Look Out, Nemo! Dory’s Got A Twin Sister!

It's too bad my inner zen is not quite ready to be my outer zen.

It’s too bad my inner zen is not quite ready to be my outer zen. It’s also too bad I’m not quite flexible enough for lotus pose just yet.

In moments when I cannot access my inner bunniness, it is enough to know it is still there somewhere.

I am wiped out. A week after I started writing again every day, I’m officially down from an average of 8 hours of sleep per night to 6. You see, I am a night writer (not at all related to Night Rider) and a morning person. I often am up past midnight writing, but I have a six a.m. wake up call. Now if I miss two hours of sleep on one night, it’s not a big deal. But, cumulatively speaking, sleep-deprivation damage on me is plain ugly. Today it became glaringly obvious that I am not functioning on all my cylinders.

Case in point…while scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone, I saw a recipe a friend had posted that I wanted to try. I thought about sharing her link on my own wall so I could find it later, but I try to avoid that type of visual noise in my personal space. So I copied the web address for the recipe and pasted it into an email to myself. Later I’ll be able to open the link, bookmark it, and then I will always know where the recipe for Buffalo Cauliflower Bites resides. So I composed the email and hit send. I put the whole process out of my mind and moved on. Not two seconds later, I heard the telltale ping of a message hitting my Inbox. I got an email! I thought to myself, like a squirrel giddy over the discovery of a new nut. I opened my mail, anxious to see who was checking in with me. Guess what? It was me. Of course it was me. It was the message I had just sent to myself. I shook my head and rolled my eyes. I am losing my mind. Talk about short-term memory loss. I know I will be turning 46 soon, but I think that’s too young for these pervasive senior moments.

I hate it when I do brainless things. I pride myself on being an intelligent, capable, and self-aware person. As important as these little reminders of my humanity are to my humility, I’m growing tired of their frequency. So tonight I am composing this short post so that I can get to sleep earlier and hopefully return to my mostly full-brain self tomorrow. On my trek toward zen, I am learning to be more accepting of my shortcomings. It is a process, and I know that recognizing, acknowledging, and then being able to let go without judgment are all crucial components of my personal growth. I am working on it. I swear I am. But, holy mindless mayhem, Batman! I hope my brain checks back in soon. I miss it. Inner bunniness…if you’re listening…send me a reminder that you’re still out there, please. An email on my iPhone might help. ;)

I Am The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

What? I don't look like a killer rabbit to you?

What? I don’t look like a killer rabbit to you?

Tonight I am celebrating because today I did something way out of my comfort zone. And I survived!

A few weeks ago, the boys’ school hired a company to make a promotional video that would be used on its website. The company planned to interview teachers, administrators, and students. They also wanted to interview some parents. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be on video. I hate it. Emphasis on the word hate. Did I mention hate? It makes me so uncomfortable I want to puke. I loathe video chat. I wholeheartedly believe Facetime was invented solely as a torture device. If someone brings a video camera within 20 feet of me, I disappear faster than a case of cheap beer in a college freshman dorm room. I would honestly rather have a full on Brazilian bikini wax by an aesthetician student than appear in front of a camera. When I first saw the email asking for parent volunteers, I immediately resigned it to the Trash folder. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at the school, I reasoned. There’s no need for you to jump in on this one. I was not going to do this. No way. No how.

But as the week wore on, that email vexed me because I knew I was exactly the kind of person that should be talking about that school. With not one but two sons with learning disabilities there, with our six years’ worth of struggles as we tried to discern how best to help our boys, with the exponential growth we’ve witnessed in them over the past eight months, I was a poster-child parent for this project. I was being a coward and I knew, that like Emmett in The Lego Movie, the self-doubt that plagued me was keeping me from reaching my true potential. I opened the Trash folder, found the email, and responded that I would be happy to help with it. I clicked send knowing that I was doing the right thing. The minute I heard the whoosh sound, I felt the bile rising.

I put the whole thing out of my mind because I figured there was no point stressing about it for weeks. Deep down I knew it would all be fine and that I was doing my usually brilliant job of making mountains out of mole hills. Over the weekend, with the video date rapidly approaching, I made a conscious decision not to think about it. I would not pick out an outfit or practice speeches. I was going into this with the most laissez-faire attitude I could muster. I’ve been working on this skill lately…trying not to borrow trouble. It would all be fine, even if my hair wasn’t perfectly coiffed and I stumbled over some words.

Today was video day, and I went in more or less off the cuff. I had an inkling of things the interviewer might ask. I prepared myself for those questions. I was feeling fairly confident…right up to the point when I walked into the room with the big video camera, boom mike, and lighting set up, and saw a single wooden stool in front of it all. I did my best to give useful answers, but found it challenging to be articulate while I was simultaneously reminding myself not to slouch, touch my hair, or look anywhere but at the interviewer. I’m not sure how long I was on that stool, but it felt like forever. As the minutes wore on, I felt my cheeks turning pinker and rounding the corner to full-tilt-embarrassed red. Finally I gave an answer that seemed to satisfy everyone, and my time in hell was over.

As I was walking to my car afterward, I found myself somewhere between needing a drink to relax and needing a drink to celebrate. I’d done it. And, despite the fact that I was now rethinking every single comment I’d made (on camera about my children in front of school staff, nonetheless), I was proud of myself. I had gone out of my comfort zone and faced a dirty, rotten fear. On the drive home from school, I quizzed the boys about their fifteen minutes of fame and then I talked about mine. I told them how good it felt to do something I really didn’t want to do but knew I should. They asked me if I was glad I did it. At the next stoplight I grabbed the Bunny Buddhism book (I carry it everywhere these days) and shared this:

Bunniness is not learned in safety. One must seek unfamiliar ground and hop without fear.

Like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I go forward prepared to leap upon any challenge that darkens my path. There are no fluffy bunnies here. Bring it!

 

 

 

 

Like Sands Through the Hour Glass…

Our water boy

Our water boy

Oh, boys. Today, Joe had a friend come over to hang out. Everything was going well until they decided to take a hockey stick and hit some home runs using Luke’s Lego models as the ball. The basement survived these antics, but of course the models did not. Luke, who was already feeling excluded and lonely, added furious to his list of emotions. We could not blame him. Demolishing Lego models, while impressive to friends, is not the way to keep peace with your younger brother. Now, we know that 1) Joe was just showing off for a friend and 2) his impulse control is not the best to begin with, but this was not the first time Joe has destroyed some of Luke’s Lego creations. He’s been punished for this infraction in the past. It hasn’t made an impression.

We decided to hold a family meeting over dinner to discuss what to do with the repeat offender. We offered Joe the opportunity to explain himself and argue his case. Then we asked Luke to rate his level of sadness about the loss of the models. With both boys still at the table, Steve and I began discussing punishments. Ultimately we decided that Joe would be allowed to rebuild the models to Luke’s satisfaction to lessen the duration of the punishment, which we determined was a week without his nightly baths.

Yes. It’s odd that our nearly 13-year-old son takes nightly baths in addition to his morning showers. As high as our water bills can be, it’s hard to complain that our son likes to be too clean because I’ve had the opportunity to catch of whiff of some other teenage boys and they smell. Badly. I write off Joe’s water obsession because he’s a Gemini with a Pisces ascendant and a Pisces moon, so water is his primary element. Joe says he’s water obsessed because he’s Sharkboy, and during the day he is just a fish out of water. We knew this would be a rough punishment, but we were determined to make it stick.

When we got home, Joe went to work rebuilding the models. He was able to fix one quite easily. The other one he recreated (albeit with modifications) to earn Luke’s stamp of approval. Joe came before the parole board, and we agreed to lessen his sentence to a meager two nights on Luke’s recommendation. (Luke, god bless his tender heart, hates to see Joe suffer.) The reduced sentence, which teetered on the edge of being way too lenient by our standards, did not appease Joe in the least. Nope. When he realized he still would not get his bath tonight, he perpetrated a sizable meltdown in protest. He wheedled. He argued. He cried. He wrote notes of apology. He wandered in and out of our room muttering curses until we were ready to tell him that although he couldn’t have a bath we wished he would go soak his head. Because we felt too generous already in the sizable reduction in his sentence, though, we held steadfast and refused to cave. He could live with two days’ punishment.

Joe’s meltdown continued for about 30 minutes. Finally I pulled out the Bunny Buddhism book and shared this doozy with him when he again wandered into our room in protest:

The wise bunny knows life is full of suffering and chooses not to create more.

He was not impressed with my bunny wisdom. Joe is the King of Drama. When he was younger and in trouble for a transgression, he would tell us that he wanted to beat himself as punishment. I started to wonder if he had been a member of Los Hermanos Penitentes in a former life and that was why he was advocating self-flagellation. It’s hard to know sometimes if his histrionics are the genuine result of his ADHD-enhanced lack of control or an elaborate ruse meant to elicit guilt. He is capable of working both ways.

I’m not sure why Joe insists on ratcheting his initial Level 3 DEFCON misery to DEFCON Level 1, but I keep hoping that he will learn what the wise bunnies know…that inventing additional suffering is ill-advised. So far that lesson has not kicked in, but I hold out hope. Hopefully he chooses to stop making unpleasant situations into unbearable ones. Hopefully he learns to channel his energy into reducing the drama in his life rather than creating more. If not, I guess there’s always a future on Days of Our Lives. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve seen enough of Stefano and Marlena.

Deep Thoughts on the Nature of Carrots

Deep bunny thoughts, anyone?

Deep bunny thoughts, anyone?

The first quote my sister messaged me from Bunny Buddhism was this one about carrots.

The carrot may be eaten, but it is never completely gone.

Now, in terms of Buddhism-themed quotes, this one was admittedly not one that grabbed my attention immediately. It’s a bit abstract and not as easily applicable to my life as some of the others, so it was not one of the ones I marked. Still…as a first impression it was good enough. I knew I would buy the book because, holy cow, it’s bunny Buddhism. What could possibly be cuter than that? Penguins wearing knit sweaters? Babies and puppies napping together? The only thing I had previously experienced that was nearly that darling was the lawyer our son Luke told us he’d hired, Harry Flufferpants, Esq. And you have to admit that a teacup Pomeranian wearing a black, satin top hat and monocle and sporting a distinguished handlebar mustache comes pretty dang close to deep thoughts about bunniness.

Still…this particular bunny quote threw me, perhaps because I’m nothing if not pragmatic and I could not see the immediate wisdom here. I mean, let’s face it. If you consume a carrot, it is gone. Gone into the depths of your acid-machine stomach where it will in fact cease to exist in its current state. It will emerge later,  but it’s not going to be recognizable and you’re not going to want to stop to reflect on it. Or at least I hope you’re not.

Harry Flufferpants, Esq.

Harry Flufferpants, Esq.

So what exactly is the meaning of this quote? Although I’ve been sitting and reflecting on it for a while now, I am stymied. When I apply it to a life experience, like travel, I can make some sense of it. You take a trip and it ends, but the memory of that trip is never gone. You could also apply it to a person. You know a person and they leave you, but they’re never completely gone from your mind. Is that the lens through which you need to examine this widom? Perhaps the author was thinking of my husband who has an incredible memory for meals in obscure restaurants decades ago in foreign countries and would never forget an eaten carrot (even if he can’t seem to remember that I asked him to pick up carrots at the grocery store)? I’m drawing a blank on this one, and it’s vexing me. I never studied philosophy or religion, so I have nothing to go on. And I really hate feeling obtuse.

As I was searching for an answer to this mental puzzle, though, I found this quote that might help.

The wise bunny becomes wise by asking what he does not know.

So, I am asking. Can you help me become wise?

 

 

 

Zen and the Art of Bunniness

In the Galapagos, Luke and a Nazca booby enter into each other's inherent bunniness.

In the Galapagos, Luke and a Nazca booby take a moment to appreciate each others’ unique and meaningful existence.

Like many people these days, I practice yoga. My journey began a little over four years ago and, even in the times that I don’t practice regularly, I find it is always with me. Yoga is a hard thing to explain to those who haven’t yet experienced it. Before I practiced, people who knew me well would tell me that I needed it. I resented that statement, but mostly I resembled it. I moved from one thing to the next without stopping to be present in my own life. I didn’t know how to sit in stillness or look around in awareness. A hamster on a perpetual wheel, I rarely paused to notice or enjoy anything. I was too busy looking ahead to see the little moments slipping by in my peripheral vision.

In vinyasa yoga, you flow through the different postures syncing one breath to one movement in a moving meditation. You breathe in to settle into one pose and breathe out to transition into another, consciously aware of each inhalation and exhalation. So when I found this quote in my Bunny Buddhism book, I knew exactly what it was for. It is a mantra for meditation.

Breathing in, I know I am a bunny. Breathing out, I know a bunny is all I have to be.

In my late thirties, I was somewhat depressed. Not in that can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-need-Zoloft way, but in the way that I was unhappy without being awake enough to realize it. I had young children who had boundless energy and myriad personal struggles and I didn’t have a clue how to help them settle and grow. I was continually exhausted, surviving on caffeine and mindless, reality television. I was stalled out. When my early forties hit, midlife began urging me to shake off my slump and make something out of my life. This was both a good thing (because I began to wake up and seek out life-affirming events, which made me buck up a little) and a bad thing (because in seeking out new experiences I managed to remain too busy to truly enjoy anything).

That was when yoga found me. I began to understand that I didn’t have to become anything to prove anything. Through yoga, I began accepting that there are things that I am good at and things that I will never be good at. It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the uniqueness that is me, and it is enough. That thought continues to blow my mind. I am enough. Period. If I finish the book I’ve been writing in my head for years, great. If not, that’s fine too. I’m exactly where I need to be, being the person I am becoming. At the end of my life, a full and well-rounded curriculum vitae will say everything about what I accomplished but nothing about who I was because we are not the sum total of what we do. Good thing too because on most days what I do is laundry.

Breathing in. I know I am a bunny. Breathing out. I know a bunny is all I have to be.

Can you let go of what you think you need to do to be important and accept that you already are?

 

I’m Not Coyote Chow

A bunny I saw on my morning walk. I see bunnies everywhere all of a sudden.

A bunny I saw on my morning walk. It was not thinking.

I’ve been sitting here for the past hour or so desperately trying to come up with something to write about. I flipped through all the tabs I set up in the Bunny Buddhism book, twice, looking for inspiration in the words that had touched me a couple days ago. I found none. The clock was banging away the minutes to midnight, and I was no closer to a theme for today’s entry. I was becoming increasingly stressed out about my impending failure a mere two days into my renewed pledge to write daily. I was just about to give up and write it off (at least I could write something that way) as being overtired when my eyes landed upon this quote on a page I had not marked:

It is better to hop than to think of hopping.

Well, crap. There it is in a nutshell. My problem. You see, I am a great thinker. I’m not exaggerating. I am really great at thinking. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m curious and intellectually open-minded, happy to accept the world for all its grey matter (and not the black and white that others imagine exists). The problem is that sometimes I spend so much time trapped in my skull, thinking, weighing options, and organizing mental tidbits, that I run out of time to do something. In this way, I am perpetually paralyzed…too tangled in thought simply to be a human being and too overwhelmed by possibility to be a human doing. I am frozen and worthless.

I need to blow up today’s quote to poster size and mount to the wall in my office. Sometimes the best thing to do is tell the chattering monkeys in my mind to shut the hell up and then start hopping forward. I can worry about the quality of my written work after I’ve actually written something down. So just like the zoo keepers in Kansas City, tonight I decided to toss those chimps back into their enclosure so I could stop thinking about writing and just write. It doesn’t matter what I churn out. It’s the act of writing and not the thought of writing that makes a writer.

My friend Heather recently sent me this amazing book by Anne Lamott. In Bird by Bird, Anne, a published author many times over, confesses her own struggle with writer’s block.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I’m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, is to stop.”

I am gifted at stopping and declaring defeat before I even begin. And it helps to know that even well-known writers experience a jungle-drum-level fear of doom when they’re facing a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. Sometimes we humans are our own worst enemies. I stress myself out so much about what I should say that I end up saying nothing…something I did most of the days last year. But that has got to stop. In time and with enough practice, I will spend less time thinking and more time producing. Not every day is going yield a worthwhile piece. Some days I might be fortunate to land squarely somewhere between schlock and drivel. But even schlock and drivel are a tangible result of effort, a venture out of my self-prescribed mental straitjacket. It’s a step (or hop) in the direction I want to head. A bunny that fails to hop ends up Coyote Chow. I’m not prolific yet, but I’m sure I’m not ready to be finished either.

What hops have you been missing?

 

 

The Tale of Two Bunnies

These two bunnies may resemble each other but they are unique in their bunniness.

These two bunnies may resemble each other in form, but at the end of the day they are unique in their bunniness.

I have two sons. Although there are some similarities between them, mothering these two boys forced me to acknowledge the universal parenting truth. Parenting is not a case of nurture versus nature, but rather a case of how you choose to nurture your child’s nature. Now the fact that I know this to be true should in no way imply that I understand how one actually achieves this goal of parenting differently in the best interest of each child’s personal growth. I struggle with this daily because, like most parents, I would like to believe that in a nod to fairness I love my sons in the same way and treat them equally. It’s just not true on a day-to-day basis. They’re different people. They have different strengths and weaknesses and present unique challenges and lessons to me as their mother. They are both easier to raise than their brother in some ways and more difficult to raise in others. It is what it is.

My oldest son, Joe, has moderate ADHD. What that means for him is that he is impetuous, has a hard time focusing on anything, and even though he often knows the “right” way to do something he usually forgets to do it. As a parent trying to teach him to function in the world, his struggle with working memory has been a plague upon us both. When he was very young, his lack of follow through was something I did not think much about. I wrote it off saying he hadn’t yet reached that developmental milestone. But by the time he was six and his four year old brother began following through on things and completing multi-step directions where his older brother could not, I knew something was amiss. Still not aware that his brain struggled with working memory and processing speed, which was why he could listen to me rattle off a short list of things to do and then not remember to do them, I wrote it off as his personality. Joe was forgetful. It was his nature. It was my job as parent to correct this error in his way of doing things. I hounded him. I repeated things until I was hoarse. I followed him around, riding rough-shod over every single thing I asked him to do to make sure he would do it. About this time in my parenting journey, I really could have used today’s Bunny Buddhism quote:

I cannot impose self-discipline upon other bunnies.

I cannot force Joe to behave the way I behave because he is not me and he never will be. His brain does not work as mine does. It is as unique and interesting as he is. And no amount of badgering, belittling, or begrudging will make him act in the disciplined way I wish he would (if only for the sake of his own well-being and sanity). Even if I nurture him by providing charts and introducing him to life hacks to work around his memory issues, this is his dragon to slay. He will take from me what his mind is willing to accept and use and in time he will find his own way through trial and error, peaks and pitfalls. Likewise, I will never be able to stop his brother Luke from chewing on his shirts and leaving holes as if a goat has been wearing them. I don’t understand why he does it, but I know I can’t make him self-disciplined enough to cease and desist. It’s just not happening.

Perhaps someday Joe will remember to hang up his towel and put his clothes in the hamper. Perhaps not. He is his own bunny. He needs to find his own way in his bunniness. I can nurture his nature, but I can’t affect the outcome. And to try to do this only damages the relationship we have. I have made my own bunny peace with Joe’s memory issues. Oh. I still make him come back upstairs to hang up the towel he left on my bathroom floor because, well…I’m not his slave. But I no longer think it is my duty to turn him into the towel-hanging kid his brother is. He’s a different bunny than his brother who chews shirts who, in turn, is a different bunny than me (the one whose mother tried unsuccessfully to stop her from biting her nails).

My journey to zen is aided daily by my children who are teaching me more than I will ever be able to teach them.

Beginning Bunny Buddhism

I don't patronize bunny rabbits.

I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.

Late last week, my sister introduced me to a book I knew was a game changer. The minute I saw it I knew I needed a copy for myself because it fits right in there with two things that appeal to me…working towards my zen and coveting fuzzy things. (Yes. I know to be truly zen I would have to not covet things, even soft, fuzzy things, but this is why I said I am working towards my zen. I am not there yet, people.) The book is Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. It is an adorable tome filled with wisdom about life and illustrations of darling bunnies on the path to bunniness. As soon as I got the name of the book, I was one-clicking my way through Amazon to get it here as fast as humanly possible. (Yes. I know instant gratification also goes against my path to zen, but I can only make this journey one step at a time.) Today the book arrived, and I devoured 186 pages of bunny thoughtfulness, carefully marking statements that resonated with me. Fifty some Post-It tabs later, I realized I have a lot more travel ahead on the road to zen than I originally thought.

Last week, a fellow blogger (and all around kind gal) commented that she missed my blog postings. She told me she was planning to write every day in April. I was tempted to join her on her journey, but ultimately decided that after all this time off I’d gotten too lazy to commit to a whole month. That seemed like an awful lot of work. Then Bunny Buddhism arrived in my mailbox, and with it came my inspiration. And so for the next couple weeks, or until I am plumb bored with cute, fuzzy things or deep, life-changing wisdom, I am going to pick a thought from the book and blog a bit about it.

Today’s Bunny Buddhism mediation is this:

Even a reliable bunny misses a hop sometimes; then the important thing becomes simply to return to hopping.

That is what I am doing right now. I am returning to hopping by blogging again. Once I was a reliable writer, composing something every day for a full year, but I lost my way. I decided other things in my life were more pressing. I reasoned that because writing is not a paying gig for me, I had best focus on my primary job as wildlife manager (aka “mom to two sons”). I thought maybe all the time off blogging would give me more time to focus on writing a book. It didn’t. I found other ways to occupy my time when I put writing on the back burner. I rewatched all the seasons and every single episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and LOST. I read way too many articles about our food system that scared the bejeezus out of me. I spent appalling amounts of time on Facebook. And through it all, the only thing I learned is that I am a first-class escape artist. But at the end of the day, no matter what I do or don’t do, the one thing I can’t avoid is the knowledge that I am a writer. I may not be a world-class writer or a published writer or even (gasp) a working writer, but I am a writer. It is what I do. Writing is as much a part of me as my blue-hazel eyes, my constellations of moles, and my stubby fingernails. Denying it doesn’t make it less true. It only takes me further away from my true self.

My writing is not unlike my path to zen. I have a great deal to learn and a lot of room to grow. But I can’t make any progress by freaking out and freezing up when I miss a blog. Life will continue whether I write or not, but every day I skip writing I miss an opportunity to be my most authentic, wonderful, flawed, and yet-somehow-still-perfect self. And so I begin again. They say a journey of a thousand hops begins with a single hop, right?

An Introvert’s Life Among The Extroverts: A Dramatization

If a tree falls in the forest and you don't tell anyone about it, you're probably an introvert.

If a tree falls in the forest and you don’t tell anyone about it, you’re probably an introvert.

It’s 10 a.m. and, despite the fact that I had a double shot espresso this morning, I already need a nap. This exhaustion is not because I was up all night with a sick child because I wasn’t. It’s not because I ran eight miles this morning either because I didn’t. I’m wiped out because I was part of a ten-minute long conversation this morning. I am an introvert. This is my story.

After grabbing my caffeinated crutch from the Starbucks drive thru this morning, I headed to the boys’ school where I was slated to volunteer for a couple of hours. I pulled into the parking lot, dropped the boys off, and walked into the main office to find out how I could be of assistance. The school secretary was looking for the stamps and mailers I needed when a bright-eyed, perky mom in jeans, running shoes, and a yoga hoodie bounded into the office. She immediately entered into an animated conversation with the secretary while I stood there silently waiting for my supplies. The secretary found them, handed them to me, and I sat down to get to work, and all the while the spunky, blonde mom carried on her running conversation.

A few minutes later when the secretary ran out of the office to find something, the other woman approached me. I had hoped it would not come to this. I prefer to hide in the shadows in the presence of strangers, not because I am shy but because I am marginal at best with small talk.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Suzie Sunshine.” (not her real name)

“I’m Justine,” I replied, extending my hand as an introduction as I always do.

She shook my hand weakly, perhaps surprised by my formality, and continued.

“I’ve seen your name before,” she said. “You volunteer a lot. I’m the volunteer coordinator.” This I already knew because I volunteer a lot and I’d seen her name on myriad emails in my inbox. She sat down to help me with the 75 or so postcards I was busy adhering flag stamps to.

“So,” she went on, “what grade is your son or daughter in?”

“I have two sons here. Joe is in Room 159, and Luke is in Room 161B.”

“Oh. My daughter is in Room 12, I think. Either that or Room 7 or Room 13. I always get them messed up. I have a son named Luke, well…Lucas, actually, but he doesn’t go here.”

I smiled, nodded my head, and kept on working, not having anything to add.

“Is your son a Lucas too?” she inquired.

“Nope. He’s just our Cool Hand Luke,” I replied. I didn’t tell her that I intentionally did not name our son Lucas because I couldn’t get over how it rhymes with mucous.

“My son is 12. He’s really into sports. He goes to the STEM school.”

“Oh. I’m interested in that STEM school,” I said, pausing briefly when another mom popped into the office and approached the secretary. She was wearing a college sweatshirt. I tried to continue. “Where is that STEM….”

“Hi, Katie,” Suzie interrupted, excited to greet the newcomer. “How’s it going?” she asked without waiting for a reply. “I love your sweatshirt. How’s your son liking college there?” She fired off her words, releasing them like rounds of ammunition from a machine gun belt. I watched in amazement.

“He likes it a lot. He’s coming home for Spring Break in a couple weeks.”

“Is that college in the city, then? What do you think of it there because I was there once and it was not at all what I imagined. I thought it would be a really big city but it seemed small to me.”

“Well…I think it’s pretty big,” Katie said. “I mean, the suburbs and surrounding areas…”

“Maybe it just seems small because I’m from Houston, and Houston is so huge that other cities seem tiny by comparison.”

Because I am an introvert and casual conversation requires concerted effort on my part, I was waiting for a chance to tell them that I used to live just a few hours from the city in question. I was hoping to back up Katie’s assessment of it by offering my opinion. I began formulating the message of my intended verbal output while waiting for a lull in the chatter so I could carefully insert my commentary.

“What’s he majoring in?” Suzie asked as my opportunity to speak evaporated.

“Civil Engineering,” Katie replied.

“What’s he going to do with that?”

“His dream job would be designing golf courses,” Katie said.

“Oh. I didn’t know he played golf. Lucas plays golf. Actually, he plays golf and football but I’d really rather he focus his attention on golf because it’s just a safer sport, you know?” And from there she began telling us about what he hopes to study and how she might get him some additional golf lessons this summer at this course near home. She talked for the next few minutes with Katie about colleges, internships, and sports while I kept placing stamps on mailers as quickly as my fingers could move, looking up occasionally to acknowledge I was at least superficially involved in the conversation.

After placing the last stamp on the last postcard, I gathered up what I had completed along with the remaining stamps, handed them to the secretary, silently waved my goodbye so as not to interrupt the continuing conversation, and wandered out into the hall. I heard Suzie shout a perfunctory “Nice meeting you” from the office and I echoed the sentiment as I continued heading for the door. When I got to my car, I leaned back into the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped my skull onto the headrest and took a deep, cleansing, yogi breath to bring fresh oxygen into my enervated brain. Social interaction wears me out.

In the past, I’ve unwittingly bothered extroverts who found my reticence problematic. I’ve been labeled conceited, aloof, and even rude, because I’m not gifted in the area of small talk or rather in the art of being able to sneak my two-cents into an already busy conversation. To further exacerbate the disconnect with these extroverts, when I’ve been confronted with these allegations I’ve found myself nonplussed; I had no idea my lack of conversation could say so much. The upside of being an introvert in an extrovert-focused society, though, is that you are happy living in your own head. If others don’t get you, you don’t spend much mental energy on it. I have no idea if Suzie found me conceited, aloof, or rude, and I’m not about to lose sleep over it. She seemed like a nice enough gal, and I’m pleased to have put another name with another face at the boys’ new school because it takes a long time to get to know people when you’re not immediately communicative. For now, I’m going to go focus what’s left of my energy on the downtime I earned this morning. And hopefully there won’t be any fallout about my introversion (or my blogging about it) later.

Our Perpetual Lady of Slow Learners

Lovely couple of kids

Lovely couple of kids

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my journey as a parent, it’s that expectations can be your undoing. In terms of expectations, mothers are doomed from the start. From the day we pee on a stick and see pink lines, we are an expectant mother. Our pregnancy bible is entitled What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and we devour the information between its covers because pregnancy is so new and different and impending parenthood is equal parts exhilaration and terror. We want to be prepared…as much as anyone can be prepared for the arrival of something so much a part of oneself and yet totally unlike anything anywhere else. While our children begin their lives unencumbered by the existence of expectations, we embark on our parental career ready to measure them against the rubric of the typical. And that’s the point when we make our first big mistake.

I knew fairly early on that our sons were not typical. They did not follow growth and development charts. They were on their own schedules. Things their peers were readily learning, our sons could not. They skipped letters in the alphabet  and struggled to write their own names. They were uncoordinated with sports and were unable catch a ball or skip or follow rhythm. Physicians noted their shortfalls while reassuring us that they were fine. In school, they displayed obvious intellect while retelling stories or playing creatively, but rote memorization of math facts escaped them. They began to get poor marks on tests science and social studies tests despite knowing the answers when asked orally. We were frustrated. We knew they were intelligent, but their grades didn’t reflect it. Teachers told me they weren’t trying, but I knew how hard they worked. I could see their constant struggle to keep up and fit in with expectations they now innately understood by watching their classmates and receiving their report cards. When we finally realized that they had learning disabilities, the damage had been done. Our sons no longer believed they could be successful. Expectations were crushing them.

This year we pulled them out of traditional school and did what we swore we would not. We put them into a special school, a school for children who think differently, a school for the atypical. We’d been hesitant to take this route, fearful of pointing out to them and to others that they weren’t measuring up in regular schools. But the time for denial being a river in Egypt was over. They needed help…no matter what that help looked like. Their new school was a big adjustment for me. You see, there are no grades there. None. Kids aren’t in 4th grade and they don’t earn letter grades. They’re not evaluated that way, and teachers and students don’t discuss grades. They discuss progress. They discuss solutions to struggles. While the kids are evaluated regularly, they are assessed solely on improvement. If they’re improving, they’re on the right track. If they’re not improving, it’s time to re-evaluate how they might learn better and pursue a different route. It’s so simple it’s scary.

And, honestly, this new system of analysis did scare me. I was so tied to our traditional conventions that the variation seemed dubious. As a culture, we subsist on numbers and quantitative results. Our conversations with other parents about our children often revolve around concrete standards. Bobby came in First at State. Jimmy has a 4.0. Sue got a 1300 on her SATs. Hey. I get it. It’s an accomplishment and a feather in our caps when our child is successful in a way that we can readily point out. I know from personal experience, though, the other side of that equation. When our sons were earning C and D grades, I perpetually feared having someone ask me about their report cards. I knew that based on their grades our boys would be marked as sub par by others, and that was frightening. And now when they’re getting no grades, well that’s even scarier. When you tell someone your son is “around the 4th grade level and is a consistently improving student,” they look at you as if you’re sporting three heads. No one is up for flexible standards of personal success although that is the only type of personal success there is…the personal kind.

If we’re going to live by expectations (which we seem bound by human nature to do), perhaps we could be a bit more flexible with our assessment of others? We could accept steady improvement as our rubric. We could value overall forward progress over typical milestones because the truth is that not everyone is typical in every way. Our sons are slow learners because their brains process information differently than the majority. So what? It’s taken me almost 46 years to believe that a piece of paper doesn’t prove wisdom and all the outward success in the world doesn’t make you a better person than the next guy, and that makes me a pretty slow learner too. I’m learning to let go of expectations and becoming more patient with myself and with others. It might be two steps forward and one step back, but I’m making progress just like my sons. By the end of my life, I like to think I will have evolved not just to standards but beyond them in ways that are immeasurable.

I threw away the books that told me how my children should be. I now appreciate them for how they are.

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