Thursday, June 21, 2012

Is this really my life?

over the past few years, I have had some moments that feel almost like out of body experiences, in which I stop and look at my life, and wonder: Is this really my life?

the oddest part of it is that the word emphasis seems to shift from instance to instance...

And it is the words we choose to emphasize that make all the difference, isn't it?

Several months ago I started this blog with a reference to the moment I swung myself up into Bill's SUV, loaded with donations for Cradles to Crayons, a local organization that offers families access to toys, clothes, etc. (, and looked into the rearview mirror at the grown up lady in sunglasses, and thought, "Is this really MY life?"

I was stunned to realize that things had come full circle, and that a little girl who once made do with so little was now able to give so much, and to little boys and girls just like her.

Wonderfully, amazingly, and gratefully aware of what a blessing it is to be a Giver.

Yes, this is MY life...

More recently, I have had some, "Is this REALLY my life" moments. I cannot say I enjoy them, these thankfully brief moments in which I question basically every decision  that brought me to whatever situation has inspired this bout of introspection. The moments in which I feel overwhelmed, isolated, exhausted, and alone, and wonder if there is any possible way that i will wake in the morning and find the strength to get out of bed.

Those times when I think that maybe it has all been in vain, maybe I will never feel valued or worthwhile, or inspired by my job, or eager to go to work. Those in which I wonder about family, friends, and foes and try to figure out how each ended up in that catagory. and whether they will stay in that catagory for the long term.

Yes, for better or for worse, this is REALLY my life....

and other times, I hear "Is this really my LIFE?", and in those moments, I get scared. Frightened I am not seeing, hearing, doing, appreciating, learning, teaching, doing, enjoying nearly enough. I begin to feel and sense of urgency, to experience fully each moment and to take every opportunity. It is in those times I start doing Life Math: 20 years since High School, 12 years since africa, 11 years as a foster parent, 4 years as a wife, 3 years as a mom.... 30ish more years working, 6 more years on my adjustable rate mortage, 2 more years til Max is a school age child.

LIFE, in capital letters, waits for no one... it goes by whether you enjoy it or not.

You can contemplate your future or contemplate your navel, either way the seconds, minutes, days.... they all pass, one after another....

So, perhaps instead of wondering which word of the question I should emphasize, perhaps Id be better off turning it into a statement, and emphasizing each important word:


I like the look of that...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Game theory parenting

Max Archer has decided that he really really likes basically anything fed to him on a skewer. Something about eating off of a pointy sharp stick makes everything taste better. He generally eats on the move... I know, I know... By the time dinner comes around on a weekday, I just want to get enough food into him that I do not have to feel guilty saying no when he begs me for just "one yittle sanwidge" before going to bed...

so, if you are judging my decision to let my kid eat off of a Barbie size spear while wandering the house, well, feel free to go get a yittle sanwidge ready for bedtime.

So, when he wandered into the room and left a small chunk of terriaki chicken on my plate, I assumed that as it had fallen off the doll weapon, he was no longer interested. So, i popped it into my mouth...

About 5 minutes later, he reentered the room, trotted over, and immediately cried, "where my yittle chicken, mama?"  Are you kidding me?

Now, for those of you who know anything about game theory, or negotiations theory, and do not have children, the choice seems fairly obvious: explain the mistake, and offer an entire new chicken spear in reparations.

Because any negotiator knows, a reasonable opponent will not cut off his nose to spite his face, and offering to provide more than was orginally requested should satisfy even the most exacting of constituents.

There is this thing called a BATNA, Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. It assumes that if your opponent is turning something down, his alternative is better than your offer, and if he accepts, his BATNA was worse.

I really loved negotiatons and game theory. I loved the sense of order it gave to what had appeared to be unpredicatable and inexplicable decisions. I also loved that it made me feel some sense of control in situaitons that felt really malleable....

I thought, man, if I apply this stuff to my parenting, I will be unbeatable.

However, I had forgotten one important thing: I am not negotiating with a reasonable person.

I am negotiating with a tiny, bipolar, self absorbed hijacker with a zealot's committment to his cause.

There is a reason that we do not negotiate with terrorists.

willing to not only cut off his nose, but mine as well, Max has been known to flip out when, after asking for a monkey plate, he is given the monkey plate and then decides he does not want it after all.

It takes all my energy sometimes to stay half steps ahead of him. quarter steps.... inches...

And the sheer unpredicatability is... mindblowing.

It is like being a hostage negotiator... and you are also the hostage.

Seriously, John Nash, famous game theorist, would have given up entirely on the idea of rational behavior had he spent more time with toddlers.

Not so long ago, Max hit me, and I put him in time out until he decided to say he was sorry... He was furious... He cried and yelled, telling me "I no yike time out, I come sit with you" and each time I would say, as soon as you can say your sorry, you can come out." But, he refused to say the magic words... And I stood my ground... for 64 minutes...

I was sweating, and the headache that started at the beginning of the ordeal had spread to my entire body...

BUT, finally, after 64 long minutes, he finally said, "Mama, Mama, I sowwy... I say sowwy mama"...


I felt vindicated in my parenting decisions, thinking to myself, well, this was the big one, and from here on in he will truly believe that mama means what she says... Again, trying desperately to find some predicatbility in the chaotic world of parenting toddlers.

I hugged him, got him a drink of water, and we settled into a calming episode of "Fireman Sam". After ten minutes or so, max turned to me...

"Mama", he said.

"yes,lovey" I responded.

"mama, I not sowwy."

"mama, I not sowwy, I say sowwy, i not sowwy"

I am wordless...

And once again, Max wins the war....

Smart and crazy is a brutal combination.

"mama, mama, mama, I talking to you, where my yittle chicken??"

"I do not know Max, I think Daddy took it."

Monday, June 11, 2012

walking through harvard square

man... my brain was going overtime... Every single thing I saw seemed to represent a road not taken, a path not fully appreciated, a door, once open and now forever closed.

not sure why, but taking max on a walk through my old stomping grounds was a pretty intense experience. I watched the young couples holding hands, the scholars walking and discussing, the undergraduates moving in groups and testing out grown up identities... I was struck... in some ways it was like a weird trip back in time to the What Might Have Been...

I noticed things like the beautiful skin of the girls, and the strong bodies of the young men beside them. and I thought of how untested they were by time... Time which makes muscles soften, faces wrinkle, and shows in every part of our being.

I noticed their freedom, the way in which the day and the weekend appeared to stretch ahead of them as time to fill or not fill, as they saw fit.

and I was a bit jealous...  ok, more than a bit... I would never give up my max, the miracle that made me believe in miracles. but to be able to go back in time and live some of those days with the knowledge that things all turn out well, and to be able to revel in the day without worrying about the future, ahhhh... Yes, i would do that in a heartbeat.

So much of what I saw in them was of the moment. Just a snapshot in time of youth and potential and hope. Because so much of youth is about the future. And each of them to me looked like the future they saw was as shiny as they were. of course, I know nothing of their inner monologue, the one in which the brilliant ones question their every conclusion and the beauties stare at imagined imperfections for hours... However,  for me, the future seemed murky and the future was scary. sometimes it appeared to yawn in front of me, open mouthed like the alligators that Max so adores now...

and in worrying about the future,far too often i forgot to enjoy the present... I think that in walking through the square, sun shining, what I was actually thinking was how much I hoped they would remember that day. The day when, as a gorgeous young woman, they sat on a bench and read, holding hands with that gorgeous young man who looked at them with so much adoration in his eyes. I wanted to tell them, "remember this... remember how it feels to live in your body at this exact moment. How good it feels to run, how exciting it is to learn, how much of the world is open to you at this exact moment in time."

I didn't... I kept it to myself. I have tried to make the point in the past, to limited success.  A dear and much younger friend of mine shared with me that she and her husband were planning to start trying for a baby... She asked me if I had any advice, I am sure looking for something wise, something about timing intercourse or monitoring ovulation. I told her, "yes... take pictures of your body...  .Because , it will never be the same. and you will find it difficult to remember how it used to be."

It was the tip of the iceberg. I could not find a way to fully encompass for her the enormity of how her life was about to shift. But I wanted her to remember...And enjoy the life she had for the moment, rather worrying about the future.I wanted her to have a reminder of what it felt like when she was one of those girls walking in the sunshine...Of course, the impact on the body is simply the easiest to document. My brain is sagging, and my heart has wrinkles, but there is no possible way to document that....

I spent alot of my life looking ahead with varying degrees of fear. It is actually my greatest regret, that I spent so much time not living in the moment, but instead worrying about the weeks, months, and years to come.

And, in the long run, the worrying was useless. things happened and I reacted to those things. And it was those reactions that made all the difference.  My plans... well, they say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for your future. I feel good about the hours of amusement I have provided Him or Her.

I spent so much time making plans, primary plans, secondary plans, contingency plans... and then barely even noticing as those plans fell to the wayside, so busy was I reacting to reality.

And so, in thinking about that walk through the Square, maybe what I actually want to do is to make sure that, 20 years from now when I am walking down a street and past a playground, and I see parents of little ones, that I can remember what it felt like to be in that exact place, to feel the soft little hands in mine, to remember the way my body felt, its strength and grace as it lifted and carried the dearest thing in life close to my heart.

I would not trade what I have now for all the choices in the world. Although there are doors that have closed to me, the ones that opened have revealed both joy and sorrow that have shaped me, molded me, and changed me in ways that the smooth skinned, slim bodied young woman of the square could not even imagine.

Tonight, when I hold max's solid little body against me for his fierce good night hug, instead of worrying about tomorrow and work and weight loss and relationships, I will do my to stop in the moment, to cement the memory of his scent and sound and the feeling of his absolute trust in the strength of my arms and back to carry him to bed. I will listen to his voice and mine as we read a story. I will write it down in my heart, to pull out on the day when I can no longer lift him, in the moment I realize there has been no bedtime story in weeks. And I will use those memories to warm me, as I leave the sunshine on the square behind....

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

I have been writing blog posts while I drive, while I shower, while I sit in boring meetings...  The only place I have not been writing them is here.... So, here we are again. I hope you will indulge me. I am hopeful that writing some of this down will make it more real, and less real, in the needed porportions to learn from the learning experiences, laugh at the laughing ones, cry at the... well, you are smart kids, you get the picture.

These past several weeks have been...well, growing pain is a real thing for grown ups as well as children. However, the pain is in the heart and spirit. Max's third birthday combined with the difficult departure of our most recent foster baby seem to have centered my brain on the fact that I will not be birthing no more babies... And it is a brutal thing to wrap my mind around. Mostly, because it is not my choice, my body for whatever reason is simply not good that the whole conception thing. Now, the growing hair in places hair is not welcome, that it seems to have mastered. (I took that line out a few times, but I am hereby declaring this a no editing for appropriateness blog. You've been warned)

I think that this is less about the fact that no more bell/lewitt babies will be born with big blue eyes, no hair, and an already apparent adhesion to the motto "to thine own self be true". It is about the fact that for the past 13 years, as a foster mom, then a dating woman, then a married woman, I have really been defined my my pursuit of the stability and joy of a family of my own. Self-defined, but nonetheless, if asked to describe my goals, wife and mommy would have been... well, high up. Maybe, if I am honest, number 2 and 1, respectively.

So, what to do after your dreams come true? And you realize that you are indeed a greedy bitch who is not going to be able to simply revel... And that WANTING MORE is indeed a state of being that you can occasionally hook out of for a bit, but in fact, it is simply who you are.

This blog is going to be a part of that... a part of wanting more and pursuing more.

I am so grateful for my life. I have not gotten here by chance. I had many incredible opportunities and people put in front of me and I grabbed them. If you look at life as a game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, I have grabbed some great marbles.

And, I am going to be making every effort to see my Life approaching in this same way... that image above, of all the marbles just waiting to be grabbed, is one that I am finding helpful in addressing my current feelings of.... out of sortedness. I know, not a phrase in common usage.

But, I think this is Life. There are bunches of opportunities and options. And there are other hippos out there, eager to grab them... And you have a choice: grab frantically and randomly, in order to assure no one else gets any that you *might* someday want, or grab more deliberately, looking at the marbles and choosing, taking that horrible chance that, when you go to grab it, that marble might have been grabbed by someone else.

Yep, I am officially now an adherent of the "Hungry Hungry Hippos  Plan for Life Management"

Feel free to stick around and see how it goes...