Sounds about right

I flew through an entire audiobook today, and am settling well into the idea that this particular medium is ideal for histories and biographies.

As the book finished, I was changing sheets on the bunk bed, the little guy was in the bathtub, and the big guy was sorting laundry. It’s getting harder to tell his clothes from mine, and we now take longer to check tags to make sure he doesn’t wear my shirts to school.

I flopped onto the lower bunk to choose my next audiobook. Unfortunately, I told Peanut as he threw his brother’s laundry across the room, other library patrons are currently listening to all the good books. Darn the choice to live in a town where other readers have the same tastes.

As the guard changed and the little guy clambered out of the bath to let his brother in, I found a guided meditation book and clicked to hear the sample. Bells gently chimed, subtle music rumbled from my phone.

“I like that book,” said Butterbean.

“Oh, yeah? It’s about meditation.”

“Well, I like it,” he said.

“Why is there a booger in the tub?!” Peanut hollered from the other room.

“Remember when I told your brother to quit blowing his nose in the tub?” I hollered back and shot a look at the little guy, who giggled.

“Come get it! Please?” he bellowed. The meditation chimes kept bleating at me. I brought the tub-bound, lanky young man a tissue. Without complaining that he has to recycle tub water, he wiped. I tossed and washed.

“That’s gross,” he said. “Really, that’s gross!” he hollered.

“Mom!” hollered the little guy, still in the bedroom with the meditation sample, “he’s teasing me!”

“Am not!”

“Teasing, teasing, teasing! Stop it I don’t like it!”

I walked back into the bedroom. The meditation chimes had stopped and I knelt beside the bed to cancel the sample. Peanut called for me to fetch more fraternal flotsam.

At just that moment, an earthquake rumbled and I held the bunk bed, checking the intensity and assessing the position of both kids. I could move the preschooler into the doorway and…wait, it’s not an earthquake. It’s just the cats fighting on the top bunk.

I turned off my phone and told the little guy to choose his bedtime books.

There’s no way guided meditation on my phone is the sound I need in my evening, even if Butter likes it. I need teasing and whining and giggles and silly, growing children, and cat earthquakes.

chaos, an interpretive dance

chaos, an interpretive dance

I also need another good nonfiction listen tomorrow. Hook me up, Berkeley library patrons. Return your audiobooks. I could use a copy of Salt, NPH’s memoir, or Dataclysm.

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Group storytelling

As our family dissolves its current form and grows again to a new structure, we’re developing dozens of lovely traditions.

And my absolute favorite is the family story.

We talk each day about our favorite parts of the day, and our biggest challenges; we talk about gratitude and feelings.

And now, when the kids seem bored, when we share time together, when we travel in the car, and especially when dim lighting and clean teeth spell the end of the day, we invent a story. Together. Sometimes as three people, and sometimes as four. Each person tells one sentence of a new story. Each subsequent person builds upon it. Until it’s done. And then we do it again.

Tonight:

There once was a tree with several leaves.
And nearby there was a tree with lots of leaves.
And those two trees began growing toward each other.
One day they touched together.
And they began dripping honey.
And they grew together some more.
And they spilled all the honey on the ground.
This made them fight.
A bear stopped by to say, “Don’t worry, there’s enough honey for everyone.”
So every animal in the forest came and took what they needed.
And the trees were happy.
And the animals were happy.
And full of honey.
The End.

 

Win. Seriously.

A few weeks ago I read Carinn Jade’s post about gratitude. She has lovely things to say about teaching children to think about their lives in perspective, to teach ourselves to find the bright side by living in thoughtful meditations on gratitude.

After reading it, I decided I’m a terrible parent appreciated the reminder that I should be focusing the family on gratitude. We have always, every night, talked about what each person’s favorite and most challenging parts of the day were. We’ve used it as a way to learn evaluative skills and to hear how other people address challenges.

But other than Thanksgiving, we don’t spend a lot of time using the words grateful and thankful. I’m rather embarrassed about that, because I know full well that reflecting upon that which makes life wonderful creates a cycle in which gratitude makes us see events and people in a better light, which makes us more grateful. I’ve been reading Secrets of Successful Families and Raising Happiness, and both point me in the same direction Jade’s post did: get everyone in the family thinking about life’s gifts, and appreciate them together. It helps.

So we started. I intended to circle the gratitude wagons at dinner, but meals are a reasonably raucous time of “please don’t call each other buttface,” and “please don’t call each other poopface, either,” and “please eat the food or leave it on the plate; food is not a toy,” and “yes, you can have more, but please finish what you have first,” and “did you say that to make him feel good?”, “dear gawd am I ever going to eat more than two bites without someone asking me for something?” moments.

But I finally remembered to ask what the boys are grateful for as we walked to school.

I told them I am grateful I have three wonderful guys in my house to see every day.

Peanut, who is seven, said he is grateful for friends.

Butter, the three-year-old, said he is grateful for cake. If I’d thought of it, I might have started there, too.

I said I am grateful for the way Spring smells and feels and shines.

Peanut said he is grateful that we have enough money to live in a house.

Butter said he doesn’t want to do this any more.

I said I’m grateful we have so much wonderful family to visit and play with.

Peanut said he’s grateful for tigers and leopards and he wants to try to save them.

I judge myself pretty harshly, readers, about the job I’m doing parenting because my kids fight a lot and Spouse and I are not patient enough. But it seems to me that if my seven year old is grateful for friends, his home, and his place in the world, I’m doing an okay job. A genuinely okay job.

And I’m grateful for that.

Moment of clarity

I’m having a tough time accepting a lot about my life—that the novel is still not published, that my PhD is still a distant dream, that two totally awesome and timely journal articles are languishing at 95% complete and not yet submitted, that Spouse and I are destined to be poor…

And that my eldest is testing out being the school’s resident a–hole.

This troubled me for several weeks, hearing about the times he had to be separated from his partner in crime, stifling my horror as he tells me of his antics, wondering if I wasted my time being so carefully respectful and gentle and loving and patient. If he’s going to throw sand in the face of the sweet and shy one at school, why did I try so hard to do everything thoughtfully, mindfully, and (what I now consider) self-effacingly? Why not actually lock the door when I pee, or shower regularly, or say no to playing with him, or negotiate a little less if he’s going to be antisocial and embarrassing?

And I asked another parent at school, tearfully, “is my kid an a–hole?”

He said something I really appreciated: “No, he’s usually sweet and he’s doing some awful stuff. But that’s his job. Now, my kid’s an a–hole.”

Not true. But I realized we all see things in our children we don’t like, that the socialized side of us wants to just beat right out of them, and the kid side of us wants to run from. The preschool dad who talked to me has a child with some unsavory characteristics sometimes, who is not an a–hole. My kid is trying out some awful behaviors to get attention and see the responses, but he’s not an a–hole. What he is, is different than me and separate from me. We’re now walking that thin line where it’s my job to teach him what’s okay, and it’s his job to choose the okay over the not-okay.

I thought about it, and Super Cool, Sweet, Awesome Lady X at school has a child who is genuinely an a–hole. Sometimes. And another child who is delightful. Mostly. And neither is her fault. And the total a–hole parent at school has a kid who is generally okay. And that’s clearly not due to parenting.

You do what you can and try your best, but some of your child’s behavior has nothing to do with you. (Yes I knew that, but now I have to repeat it more often than “please don’t pick up trash from the street.”) As I try to let Peanut separate and become his own person, I need to stop being embarrassed and realize that he is, in fact, his own person. And he’s four. And if he’s hated that’s his problem and if he’s loved it’s his problem. And all I can do is give him what I can to help get him through. He has to do the rest.

And damned if that isn’t the hardest part so far. Because from this side of the preschool fence, that adorable and feisty and opinionated and persistent and intense child is sometimes miraculously delicious, and sometimes a giant a–hole.

Gentle David Foster Wallace for college grads

Because so many of my posts about parenting resonnate with exactly this theme, here’s a bit of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address.

“…there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and display. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”  –DFW 2005 Kenyon commencement

(Go read the rest of the speech. It’s really quite compelling as a way of thinking and living as aware and sentient beings rather autopilot automatons).

If you say so, dude. Sacrifice might be the reality and the gift of our nasty, brutish, and short, but the pretense and facade of pretending such things aren’t the reality of our lives makes those sorts of attentive, aware, and disciplined sacrifices feel like chores. Would that I had time to erode the pretense and facade, because being self-aware and present in my day would really rock. But focusing on caring for others in those myriad unsexy ways takes all the time I used to use on self analysis and awareness.

Un-Buddhist of me, i acknowledge. Sorry you’re not here to argue with.

There’s a new pranayama in town

Back in the era where I had hours to myself to set my own schedule and wrap my writing around a sense of centered intelligence, I found that yoga helped enormously. My practice helped my body, my balance, my breath, my thinking, my writing.

But I haven’t put any time into my practice since Peanut was born, and I’m feeling the loss. My posture, my flexibility, and my breath are all distorted. But mostly, my sense of balance is off. Mentally and emotionally, I’m a mess.

My sense of what I need on any given day to be a patient, present, decent human being is totally off. So I was thinking this morning when I gave myself a timeout (I’ve decided I need timeouts more than Peanut does, because he’s just exploring and testing boundaries and doing his job by driving me to drink, and it’s MY job to find the patience, creativity, and flexibility I need to parent him respectfully. The only way I’ve found to regain my centered willingness to teach and play in the heat of the moment is to breathe and think. And being in the circle of a screaming toddler maelstrom is not a great place to breathe or think. Plus, I love just leaving the room when he’s pushing my buttons. That technique is totally Spouse’s m.o. for conflict with me, and I loathe being on the receiving end of someone who has to leave the room to avoid saying something nasty. But it’s been successful so far to leave a frustrating small person to figure out what he really wants while I go breathe. He seems to find clarity around his choices much more quickly when I’m in the other room refusing to play his reindeer games.)

Anyway, I was thinking, as I forced long, deep inhales to calm myself, that maybe I need to bring pranayama (yoga breath) back into my life. Even if I don’t find time for the full practice, complete breath should help, no?

One breath answered my question as it brought tension to my shoulders, neck and face: Nope. There is a time and place for warming, meditative breath. While you’re pissed off is not one of these times.

As humans, we need a lot of oxygen. As yoga practicioners, we need a lot of oxygen, too, but we try to still the breath and make it rhythmic, sustained, and transformative. And pranayama focuses on steady breathing that creates warmth, sound, and an internal metronome. All of those require friction in the airways, a slight constriction that serves as a gatekeeper for the large volume of air flowing into a yoga-engaged body that needs the breath to last a long, centering time. But even shitali pranayama, the cooling breath, takes a lot more constriction that I need when I’m counting to ten and trying to regain my balance.

Trying to calm anger requires a lack of constriction. Anger needs big, open gateways for air to flow through, because it’s precisely the cooling flood of air that squelches the fire of rage. Angry people need to breathe like runners–mouth open, chest swelling, maximal oxygen without interruption.

So that got me thinking that maybe I could begin to practice again, if only a few moments at a time, if I tried to do a hybrid yoga, changing breath from a single rhythm to a double. Maybe I could engage fully in a vinyasa with a deep, open runner’s breath if there was a whole cycle for each asana. Instead of moving through the poses as each half of the breath cycle completes, I could inhale freely, then move on the exhale. Inhale, exhale, move. Inhale, exhale, move.

I tried it (later, when he slept), and it worked. The same sense of rhythm, even if it was less meditative, returned to my newly rejuvenated practice. I was thoughtful about my movement, I was present in each asana. I wasn’t forcing a kind of breath I just can’t sustain right now. And finding my own kind of balance, even if it goes against what I’ve been taught, makes sense right now. Because I’m not the person I was, I’m not living in the body I once had, and I’m not trying to calm and focus the mind I once trained. I’m playing a whole new ballgame now. And I might as well write the rules to fit my search for a new self, body, and mind.