What we're loath to say

There are days in which the degree of highs and lows takes me clear by surprise. In my 40s, I increasingly rarely feel actual surprise. Disappointment? For sure. Disgust? Yep. A grim sort of foregone conclusion? Uh huh.

But outright surprise is harder to come by these days and is usually reserved for horrors like untimely death. Or the continued cancer of the current “president.” How that man gets grosser and grosser is truly astounding, but maybe that’s my naiveté and ever-hopefulness.

In any case, what I will say is that there are moments in which parenting cuts you off at the knees so brutally, so painfully, so egregiously, and so quickly that it takes your breath away. The method of harm, the size of the input force, is not directly correlated to the degree of issue or transgression; that, further, is part of the gasping pain.

I have largely stopped writing about parental challenges, recognizing that my boys, as they grow up, are more aware of what I do and share, more private and rightfully so, and more distinct as formed (forming) humans. Their voices are theirs; their lives belong to them. The space I have left as their mother, in terms of writing and public processing, is increasingly small. This is as it should be, in my opinion. What remains is MY experience as their mom, what I can capture as personal experience distinct from theirs.

This terrain is less charted with regards to the “mommy blog” and pediatric spheres. Sure, you have a general sense of tweendom, but each tween is such a unique being, interplaying in such specific ways with their hormones, family, peers, school, classes, personal struggles, interests, identities, and so forth. What you can expect at 12 years is infinitely more complicated, generally speaking, that what you can expect at 12 months. Perhaps this is actually what makes parenting adolescents so vexing: each of us is always dealing with a new challenge.

I’m actually not much interested, tonight, in delving into research or generalizations. What I am is tired and furious and in love and sad and over it. And tomorrow looms. And that stops for nothing.

What I want to say but am sometimes shy to say; what I think so many of us want to say but are loath to for a variety of reasons that irk the shit out of me, is that sometimes this whole parenting gig just sucks. It sucks and blows so hard that it takes my breath away and renders me speechless and pissed.

It leaves me having spent all day making a special meal to find myself standing in my pjs with the show I’d been wanting to watch all day on pause because a note from a teacher just came about a missed assignment that was now a zero and suddenly, everyone is screaming and in tears. Is someone kidding? It’s both real and absurd. It’s the complete opposite of how I envisioned tonight and so very much wanted it to be.

At the end of the day, the gumbo was one of the best I’ve made, and the fighting and crying probably made us closer, and that show isn’t that good anyway. But still. It all felt so damn fraught and not remotely easy and also not remotely efficient or timely, and seriously, WTF?

The gumbo was loved and there is more for tomorrow. The banjo was played, and lovingly so. The paper will be better, but still a deserved zero. The book remains forgotten at school for another damn day. The Bach on the piano is being studiously avoided. The wine bottle is less full. We are all tired. And maybe this is the best of family, and the worst, and real life. But sometimes I sure wish it was easier.

Thoughts and musings and miscellany

I met with a student this morning; seeing her always makes me happy. All of my students do. I love teenagers that aren’t mine. I say that without knowing of course, being that my boys are not yet teens. But if moods are an indicator, and if moods get worse as teen years advance and if all my friends relay accurate information, well, then, I maintain that I love spending time with teenagers that aren’t mine.

In any case, I am so grateful that I took the plunge and started Elucido. Through it I’ve met some really wonderful people, and it feels enormously good and fulfilling to do something beyond parenting. Something that utilizes my education and skills in a broader way; something through which I earn money; something through which I enlarge my community and can give back.

Earlier today, this popped up in my Facebook feed, a memory from three years ago:

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Stunning, isn’t it. Thank you, Roger Cohen. (This was in one of his columns in the New York Times.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately- those we are born into, grow up with and in, choose, make, opt out of and away from. Those we participate in directly and indirectly, in real life and online. I feel lucky to be part of many communities. Through them and in them I feel tethered to life and the world. I feel a duty to them. Not in a drafted, forcible sense, but in a compassionate obligatory way. I think that’s what holds society together. It’s stewardship. Connection. Loving thy neighbor, if you will.

I see this sort of intermutual care in so many of my communities. Meal Trains, a call for cards to a recently separated friend, acts of goodness in honor of a child gone too soon, candles lit by agnostics in houses of worship on behalf of believers in need, neighbors driving neighbors to the train, people boosting each other up left and right, from near and far.

We need this love, more of it. We need it for the people we know who are scared or hurting, who are sick or divorcing, burying a child or having one. We need it for elders who live alone, for neighbors who lose beloved pets, for those who are stressed about finances, for those who struggle with mental unhealth and benefit from stigma not at all. We need it for our brothers and sisters of any sexual orientation or religious belief or cultural heritage.

And yet for all of this beauty I do witness, I am equally struck by the appalling intolerance and bigotry and outright celebration of lies that is as pronounced. Where compassion knits people together, ugliness rips the threads that bind. Why do so many still opt for the latter?

I am deeply sorry for all who hurt. But for the life of me I cannot figure out where lying and making lynching jokes (Cindy Hyde-Smith) and cheating to win (Brian Kemp as one of many examples) and extolling Christian virtues while excusing the complete abdication of them in your leaders gets us. I know this sounds naive. But the bar for decency seems to be getting lower and lower. Or maybe it’s a divide between what constitutes decency? What decency is worth?

I read this excellent article this morning and urge you to do the same. “Why Is Being Held Accountable So Terrifying Under Patriarchy?” Is it about accountability? About white male dominance? Is it simply about being right and wanting what you want?

Can we, instead of rightness and winning, seek diligence and discipline? Can we seek to honor truth and effectiveness, discarding falsehoods of all kinds? Can we make the gestures? Can we perhaps look to connection and tolerance, rather than walls and guns, as ways to keep bad things, bad luck as Cohen may have called it, at bay?

A Quaker Meeting

For no good reason, I was crabby this morning. I haven’t been sleeping well so perhaps that’s added up, or maybe I know that as lovely as Thanksgiving will surely be, it’s also tiring -before and after- and busy. I had gum surgery two weeks ago and do miss eating without considering the hard and sharp factors of everything I put into my mouth; sutures out tomorrow, but my gums are still tender. Maybe it’s the full moon up there; it’s so gorgeous but things do sometimes seem wonky when it’s a whole pie versus a sliver.

Perhaps because of or regardless of all that, I eagerly anticipated tonight’s all-school community Meeting for Worship and high-tailed it there just after 6. Have you ever attended a Quaker Meeting? I had never heard of this form of worship before the boys started at a Friends school, but it quickly became one of my favorite parts of the community.

While there is some diversity, the Meetings I’ve attended, at school and in our community, are unprogrammed gatherings characterized largely by their silence and lack of officiant or leader. Instead of churches, we have Meeting Houses in which the pews are arranged in a square formation so that attendees face each other. Meetings may last twenty minutes or 90 minutes or any amount therein and may be commenced with a query to ponder, or none at all.

During the shared silence, each attendee is encouraged to both contemplate and listen, seeking to access their inner light; each of us contains wisdom and self-knowledge. Sometimes we simply don’t make time or space to hear or understand.

If an attendee is moved to speak, he or she is welcome to stand and share. Perhaps a reflection on the query, or a personal feeling about or experience with current events. Some simply stand to share gratitude: for the community, the space, the gift of silence and time.

At school, the boys have Meeting for Worship once each week for 30-45 minutes. I think this time is an enormous gift; it always is for me when I join them for Worship or attend an evening gathering on my own, as I did tonight.

Sometimes, Meetings are called in response to an event. For example, after Ferguson some years ago, Sidwell called an all-school Meeting, and it was profound. Tonight’s Thanksgiving all-community Meeting is an annual event, and I can think of no more thoughtful, peaceful way to begin the holiday break.

This evening, I went alone, not knowing if I’d see any familiar faces but not surprised when I did. Our head of school was there as were several folks I know through parents association work. My resister sister, K, was in attendance, and an older couple I recognize from several previous Meetings too. As luck would have it, I saw and got to sit next to a woman I’ve known for almost nine years now; she was the parent who called to welcome us to Sidwell back when Jack was accepted to PK and she has since become such a truly lovely friend.

As we settled in, I felt the familiar tug of Everything Else. Was Tom making the kids dinner? Did I wrap the pies well enough before I froze them? God, my hacking cough is annoying. Did I, do I, will she, won’t he, is it…?

My shoulders dropped, someone cleared his throat, her stomach began to talk, a cup was kicked over by someone adjusting their legs. Outside, the wind howled and gusting branches scratched at the walls of the Meeting House. Sirens blared -the campus sits on a busy DC street- and doors opened and shut.

That woman has her eyes closed and is smiling.

She is wearing a chic boucle jacket that rises and falls with her breaths.

He is balding, but just. His salt and pepper hair is elegant.

She switches the cross of her knees and adjusts her hem.

She stands and gives thanks.

She rises and recounts a Quaker Thanksgiving when even the most excited child quieted completely during a shared, silent prayer.

The wind and the sirens and the branches and the peace. And then suddenly I think that a gunman could shatter all of this, irreparably and forever. It is the first time I’ve ever thought like that in a public space, and it breaks my heart. I consider how I might dive, and turn over a pew, pulling the friend next to me with me.

I talk myself away from this darkness. The sounds are only of the wind, surely the sirens are typical ones- speeding drivers, a policeman who doesn’t want to wait for the light to turn and so uses a privilege to cut it.

But in Baltimore yesterday, a 5-year-old was shot; she will survive, but just last summer, her older sister was shot; she did not survive. Some Americans are now experiencing multiple gun-related traumas over time. How are we letting this happen? Continue to happen?

I drew my thoughts back to the bald spot and the Chanel-like coat and the humble boots and the close-eyed smile and the growling tummy. I gave thanks for the shared silence, for my community, for the complete stop in a week of pedal-to-metal.

I am grateful. But there is work to do.

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate.