Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Home Base

In two days, the three of us will be leaving for the Catskills of New York, where we will gather with 50 or so other radically unschooling families at the We Shine with Unschooling Conference. I've held many images of the past conferences in my heart, so many amazing interactions with kind and respectful parents, with children full of joy and trust. 

Which is why the following image sticks so harshly in my mind, why I've been meaning to write about it for a year now. It is only after the last year of studying attachment theory and parenting education that I have a fuller grasp of what bothered me so much about the following scene. 

      The conference is primarily made up of radically unschooling families; however, the occasional family on a weekend break is found in the We Shine mix. Such a family was lounging in the pool area at the same time as me.  The mom walked into the pool with a clearly terrified 3 year old on her hip. The child continued to scream and sob, tears flowing, asking to get out, as mom talked to her adult friend, telling the friend how the daughter needed to just get over it, had to learn to get used to the water. In between words with her friend, the mom attempted to soothe the daughter, saying, "You're okay. It's okay. You're fine. You're safe." The girl never calmed and the two, after some time, left the water. 

In attachment theory, the parent or primary caregiver makes up the child's first relationship, their secure base. This relationship, when positive, is formed through the parent's sensitivity to the child's cues, the facial expressions and sounds; as well as through mirroring, during which the parent mirrors the child's facial expressions and emotions, leading to a child who can better recognize their own emotional state and self-regulate. Having a parent as a secure base allows for a much more independent child, one who is willing to explore and expand their experiences precisely because they have a secure base to return to when done. 

I don't doubt that the mother in the pool thought that she was teaching her daughter something mother thought daughter needed to know, but at what cost? What are we saying to our children when they express fear and distress and we say, "You're fine, you're okay"? What are they learning when they feel they are in danger and the person they should be able to trust most in the world tells them to ignore that feeling? What sort of disconnect are we setting our children up for? When that girl is fifteen and in an abusive relationship, might she have difficulty recognizing those signs of fear because she has learned not to trust, or recognize, her own emotions? I know that I've taken the example to an extreme, but that is because I feel it is so very important to allow our children to listen to their bodies, to respect their emotional responses, even when a parent sees no reason for concern or alarm. 

It was Cutter who has taught me the most about this, who continues to teach me that he is not me, nor I him. He has very specific likes and dislikes in regard to his body. He does not like lotion, though the sensation of dry skin drives me crazy. If he has a headache, he'll have nothing to do with tylenol or ibuprofen, and instead prefers to drink a glass of water, put a pillow over his head and take a nap. When his muscles are sore from exertion, he chooses to take a day off, but avoids the hot epsom bath I so favor. He avoids scents and likes going barefoot (like me) and rarely wears a coat, though many an old woman in grocery stores have chastised him and me both. 

It hasn't always been easy, but I have respected his needs for his body, while continuing to give him information. And this week, as we ready for our annual Shine trip, he has a cold coming on. I've let him know about dietary changes he can make, natural remedies I can offer, how sleep helps the body heal. I'm not particularly attached to any of those paths. If it were me, I'd be downing raw garlic and honey, astragalus and bone broth - but that's my body. He has requested clementines, is drinking lots of homemade lemonade, and has chosen to take zinc. I know that if I'd have pushed any of this on him, it would've damaged his relationship with his body and my relationship with him. Instead, I'm still his secure base, at the age of almost 13. He's away from me, from home, for large swaths of time, but he still checks in, asks how to cook things, if he can take lemonade and zinc at the same time, what time I need him awake to help with the dog so he knows when he needs to go to sleep - and he trusts my responses because he's free to take them or leave them, both of which he does, because  it's not a power struggle. 

Home base is a pretty sweet place to be.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Inked with Meaning

I always intend to write before another day marking Isaiah's time with us rolls around, but it seems on these days, his birth day, his death day, I give myself the space needed to sit with words.

And so here I am, on his death day, the small town parade of people and cars having just passed by, the wind showering me with backporch helicopter rain, the boy and man nested on the couch, the dog gently nudging me from time to time, for pet, for play, for comfort.

Last week, after many years of pondering, I went to the local tattoo shop, Pincushn's, to get inked with two tattoos I'd designed. Between the two, there are many personal meanings, which I'm finding are too lengthy to divulge over a beer in a loud bar in a way that actually conveys their importance to me. And so here I am, again.

The eight points of the left forearm represent the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, meant to lead to the cessation of suffering. If I were to label myself with an ideology, it would be that of the agnostic atheist: I do not hold a belief in a deity, but readily admit that the universe is full of mystery - I don't claim to be trying to figure things out for anyone but myself and if God or many gods work for you, that's great. I am not Buddhist, but in my personal journey, the study and practice of Buddhism has been important in to me being the type of human I want to be in the world.

The two lines within the circle are symbolic of a story that holds meaning for me, though I can not recall from whence the story came. A tiger sits in the tall grass. An antelope passes by. If the tiger is hungry, it will chase the antelope. If the tiger is sated, it will continue to sit. But either way, action or inaction, a choice is made. I do not want to forget my ability to choose, that inaction is also a choice.

The small point on the right forearm represents a Buddhist proverb: If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking. It is a daily reminder, a daily practice, to reorient myself in the direction in which I wish to move. Reminds me of a bit Neil Gaiman shared during a commencement speech, about viewing your goal as a mountain, and no matter how far away you are, with every decision you make, you are either moving closer to the mountain or further from it.

And this brings us to the swirl on the right forearm, which holds multiple meanings. On one level, it represents the importance, to me, of living life as an exuberant animal, valuing health, play and joyful movement. On a second level, it serves as a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. And at the most personal level, at the same time that Isaiah was releasing his last breaths, a very close friend was sending me the following Kahlil Gibran poem:

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

― Kahlil GibranThe Prophet

It is a gift to myself, to remember this poem, to remember my boy, to honor his joy, his life and his death, to imagine that his last breath ending allowed him freedom from the confines of his broken body, freedom to join wind and sun in playful ways.

A new friend recently asked if days like the Hospice of Michigan Walk and Remember were difficult, if it bothered me when people ask questions about our experiences with Isaiah. My moments of sadness, of melancholy, tend to be smaller these days. I miss him quietly, here and there, but most of my moments are filled with joy and fond remembering. I am thankful to be caught at a train crossing, that I remember his joy in counting the cars aloud.  I am thankful for Cutter's questions, imagining himself so young, recognizing his brother as small for his age, asking how Isaiah died. I am thankful to share our journey in ways that may benefit others.
The only question I continue to struggle with is that which comes from strangers:
So, just one? Oh, you only have one child?

 In responding, I am still a work in progress. It is a daily practice, this living. I am grateful.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A balance of birthdays, shifted

Today marks Isaiah's birthday, the sixth since he died. The balance has shifted, more birthdays passed since his death than shared while he lived.

Grief, year six:

My sister sent a lovely message of remembrance last night, sharing that they were watching videos of their kids, and our boys, last weekend. The only video we three had was deleted, accidentally, the year of Isaiah's death; I remember feeling angry despair at the time. To learn that I would have the opportunity to "see" Isaiah again, perhaps hear his voice or watch that twisty walk of his, that Cutter could perhaps bolster his young boy memory of his brother, well, it shook me more than I might have imagined this morning. It also led me to ponder in what ways technology has changed our experience of grief (I am taking a graduate research course, so I find myself turning everything into a research question).

Physically, this day has found me curled up in my love's understanding embrace, followed by curling up with Cary Grant (also born on January 18) and the Pip pup a la Mr. Lucky while the boy slept. And after the boy woke, we snuggled up with Dr. Who and Amy Pond before he left to immerse himself in video game challenges with a friend, and I walked the dog before immersing myself in a shameless middle of the day bath and a paranormal read– leading me to this point, a honey whiskey and words, after which we three will reconvene for our January 18th ritual: Papa John's pizza with special sauce and light blue napkins, to honor our missing boy.

Emotionally, I find myself weighted with grief today, in ways I haven't been in years past, and I recognize it's the confluence of many factors. This: the year I know definitively there will be no more children birthed from this body. This: the year my oldest turns thirteen, his horizons ever expanding, his gratitude for his ability to volunteer in a food pantry breaking me open, his excitement at taking a Community Emergency Response course amazing me, his joy in bad lip reading videos bringing shared laughter. This: the year I am stretched in mind and body, through personal, physical challenges and chosen, career path challenges. This: the year my love and I celebrate 13 years of marriage, and commit, again and again, to the work of loving one another as best we can.

It is a year of un-balancing, of feeling this grief deeply, yes, but of feeling everything so very deeply, and for that, I will not be sad.