Posted by: eileenandrory | May 30, 2011

White Heat

Today I’m going to throw a question out there, to the universe, and see what it throws back at me.  Today I’m in need of support, today I’m in need of help and today I don’t want to be judged.

I knew this week would be a hard one for me.  It always is when my anchor, my darling husband, is not at my side.  It’s as if I come adrift spinning helplessly in the ocean without something to tether me to sanity.  I just didn’t think it would happen so early in the week, he had barely got on his plane (I suspect) when things started to unravel.

Meditation had become my saving grace every morning for the last week.  Ten minutes of focus, of still breathing and trying really hard to maintain it.  It has been getting easier and easier, until this morning.  I had already identified that morning is best, it starts the day out well, I can actually focus and still the mind then, it leaves me feeling energised, and THE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF ALL, the kids are not awake.

This morning this was not to be.  I started out, and barely 3 minutes into my session my daughter came in the bedroom demanding to get into bed with me because she had a bad dream.  I am deeply ashamed to say that that white heat of rage took over.  Despite being in a semi-meditative state the white hot rage burst forth from nowhere and it was as if I never heard her say she had a bad dream.  This was 5.45am and I was not happy that MY PEACE had been disturbed by HER.  I demanded that she go back to bed, and in her fear, in her whimpering, in the ragged breath, in her disbelief, she woke her brother and the cat, which cranked the white heat into something quite nasty.  She “knew” enough to try and stop her sobs to “be quiet” and go back to “sleep” because Mummy was clearly NOT Mummy, Mummy was a Raging Monster.

Oddly, I shut the door on that.  The Good Mummy I am trying so hard to nurture, the one that begs to grow sat whimpering inside me saying in a tiny voice “Lie down beside her and hold her, she needs you”.  Instead I smacked that little Mummy HARD.  What right did she have to interrupt what I was doing, I needed to MEDITATE.  The Good Mummy tried again… “umm… isn’t that a tad ironic?  Do you really honestly think you can after that”.  SLAP.  And she stayed quiet while I “meditated”.

To say it was a hopeless session was an understatement.  I did not even reach the 10 minutes.

Then I came down the stairs, knowing both my children were awake and quiet in their beds and not wanting yet to deal with it.  Angry MUMMY was still in charge.

The cat had vomited in at least TEN different places all over the carpet.  It was 6.20am.  My darling husband had left me a note saying (and bless him) that he had tried to clean it up.  The rage entered again.  What part of “cleaning up” did he mean?  This time the Raging Monster ignored the fact he had a flight first thing in the morning and all she saw was the small patch he had “noticed” and attempted to clean up and the multitude of places he did not see and therefore did not clean up.  Good Mummy/Good Partner got up and said “It’s ok, I can handle this”.  Again the Raging Monster said “Get down Bitch, stay down, I have the situation in hand”.  Which clearly they did not.  And so stomping I raged and cleaned, raged and cleaned, raged and cleaned till the heat was dissipating.

By the time I had my shower the rage had almost gone.  It was smouldering.  My children came out of the bedroom and my daughter glared at me.  Still the Raging Monster had enough life left to think “what’s she angry about!!”.  This time the Good Mummy smacked her down and delivered this crippling blow.

“Mummy is sorry, and Mummy promises that Bad Mummy will never ever come out again”.

But how can I be so sure?

I have thought long and hard about giving my children new neural pathways, new ways of being, ways of seeing the world, ways of handling their emotions that I do not possess.  I do not want them to struggle against the baggage, to find ways of rewiring their brains as adults, because the wiring is maladaptive.  I want them to know that there are healthier ways of handling things.

How can I show them that pathway to healthy anger when all I know, when the most familiar models of anger I know, are those of rage.  What pathways do I have?  Why do my pathways burn white heat and make it impossible for the new ways of seeing, the new ways of being to dampen down that fire?

So I ask, where do I find these new pathways and how do I teach them when I know what they are, but the old pathways are so worn, so well trodden that they rise phoenix like and burn like white heat through my mind?

I made a promise to my daughter today, but that’s just the beginning of the promise.  That’s one step.  Because I know that I can’t divorce myself from the Raging Monster, I have to accept her, she’s part of me, and a deeply powerful one too.  Equally I cannot shut her down.  I have to treat her with empathy, she has to learn that she doesn’t have to rage, that she doesn’t have to hurt forever and that her power can be redirected.   She need not fear being evicted, she need not fear being loved, there is a place for her here and this cycle of female rage can be broken.

I can be a better person, I can learn better ways.  I know better ways, and I can walk them and learn them, I AM walking them and I AM learning them, and I can learn them with my children.  We can hold each others hands and we can guide each other.

I saw in my daughter’s eyes, the expectation, the woman I can be, the woman she KNOWS I am, the woman I know I am, and I cannot ever let that down.  So I welcome her, the Raging Monster, the White Heat, I shower her with love and I feel her sobs of relief for she has come home.

Posted by: eileenandrory | May 24, 2011

Hearts and Things I was Meant to Do

So this week I was meant to find time to meditate.  I didn’t, there we are, I’ve addressed the elephant occupying the rather large space in this room.  I have however started to read “Hurry Up and Meditate” which I am pleased to report is quite good.

Why did I get distracted… well I found “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine just about jumping off the shelf into my library bag last week.  I blame someone whom I know and respect greatly for that wee incident.  I couldn’t resist Cordelia, that lovely wee book, the little doll on it winking so gorgeously at me.  But I digress, and trust me I will return to Cordelia Fine and her geniusness (is that a real word) at a later date.

What else distracted me?  Well thoughts about hearts.  More specifically how I choose to display my passion and what the sorts of pickles that I end up brewing in because of that.  Then, last night it came to me.

I wear my heart on my sleeve because it reminds me that being vulnerable is a strength.

I always have, and always will wear my heart on my sleeve.  It has been broken many, many times, it has been torn from my body, stamped on, spat on and generally ridiculed, and I can assure you that each time it happens the pain does not get any less.

So why do I do it?  Why do I put myself up to it, why do I let myself be hurt over and over again?

Because it also gives me the greatest strength.  I am open, I am honest, in all my contradictory hot-headed glory, what you see it was you get and I am passionate beyond reckoning.  I refuse to sit on the fence on anything, or at least if I am forced to, momentarily, it is because from there I can see both sides before I choose which one suits me.   I would rather ride the high horse, feel the power of that raw emotion beneath my legs, and yes, at times it is difficult to control, but boy oh boy those rides are powerful and fill me with passion and love beyond anything I experience.

With my heart on my sleeve I am open to growth, I am open to change, I am open for people to say “I don’t like the colour of your heart” – and they do.  This does not mean that I have to change, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do.  Sometimes I like the colour of their heart, the vibrant hues, their peculiar beat and sometimes I fall into rhythm with theirs.  Sometimes I don’t.  But most of all I rejoice, for another human being has shown me their heart, has been brave enough to let me in, to allow me to see.  I can simply celebrate the uniqueness of their heart without losing my own.

I can see other people, and they can see me.  We start out honestly, we discover more about each other.  When people don’t show their hearts on their sleeves I wonder, what do they care about?  Is nothing so important to them that they do not celebrate their life, their passion?  What do they have to offer me, when I offer all in return?  Most of all I ache to show them the wonder of this sharing, to show them the immense power that comes with wearing your heart in this way.  Too many people shy away, afraid of what people could see of them if only they revealed their heart.  They are afraid of the pain, perhaps they are afraid of the growth, afraid of the change.  I don’t know because they won’t show me.  Sadly many tell me to put my heart away, to shut up, to be quiet, to close my heart, to close my mind.

It hurts.  I hurt for me, and I hurt for them.

What happens when I can share, when I meet another human being who chooses to wear their heart on their sleeves?  True magic, the magic born from knowing another person is passionate, the ability to see fireworks, wonder and opportunity in words and feelings.  Sometimes the colour of their heart is so different to mine that I stop and wonder, and marvel that two beings can come together and yet be so different, but they can.  I do not pretend that the colour of their heart is right for me, but my soul screams with joy that they are so open.

And it is through this openness that I gain my strength.

And so, I wear my heart on my sleeve because being vulnerable is my greatest strength.

Posted by: eileenandrory | May 15, 2011

Meditation, the Universe, and Cleaning up the Mental Mess

So, I have been ignoring ALL the signs so far this year.  Everywhere I look I see something about meditation.  There are fliers at University advertising free courses.  I stumble across meditation books in the library or in bookshops, and I randomly find articles about it while surfing the web.  Weirdly, loads of the parenting FB sites I subscribe to are mentioning it a LOT.  Then when I started I Ching, the symbols that came up, every single time I consulted the I Ching were if not directly about meditation then they were at least pointing that way.

Yeah, I know, maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.

So, today when I stumbled over (for about the third time and in a different place each time) the book called ‘Hurry Up and Meditate’ I took it as a BIG sign that the universe was telling me to wake up and actually pay attention.

You see, I made a commitment last December to meditate, to find a wee space of inner peace, not just for me, but for the family too, but mainly for me.

Last week I needed that meditation, the ability to meditate, the ability to find the quiet space, the eye of the storm.  I needed to dig deep and find things again, things that in the mess of life had been hidden, if at least only momentarily from view.  This week I lost sight of a few things:

  • Assignments are a lot easier when you actually start them and then the fear starts to recede
  • The longer you leave the assignment the worse the fear gets
  • My son does not know how to wipe his own bottom and no matter how much I shout up the stairs that he needs to do it himself it will not magically happen and, you stupid woman, where was the empathy when you lost the plot then?
  • It’s ok to “prioritise” things according to my schedule and my families schedule, but sometimes, just sometimes other stuff gets in the way.
I am pleased to say that even though I had a rough week I did remember a few things, and I’m deciding to focus on them, to use them to view the week in a positive way.
  • I listened to someone, and I changed my schedule, because even though I needed to be somewhere, being there, with her, to listen was more important then.
  • I helped facilitate “stuff” to happen for that friend, in other areas of her life, and I feel good about that.
  • I decided that listening to my inner voice about not wanting to do something was more important than doing it.
  • I apologised to my son.
  • I actually started the assignment and it’s not too bad… so far.
  • I met someone who talks more than I do and had to sit back and bite my tongue and allow her the space to talk it out, and boy she did, and boy I learnt about how that feels from the other side of the fence!
And… I learnt that I need meditation, because it keeps yelling at me, in a VERY un Zen like way, that it and me are meant to be.  So, hopefully next time I visit here, the assignment will be done (or else I will be in trouble), I will be meditating and my friend will be feeling a lot better about a lot of things.
Posted by: eileenandrory | May 8, 2011

I am your Mother

When I am with you I am your other,

I am your mother

Sliding, you came as one we were, we were all one

And now we are more than one, we are one and another

I am your mother

I see your eyes as they focus on mine

And I see back to when we were one

When you were part of mine

Mine down to my soul

Where

I am your mother

When I am with and when I am with

Out you.

With Love, to my dearest “mines” Castor & Carys.

Posted by: eileenandrory | May 1, 2011

Taking off my panties

You know, I really wanted to be Super Mummy, you know the Perfect Mummy, the one who knew what to do and the one who baked everything and never used anything processed.  Not because that was necessarily perfect for me, but because it was perfect for my children.  So, I baked all the time and I made my own bread and I did my head in trying to do all of this, and volunteer, and work and do so so much more.

One day I found myself beside myself, looking outside and wondering how all these delusions came to be?  Why did I think that baking my own bread defined me as Super Mum?  Why did I think that my children would be any worse off for not having home baking (in fact they’re probably better off because I still refuse to buy biscuits and now they have to make do with fruit for sweets)?   Despite all my protestations that being a Super Mum was a myth, I had actually fallen for some of it.  I had faniced myself with a teensy bit of perfection and I had put on my super hero panties.

The thing is, that those Super Mum pants aren’t very comfortable, I mean, really, underpants are not designed to be worn on the outside and my spandex leggings were not allowing the comfort factor that wearing my panties on the inside would have afforded.   In fact I was downright itchy and although I thought I looked good, on the outside, on the inside unhealthy things were brewing.

Early this year I started back at University and quickly realised life had to change.  Either I had to sleep less or something had to give.  I quite like my sleep, and I get very very cranky if I don’t get enough sleep, so it was some of the things that made me “perfect” Mummy that had to give way.

  • No more home made bread – unless I really felt like it
  • Much less home baking
  • Horror, the floor is NOT vacuumed every night and sometimes it’s not even done every second night (I know, I know I hear some of you sigh, but this is a big one for me)
  • Sometimes my kids have tinned spaghetti for dinner.  On toast.  And that’s it.
  • I use the clothes drier a lot more than I used to.
  • I don’t hand make ALL of the decorations for my children’s birthday cakes.
I’m sure there are more, but I just can’t think of them right now.  Once I gave these up and embraced my study I realised a lot of other things too.  I don’t need to feel guilt about a heap of other things I don’t or did not do, I don’t need to hide them in an effort to be Super Mum.  And here is my list:
  • My son had a couple of bottles of formula when he was really little because I wasn’t coping.
  • I made my son cry it out when he was 9 months old because I wasn’t coping and he wasn’t sleeping because he had reflux.
  • I didn’t love my son when he was born, I did not have an instant attachment to him.  I fell in love with him later.
  • I fell in love with my daughter right away and then felt bad about the difference between that and my son’s birth.
  • I had post natal depression and I know what the statistics and studies tell me about the effect that that might have on my son.
  • Sometimes I have yelled and shouted at my kids.
  • Sometimes I have said things that I shouldn’t at my kids.  I have named them rather than the behaviour.
  • My son did not sleep in our room after the first night, I could not sleep with the noise from him snuffling.
  • I didn’t co-sleep with my son, and I certainly didn’t do it much with my daughter.
  • I have vaccinated my children, and I am informed about it.
  • Sometimes I punish my kids when my baser instincts get the better of me.
  • Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I wasn’t a Mummy.
Now, that’s not a complete list, I am sure there are other things to add, but that’s a helluva lot of baggage to carry around with you when you’re flying around being Super Mum with itchy panties.  Too much baggage.  So what have I done with the baggage?  I’ve rationalised down.  I don’t carry these things around with me anymore.  I accept them, I accept sometimes that I will lose the plot with my kids, but I know that I will get better and I will grow from it.  I accept all the things I did “wrong” and in doing so I let myself be free of them.  They have helped inform me to be the parent I am today and help me to help other parents and to empathise with them when they are “in” those moments.
I felt something liberating going back to University.  I was doing something for ME.  Purely me, me FIRST.  Yes, my motivation is to go out and work in the community with my degree and to help parents and families become better at what they do, but the need for ME to do this is JUST as important as the need for me to work in the community, in fact it’s more important if I am truly honest with myself.
So, I’ve taken off the Super Mum panties and put them on the inside rather than the outside and they are far more comfortable.  The itch has gone and the spandex has been binned.
And you know what the funny thing is, I am perfectly me, and I am happy being imperfect.
Posted by: eileenandrory | February 1, 2011

My son is probably heterosexual

Did I get your attention?  Do you find that statement unusual?

The thing is I don’t need to say that because loads of people assume that that is exactly what their children will be.  They never see the need to say anything about it because most of us assume that when we look at children that they are all heterosexual and should be cookie cuttered into conformity.  People may look at you a bit oddly and say well of course, they certainly would not question your judgement, maybe question why you said it, but not the sentiment.

So.  What happens when I say “My son is probably gay, or if not gay he’s probably bisexual.”  Or I say that “It wouldn’t surprise me if he was gay.”

Why do people look at me askance and immediately ask in an accusatory tone “What makes you say that?”  “Why?”  “It’s too early to tell” and “things can change”.  I take you back to the initial statement by way of a pretend conversation:

Mother: “My son is probably heterosexual”

Concerned Person: “What makes you say that?  Things can change and it’s too early to tell”.

Hmm… how does that make you feel?  Does it sound a little odd?  It’s ok if it doesn’t, but to me it does sound a little odd, perhaps because it’s outside my frame of reference, but I think it would be brilliant to say it to someone.  Ok, so maybe they won’t say “My son is probably heterosexual” but isn’t that what they ARE saying when they say in a cute voice “look he’s got a girlfriend”, “he’ll be a ladykiller”.  Maybe I should say “it’s too early to tell”.  What do you think the response would be then?

The reason I bring this up is because I truly believe in my “mummy instinct gut” that my son is probably gay or bisexual, or at least somewhere along that end of our beautiful human sexual spectrum.  Why do I think that?  You know what, the reasons aren’t really that important, but I do, and I don’t need to justify them to anyone.  What IS important is that he is allowed to express himself and BE himself and to BE supported in whatever he wants to do and whoever he wants to love.  This is a job which my husband and I do exceptionally well, I think, well most of the time.

However, every now and again something happens to shatter that support which we offer, and as he is getting older I guess that will happen more and more.  As any child gets older the strait jacket of gender conformity attempts to bind itself ever tighter around their little bodies.

My son has always loved having his fingernails painted.  ALWAYS.  I admit that I have felt uncomfortable about it at times because I have wanted to protect him, but he wants it, he enjoys it, and he feels left out when his sister has it done and he doesn’t.  When he was a bit younger people thought it was cute.  Loads of other Mums used to comment and say that their little boys also wanted their nails painted but they knew that their husbands would go ballistic over it.  Fortunately my husband does not feel any threat to his masculinity by having his son have a little nail polish on his nails.  In fact the other day he truly got brownie points from a lady at the Air New Zealand check in counter for being soooo understanding and allowing his son to have his nails painted.  He washed it off like water off a ducks back, but I could see the woman sigh and wish that her husband was as understanding.  However now that he is 5 some people have started to comment.  What was ok for a kid not going to school and was cute is now not so cute.

The other day, my mother painted my daughter’s nails and then my son wanted his done.  I was staying at my parents place along with some other relatives.  Mum sat down and started painting his nails at the table after dinner.  My “well meaning” male relative declared “That’s POOFY” and the other equally well meaning female relative was just as condemnatory.

My son looked startled.  He looked concerned.  His eyes flashed from one person to another.  He is 5 years old and bright.  He was taking ALL of this in.  I said there’s nothing wrong with it.  I was informed of the following:

  • No straight men ever paint their nails – EVER.
  • I would have to put a stop to this or my son would be bullied
  • It was wrong
  • I was setting him up for a fall

I tried to explain that this was what he wanted, what was wrong with it?  My Mum pointed out that plenty of straight men actually DO have manicures and have their nails painted, but this was to no avail.  I was quite literally destroying my son’s life because of some nail polish.

I admit I struggled to support my poor son against this tirade.  However all credit to him, he sat there and resolutely had his nails painted by his understanding and supportive grandmother.  His eyes told me he didn’t know what to think, and my heart hurt.

If I cannot protect him because he enjoys nail polish how can I protect him from the culture that says that being gay is something you have to “come out” for.  It is something that you have to announce – you have to publicly announce that you are different, that you don’t fit into a box.  I don’t know how to support him through that apart from being the most understanding and loving parent I can be and be open to all that will come.

So, my son is probably gay or bisexual or maybe even straight – but you know what?  I actually don’t mind, I don’t feel threatened by that, I’m excited by the fact I have a beautiful son, who likes nail polish and does not particularly like strait jackets.

Posted by: eileenandrory | November 10, 2010

The Tale of Two Boys

Last night I was teaching a Parenting With Purpose class, and we spent a lot of time talking about empathy.  About how boundaries and indeed discipline, and perhaps so much of life, can be understood through empathy.  This isn’t actually in the course, not in that kind of detail, but at the moment I am reading both of Bruce Perry’s books (see http://www.childtrauma.org/ for more info on his two books, “Born for Love” and “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”) and my view of empathy has changed radically.  I am now firmly of the opinion that empathy is perhaps the most important human emotion/feeling there is.  Anyway, more on that later.

After spending a whole night talking to women about empathy and parenting I came home late and Rory was still awake which was unusual.  He told me that he hadn’t got much sleep so far, he goes to bed early, because Castor had been getting up a lot and had not gone to sleep till late.  He made an offhand comment that Castor had said he had been having bad dreams, but that he, Rory, did not think that likely because Castor had said that only an hour or so after going to bed, so it can’t have been a bad dream.  Rory was not very happy about Castor getting out of bed repeatedly.

When Castor woke the next morning I asked him if he had a good night’s sleep and gave him a big hug.  He replied no.  This was unusual, normally he says yes.  He replied that he had had bad dreams and I was reminded of my conversation with Rory the night before.  I asked him what the dreams were about and he said he couldn’t remember, so we just sat there and hugged for a bit.  We went on with the morning routine, and then suddenly Castor piped up and told me that his dreams were about Rangitoto erupting and that he could not get back to sleep because he was scared of the dream.  He also told me that he thought that Daddy had not listened to him.  I asked him what he thought he should do about that.  He replied that he was going to tell his Daddy that he should listen to him when he has bad dreams.  He then went and (in typical Castor fashion) added it to his list of things to remember to do or bring home today.  His list went something like this:

  • Diwali books
  • Brain food container
  • Water bottle
  • Tell Rory to listen to me when I have bad dreams

I find it fascinating that he chose to write “Rory” rather than “Daddy” but I’m not going to read too much into that!   Anyway, I remember thinking that I was quite proud that Rory and I had raised a child who thought it was ok to question Mummy and Daddy’s behaviour when they truly thought that something was wrong and that they had not been listened too.  This was not a rude form a “backchat”, rather he had not felt listened to so he was going to do something about it.  A very adult thing to do, in fact we would have no problem with an adult doing this and yet some people would question a child doing it.  I further thought to myself that yes, I have moved away from some ingrained behaviour, because there is no way I would have had the confidence to do what my 5 year old son was planning to do.  Yet, Rory and I had somehow managed to parent Castor in a way where he felt safe enough to approach us, he did not fear any consequences to such a challenge to parental authority.

An hour later I was on the school run and dropping Castor off at school.  I got out of the car and heard some yelling, shouting and what I could loosely describe as “human barking”.  I looked around, disconcerted and could not locate the source of the noise so I continued to pile Castor and Carys out of the car.  As I walked across the carpark towards the pedestrian crossing the noise got louder and more disturbing.  My body was beginning to tense and I knew that that noise was not good.   I kept looking for the noise and my eyes settled on a car poised to exit the carpark with a man driving and a young boy sitting in the front passenger seat.  The driver window was open and I could see and hear that that man was pouring the most extreme amount of verbal abuse I have ever heard onto the young boy.

I didn’t even hear individual words.  But that noise stormed down like punches around that poor boy.  I didn’t need to hear words, the words were irrevelant, the noise WAS an assault, my body was tensing and the abuse was not even directed at me.  In fact the man had his back turned to me and I was at least 10 metres away.  Not once did the boy say anything back.  Not once.  Suddenly he went silent.  He looked around at me, realised I was watching and he closed his window, turned back to the boy and continued to yell at him.  It didn’t matter that the window was closed I could still hear.  No one has ever EVER spoken to me like that, and I use the term “spoken” very loosely here.  I struggle to describe the way that man was yelling because it was such a  visceral thing and this is a written medium, but that man could not have hurt him more had he hit him in the face with a closed fist.  I crossed the road with my two children, one holding each hand and felt bewildered.  I didn’t feel safe going over and confronting him with my two kids in tow and no-one else around (this was an early drop off).  Once I got across the road I looked back and saw that he had let the boy out of his car and taken off.  The poor boy was standing at the crossing about to cross the road.  I hemmed and hawed about intervening and then he crossed the road towards me.  I made a split second decision that yes I would do something.  He took off, and it was only by asking my two children to stand and wait for me while I ran after this young boy that I managed to catch up with him.  I think he knew I had seen and he didn’t want to talk to me.

Once I managed to stop him I put my hand on his shoulder.  I wanted to do so much more.  I wanted to hold him in my arms and hug him and give him a kiss and try to make it all go away.  Most of all I wanted to bundle him up and take him with me and tell him that that sort of thing would never ever happen again.  But, I knew that that would be inappropriate and even a hug would be a step too far, who knows what other trauma this kid has had to endure.  So I said to him, and looked him in the eye,  “No adult should ever talk to any child like that, in fact no one should ever talk to anyone like that.”  He looked at me, blank, you would not have known that ten minutes ago something as horrific as that had happened.  I then said, “You need to talk to your teacher about it”.  I was clutching at straws.  He then replied that yes he would.  At least I had got through, at least he had acknowledged what had happened.  I reiterated that no one should speak to anyone like that and there was a faint agreement in his eyes and inclination of his head.  I asked him if that was his Dad in the car and he said no, a friend.  I asked him for his name, and the name of his teacher, I didn’t feel like I could end it there, and then I let him go off to class.

I was still shaking, I walked back to my own children, who fortunately were standing exactly where I had left them and I started to process.  After making sure Castor was in his class and letting his teacher know about volcano nightmares I located the Assistant Principal and told her what had happened.  As soon as I mentioned the boys name she said ahhh.  This was a well known case, a case that CYPFs are dealing with.  A case where this boy’s mother is a solo Mum and he has four adult males coming in and out of his life, his Dad, his Step Dad, Mum’s boyfriend and Mum’s friend.  The AP suspected she knew exactly which of these men it was and knew that there was going to be a trespass order issued soon against him.  She thanked me and told me she was going to go straight to him and make sure he was ok and, I suspect was going to contact the relevant people involved in his case to let them know what had happened.  I was heartbroken.  On the one hand I knew I had done the right thing, but on the other hand I now knew that this was not an isolated instance, that this poor boy probably dealt with this on a regular basis.

This boy was about 8 years old.  Did he feel safe questioning what an adult did to him?  I doubt it.  My son, aged 5 was perfectly comfortable questioning his father and letting his father know he didn’t feel listened to.  This boy had no chance of having that sort of conversation, I doubt that the thought had even crossed his mind.  I ached for him, I still do.  Part of me wants to call the AP and say that if that boy needs a home he can come to my home, but part of me stays removed from it.  I can’t rescue every stray and I don’t know if I have the skills to help heal his hurt.

In his response to me, his blank stare, I was reminded of the words of Bruce Perry in his book “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”:

“Dissociation is a very primitive reaction: the earliest life forms (and the youngest members of higher species) can rarely escape dire situations under their own steam.  Their only possible response to being attacked or hurt, then, is to essentially curl up, to make themselves as small as possible, to cry for help and hope for a miracle.”

I got the feeling his mind had curled up, he had forgotten even how to call for help and he was indeed hoping for a miracle.

Posted by: eileenandrory | October 7, 2010

Of Anchors and Havens

I run a parenting course every so often through the Parents Centre that I volunteer with.  It’s a very structured course, not of my design, but I do support the goals and content of the course.  Coincidentally it’s called ‘Parenting With Purpose’.  No, I didn’t steal the name for the blog (and my company) from that course, it just kind of happened!  The thing I most love about the course is that it’s very different from your average parenting course.  Lots of parenting courses out there start out with the child and look at the problems that the child is exhibiting.  I think that’s back to front.  In PWP we look at the parent first.  What their needs are, are those being met, what do they think about themselves?  Then we move on to the relationship they have with their siginificant other and whether those needs are being met, are they communicating with their partner, are they meeting their partner’s needs – do they have a solid foundation on which to build a family?  Once we have dealt with all of that, and that’s the first 2-3 modules of a 6 week course, we start talking about the kids.

Some people struggle with this.  Some people want to launch straight into things and talk about why little Sarah and Johnny won’t put their clothes on, or listen, or won’t play nicely etc etc.  Most people don’t stop to think about they way that THEY parent, not about what their children are doing.  Because, in this course, we believe that you can actually prevent about 80% of the problems through a good solid family foundation that starts with you and your relationship.

Why do I bring this up?  And why is this blog entitled ‘Anchors and Havens’ when I haven’t even spoken about anything remotely nautical?  Well, as is often the case, you can talk about something, and read about something a lot, but it is only when you EXPERIENCE that something that everything coalesces together.  I was lucky enough to have that happen recently.

If you have read other posts in this blog you will know that life hasn’t been terrifically easy recently, hubby was facing redundancy with no job in sight and I was suffering from (and still am to a certain extent) depression.  The foundation of our family was receiving a right battering from an extremely unseasonal storm and there was no relief in sight.  Until one day.  An ordinary day when I stood in the kitchen, making dinner, and could not help but smile.  It was one of those real smiles, the ones where the very cells in your body are happy.  It’s a smile that extends from the corners of your mouth down to your toes and makes you forget whatever it was that has been bugging you.  What was the cause of such a smile?  To be honest I have no idea of the specifics.  I don’t know what hubby had said, I simply know that he had said something and had been saying something amusing for a while.  It was genuinely funny, to me, and I assume him.  For all I can remember probably no one else in the world would have found that moment funny.  But that was precisely the point.  I felt like I can only imagine someone feels after being starved of food and water for over a day and I was lapping it up.

It clicked.  In that moment.  I have told many people that he is my anchor.  I tend to flit about and go off on tangents and I always held this idea that he was my anchor.  In that moment I realised that not only was I right but I was also horribly wrong.  An anchor has a sense of imprisonment about it, being able to go only so far and no further.  He is more than that.   Sure, he does hold me and tries to make sure that I am safe, in that way that only he can.  He is also getting much better at listening, and not jumping in with that ‘male’ solution.  However he is much much more than that.  He is my haven from the storm and only HE feels like the safe place, the true safe place in all this turmoil.  My haven.   The place I can return to, battered and bruised from the storm to rest before I venture out again.  In that moment I realised that he is the ONLY person in the world who can make me feel that way.  The only person who can make me smile like that and the only person I can talk to like that.  Sure, my children make me happy in their own peculiar little way, but they cannot comprehend some of my innermost thoughts, parts of me will always remain a mystery to them, shrouded in a ‘Mummy’ aura that I wouldn’t want to, and shouldn’t, destroy.

The course came home to me.  A truth which I had read a while ago also finally settled into place.  You have to love your partner more than your children.  You simply have to.  If you can’t and if you don’t, then what sort of foundation do you have to build something on?  How can your foundation handle the weight of your children if it is not stronger than them?

In that smile, in that moment, I found my haven from the storm.  The place I can wait to rediscover myself and the one place I know that I am truly safe.

Posted by: eileenandrory | September 26, 2010

Growth

Growth.

Personal Growth.

When we are children growth seems such an inevitable thing.  Something that just happens, and to help us along the way there is the physical proof of it.  Our clothes seem to shrink over a season, our parents dutifully mark our height down against the wall and we can gradually see over the bench and put our feet on the floor when we go to the toilet.  When we are teenagers growth seems to come in the form of the loosening of boundaries – we push out and find out what we can and cannot do, what the limits of our mind and body is.

So, when is it that we stop growing?  Do people stop growing?  It is said that older people start to shrink, get smaller, do we lose what we have gained?  Do we forget how to grow?  Or do we simply forget to learn?  I have met many people whom I would consider to be thought-stunted.

It is said that personal growth can come from pain.  If that were true, and it were true in the physical sense then I would have to be an Amazon by now.  I wonder how many people keep trying to learn, keep finding the lesson in the chaos and learning truths about themselves that were always there, but simply buried under a pile of shit.  Sometimes those truths are easy to look at, and other times we put them back, let them compost a little longer till they turn into something useful.  How often do you turn your compost over?

I learnt a long time ago that I have high standards.  I have also learnt that if I wish to keep these high standards then I need to be prepared for the flak that these high standards cause me.  Each time my beliefs and my standards are called into question then it causes me a lot of grief and pain, and unfortunately I seem to be one of those souls who just can’t let it rest.   A while ago a friend said something to me that challenged the root of my value system.  She was making a value judgement about the way Rory and I chose to bring up our children and this statement deserved to be reacted to.  The truth of the matter was that she had been making this statement for a long time and this time was not only more pointed than all the other times, but it shocked me with the manner and directness of it’s judgement.

I was gobsmacked.  I quite honestly did not know how to react.  What this woman was saying, in a nutshell, was that she believed that I was bringing up my children with no moral foundation.  The sad thing was that her children and my children were good friends.  The more I sat and pondered this thought the more I found it incompatible with my life.  This woman was truly suggesting that she thought I was immoral.  I don’t actually believe for one minute that she even thought through all the ramifications of what she had said, but I do believe that she had spoken from the heart and that she truly believed what she was saying – after all she had been saying it in a round about sort of way for months.

What did I do about it?  I am ashamed to say I did not confront her, then or later.  I simply ignored her.  Despite the fact that we had, and continue to have a common group of friends I cut her off.  I couldn’t look at her in the face when I knew that she was making a judgement, had made a judgement, about me and my family that consigned us, quite literally, to the heathen camp.  My children did not know why they no longer were able to play with her children.  I simply brushed it aside, brushed it under the carpet.   Something all too easy to do when your kids are under 5, like mine were.

I behaved like a teenage girl would with a bunch of girls.  Not admirably, but rather foolishly.   Would I do it again, the same way, now that I look back on the situation?  I hope not.  I hope I would have the bravery to confront her and talk to her about what she said and what she meant.  I still think that I would distance myself from her, because this was a seriously large issue that was never ever going to be resolved between us, but I should have shown her the respect that she did not show me by talking to her about it and letting her know how hurt I was.

Growth.  Yes, I have grown since then, and continue to grow in many different directions.  Growth is painful, growth will hurt because it forces you into a new shape.  Remember the teenagers who stumble in their new bodies or the children that fall when they learn to walk?  We stumble in our new minds each time we are challenged because we have changed the landscape.  Sometimes we are forced into new worlds and are forced to adapt, to grow.   But growth shows us new things about ourselves and allows us to confront the past with new tools and look to the future with hope.

Posted by: eileenandrory | September 7, 2010

What do we do about the Bright Lights??

Most of you will know that my son started school recently, indeed, three and a half weeks ago to be precise.  Most of you will also know that he’s a pretty smart cookie.  I was full of trepidation about the schooling system and I will freely admit to anyone I talk to about it that a lot of that comes from baggage about my experiences in the ‘SYSTEM’.  I’m not being arrogant in saying that I was a smart kid, sometimes I still am🙂, but in the 1980s difference was discouraged and all kids had to be somewhat the same.  So even though my parents advocated hard I wasn’t allowed to skip a year.  I am one of those unfortunate children who through the accident of their own birth end up in the no mans land of the middle months of the year.  Born in May I was deemed too late to go into the equivalent of Year 1.  This meant I had 18 months of Year 1.  That’s cruel punishment for a child who could already read by the time she started school.  This sort of thing followed me no matter which school I went to, and I went to a lot of different schools, 4 primary schools to be precise.  It even continued through Intermediate and High School.  At Intermediate I was fortunate enough to be able to study French in both years.  However my High School refused to recognise that and put me into another first year of French.  As I got older and socialised more with the other schools I began to notice interesting anomalies.  The two local boys schools happily advanced students into classes that catered to their abilities and were not hung up on the age of the pupil.  The two local girls schools, one of which I was at, had no such program available.  To a budding feminist this was red rag to a bull and to this day I still do not understand the rationale behind this discrepancy.  I was quick to notice that our school had even set up a discriminatory system whereby regional sporting champs and national sporting champs were granted the privilege of being able to wear a different coloured jersey to school.  When I did the unthinkable at age 14, and sent a letter to the NZ Herald about how schools value sports over academics, and cited the different coloured jerseys as an example, I was hauled into the Principal’s office so quickly I don’t think my feet hit the floor.  I got a right bollocking and was told that end of year prizegiving was for the academic activities.  I was too terrified to remind the principal that sporting trophies were ALSO given out then.  My one ray of sunshine in all of this was that several teachers came to me separately over the next few weeks and told me that secretly they agreed with me.

I was also unfairly picked on at school for being bright, I hasten to add that this only happened once I moved to Auckland, prior to that in Wellington till the age of 8 I was perfectly happy in my schools, I was even ‘popular’ simply because I was bright.  I have no idea if that would have changed in later years in Wellington, but once I moved to Auckland my schooling schema came crashing down around my ears.  I remember vague unease at the first Primary school I went to, but it was nothing specific.  By the time I hit my second primary school and was still achieving well and not hiding it I realised that I had made a monumental mistake.  I was not one of the impossibly tall, blonde haired, blue eyed, North Shore Daddy’s girls who went sailing every weekend, were stars of the netball court and who knew words (bad words) that I had never heard before.  Nope, and within a couple of weeks I was filed, classified and labelled ‘geek’ for the rest of my school days.  It happened that fast, and let me assure you the North Shore can be a crushing environment for kids who don’t fit ‘that’ mould.  I guess the death knell of any social success I might have had came when I proudly wore the bright pink pen on a rope that my Aunt had given me at Christmas on my first day at High School.  There are some things that parents really should not let their kids do no matter how much they want to.

So yes, I have baggage, but I know that I have baggage and I can deal with it.  I was a geek and I never wanted the same thing to happen to my children.  Sure, I wanted them to be bright, but I never wanted them to be social outcasts because of it.  It was early on that I knew Castor was bright.  I have a friend who doesn’t want to know that her son is bright – because she doesn’t want him to repeat the same sort of life she had – I guess the fear of being a social outcast because of your brain can have a pretty high cost.  Anyway, I knew he was bright and I wanted to encourage that, not push it, but encourage that.  So, in looking at how he hated change and how bright he was I did my homework and decided that Montessori was best for him, and it was.  He thrived in the Montessori environment and was catered to at a pace that he could work to.  There was no class curriculum that had to be stuck to, if he had an interest in something then he was encouraged in that area.  There were many times that other parents, one in particular, tried to hassle me for being a ‘pushy’ parent.  I have never been, nor do I ever want to be a pushy parent.  Children will only learn and enjoy what they want to learn.  If Castor wanted to read something or showed an interest in an area then we went to the library and we encouraged that.  We didn’t then sit down and test the poor kid on it.  One thing we did notice was that Castor didn’t show the slightest inclination towards being physically gifted.  If truth be told when it comes to kicking a ball he probably has two left feet and ask him to catch a ball and he probably couldn’t half the time.  This worried me, and it worried Rory.  We both knew the social stigma attached to not only being bright, but not being sporty in a country like New Zealand is a death sentence.  Perhaps we didn’t encourage him enough to be outside, but in some ways you can only lead a horse to water, and if he really preferred that to reading his books he would have been hassling us about it, and he never did.

I wonder whether had we noticed that he did have a good kicking foot and did put him into football at a young age whether I would have received unwelcome comments from other well meaning parents too.  Other parents wondering if I was pushing him too hard?  I could be wrong, but somehow I don’t think so.  The pushy parent phenomenon seems to be reserved (at least at this age) to those who extend and encourage their children into academic areas.  I was even told explicitly, on many occasions, to not encourage him at all, because then he would have nothing to learn at school.  What kind of twisted logic is that?  Child show’s interest in something that is good for them and the parent says no, you can’t?  Do parents of kids who can kick a ball at an early age get this kind of advice?  I don’t think so.

Back to the here and now, after seeing and being told about his abilities by his Montessori teachers I was understandably concerned about Castor starting school. Like me he was a kid who would have to start in the middle of the year and do a few months of ‘Year 0’ and then go into ‘Year 1’.  That thought terrified me.  I chose the school well, and I have to say that on the whole they have been a whole heap better than other schools I hear about.  Had there been a local Montessori though I would have happily gone there instead.  However I still have to watch myself and be concerned about what I say and who I say things to.  There seems to be an overwhelming concern by the educational establishment about bright kids and their ability to socialise.  So many people have told me that he needs to settle in and make friends etc etc to the point where it’s just annoying.  I know that’s true, but in some ways it smacks of ‘bright automatically equals social retard’.  I wonder how much of the ‘bright social retard’ is the bright person, and how much is because we assume that the bright have to be retarded in some way, so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  So, for the other children who are not (and I am not being arrogant here) as advanced as Castor, when they start school they get learning AND socialisation.  When my boy starts school he just focuses on socialisation because he already has a head start?  Hang on a minute, that’s not overly fair.

What do we do about the Bright Lights then?  How do we as parents help them?  Why is it that I can brag happily to other parents to their face or on Facebook about how my son got Player of the Match or Season or whatever, but people start to cringe if I say to other parents that my son is only 5 and has a reading age of seven and a half and an equivalent age in Maths?  Why is there a difference and why is it assumed that I might have done something wrong??  Surely I should be allowed to share my joy in my children in the same way that others do?  Well, in that regard I don’t think much has changed in the last 30 years.  New Zealand is still stuck with it’s head in the sand about our Bright Lights and we wonder why we have an exodus of our brightest overseas once they exit university.

How do we feed our bright lights instead of watching them fade?  We start with acknowledging their existence and accepting the fact that there are some naturally gifted children out there, even IF they are not our own.  This is not to detract from other children who may be equally talented in other areas, but we have to have a broad spectrum approach to our praise and not make it solely about the physical achievements of our young.

How is Castor doing at school?  Well, he is doing fine – at the moment.  His teacher has not fully acknowledged his abilities and I am running the risk of being seen by her as one of ‘those’ parents, but there are some sparks of hope there.  Other teachers know about his abilities and have been encouraging and he is not overly bored, not yet.  I’m not going away in a hurry, but I have to admit that schools scare me, they have not been kind to me and I still have that fear of ‘talking to the teacher’ even though I am an adult now and they are no longer my teacher.  I will however continue to advocate for him because my love for him is stronger than any fear I have of the educational establishment, I will not let his Bright Light go out, how could I possibly let that happen?  I can’t, I love him too much.  I would prefer not to be labelled as neurotic or pushy, but at this stage in my life when I have been called many many names for being different that sort of thing is starting to wear thin, besides, I would rather it was me than him.

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