Archives for posts with tag: Parenting

Who, what, where, how, and why are interrogatives, nouns that signal a question.

Very soon after babies start speaking words we understand, they start asking questions, “what” and “who” questions, most commonly phrased in one baby word, “Da’at?” (That, as in “what’s that?” or “who’s that?”) They are learning nouns, the names for people, places and things.

As parents, one of the challenging stages of our children’s development happens a few years later, when we are CONSTANTLY asked, “Why?” We provide the explanation, which is followed up with another, “Why?” It can be exhausting as parents often convey to me.

However, finding out “why” is not always the function of these questions. Some children are just learning that “why” is part of having conversation. Asking “why” is a way of guiding the direction of the conversation, a powerful skill, indeed. Sometimes “why” serves the function of stalling for bed, for clean-up, or for any other distasteful parental instruction that has just been given.

When I was a psychology researcher, there were a lot of questions phrased as “why”. But were they really “why” questions? It seems to me that most scientific questions are actually answering “how” questions; they address questions related to process and sequence. In treatment research, the question is even more rudimentary, “Does it work?” Treatments manipulate many many variables and as a result, it can be difficult to explicate how they work even if they appear to do so. I mean, we have ideas and models for how we think treatments may work but it is difficult to know for sure.

“How” and “why” questions can also preface statements of distress. “How did this happen?” “Why me?” Having a plausible explanation for situations, even if they are not objectively true, can be rather comforting and reduce distress.

“Why” questions are also a concentration of philosophy and religion. “Why are we here?” “Why am I here?”

As a person drawn to complexity, you might think that I would love pondering these big questions. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I even enjoy it. But some questions are so large and complex that trying to answer the question seems to be a great oversimplification. We have enough people boiling down big problems to utter simplicity, much to the detriment of our world. Most of the current presidential candidates come to mind.

Why are we here?
Why did I get cancer?
Why is my kid having such a challenging time with life?
Why am I here?

More and more, these questions are replaced by:
“I am here.”

Most days that is more than enough.

Sometimes I walk into the chaos of my life and I think, “Who is in charge here?”

I look to my left and to my right. Nothing. Nobody. Silence. Just me.

But in the stillness there is clarity.

I can handle loneliness because truly, I am never alone.

I can handle responsibility because truly, I am very competent.

But confusion gives me no direction at all except to spin in a circle.

So today, I am grateful for clarity. I believe that with it, I can move mountains, or at the very least keep my feet solidly beneath me and traveling forward.

 

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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.

DSC02671Meares Island.

 

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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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.

We all know people who are hard to contact. They don’t return phone calls, emails, or texts on a consistent basis. My husband is one of those people. It’s kind of a joke in our extended network of family and friends. He’s not mean or thoughtless. He just gets wrapped up in what he is doing at the time and has trouble shifting gears. To be fair, he has gotten much more reliable about returning text messages, though it is not unusual for him to text me a question, my immediately answer it, and then my not hear from him again for quite some time.

Consequently, I don’t communicate with him as much as I’d like to when he’s not home. It’s not particularly effective or satisfying. But I do know that if I REALLY need to contact him at work, if the situation is urgent, I can do it. We have a system. I text him, call his cell phone, and call his office desk phone, one right after the other. Then he knows that he needs to drop what he is doing and to contact me. I don’t do this often, in fact, it’s been years and I don’t even remember the reason I last engaged the Bat phone/text/land line sequence.

John is in southern Utah with his step-dad, camping and backpacking. They’ve been planning the trip for a long time. It is a 10 day long trip, which is slightly longer than our family vacations. They on Saturday of last week. They will return on Tuesday of next week. They are seeing incredible country. John is texting photos to me every day as well as “I miss you” and “I love you” texts. I’ve spoken to him twice by phone. It’s not as if we are not communicating and in fact, this is much more frequent technology-supported communication than we typically exchange. But I can’t rely on being able to contact him at any time. Phone reception is spotty.

I don’t know exactly why but since the day he has left, our daughter has been having a very hard time, and shall we say, she is not suffering in silence. I feel like I am alone in some kind of parenting Hell. We did have a brief texting conversation this morning. He’d spoken to her yesterday and was worried about her, based on the conversation they’d had. I’ve been in a tricky position of wanting him to enjoy his trip but at the same time, I need support and he is my husband. I tried to need less than I did and as usually is the case, this strategy does not work well and I end up getting needier than I was in the first place. This morning, in a texting conversation I told him that I would not agree to him being way and unreachable for so long again. It was not my plan to tell him this. That’s just going to make him worry and detract from his trip. People, I am a work in progress. I will keep trying.

Sometimes being alone is a beautiful and peaceful place. Sometimes it’s just lonely.

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

Photo of John by Don Girvin, 5/2/15

As I’ve mentioned previously, my husband and I both love to write. And as luck would have it, we met in a college English Composition class. I read his short stories. He read my poetry. We talked about books. I remember guessing that he was an English major, only to be greatly surprised that he was completing a computer science degree and considering dropping the class due to his heavy course load.

Soon after our daughter was born, it was clear that she was verbally precocious. The day she turned 8 months old, it was finally clear that the “da da” she’d been babbling consistently for several days was, “Dada”. I remember the first time she said something intentionally funny. She pointed at me and said, “Baby” and then to herself and said, “Mimi”, her name for me at the times. Then she giggled like crazy and repeated the joke over and over. She was less than 10 months old at the time.

As she grew older, she regaled us with thoughts and questions far beyond her years. She “cracked the code” of reading rather early, reading her name through sight word recognition just before her second birthday. She went on to become a voracious reader.

So you would not blame us for expecting that a girl with such facility with language and so many interesting things to say would love to write. But she didn’t. I remember meeting with her 6th grade honor’s English/social studies teacher for conferences. She showed us a worksheet on which students were to answer short questions about Greek civilizations. Our daughter had originally started all of her answers to the “why” questions with “Because”. When her teacher told her not to start her answers with the word, “Because”, she just crossed out the word and left sentence fragments.

Even in high school, my daughter with an incredibly high verbal IQ would write as little as possible and use non-specific vocabulary or worse, non-words like “kinda” and “sorta”. Then there was her habit of not following the writing instructions. This was at times, unintentional and at other times, intentional. The latter writings had a definite voice and tone and it’s name was “smart ass”. Essays for final exams would start out as, “I know that this is not what you want me to write but…”

Every once in awhile, she would write something brilliant. Earlier in the school year she remarked to me, “Mom, I write two ways, really good and really bad.” I kept my response to a minimum but was encouraged to hear that there was perhaps some self-awareness in the works.

My daughter tested into a college program that allows her to take college courses to finish up high school. And she also gets to keep the college credit! This means that she takes fewer courses as one quarter at the college is worth a full year of a high school class. Winter quarter started last month. When she told John and I that she was registered for TWO English classes (creative writing and English comp) as well as advanced algebra (math is her strongest subject, along with music), our hearts sank. Getting through one semester of high school English has always been arduous for her. And she accepts no help from us on writing; this is not new. It has been the case for as far back as I can recall.

Lo and behold, our daughter has met other students in college, who like to write. They take the creative writing class together and workshop each others’ work. Her friends not only tell her when they like or dislike her ideas, they tell her when she needs to follow the professor’s instructions! (Clouds part. Angels sing.) She works on her writing for hours a day. She says, “I didn’t realize I like writing so much.”

She has actually even started letting my husband and I read her papers. They are exceptionally good with precise and vivid vocabulary, thematic depth, and particularly good dialog. We are delighted. A couple of weeks ago, her professor handed back a paper to her personally and told her, “This is excellent. You are one of only two students who earned a 4.0 on this assignment.” My daughter, a 16 year old in a college class, earned the highest possible grade on a WRITING assignment. She was thrilled.

She still doesn’t want corrective feedback on her writing but I don’t offer any, anyway. She is learning that writing is a process of planning, revising, rewriting, re-planning, etc. She asks, “Did you like it? Are you proud of me?”

Yes, I like it very much. I am so very proud of you. I am so happy that you have discovered what we’ve long known. You’ve got things to say.

Several years ago, I visited a preschool as part of an evaluation I was doing of one of my patients. It is rare for private psychologists to include a classroom observation in an evaluation but given my specialty, I do it as much as I can because it provides quite valuable information. Although children may notice me or even ask me a question like, “Whose mom are you,” I am typically able to be pretty unobtrusive.

This observation was different. I remember sitting down in the corner of the room. And then I was promptly mobbed. I was surrounded by 3 and 4 year old’s. They were not, however, just asking questions. They were also grabbing my coat and touching my face.  It was slightly disconcerting. It made me feel badly for rock stars who are mobbed by fans, fans who act like they have a close and intimate relationship with them.

I am very good with young children. Ages 3-6 is actually my favorite developmental stage. And not the shy ones, either. I like the spirited kids, the ones who have trouble keeping their zest in check.

Unfortunately, unless their learn to manage their behavior and emotions, about half of the young kids who are considered a “handful” or “hard-to-manage” go on to develop more serious mental health problems. So that’s why I work with parents and teachers to help kids learn to control themselves better so that their zestful natures help them to be happy and connected little people at home, at school, and in the community. This kind of treatment was actually my original specialty, the focus of my dissertation and my post-doc, not to mention training with one of the national leaders in the field while an intern at the University of Florida.

About four years ago, I stopped taking new patients for treatment. I needed to keep my after school hours to a minimum so that I could be home more for my family. So, I do about 80% testing and the other 20% are long term patients with whom I’ve had ongoing treatment relationships or who come back on an infrequent basis. I never know when a kid is going to need to see me for treatment again. It can happen any time, which makes scheduling difficult. And to see kids during the school day for treatment means their missing a lot of school on a regular basis.

I evaluated a young child last fall. I provided a referral list of psychologists who do the treatment I recommended. I got an email from the boy’s mom about three weeks ago asking for more referrals. She had called everyone on my list and was unable to get in at a time that would work for her family. It just so happened that my treatment load was light right at the moment she emailed. Also, I remembered how cute the little boy was. For the first time in four years, I said, “I can see you.”

I’ve seen them 3 times now. For me, I am having the time of my life. Wow, I miss treating little fireballs! I actually don’t understand why so few people specialize in this kind of work. The treatment is evidence base and has been around since the 60’s. The technology is not rocket science. Well, maybe it’s 1960’s rocket science. But the kids can behave like rockets and rocket-shaped kids are admittedly, scary. And when one (or two or three or four) of these kids are in a classroom, it’s super scary.

One of the reasons that little people can be scary is that they move quickly. They exhibit frequent concerning behaviors. Their moods can change rapidly. They live in the moment. Their brains are also growing rapidly. These qualities, my friends, can be used a resources. This means that you can respond to them frequently in ways that teach positive behaviors like cooperation and flexibility and to reduce less adaptive behaviors. Little kids don’t tend to hold grudges. They can get over small hurts and small disappointments. Little kids usually love to have their positive behaviors and growth recognized by adults. Obviously, not all little people are like this. I am, however, talking about a sizable subset of children.

I’ve encountered a lot of mental health providers who prefer to treat adolescents because they are “easier”. “Are you serious? Teens try to kill themselves, take drugs, get into car accidents, and other dangerous things.”

Now some of this is our tendency as mental health providers, to gravitate toward working with the population with whom we have the most skill. And I’ve had little kids do dangerous things like jumping out windows and much more commonly, run around parking lots. But little kids are more easily supervised and kept safe using a few key strategies.

I suppose, however, that it can seem surreal to hear that a child had an hour long tantrum over anything, especially something like not getting the color drinking glass that he wanted. I remember the heartbreak of my daughter when she was about 20 months old after she accidentally dropped her sippy cup of water into the penguin exhibit at the zoo. “Sippy, Sipppppppppy!!!!” Her crying only got harder after the penguins started pecking at it! She kept calling for “Sippy” in the car and for quite some time after we came back home. The ridiculousness of this makes it a funny story years later. But at the time, she considered her plastic cup to be alive and to be a very important friend.

Little children’s anguish over things like not earning a sticker or getting their sandwich cut the wrong way or the inhumanity of being placed in time out, is real. But the anguish will not result in death and by learning to manage strong emotions, to learn that ever negative emotion ends and that there are ways to self-soothe, they will be happier and healthier. When I think of my own adult life and the times I have experienced high anxiety, anger, dread, and acute sadness, I see that although the feelings have always been real, the situation is often not as dire as it seems. Sometimes the problem is mainly needing to calm down. And even when there are other problems to solve, calming down is often the first step.

I am very glad for this little person in my professional life, even if he is a handful. He is already learning quickly as are his parents. And by seeing the resilience of this little fireball and the hard work of his loving young parents, I am re-learning a handful of lessons about life, change, and growth.

It is easy to be harshly judgmental. It makes life simpler. It places a distance between ourselves and someone else’s suffering. If I can find a way to justify someone’s suffering, it buffers me from the reality that bad things can happen to anyone.

As a child clinical psychologist, I see aspects of people’s family lives that are largely invisible to outsiders. I consider their revealing these hurts, fears, and faults, as a sacred trust. This translates into a strong sense of responsibility to respect my patients and their families. I do, however, have to make judgments and interpretations in order to make diagnoses, treatment plans, and to carry them out. Sometimes I have to share difficult views, things I consider to be hard truths.

Honestly, sometimes I get frustrated with my patients, especially their parents. Those are the times that I try to reflect and observe. Why I am so frustrated? What can I do to get back to a more balanced place, the place that is necessary for my work as well as for my personal happiness?

I’ve had a couple of conversations with a friend of mine, also in mental health, about how we just don’t know what goes on in people’s lives, even those that are close to us. We just don’t know what challenges with which a person is dealing. Some of this is due to shame and stigma. Some is to protect loved ones from harsh judgment and bad treatment. Other times, we just can’t function on a daily basis if we advertise every hurt and pain. For mental health, a balance must be attained in order to live in reality. No one’s reality is all suffering, though some people have much more than their fair share.

I have been working on my judgment of myself and others in my personal life as part of my mindfulness practices. Stress and working too hard is a trigger for me to be very sensitive and hurt easily, to which I am apt to respond with harsh judgment. I can see the changes I have made in my life to decrease this but understandably, it still occurs. Harsh judgment is not something I will likely ever eliminate from my life. It will wax an wane in my own mind. My hope is that my periods of being “stuck” in it will be less frequent and of shorter duration.

I have worked on being more compassionate and accepting of myself. I have worked on being more compassionate and accepting of my husband. Now I find myself struggling with harsh judgment of my teen daughter. If I am quite honest with myself, I am finding parenting at this time of my life, to be ungratifying, not to mention the times when it’s just scary. As a parent, I am generally much above average in acceptance and patience. I know my daughter loves me, but she mostly pays very little attention to me except to ask for things and typically responds with irritation when I talk to her, regardless of the subject. I know to a large extent that this is developmental and a common feature of mother/adolescent relationships, but it is still very painful. I love my daughter and I like her a lot. I would like to be a part of her life that is not so stressful to either of us. Right now there is no ease in our relationship.

I have also worked hard on backing off, reminding her less, and better respecting her independence. I think I have done a really good job with that. I guess I had a fantasy that if I did that, she would re-engage with me and our relationship with be not only less conflict-laden, but emotionally closer. That may still happen but it hasn’t happened yet. I know that it could be much worse but for me, thinking about how much worse things could be, typically does not work as a form of self-encouragement.

I just don’t know what all my daughter is dealing with in her life. And I really want to know but I can’t. I can work to accept this but all of the positive thinking in the world is going to get me to be happy with this. But acceptance is a peaceful place and there is healing there for both my daughter and for myself.

My Wednesday “learning to keep my shit together” class reconvened this week after a holiday break. The topic for the evening was acceptance, a mindfulness practice. The purpose of mindfulness is to reduce suffering. Acceptance is one process by which suffering is reduced.

I am working very hard to accept some hard truths about my life, some about my present and some potential truths in my future. These are truths about my life as an individual, as a wife, and as a parent.  As I was thinking about this, one of the instructors wrote two equations on the white board:

Pain + acceptance = pain

Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

I think of pain and suffering as synonymous.  But this is not a dictionary course or a vocabulary test. And I have to admit that “suffering” sounds worse than “pain”. Suffering sounds like pain with a large side dish of something nasty. Perhaps the space between pain and suffering, within this framework, is filled with a roil of self-inflicted things. Another way to say this is that suffering may result from coping with pain in a way that enhances it and perhaps makes it last for a longer time. Everyone does this from time to time.

There are “hot button” issues for me. There are experiences that I have for which I have an immediate, negative response. They push a fear button, an anger button, or a grief button. And as I am having the response, I often know that it is out of scale. I have gotten upset too quickly and too intensely. There are also times when I feel stress in the back of my mind and it wakes me at night or invades my dreams. I think these are examples of suffering.

Acceptance is a process, a continuum. I am trying to work my way. So far I am learning that there is a cognitive part. In order to accept something I need to acknowledge it. I need to name it. I need to reason with it. That is what I have mostly been working on for the past couple of years. The acceptance that takes place in my mind. On Wednesday, our homework was to think about what acceptance would look like for each of us as behaviors. If we accepted the aspect of life with which we were struggling and suffering, how would our behavior be different?

Changing my behavior, making it consistent with acceptance, is really hard. I have been making a concerted effort on this for the past month or so. I have seen changes. I have experienced shifts to a more positive place. My anger and fear are reduced. My pain and sadness are still there but the suffering is getting less.

 

You may have heard that it rains a lot in Seattle. It does rain more than average, there’s no getting around it. But there are a lot of much rainier cities. We don’t even make the top 10 rainiest U.S. cities, by a long shot. The entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. gets more annual rainfall than Seattle. Here’s the deal, though. We get primarily light rain. And it’s spread over many many days. While a significant portion of the nation has the rainiest time of the year in the summer, we have our rainiest time in the winter. Here, up north, it’s really dark, too. Seattle knows how to pile on the dreary during winter.

But even in winter, there are beautiful days. Yesterday, Christmas Day, was one of them. My husband and I walked down to the beach. The wind was gentle and the sky was blue. I spent a good bit of the walk stripped down to a short sleeved t-shirt. Granted, I had a Lupron shot last month and the furnace usually kicks in about this time but still, I was walking on a Seattle beach during winter in a t-shirt. What a glorious day.

I happen to think that the contrast between how our city looks on a sunny day versus a cloudy or rainy day is one of the reasons that we have a reputation for being a wetter city than we actually are. It’s disappointing to visit Seattle after seeing all of the glorious photos of the mountains and the sea only to be drizzled upon. But I don’t visit here. I live here. I know that the sun will come out again and that I will see it.

People in my city, especially natives, such as myself, often remark that our part of the world would not be so beautiful without the rain. This is true. We have some of the most beautiful summer weather I have ever experienced. And there is so much sunlight with very long days. Without the rainy, dreary days, though we would not have the abundant greens, the trees, bushes, mosses, and lichens. Winter is a time when plants focus their energy below the ground. The rain is essential for root growth, the foundation of plant life. Without precipitation, there is no snow on the mountains. We are so lucky to live in a city bound by two snow-capped mountain ranges. The winter snow on our mountains is also our water supply for the dry months of the year.

We need the wet and dreary days for life. It’s not just that the bad weather makes us appreciate the sunny days more because of the contrast. We actually require it. I’ve been thinking of this a lot in terms of how it relates to life, in general. Are sadness, disappointment, grief, and other painful emotions and experiences necessary for life? More so, do they enhance our lives?

I don’t know. I am pretty sure that seeking out suffering is a bad idea. Let’s not look for trouble. And denying suffering in oneself or others is invalidating. I am working a lot on acceptance of the things in my life that weigh on me heavily on a daily basis and are sometimes terrifying. Okay, it’s not “things”, it’s a thing. The thing is parenting my 16 year-old brilliant fireball. A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany followed by some meaningful adjustments in my behavior.

I realized on a deep and visceral level that I can’t protect her from the world or from the consequences of poor judgements that she makes. I didn’t abdicate responsibility but I relinquished the fantasy of control. I am still as busy parenting as I’ve ever been but my efforts are less frenzied and whirling. This acceptance was also accompanied by deep sadness. But the sadness was grounding instead of frenetic and anxious. I’m not going to kid myself and announce that acceptance is my new permanent state of being. My state of being, especially as a parent, will continue fluctuate. But this is an important shift.

I don’t know the future so I really don’t know how to end this post. What I do know is that every sunny time is to be celebrated and that the dreariest times cannot be wished away. I am learning more and more not to manufacture suffering; why would I want more of that? I am learning more and more to accept this as how life should be simply because that’s the way life is.

Christmas at the beach.

Christmas at the beach.

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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