Monday, April 28, 2014

Ugly Mommy

Downtown Grounds
16oz Lavender Soy Mocha
(Very) Blueberry Muffin

Okay, this one's definitely a mommy blog.  It's a Mommy Fail blog.

I was considering closing out this blog altogether and focusing on the new "Sacrilicious Sunday Services" blog, but then I had a bad Wednesday.  I'm still dealing with it, so I thought it was important enough to share with friends.  I think I might make Sunday Services a vlog, anyway, since it seems like, logistically, it's going to be easier to make sure it happens on a Sunday that way.  And some people prefer vids to blogs anyway.  Look for links on alternating weeks.


I'll jump to the punchline - last Wednesday somebody recorded me yelling at my boys on the street.  In the throws of a very bad mommy moment, I looked up to see someone across the street with his camera-phone pointed at me.  It was the very last thing I need to see right then.  I don't remember what I yelled at him, but it was not pleasant and probably had a good bit of profanity in it.  I couldn't hear what he said back to me, and I didn't try to hear it.  He never crossed to talk to me directly and eventually went away.

I don't know if this has ever happened before, if someone has recorded me breaking down in public.  But this is not at all the first time I've been like this with the boys.  I actually came up with a term for it: Ugly Mommy.  I use the term with the boys so they understand when Mommy is getting frazzled and my patience is about to snap.  I don't use it like a threat - "Watch out, or Ugly Mommy is going to get you!"  It's more like a plea.  "I'm getting frustrated and I need you to listen now - I don't want to be Ugly Mommy."  It kind of works.  They fully understand what's coming.  But we all have our days, and Wednesday was bad for all of us.

I've been grappling with this since Henry was born.  I've read up on it, I've talked to doctors and therapists, and even taken a class about accepting and processing strong emotions.  And sometimes I am the very model of maternal bliss.  People compliment me all the time when I'm out with the boys and tell me how wonderful and calm I am with them.  I'm never quite comfortable with the compliments, because I know how bad I have been and how bad I sometimes still get.

I know it's hard to understand how someone who adores their children, who recognizes that they are just little children, can still yell and scream and swear and spank them.  I never thought I would do any of that ever.  I know it's all futile.  I know it is the least effective way to teach them how to behave and, more importantly, how to handle their own emotions.  At their age, to a large degree, they biologically can't control themselves.  And Henry has something else going on, though we don't yet have an official diagnosis.

Every child is a little OCD with something (doors are one of Henry's biggest obsessions).  But Henry has always been a little excessive compared to other kids.  When he gets an idea in his head, he just cannot stop himself much of the time, especially when he's had an off day.  Not enough sleep, not enough to eat for too long, and he gets a little more than cranky.  The shriek.  That's the worst.  He has the kind of piercing scream that causes people to knock on bathroom doors and ask if everything is okay in there.  Or people in restaurants and on the street to whip their heads around and make sure we're not beating our kid.  All of which we had already dealt with that day.

I had dared to take them with me that morning to my physical therapy appointment and tried to set them up with some toys.  Sometimes they're angels.  Not that day.  I ended up with more pain by the end of the appointment because of continually lunging to separate them, or hauling them up sideways to plop them on the table where I was not getting a massage.  I did not yell or spank them in there - just had an internal meltdown.  But crying in doctors' offices is kind of my catch phrase.  I didn't lose it on them until we were outside and Oliver ran into traffic.

When I finally got them in the car, for the first time, I let lose on them the fear that someone will hear them screaming like maniacs and they'll think I'm hurting them and then people will come and take them away from me.  We all cried for a while.  A little later, we pulled it together enough to go get cheeseburgers (screw being vegetarian for the day) and we visited daddy at work and got lots of hugs.  I thought we were past the worst of it.

I dared go out with them later and things hit the fan.

Henry started up in the Starbucks and I just said, "Okay.  We're done.  We're going home."  That made him scream more, but I knew it would.  But he kept going, and my pain was beyond my back then, and every shriek pierced my eardrums till they were ringing.  I yelled at him for running away from me as we were trying to leave, because I had to leave Oliver in the stroller to go after him.  He started following, but ran off again.  I locked the stroller and grabbed him and flipped him upside down and yelled at him.

Sometimes being inverted distracts him from the shrieking enough to interrupt it and I can redirect him.  It's not a good technique - no one is going to recommend it.  It just sometimes works.  It didn't then.

It was probably at this point that the guy started recording me.  I had flipped Henry a couple of times - not for long, and not in a threatening way.  But couple that with yelling at him to "shut the fuck up"... and there goes that Mom of the Year trophy!  I yelled at him for screaming and causing mommy so much pain.  I yelled at him for running away and making me leave Oliver alone again, and how he was going to get somebody hurt.  Stress and pain and lack of sleep and not enough to eat and guilt and frustration and hopelessness...

And then some sanctimonious voyeur with a Baby Bjorn and a smartphone.

I was already tacking sideways off the rant and just starting to calm myself and my boys.  Henry was reaching out and wanting to cling on to me... Oliver, too, whom I had not forgotten and I knew was upset by all the yelling.  We were in the heart of downtown and being in public made me doubly sick.  All I wanted was to pull it all together, calm my children, and get to the car.

All I could do after yelling at the stranger to leave us alone, was cry, not look at anyone else, not speak... I swapped the boys so Henry was confined in the stroller and couldn't run away.  I continued to kneel there and hold them both, rub their backs and let them cry.

I noticed the guy with the smartphone had eventually walked away - down the direction we would have to walk.  I noticed a lady who looked like she might have understood.  Someone came by at one point and asked if we needed anything.  "Water... maybe...?"  I kept my head down and just shook my head.  It was raining a little.  I appreciated what he was trying to do but I couldn't tell him so.  He had to have seen some of it at least, but I don't know how much.

It took a little while to make it the block to the car and get home.  I told my husband to pick up a pizza, and when he got home I went into the other room, curled up on the floor, and tried to not feel like a monster.

My first impulses were to feel horrible about myself, then angry at the interloper, defensive... then guilty and sick, then angry at everybody again, then compassionate... and so on for the last several days.  I've come up with a couple important takeaways.

First, I have to not let myself or anyone else stick me into a good mom or bad mom category.  I have good mom moments, bad mom moments, and more in-between.  You have to allow people to be something beyond what you judge them to be.  Grace.  Everyone needs to a little grace.  Forgiveness.  Compassion.

I'm going to assume, first, that this person meant well, that they heard something and weren't sure what was going on or what exactly to do, and they chose to document what was happening just in case they had to file some kind of report if the authorities needed to be involved.  I'm also going to assume that this person can assume the best of me, that I was clearly not having a good day, that I was not at my best, but that I love my children and will try to do better every day.  I'm going to assume that he didn't upload the video to YouTube with the title, "Look at this horrible mother."

The other takeaway is a little broader.  I've realized that we really have no idea how to deal with things in our society.  When we see or hear something troubling, something that could indicate something bad is taking place, we don't know what to do.  We don't know how to approach other people.  We don't know how to help or what to say.  We just get uncomfortable and stay silent, mostly.  Or we get adversarial.  Confrontational.

I can't think of any movie or television show that showed a character approach another and say, "Hey, now - I can see you're in a bad place and I think it's time you take a moment.  Let's de-escalate this before anything gets out of hand."  Or something like that.  Almost categorically, if one character approaches another, someone's going to take a swing, if only a verbal one.

We are not taught how to handle our own feelings.  We are not taught how to handle each other's.  We are not taught how to not take things personally.  Telling kids to "shake it off" when they get called names at school doesn't really teach them anything.  Try telling them, instead, that the other kid is doing that for their own reasons that have nothing to do with you.  A bully's words have no value.  In fact, they are the damaged ones to be treating people like that, and they deserve pity and compassion.  Which is difficult to believe, and more difficult to practice, in the face of ridicule... or a thrown punch.  But it is the right perspective and the right starting place for dealing with the situation.

Not that I knew any of this when I needed to.  And not that it does much good now.  But it is the right perspective.  I feel better having written this much.  The damage has been done with me and will take a long time to undo.  All I can do is hope that being open with my boys will help them understand their own difficult feelings and that, while we can all be ugly at times, we can still keep trying to be better people.  They'll have some tools, some perspectives, to try to deal with things as they arise over the years.  I can't say they will get out of their childhood mentally unscathed, but I'm hoping that they will remember more good than bad, and that they will have a head start on their emotional maturity, over my own.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sacrilicious Books & The SpiritMoon Cafe

Mix Sweet Shop
12oz Decaf Americano
Orange Macaroon (already nommed)

I used to imagine a little bookstore in a downtown somewhere, with a coffeeshop attached, that sold books on metaphysics and physics, religion and philosophy, and any other book that endeavored to understand and improve the Universe and ourselves within it.  Within the discretion of the owner, of course.  Which would be me.  As I used to shelve books at Borders in the philosophy section, I would try to drive out Monty Python's "Philosophers Song" by fantasizing about my future store.  There would be no "Inspirational Fiction" section, though I would obligingly special order any of the Left Behind series if someone had to have it - I'm not down with censorship.  I would have a Nerf gun under the counter to threaten anyone who dared to set a book sideways on top of the other books in the section (don't you know what that does to the spines!).  I would have a bookstore cat, a grey tabby named Melville.

And in the coffeeshop next door there would be a special menu.  There would be a Philosopher's Blend, of course, maybe a Student's Brew sold at cost around mid-terms and finals.  But there would also be a Poor Richard's Menu all the time.  Just a handful of essentials, potent and healthful, sold as cheaply as we could make it.  I've since heard of a trend at some coffeehouses where patrons will  buy their own coffee and then buy a coffee for someone else to claim in the future for free.  I would have loved to adopt something like this, too.

But my favorite fantasy was holding Sunday Services.

Back when I was closing up at midnight on Saturday nights at Borders, I imagined opening my own bookstore at that same hour, welcoming in a group of fellow over-thinkers.  I imagined speaking to this broad and random group of people, giving my thoughts on a certain topic, then opening the discussion to the rest of the room, to question, to wonder, to argue.  It would be in the spirit of the Socrates Cafes described in the book of the same name, which I used shelve.  Open questioning, open listening.  Coffee would be complimentary.

In the decade plus that has followed, this dream has all but disappeared.  It is completely unfeasible now, and with almost 100% certainty, it will remain so.  This used to deeply sadden me.  Now, the thought of it exhausts me.  Finances aside, the amount of energy such an endeavor would require are just beyond me now.  But the thing I most regret is the loss of the dream of Sunday Services. 

It seems like what this world needs most right now is to sit down and talk to each other.  We can get at each other faster and sharper than ever through modern technology, but we're not talking to each other there.  We'll mingle amongst the like minded but there is a casual brutality thrown at anyone who disagrees.  Frankly, I hate that data-mining has lead to (among other more nefarious things) the customization of ads and suggested pages.  I don't want to have my previous opinions repeated back to me.  I would like to talk to people who may not think like I do now and see what common ground we share.  The end result is that we are becoming more and more isolated from our great plurality.  This is the fastest way to suffering and intransigence when trying to find solutions that we can all live with.

However, the internet also remains the greatest opportunity to reach out, to connect, to change things.  So, in that spirit, I have decided to try to adapt Sunday Services to today's dream.  With the help of anyone who reads this, if you're willing, I'm going to start a new blog and call it "Sunday Services."  It will be a little more focused on a topic or question, and will hopefully be a little less wandering storytime with Chandra.  I will try to put it out consistently on Sundays, and then - here's the audience participation part - I ask you readers to assemble somewhere with other people and talk about it.  Ask, listen, rant... and then feel free to add what you're group covered to the comments section.

I can only hope that would elevate the tone of standard comments section on the internet.

So what do you think?  Are you game for a little experiment in changing us all for the better?

Hell... Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Distance: The Original Sin

Rogue Valley Roasting Co.
16oz Americano
Vegetarian Breakfast Burrito

{started on March 24th at...
  16oz (no, I did not order a "grande") Soy Vanilla "Machiatto"
  (not to be snarky about it...)

Evil acts are downright easy from a distance.  Little evils, big evils.  How simple to kill a man, or other animal, when you're just twitching a finger on a gun maybe dozens of yards away?  And animal rights are such an abstract thing when it's so easy to eat the animal on your plate, never having watched it live out its existence covered in its own feces with atrophied muscles from a confinement so restrictive it was never in its lifetime able to use its limbs.

Mmm-mmm, bacon.

I'm as guilty as the next Aquarius for committing acts of unbrotherly and unsisterly apathy.  I like to think of myself as as hyper-sensitive and hyper-empathetic, but there's a lot that I have let slide in my lifetime.  And despite the feeling that I think about everything all the time, there's a lot in the world that I've just never thought about.  I've made assumptions about the way things are and have been shocked at times when someone speaks out to tell it like it really is.  No one person can have every experience, so we must be willing to listen to anyone and everyone if we want to understand the true state of the world.

This sin of distance comes in two parts: first, committing harmful acts out of ignorance, and second, committing to your ignorance.

Have you ever felt like no matter how much you tell your higher-ups that something is not going to work, they just keep telling you to get them the results they want?  Or some variation thereof.  The Home Office just has no clue.

Back when I was working the chaotic opening of the Landmark Theatres in Westwood, CA, we were trying to implement a new assigned ticketing system.  For almost all theaters, when you purchased your ticket you would review a map of the theater and choose any available seat for your movie.  Then an usher would seat you just like at a concert venue.  We had a problem, though.  We had two smaller living-room-style theaters with plush chairs and couches.  This caused no end of grief in the first few weeks as we were still working out the ticketing system for the regular theaters.  However, the higher-ups were insistent that we do the assigned seating for these theaters, too - immediately.

Then one night, as another irate costumer was complaining about not being able to sit in her assigned seat because our improvised manual system was failing again, the assistant manager on the receiving end spotted one of the big-wigs mingling nearby.  The manager boldly escorted the customer over to him.  It was a thing of beauty.  Half an hour later, wonder of wonders, we got the word: "We can't assign seats in those theaters - we're not ready yet!"

Yes, jackass - that's what we've been telling you.

None of the folks at the home office were bad people.  Most of the people I dealt with were very nice, in fact.  Their only sin, in this matter, was distance.  They didn't work the "business end" of the business, never interacted with customers, or had their quiet indie flick drowned out by the action-junkie blockbuster in the theater next door.  You could tell them the air conditioning was set too low in the bathrooms, but until they had to drop trou and gingerly rest their goose-pimpled bottoms on that frigid toilet seat, they were more likely to say, "Hey, the colder it is, the faster they get out of there and make room for other people."

Just as you can't really understand your business if you try running it without ever working it, so you can't fully understand another person if you've never shared their experiences.  And that psychological distance allows for the death of empathy.  If you've never worked behind the counter during the pre/post-train rush, or delivered packages at Christmas, your understanding of the barista and the delivery guy are limited.  It becomes easy to form false judgements, to criticize and to abuse.  Which is bad enough for the daily grind, but the consequences can run much deeper.

I've been hearing more recently about how there is a general perception among many of the super-mega-OMG rich that they feel persecuted for their wealth.  There's even one (whose name escapes me, but if you're at all a political lefty, you probably know who I'm talking about) who wrote an op-ed likening criticism of our current wealth inequality to Nazi Germany.  That is some kind of mental gymnastics to come to that conclusion.  The problem is that, the further you live from the consequences of inequality, the easier it is to believe they don't exist, that they're not really that bad, or that they have other causes.

I talk a lot about the Ramenista class - the working poor - because they (okay, I) take a lot of abuse.  When business owners and politicians stay so far away from the lowest-earning workers, it becomes easy to not see us.  It's easy - tragically easy - to say that poor people are poor because they're lazy, when the elites don't have to don the polo shirt and take the abuse at one job, then hop a bus, change into a different polo shirt in a public restroom to get ridiculed at your second job.  Or that poor people should be poor because they're all just kids anyway who don't need a living wage because they can still live with their parents.  Even though, it's statistically more likely that they are not living off their parents but that they are a single parent, trying to support at least one child with a dwindling social support system.

A certain percentage of the population living without healthcare is an acceptable situation, until you see that person going without their medication, missing work, and losing their job because they have no insurance and don't qualify for help.  Or because they do qualify for assistance now but they live in a state where their governor refused the federal money allotted for them under the new healthcare guidelines.  When you see up close the people suffering and dying, unless you are a bona fide sociopath biologically incapable of empathy, you have to accept that the system, as is, is unacceptable and downright cruel.

It hurts to change your way of thinking.  It hurts to see yourself committing acts of real harm, through your indifference or denial - but especially, your nurtured denial.  The human mind will do anything it must to avoid being the bad guy - even convincing itself it's good to be the bad guy.  We will tell ourselves any lie to protect our ego and our desires.  The greatest challenge for the human mind is honesty.  The greatest virtue we can hope to achieve is changing our mind... To see through the life of another with honest empathy, and accept our role in their lives, and how we must change to live a life of real compassion.

I don't hate or vilify the rich, or mega-rich, or even the corrupt politicians.  They are not all party to the same thinking, no matter how prevalent it may prove to be.  I think of them as suffering from an illness not of their own creation: distance.  Some have immunity, either from their own personal experiences or proper nurturing to overcome it.  Others are simply unaware of their affliction and the damage it can cause themselves and others.  Some, however, refuse to look at the xrays, willfully misread the lab results.  They coddle their tumors, curl in around their sores and back themselves into corners (albeit very plush comfy corners with exquisite fabrics), hissing at the world to stay away and quit poking at their tender spots.

These are the people in need of the greatest compassion.  It will take the most gentle, patient care to cure them.  My words to them will not always be kind - they have to take responsibility for their destructive actions.  But I would hope to never be cruel, and to find a way for them to accept a new, more accurate worldview, one that they could be a positive part of.

I am such a fucking hippy.  Peace out.