Tag Archives: parenting

napowrimo, day 13: trying to write a poem

turquoise alabaster veins
run through a bright forest of rocks
somewhere in a corner of my
imagination.
the cat makes cracking noises as she eats her food,
the daughter clicks and clickclickclicks the mouse,
and somewhere over in a corner of my
imagination
there sits a little treasure that i want to catch.
the phone rings.
my roommate laughs.
somewhere way back in a corner of my
imagination
i try to fix that glimmer of a dream,
its sparkly colours, quiet sounds,
the mossy smells that come – i think, do they? –
from little cracks made by old, gnarly roots – –
and crash! a plate falls from the kitchen counter.
the dog barks. “mom, can i have twenty bucks?”
those turquoise alabaster veins
fade more and more.
but i know they’re not gone.
tomorrow maybe, or another year.
they’re safely stored away.

how to create a heaven on earth

aaaah, book reviews. let’s start with the bad parts: how to achieve a heaven on earth is full of conservative christian overtones, quite a few of the articles have a bit of “chicken soup for the soul” feel, and at times i thought i was dealing with an aborted e-book. but there were clearly good intentions behind the book, and if you’re looking at “101 insightful essays from the world’s greatest thinkers, leaders and writers”, you’re bound to come across some good stuff.  for example

changing the game at work by christine barnes

don’t wait for the CEO to build a culture of engagement but begin by creating heaven on earth for your employees now. ask questions such as

  • do you know what’s expected of you at work?
  • do you have the materials you need to do your work?
  • do you have the opportunity to do what you’re best at, every day?
  • in the past seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?

i’m very happy to say that my part time work at mcc gives me all of this. what about you?

maida rogerson, who talks about many mothers

imagine. you’ve just had your first baby. your husband is in a new job and doesn’t have a lot of time for you. you’ve moved away from your extended family. suddenly, there you are, you and your beautiful baby, home, alone. your baby starts to cry, and you’re dead tired and all you want to do is cry yourself, and you have no one to turn to.

the idea behind many mothers is that it takes a community to raise a child well. a great idea, presented with lovely words.

perfectly broken by mark lundholm

i have a chemically challenged anatomy, a drug-resistant soul and a penchant for guessing incorrectly when it comes to the betterment of others. … because i am terminally self-centered, i am spiritually retarted, emotionally invisible, financially irresponsible, socially phobic and almost pathological when it comes to lying. … i have been liberated by the knowledge that my liabiliities as a practicing addict can now become finely tuned assets that allow to deftly navigate the foreign terrain of relationships, employment, success and excellence.

this is a language i understand.

would i buy this book?  probably not, for the above reasons.  but it’s a nice gift idea for someone who likes to be inspired by people who do something, rather than sit around complaining.

divorce: a ballad

he screams at her
and she screams back
he in this corner,
she in the other over there.
the children, they run back and forth with
“who will fix our toys?”

she screams at him
and he screams back
but only in their heads.
their mouths are silent and
their eyes don’t meet.

the children look from one and then the other,
they smell something, or is it feel,
they don’t know where to go.

he screams at her
and she screams back
and often in their dreams.
a thick and heavy web of secrets
lies gray between them
and dusty spiders leave a trail of poison
for woman, man, and child and child
to trip over and fall into.
it’s best to stay and not to move
and not to say a word.

everyday life, it forces them
to do some things together.
out on the street, a bag lady
walks up to them
and whispers to them
from between her gappy teeth:

“i see, guys, what you’re doing.
your hearts so heavy
and your brains so hot.
your child covered in wounds,
and this one, too.
i’m talking quiet
and probably you two can’t hear me.
but still, you need to know
that you don’t have to suffer just like this.
you want, or need, or think you have to
go your separate ways. and that’s ok.
but your paths need not,
really, they need not,
be strewn with broken glass.”

with that, she disappears
into the shadows.

the four come home.
melissa finds her trains.
katrina talks to mom.

he scowls at her
and she scowls back.
the creases down her cheeks
are maybe just a little softer
than an hour ago.

success in 2009 – part 2

here’s part 2 of my social media friends’ nonmonetary successes in 2009: (the ones with the @ are people’s twitter accounts).   part 1 is here.

darren barefoot: i wrote half a book, which, it turns out, is a shocking amount of work.

hamish: two of my former clients (and now friends) successfully landed new jobs thanks in part to some extensive CV rewriting that i did for them – it was great to see the constructive criticism received well, taken on board and integrated into the finished product. it was then gratifying of them to keep me posted on how their job search progressed – net result, two great people in new jobs doing great things for their new employers!

vivien (@inspirationbit on twitter): my biggest success and the proudest achievement in 2009 was to teach my daughter how to read. so now, at the age of four she’s already fluently reading in english on her own, and we now started learning french with her 😉

jonathon narvey from writeimage: learning and understanding more about how organizations (business, non-profit, whatever) succeed. i’m very grateful to those who have shown me how to get it done. it seems as though some of the greatest lessons you can learn in this field come much easier when times are tough. and it’s not just important to understand these things to make a buck — it’s important to understand them so that you can truly enjoy and remain passionate about the work.

probably the most important lesson, which i had heard many times but perhaps never truly internalized until recently, was the importance of working with good people. you just can’t do it all yourself. when you’ve got good, talented people all working in an organized way towards a common goal, success is inevitable.

dan: teaching my kids things they ask about and hearing them say “c-o-o-o-l”

dave: my success really was regaining my independence. i was in a relationship for nearly 3 years, 2 of which we lived together. to escape some costs and administrative burden, i didn’t have a copy of our joint credit card and our chemistry wasn’t where it needed to be in order for me to be 50% of our relationship. i didn’t get lost in the relationship, but i got lost because of it. i didn’t realize this until a month or so after leaving – regaining my independence came out of nowhere to be my biggest success and i didn’t even see it coming.

@evanhadkins written lots of stuff, survived a new job with zero support, maintained healthy relationship despite working 6-6.5 days a week

@barkingunicorn learned to let go of money, possessions, home, people, worry.

@mollena i was awarded the title @mssfleather2009. i performed in the most difficult and wonderful show i’ve ever done. i’m still sober.

brenda blackburn: my biggest non-monetary success of 2009 was the live meeting startup and growth of the DVT support group of the lower mainland (held in burnaby, bc). “deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that usually occurs in the leg, most often on one side, although it can happen in other parts of the body. if the blood clot dislodges, it can travel to the lungs and cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism (PE) or lung clot. lung clots affect over 530,000 people a year and 300,000, or almost 1 out of 3, are fatal.” “national alliance for thrombosis & thrombophilia (NATT), USA. in this group of “survivors” and supporters we support, educate and advocate. as the first known live support DVT group in canada, (with no other provincial or national DVT patient organization existing to date), we are striving to make a difference at a grassroots level. we hold affiliations with vancouver general hospital, burnaby hospital, the north american thrombosis forum, peernetbc, and more.

want to tell us what your success was?

understanding parents

a few semi random musings on parents …

through my parents, a lot of challenges came my way. but through them, i also learned how to build the tools to overcome those challenges. for example, creativity was highly encouraged.

parents irrevocably shape most of the way we view the world. some of that can be changed. we can add to it. we can move the furniture of our world view around. we can accept the limitations of our worldview and strategize around them. but the basic neural pathways that our parents influenced in our first years cannot be completely changed.

parents are people, first and foremost. as adults, we need to acknowledge that. it’s hard to do that, both intellectually and emotionally. it’s much easier to comprehend intellectually. our parents muddle through their lives, they understand only a fraction of what’s going on inside and outside of themselves, most of their mistakes are honest mistakes, they are sexual beings, they want to feel useful, they want to feel loved – just like everyone else. on an emotional, subconscious level, it’s difficult to grasp that they are not particularly powerful, that they can’t read our minds, that looking after us is not their primary task.

if parents don’t look after themselves emotionally, they have a hard time looking after and appreciating the emotional needs of their children, whatever their age may be. yet 99% of all parenting books are about the feeding and caring of the child. a parent who never understood, when you were a child, how to feed and care for themselves as parents, may have a hard time understanding your needs as an adult.

parents make big mistakes. miss-takes. they honestly think that grounding you was a good idea when you kept coming home after midnight. little did they know that being cooped up in your room was one of the major things that contributed to your depression. how were they supposed to know? so much of human development is a mystery; there are just so many forks in the road, all day long. yes, there could have been more communication; perhaps much more communication, and that’s maybe how they could have known. but the truth is that we live in a culture where honest, in-depth, loving, peaceful communication is not supported, and we all get swept up in that culture – some more, some less.

kids drive parents crazy. even the best parent pulls out their hair when little lance or teenage tom or college colleen whine, play blaring headbanger music and leave jam on the counter for the 1,482,487th time. because wanting to pull out your hair is a fabulous memory anchor, most parents find it hard to forget those lovely character traits and still interact with you as if you whined all day long, even when you’re 42 and have become a university professor specializing in rational communication.

forgiving your parents is a tricky thing. you need to figure out for yourself what you mean by forgiving. is it acting as if the thing (the incest, the yelling, the stony silence) never happened? is it behaving civilly, without engaging in behaviours of the past? is it stopping punishing your parents? is it creating your own little truth and reconciliation roundtable? something else completely? whatever it is, i recommend to put off forgiving them until you actually mean it. in the meantime, behave like an adult.

hurry down sunshine – a father’s story of mental illness

hurry down sunshine is the supremely well-told, literally mind-boggling tale of a father, michael greenberg, who suffers through and survives the experience of watching his teenage daughter go through her first extreme manic episode. it is an iridescent story, shimmering with many facets in the hot new york summer that provides the backdrop of this memoir.

let me shed some light on one aspect, the family’s wrangling with stigma of mental illness.

here, greenberg suffers through a visit by eric, his landlord and acquaintance, shortly after “the crack-up”:

i feel as if i’m impersonating the person i was before sally’s crack-up. if sally had been in an accident or come down with some overtly physical disease, i would not hesitate to tell him about it, confident that his sympathies would flow in my direction as a matter of course. but psychosis defies empathy; few people who have not experienced it up close buy the idea of a behavioural disease. it has the ring of an excuse, a license for self-absorption on the most extreme scale. it suggests that one chooses madness and not the other way round.

sally and her family tumble into her madness head-on, seemingly from one moment to the next. it is a family that knows of mental illness – greenberg’s brother, in a strangely parallel reality, has struggled with it since childhood – but, like so many others, had not yet found the courage to look it straight in the eye. perhaps an illness-that-dares-not-know-its-name, its precursory blush and rumble could not be seen or heard; and then it breaks in on them like a tidal wave. sally suddenly sees and lives in a different world, a world from which she transmits communication – demanding, disdainfully regal and bitingly sarcastic – but with which she does not engage.  her father is a helpless bystander, looking at her as if through thick, opaque glass. in the beginning, he can only connect with her in short bursts.

she demands control because, in some interstice of her psyche, she knows she is hurtling out of control. this realization brings me closer to her. i can’t witness her disintegrations without somehow taking part in them, and, closing my eyes, i feel myself racing, too, as if her flutter has lodged inside me.

once the reality has set in that sally will spend some time at a psychiatric ward, the wrestling with the stigma begins:

about eric:

“i don’t want him to know about her. it’s not that i’m ashamed of what’s happened. but he wouldn’t understand.”

“no one understands. we don’t understand.”

“he’d tell our friends. it would make life more difficult for her. people would start thinking of her as weird. stained.”

later, when sally leaves the ward:

i’m glad she’s getting out of that place. she doesn’t belong with those people.

and her brother’s concern and fear:

sally is a mental patient, pops. there are people who if they find this out will see her as an eternal mental patient and nothing more. they’ll trust her less. i know how they talk, especially about girls. there’s no mercy. they’ll snicker about her and crack jokes. we have to keep this from getting out.

thus is the strength of stigma. greenberg and his family are well-educated, open-minded, loving, artistic people. they are no rednecks filled with superstition, afraid of mental monsters and supernatural demons of the soul. and yet they tremble before the opinion of those-who-don’t-know. which may be exactly those who do know and who may be just as afraid of greenberg and his family, who THEY in turn may suspect of being uncomprehending of THEIR secrets.

sally does not stay manic forever. one day,

something about her tone has caught my attention: the modulation of her voice, its unpressured directness – measured, and with a warmth that i have not heard in her in months. her eyes have softened. i caution myself not to be fooled. yet the change in her is unmistakable.

i am grateful for michael greenberg’s courage to finally write about this experience and thus beat the stigma.  he comes out, tells his story, uses his own name, even his daughter’s real name (with her permission). today, many years later, sally is still faced with the difficulties of mental illness; and it looks like she has found a bit of a place for herself.

this is an extraordinary book, important particularly because quite a bit has been written about mental illness from the point of view of the person afflicted by it (greenberg mentions a few, such as girl interrupted and robert lowell’s work) but little is recorded about how life-changing such events are for parents. and yet, it is parents and family who, more often than not, are deeply affected by a person’s severe mental illness.

please read this book. it is heart-breaking, beautiful and unforgettable.

(go here for a short, touching video of michael greenberg talking about the book).

walking away from guilt: a conversation, part 2

dealing with guilt, walking away from guiltthis is a continuation of my blog post a little while ago on helping a person overcome guilt.

clara’s and my exchanges were a conversation, with a thread going through it of questions (on my part) and replies (on carla’s). at the end of our process, i asked clara to tell me which questions were most useful to her in helping her lift most of the burden of guilt that she had been feeling, and to say a bit about those questions. (of course, names and identifying characteristics were changed.) i will also make some observations. so let’s continue:

how exactly have the people in your life been harmed by the specific things you feel guilty over, e.g. your eldest witnessing you taking getting drunk?

much of the guilt i carried over this particular incident has been reckoned with. i now understand (and accept) that what my children choose to do as adults has little (or nothing) to do with that isolated event.

comment: one of the reasons why i asked that question is that when we are plagued by guilt for a long time, there is usually what i call a “movie” associated with it. i call it a movie because it often has that intense and clear quality, with a complete memory of colours, details, even smells and textures. it is also often a “movie” out of context, i.e. just a snippet. paradoxically, what perpetuates the guilt is keeping that movie inside, never talking about it. so telling another person about it AND putting it in context are often very healing moments.

you weren’t even 18. how well prepared for motherhood do you think you were? how well prepared do you think ANY 16-year-old is?

i have looked at myself (objectively) as a 16 year old who was quite immature emotionally, even for the average 16 year old. i was looking for acceptance and love through sexual contact, probably due to the crisis in my family when i was 12. in retrospect, being a parent at 16 was an unbelievable challenge for me, as i also worked a full time job to take care of us. i was literally a child who was suddenly thrown into an overwhelming situation. though i do (somewhat) carry guilt over what my daughter had to go through. though i always wanted to be a good mom, i just didn’t have the skills i needed to make that possible

comment: when we look back at our behaviour in horror (and guilt), we often assume that we should have known then what we know now. we’re usually not aware of that assumption. so we walk around with thoughts like “how could i have done that! what an awful mother i was!” when really, in this situation, for example, it was a case of not having been ready at all for the task.

the words “objectively” and “in retrospect” show that now, carla is able to look back at the situation with much more balance and compassion for herself.

did you know about the abuse your children were experiencing?

i truly did not know about the sexual abuse. the guilt is over how i handled it afterwards, because though i did believe my children when they told me about it and turned it over to the authorities, i feel i should have left my husband then, instead of putting the family through years of counselling only to have him attempt to reoffend. i feel i gave the wrong message to my children, two of them who have struggled with abusive relationships.

comment: as indicated before, our conversations, while significantly lessening the burden of guilt, did not magically resolve everything. this seems to be an area that needs a bit more resolution.

have your children forgiven you?

this is a question i have thought a lot about. in my heart, i know that they have forgiven me, but i also hear from my youngest child different references made in regard to their upbringing, for example she was talking just the other day to someone about issues with her husband regarding their relationship and her children. she made the statement that nobody will ever come before her children. a few months ago, she told me that she felt i put my husband before her and the others. while i am glad she is able to be outspoken about her feelings, it does hurt that she feels this way.

i am still working on this. thanks for bearing with me, isabella. and by the way, the last time you wrote, your words were so encouraging, and i will never forget how much they helped me. i can now visualize myself sending guilt to the back of the bus (along with all the other riff-raff!)

comment: again, this is an example about an issue that hasn’t “gone away”. and many of them will never completely vanish. i don’t think that is the goal of therapy. therapy cannot erase scars, and it can rarely prevent or take away pain. what therapy can help with is to live with the scars – at times even proudly – and to remove or reduce suffering. it’s one thing to say, “geez, i guess i still feel guilty over that”, and another to lay awake at night playing the scenes of guilt over and over again, going down into an ever deeper spiral of suffering. it is the former that is normal – a quick pang of remembered pain, perhaps even the healthy guilt that serves as a reminder to avoid certain behaviours. the latter is torture, and torture serves no one. we could say, then, that one important goal of therapy is to end self-torture.

image by floato

letting go of guilt: a conversation

earlier this year, i wrote a few posts on guilt. this turned into a case study with one of my readers where over the course of a few months, we sent emails back and forth. this reader, let’s call her carla, has agreed to publish some of our emails. of course, we’ve changed some of the identifying characteristics of the story to protect carla’s identity.

we hope that this will help some people who are dealing with guilt to find inspiration, and i also hope that this can be a bit of an illustration of how i help people in online consultations.

we’ll present this in a series of two or three posts.

carla, tell us a little about yourself:

i am a married, 60 year old mother of three, and grandmother of ten. i am a christian, though not in the traditional sense. i work full time, and i love to spend time with my with my grandchildren.

what interested you in the initial blog posting about guilt in the first place?

my own battle with guilt, for over a year of my life prior to reading the blog posting i was plagued with feelings of guilt.

how would you describe your state of mind when you first read that post?

plagued with thoughts and feelings of guilt which made it difficult to think of much else. that caused me to feel pretty depressed, and overshadowed any feelings of happiness. i felt extremely sad, and cried a lot.

how would you describe your state of mind now?

i am definitely a happier person, more at peace, feeling like i may finally be able to forgive myself for the mistakes i made with my family. however, i still struggle with placing blame on myself for mistakes they are making in their own lives, like they really didn’t have a good foundation to build upon. i have come a long way toward accepting my failures, but i still try to make up for my failures as a mother, in whatever way i can.

what changed?

i am able to see myself more objectively, with a degree of understanding that i didn’t have before, and would not have thought i deserved to have. i can now accept that i failed, not because i wanted to (on the contrary, i always wanted to be a good mother to my children). i now see that i didn’t have those skills i needed to be as nurturing and loving as i wish i could’ve been. a lot of that was through no fault of my own. (my mother left us when i was 10, and my father was emotionally distant). i think i may have struggled with some degree of mental illness, and perhaps still do.

this is part one. in the next post about carla’s progress we’ll show you some of the questions i asked carla, and how answering them was helpful for her.