Archives for category: Family

Today is my daughter, Zoey’s 18th birthday. She is a legal adult and she’s done a lot of growing over the years, especially during the very first ones and the most recent ones. My cousin, Portia, once described Zoey as a “singular sensation”. That is an apt description. Zoey is a brilliant, unique, and fiercely talented young woman.

It is difficult to see a child choose a path different from the one followed by my husband and me. We were also creative, smart, and passionate. But we were also careful and diligent in pursuing education and sensible careers. It worked out extremely well for us.

The difficulty for me is not one of wanting my daughter to be just like me or for me to live vicariously through her experience. For me it is difficult because she has taken a path that is unknown to me and what I know of it is that it can be fairly inconsistent.

Instead of worrying about her future, I am going to reflect on what I know about her today.

She is physically healthy.

She is mentally strong.

She has wonderful friends and family.

She is an amazing singer.

She has an amazing mind.

She is an independent thinker.

She has goals and a plan to obtain them.

She is kind and fair.

She is passionate about justice.

She is creative.

She is growing in common sense.

She is incredibly funny.

She loves her family.

She loves her friends.

She opens birthday presents in the hot tub.

 

Happy Birthday, Zoey!

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In the pottery studio, we use “the four bucket system” to clean off glaze from brushes, tongs, and containers. First, we dip our item into bucket #1, then #2, then #3, and then #4 until the item is clean. The purpose of this system is to be more environmentally friendly. I’m not quite sure why it works better but I do know that it is certainly easier on the plumbing. It is a way, in my mind, to be extra clean and conscientious.

One day, I was cleaning a ladle I’d used to fill a small plastic bucket with glaze. I accidentally dropped it into the bucket. Without thinking, I reached down into the bucket, more deeply than necessary. It was like making contact with the dirtiest, muckiest primordial ooze.

Blech! How do I get rid of this? How did I get so dirty when I was trying to be so clean?

This weekend, my people at home are a bit out of sorts. It’s just a bit but I still find myself trying very hard to tread carefully. Nonetheless, I keep finding my hand in the ooze.

When people say, “Life is messy”, they aren’t kidding.

I was walking in my neighborhood last week and I passed two men. One of them had a newborn strapped to his chest in one of those little baby carriers. His baby looked blissfully asleep and his father looked like he was enjoying his time with his son.

This is not an uncommon sight where I live. It was a rather uncommon sight when I was a girl. When I was young, a man changing his own child’s diaper was considered a rarity. Men played with their babies. They were not as involved with the day-to-day caretaking as they are now. Caretaking was considered “woman’s work” and therefore “beneath” a man. It still is, to a certain extent,  but there really has been a significant overall increase in men’s level of involvement in their children’s lives not to mention an increased appreciation for “women’s work”. I have been providing mental health services to families for since 1991. When I started out this meant working with mothers and their children. Father participation was not common. It is far more common now and it is rare that I never meet with a child’s father.

When I saw the man with his infant, I smiled in recognition of what our culture has gained from the women’s movement. There is still sexism. “Feminist” is still a “bad word”. But it is difficult to deny if I REALLY think about it that men’s lives have been improved by feminism. To know your children better and to be a nurturing force in a vulnerable being’s life are gifts. With the loosening of gender roles, I also think it is easier for gay men to be parents together.

Civil rights and social movements are often met with resistance, the resistance that to give up a privilege is an absolute loss. That there is nothing to be gained through change. There is a lack of acceptance.

Loss, perceived or actual, is often a sticking point. It is a place where we hesitate, trip, or in some cases, fall into a deep pit, for which climbing out is virtually impossible.

Honestly, sometimes we want to stay in the pit even if climbing out is a possibility. We struggle. We suffer. We want to be heard, seen, and felt. At other times, we deny that we are in a pit. “What, this isn’t a pit? Everything is fine.” This is another kind of nonacceptance, and it too causes suffering. Denying and suppressing loss and the grief that comes with it, is a short term solution with painful consequences. In the world of cancer and other griefs, I see this acutely.

In the world of cancer and other griefs, I see this acutely. It can be so difficult to find balance. It is so difficult to find the time and space we need to grieve our own losses and come to some kind of peaceful place with them. On top of that, there is no final destination. Grief is an iterative process, one that we must come back to over and over. This is why we can get on with life and yet not ever “be over” a significant loss in our lives.

This weekend, I have been feeling anxious. I had awful nightmares last night. I feel justifiably underappreciated by my family. However, the way my impatience has played out in my behavior is a way that increases my suffering as well as that of my family.

I came back to my well-spring. I did a sitting meditation and I am sitting her with my own thoughts and feelings, writing this post. I can feel myself letting go of hurt and anxiety. I am not quite solidly balanced, but I am getting there. I am nurturing myself and it is radiating within. When I leave this office and rejoin my family, I am hoping to radiate compassion toward them, as well.

The Winter Solstice was three days ago. It has been so dark, which is to be expected at this latitude but it has also been persistently gray and rainy for weeks. Yes, there have been a couple of clearings in the sky, “sun breaks”, as they are called in these parts, but it has been pretty gray around here. Oh yeah, it has also been pretty windy, too windy for me to carry an umbrella during my last few walks.

As unpleasant as the weather has been, we eagerly anticipated the Solstice. This is the day when the pit of darkness finds its deepest point. On the 23rd, I took another walk. It seemed that I could actually tell that there was one more minute of morning light we had gotten. I knew that we’d get an additional minute on the end of the day.

Two minutes. Two more minutes of sunlight. I thought about it as I walked in the rain and wind. I thought about it even as the rain soaked my gloves and my hands grew cold.

Two minutes of light is noticeable.

Two minutes is meaningful.

I fixed my gratitude on those two minutes.

Thinking of this, I took another two minutes to do a visual mindfulness exercise. I turned my head to the left and looked at the plants and rocks that ran along the sidewalk. Turning away was a natural thing to do as during these moments, a rainy wind was pelting me in the face. I saw some interesting patterns and lovely colors.

In between these mindful minutes, I had a few thoughts of, “Wow, it is nasty out.” But those thoughts did not last long. I just returned to walking.

I got where I wanted to go. I found meaning. I found beauty. A couple of minutes at a time.

There are times in my life when those moments and small bits of time, the time that is not awful, provide a glimpse into a fuller reality. I find them anchoring.

Today I had more than minutes of not awful. Today I had a lovely Christmas with my family.

Ivy enjoying an extra minute of morning light. 12/23/15

Ivy enjoying an extra minute of morning light. 12/23/15

I started writing this post while at the Palm Springs Airport waiting to board the first flight back to Seattle, which is my home. My family and I had just enjoyed the long Thanksgiving weekend in the southern California desert.

I have long associated Palm  Springs with wealthy retirees and mid-century modern style, a place where the Hollywood elite used to live.

I chose Palm Springs as a 50th birthday trip due to its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s not that I don’t like the other offerings of the area, the style, the history, or the architecture. I love those things. But what I also love and what I needed for this trip was to in nature and to be in the sunshine.

I had never visited this part of the country.  We flew into Palm Springs in the late morning. We flew into a valley surrounded by mountains. The mountains were right there. Close. Really close. I had no idea. I was smiling as I lugged my cooler full of food to the rental car. (My allergies mean that I can’t eat at restaurants and there was no way I was going to waste time in California at the grocery store, especially on Thanksgiving Day.) We drove to the rental house, ate a little lunch, and my daughter, who hates traveling and doesn’t suffer in silence, retreated to her room. It was just after noon.

You know what is open on Thanksgiving besides grocery stores? National Parks. I looked at my husband and said, “Let’s drive to Joshua Tree.” We climbed into our rental car and drove past more and more mountains, mountain-shaped stacks of rocks, wind farms, and tumble weeds. We arrived at the entrance to the park and pulled over.

Joshua Tree is full of surreal beauty, of endless marvels to behold, despite the fact that it is a very harsh land with not enough water most of the time and too much at others. In the summer, it is incredibly hot. There is not a lot at Joshua Tree to support life even on a beautiful cool November day. And yet there is life, tucked into the lifeless rocks and in the soil, which could kindly be described as “poor”.

This is Joshua Tree in it’s quiet stillness. I am from a mountainous area and I know what the majesty of mountains can mean. Where there are mountains, there are the edges of geologic plates, those seams in the Earth’s surface that prove to us that there is no such thing as solid ground. There are earthquakes. There are volcanoes. There is a sizable section of the southwest border of Joshua Tree that runs right along the southern tail of the famed San Andreas Fault. I got a look at it from a vista overlooking the mountains and Coachella Valley. I could see it! Honestly, despite the fact that I live in a part of the world that is considered to be geologically dangerous and have happily camped on top of the large caldera also known as Yellowstone National Park, being so close to that fault was a tad disconcerting.

This area is an area of natural disaster. It is an area of famine and devastation. As I was hiking, I couldn’t help but think about how this area is not only beautiful despite past devastation but in large part, because of it. And yet, I was having a marvelous time. To be honest, I have found myself worn down lately by the onslaught discouraging and heart-breaking national and world events. A lot of people are being violent and hateful. Actually, there will always be individuals who commit violent and hateful acts. This is sad but what I find nearly heartbreaking and stretched to my limits to bear is the violence and hatefulness of our culture. Dealing with individuals is one thing. Trying to change sick and dysfunctional aspects of a culture, is another endeavor entirely.

Lately, I have found myself more discouraged. I have found myself to be more harshly judgmental. Harsh judgment is incompatible with compassion. I strive to be a peaceful and compassionate person. I have found myself struggling to maintain my balance. The change is not dramatic. I’m not flailing but I feel more effort of my daily life. When I was in Joshua Tree, I found balance and peace. The stark and beautiful landscape pulled me into the present and into a state of mindfulness.

I have been practicing mindfulness for about 3 1/2 years now. I’ve been walking most days and taking photos for about that long, too. I try to eat healthfully. I try to post regularly to this blog.  I’ve lost a bit of steam and focus. I have been contemplating strategies to help me renew my efforts and avoid losing further momentum.

Last night, my friend Rachel, who is also one of my major college mentors, posted on Facebook. “I want to start a cyber commune. Any ideas?” I suggested that we start a FB study group to do a mindfulness meditation program together. She asked me to lead it. Seeing the opportunity to refocus my mindfulness practice, I immediately agreed. Within 5-10 minutes and with my agreement, Rachel had set up the group and we started inviting people. I identified a self-guided online program last night.

I don’t want to spend so much time looking at the fault in the valley, wringing my hands, and hoping for rain.

Joshua trees and rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua trees and rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

 

Keys View Point.

Keys View Point.

 

From Keys View Point, overlooking Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault.

From Keys View Point, overlooking Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault.

 

 

 

I am more comfortable giving than receiving emotional support. Nonetheless, I have found my self being “a friend in need” more than not recently. I have also been working a lot, trying to keep my head down, and keeping myself busy. It worked to a certain extent then it didn’t.

I had also planned a busy summer with lots of fun activities, spending time with friends, spending time with family, and spending time in nature. I was very much looking forward to spending three days with friends from out of town. I knew that it would be fun, they would have fun, and there would be some light and easy times.

And then it happened. I lost track of myself, my fatigue, and my anxiety. The beginning of the visit was marked by my anxiety and the bags under my eyes. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was tired. I have slept solidly through the night once in the last two months and sometimes I am awake for a number of hours. Not sleeping well takes a major toll on me. I took on more than I could handle comfortably and then life gave me much much more. And I didn’t ask for enough help and when I didn’t do it in the way that solicits a whole lot of empathy.

Lo and behold, after a brief but intense temper tantrum, I got my shit together and focused on having a break from my daily grind, spending time with dear friends and with my husband. I had a wonderful three days. I went to mountains and islands. We talked and laughed. The tight worry in my chest and the cotton in my brain eased. I remembered what it is like to have relaxed joy.

Then I came back to my regularly scheduled program of life. I immediately picked up on the stress and anxiety in my household. Initially, I felt disappointment that I was getting wound up again so quickly. Then I remembered that I have skills. I have things to try. I started using paced breathing, a technique to strong emotions quickly. It worked. Today, I am feeling the anxiety again. And now I am writing, another strategy that helps. My heart is slowing and I am finding myself more and more in the present moment as I type these words.

I am a friend in need and I got the support I needed from both other people and from my own internal resources.

Today, I am grateful for my family.

Today, I am grateful for my friends.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today, I am grateful for my tenacity.

 

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I am on vacation with my family in British Columbia, Canada. Until yesterday, we were staying in Ucluelet, an incredibly beautiful place on the sea. We’ve spent a fair bit of time on boats. There was the Washington State Ferry ride from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, BC. There was a boat tour to see humpback whales, of which we saw several including one named, “Pinkie”. I thought, “Holy crap, please don’t tell me that this whale got it’s name to promote breast cancer awareness.” No fear, friends, her name is pinkie because she has a pink underside, which I was able to see with one of her great lunges out of the water. Unbelievable!

One of the boat rides we took was to Meares Island, off the coast of Tofino. It is a tiny island with giant trees. We spent two hours hiking on short but difficult trails before going back to the shore to wait for a small boat to take us back to the Tofino. Dennis, the captain of this 4-seater, was a character and regaled us with tales from the local area, most of which I believe were actually true.

Dennis pointed out a tiny island, “This island is for sale for $850,000.”

I don’t have that much money, but still, less than a million for a whole island? Plus, there is the Canadian/U.S. exchange rate, which today would knock nearly 25% off of the price. And it was a beautiful little place, not far from the large island of Vancouver. I could see two or three houses on it. What a deal. What a find. What an idyllic place to live.

I was gazing upon this little lump of paradise on a beautiful sunny day. Then I thought of living that close to the sea. Then I thought of the winter storms that are here. I also thought of the steep rocks on the side of the island. I wondered how many houses have fallen into the water! I suspect that keeping a house in shape there would cost a fortune, not to mention require a great deal of time and effort to maintain. Then there is the fact that it is located in one of the rainiest parts of the world.

Every moment and every thought were real. This island is idyllic. It is dangerous. It is costly. It is beautiful. It is miserably wet. This has been a wonderful vacation, by and large. I have reconnected with my family, with nature, with much needed rest and adventure. But travel is also exhausting and at times quite difficult.

Yesterday, I experienced the swell of good times, like catching a good wave of meeting delightful people and traveling through incredible natural beauty. But there were also times, when I got the shit kicked out of me, pummeled over and over, in that way that at the time, I fear that I will never get my head above water.

Fortunately, this did not last the whole day and even in the midst of my misery, at one point, I was able to shift out of it enough to get some perspective and hope that the situation could change. The wave that I was being pummeled by was the difficulty of parenting.

The sea is beautiful, powerful, and always changing.

I like on that little island whether I pony up the $850,000 or not, whether I wanted to or not, whether I planned for this or not, whether it suits my lifestyle or not.

Sometimes this feels like the greatest blessing and sometimes it feels dark and scary.

I don’t know what today will bring. My family is sleeping in.

Today, I will remind myself that every feeling has a beginning and an end. Every feeling lasts only about 30 seconds as long as we don’t respond to it in a way that keeps it firing in our brain. When I think of this, I realize how powerful our brains are. Our brains can sustain a swell or break it.

This is not easy power to exercise but it is possible. This possibility creates a sense of safety and hope for me today. I will try to remind myself of this.

Today is my last full day of vacation.

I have only one more full day of sightseeing to endure or enjoy. To a significant extent, a powerful extent, I have a say in how this plays out.

In the meantime, I’m going to reconnect with some of my photos from the trip, which gives me joy and peace. Perhaps they will bring you the same.

 

DSC02421On the ferry from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, BC, looking toward Canada.

 

DSC02449Anemone from the Ucluelet Aquarium, a small gem, in which they catch and release animals from local waters, every season.

 

DSC02514Part of the Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet, BC.

DSC02545I was enchanted by these puppets, designed by First Nations artists. This bear, holding a salmon, was designed by a Haida artist. It contains a teaching, “Be strong. Take care of those who are less strong.” I thought it was beautiful and adorable so I bought it for my friend, Greg’s grandkids. Then I immediately sent him a photo of it so that I wouldn’t get tempted to keep it for myself. Then I bought one for myself a few days later!

DSC02596Cox Bay, Tofino, BC.

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DSC02682 (1)An unexpected twist on a deer fern. Meares Island.

 

DSC02703 (1)Bald eagle, Tofino.

DSC02715Middle Beach, Tofino.

DSC02785Coombs Market, famous for the goats that graze on the sod roof. Alas, I was too busy socializing with my friends, Kathryn and Nel, below, to remember to take a photo!

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My teen had a somewhat tumultuous weekend. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens. Usually, during low times, she clams up, goes to her room, and doesn’t share what’s bothering her. Later, she may share but not until it’s resolved.

My child, like a lot of teens, has had trouble finding a niche. However, she’s had trouble for some years and the trouble she has now is more than typical. She is sensitive, emotional, and outgoing. She is passionate about her friends and loves belonging to groups whether it is band, her circle of friends at school, or members of her choir. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of stability in her connections.

Yesterday, she told me that she felt sad. She didn’t tell me why but she was also asking me a lot of questions, which gave me hints into what might be bothering her. Talking to my kid is like talking to a butterfly as she flits in and out of the conversation as well as in and out of the room. I am no mind reader but I am a pretty good guesser. Nonetheless, a lot of the things I say to her are not taken well. We’d had a couple of good talks over the weekend and I thought I’d take a chance. Also, I decided to discuss things generally, instead of personally, something I know as a professional works better with teens, but I often forget to do as a mother.

I asked her to sit down on the couch beside me and this is what I said, “It is really hard in life to find a group in which you feel you belong. Sometimes, you discover a group and it seems perfect and wonderful. As time goes by, you form relationships and there are conflicts. People can try to exclude you. Then you can feel like you don’t belong anymore. This is really hard.” She nodded her head in recognition. I continued. “You will always belong in this family. No matter what.” She smiled, reached for my hand, and squeezed it. “Thanks, Mom.”

I said the right thing at the right time and place to help ease my child’s pain. It is the bittersweet spot of parenting in which I rarely find myself. I am grateful for this.

Many years ago, I was working on a research study evaluating the efficacy of bullying prevention program for elementary schools. To do this kind of research, schools must be recruited for participation. I was placed in charge of the task of contacting schools and districts as well as making presentations onsite. If memory serves, I made over 50 presentations. (In perhaps another post, I will write more about this. I enjoy public speaking but this was a very high pressure situation. Basically, I threw up about 2o minutes before nearly every presentation though I think I did a good to excellent job with everyone. Looks can be deceiving. A person can be funny, informative, and relaxed, and still have thrown up 20 minutes earlier. You just never know about another person’s life, just by looking.)

One of the presentations was to all elementary principals in a particular school district. After I was completed, there was a bit of time for one on one conversations. There was one principal who made a bee-line for me. She gave me the kind of handshake that starts as a firm “how do you do” and turns quickly in a seemingly never ending grip. Meanwhile she was earnestly telling me about her school. My co-worker, Truc, was also there. Truc observed this action intently; Truc is an excellent observer as well as being very funny. Later Truc said, ‘Elizabeth, she was saying, “Please, Elizabeth you must help our school. You ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN HELP US!”‘

School principals have very demanding jobs with a lot of rushing around. That principal had a story to tell me and she was going to hold onto me until she had a chance to finish and could see that I understood.

Back in days as a researcher, that kind of poignant social interaction was rare. In my clinical life in private practice, especially as a psychologist with a specialty in diagnostic assessment, it is a frequent occurrence.

Everyone has a story, a life story. Families in need, need to tell their story. Some of them do not know where to start. Some of them don’t know how to stop. Both of those extremes keep me on my toes. In particular, parents and their teen children who engage in self-harmful and life threatening behaviors carry an incredible urgency in their stories. This is not my treatment specialty but within my diagnostic specialty, suicidality is much more prevalent than in the general population, especially for girls. So I encounter this situation with some frequency and help families secure appropriate services, which unfortunately, are in short supply.

Parents of suicidal teens are some of the most isolated people you will ever meet. They have a story that they are afraid to tell for fear of being judged harshly, among other reasons. Given the way that many people judge teens and their parents, it is a realistic fear, unfortunately. Sometimes we see another person’s tragic situation and blame them for it. To believe that they have control over it makes us feel safe.

I have heard many stories from parents, so many in fact, that I can tell you one that story is based on many.

I am incredibly alone. My house is full of people and each of us are shell shocked and alone. The loneliest moments are when we are yelling at each other.

I have met many many healthcare providers. I have gotten anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes to tell my story. There is so much to say, much more than I ever thought there would be to say in my life, ever.

You are a stranger to me but I need to tell my story. I will trust you with my helplessness. I will trust you with my failures as a person and as a parent. I will trust you with my shame at times for the unspoken regrets I have about ever choosing to be a parent. Bringing this child into the world has been painful and ungratifying but I will try to move try to move Heaven and Earth to save him.

I will trust you the best that I can. Sometimes I may not do a very good job. Three seconds later, I may do a good job again. My emotional life is like that; it is lived three seconds at a time, either dealing with, waiting for, or trying to ward off the next crisis.

I will do this because it is my job, to put myself second when my child is sick, so very sick that she may take herself from this world before she really even knows who she is, where she is, or the things that can heal with maturity.

Please help us.

We want a different story to tell.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been having a particularly hard time with parenting challenges. I am also working a lot, back to full time hours for the next few months. I am taking off for a number of trips this summer as well as time to entertain out-of-town guests. When I don’t work, I don’t get paid. So on the weeks that I am working, I am putting in extra hours. I am also working extra because for reasons I cannot yet determine, after 12 years of private practice, I am having a particularly hard time collecting balances from the families with whom I work. If I don’t get paid, I don’t get paid.

I may have mentioned about a thousand times that I am not currently popular with my teenaged daughter. I can tell myself over and over  and even from a point of authority as a child/adolescent psychologist, that to a certain extent, this is normative of mother/teen daughter relationships. But I can also tell you, normative or not, it is a source of great pain in my life.  A mama is built to be happy when her girl is happy. Mine is not only frequently unhappy, but often unhappy with me. I have forged a way in my life to be happy, nonetheless, but I have to tell you, it requires a LOT of effort.

This morning, I was feeling overwhelmed with my workload. This is an extremely busy week. Part of that business is related to our going away for the long weekend to a house on the beach. I am very much looking forward to it. I thought to myself, “I’m too busy to walk today.” Then I thought, “I’ll just take a 30 minute long walk. That was my original walking goal, anyway.”

I put on my walking clothes and ventured out into a foggy Seattle morning. I included the local coffee shop, Bird on a Wire, in my walk, I do this when I need an extra boost. The people that work there are always so nice to me and the coffee is a special treat. Angel was the barista today. He is in his mid-twenties and he lives up to his name. Angel customarily introduces people to each other in the coffee shop. He has brought John and me a glass of water when he thought the coffee line was really long and we might need a little refreshment. Angel is also really funny and he actually took his nephew, whom he frequently babysits, to see my daughter’s choir performance!

This morning, I saw that Angel was taking extra care with my latte. He added extra art.

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As he handed the coffee to me, he explained, “You are the butterfly and your husband and daughter are the hearts. You are apart from them but looking on to make sure they are well.” Then he laughed. He had made up a little story.

I said, “Angel, I think you know my family better than you realize. My daughter prefers her dad. I know this may change.”

Angel looked sincerely sad for me. I know he likes John and me a lot. We like him, too.

Little moments can mean a lot. Little kindnesses can go a long way when I stop to notice them.

I’m glad that I noticed today because I really needed it.

Thank you, Angel.

P.S. I ended up walking 4 1/2 miles.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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