12oz Coffee (that's right - just mutherfuckin' coffee)
Everything bagel with cream cheese
First, let me give a shout-out to Gene Burnett. He is the talented singer-songwriter currently serenading us with his guitar. The main reason I want to take a moment to mention him is because of the little postcard/flyer thingy left around the coffeehouse. There's a little write-up on the back explaining that he is giving his music away for free. He doesn't want to be rich and famous, he just wants to make music and be happy. He says he is making more money now giving his music away online and with a digital tip jar than he made selling his music. As he puts it on his little postcard, "I only want to do what feels most deeply right and this is it." So there you go, people: GeneBurnett.com. It's a good ethos and happens to be good music.
I didn't have a particular tie-in in mind when I decided to include that little shout out, but then the cynical thought hit me, "I wonder if he got his postcards done by VistaPrint." And I remembered that watch too much TV. And that does tie-in to this article/bloggy thingy: my boys watch too much damn TV. And that's my fault. How do I know they watch too much? Let me relate a little skill little Henry has picked up.
A little while ago, I was walking with the boys, and Henry started pointing at a car and repeating, "Gopher fur!" He repeated it, deliberately, several times, but I couldn't figure out what he was talking about. He has come a long way with his speech but it's still often hard to understand him. I think I said something like, "Yes, honey, it's a car." I think he repeated back, "Car," and then, "Gopher fur!" again.
Later on at home, at the end of a Ford commercial, Henry deliberately restated the words, "Gopher fur!" to the TV. The tag line on the Ford commercial - "Go further." Oh. Not "gopher fur" - "go further." I thought it was cute and little advanced that he had recognized the Ford logo on the car and had been able to connect it to the tag line from the commercial. I think he had just turned three, after all. I also thought, "too much TV." But Henry's prowess was not limited to Fords.
Soon, I began to recognize, whenever he saw the car on the street... "Toyota: Let's go places," and, "Su-ba-woo" (Subaru), and my favorite - as voiced by Henry's namesake, Henry Rollins - "Infinity: Inspired performance," which Henry pronounces as, "Spider formance." He also says, "Akira," for Acura, which I know will make some of my anime-loving friends smile.
So, while all of this is cute and speaks highly of Henry's intellect, it also speaks of my bad habit of leaving the TV on too damn much.
It is amazing what the boys absorb. They can see something once and be repeating it later that night. Or they can see or hear something a thousand times and not seem to take it in at all (like, "It's time to put the toys away!"). They seem not to, anyway. But I'm certain now that everything is sticking - and that really worries me. I am shocked that I have not yet heard the words, "erectile dysfunction," from either of them. I am sure they don't understand what it means, because right now all they can associate it with is a lot of slow-motion shots of smiling middle-aged couples playing sports and laughing and dancing slow with their foreheads together. Not very interesting to them now, but the words are in there, I have no doubt.
The hardest part about this revelation that they're getting too much screen time is that I have done very little to amend that. In fact, there are a lot of things I do as a parent that I really wish I did not. It's like trying to lose weight: you know what you ought to be doing (eating your greens, getting some exercise) but you somehow can't seem to get yourself to do it. And that's depressing. It is for me, anyway... although, to be fair, depression is kinda what I do.
I don't get them enough exercise, their diet is wanting, I'm not consistent with their daily schedule... but much worse than all that, I yell too much and I've really taken to the swearing. The other day, as I was hanging up the phone, instead of the usual, "Bye-bye, Daddy," from the backseat, I heard, "Bye-bye, motherfucker." Yes, I laughed. And then I tried to explain that that is one of Mommy's mad words (though I think he probably got it from Daddy) and that he shouldn't use it. Mommy shouldn't use it, either (not all the time, anyway), and she's trying not to. She's trying to stop talking in the third-person, too.
Henry and I have been talking a lot about our feelings. When we're mad, especially. We acknowledge whatever it is we're feeling - like disappointment at having to leave the playground, or frustration when he's shrieking an inch from my ear (I have gone partially deaf for short periods of time) - and we try to take a breath and let those feelings be and redirect ourselves. Oliver has his moments, too, but Henry is more like me. He's sensitive and seems to feel everything a little deeper and a little longer.
I've talked before about dealing with mental health stuff. A few months ago, I began a group therapy class. I word it that way, specifically, because it wasn't really a "processing" group where you go around and hash out all your baggage. It was a class and it just finished last week. We learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. You may or may not have heard of it before. The heart of it, as the name implies, was learning how to be aware of what you are really feeling (mindfulness) and how to accept what you are feeling it instead of trying to fight it. It's the fighting it that makes the feeling more intense.
If you've ever had a panic attack or a public "break-down" then you can probably understand how the fear of the break-down, the fear of the panic, is often what causes the attack. When you practice recognizing what you're feeling and both disconnecting from it while acknowledging and accepting it, then the intensity will generally die down and pass. "I'm having the sensation of a rapid heartbeat... I'm having the thought that everyone is looking at me... I'm having the feeling of disappointment..." Like I'm having a burrito for lunch. Whatever you're experiencing is there, but it isn't who you are, and it is a passing thing. That make's it easier to feel the next thing, which you hope is relief and something more positive.
Obviously, there's a lot more to it, but that's what I've been working on. Instead of getting mad at Henry for his frustrating inconsistencies - like the one time we really have to be somewhere he decides he doesn't know how to put on his own shoes and socks - I'm trying to put myself in his mind (or mood) and acknowledge whatever might be the hold up.
"I know you're disappointed because you wanted to watch Pocoyo - I like Pocoyo, too... And you're probably mad at Mommy for yelling. I was getting frustrated because I don't want us to miss our appointment. But I shouldn't have yelled - I'm sorry." And hopefully that and a hug will get things moving again. It works sometimes. I also figured out that his socks were getting too small and he was having trouble doing it on his own. Sometimes he'll tell me, "too small," and sometimes he just gives up and kinda checks out while I get more frustrated and yell-y, and that just makes it all worse.
Children are the embodiment of all those uncontrollable emotions. Neither you nor they have the ability to control what they are feeling or how they act because of them. All you can do is accept what they (or you) are feeling and control the actions you take in response.
Over this last week, there was Father's Day and there was my mother's birthday. I didn't call either of them (I sent a card and left a Facebook post, respectively). I meant to, but... well, hey, they raised me. And neither of them are really bad parents. They love me and taught me many good and useful things. They tried to do what they thought was best. But they couldn't know everything that I was going to need to learn that they never taught me. Like how to get to bed on time and how to keep my house clean and how to be happy with myself.
But they did teach me how to think for myself instead of just accepting the words or opinions of others. They gave me good music and wonder for the Universe. And because of my mom, my purse is prepared for just about any eventuality.
This week, Stephen Colbert said a beautiful and emotional farewell to his mother at the beginning of one of his shows. I can only hope that I can be a mother like that, who will earn that kind of send off when I, one day, depart. Even if I do let the boys watch the Comedy Central at this tender age...
Yesterday, when we got into the car, the Sargent Pepper's CD I had been listening to started playing. From the back seat I heard Henry say in his adorable 3-year-old lisp, "Rock 'n Roll!" A moment later, this was echoed by Oliver's excited little shriek - "Wock 'n Woll!"
Yes, babies. This is rock 'n roll.
Maybe I'm not such a bad mom after all.