May 28, 2010

Becoming the Kite: My June Challenge

If you've spent any time reading this blog, you've probably noticed that I talk about myself probably more than is polite or healthy, and so I have to say a big fat THANK YOU if you've kept reading. Now I'm going to talk about myself just a little bit more, and then I promise to stop-- at least for a spell.

June holds the day my dad died, and then two seconds later it's Father's Day which wasn't even an easy day when my dad was alive. Last year I decided to surround myself with loving friendship on my dad's death day, and I planned to do that again this year, but there have been a few technical difficulties.

When I told my mom that the party plans are postponed she said, "But what are you going to do for yourself? How are you going to get through the day?"

I'm not sure about that yet, but I think I know how to get through the month.

I read a little blurb in O Magazine (just can't stop myself) where Jane Lynch (from Glee and almost every other show ever aired) talks about being a newly recovering alcoholic. She went to an AA meeting where her sponsor was crying in the corner, and Jane thought, "What did I do wrong?" and then she realized she hadn't done anything wrong; her sponsor's sadness had nothing to do with her. Her entire life she had been blaming herself for other people's unhappiness, and while others were gathered around her sponsor, consoling her, Jane was just standing there worrying about herself. Her self blame had allowed her to create a wall so that she never had to reach out to anyone.

If I'd had a light bulb floating above my head in that moment, it would have exploded.

I could offer examples of how this is also true for me, but I think you should just take my word for it.

At the UU church on Sunday, Rev. Leaf Seligman told the children a story about Martha and Jimmy, who liked to play together every day until the grown ups built a wall separating the land and their homes. The children missed each other very much, and then one day Martha flew a kite over the wall with a message: "Hi Jimmy. I miss you." When Jimmy found the kite, he wrote back: "Hi Martha. I miss you, too." Pretty soon all of the children were flying kites across the wall to their friends, and the sky was filled with colors.

Leaf ended the story by saying, "So boys and girls, the lesson for you is: Be the kite; don't be the wall." I took it as a sign.

So here's my plan: I'm going to be the kite over my own wall. I'm going to pretend that I don't believe everyone is annoyed or angry with me, because my therapist says we can make our brains believe something by pretending to believe it. So if you are having hostile feelings toward me, I'm just going to trust that you will tell me when you're ready and go about my business.

And Part B of my plan is to get my face out of the mirror and into the sunlight. I'll spend the month of June paying attention to other people instead of myself and writing about their brilliant ways. Aha!

The fine print here is that I'm long on ideas and short on follow up, so I may need a swift kick in the ass every so often. Feel free.

May 27, 2010

Sibling Loneliness or Parenting Against the Past

At times it's easy to forget there are ten years between Buckaroo and Sweet P. I'm thinking in particular about when they squabble over the TV, but there are good moments, too, the times when Buckaroo plays fireman and Sweet P runs around the house pretending to be on fire. It's a morbid little game, but they race with screaming giggles, which is a good sound to hear while I make dinner.

Right now we're all at the beach and Sweet P is floating in the water with our neighbor, Tap Girl. The girls intermittently break from their game of "Push Your Buddy Off the Floaty" long enough to tease Buckaroo with a skosh of play time. They pull him around on his pink dolphin boat or take turns pretending to let him save them from [insert violent doom of choice here].

But they are thirteen, and their interest in a preschooler wanes quickly. They're not trying to be mean, but soon they're kicking their rafts out to Blueberry Island, and Buckaroo is left on shore with his shovel and pail, wailing and kicking sand.

In our house it's not unusual to see Buckaroo chasing after his disappearing sister. Sometimes a friend will call Sweet P during the fireman game, and she miraculously recovers from the flames and disappears into the basement, whispering into the phone while Buckaroo, wearing only a red fireman's hat, bangs on the basement door, shouting, "I want to pway!" (He hasn't quite mastered his Ls.) I endeavor to distract him with puzzles, games, or cookie building, and he calms down eventually, but I know I'm not the playmate he wants in that moment.

The first time this happened, I was surprised by my reaction-- a strong ache in my throat-- but I have the same reaction every time, and eventually I realized that as hard as it is to see my son hurting, the ache I feel is for my younger self because watching the scene is a little bit like watching my own memories.

I don't have siblings in the traditional sense, but my Aunt Robin was six years older than me (still is, although I haven't seen her in years). She was the perfect playmate from the time I was three, sort of a weekend sister. Hide and Seek, Slip and Slide, Pick-Up Sticks, I don't remember ever tiring of her company. We could play all day, and when we were tired and hungry, she was tall enough to reach Grandma's hidden stash of Twinkies and Lucky Charms. Looking back I think, as the youngest of four sisters, she must have enjoyed the chance to be the oldest for a while. At night I slept in her bed, and we took turns tickling each other's backs until we fell asleep.

Then one day, after we'd played house for hours, Grandma and I dropped off Aunt Robin at her friend's house for a sleep over. I'm sure it wasn't the first time, but it was the first time I recognized that she was going off to do older kid things, that I wasn't welcome. Grandma and I watched from the car as Aunt Robin walked up her friend's driveway with her overnight bag, and I imagined that later I'd eat my Salisbury steak TV dinner with Grandma and watch Dallas while she rolled her hair in curlers, and I felt my first pangs of loneliness.

When I see Buckaroo chasing after Sweet P, I feel that lonely frustration all over again.

As we got older I became more of an annoyance than a playmate. I couldn't sleep in Aunt Robin's bed anymore because I woke her up too early; I was rude to her boyfriends; I couldn't keep a secret. I saw her less often. I was fourteen the day she was married. I was a bridesmaid, and as much as I wanted to be happy for her I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being left behind for good.

Tricia, 11 & Robin, 17

Strange that it should never occur to me that-- is there even a phrase for it? Sibling loneliness?-- would be one of the challenges of having children so many years apart, but my ignorance makes sense considering that I try not to think about Aunt Robin too much. She disappeared a long time ago, became a drug addict, abandoned her children. She lives somewhere in her own woods, I'm told. I locked away all of the feelings I associated with her, and they only floated to the surface in very bad dreams, until now. Buckaroo has become a little key, opening a door I had forgotten existed.

I am continually trying not to let my past influence the way I parent my children, but I'm sure every mindful parent knows the challenges there. I encourage Sweet P to play with Buckaroo, but I don't force her. (Ok, sometimes I include it as one of her chores if she seems game; digging sandcastles is more fun than washing dishes.) I remind her again and again --and again-- that before walking away from Buckaroo, she might try finding other solo interests for him. Give him a two minute warning, at least. Some days that works.

One day, about five years from now, Sweet P will go off to college, and I dread that day for myself, but also on Buckaroo's future eight-year-old behalf. Not too long ago a friend told me that she would never have children so many years apart because it was difficult for her to be the younger sister left behind. Another friend, though, loved visiting her older sister in college and remembers it as the best kind of vacation-- all the fun and none of the parents. I'm also trying to keep in mind that most children leave home eventually, and maybe it's not easy for any sibling, no matter the age difference.

I read somewhere-- I think it was O Magazine; don't judge me-- that reality is what it is, but we each have a movie playing in our heads made up of past experiences, and we view reality through the screen of that movie. These days I'm working to shut down the projector.

Our family is what it is, too, and while we have some of the same themes running through it, sibling frustrations being one of many, we have an opportunity to approach those themes in our own way. Still, R and I remind ourselves that we don't have to re-write the parenting book here, but maybe we can decorate it with our own illustrations.

And speaking of books, I went looking for children's books that address this topic, without much luck. I did find Forever Rose, but we may have to hit up our local librarian. Parenting would be a much bigger challenge without her.

May 21, 2010

Twelve Slightly Useless Lessons from the Garden

There are snakes out there. Don't kill the snakes, People! They are good and helpful creatures. R took this photo on his hike up the hill last weekend.

Here are a few other things I've learned while trying to become one with the earth:

1. One person's weed is another person's flower.

2. Beautiful things can grow in really bad soil and a lot of rocks.

3. Some plants really do return after the snow melts, but not all of them.

4. Those little plastic six packs are meant to be torn open, otherwise
one might end up beheading the flowers before they're planted.

6. Rooty veggies should be planted during a waning moon
and above-ground veggies during a waxing moon. I don't know why.

7. Frost happens.

8. Pressure treated wood is evil.

9. While nasturiums grow like weeds in California, not so much in Massachusetts
(see #3)-- plus, all that rain = more leaves, fewer flowers.

10. One's fingernails may fill with dirt even when wearing gardening gloves.

11. That weed prevention cloth may be handy, but digging through it is a bitch.

12. Marigolds smell like being four years old and may bring tears to one's eyes--
Ok, maybe that's just me. What's your nostalgic scent?

May 12, 2010

Mullet: It's Not Just a Bad Hair Cut Anymore

Our lake has a tiny concrete dam at one end where the water splashes over, runs through a pipe under the road, and flows downstream to our neighbor's pond. Throughout all of April there were fish swarming the dam, crammed in belly to belly, and it was very stressful to watch because the fish would get so close to the precipice that their tails would dangle in the air. I held my breath waiting for a wayward fish to slide downstream. I'm not sure that downstream is a safe place for them to be. It's shallow and rocky there and seems like a good spot for a fish to be stuck.

R googled and talked to a few people and discovered that the fish are white suckers (they eat just about anything) and are also sometimes called mullet, although they have no relation to the grey mullets that spend their time in tropical waters. For example, no one wants to eat the white sucker mullets, whereas one of the characters in The Elegance of the Hedgehog dines on mullet in a very posh French restaurant. It was a strange coincidence that I read that line in the book while our mullets were in a frenzy at the dam. I took it as a sign that I needed to write a little something about the fish, but then I got distracted, so it's May, and the mullets have gone, but here I am writing about them.

It appears that the dam is a hot pick up spot for mullets-- where they meet, mate, and lay eggs before stumbling the swim of shame back to the green depths. There's something about the fast-moving water that draws them to the dam. It seems crazy to me, though, because the water is so shallow there, and if I were a fish-loving bird, that's where I'd be spending my time. Free lunch!

I hoped to take a photo of the white sucker mullets, but there's a chain link fence surrounding the dam, so I couldn't get very close, and every time I tried to sneak up on them, Bella -- our lovely labby-- would bound up and frighten the poor fishies away. Maybe next year.

It just occurred to me that the mullets at the dam next year will probably be grown from this year's eggs, unless they're gobbled up in Finding Nemo fashion. Ah, well. Lately I find myself rooting for the predator and the prey-- everybody's gotta eat.

Maybe I'm toughening up, New England style.