Archive for November, 2009

The blessing of a power outage

November 30, 2009

On the last full day of hanging with family for the Thanksgiving holiday, I awoke to an unexpected boon, blown in through the wind in the pines—a tree had fallen and with it, the power to the town.

With the heat off in the cottage we were renting, staying warm was just enough pretext to get a fifteen-year-old, a thirteen-year-old and an 80 pound boxer-bulldog into bed with my wife and I for a morning snuggle.

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After the Gold Rush… Black Friday?

November 29, 2009

We spent Thanksgiving up in 49er country and it was more than lovely, gathering together as families do from time to time, mingling love, dysfunction, football, excellent food, laughter and poker.

The setting— a town that once boomed with gold strikes, saloons and brothels, a stone’s throw from the Empire Mine and its motherlode, now radiates quaint, small and quiet—a town without a single traffic light.

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Is weeping the new Botox?

November 28, 2009

Well, we’re in the official holiday season, and for many of us that means angst and despair peppered in with our joyous feelings of Norman Rockwell family life.

As a therapist I have learned the value of feelings—and particularly as a male, it has been a steep and winding road from intellectualized repression to the freedom to surrender to raw and turbulent emotions.  As parents we are asked to do a lot of containing—holding everything from poopy diapers to the unmetabolized emotional bile that our kids swallow in public life and then regurgitate to us.  Eventually it is simply becomes too much for all of us and it comes time to open the flood-gates and float with Alice down the Wonderland torrent of our own tears.

If it’s true, as Tolstoy says, in Anna Karenina, that, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” then to some degree at least all the families I know are unique.  Of course there is love, in some form or other, no matter how twisted, in every family; but all families have dysfunction and as a result they all have pain.  The holidays mean more time with family, and often in a wider context of what family is and is not, stirring our hopes and then dashing them as often as not.

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Give me liberty or give me lunch

November 27, 2009

When volunteering recently at my kids’ school I had occasion to take a highly informal poll of middle and high school students and thought I’d share my off-the-cuff Studs Terkel findings.  The question:  “If you could have your parents change one thing to make your life better, what would it be?”

While not an exhaustive sampling of kids by any stretch, responses broke down into three categories:  be there more, let me be there less and a thumbs up for a job well done.  This last one was the key inspiration for this post, as it surprised me.  After all, there were certainly kids who either couldn’t think of anything to say, or who shared their too-busy-living-Catcher in the Rye-I’m-impossible-to-understand-me-lives contempt for the question with the subtlety of a non-response (much like the busy pedestrian deciding to simply not notice the panhandler), but the kids who gave my question honest thought and then looked me in the eye and said that their parents were pretty great and that there was nothing they could think of to change—I suspect that would have surprised even their terrific parents.

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November 26, 2009

“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” 

(Meister Eckhart, 13th-Century Dominican Mystic)

So, thanks for reading.

I have written many things:  eighteen as yet unproduced screenplays and one as yet unpublished self-help book—a seven year labor of love that will or won’t find its way in the world, however, this blog has been transformative for me, and all the more so because I can feel the energy of those who gather virtually, often quietly, in the mutual cultivation of greater mindfulness placed in the service of all our collective children.

If we take a moment to contemplate why our spirits meet here in this potential space, we might appreciate that we are truly all interconnected—that we may feel scared, alone, exhausted, sad, angry and even hopeless at times, but we are also all in something together.  It’s the conscious awareness of inter-being that I find transporting, healing and inspiring. 

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The secret pain of the entitled child

November 25, 2009

On this week of giving thanks, I thought we might turn our attention to a certain sort of child who tends to try our patience:  the entitled child.

Recently my wife was helping serve hot lunch at school when a high school girl asked if she could just “take a water.”  The bottled waters came with lunch if you bought it, and my wife explained that they had to serve everyone who had paid for a lunch before they could give any extra away.  In the meantime my wife learned from another mom that this child always asks for free stuff, yet comes from a rather wealthy family.  The girl came back and, in a surly tone, again demanded a water but when politely told she could buy one at the student store (just steps away) for fifty cents, she let out an angry and exasperated sigh, saying, “Fine… I’ll just go thirsty!”

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The empty chair, the unreturned call—bullies and the parents who don’t parent them

November 24, 2009

An all too common situation that parents confront is when a child is bullied.  This can happen as young as preschool age, and I have been aware of myriad situations where it is mishandled.  On the one hand we can look at how to support a child who is bullied, yet a thornier problem is how to handle the other side of the equation:  the parents of the bully.

Nothing stabs our parenting hearts more than when someone hurts our child.  We quickly project all the dark forces of the cosmos onto the four-year-old with an impulse control problem who hits, bites or victimizes our child, or onto the fourteen-year-old who mocks and excludes them.  It’s not that the bully doesn’t need limits as part love, it’s that we also truly need to see that the bully is a part of our self.  If we consider this deeply enough, then any interaction with, or contemplation of, a bully becomes more than a teachable moment—it becomes an opportunity for Shadow work and a deepening of compassion.  This, ironically, can be a path toward deeper wholeness, and thus equanimity and happiness.

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Orchid Children

November 23, 2009

A recent Atlantic article by David Dobbs on the “Science of Success,” offers a wealth of insights on parenting kids with highly sensitive genes—or at least genes that put them at risk for depression, ADHD and the like.  While rough and tumble kids might be likened to dandelions, which can grow in any old crack in the sidewalk, kids with potentially problematic genetic proclivities are compared to orchids—delicate beings that need the special care of a greenhouse in order to thrive.  The bad news is that if we mess up, or fail to engage and attune with these “orchid children,” they can have serious problems with school, life and mental health, however if we get it right, these kids can be truly exceptional—even more gifted than kids with what we would have thought were “better” genes.  For the article see:

As sometimes happens with science, men come running out of the lab shouting “Eureka!” about things practically every experienced mom could have already told you—only she’s been too busy taking care of the kids to spend thirty years watching monkey moms raise (and sometimes fail) their children.  Just as the world was actually round even before it was a science newsflash, folk wisdom has long known that orchid kids are potential superstars if they get the right parenting.

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The weight of a heavy sigh

November 22, 2009

In yoga class we sometimes let it all out with a sighing sort of breath and it feels good, but this might not be something to necessarily do in front of the kids.  As we head into the holidays, a season heavy with family dynamics and ghosts of the past, beware the heavy sigh.

As a child, I always looked forward to the weekend, and yet I often hated Sundays.  As it would start to get dark on Sunday afternoon, especially in the winter, I could already feel the gloom of Monday reaching back for me before that day even started.  While my dad was rarely a yeller, he could let out a sigh so heavy from behind the barricade of his Wall Street Journal that it made you want to open a vein.

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When daddy’s little girl just wants mommy

November 21, 2009

Amanda inquires about a discord between her husband and her nearly three-year-old daughter:  “I am writing to ask for your guidance on an issue that we have been experiencing in our family for the last year and a half: an extremely attached-to-Mama Sophie who is often so cold to her Papa that he feels very sad and rejected. 

Last night Kevin came home from being away a few days for work, and Sophie wanted nothing to do with him.  She just wanted him to go away and was screaming for him to leave.  Kevin was very sad, saying that he has a daughter who is not attached to him.  I wish I could say this was an isolated incidence, but it is not.  It is the norm.  We instituted ‘Papa-Sophie’ Saturday mornings 6 months ago, so that they could bond one-on-one.  If I am present, it is extremely difficult for Kevin to spend more than a minute or two with Sophie, because she very much demands me physically and emotionally.  The Saturday mornings seemed to help a little in the father-daughter relationship, but for the past few months, she screams and cries when he goes to her in the morning and she tells him to put her in her bed and leave.  Sometimes she’ll just fall back asleep for an hour. 

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