Real time: Hunger, love, and a ticket to a funeral

I.

I am in the kitchen, burning tortillas.

Well, I’m supposed to be crisping a tortilla—Ender asked for a plain tortilla (we’re out of “his” cheese—i.e. the fake cheese-like substitute), and he asked for it crispy—and then more crispy… and then I got distracted.

This is take three, but I got this idea for a post and I started writing, so I’ll probably burn this one too.

Hold on…

Saved it. “It’s perfect,” Ender says.

Well, except for the lack of fake cheese. But he’s coping.

II.

I am feeling simultaneously tranquil and poetic. Calm and fiery. It’s a really interesting feeling—I wrote “cool feeling” first, then deleted it, because it’s not cool; if anything, it’s hot… but not so hot that it burns. Like still-warm bread, not scalding hot coffee.

Speaking of which, I am nursing a cup.

It is nursing me back, whispering sweet everythings into my lips with each sip.

III.

Yesterday, Flora and Cinder had an epic fight that ended up with him having cheese (real) in his hair and her being thrown to the floor, and me having to leave a community meeting to come and arbitrate.

Cinder called me on the phone. “She was greedy. I overreacted. She’s crying.”

The few minutes’ walk in the cold November air cooled my anger and my desire to declare that they were never ever EVER going to eat frozen pizza again.

(That’s what the fight was about. Aren’t epic fights so often about non-epic things?)

When I walked into the house, I was able to hear things. And to say things calmly and with love.

They didn’t like hearing them.

It was interesting. I won’t take you into the details of the situation—suffice it to say, there were two of them in it, and each one made the wrongest of the wrong choices along the way.

Cinder really didn’t like hearing that, because he was bigger, stronger, and older—it was on him.

This has been one of my parenting mantras since he’s been two.

“Big people take care of little people.”

“Flora’s not little.”

“She’s younger and smaller than you. More to the point, in this situation—she’s weaker than you.”

When big people take care of little people, everything is right with the world. When they don’t—everything goes to hell. Pretty much completely.

IV.

At this precise point, I get a text from my Dad telling me he found out his Dad died.

Not unexpected news.

I am not at all sure how it makes me feel.

Sad for my dad, and sad for my grandfather’s immediate family back in Poland. My aunts and my cousins will mourn him fervently.

Me?

I hardly knew him.

V.

The text, however, changes—if not precisely my mood, I am still tranquil and poetic, warm like bread from the oven, bubbling with something that needs to come out—the direction of my thoughts.

Sean’s grandmother died the day Cinder was born. She was critically important to Sean’s life, and her loss—then, physical, before that, slowly to dementia—caused him immense pain. She loved him, so much—I witnessed this first-hand when we visited her, even when she was losing her thoughts. And he loved her.

Being loved and loving is very important.

VI.

That, really, is what I try to tell Flora and Cinder—instead of punishing him, punishing them both, yelling.

Loving is important. Feeling loved is important. Feeling safe in your house, in your family is SO IMPORTANT.

I think they understand.

Ender comes home from a friend’s house after the crisis is over.

“I’m hungry,” he announces.

VII.

Sean spent the day and the evening of the epic fight at the Neufeld Institute Conference: Resilience, Recovery & Relationship: Towards Flourishing Children & Youth.

That’s Gordon Neufeld, as in the author of Hold On To Your Kids:

…which, 15 years into my parenthood journey, is one of the two parenting books I still keep on my bookshelf and in my heart, and which I am so grateful to have encountered when Cinder was fresh. (The other is Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn)

When he gets back, he debriefs me on the conference…

“And I just kept on finding myself in these situations where people would say, ‘I’m just checking out what this is all about, I guess it’s sort of interesting,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, we’ve been running a 15-year experiment in attachment-based development of empathy and self-regulation, and I’d say this stuff isn’t just interesting, it’s THE thing that’s the foundation of EVERYTHING!’”

I ask the kids if they want to debrief him on the fight.

Flora: No.

Cinder: We had a stupid fight. Flora was greedy. I over-reacted and I hurt her. I feel really bad.

Sean particularly wants to talk to me about food. One of the ways that Ender frustrates me is…

Ender: I’m hungry!

Jane: I just fed you!

Sean’s full of fresh insight about food and attachment and security and love. I listen carefully; reflect.

When I myself am full, and Ender says, “I’m hungry,” I hear it for what it is.

“Love me. Pay attention to me.”

When I myself am hungry… well.

VIII.

My mother calls and asks me if I want to go to Poland for my grandfather’s funeral.

I’m shocked to find out… that I do.

IX.

Sean calls me as soon as he gets my text. He was about to ream out Gordon Neufeld for his antiquated position on video games (let’s save that story for another time). I ask him about going to the funeral. Should I? Is it strange that I want to?

He doesn’t hesitate.

“Go.”

X.

I am in the kitchen, a cup of cold coffee dregs at my left hand, my wedding album at my right (my laptop in-between them). I have the album open to photographs of me and my grandfather, now more than 17 years old. I’m 26. He’s already old. He’s already a stranger. I’ve seen him twice since my wedding day—no more than a handful of times in the 20 years between ages six and 26.

In one of the photographs, he’s reading a Christian gospel, in Polish, at my Canadian-atheistic-pagan wedding.

XI.

I’m looking out the window—the air is thick with snow.

I am still feeling… tranquil. Poetic.

Sad. But in a… in a really good way.

And suddenly, so fucking full, if Ender walked into the kitchen right now and said, “I’m hungry,” I’d bake him a cake and a find a way to cover it with delicious dairy-free icing (surely, there must be such a thing).

xoxo

Jane

written and posted in real time

The day I stopped reading parenting books

My friends and I have been passing this Science Daily article to each other—a short piece reporting UK research to the effect that for some five decades now, child-rearing “experts” via their manuals and how-to books, having been telling mothers to do impossible things. The authors use the term “setting the bar too high”; I would use the expression “setting mothers (and fathers) up for failure.”

Now, if you’re a 21st century parent like me, you’ve consumed at least half-dozen different parenting books, a bunch of them before your baby’s first birthday. Probably more, right? How many? I think in the first two to three years of my own journey, I read them all. This is the (short) story of when I stopped reading them and why. Flora was about 10 months old, and Cinder three and change.

From 2005: My son peed in my daughter’s ear today, and in the split second of silence between my “Oh, God, Cinder, gross, gross, gross, what were you thinking?” and his ear-splitting, half-remorseful, half-angry “Waaaaaaaaaaaah!”, I condemned myself as a parent. He did this because I breastfed him too long/not long enough, because I did not script the introduction of his new sister into his life as perfectly as, say, Dr. Sears did each of his eight children, because I let him eat too much Halloween candy, because I laugh at his other scatological jokes, because I did not punish him that time he peed on the pigeons in the park…

Minutes later, we’re washing Flora’s head together, Cinder repeating to himself, “We pee in the potty, we pee in the potty, sorry Flora, sorry mommy,” then, “but I can pretend pee on Flora, right, Mommy? Is that funny?” I look at him and blink my eyes. I really don’t know what to say. I have half a shelf of parenting books, including Dr. Sears’ Discipline Book and What to Expect the Toddler Years (the book I love to hate). If I look in the index, I will not find, “pee on sibling” or “how to discipline when pees on sibling” or “pretend pee and poop play, how to deal with.” I’m on my own here, and if I say or do the wrong thing, Flora will smell like urine for the rest of her life.

Cinder climbs into the tub beside Flora and piles bubbles on her head. “Flora is a bubblehead, bubblehead, bubblehead,” he sings. “Look, Mommy, I’m washing Flora,” he says. And at that precise moment, I have an epiphany, at least party because my crisis has been averted—he is no longer looking for guidance as to whether pretending to pee on Flora is funny; I don’t need to provide that particular answer right now.

Here’s my epiphany: I’m a damn good mother, and will remain a damn good mother regardless of how I handle the “pee on sibling” incident. One, in the long run, my specific response to this specific challenge doesn’t matter. He will not be peeing on his sister when he’s six; much less when he’s sixteen. Two, three minutes later, it’s all forgotten—at least by Cinder and Flora—apparently one of those events the universe just throws at you to see if you have a sense of humour. Three… parenting books suck.

From Life’s Archives, November 7, 2005 —Yes, he really peed on her // The Day I Stopped Reading Parenting Books

Calliope Hummingbird / Stellula calliope - fem...

From 2012: So is it true? Have I really stopped reading parenting books? Well… there’s a chapter of Gordon Neufeld’s Hold On To Your Kids I revisit almost every year (I’ll tell you which one, and why, soon). I’ve kept Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting on the bookshelf still… I haven’t re-read since the pee-in-ear incident, but I think the world’s a better place because that book exists. And I do have a handful of blogs on living with children, learning and family adventures I like to visit. I like to laugh at their adventures, empathizes with their misadventures (so many of theme echo my own), and maybe get inspired by their solutions—or reject their solutions as inappropriate to my family and our path. None of them—not even Dr. Neufeld—will ever—nor should they—tell me what to do when my son pees in my daughter’s ear. I’ve got to figure that out for myself.