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The very Best Alternative to Giving That Guy the Finger

March 12, 2015 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

When I was … I don’t know, twenty or so, a friend told me that I wore a terribly angry expression when driving. It’s been a whole lot of years and I still think about that. What you have to understand is that I learned to drive between Chicago, IL and New Haven, CT. Well, most of the mechanics around starting the car and using the clutch and parallel parking happened in the Southern New England Telephone (SNET) parking lot in West Haven, but the actual driving learning that comes from negotiating traffic and stuff like that happened between the ages of 12 and 16 on cross country trips with my dad between Chicago and New Haven. Following that, my early solo experience was earned in those cities and surrounding suburbs. The general mood among drivers there is basically low grade anger. I didn’t notice that I’d taken on that resting expression until my friend mentioned it that one day and once you know, it’s hard not to know. As a result, if I’ve been driving alone in the car for a while I’ve been known to freeze my expression and check it out in the mirror. It has changed with much practice and now I tend to look at other people’s expressions instead.

road-rage[1]So there’s a T intersection by our house that provides ample opportunity to display geographic specific driving style. Yankees such as myself tend to mosey on up the side of the road that aligns with the turn we are about to make. So if I’m making a right, I’ll likely creep up that side, edging right next to a car making a left, even if it means getting a few tire marks on the grassy shoulder. If I’m making a left I’ll hug the center (so as to leave room for someone behind me to make a right) of the lane but stop forward enough to be able to clearly see traffic coming from either direction. Southerners, on the other hand, tend to like to use the whole road. (In their defense, it IS a one lane road). I’ve also noticed that they like a wide radius when turning. So when someone is turning left into the street I’m getting ready to turn left off of, it’s not uncommon for our cars to come really close to each other, giving us the opportunity to get a real clear look at each other. A very familiar angry driver face was usually looking at me from the other car. But here’s the thing, if the other guy would just wait till he was actually in the intersection to start the turn (you know – to get closer to a 90 degree turn) then we’d all have plenty of room, so you can understand why my angry driver face would also tend to make an appearance. Angry driver, meet angry driver. On more than one occasion the single finger salute was in order.

And then one day, on our way to wherever we were going, Isobel, who was in the back seat, said “why does that guy look so angry?” Hmm. Innocent bystander, welcome to our party.

Recognizing this as a learnable moment, I took stock of the situation and decided to make a change.  If someone gives me an angry glare and I return with my angry glare, what would happen if I gave them a contrite smile? I’ll tell you what happens, they usually smile back. If not a full on smile, at least it broke the glare.

Soon, Isobel started to notice that most of the drivers making that turn looked a little cranky, regardless of how far I had pulled up.  They just had resting grouchy face.  Many were on the phone. We started experimenting with the faces we could make.  Pleasantly content – this felt nice but didn’t really pack a punch.  The I-Know-Something-You-Don’t look sometimes gets a little rubber neck action.  But what really seems to get a rise out of people is the simply perfect lovingly happy face. Everyone who sees that one tends to take a pause and get a little grin themselves.  It’s like they’re asking themselves, how do I want to spend this moment here? Anger is contagious. But so is joy. But what’s great is you get to pick your infection.

Hope > Disappointment

May 16, 2014 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

hope

 

I am pregnant. I’m still waiting for it to be considered acceptable to tell people. There are social norms to consider here, specifically, that one is supposed to wait until the pregnancy is deemed “viable” to start telling people. Having experienced two miscarriages, I get that. You know, you don’t want to tell a bunch of people who then tell a bunch of people who you later have to face and explain that the baby died. I find this a bit difficult, because really, the same people who would be in my network to celebrate my news would also be in my network to support my loss. Right? Yes – and, good news travels fast. Sometimes faster than bad. And the only thing worse than listening to a friend of a friend of a friend try to cover over the misstep of congratulating you by telling her personal story of loss, while you’re still experiencing it, is staring at the blank faces of people who you know know, but don’t really want to talk about it out loud, so they just stare. Blankly. It’s not their fault. I suspect I do it too.

So then – who is in the tiny trusted network of people I can tell? Well, obviously my husband. I texted him a picture of the stick I peed on two minutes post pee. It was our anniversary. I’m pretty sure I rock at anniversary surprises. I told my doctor and my NFP practitioner. I told a fitness instructor at my gym. And that was about it for a while. I don’t get morning sickness so that hasn’t been terribly obvious. But I have been tired. And bloated. And sore. And eventually, my daughter Isobel got curious about those things. She just turned seven. The last miscarriage was a year ago, right after her sixth birthday. I hadn’t told her about that pregnancy at all and I have felt guilty about not having done so, and not giving her the opportunity to grieve for the loss of her baby brother or sister. (I didn’t feel guilty about not telling my son, who was only two at the time. I do feel guilty about not feeling the same way in both cases; guilt is complex). So I did eventually tell her, months later, and she cried and held on to me. Honestly, I think she was the only person who cared as much as I did. Maybe that’s why when she asked me why I was so tired, I decided to just go ahead and tell her.

She wasn’t looking at me at the time. She was staring at the television. But I saw her mouth start to curl up into a smile and then she slowly turned towards me so I could explain to her that she shouldn’t tell her friends yet because we don’t yet know if it was going to be ok. “If the baby will survive you mean?” She asked.

“Yes. If the baby will survive.” She asked when we’d know and I said I couldn’t give her a date but I would let her know every time I learned something new. “Does Daddy know?” I thought it was cute that she thought I’d tell her before him. I suddenly wondered if that would really have been so wrong…

She went silent about it for a few days. I thought maybe she had forgotten or just didn’t care so I didn’t mention anything. Then the other day, in a rather nonchalant, totally random way, she asked how big the baby was.

“Tiny. You probably couldn’t even see it.”

“When will it be the size of…. Like a grape?”

“Well, if things go ok, maybe a month? I’m not really sure.”

“When will you know if it’s a boy or a girl. Do you have a name picked out?”

“I try not to think about names yet. I would like to know that everything’s ok first. But I was thinking maybe this time we won’t find out if it’s a boy or a girl until it’s born. What do you think?”

“I still want a baby sister. Well, another brother is ok too. I guess it doesn’t matter to me.”

And then someone walked in and she stopped talking. We got in the car to go to school and she asked me again, “How small is tiny?”

“I don’t know. Maybe like a seed.”

“Like a pumpkin seed or a tomato seed? Tomato seeds are a lot smaller.”

“You didn’t talk about it for a while. Now you have a ton of questions. What’s different?” I was getting a little suspicious about the sudden burst of curiosity. “Did you tell your friends?”

“No.”

“Because if you did, I just want to know so it won’t be a surprise if your friend’s mom asks me.”

“I didn’t tell anyone. But Daddy. He said not to tell Eli because he can’t keep a secret.”

“True.”

“You know what name I like?”

“What?”

“Ahnna.”

“Is that from Frozen?”

“Yeah.”

“Then no.”

“Why not?”

“If the baby survives I’m not naming it after a cartoon.”

We talked about names for a while longer. I drove her to school and we were early so we had a long time to sit and chat. She was clearly getting very excited.  Isobel has a strong nurturing instinct. She is meant to be a big sister. But she also struggles with expectations. When I got pregnant with Eli, she wanted it to be twins so badly – one boy and one girl – just like her friend was having. I told her there was just one and she cried about that. Later, when I realized that she had her heart set on a little sister and I was feeling confident she was getting a brother, I spent quite a bit of time in advance of the ultrasound tech’s announcement to prep her for that disappointment. She doesn’t feel disappointment lightly. She feels it with every cell in her body. She loses herself in it – just washes away in the current. It’s hard to watch – and frankly, it is sometimes annoying. And she knows she is like that.

But that morning, she asked more questions and I felt her enthusiasm growing. I didn’t even realize I was doing it – because I was doing it as much for me as for her – but for most every “what if” question she asked, I prefaced with some form of “if the baby survives” until eventually she just said this:

“I really think that instead of saying ‘if the baby survives’ all the time, you should just talk like it will.”

Silence.

Hello wisdom bomb.

I do a lot of things wrong with my kids – I do a lot of things wrong with her. But that moment I realized just how awesome she is – listening to her measuring out a dose of my own good medicine. She reminded me, so simply and perfectly, that no matter the depth of the disappointment, for the moments where hope still lives, hope is ALWAYS the better choice.

So now every morning she asks me how big the baby is. Sunday, she decided she would like to stay the only daughter so today she asked me how big “he is.”

“It’s a boy is it?” I asked. She smiled. “Maybe a blueberry.” I answered her question. She giggled.

“When will it be raspberry-sized?” She asked

“I’m not sure. A couple of weeks.”

“One day it will be the size of a pear.” She said. And followed that up with… “Once, I had a blueberry and I put it inside of a raspberry and I ate it. It was good.” It sounded good.

Is Fear the Mind Killer?

August 15, 2013 in Conversations with Isobel

20130815-003941.jpgLately, I’ve noticed a certain coherence in my facebook feed. That is to say, there’s a theme surfacing among the many memes that have been shared into my stream and hashtag-riddled crypticisms posted by friends and affinity groups. And when the theme shows up and stirs something up in my soul, I know it’s reflecting a theme I’m experiencing in my life. The theme I became aware of today is fear.

Yesterday, I told my coach and friend that I’ve been inundated by irritants and triggers and have been sitting on the edge of my sanity. My short term measure of success is whether or not I made it through the whole day with my sanity in tact (or at least no more damaged). She offered that when we (humans) are transitioning in big ways in life we may feel like we start to regress into the habits and behaviors we typically turn to for self preservation. This is a response to feeling vulnerable, a response to fear. Of course! I got such comfort in this revellation. What I had been taking as possible signs that I had made a wrong turn in life – to quite my safe and comfortable job to be on my own and explore my significance in coaching, writing, and parenting the crap out of my kids… the fear I was feeling was actually the affirmation that I made the RIGHT turn. Fear is an emotion that presents itself when we realize that something we value is at sake. The bigger the fear, the larger the stakes. And here’s the thing, if there is no fear, and nothing is at stake then the question becomes – are you playing big enough? So by embracing fear, I embrace the decisions I’ve made. Yay.

Dune fans know this phrase: Fear is the mind killer…. Is it? Sure it can be paralyzing, but it, as in any other emotion, is information. Rather than killing the mind, what happens if it wakes you up to really evaluate what the emotion is telling you? What questions could you point your mind towards answering?

Like… what’s at stake? I’ve been gainfully employed since I was roughly 14 years old and lied about my age on my application so I could get a work permit. Even before then I had a pretty successful babysitting empire, having hooked up with a great family when they only had two kids and being their primary sitter right through into their fourth child. I was a really responsible kid. I didn’t need to ask for help to buy tickets the movies. In fact, I was quite skilled at arranging for transportation to the theater, school and work. I paid for and prepared the majority of my meals, funded my wardrobe. I largely took care of myself – even if I didn’t do it very well all the time. So here, nearly twenty five years later, putting myself (even if temporarily) in a position where I am dependent, needing to think twice about whether or not I should treat myself to a latte on the way to a meeting… what’s at stake is my sense of independence. Well that’s what it feels like. But is it really? Sometimes, when we are experiencing fear, we’ve created the appearance of something at stake, but when we name it… it really isn’t. Emotion defies logic, though and the belief in what’s at stake feels exactly the same, whether it is or isn’t.

So what’s to be gained, and is it worth it? Yes. To be gained is my feeling of significance in the world and to my children. It is totally worth a few months (or years) of financial dependence. For me. For this transition. This isn’t always the case and that’s why that fear feeling is the flag on the play that says – hey, check in on your risk. It’s just information and once you hear it, you reclaim the power to choose – what is the greater value? What must you protect at all cost?

There you are… That is to say… here I am… embracing my fear. Now what? For that, I look to my favorite teacher. My sweet Isobel – I remember a time when I thought she was fearless. If someone had something she wanted – say a piece of cake – she’d walk right up to the owner of that which she coveted and just ask for it, brazenly, while I watched, mouth wide open, painfully aghast at the gaul. If she wanted to test for the next belt in tae kwon do, she’d just ask to participate. She had no fear of embarrassing herself because she didn’t have the sense of having her ego at stake.

But this has been changing. She is developing ego in all its fragility. Maybe this is typical in the now school-age child, but, true to her style, when she experiences fear it is absolutely paralyzing. At one point last year I worried that her fears were leading her to agoraphobia. To this day, I don’t know if that’s my over-dramatization or hers. But whatever that one was, it passed.

Her current trigger is bees. When she begged to start school on a farm last year, I asked her if she was sure… I mean, there were a few bees in the gardens when we visited and her panic was not subtle. We were in the car, driving away when I mentioned the bees and she was uncharacteristically silent for 20 to 30 seconds. And when she broke the silence it was with this little gem:

“You know, mom, I have this friend. I never told you about her. But… well…” there was a long pause. “It turns out she’s a bee.”

So that’s one approach… personify the fear and then make friends with it. That might work better if you’re five. It actually worked pretty well for her. And a few weeks after she started school I received the text message from her teacher that said “it finally happened. She got stung by a bee. She’s ok and has calmed down.”

Then the weather got chilly and the bees weren’t an issue again for months. I totally thought we were passed it when I received photos of her during cicada season, playfully engaging cicadas to craw on her bare-skinned hands. Yup – I thought we were passed it. Until recently. Recently, she’s rushed into the car at pickup, clearly fresh from crying, imploring me to “just drive.” In fact, I think it started when a bee-like insect got entangled in her hair in the pool, and so for weeks now she has entirely avoided the outdoors. No picnics. No swimming. No swinging. No sandbox. No bubbles. No bikes. No walks. With all the no’s it’s hard to acknowledge that it’s even summer.

It’s not that the fear is irrational, it’s that the response seems that way. To me. And that the response may be a greater danger to her than the actual fear. At the awareness of the faint buzzing, she will cease up with fear, mouth falling open to let out a scream so piercing it stops time, and then she runs. She runs away with no mind to the towards. Could she trip on the patio and fall in the pool? Could she burst into oncoming traffic? Run into a hot barbecue grill? Yes. All of these things are totally possible, and they are all I see in the moment. My sweet daughter, engulfed in histrionics, impaled by danger’s ubiquity. Her fear and drama heightened by mine. In what was probably not my smartest move, I shared with her my fears. That didn’t work out.

So I, as any good parent would do, escalated to the next most obvious source of information – the Internet. Turns out it is quite common for children her age to have a paralyzing fear of bees. Also turns out that no one recommends listing out things that she should be afraid of instead. Go figure. What was recommended was supporting your child to gently confront her fear (hello obvious) and to strengthen and encourage the muscles and responses in opposition of fear (brilliant), specifically recommended was to practice giggling.

Giggling! Giggling as cure for fear. BRILLIANT. But not giggling from tickling which produces a reflexive reaction but can also encourage a feeling of being out of control – which is in fact fearful. But giggling from play – from joy – from gratitude. How does giggling help? Fear causes the body to cease into a state of rigor unless released by adrenaline, exploding into fight or flight response. Giggling is an enthusiastic state of physical flexibility preventing fear’s hold.

So Isobel and I authored a new story. We authored the story of a superhero, named Isobel, who, stung by a radioactive bee (I may have borrowed from Eli’s recent obsession with spider man) manifested bee-like powers including the ability to generate flowers at will, pollenating the world with goodness, and you know – buzzing. There was a lot of buzzing. We buzzed until we giggled. This hasn’t cured her phobia, mind you. But I am noticing that as she steps out of the car, she tells herself reassuring stories about what she knows about bees. I’m noticing her buzz herself to a grin. And it’s progress.

We also practice recreating states of safety and security, calm, confident, comfort. This is another muscle worth strengthening as the centered state. You can’t giggle forever (can you?). For Isobel, she tells herself the story of sitting in bed with her mommy, listening to the bedtime book – like Little House in the Big Wood. For me, it’s taking the thirty minutes of quiet time in the late morning when no one is hanging on me, asking me to do something, screaming for a snack. Failing that, it’s the 20 minute five dollar latte that I got without even asking. Because if that pricey cup of joe reclaims some of what’s at stake in the ongoing search for significance, it’s totally worth it. It’s a tiny little price for playing big.

Learning in Flexibility

May 16, 2013 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

            We were at that mall again – the one my daughter likes so much.  It’s an open air mall with shopping and restaurants.  But that particular day we had made a plan.  Chris was going to meet us there with Eli and Lola, the puppy we adopted a week earlier, and we were going to have dinner at Panera’s outside seating – the whole family, including Lola.  This was, from Isobel’s point of view, the pinnacle moment of dog ownership – bringing the dog to the outdoor mall.

            We hadn’t done this much with our late dog since in his old age he’d grown tired and a lot of walking was difficult on him.  But even then, Isobel would ask to bring him with us so she could take him to the doggie bakery (where she was often frightened), and look upon him with adoration as he lapped water from the dog stops.  So enamored by this idea was she that once, she convinced me to buy her a small animatronic stuffed dog that had a little remote control device tethered by leash and she thought if she could control it well enough she could bring it to the mall and people would think that she was walking a real dog.  She reveled in the conceptual double take.  Honestly, she had been fantasizing about this moment for more than a year.  It was a BIG deal… like – first kiss, big, I mean, to a six year old, who hasn’t yet developed the interest in a first kiss. 

971417_10151413752263133_1469256196_n[2]            So now we had a puppy and this seemed like a delightful idea.  The puppy needed socializing and we needed dinner.  We arrived earlier than the boys and were shopping a bit when my phone rang.  It was Chris.  His breathing was quick and heavy and his voice was flustered.  I could almost smell irritation over the phone (Indeed, I have one of the more advanced iPhones).  He said something like, “Dude.  I barely made it 3 miles away from the house and I thought I smelled something so I pulled over at the parking lot of the state park and Lola crapped in the kennel.  She stepped in it and then climbed on the sides of the kennel and.. well there’s just shit everywhere.  This isn’t going well.  I need to go home and get her in a bathtub.  Can you just go get Eli from daycare while I deal with this… shit?”  And of course I would.  I hung up and hurried towards the car with Isobel.  I honestly barely got to readying myself to tell her about the change in plans when the phone rang again.  “Dude.  In the time it took me to pull over at the park and turn around a tree fell across the road and now I need to figure out a different way to get home.  Just…  what the hell?  Anyway, I don’t think this is going to work.”  He was clearly having a bad day.  Or at least a bad 10 minutes.  And Isobel could tell. She was starting to panic.  You could see it from a thousand feet.

Isobel, aged 2, dancing at Disney's epcot

Isobel, aged 2, dancing at Disney’s epcot

            If ever you want to learn about somatic coherence – the connection between the human body’s shape and form and emotional states – look to a child.  Because where adults have spent a lifetime working on denying emotions or masking their body’s cues and practicing this intentional disconnection, often resulting in a conflict that settles in as chaos and confusion, manifesting illness and discontent… children, especially the youngest ones, are entirely pure in that coherence.  There’s no faking it for kids because it is primal.  This provides a reference point, for me, to regard all emotions, whether we decide to perceive them as good or bad (an attribute we assign later in life) as being a part of our very basic nature – it’s because they’re observable in infants.  This is how I know that dance is an integral part of expression – it is because very young children will recognize music and have a basic instinct to move rhythmically to complement it and allow the shape of their bodies to emulate the emotional response to auditory stimulus.  It is simply hard-wired into our biology, and we see this in the child who has yet to unlearn it. 

           As with Isobel, who, still in movement as we headed towards the car, started to physically crumble beside me.  Her shoulders fell forward and down, her knees weakened, her balance shifted as she placed more weight into my hand than she had when she was floating along excitedly preparing to realize her life long dream of outdoor dining with her dog.  And while her body started to sink into despair, her breathing became shallow and quick while the emotions buffeted by tears crested into a forceful wave crashing against her flushed face.  And then she cried.

           My daughter is the very definition of the Spirited Child as described by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  When Isobel feels something, she feels it everywhere in her body, without filter and at depths seemingly unknown by mankind.  On the one hand, for a parent, this can be really frustrating.  And annoying.  Occasionally maddening.  Frequently confounding.  Somewhat embarrassing.  You know, because it never seems to occur at convenient times.  On the other hand, it makes for a fantastic teacher because it is hard to miss the lessons when there’s nothing big enough for them to hide behind.  In this moment, on this day, I had been having an exceptionally good day.  I had been in the practice of creating a deliciously content mood of focused curiosity all day long.  I had been practicing this so that at times like these, when there was a pull to feel anger, I could, in the moment, shift myself into the desired mood of contented, focused, curiosity.  I was present, focused, powerful and in control.  And as THAT version of me, I looked at my daughter and said, “Isobel, I can see you’re very upset and disappointed.”

           “I’m just…” she stuttered”… I’m just… very.  Very.  Sad.”

           “I can see that.  What would you like to be feeling?”  I asked her.

           And she gave me the very best you-idiot look a 6 year old can muster (which is indeed quite spectacular) and said with an air of obviousness, “I just want to feel sad” and she punctuated it with another you-idiot look.

           The thing here is that THIS version of me as a parent – where I have presence of mind to be patient and both hear and listen – is not just a version of me that acts in service of my children, but this version serves me, quite possibly even more so.  There’s another version of me that just needs to get through the moment and she is pushy and impatient and impervious to learnings in her arrogance.  She is a purveyor of lessons and serves up information by the mouthful – the very loud mouthful.  And that version of mom judges the histrionic display following the ever so slight disappointment (at the shattering of a young girl’s life-long dream) as hideously embarrassing.  Thankfully, she was not invited to today’s conversation because this version of me got totally schooled by a six year old and loved it.

           And she is so right.  Sadness, like any other emotion, has the right to be honored and does not have the inherent need to be fixed.  In fact, how often have I felt insulted when I experienced and expressed an emotion of sadness or rage or fear and have been told, even from a loving voice, “don’t feel that way.”  The expression of sadness offers the gift of release and it is just as important to take the necessary time to experience it in its fullness in order to appreciate the comfort that comes with its release.  And thankfully, this version of me was present to learn that from that sad and terribly disappointed and honest version of my spirited child.

           “You are absolutely right.  I’ll let you be with your sadness.  And when you’re ready, you let me know, because I’d like to show you something that I learned earlier today, ok?”

           She carried her sadness with her all the way back to the car.  She carried it like a heavy weight into her booster seat and carefully buckled it in with her for safety.  Her tears softened and melted into her as she gazed longingly back at the patio of the restaurant where she wanted to be sitting, eating mac and cheese and feeling great pride with her pup.  And I drove on.

           A little ways down the road she broke the silence with her voice, still in vibrato, “Ok – I’m ready.”  She said. 

           “Sometimes, when change happens and we feel a little disappointed, we might want to be able to experience a little flexibility so that the change doesn’t hurt quite so badly.  Would you like to try something to help feel more flexibility?”

           “Ok.”  She answered correctly but totally devoid of heart.

           “Did you know that when we feel things inside, we feel them outside too, like in our bodies?”  (Silence).  “Well it turns out sometimes we can change how our bodies are and that can change what we feel.  Would you like to try to change into flexibility for a while?”

           “Ok.”  She answered again, completely devoid of heart.

           “What does flexible look like to you?”  I asked.  She lifted her arms up, grudgingly, and waved them up and down.  A little.  “Ok – so that’s sort of a mildly flexible robot.”  The corners of her lips turned up a touch.  “Maybe we want to get a little more wiggle in it.”  And from the front seat I tried to show her my flexibility.  She sadly mimicked.  “Maybe get a little flexibility in your elbows….  And your shoulders.  And even your neck so your head can wobble some.  Can your legs give you some flexibility?  And what about your bottom.  I know you’re stuck in a seat but we can still wiggle our bottoms right?”  And I was doing all of this (with one hand on the wheel, one eye on the road, the other glancing back at my daughter for occasional status updates.

           She was starting to giggle and laugh at my rendition of flexibility.  “I am Isobel, and I am a flexible bowl of jello.”  I said.  And she laughed.  A little.

           “I’m still sad.”

           “That’s ok.  You be whatever you need to be.  But when you feel like trying, tell yourself how flexible you are, and think about the giggly wiggly feeling you got watching me do it.  And wiggle yourself as much as you can.  And pretty soon I bet your wiggly self will start to shake off the change that made you sad and you’ll be ready to see the possibility that we will be able to get Lola to the outdoor mall one of these days.  And remember – when you see Daddy later, he is going to be all tied up in knots of frustration about how his day went.  Maybe you can show him your flexibility and his knots may loosen up too.”

Fear of Failure

May 8, 2012 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

TKD isobel

Isobel tip tested in tae kwon do today. I wouldn’t have let her if I had a choice because we missed a lot of classes and I honestly didn’t even know what the things to learn for testing were – not to mention actually practiced them. But she was in the kids class – I wasn’t there. And she lets none of that stop her. She has no fear of failure. So when she tested she stood up in front of 30 kids, knowing not at all what to do.The instructor told her she needed to do a side kick to the back (this involves spinning around and kicking the board he held). He gave her instruction, she tried. She failed. She tried again. She failed – too low. She tried again – failed – not close enough. On the fifth try she succeeded and the room erupted in applause. This is the up side to entitlement. Her total confidence in herself keeps her from being afraid to ask for more. Her lack of fear of failure frees her to accomplish without limitation. Our job as parents is to let those gifts continue to exist in a world bent on breaking her. Parenting is hard. But how awesome to have her to teach me.

Being an Adult…

October 7, 2011 in Blog, Conversations with Isobel

Being an adult basically sucks. This is a thought that could have occurred to me when I realized that I couldn’t get up off the floor because evidently, my atrophied core muscles now pinch at my spine when I do such mundane things like – reach down to pick up a piece of paper. Or it could’ve been the discovery of more grey hairs than I can count. Or maybe that frightening experience of catching myself in the car’s rear view mirror and thinking an old woman is carjacking me but then realizing that it’s just the contours of my face that have taken some new and unfamiliar sharp turns. It could have been any of those discoveries that, while I wasn’t paying attention, prove that I have gotten old. But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t the physical metamorphosis at all.

I had taken Isobel to the ‘outdoor mall’ after school. I wanted to stop at the fancy kitchen wares store to find some bento boxes and cutting utensils so I could fill up my apparent free time (this sarcasm is provided at no additional charge) with decorative lunch making instead of the daily PB&J, cheese stick, and strawberries. Isobel and I wandered through the store fruitlessly, all the while exchanging such dialog as “look at this!” followed by a medley of “be careful, don’t touch that, that’s fragile,” and “how about holding my hand?” After a little while, Isobel said, “I don’t really like this store.” My search for garnishing tools was unsuccessful anyway so we went to Panera for a cookie and a drink.

Sitting at the big table enjoying our American Bourgeois version of tea and crumpets, Isobel said wistfully, “Mommy, can we do just one more thing at the mall before we go home?” I asked her what she wanted to do and she didn’t know or really care, she just didn’t want to go home yet (which I decided to take to mean she wanted our little date to go on forever) so I asked her if she wanted to take a walk over and put a coin in the wishing fountain. This was apparently the perfect suggestion.

Isobel and her stuffed dolphin, Feathers, and I headed out towards our usual fountain. Just before reaching it, we came across a new (to us – it may have been there for years and we just hadn’t noticed), smaller fountain – the sort where water pours from the mouth of a Lion’s head into a stone and mortar reservoir. Classy. Isobel struggled to decide which fountain to beseech but I solved that by suggesting I might have TWO coins in my purse and she could make a wish at each fountain. Honestly, my giving spirit has no end.

I fished for change in my purse. Isobel saw me disregard several quarters looking for something of a smaller denomination. “Wait – there’s one!” She said pointing to the quarter. I quickly reworded the thought that went like “I don’t want to waste 50 cents when I could just waste 2” to “I’m pretty sure I have some nice shiny pennies in here somewhere.” And I did. I offered one to her and she all but tripped over her own feet getting to the fountain (there was another little girl headed there and I guess there’s some competition for wishing when you’re less than 5 years old). Then she came back to me, sort of quietly commented on what the other little girl was doing wrong (she was, in fact, working on making a withdrawal) and then I pointed her to the other fountain.

I wanted to give her some privacy in this. She didn’t want me to hear what she was wishing for. But I was watching her from a distance, you know, to make sure no one came up and snatched her up, or in case she tripped on the cobblestone… I was supervising because I care about her safety. I watched as she clutched the penny tightly in both hands, held against her heart. She shut her eyes so tightly it required engaging her smile muscles. Isobel, I’m afraid, completely lacks an inner monologue, so I watched as she muttered her wish with a breathy whisper. I couldn’t hear it. I assume it had something to do with more toys or a smurf movie or unicorns. I rolled my eyes at the thought of whatever ridiculously frivolous wish she was making over there. Then she tossed in the penny and watched it sink to the bottom. She waited there, for a second, in reverence. And then she looked completely satisfied. And that’s when I realized it. Being an adult basically sucks.

I couldn’t tell you when I stopped seeing a toss into a wishing well as an investment rather than a loss. I couldn’t tell you when I stopped believing I could wish a unicorn into being. But at some point, a wish for a unicorn turned into a wish for a particular catalog item and then a wish for love and kindness to heal the hurt, and then I was out of wishes and, with it, hope. I can’t remember when I stopped seeing all the possibilities for greatness and replaced it with fears of failure and rejection and injury. What a sad realization that being an adult required giving up so much joy.

Isobel skipped towards me and reached for my hand. “I’m not going to tell you what my wish was.” I almost told her not to hold her breath for wishes… but I stopped myself. Instead, she said, “sometimes wishes don’t come true.” It was slow and quiet, as if she was speaking to herself, preparing herself for disappointment already! What have I done to her? And so I squeezed her little hand and said, “sometimes they do,” thanking her for what she’s done to me.

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