Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bath Time

Image credit <here

The drudgery of co-parenting—sometimes, I just want to take a glass of wine (or three), guzzle it down, and dream about a world where everyone gets along.

How old were your kids when you stopped helping them with their baths?  My DD1 has been doing independent showers since somewhere along the lines of second grade (now in fourth).

My DD2 is in kindergarten, so she needs help in the bath, otherwise she’d come out with soap all over the place, a big grin, and proceed to run streaking through the house.  Nothing wrong with streaking.  Especially at five.  But with a puppy who loves to drink bath water, who would delight in chasing and licking said naked child all over (soap be damned) and then said child would need another bath, because our puppy also likes to drink toilet bowl water (ewwww) and I can’t always remember to close the lid.  Which is why said child needs some assistance.

Cut to a week ago, when I get a strange email from the ex about how DD2 complains that A (my husband) scrubs DD2’s ears too hard in the bath, and then whittles on about how Ex does not approve that A gives DD2 a bath at ALL and to stop this immediately.  Ex continues with how A is not an ‘approved caregiver’ (whatever that means) and repeats that A needs to not give DD2 a bath.

Sigh.  I want to get all enraged and mad, but I’m just so tired of the baloney.  I guess I should be thankful I’m not listening to it on some ranting phone call—that it’s in writing so I can sit back and think about it and not respond for a while.

So context:  A rarely gives DD2 a bath, and usually it’s because a babysitter has called in sick on the days I have to stay late and pick up DD1 from her dance class or whatever.

Because of Exie’s volatile wording, I decide to forward to all experts involved with my case (play therapist, co-parenting counselor, etc.).  Everyone says it’s best not to respond.  Play therapist says that to give Exie’s statement some context, the girls and dad were just in for a session, and DD2 went on and on about how happy she was about the wedding, and the play therapist changed the subject when she saw Exie tense up.  That perhaps that primed him for whatever was said later that night regarding bath time, likely DD2 blurted something out, as 5 year olds are known to do, and then it was taken in the wrong way.  (Play therapist also thought that DD2 was talking about the wedding, because DD2 may be wishing that her dad could be happy, too, which kind of melted my heart about DD2’s heart).

Co-parenting counselor and attorney #2 (replacement from trial attorney who has since retired) said that while A is doing nothing wrong, to stop the baths, since they happen so rarely.  Attorney #2 says that we don’t want to go down a false accusation suit, it’s a horrible situation.

I do not get fired up about much, but to have Exie dictate what happens in my house when I’ve worked so hard to get him OUT of the house—was hard to swallow.  A is a parent, just like I am a parent, but I agreed to think about this.

Then I spoke with attorney #1—because I was just at a loss.  Who said, Jane, it is perfectly acceptable for a small child to get help in the bath from a parent.  I’d say along the lines of up until 7.5 years of age.  DD2 won’t be young forever, so just do what you need to do.

Then the babysitter called in sick.  So then A was all worried about giving DD2 a bath.  To which I wrote to attorney #1 and just told her that the babysitter was sick, A was going to give her a bath, that we would be sure DD2 washed her body and that A would help with washing hair only.  And that was that.  Or so I thought…

Because DD1 told me that “dad always helps me take a bath.”  And I tried to conceal my surprise and responded—gosh, really?  You’ve been taking showers by yourself for over a year at our house!  And she said, ‘I know, but dad says he has to help me take a bath.”  So I just said, “well honey, you are 9 years old, which is definitely old enough to take a bath by yourself, and don’t be afraid to say so!”

Ugh.  So at this point—I’m planning on not pushing the bath issue (unless DD1 gets uncomfortable—she has developed little breast buds over the last year), unless Exie does. 

And all this time and energy—on a bath.  Who knew?  Grrrrrr.  Where’s that glass of wine, again?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Am I Fat?

Image credit <here>

DD1 asked me this last night, sitting on the toilet, waiting to take her shower. 

Me:  Huh, what makes you ask that, honey?

DD1: Because other girls at school are skinny.  (Makes motions with her hands).  Like, their tummies look different.  (Slides hands over her tummy).

Me:  Well, I don’t think you’re fat, and Dr. S (our pediatrician) doesn’t think you’re fat.

DD1:  Oh.  Okay.  (Off the toilet, getting into the shower).

Me: You know, sweetie, lots of people say what girls should look like, but the most important thing is to be healthy.  Like, you can dance at your dance classes today, right?

DD1:  Yep!

Me:  And you can swim, right?

DD1:  Yep!  I’m a good swimmer now!

Me:  And you can ride your bike?

DD1:  Yes!

Me:  So you know, some girls in this world, they can’t swim or have never learned to ride bikes in their whole lives!

DD1:  Really?  (eyes wide open)

Me:  Yep, it’s pretty lucky we can do the things we do.  Like I think it’s great you can swim all the way to the bottom of the pool and hold your breath under water.

DD1:  Me, too!

Me:  So you know, it’s really important to focus on what your body can DO, rather than what you look like.  Because as long as your body can do the things like swimming and riding bikes and your dance classes, then you’re doing pretty good.  Because you’re healthy and beautiful just the way you are.

DD1:  Okay!

Me:  (please god let this message take root and grow.  Love our bodies for what they can do).


DD1 is in fourth grade.  And I think she’s been having some questions about her body for this past year.  You may have seen the conversation about S E X I posted a while back.  I bought one book for her already—the American Girls series, The Care and Keeping of You, which she has read from cover to cover.  I like that DD1 has the words for what is happening to her (i.e. we are stage 2 of breast development! She announced to her BFF at a sleepover, when her BFF was hesitant to take a shower together like they used to in 2nd and 3rd grade at other sleepovers.  But once they had the words, her BFF was like, “oh, okay!” and off they went like they always had.  Her BFF’s mom was happy to see them feel less awkward and more normal, too).  Let’s hope having the words make all these body changes less mysterious and more normal.  (at least, that’s the hope!)

And since she did ask me about the S E X, The Care and Keeping of You 2, is on its way as I type this. 

I don’t know how to teach my baby girl to love herself, when I also struggle with body issues.  Hopefully, she will always come to me when she has questions like she did last night.  Hopefully, I will be patient and open to hearing her questions and help her feel like it’s okay to ask them.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Are we enough?

 Image credit <here>

A deep well of grief--a place that has no words--lives inside my body.  It moves, sometimes resting on my heart, sometimes rushing through my veins, sometimes receding in my bones so deep that I think it’s disappeared, only to come roaring to life in my ears in the middle of the night.  

I call it the dark place—the place where this tiny infant girl lost her mother in the middle of the night.  After years of therapy, attempting to disentangle the sorrow and anxiety, I try to handle it like this:

I’m no longer that little baby, and as a mother myself now, I have some inkling of understanding in my heart for whatever desperate situation was at hand to leave me behind.  I’ll make myself crazy thinking of all the stories of why and what if, they range from the fantastical (a royal line!) to the dismal (abuse victim!) and everywhere in between.  (I love you and hug you and will never leave you, little girl.  You are the love of my life.)

But this pain—it’s triggered at the most usual and unusual times and spaces.  When I say goodbye to a friend, who I’ve known for 20 years, I cry inconsolable tears, as if my world is falling apart.  When I think of my father dying while I sat beside him, breathing in his last labored breath.  When my mother who raised me can’t understand what I’m saying into the phone, because today is just a bad day for her health condition.  When a few days later, she’s lucid and is like the mom of twenty years ago, debating politics or remembering random details of DD1’s school friends, or DD2’s giggle.  Or how to make turkey gravy from scratch, or reminiscing when she traveled the world for her job.

I like to think that this grief I carry inside me is also the strength that has helped me overcome the worst parts of my story.  It helped me grow strong, to become like a pearl carved by the roughness of the tears and pain, so that I could live through losing my first adopted father to AIDS, living with my mom’s second husband and the strife between my brother, my mother and him, the sense of relief (and guilt for feeling relieved) when he died of cancer.  Losing my father’s partner to AIDS, and the foggy memory of driving six hours in a borrowed car to his funeral with my college boyfriend, then popping pills to numb my heart.  Losing my mom’s third husband, who adopted me as an adult (a real, genuine grandfather for DD1!  DD2 had not yet been born), also to cancer.

My mom’s strength through all of this takes my breath away.  I don’t know know how I could ever measure up to that.  But I try.

Sometimes, I feel like this world is too full of grief and struggle.  I read these stories and my heart aches for them, yearns to make some kind of difference. 

Be the difference, whispers Ghandi, be the difference you want to see in the world.

My heart misses my older brother, who hardly ever talks to me, but at last year’s visit to see my family, he actually stayed home to spend time with me and my daughters and converse with my husband.  His family will likely never travel to where we live, but at least he was there, he didn’t pretend he had a business trip five states away like the time before.

My head understands his distance—I think I remind him of pain, the person who he was before. He needs to distance between the pain from before and who he is now—husband, father, successful entrepreneur.  Why would he want to be bogged down by the inconvenient and sad memories of fighting with our stepfather?  Of feeling betrayed by our mother? 

Are we enough to overcome our grief and pain, to distill it from something negative and overwhelming and transform it into strength?  To really be the change we want to see in the world?

I yearn to be. 

A good friend of mine once wrote in the shadow of her childhood, now grown 48 years later—you know what, you just are.  And in my moments of strength, I agree--you take what’s given to you in this world, and you pull it together and you do the best that you can with what’s in front of you.  Do better and try more in the spaces where you can, and be gentle with yourself when you’re less than perfect. 

Sometimes, my grief is like a blanket.  It comforts me as the pain of what I know, versus the fear of the unknown.  It was what likely helped me pick the life partners who hurt me, and the one I picked to have kids with, it’s likely why my anxiety level continues to tremble the Richter scale to size 7 earthquakes in the middle of the night.  Even now, when I argue (healthy argue) with my hubby, I wonder if I’m falling into my old pattern, gathering the fear that I know close, the comfort of grief.  (I’m still in therapy to break the cycle).

I don’t want grief to be my comfort anymore.

And on those same strong days, I gather up the tendrils of sadness and grief and do my best to weave a pattern out of it—one that comforts my daughters when they’re upset or down (esp when confused after coming home from dad’s house), to support them so they know their voices matter. 

An imperfect quilt—yes I lose my temper and patience and sigh vehemently or raise my voice (Do it NOW!!)—but one that finds ways to validate their feelings (I see you’re upset, honey, I’m sorry you’re upset) but also maintains boundaries (it’s okay to be angry, anger is healthy.  What’s not okay is stomping around or kicking your sister!).

Is it enough?  Do they know that I love them will all my heart?  Am I preparing them to face a world of sexism and racism and to be confident in their voices?  My wish for them is to find happiness in themselves, to be kind to others, to know the difference between true love (friends and family and potential spouses in the future) versus love that comes with a price.  To be courageous in their choices, to put their foot down and not be taken advantage of.  To be strong where they can, to know they can be weak and still be loved.  To trust themselves.  To know they are enough.

Is it enough?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why I'm crying--reasons big and small

Photo Credit: here

The little boy who washed ashore, trying to escape violence and fear with his family.

The father who thought that when one son was alive, went swimming to another son, only to find him drowned, and when he returned to his first son, learned that now both sons were dead.

The girl who was raped and then her elite perpetrator was convicted of a lesser offense.  We should be celebrating that he was held accountable at all, I suppose, which also make me want to cry.

The deck, in general, stacked against the veracity and character of women, simply because we are women, simply because our credibility is always at question.  See any domestic violence case news coverage, there are so many to choose from.

You know, some of these tears are for sorrow and pain.  Others are in frustration and anger.  I’m so upset and it’s okay to be upset, I suppose.  This world is awful.  Why do I even bother?  Why do I even have hope?

Yesterday, DD2 told me “I’m dumb.” 

A couple of weeks ago, coming home from her dad’s house, she started crying, telling me that when “Daddy gets angry” with her, “he calls me dumb.”

I gave her a big hug.  I told her that was definitely not a good word to use, and that when people are angry, they can sometimes say mean things, but it doesn’t mean it’s true.

Lots of hugging and more blubbering ensued—relief (maybe?) on her side, inside tears of concern on my side.  I made a note of this and let the play therapist know.

Cut to yesterday, when the girls came home from dad’s house, DD2 repeated, “I’m dumb.”  Like it’s no big deal.  Like it’s normal, a fact.

I said, “Honey, I don’t know why you’re saying that, but I think you’re really smart and if someone is calling you dumb, you tell me right away!”

She repeated, “I’m dumb!”

I said (realizing after the fact, not the best thing to say), “gosh, I know you just came home from dad’s house and I hope they aren’t saying that over there."

Then DD1 jumped in all defensive about it, “oh no, mommy, if daddy said that, he was talking about if maybe you hit your head, you could get hurt and get dumb.”

So I responded, “well, the most important thing to know is you are both smart and NOT dumb.”

I realize that there are many possibilities about what they’re telling me—perhaps they’re hearing things at dad’s house, then interpreting them, then I hear them, then I interpret them.  That’s advice from the play therapist, to take a step back, and at the same time, to remain vigilant.  And I do take their reports with a grain of salt, my DD2 is excitable and much more inclined to fantasy play than my DD1 who is so staunch in her seat in reality and the concrete world, it’s kind of amazing.

Yet at the same time, I think—am I doing enough to help them?  Is just being positive and upbeat enough?  We say it is, we moms co-parenting with someone who used to abuse us.  I believe it on my good days.  I know I can’t control what happens at his house, I can only control what happens at mine.

I know I have to be “the good parent” who puts the kids first.  Do you ever feel like you’re doing everything you can think of, and it’s still not enough?

On some days, I feel oh so strong.  On other days, I just feel like crying.  Especially because I feel so powerless to change the very big things that are wrong in the world, I at least want to change the things in my little world…