Sunday, October 28, 2018

Into The Woods With My Prince Charming At the Crighton Theater

Bill took me Into the Woods today. 

He took me to a community play based on the movie, based on multiple fairytales, enacted in good ‘ole Conroe at the Crighton theater. The theater itself was interesting - built in 1934 if you must know - very retro. It was in an old part of Conroe, a place I had no idea even existed. It felt like stepping back in time. Two competing theaters on opposite corners. A barbershop. Three lawyers offices sandwiched between a gift shop and a hair salon. A PI office. I peered inside the dirty windows searching for a man in a trench coat and hat, leaning against a pock-marked desk, chatting to a fancy lady smoking a cigarette. Something moved in there but I’m pretty sure it was a cat. Or the restless ghost of an unsatisfied client; it is almost Halloween after all.

I digress.

It reminded me again how dark and violent the original fairy tales were. Grimm tales indeed. With loads of subversive messages for women and children.

Gasp! Hidden messages! Say it isn’t so!

It is so.

Hidden messages like; wait for your prince - stay pretty and quiet (preferably totally comatose) until he arrives and rescues you with a kiss. Then go stay perfect and happily ever after.

Messages like; don’t go out after dark. Don’t go into the woods. Don’t stray from the path. The world isn’t safe for young women to venture out alone. All our favorite fairytales have them - subtle messages underneath the obvious. I know it sounds a little intellectual and weird but next time you watch a movie or read a book (especially old horror movies) ask yourself two questions. Who is punished? Who is not? These two questions will tell you what the underlying themes are, the ones you don’t notice unless you’re watching for them.

Beauty and the Beast used to be one of my favorite movies. Until I had Ellie and I watched it again and I realized I don’t want her to think it’s okay to be kidnapped and imprisoned by a beast of a man. I don’t want her thinking she can change his ‘misunderstood’ heart. Girl, you better run from that dude. Forget the beast, marry the baker. Or better yet, go get a degree and be a librarian. Books are the only true love you need Belle.

I really liked what this play and the movie did as well - and that was to keep telling the story AFTER the happily ever after. After they fed the narrator to the angry giant it got REALLY interesting. The princes were hilarious. One line was delivered particularly well - one of the Princes' was trying to win over his wife after he’d cheated on her with a maiden in the woods. 

“They taught me to be charming, Princess, not sincere.”

Let’s teach our boys to be sincere, and our girls to be brave. It’s a new world out there folks, and my daughter will have choices and possibilities our grandmothers would only have dreamed of.

And maybe it’s time for some new fairy tales, yeah? Is someone on that? Someone besides the Shrek and Moana people?

Lastly, a longish-but-worth-it quote from my girl Tay-Tay. 

“When I was a little girl I used to read fairy tales. In fairy tales you meet Prince Charming and he's everything you ever wanted. In fairy tales the bad guy is very easy to spot. The bad guy is always wearing a black cape so you always know who he is. Then you grow up and you realize that Prince Charming is not as easy to find as you thought. You realize the bad guy is not wearing a black cape and he's not easy to spot; he's really funny, and he makes you laugh, and he has perfect hair.” 
― Taylor Swift

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Invisible Gaps or Why Can't I Give My Kids Everything They Need?

Mom and dad stepped off the concrete steps into the baggage area where I was standing. I’d been waiting a few extra minutes at the airport because their flight had been delayed. I took one look at their worn faces and slumped shoulders and shook my head. 

“Man am I glad you’re here - I’ve been waiting forever, I’m exhausted!”

All kidding aside, the flight from New Brunswick to Houston isn’t an easy trek. I’m grateful they want to do it at all. 

Airports are particularly tiring for me (and probably mom) because everyone’s exhaustion, confusion, and anxiety is hard to tune out. It gets all mingled with your own and amplified. I always fly with one earbud in, tuned to soothing spa music. Do not listen to Green Day while standing alone in line waiting to go through security with three bags, two babies, one stroller, and one tiny, terrified dog. But that’s a story for another time.

My parents are lovely. I don’t know why we didn’t let them rest their first morning here. But we didn’t. We schlepped them off to the NASA space center for the day. We drove an hour to get there, then stood in line for the tram for exactly 7 minutes, the length of time we had to figure out we’d be waiting another 40 minutes in line with two hungry babies and then another hour for the tour. We couldn’t get out of THAT line soon enough. 

We had a little picnic when we were done. Ever notice how turkey sandwiches taste better when you eat them outside? The bread is soft and the turkey is cold and the mayonnaise is tangy. The chips taste saltier, the grapes sweeter, the water fresher.

Maybe it's the extra yoga I’ve been doing at home, preparing for the Intro to Kundalini workshop I did this morning. Maybe it was the relief and joy of having my parents join us on this beautiful fall day in Texas. 

Whatever it was, the love I have for my family, for my kids kind of bubbled over and I couldn’t keep the happy in. Luckily for me my kids are not yet embarrassed by public displays of affection. I just had to gather them up and kiss them all over their little heads. A kiss on their tiny noses, their little ears, a big I-love-you-so-much hug where I try to send all the overflow of love I’m feeling through my arms around them. And my parents understand my grin shows how happy I am to have them here with us.

Ellie takes to Nana so well it’s like she never left. It’s bittersweet to see them setting up a game on the floor in the living room, or her sitting still and letting Nana braid her hair. 

Ellie loves having Nana here, and I can see the gaps when they’re forehead to forehead, working out a tricky puzzle-piece. Ellie needs her grandparents closer. 

It isn’t a want. They fill a need in her that mom and dad just can’t fill. It hurts that I can’t give her that. 

I knew raising kids so far from home was going to be tough for me. I hadn’t stopped to consider how tough it would be for my kids too. I guess I assumed since it was all they would know, they wouldn’t feel like they were missing anything? But that is clearly not the case. Ellie is much more balanced, secure, patient, and kind to Benji and herself with Nana and Papa here. 

It’s a hurt only people who’ve had to move away from home can really understand. Some of us traveling not just to another country but to another continent. Crossing oceans and cultures and boundaries and society-specific rules that need to be learned. Like anything, being an Ex-pat has it’s own world of struggle that can never be understood until you’re going through it yourself.

Even as I am making a life here, getting to teach yoga at Yoga Pod, applying to be a substitute teacher at my local public schools, I can’t help but look back and wish we could all be closer. Family is everything to me, and I can’t help but hold the vain hope we can all be together. Is that so wrong?

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." Jane Howard.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Truth About Anger or Angela's Been Reading Too Many Self-Help Books Again or #FREEDOM

My teapot says 'Come let us have tea about talk about happy things.'

But instead, I'd like to talk about anger. No, wait, don't go, this is worth it I promise.

Even the word is loaded with attached feelings, thoughts, and emotions isn’t it? 

There isn’t a ‘neutral’ thing about this word. Did you think of the last time you were angry? With your kids? With your spouse? The last time you argued with someone you loved? When someone cut you off in traffic?

I’ve been rolling with a lot of anger in my life lately. My own, and my four-going-on-fourteen year old as well as my almost two year old son. We’ve all been feeling really angry. But I’ll get back to that.

We’ve been happy, too, of course. We’re not stomping around in matching Yeh Family Grumps hoodies and combat boots or anything. We made it to the Hocus Pocus symphony at the Mitchell Woods Pavilion Friday night, did a candy crawl on Saturday, and enjoyed the day together today. We did the usual things this week; parks, groceries, lunch, making home-made soup from leftovers from the Colossal Canadian Thanksgiving turkey last weekend.

We managed a whole foods trip, gymnastics class, soccer, and school on Wednesday. 

We also managed multiple throw-down tantrums from Benji and multiple lashing-out episodes from Ellie too, usually around the same time.

ME: “You can’t hit your brother, go to your room. Now. Time out. 3 minutes.
Ellie: “No.”
ME: (sputtering incoherently, thinking CRAP she called my bluff! Now what do I do!?)

My solution for now is to add a minute for every time i tell her to go and she doesn’t. She got up to 10 minutes the other day and I realized I need a better solution. Anyone have any ideas let me know…

I talked about Benji’s tantrums last week. Boy does not like to be told no. And if you have him out past nap-time AND need to convince him to get into his car seat, the rage that ensues would alarm and mystify you. 

It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard to remember anger isn’t a bad thing. For me, feeling that anger and not knowing how to deal with it is a scary thing. Scary for him, scary for me, scary for anyone within a five-mile radius of his screaming.

Anger is the hardest emotion for me to process. When someone around me is angry I freeze. I go into survival mode. What do they need? What do they want? How can I make this go away as quickly as possible? What did I do wrong? What can I do better next time? Manage, soothe, de-escalate, then expend lots of mental and emotional energy toward prevention of future anger episodes. Sounds reasonable right?

Except it isn’t.

Maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s Benji that’s forced me to realize my emotional blindspot when it comes to anger. Seeing it, experiencing it, watching someone I love rumble with it, I think there isn’t anything I CAN do. Really. There are a lot of excuses for Benji - (he’s tired, he’s hungry, he’s hot, he’s two…) and none of them have anything to do with me or my behavior. 

Calming down is up to him, too. I can turn out the lights, put him in his room away from sharp objects. I can put on lavender oil and soothing ocean sounds. I can speak in calm, low tones. I can pray. I can sing to him. I can just sit and be there with him through it. I can do lots of things that will help him calm down and center himself but ultimately, he has to manage his own anger himself. I can’t do that for him. He has to experience it, try to process it, and choose to let it go or hold onto it longer, himself.

And he does. It doesn’t last forever. And he lets me pick him up and cuddle him, and wipe away his tears and get him some cold water and off he goes.

And none of it has anything to do with me personally. I’m not the cause of the tantrum, and I’m not in control of when it stops. He is. And he’s TWO.

Because it has nothing to do with age. It is because someone else’s actions and emotions are their responsibility, and theirs alone.

What would you do if you knew that, really knew that? #Freedom?

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Loyal Beavers, Majestic Moose, and being Thankful for Canadian Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving my fellow Canucks!

I just wanted to say how grateful I am for my life. I love being a mom. I love being able to be home with them and see the daily, DAILY cognitive development Benji is exhibiting. He’s 23 months and he is a little parrot, repeating everything we say. I love knowing that I’m the one that knows him best, and if I’m not too distracted, I can pick-up what he’s saying even if it is a little garbled. 
Yep, frog is hiding right now.
Yep, here’s your fork.
Ellie is still sleeping.
Here’s your water.
Sure, here’s a popsicle.
‘Two?’ (He says this only for treats and he holds up one finger right on his nose.)
No, you can’t have two popsicles.

He is an angel. A sweet, giving, cuddly, curious, laid-back little baby. 

Until you tell him no. 

Then he morphs into a raging whirlwind of kicks and screams and shocking baby rage. He drops to the floor, throwing punches and kicks and thrashing about as if tiny red ants were eating him alive. It is a sight to behold. I’d like to say only immediate family has witnessed this, but sadly my friends at HEB have seen it numerous times. 

Last week we broke a record, three throw-himself on the floor tantrums in the aisles of HEB within an a fifteen minute period.

People stared. Mom’s frowned. Dad’s shuffled off uncomfortably.

An employee tracked down ‘be calm’ homeopathic remedies from the hippy aisle and shoved five boxes in my hand. ‘You can’t overdose on this,’ she told me as she sent me on my way.

So what are my instincts telling me? In Benji’s case I try to pull him to a safe place, make sure there’s nothing around he can bang into, and wait it out. 

The easy answer, when you’re tired or busy, is to just give him what he wants. 

This. Is. A Recipe. For. Disaster. 

The more they kick and fight, the more resolved you need to be not to give in. If you do, you’re telling them loud and clear, next time they want something this behavior will get it for them.

We don’t want that do we?

In Benji’s case it’s developmental. His need to control something, anything, and his inability to understand and process his negative emotions leads to a tiny fire hydrant of messy, loud emotions spraying everywhere. You wait it out, clean up the mess, and stick to your guns. 

Asking politely gets him what he wants. Tantrums get him nothing but a scratchy throat from the screaming.

Ellie is four years old. She’s past this hydrant stage and is learning about delayed gratification, about controlling her reactions and how to get calm when she’s been triggered. This is an ongoing process that has involved me using every calming and centering tool in my box, and a few I’ve only read about. 

Time-in’s and the calming corner, deep breaths, thinking about the other person, and finally taking away the toy they’re fighting over or her beloved Ipad. 

I’m having a hard time getting her to stop hitting and pushing Benji. Also, pulling his hair, squeezing and pinching and throwing things at him. Right? Fun.

I know she’s going to grow out of this phase. I know if I apply consistent, reliable consequences and I deliver these consequences with firmness and love, she is going to be okay and not turn out to be the Unibomber.

I just need to pull on my big-girl panties and get through it. Having them both at these developmental stages is tricky.

I love being a stay at home mom. I wouldn’t trade these hours, days, and exhausting nights for anything.

Having said that..I can see that Ellie would be just fine with someone else during the day - her social needs are outweighing her cognitive one-on-one needs and Benji will be there soon.

So we all know I passed my GRE and I’m applying for my masters in Education. 

Turns out I also need to be a certified teacher. I don’t know what my new career path will be, but I think my steps are leading me toward the classroom, at least in the near future.

Meantime - if you see me at HEB standing watch over a flailing and screaming toddler, just pat me on the shoulder and remind me it’s all going to be okay, because it is.

Happy Turkey day my lovely Canadians - may our loyal beavers and majestic moose stand guard over your gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffed Turkey’s and warm apple pies, eh?

The Brothers Cuomo

Recently Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that New York state is a microcosm of America. They’ve got the big city of New York, but also rur...