Question: How do you handle whining?

On June 8th a friend writes,

Do you have any advise or book suggestions when it comes to whining? I just picked up “Easy to Love Difficult to Discipline” hoping that helps.

I allow “whining” because in truth children are often so disempowered it seems unfair to me to require they do not voice their displeasure. That said, of course “whining” occasionally gets to me and I snap or demand the child to stop. My feelings of overwhelm with whining are usually triggered when I’m hungry or tired or upset or preoccupied about something else.

I apologize to my children after I snap (when I’m ready to do so; usually within about fifteen minutes).  I notice my children “whine” less and less the more freedoms I give them and the more I let them be authors of their own life. My policies and my genuine apologies go a long way when my kids are cranky and tired and they start “whining” and I ask them to please be quiet because I am having a hard time. They almost always experience this as a reasonable request and through their well-developed empathy they will be silent and give me the time I need.

This works far better than back when I used to engage primarily in policing “whining”.[1. I will also add it is interesting we designate children’s vocal protestations as “whining” and give it a negative slant. When adults object to policies they believe are unfair we do not categorically designate it as “whining” unless we feel a degree of entitlement about their rights to complain.]

With regards to your book title, I should elaborate that I don’t aim to discipline (I stop my kids from harming and breaking things they shouldn’t harm or break, but I do not punish them). When it comes to “bad behavior” I try to look at the underlying issues happening for all parties and correct those. This usually makes discipline irrelevant. That said, Ralph and I still employ “disciplinary” measures because that’s how we were raised (and that’s how most people we know parent) and it’s hard to break our programming.  We keep trying.

We are learning to practice Consensual Living and it’s going pretty well, although since I am a beginner I am not perfect. Here are two sites/blogs that introduce the concepts and have book reviews.

http://www.consensual-living.com/

http://livingpeacefullywithchildren.wordpress.com/

an apologist for lurve

I have to be so careful not to sound like I’m fetishizing the child-raising and family experience because, to tell the truth, it often seems to sound like I am.

What’s cool is that I do not promote my writings for readership nor take ad money or try to get picked up or join a web ring or in any way try to make a cash living out of the whole bit. It’s not that I have a judgment on those courses of action, it’s that I don’t want to do things that way with my writing (it is, um, mine after all). What the purity of my desire to merely communicate boils down to for me is a certain lack of pressure on my writings, whether they be Good or Ass. I can know that truly if I am boring anyone reading it’s not like I have in any way tried to say this journal is worthy of large readership or Everyone Should Listen. I talk so much on familiar subjects I’m sure I’ve scared may off, yawning. Secretly I’m happy to kind of Not Really Know About the many who’ve found me distasteful and fled. I am happy when I hear my writings mean something to others, I am. I am sad when my writings cause others distress, although I can’t always know when, how, or why this happens. I endeavor to communicate my experiences as clearly as I can, with little other goal.

Writing about my family and children is really writing about my expansion of experience. I find myself daily amazed at the lessons I learned in childhood and how I merely assimilated them even when they were hurtful or twisted. My life with kids and family has been quite healing as there are so many things I suffered as a kid, not huge travesties of justice mind you, but a series of Wrongs so subtle yet linked together such that my worldview used to be a sadder, more cramped one. For years I was angry or depressed that that world was The Way It Was and there was Nothing One Could Do About It. Today I know neither of those things are completely true; it is my children who’ve been my greatest teachers in this regard.

My family continues to afford me the opportunity to not only provide them with a gentleness and respect I was not always afforded, but to provide it to others as well. Today while my husband and I had breakfast out an older couple with their two young grandchildren shuffled in and sat behind us. The kids were enthusiastic about the venue (an airport cafe) and talked and babbled excitedly. Two things occurred to me: one that I was glad my husband and I were alone and did not have to “mind” squirrelly kids who get glares from grownups, and two that their voices, “raised” as they were, were so much sweeter and smaller than their carers likely heard them.

In another moment this observation was tested. The older child, a boy of four or so, became angry with his grandmother. He put his hands on her face and shouted to get her attention: “Grandma, you need to stop! You were wiggling! You are not supposed to wiggle!” Ralph and I carefully and successfully managed not to laugh aloud. The two adults at the table responded with a muffled and unified fury. I heard the grandfather (sitting so close to me our backs were almost touching) speak very sternly and angrily to the children: that was enough of that or they’d have to go home. The “disruptive” child seemed to have already lost focus in the moment, likely as he had assured his grandmother’s full attention on the grievance he wanted aired. The tiny ruckus had passed, leaving a slight air of tension in their corner of the diner.

I turned around to the subdued table and said quietly, “Grandma, I’m watching you. I saw you wiggling.”

At this the grandfather burst into deep and hearty laughter and the grandmother’s face relaxed. “Yes, I was. I was wiggling while I was moving this chair,” she affirmed. Ralph and I laughed because (we hardly needed to verbally share) the child’s outburst reminded us very much of one of our own. I can’t know if my joshing had any good affect on these fellow-diners (although it seemed to), but I can remember the times a kind stranger has smiled at me to let me know hey, it’s okay, we’re all human, and your children are human too. It has meant so much to me in a microcosm that often seems to wish my children to be silent and required a perfection of mother-care (these “perfections” often at odds with one another) and an unpleasant series of Disapproval hand-slappers. I thought how sad if parents, grandparents and carers can’t hear the “ruckus” of these small children, their voices so much smaller than the adult conversations happening all around the crowded restaurant, without feeling a tension to respond according to the cultural pressures in the room.

My father was a person with a resevoir of memory. He could bring forth a previously-unheard anecdote or Buddhist story or even a (usually funny) joke, always (it seemed to me) in moments when they most applied. I remember a story he told me once or twice. It is a part of the education he gave me that I savor.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice.

As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. His situation was growing more dire.

Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He stretched his arm out, reached, plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Since the day my father told me this story it has meant a great deal to me. It is like something tender that swims in my heart. The slings and arrows of life and the blows and defeats; the inevitability of death and the lack of security in this flesh – none of these things can take away the meaning this story has for me right now.

8 AM
Phoenix, Nels, and Ralph this morning. The children sleep holding hands.

raising children in America

May 14, 2010

RE: CPS Investigation
Mrs. and Mrs. Hogaboom
814 1st Street
Hoquiam, WA 98550

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hogaboom,

This letter is to inform you that your case will close. I want to reiterate the position of the Division of Children and Family Services in maintaining the safety of your children.

The Department became involved with your family after concerns that Nels was able to get away from your home and attempted to board a Grays Harbor Transit bus without an adult, shoes, or coat. Nels is still a very young child and although he is very bright, he requires supervision when he is outside playing.

It is the goal of the Department to keep children safe and in their family of origin. In the event that another referral is received regarding the same concerns of lack of supervision, your case will be staffed for a higher level of intervention.

In the event you need referrals to services, please feel free to contact me or refer to the Community Service List included with this latter. I can be contacted at the number below.

Respectfully,

Becky Sanchez
Department of Social and Health Services
Aberdeen Children’s Administration Office
Social Worker III – CPS
415 West Wishkah Street
Aberdeen, WA 98520
360-537-4326

cc: Case File

So to be clear, my son took a venture and did something I do not sanction and someone called the police (instead of calling my house or leading him the few blocks home). Since police are mandated reporters in this state they are required to call CPS (believe me I did try to convince the officer otherwise). And even though the case is closed (this is the only “win” you can have once an investigation is initiated) – since there is no age limit on required “supervision” (which apparently means EVERY SECOND) for children – this means if anyone ever dials their cell phone and calls the police regarding my son (and perhaps even my daughter), the government will go “higher level of intervention” on us.

There is no appeal process for this as it stands.

What does “a higher level of intervention” mean for our family? Maybe something like this: [link] (no really, do read the entire article).

The concerns around this case were of “neglect”. You can read Washington State’s common indicators of neglect here: [link].

Dozens of kids in this neighborhood play outside without constant supervision. I wonder if the parents know they’re only a cell phone call away from all this?

I wonder if the people who call the cops to dump their “concerns” in the laps of Authority really know how this plays out?

Above I’ve listed facts. Here are some thoughts. “They” are wrong, and I am right to believe no interventions are required and my rights to my children should remain as they are today.  Here’s another thought: I have no confidence another call isn’t looming over who-knows-what if I allow my children outside.

Here are some feelings.  I feel crushed, alone, despairing, and depressed.  I believe something within myself has been snuffed out.

goddamnit, learn how to use the pickle-fork!; or, “socialization” isn’t always so awesome

How then will a child learn social manners? Can we trust the child to develop and mature in her own time, the way we trusted her to learn to walk and to talk? Why are we in a rush to have children behave like adults before they are adults? – from “How Children Learn Manners”, c. Naomi Aldort at naomialdort.com

Recently at a Yahoo group I’m a member of the discussion turned to children and our efforts to teach them “manners”. A group member posted an anecdote that was instantly familiar:

I think our responses to our children often frame how people view them. I went out for a meal with some friends and relatives. We had our 2 children, ages 3 and 6. Another woman had hers, ages 8 and 4.

Our children played with their food, put vinegar on their pizza, got down from their places and went round talking to other members of the group, blew bubbles in their drinks and played with the balloons. None of their behaviour was loud or wild and they were certainly keeping themselves from being bored. I was relaxed with it. No-one from other tables even seemed to notice.

The other mum was feeling much more agitated and insisted on eating “correctly”, not leaving the table, and saying please and thank you. She was quite loud and vocal in telling them off for misbehaving. She obviously wanted people to know that she was trying to discipline her children and teach them right from wrong. Unfortunately all I could see happening was her drawing attention to her kids’ behaviour and framing it as bad. Consequently people were tutting and rolling their eyes and her children became more and more irritable and squirmy.

We were seated quite far apart and I’m not sure she noticed what was going on with mine but I certainly did with hers. I didn’t feel judgmental but it really brought home to me that often people see our children through our reaction to them; yet often we respond to our children out of fear of how others will respond to them.

This brief story resonated strongly with me. Recently I was in a similar setting when several friends and our children met at a restaurant to eat together.  I was struck by a difference between two families, an experience similar to the example above.  One family did not restrict their children: the kids crawled on the floor, got up from the table, climbed around and laughed and played.  The other family required their children to sit still, keep voices low, speak in a “mannered” tone, engage in adult table manners, and refrain from play.  The children were all about the same ages, five to eight.

From my end of the table, the family engaged in a high degree of “socializing” efforts looked miserable.  The parents were tense and busy, scarcely having time to enjoy the delicious food.  Their children’s eyes were downcast and muted and there was an air of strain about the group.  In contrast, the children who were running around had a fine time, one which was incidentally non-disruptive.  They did not once break anything, get in anyone’s way, or fight.  Their parents kept an eye on them in a relaxed fashion but ate their meal and took part in adult conversation.  The free children enjoyed themselves immensely.  People often tend to think of children as “loud” but I observed the active children’s voices, raised in laughter and imaginative play, had no more actual volume than a neighboring male diner on a cell phone.

The differences between families and experiences was quite striking.  I know which parental model I want to model myself on, even if I don’t always live up to my standards.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of personal resources and know-how in raising children without the fearful cling to tight constraints.  It is brave of my friends who allow their child the freedom to, you know, be childlike, because since becoming a parent I’ve found many in my peer group (middle-class white Americans) discourage children’s expression, bodily autonomy, authenticity, interests, and activity.  In fact children who aren’t behaving according to the soul of adult decorum often get glared at, spoken to rudely, or – even more commonly – silently resented.

The internet age assists us in painting things in black and white.  People resent different parenting styles (or their interpretations of them, often erroneous) and quickly want to blame a host of society’s ills on these perceptions of difference and wrongness.  People direct their fears, angers, and frustrations in snarky or mean-spirited internet comments or incensed letters to the newspaper editor about “kids today” and their horrid parents.  What a loss, since if and when we choose to open discussion with those around us we stand to learn so much from one another.  Rarely in public have I seen one adult say to another openly, “I’m uncomfortable with how much your children are climbing around! ” or, “Your parenting techniques are challenging me! We really do things differently!” and then – important! – allowing the other adult an opportunity to respond (your particular language and conversational ice breaker may vary). The few times I have seen an adult brave and open enough to initiate this conversation a wonderful conversation often ensues.  These dialogues have the power to instruct, inspire, empower, challenge, and unite us in community and commonality of goals and needs.  Most parents love their children very much and want to do what’s right for their family and the larger society as well.

Sadly, these conversations are often avoided.  In a seemingly “civil” society where such things are often not discussed instead I feel the “vibe” (yes, this is a real thing), see the glares, hear the passive-aggressive comments.  I do not always run across this unpleasantness when we go out in the world, but it is a constant drumbeat nevertheless – displayed not that long ago when my son spontaneously engaged in some athleticism on top of our family car.  Conversely, when my kids are “good” I am treated to the compliments and erroneous assumptions I’m raising my kids “right” – i.e. with authoritarian discipline.  When my kid are “good” and their behavior commented on (as it often is) I find it funny.  I can honestly say we are not an autocratic household and we move further from authoritarian discipline every day.  My children are not punished nor badgered by coercive techniques disguised as “loving discipline”.  Yet they are turning out well-behaved enough, considerate, direct, and they function well in society.  And despite our “radical” parenting they are very normal; in fact they are more likely to be cited as standing out for their directness and competence than anything else.  And perhaps most importantly for many parents who are afraid to lift restrictions, they are not the chandelier-swinging, sociopathic Lord of the Flies monkey-children so many believe – and want to believe – is the inevitable result of what is sneered at as “permissiveness” or “unparenting”.

I am glad to have seen the errors of my previous ways.  When my children were younger I worried very much about “manners”.  I prompted them (“Say ‘please’,” or “Say ‘thank you’!”) and I felt embarassed when they did something socially-deemed as rude or naughty – like yell, or grab a toy from another child, or…  hell, that’s about it.  I mean how much trouble can a two-year old get up to? Fer crying out loud.

It was a false construct and a rather tribally-defined one.  If everyone else is fretting over their toddler’s need to learn to share, then it’s easy to follow suit.  It’s also easy to exert your will on a small child (at first). In a way my dependence on focussing my children’s behavior on “manners” was an attempt at control (of course!), an addiction to the ego-boost when said child was praised, genuine worry for their future happiness and function in society (understandable), and, sadly, the deep-down buried resentments from my own upbringing – at home and in society at large.  Children are treated as second-class citizens, I see this clearly now. Whatever we consider our spiritual and intellectual leanings regarding peace and force, in our homes so many of us really do behave as if Might Equals Right, and in public other adults – childfree and parents alike – support this concept.

At some point a couple years ago I discovered Naomi Aldort’s article, “How Children Learn Manners” (from which my introductory excerpt hails) and it was one of those brief but life-changing episodes.  In this essay Aldort gently but with rapier-sharp awareness deconstructs what we’re really teaching children when we enforce social niceties both in response to social pressure and in lieu of pursuing authenticity. I can imagine some responses of many who are used to treating children more or less as they were raised (that is, using punishments, lectures in favor of example, and coercion).  Aldort’s writings may bring feelings of amazement, cynicism, beleaguered perceptions of nit-picking (“OK, now I’m not even supposed to tell my kids to say please? What, is parenting totally hands-off?”), irritation, and of course, deep-down fear and resentment.  Yet I am fortunate that when I read this article I saw the wisdom in every point she made, even if at the time I had no idea how I could apply such concepts into practice.

As I alluded to earlier, I was also informed by my own memories of childhood.  I remember resenting the concept one should “make nice” rather than be truthful, that there was a hierarchy of needs that put me – as a child – dead last except where it was convenient for the adults in the room, and that really, some people count less than others.  I remember being shocked and angry that adults would speak to children using words and a tone of voice that most adults would find infuriating or humiliating.  This sense of injustice and injury serves me well now as I have children of my own.  I can learn to do things a new way and watch as joy, authenticity, and yes, consensual living, flows through our home. And I can breathe a teeny sigh of relief to see such changes do not bring end-times chaos, knife-fights, or arson.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the family I mentioned above – with the free-range children – is one I want to spend more time with.  In our culture, it is hard to find an oasis of awareness and respect afforded to all human beings in the room and in the family.  I am comforted to know most families love their children very much, even if their strategies are poor ones.  Surrounding myself with mentors who know another way has become a new organizing principle of my life.

on which it somehow did not take a turn for the Awkward

It’s a common enough belief among people that when you have kids you give them little talks to fill them in on your particular family values. Yet I tend to believe as Mahatma Gandhi once said: “My life is my message.” Children pick up family values from the life lived in the family – and yes, this is for good or ill (kids also pick up values outside the family; you cannot force your children into your own worldviews). The need to be conscious about my life-as-lived is is why, in general, I don’t tend to give my kids lectures about this or that. But every now and then I initiate a direct conversation – I just try to avoid any ‘splaining about the whole business. When I choose these discussions I’ve often found asking my children how they feel and what they believe works better than telling them what they should feel or believe.

So here’s word for word what happened in the truck the other day as Sophie and I drove to pick up groceries.

Me: “Sophie, what age do you think it would be okay for you to have sex?”

Sophie: “After I get a boyfriend.”

Me: “When is that?”

Sophie: “Maybe… thirteen or fifteen.” She thinks another beat then says, “Maybe I’d wait a little longer.”

Me: “Oh so you mean, you’d start dating as a teenager, but wait to have sex?”

Sophie: “Yeah.”

Me: “You know, that’s what I did. I mean I had boyfriends and girlfriends for a while before I started having sex with any of them.”

Sophie: “Girlfriends? You’re kidding!” She looks at me in surprise.

Me: “Yes, I mean a few. I kissed them and had sex with some of them and all that. But you know, first I dated for a while before that kind of thing.”

Sophie: “Oh!” The light in her eyes and voice is just priceless. Something “fits” for her, although I’m not sure what it is.

We pull into the parking lot. My daughter unbuckles her seatbelt, leans over and puts her arms around me, strokes my hair. “Thanks for always telling us the truth, Mama,” she says softly, and kisses me so gently.

So really, there’s that.

hasta mañana

For Nels’ birthday my son requested enrollment in Spy Camp at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia (his actual birthdate is this Wednesday).  He chose the week of half-day events over a Netbook* which I think is pretty indicative of his desire to learn Spying, as he is a little computer freak just like his grown-up little computer freak father.  I begrudge the thought of driving to Olympia (a 45-minute trip) five days this week but given I’m an infrequent driver most of the time and my mother has loaned us her van (which comes with a Sirius XM radio, which I am addicted to, yes 80s hits mostly) it’s not so bad.  And I’m super-glad to do something special for Nels who is suddenly on the verge of turning six, which is really weird because I just gave birth to him a few minutes ago.

So today I lost my temper at the kids, in a major way, not once but twice.  And I feel so bad about it it’s as if I shouldn’t have made the effort (to have a good day) at all.  Yes, I feel bad about myself despite getting up and packing a great lunch (my kids eat so. much. goddamned. food) and getting the children dressed with their teeth brushed then whipping up to “the city” and dropping Nels at his event and taking Sophie around on a walk about town, including a reclaimed materials art gallery and vegetarian lunch and a stop at a bakery I knew she’d love.  No, after all this and even with a dose of Mellow and lots of good humor I still behaved horridly, and No I still can’t give myself a break over it, but TIA for suggesting it, kbai.

And don’t even say that it’s precisely the inner-applied pressure of trying to be Perfect Mom that makes me snap and behave like Mommy Dearest.  Nice try, Pop Psychology, but that’s really not it.  Because I know I’m not Perfect Mom and I know in my logical brain that I provide enough awesomeness to my kids, and I don’t need to do better or work harder or whatever.  I mean I know this.  (Don’t I?)

And it’s not because kids are so hard to deal with and that’s why almost everyone farms them out in school.  Because in so many ways I am so used to my kids and who would have thought it, I completely love living my life with them most of the time.

Maybe it’s just that when I screw up I really tend to feel like I’ve Ruined Everything.  Even if for all I know my family doesn’t feel that way and I really should give myself a break.

Not that anyone wants to or needs to hear more about this, but because I need to write it out: driving home in the pissing-rain I felt eight kinds of terrible.  The layers of Terrible were blended in a perfect mental-emotional culinary mess of Fail.  I felt terrible I’d blown up at my kids.  I felt WORSE in that I’d been a great mom for the entire day and then somehow turned into a monstrer (yes, this is the correct spelling), instantaneously.  I felt terrible some dude may or may not have heard me totally yelling and losing my shit, and that this dude may or may not be a dude I’m going to see more of as he may or may not also have kids in the camp (ugh!). Then I felt terrible I should give so much of a damn what some random person might think when the really terrible thing is that I yell and cuss at my kids. I felt surprsingly devastated – devastated – I was going to miss my dance class (later I would find out the dance class would have been missed in any case – I was an hour off in my calculations, if you could call them that. And by the way, you can imagine how listlessly – stupid doesn’t encapsulate the word – I felt later when I realized my tantrum was based on a total erroneous supposition, that I could have in fact taken my son to camp without missing my class). I hate that feeling when I realize I’m not taking care of myself in my daily life, which means I cling so tenaciously to some little thing I have to have or else I’m going to be so upset. Danger! Danger!  And then I resent the hell out of everyone who, you know, doesn’t have small children, and then I know that’s unfair but.  Whatever.

I can’t quite describe the full depths of ass-ness that were attempting to overwhelm me during the first part of our drive home.  My wonderful kids were quiet.  They were not afraid or angry but simply present with me in my misery.  I drove and believed all sorts of bad things about myself.  But there was this tiny glimmer of light somewhere within me that kept saying, “What we think we become.”* I know this to be true, so I tried to stop myself thinking I was a Bad Mother or a Horrible Human Being, even though the evidence therein was in place. Terrible thoughts rose in my mind but I didn’t want to make them my reality.  I tried instead to believe I am someone who can change.  This is hard for me to believe.  I shifted my thoughts to knowing I’m someone who does very well much of the time.  This felt irrelevant.  I shifted my thoughts to know I’d been so good to my family most of the day. And I was going home to make dinner and take care of them some more.  I knew I could do that much, at least. I knew it would happen.

About 5:30 when we got into town I met up with Ralph at the bus station (he bikes/busses to work now that we’re vehicularly-compromised) and I had him take me to the dance studio while he and the kids ran to get dinner groceries.  Which was a weird request because my class was long dismissed.  But like Richard Gere shouted to his drill instructor after doing a butt-load of sit-ups, I had nowhere else to go.

There was a tap / jazz dance class in attendance at the studio, a very small one: the teacher L. and two students who seemed about high school senior age.  The threesome let me stay and watch.  I’ve never particularly liked tap nor jazz dance.  But watching these dancers was the perfect prescription for my bruised ego.  L. is a teacher who obviously enjoys just about every kind of dance, so it’s pretty wonderful to watch her.  Singing a show tune and mapping out choreography and lifting her arms she is a beautiful sight to behold not just for her skill and physical beauty but for her enjoyment of the dance itself.  I’ve known her, albeit not well, since she was a little girl.  She loved dance then, too.  Funny thing.

A few minutes after I arrived the class tried to encourage me to join them.  I was so drained and exhausted and kind of crazy-sad I didn’t have the energy to stoically refuse (which would be a typical MO).  Fortunately my very wide feet  (raised in Doc Martens and therefore untrained to cram into ladies’ narrow fashions) kept me from fitting in the pinchy (¡pinche!) shoes.  I sat in my sock feet and watched, warmed and grateful for a respite. The dizzying and fast footwork were oddly completely soothing.  It was like feeling like a terrible person but somehow still being safe because no one was needing me nor paying attention to me.

Home and I read to the kids; but not before cooking a (vegetarian, Ralph and I are tasting the Hate and Suffering in meat lately) dinner: butter parmesan noodles, pan-roasted garbanzo beans, sauteed kale, cucumber salad, roasted cauliflower, and steamed broccoli.  And I washed the clothes and folded and put them away and got things ready for tomorrow. Because:

Tomorrow is another day.

Nels, posing for his Spy Camp badge:

Urbane & Sophisticated

* Not the real link we would use to purchase, as my husband would find some way to get the damn thing cheaper.

** The entire quote is: ““All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” It is attributed to Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

“couched” in mediocrity *

I’m handsewing more. It’s a learning experience. Learning that I suck at handsewing. Whatever. By this “whatever” I mean as follows: I think I am this incredibly bush-league person who gets decent enough at a variety of talents but ever gets very good at any particular thing.  This previous sentence is fact; the part that’s interesting is I struggle with accepting my fair-to-middling-ness.  I feel guilty that I never reach Awesome.  Yet it isn’t even that I’m unwilling or unable to put the time in to do something really well. It’s just that at a certain point I plateau and can’t / don’t push past it. This is Me; this is my life (Trust me – Cooking! Yoga! Blow jobs!). It kind of makes me feel terrible and it kind of makes me laugh.

I am working on being grateful for a body that works and for a life where I can exercise my creativity and impulsivity.  These are wonderful forces in my life.

Sea-Snail Wrist Pincushion

Today I made a sweet-enough little wrist pincushion (recognize the fabric for the applique’d patch?). For stitchers these devices are quite useful (you keep needles and pins handy instead of buried under piles of fabric alongside your work station or wherever else). I’d love to gift this to someone; I am not sure who though. I sized it to fit my rather small wrist (6 1/2″) and slip over my, shall we say, petite (= stubby) hands.

I like up-close pictures of stitching work because the way these pictures look is how I feel when I am sewing and things are going well:

Stitchery

(You can see more delicious up-close photos of this project here at the Flickr tagset.)

My daughter is having intermittent bouts of difficulty. She has grown to be a very good citizen who is also at times very hard on herself.  I seem to be a source of her power and a source of her self-hatred.  She is alternatively child-like and affectionate to me, then suddenly deeply troubled and wounded.  Her hurt surfaces even at times when I have done nothing, in that moment, to hurt her. Nevertheless I know this is my fault because I have not been a gentle parent. I try to wait patiently for her. I try to do better as a parent. It is hard.

I seek to surround myself with humane parents.  Because I look around me and see so many who act as if their children are these huge impositions in their life.  The kids are messy or “rude” or they crawl into bed at night and they Need To Learn Limits. Etc. Etc. I see so many non-parents act as if children are obtuse, messy, smelly, clumsy, “rude”, scary, sub-human, second-class citizens.  It is a grave disservice we do to our children.  They are people first and foremost.  So many of us are too tiny, pent-up, and fearful to do better by them.

These days my sins are not those of a person who does not recognize the Sacred within my children (and all other people), but rather a person who has a hard time just slowing down to Be. This is the gift my daughter needs. I hope I can give it to her the next time she feels open to requiring me.

* Because that blue/gold bit on the pincushion is a couched stitch! Hahahaha… ha… heh. Eh. Meh.

so i’m at least not a horrific goblin, or at least not all of the time, despite my occasional lapses into Suck

I received two emails today, hard upon the heels of one another. They read, in part, as follows:

you happy? For the week following your email, I haven’t been able to do a lick of email work – AND IT’S YOUR FAULT. Engrossed as I’ve been with reading your stuff, I’ve kept wondering if there is an end to this wonderful tunnel of love & freedom. Lovit, lovit, lovit! Where did you get the devotion-to-kids, the insights, the compassion, the courage to be so open and vulnerable and brave the brickbats that are inevitably visited upon anyone as free? I’ve worked on it for more than the last half of my life (I’m 81), and I just get stronger and more dedicated. But then, I’m a trained Buddhist (Bodhisattva), with 40 years of daily meditation practice, so slings and arrows are just slings and arrows, nothing personal, nothing more.

I believe I love you. (So much for training in detachment.)

and then:

I am writing because I want to say thank you. There is no way for you to know how much you have inspired and uplifted me simply by being you and sharing it. I love to read your blog. At first, it was just out of curiosity. A friend or another directed me to it. I honestly don’t remember where, how or even who. (As a former Hoquiamite myself it could have been any number of people.)

I was deeply impacted by the realness, the simple beauty of life through your expressions. It has helped me challenge myself to be a better person. I find myself re thinking so many things because of your perspective. Thank you for putting yourself out there. For sharing pieces of your heart and soul. It has made a difference in my life. I just wanted you to know. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

Yeah.  So, there’s no downside to these missives. Thank you, readers – those who write, yes, but also those who read here and in any way find themselves helped, or pleased, or laugh. I know I can be so terribly dark-sided and I am glad to know that is not the only thing people find in me.

So, thank you Universe.

My daughter has been a solitary animal of late, little satisfied with her lot in life despite our (for the most part) compassionate acceptance of her difficulties.  She is quick to disappear into a book, sitting out in my mother’s old pickup truck in the afternoon sunshine.  I am both sad for her sufferings and impressed by her ability to be alone with herself, her autonomy.  She comes in a half hour later and is calmed; she seeks me out.  During the day, as busy as I get I try to lay down or sit down and, like our male cat, she comes to find me and be next to me. This is when she opens up, when she heals from whatever has been hurting her.  We lay in bed together and I feel her hands gently patting at me and I smell her hair (sweet or creepy? you decide!) and I know she is finding something in me that helps her find her way.

Mi Niña Sophita Y Yo

I am seriously so glad my kids got their looks from Ralph, or someone else.  Seriously, it’s no big deal being homely.  Just, it’s boring.  Come on, you know what I’m talking about.

Oh, and don’t be all commenting that I’m pretty or whatever. Or I will roll my eyes so hard you’ll hear them clicking.

i’m an expert on stuff

I’m not an expert on anything. But I have a very busy brain (note I did not say “smart”, “productive”, or omit “frenetic”) and love writing! I love it so much! Today I am going public with my little co-op site Underbellie, which my girl Jasie and I are trying out. What you can expect: a focus on pointed rants rather than personal anecdotes and a Twitter feed that updates infrequently. And most importantly, more Kelly Hogaboom.

I am proud of today’s bit: a rejoinder to the recent Details magazine article, “Are You Raising a Douchebag?” (their answer: here’s some fun hate for hipster parents!). Daniel Bigler wrote a more culturally-informed (not to mention brief) response over at his blog. He’s a good egg, that Daniel.

I also have started a Formspring account. I asked my husband why it seemed it wasn’t catching on for more people. He said, “it seems kind of vain to me.” It’s true! Who gives a shit about anything I have to say, ever? And yet, if thee wish to ask me a question anon, have at it, I say.

“So Easy, Only A Mom Can Do It”*

Today, for the second time in a handful of days, I had a ladyfriend / acquaintance call me “Supermom”. The time before last it didn’t feel very good, because it was during a precise bit of time I knew I was doing pretty badly in general, as far as how I was treating the rest of the world and most especially my family (I quickly and in retaliatory fashion told this woman she had the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen, although actually I was being honest about that), and the second time – tonight – well, I was able to accept the compliment.  Even though, of course, I am merely a Normal Person who does well on some days and really ugly on others, and there’s nothing Super about me, or if I’m Super than most other people are, too. And in general I kind of dislike the “Super-” parent stuff – because so many parents in my peer group today are just poised to feel rather bad about how they’re doing, or that they could do better if they just upped their effort or compassion or energy, and I don’t want any part of that by being pedestaled as awesome in some way.  I do know that when people say this to me – and believe it or not I’ve heard it quite a bit, despite the fact that here online and IRL I am pretty honest about being a whole person with the craziness and meanness and darkness and all associated with personhood – I think they just mean they think I’m Neat in some way.  So, thanks for that.

But I like being super-clear about my limitations, because in case anyone forgets this blog is almost entirely about keeping a record for myself (please don’t question me too much about this because I still think it’s a Super Good Plan even though I’m occasionally told it’s not).  For instance, I was thinking about now and then devoting an entry to the subtle nuances in the various ways I Lose My Shit. Like, one might think I yell or strangle the kids or threaten them or talk mean, which are kind of boring ways to be a Bad Parent and can be found lots of places in lots of details, including movies dramatizing Bad Parents and how they affect their growing children but then the children overcome it in some heroic way. Today I was thinking about one of my more special ways of Losing My Shit, which is when I’m so tired-out from the kids and from my inability to deal with them that I sort of shut down, and I recognize that they need my help or guidance or some food or something but all I can do is feel numb and despairing inside and barely respond and burrow further into reading my too-serious Internetz stuff and wishing for death or, alternatively, Ralph’s arrival for work (non-parents: example of this sort of thing starting at 06:21 in the video clip).  What’s weird is when Ralph is gone for an extended time – teaching his class in the evening or staying away for some other reason – I can often come up with a way to rest or recuperate and pull myself together again.  It’s when I believe I can’t cope, and I have reason to believe I may be bailed out, that I cope very badly indeed.

Concomitant to the many ways I’m a rather crappy parent, there are also so many good things about me in this regard and not a day passes that I’m not that person, too.  Like I’ve surprised my own self with how I am so very, very physically affectionate to the kids, and they get more love and hugging and kissing than I ever did as a child (also, more ass-pinching, seriously, they have leathery hide down there from repeated fondlings).  And sometimes out of nowhere after I’ve been baking bread and cleaning the toilet and folding the laundry I will pull the kids down on the couch full of blankets and kiss and snuggle them because they smell and feel crazy-good!  But I do let them go when they want me to.  Because I know they’ll be back.

I am not a Supermom by any stretch of the word.  And even in my bad moments, I am still just a regular human.  And if I can be a mom and do an okay job, really anyone can, because no one expected me to succeed much in this way, including myself.

I wrote Nels a Valentine’s Day poem in his card this year:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

I want to put your toes in my mouth.

* Oh my gosh! Do you have the fear of roasting a chicken? Because I fucking do. Thank God my family saved me via an intervention for my intimidated ass.