Shadow Puppets

Been slacking on the posts a bit, mostly because I’m having a challenging time balancing my upcoming book release with my mommy-ing…

Add homeschooling Tariku’s stuffed animals, and my schedule is way overbooked.

Here’s a picture of Tigey and Willie doing their math homework. Tariku is very serious about their education. He wrote out a whole schedule for me (Monday: Library, Tuesday: Music, Wednesday: Art, etc..) I took this photo to prove that they’re hard at work while he’s at school.

tw

twt

Cute, right?

Well, very often, no, not so cute. Tigey winds up in time out more often than Tariku does. I’m totally serious. We have to put his stuffed animals (he calls them “the kids”) in time out. Mostly for talking back and fighting with each other. Your patience hasn’t truly been tested until a buffalo puppet has been whining at you all morning and demanding more bacon.

T’s thing with his stuffed animals started about 4 months ago. When he was a baby, he never took to a binky or a lovey. In order to self soothe, he would suck on his bottle like a man dying of thirst in the desert, while he rocked back and forth. As his trauma begins to heal and he feels safer in the world, he’s able to turn the clock back a bit and avail himself of some of the comforting things he never got the hang of back then.

As T’s behavior improves, “the kids” continue to act out. They’re whiny, aggressive, needy, demanding. In Jungian terms, I think that the kids are Tariku’s Shadow. The general idea of the Shadow is that it’s all of the thoughts and feelings we deem unacceptable to the public eye- it’s what we don’t want to be but fear we are. The tricky thing about the Shadow, is that if you try to stuff it down and ignore it, it may manifest in undesirable ways in your life. The Shadow needs some form of expression.

Tariku often expresses his socially unacceptable impulses through the kids. Which seems so creative and emotionally intelligent to me. The thing that strikes me most is how tender and caring he is with them.  He doesn’t care how much they’re fighting with each other or crying about bedtime. He makes them little shirts and pants out of paper and tape. He cuddles them while he watches TV. He puts them in their pajamas (yes, they have pajamas) and makes sure that they each have a soft pillow under their heads before bed. He sleeps with his arms around them. He gives the kids unconditional love.

I think about the Shadow a lot. As a writer, I express the shadow on the page. That’s where I can allow all my darkest, most shameful thoughts and feelings to be heard. It’s a frightening thing to do, but it’s absolutely necessary both for the vitality of the work and for keeping my destructive impulses from screwing with my life and my relationships, including my relationship with myself. Tariku reminds me that even the really sticky icky stuff- especially the sticky icky stuff- deserves to be treated in a loving way. Our vulnerabilities are essential to our humanity. And they deserve to be dressed in their striped orange pajamas and put gently to bed.

For more on the Shadow, I highly recommend the book The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower– and Inspire You To Live Life in Forward Motion, by Barry Michels and Phil Stutz. It’s been tremendously helpful to me.

Here’s Willie at his first Weezer show:

willieweezer

 

 

 

 

Travel Guilt

wwf2

Yeah, I’m gonna talk about that tired old subject: being a working mom…

I was in upstate NY last weekend for the Woodstock Writers Festival, which was an absolute delight (Thanks, Martha Frankel! And for the photo, Kevin Buso). Compared to many moms I know, I go out of town on business fairly often. I have conflicting feelings about this. I always miss my family. I always experience things I wish they could be experiencing with me.

And…

I also love waking up WHENEVER I WAKE UP, with no one interrupting my dreams by crawling on my head or farting in the bed. I love not making anyone breakfast. I love going to the hotel gym, or reading, or catching up on emails in bed over a giant pot of Earl Grey tea.

This is an extremely privileged version of working mom-ness, to be sure. And I wallow in a lot of guilt, as many of us do, about my time spent away from my child. I feel even more guilty that I enjoy it. Then I remember: Scott goes out of town all the time, because it’s his job. His job is awesome, and brings so much to all of our lives. Not the least of which is our house and the food on our table and drum lessons and groceries from Whole Foods and and and…. But that’s not the end of the story. He loves his work. He never would have considered giving up his work. Why would he?

All of this is also true for me, and yet I feel compelled to apologize for it.

Many of my friends justify working with the idea that it’s better for their child, because their resulting sense of fulfillment makes them a better mother.

I’m not sure that’s true. I’m also not sure it matters.

Scott would never say that he should work because his music makes him a better dad. He would say that he finds joy in parenting and he finds joy in his work and that both of these things are important to him and help give him a sense of meaning and purpose.

Some of my anguish is certainly due to a cultural double-standard, but not all of it. Some of it is the sense of urgency brought on by the fact that my seven-year-old currently looks like he’s about ready to take the SATs and has a girlfriend and a report card and a lot of opinions and I am acutely aware of how few years I have left that he will still want me to carry him to bed. Which is a good thing for my lower back, but a devastating development for my poor heart.

cute

I look at his sweet little nose, his still-round cheeks. He catches me staring at him, throws his hands in the air and says, “WHAT are you looking at?”

“You,” I say. “You’re so big!

He rolls his eyes. “Everyone needs to grow up sometime, Mom.”

I think- what am I doing, spending my days facing the f-ing blank page again and again, when I could just be connecting with this precious being every minute of every day? And then I think, he will grow and change, no matter how hard I stare and try to memorize his face. He will grow and he will grow and there are things that will be irretrievably lost. We will also collect treasures I can’t even anticipate yet. And while all this growing and losing and gaining is happening, I’m still going to string words together on paper every day, because that’s what I’m compelled to do.

I just interviewed a super-famous and crazy-cool actress in her sixties (it’s still a secret- I’ll let you know more in a couple of weeks!), and she told me: “Jillian, I was so guilty about the time I spent working when my kids were young. And I shouldn’t have been. I really shouldn’t have been.”

I have been clinging to that like a buoy in the mom-ocean of blame and competence and guilt and joy and judgment and acceptance and fear and love.

The working mom discussion can become so strident and politicized on both sides. The truth is that all of these grown-up decisions have consequences, don’t they? Either way. Consequences suck.

But last weekend I found myself staring out at the Catskill mountains, getting ready to talk to a bunch of people about memory and art and writing– much of the stuff I’ve been deeply engaged with since I was a little kid. I thought, there are consequences, yes. I’m most at peace when I can hold them in the same hand as I do my embarrassment of riches.

Why I Sing Loudly at Whole Foods

IMG_9106

“She used to sing musical theater loud in the grocery store,” said Scott, when we and the other people in our foster parent training were talking about what sort of strategies we might use to address public tantrums.

“I did?” I asked.

“Don’t you remember that?” he seemed shocked.

“Oh yeah, I did, didn’t I?”

How could I have possibly forgotten about the singing? That was the best idea I ever had! I didn’t make it up- it was an amalgam of advice from mommy bloggers and late night phone calls to old friends. But it was, indeed, a great strategy. How had I forgotten it completely? My memories of those first few years with Tariku are peppered with strange blank spots– probably the result of the combined trauma of what we as a family went through.

But when he mentioned it, it all came flooding back. So in case it might be useful to anyone, I thought I’d share it…

Often, children whose nervous systems have been impacted by trauma can become easily overwhelmed and have hair trigger tantrums. This was certainly the case with us. Between 18 months and about 4 years, Tariku had alarming tantrums that would pitch him backward into some vortex of primal fear. Ten times a day, he would wail and thrash and bite and hit, inevitably at the most inconvenient times: Target, the movies, the mall, Disneyland (admittedly, I often feel the same way there). At first it was really embarrassing. Then I stopped caring what other people thought. After that it was just exhausting, and often left me hopeless and despairing at the end of the day.

We even had the police called on us. I’ll never forget the day a police officer showed up at my front door because someone had reported our license plate as a potential kidnapping, from the pony rides at Griffith Park.

Extreme problems sometimes demand extreme measures…

Sometimes, if I could catch the tantrum while the wave was just starting to roll to shore, I found I could short-circuit it. At the first flicker of trouble, I would break into a chorus of “That’s Entertainment.” And nothing, I mean nothing, will stop a child in his tracks and have him begging for you to stop quite like a time step in the produce section.

Except the big trick was, I would make up my own words and they would go something like this (everybody now, to the tune of “Oklahoma”):

I love you! I will always love you! There is nothing you can do to make me not love you! I don’t care if you bite me every day for the rest of your life, I will still love you! I don’t care if you hate me, I still love you! Oh boy you’re being a big pain right now but guess what I love you! I love you I love you I love you!

You get the idea.

I forgot about it because I haven’t needed it in so long.

Now, once in a while, when I get an, “I hate you!” I’ll respond, “I love you!” in musical theater voice.

And if I really want to annoy him, when he’s ordering me around, I’ll resort to talking in a cockney accent and calling him the “Little Lord.”

“Would the Little Lord like some ketchup with his corn dog?”

Wow, does he ever hate that! He’ll start saying “please” so fast it’ll make your head spin!

Which is all to say…

Sometimes we have to throw a wrench into the habitual, negative patterns our brains can fall into. For us, often playfulness is not just the best option, it’s the only option– unless I want to lock horns with my child and get caught in an unwinnable power struggle. Sometimes we all need to step outside our comfort zones, of our ideas of what is right and wrong and how we should all be behaving.

Sometimes you just have to sing “I love you” to the tune of “Some Enchanted Evening” until there’s nothing left to do but laugh your ass off.

Tariku Turns Seven!

happy!

Tnfriends

kids

menmimi

My little man turned seven Friday. Add your own cliche about time here. It’ll be true. It’s all true. These milestones never fail to blow me away.

Here’s a belated birthday party picture dump, because I was (supposedly) observing the National Day of Unplugging while throwing a party for 80 people. Why so many? Because I’m a sucker, that’s why. And because I can’t stand any of the kids feeling not-invited and then I can’t stand for parents to have to find childcare for siblings and then I of course want all our besties there to dance with me and do the heavy gift-lifting. So we just invite em all, and wheeee!!! I have many commendable personality traits, but being sensible ain’t one of em.

cake

Did I manage to do it unplugged?

Well…

Sorta.

We had some people over Friday night for T’s actual birthday and we did turn off our phones. We talked and hung out by the fire pit, looking at the stars through T’s new telescope. The kids played music for hours. They weren’t exactly playing ukuleles and washboards or anything– they were totally plugged-in and jamming to Katy Perry’s “Firework” over and over. But the the jam was not Instagrammed.

On the morning of the party, I cheated. Scott didn’t unplug, so I pretty much just barked texts at him all morning:

Text the DJ and confirm!

Text Meredith and see if she wants to ride over together.

Text Jen and see if she’ll take pictures.

Scott said, “I don’t think the point of this is that you get a personal secretary and a personal photographer.”

True, true. But it was still an educational experience…I did learn that if the day ever comes that I get to have a personal secretary and a personal photographer, it will make me feel relaxed and awesome!

At the actual party, my phone did remain in my purse. I didn’t take pictures (photo credits are all Jen Rindler- thanks, Jen!), which is, like, a Herculean effort for me. The truth is that I had a great time without it.

What I liked most about my pseudo-unplugging, was that even in the ways that I failed, it made me more conscious. I did walk away from it feeling grateful for the ways technology enhances my life and aware of the ways that it’s probably extraneous.

Overall, the party was a smash. Tariku gets super, super super excited about his birthday. He’s already planning next year’s party. I’m not kidding. He’s also assigning birthdays to his stuffed animals, so that “they” can also have parties.

As you can imagine, that’s a whole lot of pressure and expectation for everyone. So it was a wonderful weekend, but also anxiety provoking for all of us. I’m glad we did it and I’m just as glad that it’s over and we’re getting back to our usual routine.

I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. Even though it was initially contrary to my free-spirited nature, the practice of establishing a routine for Tariku has been far and away the most effective thing for increasing his sense of security in the world. The more consistency we employ, the more regulated he is. I’ve come to crave the structure as much as he does. It makes all of our lives so much easier.

So now we are back to relative normal, and eagerly awaiting Tigey’s (T’s tiger/alter ego) bday. I’m a little bit worried about it, because frankly Tigey can be a real a-hole. He’s like T’s Jungian shadow. But we’ll be okay. We’ll make it through. And I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I will opt to stay plugged and Instagram the heck out of it. Because you deserve to see a stuffed tiger in a party hat.

momsnkids

Can She Do It?!

unplug

Starting Friday at sundown, I’m unplugging for a whole day, in honor of the National Day of Unplugging. The tricky part is that Saturday is Tariku’s 7th birthday party. As a mom blogger, doing an unplugged b-day party is like the seventh circle of hell! It’s torture! I feel both anxious and excited about the prospect.

Honestly, I wouldn’t do a day completely unplugged if my kid wasn’t going to be glued to my side all day. But he is. And I’m gonna try it. Because I’m curious.

So… if you’re coming to the party- don’t text me for directions!

I wrote a post for the National Day of Unplugging about why I’m doing it.

Here’s a teaser:

I’m curious to see what it will be like if I’m not reserving a portion of my awareness for judging my experience as I imagine others will- on my blog, on social media, on all these platforms that have been so enriching for my life but have nonetheless certainly altered how I experience it. I’m curious to know what will happen if I don’t have this escape hatch of connectivity every time things get the slightest bit boring or uncomfortable. I’m curious to know what will happen if, when my son starts being epically annoying, I lean in to that discomfort rather than relying on the outlet of some snarky tweet and the balm of inevitable supportive responses. I’m curious to know what happens to our connection if I don’t make him repeat his every feat of adorableness for me and my beloved camera.

Read the rest HERE.