Thursday, February 28, 2008

Magnificent Magnolia

In case you were wondering how Nolie's doing, here's a pretty good representation:

Can You Hear Me Now?

I've been thinking it might be time to change the name of this blog.  Since Addie had her surgery a year ago, her drooling's been pretty nonexistent.  And Nolie never really drooled.  Oh, I'll still get to work now and then with a huge smear of chewed up graham-cracker on the back of my skirt, or an urp-up of yogurt on my shoulder.  But these are more isolated incidents these days. 

Good news, though!  We took Nolie to the doctor today for her check-up, to make sure all of her infections have cleared up (they haven't).  While Eric was there with the girls, he asked the doc to take a look at Addie's ears.  Because, see, for the last week or so

the drooling has been back.

toddlerspit lives!

Plus Addie has had some noxious boogers in her nose, and hasn't been hearing us very well.  I'll ask, "Addie, are you hearing okay?"  "What?" she'll say sweetly, making Eric and I laugh nervously.

Turns out she's got more ear infections and a perforated ear drum.

Insert appropriate profanity here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Pain of the Preschooler Birthday Experience

Addie was invited to a birthday party that took place yesterday at a local gymnasium.  I was elected to take her, as Nolie is still recovering from her myriad viruses and has hamburger buns (literally--her ass looks like chopped meat) as a result of the acid-like antibiotics she's required to take. 

I'm always nervous about these preschooler birthdays, primarily because it requires me to talk to people I don't know, and my painful shyness emerges, coupled with frustration because I really am not shy but am outspoken and boisterous among people I know and like.  And I get all angsty because invariably there will be a parent there who says something that triggers my insecurities or fears or anger.  So there's this whole psychological drama taking place inside my head while a tribe full of preschoolers boings around on trampolines and cushy blue mats.

I'm starting to get to know some of the parents of the kids at Addie's school, so the preschooler birthday experience is getting a little less painful.  But I met a mom yesterday I hadn't seen before, and I liked her immediately because she was talkative and outgoing and interesting.  Personality-wise, she's the kind of person I could see having coffee with.  I could feel myself starting to relax around her.

But then I fell into the mommy judgment trap.  As we talked, I learned that she's a vp of marketing for a large company, and she and her husband travel a lot.  They have a live-in au pair.  They have three kids (two twins Addie's age and an older girl) and each of their kids is involved in at least a dozen activities--dance, art, summer camp, etc., etc.  As we paused our conversation to watch our kids running around the gym (her daughter active and agile, brave and quick; my sweet little pixie Addie tentative and careful, moving like a ragdoll dancer in her own private constellation of invisible obstacles) I felt big judgments.  How could you work so much and travel all the time and have someone else raise your kids and in the time you do have with them you ship them off to lessons every five seconds?  Didn't you hear that story on NPR about how kids need unstructured "imagination" time so that they develop self-talk?  Don't you miss them, for God's sake?

Isn't that interesting?  I mean, apart from the whole au pair thing, and apart from the thousands of lessons and activities, I'm not so different from that mom, right?  I'm professional and ambitious, and I love, love, love traveling without my children, and I have to struggle daily to be present with them when I am home and not just plop them down in front of the tv or coloring book or whatever so that I can get




Interesting how the judgments and the fears get all bound up like that.  Interesting how those reactions typically have more to do with me than with the actual lived experiences of someone else.  Interesting how I was tempted to shut down communication, contact, conflict with this other person because of what I immediately projected on to her.

I've just come back from a faculty seminar with an activist and intellectual who works with and is part of indigenous communities in Mexico.  He talked about how, in a particular native language there, there is no concept of "I," only "we;" the self only exists in relationship to others or that which is around us.  Our language, our way of life, everything suggests to us that we are individual, separate from the world around us.  This is a terrible and fearful way of being in the world, and we try to address our terror through judgment and busy-ness and buying things.  The things that fill us--seeing our connections to one another, making contact with one another, through dialog or conflict or most importantly listening--are the hardest to do.

Especially at preschooler birthday parties.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Phantom Plague

Remember how, a month ago, Nolie was soooo sick, and we thought for sure she had pneumonia, and we took her in to the doctor, and she just had a cold?  Remember how silly I felt, how overly reactive?

She had a little fever last Friday, and we didn't worry about it much.  She wasn't too symptomatic, and was in a good mood.  But her cough persisted, so I took her to the doctor Monday, and guess what?

Strep throat
Double ear infections

For God's sake.  The doctor said it was a miracle we weren't in the hospital all weekend.

How is this possible?  I think all parents should get some basic medical training so that we can at least look in our kids' ears and tell if they have an infection.  Wouldn't that make things easier?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Daddy Says

A guest post from Eric, who had the girls tonight while I was at a conference:

Daddy says, Nolie are you ready to get out of bath.


Nolie shakes her head no.


Addie says,  Nolie said she’s not ready.


Daddy says, sometimes Daddy knows better than Nolie.


Addie says,  No, she always knows better than you.


Daddy says, Oh really.


Addie says, Nolie makes her choices and you make yours.

Friday, February 15, 2008

All Wrapped Up

I was in a particularly heinous faculty meeting a week or so ago, one of those meetings where the atmosphere gets thick and acrid with the history of old conflicts and resentments.  By the end of the meeting, I found myself nearly doubled over, practically fetal in my chair at the table.  I was angry at the injustice of what was going on, and uncomfortable with the reactions of those around me, and worried that things might escalate.  It was as if I had taken on the emotions of everyone around me, especially those who had much more at stake than I.

I can be overly empathic that way.  Which is not a good thing.

I think a lot about a discussion I had with my therapist a few years back, when we were talking about how overwrought I would get at news of tragedies like the tsunami or 911.  I needed to figure out a way to care about what was going on around me without getting incapacitated by it.  Feeling, good.  Incapacitation, not good.

So, basically, the therapist gives me this to think about:  about how compassion is not feeling what someone else feels, but observing it and being present for it.


It's like you're sitting in front of a stream, he says.  The stream is life, and there are all these little boats--people--floating down the stream.  You can choose to hop on to one of those boats, but you should know that in doing so you're trying to take over someone else's life, to travel their journey for them.  And there is a good chance you'll capsize them (and you) in doing so.  It is better to watch from the stream and offer help when asked:  a line to tow someone in, some food when they are hungry, consolation when necessary.  Mostly, just listen.

This idea troubled me for a long time.  It's bad not to get involved, I thought.  What about fighting for what is right?  What about using rage or anger or excitement to make positive change in the world?

But he wasn't saying not to act.  He was saying that it might be important to act from a place of compassion, not empathy.  Empathy is you assuming you can feel what someone else is feeling.  In a sense, it's fundamentally narcissistic, gives you rights and responsibilities that are probably not yours to take.  Acting from a place of compassion--which is actually a loving distance--enables you to know your space, to remain who you are, and to offer your assistance, not prescribe it.

There's an appeal in prescribing change for others.  I tend to want to do it all the time, to tell them how they can fix themselves, to offer solutions, to assume that what has worked for me will work for them.  But how obnoxious is that?  I'll tell you.  It's completely obnoxious.

And over-empathizing, for me at least, was overwhelming.  It prevented me from seeing that I had agency.  Compassion, on the other hand, is empowering.  You figure out what your own humble self can do, and you do it.  But you do it from your space, and not someone else's.

So, as someone I love is struggling a deep, deep struggle, I will try not to solve his problems.  I will stay in my space, make my presence known, offer whatever help he wants me to.  I'll try to act from a place of integrity, and not from a desire to get all up in someone else's drama.  Cause my jumping on his boat isn't going to help him at all.  But he should know I'm ashore, and am walking alongside his boat should he need a hand. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Obsessions

Addie's top-five obsessions at the moment:

1)  Scotch tape

2)  The word "actually"

3)  The words "watch me, mama!"

4)  Making mud pies

5)  Birthday parties, especially her own

Nolie's top-five obsessions at the moment:

1)  Her lower lip

2)  Teletubbies

3)  The Gigi

4)  The word "mo" (more)

5)  The words "no way!"

My top-five obsessions at the moment:

1)  The destruction of Britney Spears (I'm so sorry for this.  I can't explain it)

2)  Drinking coffee in bed (small moments of grace)

3)  Petit-Ecolier cookies

4)  Listening to hip-hop at the gym, and doing funny little dance moves on the treadmill without realizing it

5)  Eric and the girls

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Branching Out

I've written before about how Eric and I usually write down our twelve "wishes" every new year.  They're kind of like resolutions, but are usually more than that.  They're hopes and blessings, too.  This year we decided not to write them all at once, but to build them slowly.  We have two so far, and one of them was to get involved in some way in the larger world.  I'm purposely writing that without cynicism.  The goal was no more specific than that.  I've been reading Paul Rogat Loeb's amazing Soul of a Citizen and, inspired by the activism of friends and family, have been thinking about what work I might do outside of my own tiny sphere.  A bit of a search for greater meaning.

This was surprisingly difficult at first.  I had trouble getting past grandiose ideas of what I should be doing, who I should volunteer for, and what that work would look like.  But Loeb recommends that our activism come from what we see around us, what we are already drawn to.  Folllow the path of least resistance, to start, in other words.  So I volunteered for service one Sunday a month at unchurch, which is about as local as service can get for me, and also called Obama's campaign the Friday before the caucus to see if they needed any help.  I figure Eric is volunteering by watching the kids while I'm gone (I wonder if he sees it this way :) ).

Well, next thing I knew, I was a "precinct captain" (which I discovered is a fancy word for event organizer).  I think precinct captains usually work to get out the vote in their area, and then run the caucus meeting for their precinct.

Anyway, it turned out there already was a precinct captain for my location on Super Tuesday, but he needed lots of help because of the turnout and with running the meeting.  This was a truly empowering experience for me, to be present at that caucus.  People who were nervous and stammering stood and spoke from their heart, mostly about how Obama had pulled them, inspired, into this process, but some about how Clinton moved them to do the same.  They spoke passionately about health care and impeachment and climate change.  I was so moved I found myself signing on as a delegate, and to get out the vote for November, and as the next precinct captain.  Wowza.

Loeb writes in his book that "America's dominant culture insists that our lives have no such broader significance, so we dare not vest them with purpose."  We may never see the effects of our work, he says, because political change is often sisyphean, one step forward, two steps back.  So you may have to seek fulfillment in just doing the work.

But we're seeing rewards already, in our own little sphere.  I feel a sense of peace and contentment from doing something, however small.  We met people who live in our neighborhood, and have been invited to a huge potluck with a kajillion kids in two weeks.  I'm also having coffee with new friends on Monday. 

If I hadn't gone, we might still only know our sweet, quite neighbors at the end of the cul-de-sac, and not have the opportunities to get to know more of our neighbors, our fellow Democratic warriors!, and my focus on change and improvement would still be primarily inner-centered, or imbalanced.  Just a little thing, but with big ripples, yeah?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Just a little post.

I've been having all sorts of epiphanies lately, and have been marveling at my extremely high happiness quotient, and I've been having a particularly productive (and overwhelming) week at work.  I need to write about all of this.  But for now, let me just include this adorable picture of Nolie, in her mini-Barney snowsuit:

And also tell you that last night, while Addie and I were being served dinner by Eric (who has been spouse of the year lately, let me tell you), she dumped a bunch of pebbles from her school playground on the table.  I--with more irritation in my voice than I intended--said, "Addie, why do you keep bringing home all these rocks?"

"Mom," she sighed.  "I love rocks.  It's just in my nature."

I love these kids.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Caught in the Briars

I packed my cell phone with me to India.  I'm sure I did.  I have this very vivid memory of the night before I left:  I turned off the phone, told Eric I probably wouldn't call him on it until the return flight because I didn't have an international card for making calls, and I tucked it into my carry-on. 

At which point it promptly disappeared, and has not been heard from since.

A year ago, we bought a ton of brightly colored, thin plastic plates from Target for Addie's 3rd birthday party.  My idea was that we could just re-use them for future parties, and the kids could eat their meals on them (they're lightweight and unbreakable).

I was cleaning up the house this morning when I caught Nolie throwing all twenty-five of them in the trash.

Perhaps this is the missing piece to the mystery of the missing phone.  Who knows what all ends up in our trash cans these days?

All of this by very long way of getting to the fact that I....

that I....

that I....

bought a Blackberry.

There.  I said it.  I feel a little nauseous.

Why do I feel so guilty about it, so ashamed?  Is it the idea of the thing, that I've joined the masses of small-technology-addicts, after resisting so long (swear to God, I almost never used my old cell phone.  For reals).  I feel as if I've just bought stock in a child pornography company.  I walked into that t-mobile store, saw all those pretty little phones with their cameras and their keypads and their internet access, and I swooned, I crumbled, I forgot myself.

It's not that it was particularly expensive.  We renewed our contract, and after the mail-in rebates, it ended up being just over $100.00.

That's a lie. 

It was $150.00.

Plus $20 more a month in billing for the internet access.

But I haven't been sneaking peeks at my inbox, which I can now access on that little phone.  I haven't been perfecting my texting skills.  I haven't been letting work creep into every spare moment of extra time I have.

All lies.

All is lost.

Save me.