Monday, July 31, 2006

You Are My Sunshine

A week ago today we attended the funeral of the 5-year-old son of friends of ours. Gabriel was a sweet, beautiful boy and in my mind's eye, I see his wide smile and dimples even now.

One of my favorite memories of him is when we brought our dogs over to their house for a doggie playdate (with their dog, Luna). Our geriatric hound George, not one for socializing much with other dogs, let the other dogs run around the yard while he hung out on the living room floor while Gabe (then about 2) petted him and played with his long ears; Gabe was instinctively gentle with old George and it seemed like George appreciated it. At one point, Gabe happily lay on his back, knees bent while he rubbed his feet around on George's back, enjoying (I think) the feel of the fur on his toes while George enjoyed the massage. At the time I thought, that kid will probably have a soft spot for basset hounds for the rest of his life. Both are gone now, George (of course) as expected, but Gabe not.

During the service the minister said some stuff like this isn't God's will, He didn't need another angel in heaven, and it's not for the best. I was glad to hear some of the more stupid cliches refuted, sparing us the sort of blather that Job's comforters should have been ashamed to utter, though I couldn't help but think, yeah, buddy, what do you know about God's will, anyway? (Then I thought, well, I guess it's job to know something about God's will. Me, I know next to nothing on the subject).

Those cliches are supposed to comfort, I suppose, because they counsel acceptance of the reality of the situation. But they also imply that if you aren't at peace with it (or if you're angry) you're Going Against God's Will. I believe that I can accept all kinds of ugly realities but I do NOT HAVE TO LIKE IT. God's will? He shouldn't have made me the way I am if He expects me to have anything positive to say about the death, of cancer, of a small child. To hell with that, Lord, and you can make a note on my Permanent Record for all I care.

I refuse to make sense of it.

I woke up the other morning and the thought came to me, What is it like to wake up on the morning of your child's funeral? So I got up. Which is what I suppose a parent in that situation has to do.

The truth of the matter is that I can only imagine what it's like. I just finished reading Paul Fussell's book about World War II and his final chapter is about how no one knows what combat is like unless they've experienced it. I put down the book and turned out the light and thought, well, isn't that as it should be? And shouldn't we be grateful that more of us haven't endured that sort of horror? But his point is that people tended to assume that just because they'd seen movies or read about it that they had some idea what had happened to their friend/husband/son/sweetheart who'd been in combat. So I intend to be grateful for my ignorance. And to keep that ignorance in mind when I talk to anybody who has seen combat or lost a child.

At the funeral we all sang "You Are My Sunshine," a song that John used to sing to his son. I think everyone cried--I know I did. I sang that song to my little girl when I got home, too, because I wanted to be sure that I could do it without crying. And I did, even though she asked me to sing it twice. I still have a hard time with the last line, "please don't take my sunshine away." That last part, I think, isn't addressed to the child (the "you" in the title) but to God. And I don't have words to express how much I put into that word, please. Please, God. Please.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Emotional Rescue

I read the last post (and fixed a few errors, sorry 'bout that) and was struck by the idea of seeing rage on my (proverbial) emotional horizon. What a bizarro locution. But it's a feeling I imagine a lot of Moms (I'll get to Dads--or men in general--in a bit) know a lot about. It's fresh for me, because today it was right where I couldn't miss it.

I've been feeling sad* and worn for a few days now. I'm coming off a round of antibiotics that make me feel kind of puny, and feeling crummy on a physical level is a touchy thing for me because I come from the Shake It Off school of coping with illness--though, for some reason, I tend to believe that 1)if I barf or 2) if I run a fever, all bets are off and I can do crazy stuff like take to my bed and (God forbid) ask for help; if I can barely move my arms and legs, though, it's No Excuse. Go figure.

But today's been rough: BabyGirl didn't make it to the potty in time five times. FIVE TIMES. I didn't know she pees that many times in one morning. But there are five pair of wet panties in the washer to back me up on this. (She hasn't complained about hurting when she pees so I don't think it's an infection). Plus, talked to a friend about the sad thing and that was hard (not talking would have been hard, too, of course) and it annoyed BabyGirl enough so that she tried to get my attention, which is rarely good. So we watched WAY too much of Bob the Builder and about 5 minutes of the Teletubbies (also WAY too much, in my opinion, because: creepy). We went to the grocery store (no accidents, yay!) and I let the child have a bag of cheetos from the checkout line and I let her eat them for lunch (mostly, she also had a pickle--I'm sure that's what Floyd Landis eats for lunch, right?)

As the morning turned to afternoon, I could feel the pressure building in me. I ordinarily tolerate stuff like replying to the Where's Daddy? question a dozen times in a half hour. No problem. This time it bugged. So did her garbled version of the It's Raining, It's Pouring chant, repeated all the way to the store, reprised now and then in the store, and then repeated more on the way home. (What was I thinking, teaching her that?)

The good news is this: I felt the pressure building, like an enormous belch, and decided that we'd have Quiet Time a little early. And the girl, smartest toddler ever, cooperated. AND after I'd read a story, she looked at me and said, go lay down, Mommy. So I did. No rage, not a bit, just a little reading and blessed sleep.

And, for the record: when I do go into a rage, I stomp around and yell, sometimes having trouble stopping the stomping and yelling. I used to slam my fist into things until I figured out that it hurt like hell and scared people.

Here's my observation about male rage: I grew up around a lot of it so I know what it tends to look like. Men tend to turn it into a fucking Crusade For Justice, Dammit. You hear, essentially, I! AM! BEING! REASONABLE! HERE! and I! AM! JUSTIFIABLY! ANGRY! and so on, whether it's because somebody hit their car and drove away or a kid spilled milk. My inclination in the face of such behavior is to disappear, whether I'm in the room or not, though now and then I'll sack up and say, hey, justly or not, you're being a dick right now so can it.

And another reason I'm so damn familiar with that sort of rage is because I've seen it in myself. And I don't like it, not in a box or with a fox. Not here, there or anywhere. It fucks with people's heads in a way that's worse than just plain ole MY! DAY! SUCKED! AND! I'M! PISSED! kinda anger. And I hope to stay the hell away from it, as best I can.

*The sad thing: Monday we went to the funeral of a five-year-old who died of cancer. I can't write about it just yet, except to say that I never, ever, ever want to do that again, even if it was a beautiful ceremony. Shit, now I'm crying.

Sometimes rage is what comes when you're not dealing with your other feelings.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Teaching Moments

Yikes, it's been a long time since the last post! Sorry, dear readers, whoever you are. Both of you.

I've been thinking about these opportunities that come up to teach our children about life. For instance: yesterday BabyGirl kicked me, hard. Now, this has been something we've worked on, explaining that kicking people hurts them, makes them sad, can make them cry and so forth. When she kicked me, I said, OW and rubbed my arm, saying, that hurts, now I'm sad, blah blah. She apologised sweetly and kissed my owie. Awwww...

Then she kicked me again. Harder. In the boob instead of the arm, this time. I was pissed OFF. So I yelled, OW, THAT REALLY HURT! as I hopped off the sofa and stalked irritably into the next room, muttering stuff like jeez that's mean... So the child followed me into the kitchen and said, mommy up? And I'm saying, no, I'm not picking you up--you just kicked me and now I'm mad. (Keep in mind that the child wasn't apologetic or sad at this point.)

The censorious, Perfect-Mom-Wannabe part of my brain was saying, oh, I should be speaking calmly and saying, honey that was very hurtful, etc but the Pissed Off Mom was In Charge and wasn't having any of it.

But there's more: the child got her little footstool out of the bathroom and shoved it across the floor (something I hate because it makes this awful scraping sound, plus I don't always see the stool until I've almost fallen over it) while I was saying, leave it in the bathroom... and she fell. And cried. I was looking at her thinking, oh God, now what? And then I saw the blood.

She'd bitten her tongue. Perfect-Mom-Wannabe was on the job, saying, You should have known this would happen. Luckily, Good Enough Mom was also on the job, picking up the child and comforting her as she cried and got bloody drool all over my shirt. I at least remembered to get out a dark-colored dishtowel to mop up the blood, so that she didn't freak at sight of the red stain on the cloth (and my grey shirt just looked darker).

And here's the Teaching Moment: as she cried she said, I'm sorry mommy in a really heart-breaking voice and I managed to say, you didn't fall because you kicked me, that was just an accident and now you're ok.

So I'm hoping that BabyGirl learned that the universe doesn't punish you for testing limits (which the second kick surely was) and that accidents happen. I'm hoping that I learned to be the Good Enough Mom, who at least tried to be emotionally honest with the child and show her that kicking people makes them really mad sometimes.

I'm thoroughly sick of parenting advice that says, don't let your child see how you really feel.* It's honest to let a kid see that they've made you really mad and to step away for a moment to collect yourself. You're modeling how adults are supposed to act, which is a key part of parenting. Trying to demonstrate to your kid that you never get mad or that you're perfect is, first, doomed to fail and, second, setting them up to fail in their attempts to act like an adult according to their most influential role model.

*I know that kids are scared when their parents are acting crazy, so attempting emotional honesty is a good choice on the part of someone who's in a rage (not that they're gonna be in control of their behavior, which is the whole point here) or is terrified (ditto). But I've already learned the lesson about acting calm when you're terrified until the situation is under control (say, when the ER doc says your kid's ok). And I'm evolved enough as a human being to recognise rage when it's on my emotional horizon and to (mostly) get a grip before it overtakes me.