Archive for the ‘children’ Category

It’s nearing 8am this morning, and everyone is safely out the door for the first day of school. As I do every year, as my mother did before me, I get up extra-early on this first day and head out to the yard, and sometimes the neighbor’s yard, to find flowers for the table. This morning I picked morning glories from my own backyard, and some weedy-looking plant that nevertheless has tropical leaves and lovely pale pink flowers. In the next door neighbor’s yard I broke off a few small low-lying branches from a flowering tree that drops its petals all over my car. I put them all loosely in a small tin bucket in the middle of the big round table, and then carefully set out the ruffle-edged plates, the matching saucers and delicate round cups of the First Day of School Dishes.
They have never been anything else to me. They have been on my breakfast table on the first day of school since I began kindergarten, and my daughters have eaten first-day-of-school breakfast on them since pre-school. The eldest moved away and on her own several years ago, now it is my 17 year-old, headed off into her last year of high school, and my 13 year-old, beginning her last year of middle-school. As the girls ate this morning – tomato and cheddar omelets and chilled mandarin oranges – our conversation about the dishes is the same one we’ve had since their respective first, first days of school. I begin by asking them if either of them can remember or guess how old the dishes are. This morning, the youngest one, H, offered, hopefully, “Fourteen?” whereupon the elder, S, told her that she was a) stupid and b) wrong, but refused to make her own guess. So I told them again about the dishes being a gift to my mother at her wedding, and that they were at that time extravagant, and are now at least 48 years old. And again, as they do every year, they pick up the little turquoise cups, and marvel at their thinness, their luminosity, their beaded handles. I tell them how my sister and I sat at breakfast tables and ate from these dishes, nervous just like they are (S interrupts to tell me she is not nervous at all, but I have H’s full attention) for the first day of school, feeling just like they do that this year, this year, will be the great one, the one where we are victorious, or popular, or simply the best at something. 

S finishes her tea (English breakfast with soy milk, this morning) and heads upstairs to finish getting ready, calling a “Thank you Mama” back to me as she goes. H looks at me with big eyes.
“You know exactly what it’s like,” she says. “I do want to be the best at something. And I think I am really going to be popular this year. Really.” I nodded, hoping to appear wise. “I think you can do it. I think this is your year,” I say. She thanks me for breakfast, too, and hugs me; she smells of Ivory soap. In a moment I hear her size 10 Vans half-stomp up the stairs after her sister.
I’m left sitting at the kitchen table alone with the First Day of School Dishes, remnants of omelet, discarded tea bags, toast crusts. And I want to tell my daughters so many more things. I want to tell S to suspend her cynicism if she can, try not to be in such a hurry to just-get-through this last year of school and take some time to feel the music that is inherent in every day, instead of rushing past it, pushing her way through to get to the other side. I want to tell H that I felt just like she does every school year of my life except the first, before I knew any better. And that it was never really my year, and it may never be hers, but that there are graces in every day and they can be enough.  But S wouldn’t be able to hear me through the rush and noise of seventeen-year-old blood rising and buzzing in her ears. It says, “Got to get out. Got to go do. Got to go be.” It’s louder than I can ever be. And the things I would tell H might make her more content to be who she is, if she could take them to heart, but it would cost her the dreams she carries with her, the hope in her heart, and even knowing it is likely that she will be continually hurt, that hope, as they say, is a thing with wings, and I don’t have the right to take that away.
I thought of telling all this to the First Day of School Dishes, so innocent in their strange, luminous, soft Paris-blue way. But they’ve been there for the long haul, and I suspect – no, I’m certain – that they already know. I washed them carefully, dried and put them back in their place where they will sit for another year, and wonder if they know, as I do, that it is likely only one set of them will see the kitchen table and the early morning sunlight come next fall, and several falls after, until my babies set the table with them for their babies, as my mother did for me.


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I had a bad day yesterday. In the waiting room at the dentist’s office, before my root canal (any sentence beginning that way tends to make me shudder), I took a phone call from the woman I work for. I work in tourism, and to cut to the chase, something I had neglected to do left six tourists standing in front of their hotel waiting for a tour van that was never coming, a driver/guide out $115, and cost my employer $360. She was not pleased. She didn’t yell at me, though; after we ascertained that I did, indeed, not make the call I should have made, she just said my name in the most disgusted way possible, then hung up. I was in tears. Had she yelled at me, I could have yelled back, but the way she did it left me nowhere to go. All during the root canal, tears would slip out of my eyes and down the sides of my face, and the dentist kept asking if I were alright. I tried to tell her it had nothing to do with the root canal, but probably didn’t communicate that well with four hands and a couple of metal instruments in my mouth.

I was needed at the office after my dental procedure, and was dreading calling her. I have seen how she handles people when she’s angry, and expected her to be abusive, and I knew I would not take that from her. So I was upset about having to quit a job I quite like, generally. I am always pleasant to her, no matter what my real feelings are, because I have known from the first few days of my employment that if she and I ever argued, and she spoke to me the way I hear her speak to others, I’d have to quit. And I didn’t think she knew this about me, but I think I was wrong. When I called after my appointment, she quickly went over how the morning had been, and then dropped the subject of the morning tour-that-wasn’t. Before I hung up, I said, “Thanks for not being really pissed-off at me.” To which she replied, “I am, I just know better than to say it to you.” And that was it. I sat there with my cell phone in my hand, half-smiling – she apparently knows me better than I think she does.

My experience yesterday morning also had me thinking about something else. My youngest daughter, H, is always in trouble with me, and with my husband. She is forgetful, willful, she doesn’t pick up after herself, is willing to perform no chore, including picking up her own room. She refuses to do homework, taunts her sister into unholy rages, and on and on and on. And we yell at her a lot. But I also use that tone with her, call her name in that disappointed, disgusted tone. And I remember thinking of her after talking to I on the phone, and thinking, oh, this is what H feels.

So I talked to her about it last night. I was exhausted, and after coming home and having dinner, I went up to bed. She came in for a snuggle, and I told her about my day, and how I wondered if that was what it felt like to her when dad and I treated her that way. She nodded yes. She said, “Everybody gets so mad at me, and I keep thinking somebody will feel sorry for me, but nobody ever does.” We talked about things we could all do differently, to keep her from feeling that way. Ideas included having her do what she was asked when she was asked, and ways we could let her know we were displeased without making her feel like she’d failed us as a human being. Getting homework done, doing a few things around the house, picking up after yourself – these things are not worth losing your sense of self-worth over.

Yesterday had its moments of grace, too. The dentist, who knew I was extremely frightened of having dental work done, was extremely gentle and supportive. My root canal was virtually painless. I had to work all day with my boss, and in spite of the morning, she was upbeat and positive the rest of the day. When I dashed home before going to pick the girls up from school (and then going back to work), I wanted to throw some red beans in the crock pot, expecting to have to wash it, and my middle daughter had already washed it and had it ready to use. For some reason, this specific small act of kindness touched me deeply. Picking up the girls, one went missing – H was supposed to meet me at a certain place, and she wasn’t there, nor was she anywhere near there. I drove around looking for her for as long as I could, then called my husband, who was calm and pleasant when offering to let me get back to work (already a little late) and him leave work early to drive uptown and look for her. No drama, just kindness (she was fine, just goofing around with her friends). S had made the final seasoning adjustments to the red beans, and made rice, and all had eaten when I arrived home, so no last-minute dash to feed my starving horde. I was able to eat, spend some time talking to everyone about their day, and go to bed. Seen that way, it wasn’t a bad day at all.

I need to work on being grateful for what I have, and less self-obsessed over every little thing that doesn’t go my way. Today is beautiful, still very warm, and I’m going to go out to my lovely pool and swim with the dog, one of my favorite things to do. This life is very good.

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My middle daughter attends a Kaikon on occasion with a friend, and is quite interested in Buddhism. She wanted me to know about chanting, and how it makes changes in people’s lives. The basic chant is “nom myoho renge kyo” and is said in a rhythmic, monotone way. My initial response was skepticism, but I’m beginning to wonder about that. I have been practicing the habit of chanting, and find that it has some immediate benefit to me.

First off, I have trouble shutting my mind down. I don’t know if this is something everyone struggles with, or if it’s more rare than that, but I have difficulty sleeping because I can’t slow my thoughts, it is hard for me to stay on one subject, even when talking to other people, etc.  I have found that I can hold a conversation while chanting in the background, and rather than being confusing, it actually helps me focus on what is being said. Chanting as I fall asleep helps me quiet all the stuff vying for my attention (notice I didn’t say ‘voices’), and allows me to let sleep come.

Today after work I had to make a fairly long drive out the old river road, and headed back to my house, I knew when I arrived I’d have a lot going on. Everyone was starving for dinner, which I’d need to make, and my youngest child needed intense help with a couple of homework projects. My middle child wanted to run some things by me for a class she’ll be teaching after school, etc. So I chanted with the stated intention of being kind and helpful and offering service to my family, and, I think, it helped.

Nom myoho renge kyo.

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Sometimes it’s difficult to know when we are helping our children, and when we are hindering them. My youngest child, H, has mild learning disabilities, but her biggest handicap may be my willingness to help her even when she should be doing things on her own.

She is a procrastinator; I am fond of saying that ‘that little nut didn’t fall far from this tree’, meaning that I am a terrible procrastinator as well. And ever since H began school, even before we knew she was dyslexic, dysgraphic, and had attention deficit disorder, I would always save her at the last minute from the wrath (and poor grades) that went along with her not having done the work required. She’s in 7th grade now, not a little kid, and everything about her academic experience thus far has taught her that if she doesn’t do the work, Mom will step in at the 11th hour and do it for her.  This is not good.

But I also wonder how (effective? fair?) good it is to cut H off cold-turkey. Just announce that I will not be stepping in to save the day any longer, and stick to it – let her sink or swim on her own. Don’t I have more responsibility than that, since I’m the one who set the precedent in the first place? She has to learn to stand on her own. But I am reminded of my father, who ‘water-proofed’ me by throwing me into the water, over my head, repeatedly until I learned to dog-paddle. In one sense, it worked. I can dog-paddle like nobody’s business, and at least for the short term in a body of water, I will be able to move around and keep afloat (technically, because of the fat I carry, I float anyway, but that’s neither here nor there). However, I am terrified of putting my face beneath the water; it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to put my face under the stream of water in the shower, and that with my eyes scrunched shut, breath held, cloth at the ready to wipe my eyes. I’m terrified of having water over my head, and beyond that dog-paddle and a half-assed side-stroke, I can’t swim. Am afraid to try to learn to swim. I have a pool, for heaven’s sake, and I can’t actually swim in it. But I can by-God dog-paddle the hell out of the thing.

My point: I’ve been holding her above water all this time, whether I should have or not. Now, when it’s becoming imperative that she swim, would it do any good to just throw her in over her head? Or rather would stepping up the training, letting go more often, letting her know that while she has to swim on her own, I’m there just in case, be the more prudent course of action?

 Right now she has a very large, involved ‘packet’ that was due to be turned in to her science teacher this past Friday. Today is Wednesday. She lost the packet within hours of receiving it, and recovered it yesterday. Her teacher gave her until today to turn it in. Now, this was intended to be a three-day project, worked on in class and at home. H wound up with one night. And last night was not a normal one for us – we had her sister’s school open house to attend, where there is usually dinner provided. Last night there was no dinner, so we went out (to Taqueria Corona – so good!) for dinner after. Which meant we got home fifteen minutes before her bedtime. She was exhausted, and I told her to go to bed, and we’d get up early to work on the packet. Mistake #1: I did not look at the packet. At this point, I didn’t realize how much work would be involved. Mistake #2: Letting H do the work in the morning virtually never works. I know this, and yet I buy into the fantasy almost every time it’s suggested. Shame on me. So of course she was impossible to get out of bed, we argued, she sat sullenly with her science book and the notebook she’s supposed to be working in, and did nothing. When she went to eat breakfast, I checked everything out, and found that out of approx. 45 questions/definitions/activities she’s supposed to do to complete this thing, H has done one. One question.  *What is the difference between a eukaryote and a prokaryote? A eukaryote has a nucleus and a prokaryote does not.* One down, 44 to go. So far, so good.

So I advised her, against my better judgement (and I advised her of that, too) that her best bet was to fib and say she left the notebook in my car. Ouch! That hurt! Stop throwing things! I know it was a bad call. I regretted it as soon as I’d said it, but there it was, out there in the air, floating around, my voice, my advice: lie. And she will, too. Convincingly, I might add. Case in point: a few days after 9/11, H told a little girl that her sister (who was in high school and living at home at the time) was in New York when the planes bombed the World Trade Centers, and was in an elevator and crushed to death. Totally not true. The little girl told the teacher, and the teacher questioned H: was this true? She told the same story flawlessly. The teacher told the vice principal. The vice principal brings H into her office. Did this happen? H repeats all the gory details. The vice principal takes H into the principal’s office: this child lost her elder sister in the horrors of 9/11. The principal asks H to tell her what happens, and she does, in vivid detail. The principal calls me – why weren’t we notified of what this child has been through? And I must admit, there was a part of me – quite a large part, actually – that wanted to say, “Yes, well, we’re all quite devastated. The memorial service will be on Friday . . . .” It felt disloyal to tell the truth, but I did. Then they brought in a social worker since the child obviously had a problem with lying. I disagreed; I thought she lied beautifully. Besides, it wasn’t a habit, she was in second grade, and it was just an attention-getting mechanism. But I was aware then that my inclination was to save her, and the truth be damned. Again, not a good thing.

Back to the packet. She left this morning, and I have it with me now. I’m trying to decide if I should work on it for her or not. There is too much here to do for her to accomplish in one night. Maybe I’ll compromise; set up the format on the computer for her, and offer her multiple choices on some of the answer sections, just to give her a headstart. It ain’t the butterfly stroke, but it beats dog-paddling.

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