…is where I’m trying to keep our daughter right now.  Our MIDDLE school daughter.  Oh, just oh.  I so acutely remember those middle years — the ever-changing body, the ever-growing mind, the bangs that wouldn’t curl right.  It was the eighties, after all.

Middle.  It implies center of course, and is there a less centered time in any of our lives than middle school?  Unless you count self-centered, of course.  And I don’t mean that as a criticism.  It takes a good bit of naval (or is it navel — which one is boats and which one is belly buttons?) gazing to haul oneself through to adulthood.

We’ve had a traumatic day here at che K.  If you are absent a middle-schooler in your life, it may be hard to grasp the very hugeness of feelings that can collide with what might seem like fairly innocuous circumstances.  This morning we found out that Abby’s best school friend won’t be in any of her classes after all, as we had thought on Wednesday, due to a scheduling glitch for her friend that required a change.  The guidance counselor and the principal were apologetic, as they had really, really tried to keep the girls together a bit.  And the girls will be walking to and from school together, and will share lunch together as well, so all is not lost.  But it’s been enough to send my girl teetering a bit, and by this age, I can’t do anything for her but spot her on the most difficult tricks.  Talk her through.  Assuage the gnawing fear she’s fighting.  Encourage her to focus on the positives.

She’s, well, we all think our own kids are super-special snowflakes of course, but she’s pretty damned amazing, I think.  She’s taking eighth grade language arts and algebra this year.  She has what the guidance counselor refers to as an “unuuuuuusual” schedule.  (Tim suggested that we just call it weird, as that’s more value-neutral than unusual.)   She’s an unusual kid in any number of ways (her most recent fascination has been, I kid you not, horse genetics — I’ve learned more about that than I ever needed to know), and the greatest thing, the God-sent thing, is that she’s getting pretty comfortable in her own skin.  I think, I hope, that we’re getting her to embrace unusual, quirky, herself.

But as much as she knows, as much mental horsepower she has at the ready, she’s still only eleven.  Today, at the nadir of this whole my-friend-isn’t-in-my-classes-breakdown, we were lying together on my bed together, and she wailed, “I just don’t know if I can DO this, Mom.”

The tenderness I felt for her!  I had such a sweet knowledge wash over me, and it was one of  those rare parenting moments in which I could, even for a split second, see the big picture.  I know she fears not being able to keep up academically, and I know that she fears all the newness of people and place.  “Honey,” I said.  “It’s not your job to know you can do this.  Think about the adults in your life that you trust, the people that know you and love you.”

She paused, and listed those adults for me, her voice still thick with the tears of the last few minutes.  I stroked her hair and made sure she was looking me in the eyes.  “It’s our job to know you can do this.  Every single one of us knows you can do this.  We’re your security, your safety net.  And you have to trust that right now.”

I’m not saying that everything turned into roses and rainbows at that moment, but I think she started to turn the corner at about that point.  When I asked her later today how she was feeling about the situation, she sighed and said, “Well, I guess I can deal with it.”  That’s growing up, knowing that you can’t always change the circumstances, but having at least some confidence that you can cope.  She can cope.  And, to me, at this age and at this stage, that’s really big for her.

So she’s back on the beam, and while there are no grades for deciding to deal with life as it is, not what you want it to be, there should be.  She’s going to be more than fine.  She’s going to be fantastic.


Let the circle be unbroken

August 21, 2009

Am I the only person who occasionally (oh, crap, sometimes, but not quite frequently, okay?) finds myself awash on the shores of self-pity?

Am I the only person who sometimes simply craves others to read my mind and take care of me exactly in the manner that I wish (but don’t often even know how to say aloud)?

I hate feeling sorry for myself, simply hate it.  So I really try to avoid it, or at least avoid the appearance of it, because self-pity has to be one of the least attractive qualities, I am nothing if I person who wants to appear to have it all together.  I’m an admirer of the pull-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps kinds of qualities.  I like resilience.  But tonight I feel like my boys’ old basketball — deflated and soft in all the wrong ways.  I feel like I’m trying to bounce, but goddamn the effort of it all makes me think that I can hear just a little bit of air whispering out of my spirit.

Self-pity is a character flaw, I’ve always thought.  I still think that, at least if one immerses oneself in this particular witch’s broth for very long.  For me right now, self-pity is cyclical — life is a series of repeated circles where I crest the top — doing good, doing good, hanging in there, emotions in check, a teensy sprig of optimism for the future, oooooooh crap, going down, sliding, emotions spurting out as if from an open artery, hate my life, hate, hate, hate, craggy nasty soulless bottom of myself…right now, I’m somewhere at the base of the circle, probably on my way back up again, because if nothing else, I can take comfort in the mathematics of circles.

But I want to honor my little patch of self pity.  Acknowledge it with a little more gentleness than I usually offer myself.  I’m weary of my damned bootstraps, and wary of not giving myself a little give.  Because truth?  I’ve been going through the most challenging, oh crap, I mean shitty period of my adult life.  My parents’ health situations are more stable, true (this I say with my dad in the hospital this week, but overall, their health situations have been at least not as horrible as sometimes), but Tim’s job situation and the resulting financial fallout, coupled with the challenges of being and staying married well, alongside changing and sad dynamics in many friendships…look, I know it’s not living in Darfur.  God, I really know that so many people suffer so much more all over the world, and within the circle of those I love.  So I fear putting this out there; I fear sounding  self-pitying.  I fear exacting judgment  from the imaginary Greek chorus of my life, who has incidentally changed over time, and is at least no longer filled with people from high school.  I take progress where I can find it.

But baldly, plainly, life is so hard right now.  It hurts.  No boon to be enjoyed from the hero’s journey, is it?  But it’s real, and I believe that being real counts.  I stake a lot on that belief.  Just as I stake a lot on circles.

Someday soon, I will begin blogging about the absolute inanity of my life.  All the little diddly stuff about which I write so eloquently (*cough*).  But I’ve still been thinking of the bigger things.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how my world view has changed and continues to change.  I’ve been thinking about God in all his awesomeness and majesty and about us humans in all of our brokenness.

Realization Number One:

Intentions don’t matter for a damn.  I can intend all I want to call people or call them back.  I can not intend to hurt someone’s feelings with a sarcastic comment.  But if the net result of my behavior hurts someone, then that’s the net result.  The end.  Humans, in all of our screwed-uppedness, hurt each other all the time, and much of the time, I believe, we really, really don’t intend to.  But I’ve come to the conclusion that “So what?”  It’s how we behave, how we treat others, the condition in which we leave others — those are the things that matter, not our intentions. We’re so fragile, each one of us, and so awfully prone to being wounded.  I think  that each of us walks around with all sorts of metaphorical injuries from previous human encounters — deep facial cuts, a weak foot, a crooked spine — and just like a toddler falling down and hitting the exact same spot on her head as she did yesterday, we get hurt at our same points of weakness again and again.  It’s so terribly bloody being human, you know?

Which brings me to realization number two, that thankfully, ends up making realization number one a lot more livable:

People are who they are, and they live where they’re at.  By that I mean that I can’t expect anyone, even if that person hurts me, to be anyone but who he/she is at that precise moment.  Sure,  it would be great if every person I encounter was perfectly healthy, perfectly able to communicate love, but I have to go back to the first realization.  We all have our wounds and our scars, and we are all (hopefully) on various journeys of growing and healing, so I have to temper my expectations of others with the realization that most of the time, people do the best that they can.  Sure, my best or your best might completely suck at times, but there it is.  This second realization actually brings so much grace, for myself and the ways that I make grievous mistakes in regard to others, and also for others and the ways they have wounded me.  It’s like the second realization lets people, yes, including myself, off the hook.  I don’t have to hold every person accountable for every bad action (despite good intentions!) because I can only expect someone to be…the person that he/she is right now, for good and for ill.  It’s all I can expect of myself, too.  I think that the second realization actually drives me right up the driveway and home to forgiveness.  Anne Lamott, in her essay, “Why I Make Sam Go to Church,” talks about how her son’s friend was being suddenly mean and angry, really hurting her son’s feelings in the process.  All mothers knows this situation, and we have all struggled with how to help our kid through it.  I love what she says:

I kept asking God for help, and after a while I realized something — that Josh [her son’s friend] was not enjoying this either.  He was just trying to take care of himself, and I made the radical decision to let him off the hook.  I imagined gently lifting him off the hook of my judgment and setting him back on the ground.

God, there’s such relief in that, isn’t there?  We’re all just trying to take care of ourselves and our multiple injuries.  In the great triage of human relationships, how often do I just let someone off the the freaking hook? How often do I need others to let me off the hook for treating them horribly, even if my oh-so-mighty-intentions might have been okay?  How often does God let each of us off the hook?

My two realizations simultaneously make me want to treat others with much greater gentleness, and make me want to spread like a salve a little more understanding for those times when our actions don’t quite match our intentions.

I’m not sure how to restart.

Life has been, um, well, yeah.

This time I mean it.

No, this time I do.

I abandoned this old thing quite a while back, a fact which in my teensy spot (microscopic really) of the internets, really doesn’t matter too terribly much to too terribly many.  Even now, sitting at this keyboard, I feel woefully inadequate to do this.  But these past months have contained such a theme of loss, not just for myself, but for so many others I love, that I am wary of completely losing this place too.  Even IF this place is so small and the ocean is so wide.

So, when life is not exactly a bloggable experience, sometimes I just shut up.  It’s more than just a “If you can’t say something nice…” theme; it’s more than not being able to choke out the right words.  It’s more about becoming selectively mute, ever conserving the mental energy to simply live life.

I will say that I’ve become something of a crappy friend to many.  Too many times, I don’t pick up the phone when it rings or I don’t return the message that has been left.  I suppose that I have inadvertently taught many friends a lesson in forgiveness for the idiot who struggles to return calls or make calls in the first place.  I haven’t meant to be that way.  Really.

Since Tim has this information on his FB account, I would say that it’s not exactly a secret that he’s been out of work for nine months.  This.  Has.  Sucked.  Financially, psychologically, relationally.  Sometimes, not in that order.

And Tim and I, partly because of the  job crisis and partly because of other schtuff, have been coming through the most difficult part of our marriage.  I say coming through because that’s really what I believe — that we are indeed, coming through to a place where we choose to love each other more completely, where we choose to communicate about the most painful issues, and where we look at each other as more than roommates and co-parents.  So, of course, there’s the good that God brings out of the tough times, etc., yadda, whatevs, you know.

I don’t mean to sound cynical because I’m really not.  Do you know that a year ago this week our family was on a cruise???  A year ago today we spent snorkeling in Cozumel.  Today, I went to work — oh yeah, I have a job now.  Teaching English at a small local nursing/allied med. school.  Imagine this:  the MFA in Creative Writing gets a job in 4 days.  Sent the resume on a Monday, got an e-mail back Monday night, spoke with them on Tuesday, interviewed Wednesday, got the job offer Thursday.  Holy crap, if that’s not evidence of a divine and benevolent God, I don’t know what is.  I like my job.  I really, really like it.  I like my students, and I so enjoy tremendously cool co-workers.  I feel like I’m actually doing a good job and that I’ve helped some students to become better and more confident writers — after my initial period of feeling in an absolute panic.  By no means do I make a tremendous lot of money teaching part time, but it helps.  And it helps my sanity to have something to focus on other than, well, almost everything else in my life.

But back to last year at this time: yeah, a cruise.  Wow, that was fun.  And to me, the memory of the cruise illustrates how all of our lives are so damned fragile.  I don’t think anyone is too far away from his/her life circumstances going completely into the shitter.  I’m struck that we’re all pretty much one circumstance away from the spiral — a sick child who won’t get well, the death of someone we adore, the pink slip, the broken relationship.  But oddly, I’m finding that rather than making me feel weak, this realization is making me feel a kinship with others, whether they’re suffering or not.  If someone is suffering, I feel so much…more than I ever have before.  Maybe I’m learning to weep with those who weep.  And if someone appears insulated from real suffering, I almost feel like I should pre-grieve for them, because we’re, none of us, getting out of this life unscathed.  While suffering is, by no means, spread evenly, I doubt that anyone escapes it.

So on the good days, wow, I am so thankful for all the wonder in my life — my healing marriage, my beautiful and healthy and increasingly funny and independent children, the overall health of my parents.  So much of what I thought I needed to live, I’ve found that I really don’t.  Well, except for money.  Good god could we use some money. 🙂  But there have been some truly bad days too.  There have been days where I have struggled to get out of bed, to take a shower, to be a parent.  There have been days, crap weeks, where I’ve felt like we have fallen out of the grace of God and His people.  Mostly, there are just days where I’m desperately trying to put one foot in front of the other.  I don’t go out very much with anyone because, frankly, I can’t afford to go out.  What was once a simple decision is now fraught with difficulty (and this applies to other parts of life too).  Somehow, though, with the blessings from God and His people (so much from our families, so incredible much it makes my head practically spin, so grateful I am), the kids are getting what they need:  food, clothes, school stuff.  Don’t ask me how it works out on paper, because it doesn’t.  It just doesn’t.  In short, I’m blundering around, doing this life so imperfectly it’s laughable, and there’s so much hanging over our heads right now, that if I think too long, I literally start gasping for breath.

So, um yeah.  Maybe I’ll try this blog thing again.