but not tonight, not tonight

“They say money can’t buy Happiness. But money can buy PopTarts, and that’s pretty close.”

My son is talking to me as I finish journaling, hang up some wet clothes, get ready for bed. He’s been high-energy all day from our roadtrip to a now-notorious, horrible brunch – where he ate only a small square of strawberry shortcake as he found the rest of the fare “disappointing”, to home again and a few play sessions outside with friends and next door at my mother’s, to a tokusatsu film together, and now – leaving me to write, he plays with his massive store of Legos.

He shaved his hair off the other day: now he’s just another lanky little jug-eared boy, his soft head all scruffy when he leans into me, still as physically affectionate as when he was just a little sprout. My Mother’s Day was another very sweet one, spent with my family in idleness. Besides the wretched first meal, my husband cooked a wonderful lunch and dinner. The gifts I made and purchased my mom, seemed well-received. My podcast heroes played my call-in and discussed it. My favorite kitty settled in on my lap and permitted me to pet him.

Now, in my studio: a fine flannel for a shirt. A vegetarian lasagna nestles in the fridge, for tomorrow night. Downstairs, I hear my husband return from a late-night run. My mind is going over things I don’t share publicly, thoughts about my children and school and our plans for the future. My mind will soon take a rest and tomorrow will be 

Another Day

“and I am bored to death with it.”

I think now that both children are in school I feel more anger, more muffled, and less energetic. Lost, purposeless even, at times. I am reminded – and reminded yet again – of how unfriendly the world is to children. How much we like to cram them in supervised, dull spaces. Worse than that: how little others seem to care. Children are institutionalized and herded and everyone seems to feel just fine about this. Last week my son was bullied by a school authority to get in the car with an adult he didn’t trust; this week, he is booted out of community classes that are apparently not-so-open to all, after all.

Not so long ago I was writing for unschooling publications – and putting forth my own perspectives, here, when asked. In 2014 I garnered a paying writing arrangement with a homeschooling magazine that, before one piece was written, was mutually abandoned by both parties when my second child enrolled in the public system.

So now, it seems like we’re just like “everyone else”. I’m living a life I don’t feel too enthused about – that of a schooling family – meanwhile knowing my job, right now, is (as ever!) to support my children in the exploits they seek for themselves.

In that respect, anyway, Ralph and I really are different than most families: our children have the choice, and they know it, and this is backed up by our past actions – not just words. I can feel a lot of comfort in that. I know that by doing that, we are indeed doing something special.

Of the children, only our oldest likes school unequivocally: she pursues extracurricular activities of band, of sport, of academia, of creative writing and art, and of social-spiritual community. She enjoys herself and succeeds in an even-keeled way, earning straight-As and never once asking for help with homework. She puts herself to bed on time and wakes herself in the morning. At the end of the day, on the drive home, she shares her concerns and gives me reasonable lead-times on deadlines. I could serve her up to another family, a boarding school, and she’d be nothing but an asset.

Our son is fitting in far better than I thought he would. Like his sister, he excels academically without much effort. However he is far more interested in recess (and the never-ending schoolwide game of kickball), gym, and lunch – in that order. He is vocal about his displeasures: classroom struggles, the social hypocrisy he has found in the institution, and of course the early-morning schedule (you and me both, little guy!).

All that said, by any measure both my children are a tremendous success in school. Exactly no one is surprised by this, of course.

School works for them, then, but it doesn’t particularly work for me. Deep this evening as a wet darkness sets in, I’m standing in my living room thinking of all this, my minor grudges, the dissatisfaction of institutionalization and segregation. My son is perched on the edge of the couch, dressed in his down coat; the front door is wide open, and my husband gathers up the dog for a late-night walk. I think of how it’s unfair to ask my children to fight my battles, to wrestle with my inner demons, or even to care about what I care about. They are satisfied – why am I not? How rubbish the whole business is, really, I’m thinking.

But school, at least, provides me plenty of time to rest – handy when I am ill, or injured, or as is the case now: both – and plenty of time to myself. School allows me time to reflect and meditate on how quickly children grow, and how much more freedom I have now that they’re older.

So I tell myself – like tonight, when I’m angry with the latest (hardly-a-)setback, that since that is What Is In Fact Happening, it must be What’s Supposed To Be Happening. My mind wanders: possibilities. Perhaps this is the time for me to deepen my practice of yoga and Buddhism. Perhaps this is my time to reflect and rest more. Perhaps this is my time to study my marriage, or to strengthen my friendships.

The winter is dark, and damp, and uncomfortable; my mind runs to these currents as well. My children are happy, and safe, and loved – and excelling in what they want to do. Really, a mother has no other vocation where her dependents are concerned.

mothers’ day

A lovely morning with the kids. Sewing. A lunch date with my family, and my mother. Some volunteer work. A visit from a friend. Holding my husband’s hand. About to get into bed with him, now. It’s been a long day!

 

 

This morning my mom came over and told me she was giving me the most beautiful thing she owned – some columbine she’d waited three years to bloom:

 

From Ralph and the kids: a coconut cream cake and a pop-out weasel card – both homemade! #wins

 

While I was out doing my volunteer thing, Ralph made a video. I love that he uses only: his voice, his uke, his car keys, and his wedding ring.

 

 

I’d love to write some awesome verbiage but today was a big day for me and I’m beat-ass tired.

G’night, my lovelies!

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #9

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the ninth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.

This is item #9. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, #5 here, #6 here, #7 here, and #8 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this evening: on an 8 o’clock walk, Phoenix and Hutch pause and goof around. Hutch is RARING TO GO, out to the mile long semi-wild loop we call “The Flats”, just a few blocks from my house. The kids and Hutch get to here every day; usually Ralph or I (or both) also take the dog this way later in the day.

Happy Pup + Happy Daughter

#9. Parent my hopes, not my fears. Works brilliantly.

I parented my fears for many years. I thought about writing in a general way to cover lots of ground, but I’m worried these Ten List posts are too general. So let me talk about something specifically. Manners and so-called “socialization”.

For years I tried to parent my kids to be “polite” and well-mannered. I know that sounds good on paper, right? But unfortunately, “manners” were required at the expense of my kids’ authenticity; and, to be honest, at the expense of my own. Specific social niceties were required years ahead of when it was reasonable for a child to develop them. These behaviors were essentially enforced, rather than looked at as something they would naturally learn if I modeled them; what I like to call the long view of compassionate parenting. You know those annoying adults who give your three year old child a treat and then sing-song, “What do you saaayyy?” (meaning: This was not actually a gift, YOU MUST THANK ME FOR LIKE AN ANGRY AND CAPRICIOUS MINI-GOD I DOLE OUT CORN SYRUP BLESSINGS)? Yeah, I basically went along with that. “Say ‘please’,” I’d order them. Like a douche.

I sold my children out.

Oh, not every single time of course. And hey, weren’t my intentions good? It’s something many parents do, if not most (if you seriously think I’m judging, you don’t read me too closely). Today I have compassion for my former strategies. I wasn’t just culturally-trained to parent my children this way; it was also a family lifestyle. I certainly came by it honestly.

Yet, parented this way myself, I had not only resented it, but I’d learned the wrong things. I remember going out to a restaurant and one of my parents was so servile to her perception of the waitstaff’s time schedule that often I did not get to order the food I want, rushed through my selection I’d be forced to eat something I didn’t want. I wasn’t treated like an adult would be. Well into my adulthood this same parent did the same thing. A couple years ago she apologized to the waitress when I asked, perfectly politely, for an ice tea refill. “Excuse me, may I have a refill on my ice tea?” I ask. “Sorry!” my mom winces and calls out at the waitress. TRUE STORY.

This sort of thing was not an isolated incident, but hopefully it serves. I didn’t like being parented that way for about a dozen reasons. One, I learned as a child I was less important than an adult. I always knew this was bullshite, but I didn’t seem I had many people to back me on this. (Later, sadly, I would treat my own children as “less than”.) Two, I often felt like my parents, in particular my mother, would sell my ass out to meet some kind of approval from a perfect stranger. I hated my mother for needing that kind of approval from others. I hated her for not being in my corner. If your mom’s not in your corner, who is?

I’m happy to tell you today I no longer carry that hate and resentment; my mother’s need to get approval is none of my business. But releasing the resentments of my past does not mean I don’t remember how it felt and the reflexive responses I developed. Namely, being a people-pleaser. Saying “I’m sorry” for stuff that wasn’t mine. Caring more about “polite” and “nice” than kind, compassionate, and authentic. Saying “Yes” to stuff and coming to resent the person I’d said Yes to. Twisted shit.

Years ago I read an article by author Naomi Aldort entitled “How Children Learn Manners”, which fully articulated what I didn’t like about the way I’d been raised and the way, de facto, I kept treating my own kids. This article blew open everything I couldn’t fully articulate as a child. I’ve sent it to parents now and then who struggle with this issue.

I began to parent my hopes. I began to stop demanding my children perform in public. I began watching my own behavior and talking to my husband more about the problems in our previous approach. We figured if we modeled civility the kids could learn it (we were right).

I wasn’t perfect at this – specifically relinquishing controlling behavior. Old habits die hard. There was this weird gap too where I hadn’t learned to address my kids’ deeper issues effectively, but was determined not to be scary to them in public, and there were times I was caught amiss and the kids were too. (Here’s a great, gory story you’ll love.) I went through doubts and fumbles. But I am so glad I stuck to it.

Today I have no regrets. My children are kind and considerate. When they say Thank You, they mean it. They have well-developed consciences. Two days ago I came home and the children hadn’t done the dishes as they’d said they would; when my eight year old walked in from taking the dog out he said, “I apologize mama, for not doing the dishes.” then he did them. Stuff like that. The system works.

The truth is, it is rather easy to bully one’s children into being “well-behaved”, but it is not a lasting model, and there are so many negative side effects, as I’ve written on at great length in many other writings. It isn’t the issue so much but the methodology; I was parenting out of Fear. Fear they wouldn’t be nice and that it would reflect on me. Yup, I didn’t want to admit that to myself, but that was just about it. Talk about being self-absorbed!

Today I can parent out of Hope. Not even hope – Faith. I absolutely know children grow up on their own terms, and are best served being treated well and being around adults who treat all people well, big or small. I know it because I’ve seen it. I’m passing it on here, so maybe you’ll believe in it for long enough until you see it for yourself. Maybe you can have some Hope until you get your Faith.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #8

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the eighth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.

This is item #8. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, #5 here, #6 here, and #7 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this evening: my kids horsing around, skateboarding and fortune-telling. At far right you can see the corner of our rental’s porch, covered in some kind of outdoor carpet and inundated with enough cat piss to be seriously disgusting. Oh and by the way, this is many hours of play today; my children love each other very much.

New Boot Goofin'

#8. Remember my job is twofold: to make my job obsolete, & help my kids have awesome memories.

This post may seem redundant. After all, I wrote a bit a couple days ago about what kinds of parenting I’ll be glad to reflect on, and what I might be less glad to remember. I have a few more words about keeping parenting in perspective.

Our children are the authors of their own lives. Once we know that, and commit to helping them, we can stop letting our minds be run by “experts” and stop letting every magazine article or parenting guru or next-door-neighbor invoke our insecurity. It doesn’t take a particularly organized, well-groomed, college-educated, perfectly-devoted, etc. etc. mother (or parent or carer) to know what one’s child needs. Sometimes their needs baffle us, or frighten us. Sometimes they are screaming and we don’t know why. Sometimes we sense they are unhappy, deeply so, maybe for days or months on end. As they get older it can get scarier. Maybe they’re cutting themselves or showing signs of very troubled relationships or drug or alcohol use.

The day we throw up our hands and pretend we don’t have a right and a responsibility to help them is the day we let them and ourselves down, profoundly. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen time and time again. I’m not saying you have to be perfect – please, PLEASE read my whole many-year blog if you want to see Imperfection in action – I’m saying that there are always mentors, there is always prayer and meditation (if you are earnest and don’t find it objectionable), there is always community to help. Have a bad day? Cool. What do I do with my bad day? These days, for a little while at least, I’ve been able to forgive myself and dust off my knees and get going. I operate not out of self-pity, fear, and anger, but out of gratitude, humor, and some degree of humilty. String a few days together like that and this parenting thing can become a joy no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

I have the privilege of living in a home with my children and being able to give them my time. My time and my unconditional love are job #1. They will have plenty of adversity in their life and I am not frightened of it. My job is not to shield them unnecessarily; but also, not to organize the adversity for them. It is sad how many parents and carers are locked into doing just that.

I’m a bit hesitant to post a list several parents assembled on the ways we organize adversity for our children: “How To Screw Up Unschooling”. The list is helpful enough; but one thing I know is that parents often beat themselves up very badly and sometimes don’t even know they’re doing it. Parents expect themselves to be so-called “perfect” parents (mothers are pressured a great deal especially) and again, may not even know they’re doing it. The list – which is not at all confined to those who identify as “unschooling” or pro-unschooling – can be used as a series of life-changing opportunities. If you like, print it out without looking at it and have someone else slice it up into stack of slips. Work on each little scrap of paper for a week. Go easy. Be kind. Prepare to have your mind blown. It’s that fun.

Children are resilient. They shouldn’t have to be, but they are. Nevertheless, don’t let “children are resilient” be an excuse to continue ignoring that voice deep within that tells you how you are mistreating them, or how you are mistreating yourself (and therefore, them).

The real question is, are we resilient? Are we able to admit, “I’ve been doing _____ for a while now and I don’t want to do it any more.” That is the beginning of admitting we are faltering and being that much more open to asking someone for help. We are not the first person to be confronted with what seems like an impasse. Believe me, tangentially, as an alcoholic and a survivor, this process holds deep meaning. I can tell you that saying, “I’ve been doing _____ for a while now and I don’t want to do it any more” is a perfectly good start. Maybe you don’t know how you’ll ever change your reality, your habits, your circumstances. I’m here to tell you change is possible and the construct of No-Choice is an illusion and a choice in and of itself.

Admit where you’re living a way you no longer want to. Trust another human being and ask for help. You have only a better future to gain.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #6

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the sixth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it. 

This is item #6. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, #4 here, and #5 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from 6 o’clock: my daughter has just asked me if I got dog biscuits for our dog, and I took a few pictures to stall my answer, which is no, not yet. I’m going to get some soon, promise.

My Daughter Asks A Hard-Hitting Question

#6. Parent the way I’ll look back on & think, FUCK YEAH. For me this means relaxing more, judging less.

When my daughter was very wee – I may not have even been pregnant with her younger brother – I took her out on the streets of Port Townsend with me. It was beautiful out after a refreshing rain. And even though finances were tight while we lived there, I always worked hard to make sure my kids had quality footwear and raingear (my mom often bought their winter coats each year, for which I am grateful). On this day I’d dressed my child to play in the rain comfortably. She had boots and a raincoat and wee mittens and she was fed and she was dry in her diaper and we were going for a walk. Crossing the street she wanted to splash in a puddle a few feet out of our path. We veered off, her little hand in mine, and she made a satisfying jump and (to her mind) a massive SPLOOSH in the puddle, and she was happy as shit.

An older man passed us in the crosswalk right as my daughter completed her gleeful stomp and splash. I looked up and our eyes met. He smiled and said, “Good mama.”

I want to be the parent who does what my kids need me to do.

I am not going to look back and be glad I yelled at the kids for making a mess, or glad I bitched at them about how we couldn’t afford X because it was so expensive, and enforce all of MY money anxieties aloud or by my tacit behavior. I am not going to be glad I pressured them from the sidelines to be MY kind of athlete or to be the best in gymnastics or swimming; I won’t be glad I exercised my will to get them to impress coaches or to beat other kids’ performances. I am not going to be glad I “managed” their relationship with their grandmother(s) or their father or the neighbor kids, that I made sure they thought and acted the “right” way. I am not going to be glad I cluttered up their schedule with activities and treats to compensate for my bad moods or feelings of personal inadequacy.

I am going to look back and be glad I tickled them late at night when everyone else was asleep and we were dissolving in giggles. I am going to be glad I watched monster B-movies and ghost-adventures with them, I am going to be glad I took long walks to nowhere out in the woods or along the beach, I am going to be glad I made all their favorite foods and made some of my own favorites and shared with them how to do those things, when they’re interested.

I am going to be glad I spent the time helping them clip nails and brush teeth and take baths. I am going to be glad I took a few minutes to recognize that their first visit to the doctor’s or that their vaccinations are a big deal for them, and to be Present for them during this. I am going to be glad I take the time to find out what their interests are and why, and not offer my opinion if I don’t “get” video games or the latest pop star they’re into or their personal clothing style.

I am going to be glad I bought them everything they need to do their art or have their fun, within my absolute best abilities to get them these things. I am going to be glad I sewed them their favorite clothes and their unique and beloved Halloween costumes. I am going to be glad I let them have as many sleepovers, as many trips “froggin'” at the railroad tracks, as many s’mores and outdoor fires, as many bike rides to new parks, as many ice cream cones on as many summer days, as many of their favorite comic books as I can afford.

I’m going to be glad when I take care of my needs – not require them to – and then I give and give and give without thought of return.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #5

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the fifth installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it. 

This is item #5. You can find item #1 here, #2 here, #3 here, and #4 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. A picture from this afternoon: my children cleaning up the play/bedroom upstairs. Within about ten minutes the beds were tidied, linens in the laundry, Legos put away, floors vacuumed, and costumes and stuffed animals bundled away. The kids also vacuumed the large bedroom and my sewing room. No threats, bribes, or coercion were employed.

Housework; Upstairs

#5. Allow myself to suffer public discomfort for a few minutes; stop parenting in a reactionary fashion.

I’m going to get down to brass tacks and say it: there are very few emergencies in public that require us to step in forcefully with our children. Full stop. And yet, we do it anyway. For many of us, it becomes a way of life. It isn’t the handful of times they run into the road at age two, when most people could easily understand a deeply-frightened parent grabbing a child and striking the child’s bottom. No. It becomes our way of life. We grab their arms or yell at them or perhaps, even more sinister, we impart consequences, many not necessarily violent, and build a world so fearful for them they are petrified to make mistakes in public. We do whatever we can to coerce them to behave well.

I have so much empathy and sadness for how this starts for so many. Maybe it starts at age six months when the infant cries in a restaurant and we capitulate to the glares of those who think children do not belong in public spaces; resentful, embarrassed, overwhelmed, and full of congested shame we flee the restaurant. We skip our meal, we women (usually) who sleep little and don’t eat enough and are overwhelmed and often ill-supported; we make sure no one is inconvenienced by our young child. And there it starts.

Sooner or later comes the day we are too tired and too overwhelmed and we don’t leave the restaurant and our kid cries and we think, “Fuck it.” Perhaps we hate our child. Perhaps we hate the world. We feel the disapproval of strangers or father-in-law or whomever but we cannot bring ourselves to march out that door and abandon our rights; nor can we cope with our current reality. Sadly, our parenting skills decline. Sadly, our child – sensing she is not welcome in the cafe and she is somehow disappointing her mother or even incurring her mother’s wrath – is left frightened and defenseless and without an advocate. This becomes a way of life; feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, resentful. It becomes a problem we cannot name but we feel it’s effects.

Our children suffer the most. Not the stranger in the coffee shop or the father-in-law. Not even us, although we suffer a great deal. But:

our children suffer the most.

And they learn how to parent their own children; and they learn how to manage those who need help. That is, they learn to MANAGE them. Or to try. They cannot tolerate the pain and suffering of others; they cannot tolerate their own pain and suffering.

If there’s anything I could take back, it’s the time and time again I parented in a reactionary fashion (I sometimes call this “reptilian parenting”), caring more for my reputation and for my kids’ “good behavior” than parenting according to a long view of what parenting is really about. And that is, briefly, this: as my children’s parent it is my job to keep them safe – and for a time, to keep others safe from them – and to nurture them and to be their advocate and helper.

It is not my job to make sure others approve of their very existence and/or my parenting or any particular episode of my life.

I have little patience for those who call the practitioners of punitive parenting “monsters” or some such, who loudly call spanking “child abuse” on internet forums. Certainly hitting someone smaller and less empowered than us is abuse, full stop. But someone being called a “child abuser”, her ears will close up. You have effectively tapped the shame she’s been feeling. She will stop listening. She will hate you. She will feel more lost and alone.

It is very unlikely she will stop hitting her child. She will not know where to seek help.

There are many who believe punishment is the right way of things; but these people are not monsters. They merely believe in a strategy I myself do not support, but they have come by these beliefs through intense indoctrination. Even so, there are few parents and carers who don’t feel pangs of conscience when they punish their children. Calling these parents or carers names, shaming them, will effect little change, no matter how briefly exhilarating it is to rehearse righteous anger.

When you call them names you are demonstrating YOUR inability to tolerate other people’s suffering.

In any case, so many out there vilify and call parents names that I can relinquish this right. It’s being taken care of by other parties.

It is never my intention to shame parents or carers who read here. I have not always been skilled at being careful, and I have my own biases and prejudices I may not be aware of. But hopefully I am better today than in previous writings.

I have a few closing remarks.

If you yell at your kid, give them a “time out”, count to three (repeatedly or once), hit them, scream at them, pinch their arm, cold-bloodedly smile while planning to later remove their most precious precious thing EVER when you get home, employ “natural and logical consequences” – in short, PUNISH them, do something to them to elicit emotional pain – and EVERY parent/carer has done this

– if you do any of these things:

DON’T PANIC. I’ve done them all (well, except maybe the “count to three” thing). I don’t do them anymore. If you want to stop, it’s possible. It’s a beautiful way of life, and it works. My children’s character, empathy, strength, loving nature, self-control, and care for other human beings is testament to a better way. I write here to help people who want to learn how to parent non-punitively; or rather, those who want to unlearn mainstream schema of punish, mold, “correct”, coerce.

It’s possible and I’m happy to help any who want it.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #3

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on “ten lists” I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the third installment of my first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.

This is item #3. You can find item #1 here and #2 here.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. So from this afternoon: my children play in the beach. I posted lots of these pictures at my Flickrstream today, because as I went through them, each one showed the kids’ delight at being in the water, which they dove into without hesitation the minute we hit the sand. I couldn’t pick a favorite.

Unschooling Beach

#3. Find mentors for something I’m new to & stay open. Very much worth the time!

Dedicated to my mentors… too many to list! Here are a few I talk about here: Wendy, Cheryl, Kathee, Sylvia, Jennifer, Charla, Linda.

A mentor is strictly defined as: an adviser. That’s it. What’s the difference between a mentor, a leader, an “expert”, an elder, a caring friend, a smart co-worker, a member of your mama’s group, book club, or poker night buddy?

I define a mentor as “someone who has something I want”. That is, they have a quality I want, and they have a quality I currently don’t have. I’ve had many such mentors. One woman had experience in the field I needed help in. One had an immense amount of faith, and a spiritual strength I’d never before witnessed in person. One had forgiveness that astounded me. One had loyalty that took my breath away. One had bravery and vulnerability despite incredible odds. One had generosity that surpassed understanding. One had leadership in the field of helping others.

A mentor should be willing to help me without regard for return. A mentor is willing to take time for me, even if the help is just an email response. A true mentor won’t take ownership of my life, nor try to force an outcome, or make my behavior requisite for their approval. They merely exist to serve. Sometimes, often, a mentor is also a friend. But they don’t have to be.

I have responsibilities in this relationship. It is my responsibility to recognize a mentor’s limitations. It is my responsibility not to hold them accountable for my difficulties. It is my responsibility to be mindful. It is my responsibility to receive from the mentor what she is capable of delivering. Some mentors can provide me skills in one area but not another. I don’t go to the hardware store for oranges, to use a phrase I recently heard.

I have been on the mentor side of the relationship, too. I have had the honor of assisting others and I try to employ the principles listed above. I do not require reciprocity in any form: financial payback, blog hits, a certain kind of friendship or alliance with me when my life has troubles. To the degree I can help others, I give it freely.

My responsibility as a mentor is to be kind and gentle, and to let people have their own problems. My responsibility is to listen as deeply as I can and to not project my own persona onto theirs. My responsibility is to be mindful.

The benefits I receive by being able to help others are immeasurable and profound.

Despite the world being full of caring friends, fun coworkers, loving family, elders, leaders, and “experts”, a mentor relationship is hard to find. It is worth it to consider who could mentor you. I’ve learned the most valuable life skills through my mentors. I owe them a great deal of gratitude and I take time to express this gratitude. Any quality I have today, that you admire, tell me about it – and I’ll tell you who helped me with it and how.

Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #1

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on ten lists I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. So from today: here’s my daughter Phoenix. She’s going to grow up to be a Furry, I think. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That. #LOL

Phee

#1. Stop judging other parents; stop being self-critical. Both are self-obsessed behaviors.

“Stop judging” usually runs into one of two quagmires right off the bat. The first is, “What do you mean don’t judge, we all make judgments, I have the right to decide what’s best for myself/my family/my kids,” blah blah blah.

So about choices. Just this week I’ve chosen many times over, at any given moment, whether to clean my house, play with my kids, work volunteer hours, cook homemade fare, build my garden, pet or walk my dog, exercise, have a date with my husband, visit friends, sew, write, rest. Et cetera. Each time I chose one thing I couldn’t very well do the others. This is life. It happens.

So let’s drop the pretense. We all discren and we all make choices. We’re all doing the best we can on any given day, and we all make mistakes. No one is free from making mistakes, from having wrong perceptions, from being driven by fear and anger. We can only demonstrate our will, our uniqueness, or what Viktor Frankl called “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” in how we respond to our anger, fear, our mistakes. Some of us have a sense of humor, humility, and openness about these things; some of us, less so. I’m hoping this post restores or imparts humility, humor, and courage. These are all traits accessible to every single human being.

There’s a second speedbump in mainstream culture when we talk about unlearning judgment. For those of us brought up Nice White Lady  (*raises hand*), we interpret the pop-culture mag articles about not-judging to mean merely the outward appearance of civility. In other words, “keep your opinions but keep them quiet, merely dropping hints in public, and finding those who’ll share in your hatred and judgment when you want to be more open about it all. OUT LOUD judgment or judgment voiced in the wrong company is Mean & Nasty, a social gaffe.”

Just: No. Keeping nasty comments to yourself is a start; but it’s the inner voices that will hurt you and then necessarily, hurt others. Those perceptions and judgments will construct pitfalls for other parents, for children, and for yourself. You will fall on the sword you install. Every time. And P.S., you aren’t making things easier for others when you live this way. This didn’t used to occur to me. It matters to me, today.

My experience informs me that judging other people (and finding them inferior, worthless, “bad”, et cetera) is our Ego’s response to Fear. That’s it. It’s that basic. I don’t like formula-feeding moms because I’m upset to think of babies who aren’t getting the best upbringing/nurture/nutrition etc. I hate pro-lifers because they oppress women and their hate frightens me. I can’t stand Christians because I was hurt by my family/the church and they’ve made me feel inferior! While I relate, I understand, and I’ve been there, for me a Fear-driven way of life is not a quality way of life.

Our strategies need never be informed by Hate and Fear; they are more intelligent and skillful when they are not. It’s kind of sad that when it comes down to it, many of us are trying to save our own skin, or telling the world, “I can’t deal with the suffering of others, so everyone needs to behave.” Once I recognize these drives within myself the whole thing falls apart and I can proceed with a great deal more intelligence, compassion, kindness, strength, and courage. To be honest, when I realize this is where I come from, I usually have a laugh about it and talk it over with someone.

I don’t have an antidote to Fear to impart here. Personally, I had to have a spiritual, moral, mental, and emotional breakdown, and be built back up brick-by-brick, which is where I found faith – I discovered the possibility to live a spiritual life. That’s just me, though. It actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. OK, it was pretty rough. But I’m here today and today I have Faith. Faith has enabled me to participate in the world, to change the world for the better when I can. I no longer need to put myself in a box, to not be friends with so-and-so because she does this Naughty thing, to stay up late being Right on the internet, to Other other people. Et cetera.

If you don’t like the concept of Faith or spirituality, by all means substitute ethics or principles or values. Do not allow my experience and the rituals that help me, be an unnecessary impediment to your life.

One thing helps me here is fluidity. When I see a father scolding and yanking his son’s arm, I don’t think “What a monster” today. I know that man is all out of better ideas. It hurts him to hurt his son but he has no better option. I’ve been that harsh and hurtful parent. I can walk up to that man and say, “Can I help you?” I can let him know I see him hurting someone and I won’t let it continue, but I see him hurting too. I don’t have Fear like I used to.

I have a dear friend who found the St. Francis Prayer very effective. She told me it kept her from practicing all her bad habits and allowed her to supplant them with better ones. The prayer reads:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

It is very brave to live this way. Many cannot bring themselves to do it. I am not a Catholic, but I find this prayer to be a wonderful reflection. These principles help me to minister to others, instead of building up my Ego and my sense of righteous indignation. When I see something that makes me angry (in other words, that frightens me), I am less likely to go on the offensive with MY way of seeing things, MY practices, MY life. Today I know I am not helping others when I clobber them with my judgment, words, and actions, and when I put the nail in the coffin of being Right. These new strategies (relatively new to me, anyway) have helped me a great deal. I can ministrate with kindness in public, and feel compassion and experience Presence. When I am troubled by something, I can respond with more clarity. If I need to, I can talk with an understanding friend who has less Ego at stake than the so-called offending party (or the person, edifice, or principle that disturbed me). Egos shouting at one another, well, we all know what that looks like.

I didn’t change quickly, or all that happily. It cost me a great deal to live the way I used to. Ultimately I found resentment, judgment and fear made me too sick. Just: very, very ill. They make me ill today if I rehearse them.

I hope you’ve come to see that judging others and self-criticism go hand and hand. It is not possible to live with one but not the other. Both are steeped in arrogance. Both only seek to grow the Ego, the Self, the personality. They do nothing to reduce our anxiety, increase our usefulness. If nothing else, know a thought like, “I’d never be caught out like that,” “I wouldn’t tolerate that from MY kid”, “what shitty parents”, et cetera is going to hurt you later. There is no if, and or but about it. It’s going to hurt you later, and it hurts you today, even if you don’t know it. It hurts other people too.

It really is okay to say, “This scares me, and it hurts me.” It works wonderfully to say this, to know this, instead.

Tomorrow: Tip #2, Do what feels right but is scary. A mistake here & there is better than a stifled life.

friday #w00t

First: a piece of mine, just published.

At bluemilk, the video for “Daddy Skills”. Which? Is awesome.

Some commentary on the different ways female vs. male bodies get treated, in the context of the Olympics.

One of the best interviews on public boners (or pseudo-boners) I’ve ever read.

On the ageism front: Hollywood & relating a bit to actual people’s actual problems. Yay!

The Radical Doula guide is out! Wow! I have a dream; raising enough to bring MZP to our community. Can you imagine?

Kristin Craig Lai tweeted me on an article on “invisible infirmities”. Very flattered; it’s a lovely piece.

Rare color photos from a little ways back.

Homemade graham crackers. I actually haven’t tried making these. But I’d like someone ELSE to bring me a batch.

Sylvia Plath’s drawings. Wonderful.

Someone sent this to me: Are you an emotional empath? Scary how many of the questions I answered Yes to (all but one and a half!).