Archive for January, 2011

Maeve: I just thought I’d be dealing with these kinds of conversations when she’s 15, not when she’s 7.

Trader: By the time she’s fifteen she’ll be telling you that you’re a dork and she’s embarassed by you and she wants you to leave her alone.

M: Hmm … did you ever tell that to your parents?

T: Sure.


M: Really?

T: Yeah. When we had fights. Didn’t you?


M: No. I was too afraid they’d kick me out of the house. I’d never dare say anything like that to them.

T: Really? They threatened to kick you out of the house?

M: Sure. I grew up hearing that they were going to get rid of me as soon as I turned sixteen.

[Long digression while Trader told me about every kid he knew in highschool who’d been kicked out on their sixteenth birthday, and why he thought that was appalling, and about a cop he interviewed once who said he’d beat his son if he ever tried drugs. He does that–long tangential digressions, I mean, while an original idea follows every related neuron until he runs out of things to say.]

M: Why are we talking about this?

T: Oh. Umm. I … don’t know.

M: [sigh]


M: So really … you were allowed to talk like that to your parents?

T: Yeah. Well, no, I wasn’t, but I did. You know how it is.

M: No. I don’t. I would never have dared to do that. I was too scared.

T: Really? Even now, as an adult? Would you talk to them that?

M: No.

[Thinking: Despite all the craziness and criticism from your parents and the moving-around and immigrating, right now I am so envious that you could be angry at your parents and tell them so and not worry about not having a roof to sleep under that night.]

I don’t know why it never registered before that some people actually do say those things out loud to their parents without catastrophic consequences, but it never did. I always figured that people said that to their friends, I guess, but never to their parents’ faces. Another thing I always thought was normal flipped upside down. The walking on eggshells–the constant fear of being thrown away.


M: So you know how when we watched Only the Lonely, you said the Mom in that movie was like your mother?

T: Un huh.

M: OK. So the Other Mother in this movie reminds me of my Mom.

[Put on Coraline. Scary scenes ensue. Watch the part where Coraline says “no” and the Other Mother turns into a monster, grabs her daughter by the shoulders, shoves her behind the mirror and tells her she can come out when she’s ready to “be a loving daughter.”]

T: She reminds you of your mother?

M: Yep.

T: That’s harsh. But … I wasn’t there.


Also: we looked at houses today.


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oy vey

This active listening is tough work.

PP: But I just wanted a few more minutes! Why can you never give me a few more minutes!

Maeve: I can see that you’re frustrated and upset, honey, and I would love to give you all the time you want, but tomorrow is a school day and you need to get your sleep and it’s 8:00 and you need to get ready for bed. You have run out of time for watching a movie.

PP: [stomps to her room] I am the girl of no time!

M: I know it must feel that way a lot, and I’m sorry, sweetie.

PP: I am VERY MAD at you!

M: I can see that.

PP: [pause] Mummy? I’m not actually very mad at you.

M: No? Why did you say that?

PP: Because I wanted to make you mad at me.

M: Why did you want me to be mad at you?

PP: Because I used up all my time and now I have no time left for my movie and it’s all my fault.

And then it went on. And on. And on. About how she feels like the girl of no time (cue me: Don’t I know it!). And I tell her I bet she feels stressed and rushed a lot of the time. She doesn’t think it’s fair. She wants me to give her more time. But she knows it’s just the way she’s feeling today and actually she does have time, she doesn’t feel like it right now. And she’s sad, and angry at herself for wasting her time so she can’t watch a movie.

Also she’s not sure she believes that it’s ok to be sad because other people tell her it’s not ok, and sometimes she feels like I’m the only one who thinks it is ok. And it’s ok for me to feel bad about not having time (for myself) but not for HER, she should always be happy. And wouldn’t it be fun if one day I worked really fast and I came and picked her up from school at lunchtime? (Sure would, kiddo.)

But you know, after an hour of validating, not reacting to the stamping of feet and declarations of anger and sadness, and empathizing, and sharing, and hugging, I am exhausted. It is hard work. I always have a new respect for the work of therapists after one of my “sessions” with PP.

But also, you know what? I am really proud of that kid. She knows what she’s thinking and feeling and she can articulate it really well. I’m not sure all that many adults would recognize when they’re spoiling for a fight and trying to get someone mad because they’re angry at themselves. This may seem like an odd thing to be proud of, but there you have it. PP’s light years ahead of where I was when I was seven. She is such a great kid, and if she can keep this skill as an adult, she’s going to be just fine.

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Your boyfriend offers to hire you a cleaner.

He can afford it. However, you are pathologically independent and feel badly both about him hiring a cleaner and someone else cleaning your house.

On the other hand, you are swamped and miserably and chronically exhausted and the house is never clean and you haven’t written a pitch in a year and you break down in tears in the morning when you see the state the house is in and PP is sick again so it’s only going to get worse and you don’t have the time or the energy to do anything about it.

Keep in mind that you are pathologically independent. That last paragraph may sound awful, but so does someone helping you. What’s wrong with you, that you can’t do absolutely everything perfectly and sing while you’re at it? Aren’t we all supposed to be the Perfect Woman?

I think I know what you’re going to say, but I’m going to ask you to say it anyway.

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NYR, 2011 Edition

I have a New Year’s Resolution. It’s almost unbearably precious. Are you ready? It might make you feel sick to your stomach so don’t say I didn’t warn you …. It’s a Vincent Van Gogh quote:

“But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things.”

I know, it’s not any kind of resolution, what am I talking about? Except that it seems to fit, somehow, with what I want 2011 to be about and the kind of person I want to be.

And lest I make any of you any more confused than I already have, “god” to me is not about a cosmic superhero in the sky divinely granting my wishes like a supernatural vending machine, nor is it any kind of entity or personality; but just the name I give to the experience I have when I am connected to something larger and more important than myself. What it is I haven’t the slightest idea, don’t ever expect to understand it, and am perfectly content to be nearly completely ignorant about it.

So maybe the NYR is a reminder to me to love many things as a path to that experience, more often? I really don’t know. It just resonated somehow.

So being me, of course I sewed myself a bookmark using fabric scraps and appliqued on some butterflies, then embroidered that quote on it. It’s my reminder. Habituation being what it is, I expect to be inured to it in a few weeks and to need to make reminders for myself on a regular basis.

I also bought Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life–on Thursday, read it yesterday, and am rereading it more slowly today. Or at least the first “step,” which is to learn about compassion in your own tradition.

What is my tradition?

I’m not Christian, haven’t been for nearly two decades, and have no interest in revisiting it (my super-religious relatives on FB have been doing a good job of reinforcing this for me, by talking about GodGodGod and JesusJesusJesus and their superspecial relationship with the divine and the wonderful testimonieshymnssermons and Christian Rock Bands that give their lives meaning, etc., interspersed with judgmentalism, negativity, intolerance, anger, consumerism and hate. Sign me up!). (I know this in itself is judgmental and I try to be charitable, since I do remember being there and feeling that way–I grew up in it–but lord god almighty, if I have to read one more status update by cousin J in which she talks about the deep meaning and purpose the church gives to her life, and then follows it up with an update about the great deal she got at store x on meaningless consumerist gizmo y, I might scream in rage and tear myself in two. That was for you, Niamh. So much for the rich man having less success entering heaven than a camel going through the eye of a needle, or giving away what you possess to the poor!)

Anyway. Tangent. Summary: my tradition is not Christian.

Nor is it Wiccan, really. Magic and gods and goddesses and rituals … A lot of that is still very much a part of me and always will be but it’s not mine, not really, not now. Moreoever I’m having a hard time thinking of Wiccan myths or rituals dealing explicitly with compassion, so even if it were I don’t think it would help. Ethics, yes–compassion, no.

I could go the secular route and read about compassion from a scientific perspective but a) I’ve already done that (Mothers and Others, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy–read it!), and b) it feels like cheating, not to mention, c) it also doesn’t feel particularly satisfying.

I’ve done a lot of reading in comparitive religion (including God in All Worlds by Lucinda Vardey, also worth looking up but expect to take a few years to finish it) and I can’t think of anything that feels enough like home to get me through the “Learn About Compassion” step. I could skip it, but that also feels like cheating.

I thought, maybe, I could go with art, straight-up-no-chaser. There’s lots of art about compassion with the same, to me, resonance and meaning and Connection to Something Greater that myth has. Mary Oliver, Charles Dickens, Van Gogh, Grace Paley. Etc. Construct my own canon and mythology, in a sense.

The tradition I was left with post-Wicca is strictly earth-based. I celebrate the seasons changing. I go on a walk in the woods, sit down, and sink into the earth. I look at little things like spiders and mushrooms and insects and leaves and bark and snakes and pebbles and find what’s beautiful in them. So far as it goes it’s good, it’s fine; a forest is my cathedral, a river is my shrine, and why not?

But it’s not human. A compassion that misses the human on its way to the green seems to be missing something profound.

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