Archive for October, 2009

The ghost of parenting past

October 31, 2009

this is a graveyardIt was a dark and windy night at the old farmhouse as we all found bedrooms and went off to get warm and go to sleep.  I had been to my friend Carina’s eighteenth century amalgam of charming rooms spilling onto other rooms, creaking staircases and a big country kitchen all sitting in a remote field in rural New Jersey many times, but I had never taken the little bedroom right off the top of the stairs.

And thus it was that in the middle of the night, with the wind howling through the trees and scratching at the cracks of the window frames, I awakened to feel that a presence was in the room.  I’m not really sure what happened next, but the best way I could describe it was that I found myself in a state that was neither sleep nor wakefulness, and in this netherworld I reached out and grabbed the presence that stood by the bed in the pitch blackness.  In this half-dream, or maybe it was only in my mind’s eye, I turned on the little amber reading light to find myself holding the wrist of a boy.  He was about ten years old with an open smile, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and a wild tuft of bright blonde hair. 

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Grrrrr! When mom is the Red Barron

October 30, 2009

grrrrrOkay, today I’ll give it to you straight… my mom told me that in a past life we were both WW I pilots and either she shot me down or I shot her down.  She remembers bearing down on me, guns blazing all around and then she locks on my eyes—definitely my eyes, and then as one of our deaths is imminent, the vision goes black.

Now most people would probably think this is disturbing, but I love this story.  For one, it explains a lot about my relationship with my mom.  After all, if we are here to work out karma, what better set-up than two rival flying aces living in suburban Chicago in the same house.  It’s not “Three’s Company” but it’s pretty good.

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Sometimes love means watching “Paranormal Activity”

October 29, 2009

ninjas seeking candyMy younger son turns thirteen today.  Up until me made me stop saying it, I would frequently call him “The Buddha” because of the beaming smile of serenity with which he entered the world.  I had been around a good number of newborns, but had never seen such a great and wise smile.

While he loves to laugh, he also loves scary movies.  His “aunt” Tiki sent him three movies for his birthday:  Misery, The Shining, and The Exorcist.  Last year he got me to take him to see a horror film by telling me that it was about a doctor trying to cure a disease (failing to mention that the doctor was the only surviving human in a Manhattan over-crowded with zombies).  I spent most of the movie holding onto my kid, ostensibly to comfort him, but of course it was I who needed the comfort.  Ok, I admit it—scary movies scare me.  It’s not really that they scare me, so much as that they make me nervous about what I might see; they are designed to make us jump out of our skin, and I have enough trouble just being in my skin in the first place.

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Vampires: chick magnet, mirror or animus?

October 28, 2009

The old Abbey“Animus” is a Jungian term for the masculine aspect within the feminine.  Its counterpart, “anima” is the feminine within the masculine (for more on the anima see “The Animas in their summer dresses”

While “animus” is just a word it points to a concept that, when not integrated, contributes to everything from abuse in the bedroom to the glass ceiling in the boardroom.  Better understanding the animus can help women have better relationships, it can help parents raise more empowered and healthy daughters and it can help men better understand and relate to women as real others (rather than as anima projections). 

Many a woman, perhaps due to the way she is raised, is initially uncomfortable to recognize and accept her own aggression, desire and power.  As a result, she may project her animus out onto the men she meets, onto fantasy figures in books, films and TV shows as well as meeting “him” in her dreams—often as the nightmare rapist, intruder or kidnapper.

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Wicked stepparents

October 27, 2009

don't fear the reaperWhy is it that the words “wicked” and “stepparent” so often go together?  Certainly back in the days when the Brothers Grimm were gathering their tales, divorce rates were nothing like they are today, and thus the “step-parent” was a less common occurrence.

Nevertheless, in fairytales we rarely encounter kind stepparents.  Cinderella is plagued by the unfair step-mom who devalues her by making her clean the ashes while her biological daughters get to go to the ball.  Hansel and Gretel are abandoned to die in the forest by their cold-hearted stepmother, aided and abetted by a spineless father who does nothing to prevent it.  Snow White’s “mirror mirror” wicked-queen stepmother tries overtly to kill her.

In psychological terms, a very young child “splits” his or her parents into “good” and “bad” aspects, and one of the key tasks of development is the integration of the good and bad mother or father into a single being with both good and bad elements.  A person who cannot heal this split within themselves may be prone to dramatic mood swings from loving someone to turning on a dime and hating them.  Such figures are deeply wounded, volatile and unpredictable—and whether “step” or biological parent, they are a paradigm of the seemingly “wicked” caregiver.

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My scariest teacher

October 26, 2009

into the cornGiven that this is Halloween week, I though we might focus on things scary and spooky—and so the story of my scariest teacher ever.

As luck would have it, I was assigned to my scariest teacher at a point in my life when I was already virtually terrified. I had just returned from my second summer of sleep-away camp which for me was a bit like coming back from Auschwitz or the gulag—everyone else in my cabin seemed to have a great time becoming young nine-year-old men at the same place where David Mamet had been shaped into cultivating his feminine side. While man took his first steps on the moon that summer, I nearly drowned underneath a dock.

In modern parlance, I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as I stood in line on the first day of fifth grade, filled with trepidation as we waited for the school doors to open and the teachers to claim the line of children who stood behind the pre-assigned yellow numbers painted on the black-top.

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Brainful parenting begets mindful parenting

October 25, 2009

red black and blueIn a five part NPR series about spirituality and the brain, Barbara Bradley Hagerty explores issues ranging from prayer, to health to near death experiences.  In the third segment she touches on research that strongly suggests that just a few minutes of daily meditation for just a couple of months can have strong positive effects on the brain as well as the immune system (for this article see:

This is exciting because earlier research consistently shows that long-time meditators, such as monks, have rather different brains from non-meditators, but most of us cannot find an hour or two to meditate on a daily basis.  As parents, we rarely find that sort of time, and yet if we could cultivate more monk-like brains our anger management would be much improved.  Our feelings of depression and anxiety would also be helped, all of which are good things for the kids who depend on us.

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The sewers of Mumbai

October 24, 2009

mosaic river

We often tell our kids that money doesn’t buy happiness, and then break a cold sweat as we open the Visa bill.

I was thinking about parenting, money and happiness when a story I heard came back to my mind.  I was at a social gathering where I ran into a man, a colleague of my wife’s, and he had this strange energy.  This was the sort of guy you see periodically, make small talk and move on, but he spontaneously started to tell me about a recent trip to India—it was the opposite of small talk, he had been transformed and clearly had to tell me about it.

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When kids steal

October 23, 2009

bear and berriesIn consulting with parents, there is an awful moment that comes up sometimes where a kid is found to be stealing.  I’m not talking about a pre-schooler for whom “I see it, I want it” is developmentally normal, but rather for an older child who knows better.

With a six or seven-year-old stealing is essentially a teachable moment where the limit must be set, restitution made and a consequence to help teach that crime doesn’t pay.  In a column a few months back on this subject (, Dr. Perri Klass, emphasizes not trying to scare kids straight (i.e. by taking them on a little trip to see the jail) as this reinforces the notion that you see them as “bad” rather than that you see them as essentially honest and just needing a bit of guidance.  At this stage of development, good parenting hinges on paying careful enough attention so that you catch them if they steal.

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Don’t yell at your kids

October 22, 2009

don't yell at your kids!It’s obvious, right?  Yelling at our kids is not ideal parenting.  And yet virtually all of us do it, at least some of the time.  So, is there something we’re missing?  

Firstly, I think we yell at our kids when they push our buttons—something they may do consciously as they mature, but which they may also do unconsciously by just being hungry, angry or awake when we are not in the right space for it.  After all, one of parenting’s biggest challenge is giving what we might not have gotten.  And if we were yelled at when we were kids, we might have internalized an angry and shouting authority figure, who then pops up and out almost without our conscious ability to intervene, or so it seems sometimes.

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