Friday, September 30, 2011

Control, Attachment Parenting, and Ancient Yoga Wisdom

Husband and wife Peace Corp volunteers stationed in a high mountain Andean village sought ideas for how to bring greater economic wealth to the regional natives.  Salasaca, home to Quechua Indians: artisans and farmers startled with the profusion of commerce as the dollar bills paint brushstrokes of capitalist values  across their collectivist landscape.

The Salasaca say that their great grandfathers lived into their hundreds off of quinoa, potatoes and other staples.  In those days they were more isolated.  Now-a-days you could hop on a bus wearing a warm Alpaca poncho and two hours downhill debark in a jungle with locals in shorts and tanks.

Access to trade of goods and ideas loosened the tourniquet detaching Ecuador's native villages, pumping vices like alcohol and junk food through the compacted dirt veins, but also spreading news of modern marvels like camcorders and video games.  When I visited in 2004, most rural inhabitants were still living without televisions in their homes.  And along this path of traditional culture converging with the spread of technology and market, the Peace Core deployed to combat perceived poverty.

Hiking around the sacred mountains of Salasaca (around 9000ft)

So when the dollar came, so did the Peace Corp volunteers to assist in standing up economic stability and helping the Salasacans to modernize and adapt.  These two particular volunteers, Jon and Jane, thought of a solution: the village could raise Guinea Pigs for sale to neighboring communities.   Salasaca Indians consider Guinea Pigs a special food.  They keep them living as pets in their homes and then roast them for notable occasions like weddings or holidays.

Tastes like chicken.

Guinea Pigs living in the kitchen of a typical home

Jon and Jane, Americans determined to tap Salasaca's geyser of prosperity by introducing novel concepts of investment and liquidity.  They instructed the Salasacans to make a large pen to contain the Guinea Pigs, feed them grain to grow and breed.  And don't eat them.

"But why can't we eat them?"

Jon and Jane: "You need enough so that the cage is full."

"My daughter is getting married net week can we eat them now?

Jon and Jane: "No not yet, you need to save them until the cage is full."

The Salasacans did not pretend to comprehend why Jon and Jane were asking them to forgo eating Guinea Pigs until they had raised plentiful stock.  But they complied out of courtesy and respect for the smart, well intentioned, Americans.

Salasacan spinning wool to use for belts, tapestries and clothing

Playing the Cana

Ok Jon and Jane left them with these instructions and set out on another mission to share the wisdom of accumulation of wealth in a nearby community.  Meanwhile the Salasaca dutifully amassed their pen of Guinea Pig.

Jon and Jane returned to Salasaa village, anxious to see the town transformed wealthy Guinea Pig producers
- but instead found the cage vacant.

Jon and Jane: "What happened?"

"We did as you said Jon and Jane, we saved all the Guinea Pigs and kept them growing until the cage was full."

Jon and Jane: "And then what happened?"

"Ah yes, thank you for the wonderful idea to save the Guinea Pigs, we were able to throw a big party and the whole village enjoyed them very much for dinner."

Jon and Jane were so disappointed their plan 'failed' and frustrated the Salasaca did not follow their logic.  They departed feeling like failures for not succeeding in bringing sustainable business to the community.

And the Salasaca Indians felt confused by the experience and reaction of the Americans.

Karma Yoga distinguishes between 'serving' and 'helping.'  A Karma Yogi believes in 'serving' through doing right and good, while leaving the result of this aid to the divine.  But 'helping' implies attachment to a specific desired outcome and when there is misunderstanding and the reaction differs from plan, a negative karmic seed is planted and suffering incurs.

Serving: I volunteer my knowledge of how to grow your own vegetables with no expectation you will use this information.

Helping: I volunteer my knowledge of how to grow your own vegetables expecting you to begin growing your own food.

Maybe something happens in your life preventing you from maintaining your garden this year.  But because my expectations were unfulfilled, I now feel disappointed in the outcome, and thus suffer internally.  This suffering affects my future actions and maybe I mope around town, or decide to give up volunteer work.  This negative cycle of expectation to reaction to bad karma to suffering is called Sanskara.  

Similar to when someone says, "I'm such a good person, why do bad things keep happening to me?"
There is no guarantee that good things happen to good people, and dwelling over an attachment to this outcome brings even greater distress than just dealing with the problem at hand.

So in the case of Jon and Jane, if they had shared their knowledge of breeding and raising Guinea Pigs without being attached to how the Salasaca used this knowledge, then they could have left feeling pleased or at least amused with the end result.  Or even better, they could have learned from that experience and further refined their approach to explain more clearly what the Salasaca Indians could do to sell some Guinea Pigs while also having parties.

I'm learning that yoga's a journey of knowledge within ourselves and a process to mature in decision making and reasoning.  By detaching from the need for a specific outcome, we free our mind to objectively analyze experiences and act more wisely in the future.  This positive cycle of knowledge and action guides the course to understanding ourselves and the world.

So many implications for parenting!  And although I admittedly have not researched Attachment Parenting as much as I should have by now, I imagine the philosophies are similar:  relinquish the need for constant dictatorial control, and your parent/child relationship improves.  Trust in the child to make decisions, and lead by example not demand.

Thinking about a typical bedtime around here.

"Alright kids time for bed."

Continuing giggling, playing, building, whatever.  Totally ignoring mom.

"Guys I said: Time for Bed!  It's really late and I'm tired.  Let's Go."

Meanwhile I'm getting more and more upset.

It's because I actually expect them to listen. I actually expect them to stop playing and go to bed.  And when they don't; I feel like a failure mom who can't maintain order.  I feel like my kids don't listen to me, don't follow directions, and don't respect me.  And I feel like they're a bag of unruly disobedient mo-fos.

Then I get even more pissed and start yelling.  They come, I huff and puff and turn out the light without reading them a story.

Ok so yoga doesn't say that kids should do whatever they please all the time.  It actually stresses the importance of discipline and respect in children to adults.  But yoga says by detaching from the expectation of the outcome, I would not have become so enraged with their reactions to my demands.

Did I really expect them to listen to me and go to bed?  I guess I did.

Instead of getting upset that they failed to rise and jump up "how high, sir?!" off to bed, I should have learned from their reaction and adjusted my approach.

hmm seems that's not working and I need to try something else.
No need to get upset about it.

So yeah there's my karmic revelation about yoga and parenting.  If I just never expect them to follow my directions, then I'll never get upset when they don't.  It puts responsibility on me to learn how to earn their trust and respect.  Some kids are not born following their parents' orders; no matter how much we think we're entitled!  A subtle shift in approach based on each child's personality can move mountains.

Like with Kaio, who climbs and jumps like a chimpanzee.  I see him scaling the bookshelf, "Get down from there!"  leads to an argument over whether he really needs to get down.  Contrast to, "Kaio, I want you to get down from there because the bookshelf is heavy and it might fall on you and hurt you."  leads to a careful dismount.

Today at lunch Nala would not stop getting out of her chair and/or picking at her food without eating it.  I found myself heating up with anger.  And then took a step back to analyse the situation.  Why is this making me angry?  Why do I need her to eat?

So I tried really hard to focus on feeding myself and not demanding her to eat.  I told her there would be no more packaged snacks before meals if she did not eat her real food.  I kept 'calmly' redirecting her to the chair if she dismounted.

Lifting my expectation that she would remain glued to the seat freed up a bit of patience.  And explaining the importance of real food got her eating.  She ended up taking a few bites and I ate the rest - so nothing wasted.

I wouldn't say it was a Karmic win or anything.  But I do think becoming aware of my attachment to controlling the situation helped me to treat her more like a child and less like a prisoner.  And Yoga wisdom says by having more positive Karma actions, we can manifest desired outcomes (although we'll never actually be in control of the reactions).  Through Vidia, roughly: understanding of our lack of control and wisdom of how past actions have fared, we can facilitate more favorable outcomes and good experiences.

If you're interested, check out the Wikipedia article on Sanskara.  It's so much deeper and more nuanced than my lay explanation.  But I tried to break it down in parenting terms based on how my wonderful yoga teacher explained.


Yoga session on Puget Sound

Monday, September 26, 2011

What is Yoga Nidra?

Have you ever tried Yoga Nidra?  You gotta try it Dude!

So I had never heard of Yoga Nidra before, but at the end of our first Teacher Training last night, the teacher lead us in an "Ancient Tantric method, which can open new capacities of the mind."
It's kind of like a guided meditation for 20-45 minutes that you do in savasana (Corpse Pose).

And I have never experienced anything like it!  Seriously, you need to check it out and ask for it at your local yoga studio.

So you get really comfortable and warm while the teacher talks you through an active mind body exercise.  I followed along more or less and probably went into dream state a couple times.  Then she brought the session to a close and had us sit up to join together in an Ohm.  When I sat up, with eyes closed, everything went white. Like, my mind white washed!  No images, no thoughts running though my head, Nothing!  Complete absence of distortion, just pure light. It looked like in a movie when someone gets into a accident and then then the movie screen goes totally white and they wake up in a hospital bed.  My TV went white.  Brain noise went silent.  But it wasn't scary at all, no it felt peaceful and secure.

Image from Osho Zen Tarot
Then! I felt pretty high.

I'm the type of person who's multitasking 4-5 things all the time.  But when I got home: went to eat dinner, the tv was on.  And it was too much to watch tv and eat at the same time.  I found a quiet room, to focus on enjoying the food.

Later my aunt called.  Usually I'd be surfing the internet and talking to her on the phone.  But instead I turned away from the computer and just chatted, completely present and focused on the conversation.  It felt amazing to be able to concentrate on one thing, contently.

What ever the heck is wrong with me to make me so scatterbrained, Yoga Nidra fixed it.
So check it out.  Our teacher said it is becoming more popular in the US.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hitchhiking Girls (Pt.3)

Continued from Hitchhiking Girls (Pt. 2)

We spent the night sharing a shack with a mestizo family settled along the river.  The dinner consisted of a bowl of rice and single drumstick of some fowl.  Yeah I'm not sure exactly what kind of animal that was.  No chairs or table, we ate on the wood planked floor of the raised hut.  The mother, gernoursly but dutifily handed us dinner and then stared at us with quiet bewilderment.  As usual I gravitated towards the three young children who, under direction of their mother, were hushed to a distance.  She was scared we might bite or attack if bothered, so the kids repressed their curiosity.

After a night passed and we hadn't eaten any of the children, the mother permitted them to play with us.  They excitedly showed us a school workbook that a passing traveler must have gifted them.  It didn't look like they understood what the book was for or what it said, but they liked the colored print and images and asked us to explain what they meant.

I packed light, minimalistic, living out of a backpack for months.   My 5"x7" journal held stickers pressed between the sheets - to gift to children encountered along my travels.  I think I had HelloKitty, farm animal, and flower stickers. The kids coveted them like diamond jewelry, staring wide-eyed and delighted by the intricacy and precision captured in such a small image filled with vivid exotic colors.  How do they interpret these objects through their frame of reference?
What's a cow?  
This sticker looks rounded like a coconut
straight like a tree trunk
angled like a chipped rock

The walls of the hut: barren as a new studio apartment.  In this place so rich with nature and life, you felt the stark absence of art or creativity.  You felt it like a missing limb; a ghost arm on an amputee.
Art is a luxury in a sense.  Access to mixed media like crayons and glue is a luxury.   If these children of the forest could draw, what would they draw?   Would their parents hang the drawings from the walls like we paste them to the refrigerator?  Or would they throw them on the muddy ground below the house, with the rest of the trash.

This tiny riverside community of six families and six homes, suspended above the mud, seemed lonely in it's isolation   The families being mestizo had immigrated their from one of the outlying cities, they weren't natives.   They probably had to learn to hunt and what fruits were safe to eat.  They complained of how expensive bags of rice cost.  It mystified me that in an old growth rain forest stocked with bounty, a family could be so poor.  This was no FernGully.

Ellen was starting to get antsy.  She worried that Artizo left us for good.  She worried that we would be stuck on this river for weeks.  She needed to get back to working on her Watson Grant.  I stared out into the jungle, a canoe waded on nearby marshy lake, "We could build a canoe!"

"Or maybe a balsa wood barge."  Ellen's wheels turned.

"But what would we tie it with?"

As we formulated Plan B, the night began to settle.  A pregnant woman from the neighborhood walked by wearing a faded aqua green halter top and ragged cotton shorts.  Oh and carrying a huge machete.  With the help of a friend, she chopped of a melon-size jack fruit and lugged it back to her hut.  I wondered if she was going to eat the whole thing herself.

The teenager of the house strapped a riffle to his chest and set out for the evening hunt.  Ellen and I watched the rain fall down from the palm frond roof, creating a blanket of drops like the backside of a waterfall.  Amazed that the house acted as a sanctuary from mosquitoes.

"They don't come in here."  The man of the house said.

He pointed to the fronds hanging down from the roof, "It confuses them."

Later I learned of a trick to keep mosquitoes out of your patio by hanging plastic bags with water from the canopy, the water reflections somehow deter them away.  I think these houses use similar technology :)

Night time Ellen and I settled into our tiny green hammock, strung to the roof beams about the house.  We only had one hammock to share.  In the jungle regions the 'bed' of choice is often a hammock.  Support hooks are built into the foundation of every room in the house and most everyone naps in their hammock. Guest beds are usually... hammocks.  They come in various sizes, think 'twin,' 'queen' and 'king.'  Well Ellen and I weren't exactly sure if we would need one and traveling on a shoe string we settled on cheap $5 green one.  Oh boy did we regret not shelling out an extra 5 bucks for a second!  This ended up being the equivalent of a twin size.  We were pretty cozy during the trip and very sleep deprived!  I think that night each of us took turns sleeping on the hard wood floor.

We woke up to late night loud and obnoxious belly laughter.  The middle of the night bustle confused me but Ellen ventured out to see what was going on.  I shrugged it off and fell back asleep, happy to have the hammock all to myself.  She came back, elated, "It's a boat and they'll give us a ride to the city."

As soon as the vaguest light of the morning shone through the rain forest mist, we were packed and staking our claim on the boat.  Ellen did not want them to leave without us.

We left so early the children weren't up yet.

Walking on this boat, I had no idea we were privy to the truly rare portal to visit with the peoples of a remote world, living almost entirely unattached to modern progress and laws.
A boat chartered by an oil company to transport a group of community leaders from the Ashwar Indian tribe. The only native tribe of Peru that successfully defended itself from the tyranny of Spanish Conquistadors.  The warriors of the forest who famously shrunk the heads of their captured enemies.
And we were on a boat with their local tribal president, heading to one of their primitive settlements. We were on route to their village deep in the jungle.

To be continued....

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Heading to Brazil

Did I mention we head to Brazil in a couple weeks?  Last trip I walked on the plane, wistful to pack up our home and immigrate back BEACH of HARMONY.  These recent two weeks gurgled by with mayhem of Kaio starting afternoon preschool and me trying to get paperwork kosher for our visas.  You don't want to know about the bombshell pain in the @s$ I sustained from the Consulate.  I trucked in to DC three times in the last week, kids in tow.  Four agencies, 2 trips to CVS for passport photos, 5 parking meters, and $480 later; we should be cleared for take-off (knock on wood)  Ahhh  Breath!  It's going to be worth it once we're there with grandma to bear hug the little ones.

Very special beech on an Island that only got on the grid two years ago (Algodual)

When your post office address is: That third house to the left of the big mango tree, 5 kilometers downriver from Bragas

A small shanty town by the port in Manaus

My favorite building in Belem, a tree grows inside.  I'm plan on taking a better pic this year

Over 30 types of fruit pulp for sale, freshly pressed from fruits grown on nearby islands

The natural remedies section of the ver-o-peso (translates to "see the weight") market.  Everything from cough medicine to herbal viagra 

Busy streets of Belem

yuuuuummmmy coconut water for sale in the old town

fishing boats docked at the old town

Favorite past time.  Usually women do not go to the games, but American girls make the exception

Sleeping in hammocks

Dusk on the streets of Manaus
All these pictures were from my trip in 2005 with a $500 Sony Cyber Shot, smaller than the SLRs but manual features and a nice lens.  My compact Kodak camera during the 2007 and 2009 trips just didn't cut it.  I couldn't find a single crisp shot worth posting.  I'm hoping to happen upon some nice photogenic opportunities this time around with my Cannon D-SLR.  Just gotta keep the big camera incognito.
2005 me (pre-kids)

Yoga Instructor Training begins next weekend.  Let's forecast some yoga related postings in the future.

Today I attended an Open House for the local acupuncture school I daydream of attending.  They're extremely inviting, AND offered me a work study opportunity :).  We didn't discuss details but made a date to come back in after Brazil.  My long term vision: to enroll full time and work towards the Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine once both kids are in school.

But it doesn't take much to inspire me.  Give me a slide presentation on your Acupuncture school accompanied by some dope Korean food, and I'm about ready to sign up.  I've been deliberating a career in acupuncture for 4 years now.  If I'd taken the leap back then, I'd have a practice today.   I'm still loving being a Full Time Mama.  You'd have to drag me back to IT Quality Assurance kicking, screaming, with fingernails scratching down the sides of the wall.  But Nala's still three years off from kindergarten, so maybe I could fit in a couple evening classes to get rolling down the path to the promise land.

And finally,  Kaio strapped on his cleats (a freecycle score - hells yeah!) for our first ever soccer class (also free).  Can you tell I'm stoked with taping into the cost-less area resources?
training for World Cup

Monday, September 12, 2011

No Where I'd Rather Be Than in His Arms

Brevity of life salient in the air, all the usual excuses just didn't seem appropriate.  I repressed the prudence and apprehensiveness, relaxed and went with the flow.  We ended up doing it in the morning and night.  Twice a day with two kids is a pretty certifiable achievement!  I try to keep my man happy, however there's a to-do list in the back of my head, tugging and getting in the way much of the time.
But on the 10th anniversary of Sept 11, brevity of life salient in the air, love is all that matters.

Tonight in bed I heard fire engines racing down the road.  "Could it be an attack?"
"Do you want to stop?"
"No, they'll stop."

Then later a deep noise like steady thunder rumbled.  "What's that noise?"
"It's just a plane passing."

Memories of the people's lives changed forever surface unabating.  I couldn't escape the images of war.  But knew that if this was the end of the world, there's no where I'd rather be than in his arms.

On that day 10 years ago I attended college in Oregon.  I remember waking up energized and determined to  be really productive.  The sky was, unusual for Oregon: blue as a delicate baby's iris.

Mari and I met one year and a couple months after Sept 11.  As quickly as time passes, that feels like ages
and pages
turned in books finished
put aside by the bed
pick up new ones to start reading again

He's my bedrock, soft and shaped from stream water flowing over millions of years.
So stable, not even roots of trees creeping beneath could dislodge
I found him a rock among others, but so stunning he slipped in my hand and felt like a piece of me
And I merged him into my heart

One of my friends asked me if we'd still be together if we didn't have kids and I told her that's just too hard to know.  We bucked down and dedicated to each other to raise the kids together no matter what.  Would the connection have stayed so strong without the little hearts beating Saturn rings around us?

I thought about this all weekend.
And concluded that we would certainly be together strong.

A couple years ago I accidentally dropped my wedding ring in the sink disposal.  I thought I lost it gardening in the yard and bought a metal detector off Ebay to look for it.  In the mean time the ring bounced around the disposal.  When we finally noticed the noise and pulled it out, it had morphed into a twisted piece of broken metal.  The white and yellow gold indistinguishable.  I could have bought a new ring.  But we took it to a goldsmith to reshape.  The symbol of our marriage fished from the trash; dull, rough and rumpled.
It seemed too truthful to deny, what marriage is shinny and perfect till the end?
I wont pretend
But I'm happy to say
we're still madly in love today.

On Sept 11, 2011 We planned to get away from the city.  I was worried about another attack and wanted to get out of dodge.  We hopped on 66 West without a plan, just intent, "kids, we're heading to the mountains to hike."
Luckily technology lends to slackers and we could plan on route.  Android found a hike for us, exit 18, turn right and                BAM! huge sign: "Apples"  "Peaches"  "Pick your own"
Mari's not one for last minute change of plans but he looked at me, "Should we check it out?"
Nala is loca for peaches and Kaio could eat four apples a day.  As soon as I said, "Peaches"  Nala sat up, "I love peaches!  I want a peach!"
He flipped a U on a little one lane road.

A magical day, so happy to be living in this beautiful place.  So thankful to be healthy and safe.

On that day 10 years ago

On that day 10 years ago I attended college in Oregon.  I remember waking up energized and determined to  be really productive.  The sky was, unusual for Oregon, blue as a delicate baby's iris.

In line for hash browns at the cafeteria, I smiled at the girl behind the counter, "how are you?"  The beautiful brown haired girl who always served me hash browns with a glowing and genuine smile looked pale and stoic, "I'm tripping.....  There was a bomb in NY and DC this morning."

My mind's eye flashed an image of a mushroom cloud annihilating the region I grew up, all my family and friends decimated.

"What happened?  A Bomb?  What Kind?!  I'm from DC, my family lives there!"  I was instantly shaking, and also totally holding up the breakfast line.

The beautiful girl behind the counter looked blank-faced and horrified.  "That's what they're saying on the news.  I don't know."
I looked to the person next to me in line, an older woman, probably an administrator of some kind. She thought she was dumb and dismissed the girl, "She doesn't know what she's talking about.  Don't worry"
I know that girl was probably a towny, but I trusted her, she always had such a beautiful smile shining with non-judgmental insight and love.  If she was a towny she held aspirations and dreams above the usual methheads living nearby the college.  I believed her that she heard a bomb blew up DC.

I just left my tray there in the line and ran out of the cafeteria 

Freaking out, but surrounded by otherwise complete normalcy, I didn't know what to do, and didn't want to waste time going all the way back to my dorm.  Luckily when I ran out of the cafeteria I saw my friend Nick.  Nick from Alaska.  Nick with a long distance girlfriend in California.  Nick who probably had a calling card.
I ran up to him and sputtered through some nonsense about what I heard.  "Nick I heard a bomb went off in DC, I need to call my family and see if they are ok.  Do you have a calling card?"
Such a good guy, his girlfriend, Jessica, was a supreme feminist and so he's not the type to consider a girl hysterical, dispel what she's saying or try to calm her down.  He instantly got concerned and responded quick to action, "Yeah sure no problem."
We ran back in the cafeteria to call on the payphone.

I could barely manage to dial strait.  Cell phones to my parents were down, which just freaked me out more.  But my grandfather answered the house phone.  He suffered from dementia and had no idea of anything wrong outside.  But at least that meant the house still stood.

I thanked Nick and started running back to my dorm room.  Stopping by work to say I'd be late for some reason I don't remember but they understood.

I sent an email to my dad, grabbed my cell phone and returned to work for my shift.  I don't know why I felt I needed to work that day.  I guess I was still stuck in the autodrive mindset that people were depending on me to be there.  I was cook at a coffee shop and supposed to make bagel sandwiches, but the shipment of veggies for the sandwiches never came on that morning.  I plugged my cell phone into the wall in the kitchen and spent the entire two hour shift trying to make contact with people in DC.  I got through to my ex-boyfriend and another friend in the area.  The details were becoming more clear that it was an airplane hitting the pentagon.  But I was still worried, my dad worked in the pentagon most days, usually in the afternoons, not the mornings, but what if he had been there this morning?

My parents finally thought to call and email around one in the afternoon.  It turned out that my dad was not in the Pentagon that morning, but his offices were in the wing where the plane collided.  Two of his coworkers were killed and some others were injured.
The cafeteria girl never came back to work after that day.
Verizon never charged me for the hours exceeding my cell phone minutes plan.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Journey from Daughter to Mama

"Nala, you're going to be a good mommy."
"Thanks mommy."

Soft kiss on the check good night as she curls under the blanket with a shabby baby doll bug.  Blue hue of the night light shining her pecan colored skin, dark straggly curls covering her eyes.

The calm blue and the utter silence, surrounded by a nest of two cuddle munchkins.  I linger in the moment petting their hair back, petting their faces, rubbing their backs.  It's hard to leave but I know that I need to cut out before one of them thinks of something to say, possibly igniting a sound off of imagination, ideas and excitement.  Friday night, another week with the kids passed and it seems like things are just getting better and better.

When I was working and first switched my schedule to have two days home with the kids, my mom fought me constantly. "Why don't you just put them in daycare so they can play with friends.  They need structure and a break from you.  You keep them here so that you can yell at them?!"

I did yell sometimes.  I felt overwhelmed because I was trying to do way too much.  I wanted so badly to pack quality time and learning into every millisecond.  I needed to prove to myself that I was teaching them valuable lessons and on par with daycare.  Trips in the morning to a park or museum and then home to nap.  In the afternoon we'd leave again to the farmers market or to visit grandma at the assisted living home.  Sometimes I had work meetings on the phone while trying to scurry the kids to the next stop.  The'd cry for attention and I'd shhh them, holding the phone to my ear with shoulder while trying to buckle them in the car seat belt.

Looking back now, how naive to think that doing more activities meant I was doing a good job as a mom.  I realize now that, with kids, productivity can't be measured by a status report of accomplishments for the week.  Quality time with them means being present and being responsive to their questions and curiosities.  The kids eventually began to protest the afternoon outings and when I learned to listen to them and slow down, the quality of our time together improved.  Less fights, less stress, less dragging them around.

That's been a huge lesson for me: slow down.  I'm so driven and such an over-achiever, the fear of inadequacy tugs me to act irrationally hyped.  But, as if proving how far I've come, today we spent the morning in the house drawing and sewing.  It felt so lazy, but so calm.

For the weeks leading up to my layoff, I began hinting to mom that I might get RIF'd.  Testing the waters, admitting that I wasn't pursuing new work.  She'd say things like, "You can't just stay home with the kids.  You have to work.  You wont do anything if you stay home.  You need to work so that you can meet goals and get recognition.  Life would be boring without accomplishments at work."
She's continued saying these things until about two weeks ago.

Mom's family immigrated to the US when she was 17 and lived without any relatives in the country for well over 15 years.  She had her first baby (me) at 27.

As many mothers do, her mother came to help with the new baby.  Except she left after only two days.   I'll never understand what really happened or what kind of family feud could have been so strong as to tear a grandmother from a little button nose and the soft cues of her first grandchild.  It just seems odd, but mom said she was upset because she sent her cousin a birth announcement.

So then mom had no clue what to do with a baby, nor dad.  This in the days before the internet, before you could find solace in a community of like minded fanatics!

Mom always explains the story of how she found Mrs.B like this:

Mom's all about networking and she heard of a lady down the street who cared for foster children.  One mildly cold late autumn day, she walked over to the lady's house to meet her.  Baby wailing, as was typical M.O.

Mom knocks on the door of this lady's house with a screaming baby in her arms.  Mrs. B opens the door to the screaming baby, "Awe.... come here little darling...."

Reaches out and mom must have felt comfortable enough with her voice to hand the baby over without hesitation.

Mrs. B walks into the house with the little crying baby, "oh my you must be so hot."

She starts peeling back layer after layer of clothing until baby is wearing nothing but a onsie and socks.  The baby's cries begin to deflate like a balloon.  Mom had me dressed like a chubby cotton Russian doll, in six layers of clothing.  Mrs.B pulls me up to her chest and sits in the rocking chair by their fireplace, "That feel good?"

Cries totally stop.

Mom was like, "ok, you're hired."  

I can say that the relationship I have with my mom now is 100x better than when I was a kid.  She always had such great intentions and tried very hard to be a good parent.  She even got a second job working at a department store so that they could afford to send my brother on a cultural exchange in Norway for the summer.   But we never communicated well.  Like, she was president of my school PTA, but she never took me bra shopping or explained what a tampon was.  I did not feel comfortable telling her when I got my period.  It seemed like she preferred the administrative work of parenting (picking a school, scheduling IQ tests, volunteering time with youth study abroad programs, networking with other parents) to actually spending time with me.  She never came on our Saturday bike rides to feed the ducks, she never took me out to the movies or to the gym.  All those great quality memories are with my dad, mom rarely participated or initiated those events.  At the time, I interpreted that she wanted to control me rather than to connect and befriend.  But I realize that was her personality, her shortcomings.  She didn't know how to be a friend type of mom.  

So all of my yearning to be present with my children, to care for them myself rather than outsource, well it definitely did not come from her.   She even says, "I don't know where you get this from, because you certainly did not get it from me."  

I think it came from Mrs. B.

Not really particularly liking babies at all, and not having any babysitting experience (well except for once when I was 12 and the baby cried all night long.  The parents never hired me again), I didn't know what to expect with the bump growing in the belly.  

When preggy with Kaio, occasionally Mari and I would have tifts about things that seemed new to him: me not wanting to take prenatal vitamins, not wanting a scheduled cesarean, not wanting a crib, etc.  He always came around 100% and even defended my choices when talking to his family.  But you know, when you're pregnant, sensitive, and uncertain about everything; it doesn't take much to get you balling.  I'd sit in the bathroom leafing through a pamphlet from the midwives office on fetal development week by week, bewildered and wondering how much I might be screwing up my child.

hmmm, i still wonder that.

One day a little white letter from Mrs.B came with a card, a short cute and corny Hallmark congratulations.  And this photo and inscription on the back:

I teared up in forceful waves of sniffles and goosebumps from the giant swelled belly to the back of the ears.  The photographic evidance that I might possess some droplet of mothering essence.  Proof that I once was sweet and caring and not completely self absorbed and hedonistic.  With all the insanity of being a teenager: getting kicked out of boarding school, dying my hair rainbow, running away from home, driving drunk and smoking cigarettes, hooking up with strangers, going to raves, and all kinds of other stuff I probably shouldn't mention.  Even through all that recent history, here was someone seeing me as innocent and someone believing I'd be a good mommy.   A message of wisdom that I could start a fresh and channel the little girl in the photo.

I just stood there choked up and flipping the photo back and forth, not recognizing the memory at all, but feeling like I'd been touched by a guardian angel.  She gave me strength in the moment to stand by every decision I'd made and planned to make about the little baby.  Strength to feel confident about the future and our decision to bring a baby into the world.
Mrs. B, Honey, and Me a few weeks ago
I placed the photo on our bookshelf in easy access to consult in tough moments.  

Holding and caring for baby Kaio actually came rather naturally.  Probably having to do with him being latched mouth to nipple 70% of the time!  But even when needed, I could place him softly in the bed after nursing, if he began to wake, pass my hand over his forehead, softly muttering, "tch tch tch tch tch" and he'd drift back to sleep.

Into the toddler years this innate sense of what to do slipped away completely.  We fought in power struggles non stop, fighting and then hugging like a dysfunctional teenage couple.  Lately though, I don't feel so lost.  I learned to explain why I'm asking him to do something instead of hollering directions.  I give him time to transition and make decisions.  I like to think I'm experiencing some motherly intuition relapse.

End of the month, means Mari works super late every day, it also happens to be the time of the month for my cycle.  So usually a very unhappy time around here.  This week however, passed without trauma, without mommy eruptions.

I think my mom is finally starting to come around, finally starting to accept that I want to be with the kids.  She now says things like, "..., when you decide to go back to work."  instead of nagging me to put the kids in daycare.

And back to the children in bed, settling down preparing for night kisses.  Kaio attached a noodle floaty to the end of the bunk bed, and called it a plane tail fin.  He faced outward from the other side, holding his hands up around an imaginary steering wheel, "I'm a pilot."

"Kaio, you're going to be a great pilot."

Nala lay curled with her little arms around her baby doll bug.  I looked at her and draped the purple baby quilt around her knees and back, tucking in the sides like my dad used to do.

"and Nala, you're going to be a good mommy."

Then she spoke softly, each word lingering on her tongue, exhaling appreciation, "Thanks mommy."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Expression without Words

As his language skills drag behind other kids, he takes haven in art and legos as a medium for creation and expression.

Lego Helicopter

A Fish with Pokadots

He's sweet and sour.  Super troublesome one minute, then kissing you all over the next.  If you can get past the messy mayhem, the reward is more than worth it.
Throughout the day he'll drop to the floor saying 'my knee hurts, I can't walk.'  He'll sit there pitifully begging for mercy, staring at himself crying in the mirror, like an actor peeking at the crowd's reaction.  Sometimes he'll speak nonsense with conviction like its a totally normal part of the conversion.

Thomas the Tank Engine Heading to the Station
Me: "Kaio, how many grapes do you want?"

Kaio (looking off in another direction like he's addressing an audience): "Because the sun was very happy and the moon was very happy too mommy." and he looks back at me, eyes perked, expecting a response.

Kaio at the Beach.  with nipples and belly button

He likes to be off in his own little world alot muttering, acting things out.  Mari and I were possibly probably the same way when we were kids.

So unconventional moments when he's present or aware of social cues strike me with surprise and joy.  Like yesterday we were riding in the car on a perfect 78 degree day, with the windows open.  He closed his window and I heard, "Nala, you don't like the wind?  The wind is bothering you?"

Lego train, totally from his head
 He noticed from her face that she was not happy with all the blowing and chose to accommodate her.
Wow. now that's a milestone and these events are happening with more and more frequency.
I know you're like, BIG DEAL... whatever.
But for me, that seemed stupendous like a kid who just crossed the monkey bars for the first time.  

Bob the Builder Building a House

Lightning McQueen #95
We confused his brain with way too many languages when he was a baby (Romanian nanny, Portuguese in the afternoons, English daycare at 16 months).  We see him struggling to find words for the things he wants to express.  Sometimes he stumbles mid sentence and ends up falling back on a catch phrase like, "because... because... It makes me feel silly." So when he manages to say something unique and appropriate, well those are the kind of moments when Mari and I or mom and I glance at each other nodding and smiling ear to ear with gratification for the cuteness that just happened.

plane and train
At the end of the school year he was just starting to paint pictures of helicopters.  Now all summer he's been drawing and building things with legos every day.

I think his art reflects his growing imagination and style.  I'm so impressed by his ability and the way he excels in non-verbal intelligences (like sports, climbing and drawing).   He's a great kiddo and I'm so freggin enamored:)
helicopter Carrying Angry Birds

A Car Race with the #95 Car in the Lead

A Jet Airplane with the Landing Gear out
Jet Airplane no Landing Gear

Two Copters with Seats


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