go Again

stripper shoes crop

Juliet zipped her dress and gave herself a once over in the hotel room mirror.  “Here we go again,” she half spoke, half laughed then took a swig of Stoli straight from the bottle.

I peered around her well-preserved, thirty-something body into the mirror straightening my tie.  “If I have to go to one more of dad’s weddings I swear I’ll set myself on fire!” I said.

“Really? Oh, that would be so sad for me.  I’d have to go to all his future weddings without my favorite brother.  Besides I thought you always wanted to die in a killer whale attack.”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “killer whale attack has long been my preferred legendary death scenario…and I’m your ‘only’ brother.”

“Which makes you a shoe-in for ‘favorite’ you awesome man.”  She laughed.

Both of my sisters are wonderful, but Jules and I have always been especially close.   Our senior, and noticeably absent sister Samantha was supposed to be with us for pre-ceremony cocktails, but it seemed her chronic tardiness had struck again.

Juliet handed me the Stoli, “At least we’ll never have to live with this one.” She smiled.

“True.” I mused.  “I suppose being somewhat grown up and thoroughly self-sufficient has its perks.”

The door flew open.  “Sorry, I’m late!” Samantha rolled into the room like a runaway circus train, garment bag, cosmetics kit, and other undefined bits of tiny luggage hanging from her person.  “What are we drinking?”

“The usual pre-dad’s-wedding fair…vodka.”  I handed her the bottle, and as her lips touched it, we had once again closed the circle, completing a ritual celebration that had been part of the Montfort family culture since we were in high school.  Other family’s had Thanksgiving or Christmas; we had Dad’s weddings.

Sam lowered the bottle, “Well, here we go again!  How long do you think this one’ll last?”

Juliet sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her high heels. She motioned for a bottle pass.  “Her name is Candy for Christ’s sake…it can’t last too long!”

“I don’t know,” I interjected.  “Bambi lasted almost 13 months…come on…Bambi?  I give ‘Candy’ better odds.

By now the average observer may be wondering why three siblings in their late thirties to early forties were in a hotel room preparing for a wedding with no significant others in tow.  As it happens, the old expression about the falling apple and the inevitable proximity of its final resting place relative to the tree from which it came is beautifully illustrated by our family.  That’s right, my sisters and I are all divorced.

The advent of dad’s pending nuptials had Samantha in a reminiscent mood. “Do you remember the screaming red Christmas tree that Cinnamon put up my senior year?  The place looked like a holiday whore house.”

“Who could forget,” I laughed.  “How about Buffy’s pink Corvette with the heart decals?”  To this day her dropping me off at school in that thing ranks among my most awkward moments.  Idiot high school boys alternately calling me a fag for coming to school in a pink car, then saying they wanna ‘tag’ my mom.  “Ew,” I’d protest, “she’s not my mom”…and as an afterthought, “and I’m not gay you assholes!”

My darling sisters laughed.  We’re a fucked up bunch to be sure, but at least we have each other.  The shared experience of growing up in the company of a fast-moving parade of “dancers” has had the effect of “Gorilla Glue for the Soul” on us.  Jules looked at her watch and grimaced.   Then as her right hand applied deep red lipstick, her left reached into her carry-on luggage sized purse.   Without turning her attention from the mirror, she found, apparently by Braille, and produced three silver flasks.   She tossed them at me with a playful wink.  “Fill ‘em up bro; it’s go time!”  As I poured and spilled the Stoli into the unreasonably small flask openings, I laughed to myself.  Thank god for my two wonderful sisters.  We may not be well equipped for matrimonial endeavors of our own, but we make a hell of a team at a stripper’s wedding.

We raised the dripping flasks high. “To Pops and…uh, Candy is it?” Sam hissed.

Jules snorted, which turned my snigger into a guffaw.  I quickly composed myself.  Cleared my throat and in my best, if hastily conceived oratorical tone confirmed the name of the stepmom de jour.  “Yes, yes, to Pops and Candy, and the two most wonderfully inappropriate, dazzlingly witty and truly lovely siblings-in-arms a brother could ask for!”

“Goddamnit,” Jules scolded.  “If you make me tear up I’ll wipe my runny-makeup face all over that white shirt!”    I laughed.  We finished the toast with the clink of silver and a quick slug.  Next stop, stepmom-o-rama!

#fiction

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!