Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Love them anyway.

My kids have been trying to kill each other for about a week.  It started when we were out of town visiting friends last weekend, and I let them eat whatever they wanted because we weren’t at home and I had to relinquish control over my son’s specific dietary restrictions a bit.  (Oh, and Monica, if you are reading this...of course I miss you more than I miss your keg, but I really miss your keg.  *sniff*)  I could tell almost immediately that his relaxed diet was impacting his behavior, but ever since, I haven’t been able to get the mellow child I love to move back in.  He has been replaced with the evil twin, the one who menaces, hits, bites, taunts his sister, flails his limbs about in random patterns, doesn’t listen to anything I say, and is overall so rowdy and rambunctious that a couple of days ago, I nearly hoped that a band of gypsies would show up at my door offering money in exchange for children.  No reasonable offer would have been refused.  (By that time, his sister was right in the trenches with him, because bad behavior breeds more bad behavior.  I was ready to sell them both.) 

Then, today, it finally occurred to me that there is one thing I haven’t tried to get the wild wildebeests to start acting like graceful gazelles.  I had been so busy taking things away, making threats, and removing privileges that I had neglected to consider what was most likely at the root of the behavior.  I have been preoccupied with my own worries lately and not investing in them as much as I could; possibly all my kids needed was some love and attention from me to make them lovable again.  Ironically enough, the time when children often need to be loved the most is usually when they deserve to be loved the least.  This is not to say that children don’t deserve unconditional love; they just know how to work the nerves of their parents to see if that love can be tested to the end that it no longer exists.  Fortunately, for most parents, that is never possible.

Tonight, I wrapped my kids up in lots of hugs and kisses, way more than I have given them for a while.  I spent time talking to them and snuggled up to read with them instead of doing the things that I wanted to do for myself.  I laughed with my son while I had him trapped in a big embrace and promised I would not let go until he was at least 48 years old.  I listened to my daughter singing one of her spontaneous improvisational songs, and realized how much I still love to hear her singing randomly about whatever she happens to be thinking of at the moment.  She has been making up songs like that since she learned to talk, but one day I know that sweet, small sound will no longer grace my presence.  I still cherish it.  And finally, I realized that for all they do to try to send me to an early grave, they give me such an abundance of love and joy in return that all I have to do is shift my focus and I can recognize again how much I love them.

Giving love when we don't feel it, when we have to reach deep within ourselves to find it, is often the most challenging task of parenting, and of life in general.  But it is also one of the most important and rewarding skills we can develop.  I started learning how to do it when I first got married; I learned more about it when I became a mother; and I have ample opportunity now to practice it as a friend, daughter, sister, ex-wife, and still, a parent.  It takes effort to step back and think of what we can give instead of trying to get what we want for ourselves.  But when we get outside of our own comfort zone enough to do something for someone who may not deserve it at that moment, I believe we have finally started to discover what love truly is.  

Monday, July 26, 2010


A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on Facebook: 

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  ~Dalai Lama

The word “compassion” has been weighing heavily on my mind lately.  What is it, and how do we practice it?  Wikipedia defines “compassion” in the following terms:  Compassion (from Latin: "co-suffering") is a virtue —one in which the emotional capacities of empathy and sympathy (for the suffering of others) are regarded as a part of love itself, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnectedness and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood.

What touched me the most in that definition is to realize that our ability to practice true compassion is dependent upon our ability to love.  You cannot operate one without the other.  I have been thinking of compassion in terms of care and concern, of putting myself in another’s shoes, of trying to understand the pain and sorrow of others; but none of those things are possible without love.  Love is the foundation upon which true compassion is built.  And it is love that affords us the opportunity to help others in their times of need, no matter what the cost to ourselves.  Love and compassion are the opposite of selfishness and greed.  They allow us to give without regard for what we may receive in turn, but only with a desire to help make the burden of others a little easier to bear. 

Christianity as a whole talks an awful lot about love.  They talk about how God loves us, the love He gave in the sacrifice of His son, and our responsibility to love one another.  Yet, although it is easy to find a Christian who claims to understand love, it is often difficult to find those Christians who know how to practice it.  It is not until someone finds themselves in a place to truly need love and compassion given to them that they will learn who is able to practice it truly, regardless of religious labels or professed belief systems. 

It is hard to put all of my varied thoughts on this topic into words, and to that end, I spent a little time today reading quotes about compassion.  I have copied below some of those that were the most meaningful to me.   

The best practical advice I can give to the present generation is to practice the virtue which the Christians call love.  ~Bertrand Russell

Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up.  ~Jesse Jackson

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.  ~Henry Boye

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.
~Adam Lindsay Gordon

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong.  Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.  ~George Washington Carver

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love thy neighbor, and if it requires that you bend your understanding of the truth, the Truth will understand.  ~Robert Brault

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.  ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.  ~William Penn

Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone in order to do it.  ~Author Unknown

If you step on people in this life, you're going to come back as a cockroach.  ~Willie Davis

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cutting the umbilical cord

When a baby is born, there is no question about whether or not to cut the cord.  The only issue that may arise is who gets to hold the scissors, but the eventuality is the same:  The baby will be separated from the placenta and begin to grow on its own, into an independent person.

Sometimes, there are things in our lives that can be likened to that umbilical cord, an attachment to something we no longer need but have grown comfortable with, and the idea of separating from it can be a difficult one.  I went through such an experience recently with my faith.

Many years ago, when I was searching for answers about God and about life, I began studying with a Biblical research ministry.  At the time, it was a very good place for me to be.  I needed love, comfort, and stability in my life, and what I was offered there provided all of this and more for me.  I felt very much at home there spiritually and had no desire to explore elsewhere.  Eventually, I met my husband by way of circulating within this group of people, and thus was the foundation of our life together.  It was Biblical, and we agreed on everything Biblically because we were following the same teachings, and it was wonderful to feel like I finally had something right.  I couldn't screw this up because it wasn't about me, it was about God, and He is always perfect.  It was unfortunate to me that so many people would not see the truth as I knew it, but I was willing to accept that they were simply ignorant and was thankful that at least I had all the right answers.  There were some things that were difficult for me to accept, however, but I was taught that I must lay those things aside, because the Bible was right and I was wrong, and I must simply accept that there is only one absolute truth.  I did that, mostly, but some of those internal struggles never really went away.  They simply went dormant.

It wasn't until many years later in life, when some serious challenges arose in my marriage, that I began to consider the possibility that I didn't actually have all the answers.  In fact, all I had was more questions.  At that point, I started to think that there could be more than one right answer in life, and that people who had different ideas from my own could still be good people with successful lives.  In truth, I was both relieved and terrified to discover this; relieved because I no longer had to feel conflicted about wanting to accept others as they are, and terrified because it meant that the entire foundation upon which I had built my life and my marriage was about to crumble.

That happened about three years ago.  Since then, I have forced myself to stay active with the same ministry, the one that I began to follow roughly 18 years ago, but I have felt more and more like it is something that no longer fits me.  I can understand what they teach, and the basic premise of Christianity that supports it is part of who I am naturally, but I am no longer comfortable accepting the idea that there is only one way to get to all the right answers.  Truthfully, I haven't felt that it was the right place for me for quite some time, but I held on, comfortable with the protection given to me by that placental sac, afraid to let go and begin to grow on my own.  After all, what if they have been right all along?  What if it is the only way to live successfully?  What if I really do cut myself off from God's blessings if I walk away?  What would happen to me and to my children if I make the wrong choice?

Until recently, though, I did not feel I had the option to walk away.  I separated from my husband six months ago, and while I was with him I continued to wear my Bible face on Sundays and attend fellowship meetings with him.  I kept telling myself that it wasn't doing me any harm, after all, and besides, there was already so much strife and conflict in my marriage.  The only thin thread left holding it all together was the fact that, at least in theory, we shared the same beliefs about God and the Bible.

The reasons I ultimately left him had little to do with our spiritual differences, but after I moved away with the children, I felt obligated to continue my affiliation with the ministry, because I am the caregiver for his children, and that was the only thing we had always agreed on about how they should be raised.  I didn't want to take the children away from everything familiar to them all at once, and truthfully, I didn't want to do that to myself either.  I craved the comfort of knowing that there was one place I could go, just one, where things were still as they had always been, and I could feel safe in that familiar environment, like the comfort of a mother's womb.  And yet, if you imagine what a baby looks like in its mother's womb just before birth, there isn't much comfort left in it.  It is a cramped place, and the mother is growing more and more uncomfortable, and the two simply need to separate from each other before the rest of the growth can begin.  

Finally, I realized that I was forcing myself to attend these meetings, and was doing so begrudgingly, time and time again.  I didn't want to be there.  I didn't contribute much to the group by being there, and I didn't take away anything that was helpful to me.  I was there only out of obligation.  And for that reason, I finally cut the cord.  I had to be brave enough to speak up and tell my leader that while I think they are all great people, I am not supposed to be there for the people, but for the Bible that they teach; and in that, I can no longer feel honest in my presence there.  I do believe that the Bible can be used as a guide for life, and that it can be successful when people use it correctly, but I do not believe that it is the only place to find answers.  The search for answers should begin within one's own heart.  At one time in my life, those solid, verifiable, Biblical answers were satisfying to me, but I am at a place now where I need to begin to search within my own soul and find the answers that bring me peace; and I know that one thing I need to accept to find that peace is that the answers are different for everybody.  What works for one family or individual may not be right for another, and though we can all be drastically different from one another in what we believe, we can also each find a path that follows peace, love, and acceptance which allows us to live harmoniously with each other during the short time we have on this planet.

And now, here I stand, on my own, at peace.  It was sad to dissociate myself from a group that has meant so much to me and has given so much to help me grow to this point in my life, but when the time comes to let go, what good does it do to hold on?   I think of it as a spiritual rebirth for me--a time to let go of my personal struggles with spirituality over the past three years and start anew; a time to explore and learn and discover things about the world that I would once have dismissed as pure foolishness; a time to learn how to guide myself and my children by way of instinct and logic and love that comes from within my own heart, not from what someone else tells me is right or wrong.  I don't know what I will find, and honestly, I hardly even know what I seek.  I do know that I stand at the beginning of a long and intriguing journey that I hope will guide me to find answers which are right for me, whether or not they are right for anybody else around me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Very good news

Even as difficult as it seems my life is right now, there is still very, very good news to be told about my son.

When his school let out at the beginning of June, I started him on the Feingold diet and some supplements as a natural way to treat his ADHD.  His symptoms included hyperactivity, behavior problems, and learning difficulties, particularly with his handwriting, and he had been treated with Ritalin while at school.  It did help him to calm down and concentrate much better than he could without it, and it made it possible for him to accomplish school work that he could not complete otherwise.  But the side effects of the Ritalin included restlessness and difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, lethargy, and when he was coming down off the drug at the end of the school day, severe irritability and sometimes tantrums.  I had no choice but to medicate him at school because he could not work without the drug, but I was desperately hoping that during the summer, I would find some ways to manage his symptoms without the use of medication.

Since starting the Feingold diet, I have seen such a dramatic change in my son that I can hardly put words to it.  He is still an active boy, for certain, and he still gets into fights with his sister, but it is at the level of what I would consider normal sibling rivalry for two kids who are home together all summer long.  Gone are the failing limbs, constant jumping and throwing his body around, nonstop chattering, and the voluminous yelling.  Those things are replaced with a boy who is, at times, so quiet that I'll walk into the room and not even know he's in there.  I'll go walking through the house to look for him because I can't find him, and he'll be sitting quietly on his bed or on the sofa, reading a book.  Reading a book!!!!  He reads!  Or at other times, he will be in the same room with his sister, and they'll both be playing quietly and not disturbing each other.  That almost never happened before.  I am also seeing a noticeable reduction in his asthma and allergy symptoms, to the point where he was coughing and wheezing every night in bed and now does so rarely, if ever.  I hope this will become a permanent change for him.

Another area where I am seeing improvement is in his handwriting.  It has always been atrocious, but at least while on Ritalin, he developed some ability to write.  Before that he could not so much as pen his name.  But even so, when he did write, there were no spaces between words, the letters were oversized and scrawling, many of them were backwards, and it was for the most part illegible.  Like this:

(Translation:  This is my mom.  Her name is Anne Marie.  She has brown colored eyes.  She has brown colored hair.  I like it when she takes me to the park.)

Today, I had him sit down and write the titles of the books we have read for the summer reading program.  I noticed right away after looking at his writing that it was neater and there was very little letter reversal.  He has started writing the letter C and the letter S correctly, for starters.  It was a big deal to me to see him write his name for the first time without a backwards S.  He has always, always written it with a backwards S, until shortly after we started Feingold.

This is what his writing looked like today.  It still leaves a lot to be desired, of course, but the spacing and the overall tidiness of it looks improved to me.  Mostly, it's legible!

Here's a close up for a better look.  The first three lines were written a few weeks ago, when he had just started on Feingold.  It's hard to see because of the library stamp on it but it says "Food Chain Frenzy, Magic School Bus."  The other three titles were written today and I don't think they need translation!  

Okay, maybe only a mother would be proud of that...but dangit, I'm proud of that!

I really hope that the longer he stays on Feingold, the more we will see an improvement.  I still don't know if he'll be able to function well enough in school this fall without any medication, but hopefully, if he does need some, it can be at a lower dose.  And I have to say, I don't want to turn into a Feingold preacher girl, but I am so excited about what this has done for my son that it's become hard for me not to cringe when I see other kids eating tons of artificial colors and flavors.  I'm becoming a bit of a food snob.  Maybe that's a side effect of parenting on Feingold.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Limbo

I just looked up the Limbo song on YouTube.  It's a feel good song; it makes me think of relaxing on the beach with a cold drink in my hand.  I have to say, if I knew I had to be stuck in limbo for any period of time, and I could choose any limbo I wanted, I'd pick that limbo.  It's fun.

But...I'm stuck in a different kind of limbo.  I'm out of my marriage, but I'm not divorced.  I have a job to provide myself and my kids with income, but it isn't enough.  I have a plan to get a new job that will hopefully be better for me and my kids, but I can't seem to tap into my internal motivating force to start looking for that job.  I have a home to stay in temporarily, but indefinitely, while I figure all of this out, but I really want to be out on my own again.  And I'm fading in and out of bouts of depression, and just when I think I'm finally out for good, I sink back in again.

I'm working on finding my way out of this limbo, but it's a slow and sticky process.  There are lots of steps to take, so many that I tend to look at them all and then just want to run and hide in a corner somewhere instead of dealing with it.  I really hope that in the next week, I can find a way to make myself take just one step in the direction I need to go.  Just one.  And then the next, and slowly, steadily, I can rebuild my life and find a better place.

In the meantime, though, happy music helps.  I think I'm going to play that song again.