Thursday, January 13, 2011

Growing Up is Hard to Do

My son just turned ten. Double digits. A whole decade gone except for the memories. The hype of this significant birthday and the psychic shift in the way he perceives himself and how he needs me now (or doesn’t) is bringing up some difficult stuff for both of us. For me it’s achingly bittersweet. While I'm proud and awed by this older version of my son, I'm also sad. I find myself missing the little guy Zeke was, all wispy haired and milky, running around the house half naked with oversized Tonka trucks, whooping with unadulterated joy as he spies the garbage truck out our living room window. That small, sweet, curious boy who loved his Mama without question, who needed me in very tangible ways that I could easily deliver. He's still his Mama's boy but his life is more complicated. Parenting issues are definitely more intense. We’re heavy into sorting out bullying, stereotyping, what it means to be a good friend, believing in yourself but not being boastful, healthy eating, exercise and body image, taking on more responsibility and finding age appropriate freedom. Some days my heart breaks at how hard it is to grow up.

Zeke is also grappling with all the power struggles of being a fourth grade boy. He’s an athletic kid who likes to get physical and rough and tumble, which used to be plain old fun but now the games are rife with inflated egos, fierce competition and constant comparisons. He’s getting called fat and his friendships aren’t so straightforward any more. Yesterday he cried that deep cry of a small boy who is wounded and overwhelmed by the unfairness of life and I just wanted to go and lambaste the friend who hurt him, who continues to hurt him. But I can’t and he doesn’t want me to any way. So I teeter on that fence of trying to know what is his to work out and when it’s important for me to step in. How to balance holding on and letting go. Creating space for him to figure things out himself so by eighteen Mama can be obsolete. No easy task.

Zeke is a big personality and I’m no shrinking violet so we get into it sometimes. I find myself appalled at some of his opinions and actions. Like the way he lords over his little sister on occasion, puffing himself up and raising his fist at her just for the fun of it. Or how he struts around bragging about his abilities as an athlete. Or makes some rash judgment of a street person, or a guy wearing saggers and a bandana or the latest substitute teacher. It’s tough to like him sometimes and the onslaught of teachable moments is overwhelming. My husband and I are working over time. Half the battle is resisting turning every issue into a teachable moment because it’s suffocating for a kid like mine. Often it is better to let him figure it out; hold my tongue, which isn’t my strong suit and give him the space to keep discovering what he thinks, how much meaning his words have and who he. Coming up under the problem softly instead of going head to head always works best. Remembering to do that in the moment is tricky. It also helps to remind myself that he is ostensibly a great kid.

The pursuit of space and freedom for Zeke eats up a lot of our time these days. How can I let my son manage his time and not micro-manage his every move? What responsibilities can I hand over to him where I do not have to constantly look over his shoulder or give instructions? Where can he go without me? What’s safe and appropriate? Being a city kid who lives in a rental house with a wall of windows and a patio garden for a back yard is tough on an active guy like Zeke. It seems like there are a lot of “No’s” at our house. Plus he has to share a room with his sister and that’s getting old but having his own room can’t happen any time soon. Poor guy. The best I can do right now is to stay on it. Keep the lines of communication open, let him know I love him and will go to bat for him when he needs me to and keep breathing and laughing. Thank god for deep cleansing breaths and for humor. Both go a long way in offsetting the difficulty of growing up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Purposeful Writing
 a Tool for Coping and Thriving

“The story of our life is the substance of it. And our story is also the cross we bear. It can simultaneously, be both our joy and our suffering, our enlightenment and our ignorance.” 

Deena Metzger
 Author of Writing for Your Life

Beginning the new year is traditionally a time for introspection, a time when many of us look back on the previous year and assess what went well and what was difficult, what we have to be thankful for and what we are happy to let fade into the past. Many of us feel a keen desire to make changes and go deeper into our authentic selves. Deciding what to let go of and what to keep can be a healthy exercise that helps us set our intentions for the year. Purposeful writing is the perfect tool for such a job. You’d be surprised by how simply writing for five minutes a day can unearth your inmost desires, your hidden agendas and your secret dreams and help you to make sense of your life.

Writing about your experience helps you to understand yourself, other people, and gives you more insight into the human condition. And sharing your story connects you to others whose stories offer you comfort in return. You can rejoice in knowing that someone else has been through what you are going through and has survived. You can cry with those who have suffered losses and learned to live with grief. You can laugh with those who see the world with irreverence and humor. The story of your life can be your children’s legacy, pay tribute to someone you admire, organize your memories, illuminate new ideas, and teach others what you know. 

Writing can capture a happy time, soothe an angry heart, or offer clarity in a sticky, overwhelming moment. It becomes a trusted friend who accepts what you’re saying without interrupting you or trying to fix what’s wrong. 

When you write, there can be a release from struggle or uncertainty. Just the act of writing, without over-thinking or judging yourself, allows your brain to empty into your hand and onto the page, where you can see it and experience it as separate from yourself. It can give you clarity and be a record of where you’ve been or a goal for where you need to go. Writing helps to find your way through the morass of everyday existence. It is accessible, inexpensive, and immediate. Paper and pen or an available computer is all you need to get started! 

I teach writing to people from all walks of life, but I especially love my classes for pregnant and new mamas. As a Mom myself, writing has been my lifeline and my children LOVE reading about what they were like inside my belly, how they were born and how they have grown and developed. (And I’d hardly remember a lick of it if I hadn’t written it down.)

Pregnancy, birth and mothering are filled with transformational mythic journeys where you are called out of your ordinary life and into a big, new adventure unlike anything you‘ve ever experienced. The richness, strength, profundity, and perspective that come from writing about this process are awe-inspiring for both the writer and the reader.

So why not start 2011 by writing about your day-to-day experiences? It’ll help you to make sense of what you're going through, navigate toward your goals and keep you sane, centered, and creative. Whether you are a mother or not, purposeful writing is a simple way to stay solidly in touch with yourself while you ride the rollercoaster of life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mamahood, Middle Age and Menopause

I’ve got two school age kids, a new puppy, a rabbit, a fish, a husband, a part time teaching career, a full time writing career and a 49th birthday coming straight at me like a comet hurtling through space ready to collide with my Capricornian stars and burst into the resplendent colors of a cataclysmic planetary shift. Teetering on the precipice of my 7th 7, I feel the last of my cells regenerating, reconfiguring me into the latest version of myself. On this birthday I officially become Middle Age Suze complete with the Hot Flash, Night Sweat Dream House, and the Midlife Crisis Convertible. (Maybe I’ll be the first to market Middle Age Barbie.) While I agree to succumb to being a middle-aged woman and all that entails, I hate sticking the label on myself. And it’s not because I’m vain. Well, maybe a little. I do get all puffed up when people gasp when I reveal my age. “Oh my God, you don’t look 48 at all! You look amazing!” I know it’s shallow to be proud of holding gravity at bay but any port in a storm. The real reason I don’t want to be middle aged is that I was supposed to be a lot further along in life than I am. I’m supposed to be slowing down and getting ready to retire, learning Spanish and how to play the guitar. I’m not supposed to volunteering in my daughter’s second grade class and wondering where my next job is coming from – that’s for the 30’s!!!!

Math isn’t my strong suit but I do know that I’ve been middle aged since my 39th birthday. I just couldn’t think of myself as that as I was pregnant with my first child. The two didn’t mesh. Then I had my second child at 41 and tandem nursing wasn’t something a matron did so I just wasn’t one. Now that I’m actually on the downside of my mortality, I feel compelled to take on my middle age status. Something to do with claiming the second phase of my life. Second phase - even though living to 98 seems highly unlikely but I entertain the thought because my children are young and I’d get to see their lives unfold. Another 49 years. I don’t know if I have the stamina.

I’ve been awake since 2003. And I don’t mean enlightened. I mean actually awake. My daughter never slept, still doesn’t much and she’s nearly 8 and then I reinvented myself as a freelance writer, a career path I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’m either up trying to find work, worrying about finding work or working on a deadline. And now I am even more awake from menopausal hormones. I can’t stop thinking of that old joke…”How do you make a hormone? Kick her in the shins.” Someone or something’s kicking me in the shins all night these days. Kids in our bed, finances, obsessive thought loops, a whining puppy, deep questions like, “When will everyone I love in the world die?” “Why aren’t I a better global citizen?” “Why can’t I keep my house as clean as I used to?” I’m dying here. I know, we all are. But really, my eyes are gritty and I had to get reading glasses, and I can’t remember words like refrigerator when it’s right in front of me and I’m a writer! My usual vim and vigor has vacated leaving me with a kind of sloth like quality and a persistent longing for my bed, which is always just around the corner since I work from home. It’s not the vibrant life I envisioned for myself. I mean obsessing about my bed constantly and it’s empty. No hot hunk or husband with a come hither look calling me toward it, just a blistering exhaustion. So there’s that.

And there’s how not asleep at the wheel I am. It’s like I’m on a triple espresso, Red Bull, crystal meth high, I am so awake, uber-conscious of every emotional landscape, every vibe, every buried thought, possible thought, that I swear I can feel a cell divide. I feel the intensity of each moment, every event locally and globally, the plight of the homeless under the overpass, the Mamas and children in Afghanistan, the pain of my aging parents and the elderly neighbor who seems so lonely. Being so awake makes me even more tired. I thought middle age meant letting go easier, not caring so much about what people think or feel, chilling out a little. But my middle age is a kind of revving engine that’s racing towards applying to graduate school, buying a puppy, inventing new classes to teach and planning new exercise strategies for me and my children. On this birthday as I boldly take the throne of middle age, I will say a prayer for myself to embrace all that I am, all I have done and then promptly send myself to bed to get some sleep for god’s sake.