I See You


I had a number of meaningful conversations during the Jewish New Year festivities, but my favorite was at a break-the-fast gathering, where I met a lovely woman who had spent the last year working with traumatized female veterans. Trauma- one of my favorite subjects to learn about! Of course I cornered her and asked her all about what she knew. One story in particular stuck with me. She told me about a woman everyone else had given up on, with whom she just sat in silence.

I thought about how, when Tariku is having a total freak-out and hides under the bed with his hands over his ears, I will sometimes just go and lie down on the floor next to him and not say anything. I remember when he was little and having one of his alarming tantrums, at first I would instinctively try to hug him or comfort him and he would panic and lash out. So I started sitting outside the door and waiting with him until it passed. And then little by little I began sitting in the doorway. Then I made it into the room. Sometimes he still needs to go be by himself for a while and work it out, but I’ve learned to see if there’s a little window open through which I can hold out an olive branch. If there is, I will go and sit silently with him.

My talk with the woman at the party caused me to reflect on how important it is to feel witnessed. Not just to be able to call a good friend on the phone and unload, although that’s great too! But to have your trauma and pain recognized and supported on a larger cultural level. We need simply to know: I am seen and there is a place for me here on this planet. All of me. All of my suffering and flaws and hope and humanity.

Because I am fortunate enough to have brilliant friends from different faith traditions, the week before the Jewish New Year, I found myself at a Christian Women of Faith event to hear the awesome Jen Hatmaker speak.  I heard her saying hetmessentially the same thing, with a different set of operating metaphors. Forgive my reductive paraphrasing of such a compassionate, eloquent and funny speaker, but what I heard from her was: You are seen and you are loved. Not for your accomplishments or your good behavior or your willingness to tow the line or your terrific souffles. You are seen, in all your imperfect and frightened humanity, and you are worthy of love. Period. End story.

I think a big part of all holiday rituals is simply to say to each other: I see you and we’re here together. We are all sinners; we are all in pain; we are all hungry for love and connection; we are all going to pass back into the unknown from which we came too soon. In light of all that mishigas (yiddish for “craziness”), we sit here beside one another in the presence of the divine mystery.

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The Hottest Spot in Hollywood

All those clubs in Hollywood with lines down the block and car service Hummers loitering nearby in clouds of pot smoke? Skanks and wannabes. I’m going to tip you off to the hottest spot in tinseltown, so pay attention, starfuckers…

Yo Gabba Gabba Live is the place to go if you want to, “Hop in a circle, hop in a circle now…” while rubbing elbows with Milla Jovovich and Ione Skye and a pregnant porn star with a kid on her hip and an NFL linebacker and Biz Markie’s entourage and someone you’re totally sure is in a band you like but you can’t figure out which one. Even DJ Lance’s handler looks like she’s in Sly and the Family Stone.

And all of these folks are getting in the populist spirit of the thing and sucking down beers at intermission with the rest of the rabble in the lobby. Because no one would be so gauche as to watch a kid’s show from the side of the stage.

For those of you parents who don’t expose your kids to media (bless your stalwart hearts), Yo Gabba Gabba is basically the kid’s show you thought you invented one night Freshman year when you and some friends dropped acid and got out the crafting supplies and rock albums. It’s awesome.

But seriously, it was a cute night and a great show. I’m pretty sure. If you have a kid who isn’t completely overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. Which would mean, if you aren’t us.

Wow, it’s hard to take your kid to something that he’s so excited about and you’re therefore so excited about and then have him absolutely freeze. T got both of our necks in a tandem death-grip and sat there terrified but refusing to leave while everybody jumped, shook and shimmied their wiggles out all around us.

The night was salvaged by a visit with T’s Gabbaland friends after the show. And after the massive dysregulation started to calm down a bit (like three days later) we still had the pictures for T to enjoy.

But dealing with T’s sensitivity and hyper-arousal is a learning process. I’m starting to get that even though something seems like it’s going to be a fantastic time, I have to take into account all the factors before buying tickets. As much as we love Gabba, the flashing lights, crowds and crazy noise were not exactly the best idea. So next time I’ll know.

But can we still please go to see The Muppet Movie? Come on…please?

Third Time’s a Charm

When your kid starts pre-school for the first time, you take pictures. You cry a mommy tear. You hang out to help with the transition. And then, if you’re us, you realize after a couple of days that your kid isn’t like the other kids his age at the pre-school. That his needs are different. And the pre-school realizes it, too. And after two days you get a phone call about the fact that they can’t accommodate those needs.

The next school it takes one day.

The third time your kid starts a new pre-school you don’t take pictures. Instead you break down in tears (not a sweet mommy tear- a full snotty cry) in the director’s office. You hang on the sidelines, trying not to let your anxiety spill over onto your kid…

So we started a new pre-school with T a few days ago. I often don’t go into the challenges we face with T in this blog because I’m not always sure how to frame them. I usually feel like I need some more wisdom to share before I start blogging about things. But in this case, I’m just going to say that I have no idea how best to handle this school situation. Basically, T has aggression issues (he hits and bites) when he feels overwhelmed or threatened, which is often. Also- he doesn’t sit still or share or regulate his emotions. So school is a wee bit of a challenge.

T is attending pre-school with a “therapeutic companion” now. But Scott or T’s auntie or I also stay there. And there’s a therapist who’s sometimes hovering around. And I’m deeply grateful to the school that they’re putting so much time into our family and into T, but I’m biting my nails to the bone about this some nights. I want to do the best thing for him. Maybe this is it. Maybe it isn’t. I’m willing to put the time into the transition, but I’m also open to other possibilities.

I just recently talked with an old friend who’s son has sensory integration issues that manifested in a very different way when he was pre-school age. Instead of being aggressive and off-the-walls like T, her son would retreat into himself and hold his ears, rock and totally shut down. She chose to pull him out of pre-school and didn’t send him until kindergarten. Then she chose a school that was highly focused on ritual and structure and flow. He’s eight now and doing great.

The thing that struck me is that she said she wasn’t going to subject her son to being terrified every day. And even though T has a very different way of showing it, essentially I believe that’s what’s going on. My son is so scared. He loves being around other kids but all the stimulation also frightens him. And faced with the fight or flight response, T chooses to fight. He’s a fighter. It’s probably the reason he’s alive, after all he’s been through. And I love that fire in him, but I want him to feel safe enough that his fighting spirit finds expression in a soccer game and not in a school yard smack-down.

I’m not sure what the best way to do that is, but I’m committed to finding out.