Answering the Questions

I'm thinking about how some of the questions you ask in your youth can reappear later on...

In the suburbs, we question…

So my husband and I were talking as we were drifting off to sleep, as we often do.  He said something about how odd it was that all the big questions we had as our younger selves, well, they’d all been answered.  He said it with a hint of sentiment, like maybe there were no big questions left.  You know the big questions of your story: Who will I marry?  Who will my children be?  What will my career look like?  Where will I live?  Who will my friends be?  and the biggest big one… Who am I?  So I got to thinking, I’m only 45.  I can’t have answered all my questions yet.  Or have I?

Maybe in your twenties, like me, you dreamily thought about who it was that you would marry.  Husband, wife, partner, lover:  Who would it be?  And when that question was answered, and the flowers faded and the music in your head stopped playing…20 years later…were they really the one?  Some of us answered yes and are still enjoying a growing and evolving partnership (because as we all know, it changes).  And others of us found out that the glass slipper was actually the wrong size.  But I think in relationships; whether spouse or partner, new or old, we still have to ask ourselves some questions.  Am I the partner I want to be?  How can we work together when times change?  How can I be the best partner I can be?  What goals do we both have?  What can we both do to get it right?  The questions aren’t the same.  Hell, they’re not as sexy as they once were either.  But they remain, even though firm thighs, uncolored hair, smooth skin and pain-free days may not.

Ah, then those dreams of your children.  They laughed, blond and blue eyed, one boy and one girl, adequately spaced apart with no allergies or faults or ugliness of any kind, as they ran through a field of wildflowers.   They were virtually perfect, innocent, without a whisper of sarcasm or dissent.  They had no need for technology of any kind and their thoughts were purely aspirational and altruistic.  In fact, you armchair parented on many an occasion, judging the parent with the screaming child and the unruly hair.  Your parenting would be so good, so fucking exemplary, that your children would be well rounded individuals with perfect SAT’s who never talked back, never rejected foods you prepared, hurt another person’s feelings or had bad breath.

Then your children came.  And your questions were answered.  Mostly.  But, as with marriage,  the questions continue.  Who is my child?   What kind of person does my child want to be?  How can I get out of the way and help him/her get there?  and the last question…I’m not even shitting you…Who will my grandchildren be?  Zowie!  

In your twenties, did you make assumptions about your career and where you would be now?  Like, I was “never” going to go part time to raise my kids.  Not to mention (heaven forbid) switching careers after investing 10’s of thousands of dollars on an education.  (For our kids, it will be 100’s of thousands.  Just sayin’.)  I am fortunate to have a job that I still find rewarding even after close to 25 years of practicing.  I am one of the few.  Some of us keep reinventing ourselves in a different direction over and over again.  Some of us keep getting beaten down by the same asshole boss in the same shit-eating company and yet we stay put.  Some of us are climbing the ladder, grabbing the brass ring and pulling in some major coin.  Others, content to be in the non-profit world, give of ourselves in lieu of a hefty paycheck.  Whatever your career has brought you, it is no doubt different from what you had in mind while you were drinking a beer bong and making out with that guy, what was his name again?  The questions are different now.  What is my career and what is my calling?  What feeds my soul vs. what feeds my family?  What is my vocation and when is my vacation?  You may just find you have a choice after all.

Who your friends were and where you lived in your twenties may be very different than today.  And then again, they may not.  For me, I got the itch for the west coast after a couple conferences I attended made me yearn for mountains and a more laid back lifestyle.  I thought I’d come here to live for maybe a few years, then go back home.  Turns out, this is home.  Yesterday was Thanksgiving and we were fortunate enough to spend it with some great friends.  Did I miss my family: my new niece, my hilarious older sister, my precious mom, my insightful younger sister?  Yes, of course I did.  I thought of them all day.  But I also embrace the family I have made, the connections that deepen every day and the choices which brought me here.  Our house, built in 1950, has a litany of idiosyncracies, too.  Creaky floors.  Lots of knotty pine.  Low ceilings.  A dripping roof.  In spite of it all, it holds inside the sturdiest of beams, the firmest of foundations and the truest of hearts.  Is there another place which is better for us now?  Who is our community?  Can we afford to stay?  Home is where you make it.

Lastly,  the question of who you are.  More often than it should, we ask ourselves who we think we are.  Really, the answer changes constantly, that is, if you keep moving.  Who you are today is not who you were a year ago or who you will be a year from now.  And that’s how it should be. To feel alive, it seems to me, there are more questions than there are answers.  Then living is the answering.

I'll never stop asking "Who am I?"  The answers are endless...

I’ll never stop asking “Who am I?” The answer never ends.

What questions are you answering?

Thanks as always to Barbara Paulsen, from whom all beautiful photos emerge.

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WHY IS EVERYONE YELLING??

Is this you?  Or are you the one she's yelling at?

Someone had a little too much caffeine before school  drop off.

Is it just me or is there is a lot of yelling going on?

Just this past month, I have become hyper-aware of some unseemly goings-on in my town related to disgruntled, irate and unfortunately loud suburbanites.  Now, I consider myself a relatively subdued, somewhat sensitive and emotionally available person so these encounters always leave me a bit shaken.  But I’m sorry, is a parking ticket really worth blowing the head off the meter reader with your stream of vitriol?

It started off with a trip to the soccer field!  Isn’t this always the case?  Miss So and So is perfectly lovely while volunteering at school functions and sipping wine at the latest social event, but get her babies on the soccer field and all bets are off.  No sooner had we arrived at the field than she was loudly stating her opinion that the refs were “incompetent” and “retarded”  (by the way, did she not get the fucking PC memo stating to never use that word anymore?).  Mind you, the refs are volunteer players from high school leagues trying to further their skills and knowledge.  By halftime, she was screaming at them calling them all kinds of names, her husband desperately pulling at her arm in an effort to cool her off.  Clearly, this woman had never played a game of soccer in her life and she was yelling at these young people informing them of their sheer ineptitude.  Ah, the irony!  By month’s end, we had received an email from the league to please show respect for the refs, demonstrate good behavior for our children and reminding us that the refs were human, and were going to mess up some calls.  Have we really gotten that entitled that we have to be reminded that we all make mistakes?  Sheesh.

Next, what is it about cars that makes even the shyest and most awkward person more willing to flip the bird than any other place?  Cars have become moving beacons of rage for the uncivilized of us, blanketing our roadways in the remnants of our busy, messy and stressed out lives.  My friend was attempting to pick up her daughter from carpool and apparently made some sort of error that bordered on murder because soon enough she was being berated by a woman who had rolled her window down to yell obscenities.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for obscenities, but frankly I prefer my “shits” and “fucks” to serve a common good.  My friend left so dejected, almost in tears, fearing what she had done and replaying the event to try and understand what happened to inspire such an outpouring of anger.

It’s well documented that when you yell at kids, you change their brains.  They become desensitized to the shouting and so each time you get angry, and begin to yell, you raise the threshold from where they begin to pay attention to you.  When you are unable to regulate your emotions, you can’t teach your kids to regulate theirs.  So maybe you’re a yeller, that’s just who you are.  Alright.  Then balancing the yelling with loving acts and sincere apologies for when you have lost your shit; well, that works.  It’s okay, Suzie Screamer.  Just don’t tip the scales with crazy.

When you are yelling, and your freak flag is flying high, that is when your brain is experiencing helplessness.  You are very much out of control.  Often, anger and sadness are co-mingling in your rant stew.  What happened to you earlier, how you were treated, mistakes that you made are all serving to make your anger worse.  When you are even keel,  your feel good neurotransmitters, dopamine and seratonin,  are in adequate supply.  If you get stuck in a long line to return a pair of shoes, you can take it with a smile on your face even though you are irritated.  But if you haven’t slept well and your kids are whiny and you’ve gone negative on your checking account, then that customer service rep may just get a verbal shanking.  In addition, your amygdala-that little emotional center in your brain-may hijack the prefrontal cortex (hello, reason!) in favor of a full-on tantrum.

The good news is that, even as you age, your brain can change.  It’s call neural plasticity and it means we can all change if we want to!  Yey!  But, wait.  It’s really fucking hard to do.  You have to practice, over and over, what you want to happen.  In this case, “yellibacy.”  It means you make a commitment to not yell.  Of course you will, and you will fail and try over and over again.  Just like stopping anything else that’s become a bad habit.  Remember that yelling is a protective response and we all do things to protect ourselves.  Even things that wind up hurting us anyway.

And, so.  Why do you yell?  Your answer will be different than mine.  Maybe it’s because that was the culture of your home, it’s how you were heard.  Maybe it’s because you don’t know what else to do.  Maybe it’s because you feel the disappointment in yourself for failing at being the perfect parent.  Whatever the reason, cut yourself some slack.  I think of a story I read about in yoga.  It says that people yell because anger pushes their hearts far apart, even though they may be standing face to face.  And when we whisper, it’s because our hearts are so close.  And when we are silent, our hearts don’t need words.  They just know.  Next time you feel the need to yell, remember how close you are to the heart that you want to listen.  And dial down accordingly.

Rumi, you are the shit.

Rumi, you are the shit.

What makes you yell?  Does it make you feel bad afterwards? Does it make you uncomfortable when others yell?  Oh and please don’t CAPITALIZE YOUR EMAILS.  IT FEELS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING AT ME.  Thanks.

Top image from streetsblog.net.  Bottom image sensoryspectrum.com

Go with the Flow

I'm thinking about the flow of life, and about all the things that make time fly by.

I’m thinking about the flow of life, and about all the things that make time fly by.

It was Friday.  I was in the garden, performing the necessary tasks of pruning, planting and weeding.  When I realized that 3 hours had passed.  Three hours!  I even went inside to check my clocks because I didn’t trust that so much time had actually gone by.  But it had.  Such is Flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist with an unfortunately lengthy name, created the term.  It’s when you are so absorbed in something you are doing that you are literally in a trance-like state.  You are so fucking immersed that time literally stops.  No drugs involved.  Seriously.  For me, as for you, this happens when you are doing something that feeds your soul.   The thing about flow is that you have to feel both highly challenged and highly skilled at the time.  You can’t sleepwalk through flow.  You have to feel like you can get some tough stuff done, but also love the idea of diving into what you are about to do.  And when you start,  and the puzzle pieces start to fit together…you keep going…even though it might be hard.

This past weekend, I attended a work conference with my colleagues; all women, all smart, all really cool. There were 12 of us in addition to the other attendees, about 30 in all.  After the first day, despite it being a beautiful fall day outside with our families largely going on and having fun without us, we all were saying to each other how fast the day went. Our inspiring teacher challenged us, validated us and got us excited about our work.  We couldn’t wait to use this new information on the job with kids (we work with kids who have motor, sensory and social difficulties).  I wrote notes upon notes, shot videos, turned ideas over in my head, fretted over what I might have been doing wrong and asked questions. The day flew by.  That, my friends, is flow.

Sometimes I feel flow when I am doing yoga.  Yoga, after years of practice, has become my body moving while my mind is stilling, not the other way around  (like a lot of life).  When I am writing and it’s going well and it feels like all pistons are firing, then, hell yes, I am in flow.  It can also be when reading or cooking or even just encouraging your child when they’ve had a bad day.  Some would say, myself included, that flow is what makes life worth living.  It’s the sheer joy of being alive,  being presented with a challenge and taking it happily.  It’s feeling like you kick ass.  Without the hang-ups of things like carpools, keeping up with the Joneses and cleaning up dog shit.

Here in suburbia, there are more than a few of my friends and neighbors who are doing hard things, hoping to find the flow. Some are competing in hard-core fitness challenges.  Some are packing up and moving where new adventures beckon. Some are taking courses, starting new careers even.  Some are making a fresh start with new partners.   All are attempting to find the flow.  Navigate uncharted waters.  It’s no coincidence that the word “flow” comes from water.  Like life,  it’s fluid, rambling, changing and prone to having to change course once in a while.  And it can’t go in reverse.

Maybe you love knitting or scrapbooking or carving wooden ducks.  Maybe it’s a crisp walk with your dog at daybreak that you love.  It’s wherever you lose yourself, lose track of your watch, your phone, your calendar and your to-do list.  It’s letting go of the busy-ness of your day and peeking into the wayward journey of your life.  What could be better than that?

Where do you find your flow?

Where do you find your flow?

Flow is the place where time is forgotten.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen for the inspiring photos.  We can see where you find your flow, girl.

“The river is one of my favorite metaphors, the symbol of the great flow of Life Itself. The river begins at Source, and returns to Source, unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception. We are no different.”
― Jeffrey R. AndersonThe Nature of Things – Navigating Everyday Life with Grace

I don’t like being scared. It’s scary.

Halloween is fun.  When it's not terrifying.

Halloween is fun. When it’s not terrifying.

It’s Halloween time!  While I love carving pumpkins, finding the perfect costume and eating all things pumpkin, I do not, repeat: DO NOT like scary things.  Suburban yards littered with coffins.  Fangs, blood, gore and leaking brains are not my idea of fun.  Even a trip to Target with a giant devil/ghost hanging over the doorway is enough to send me screaming.  But hey, whatever works for you!

After watching the Exorcist when I was about 12 years old, I was convinced that I was possessed by the devil.  No, I never peed on the floor while my parents hosted a dinner party.  Nor did my head ever do a complete 360.  I may have puked a substance reminiscent of split pea soup on my mom at one time or another, but do not remember doing so.  Complicated by the fact that I was attending Catholic school at the time, the whole priest/devil thing was intense. At one point, I asked one of my nun-teachers if it was possible to be possessed by the devil.  She told me yes, and that she herself had required an exorcism as a child.  Great.  More nightmares.

Last night, we started to watch a kid movie called Paranorman with my 9 year old daughter.  Supposedly made for  kids, this shit had a kid talking to his dead grandmother (who bounced around his room), coffins and skeletons coming out of the ground and a scene where the kid pulls a book out of his uncle’s rigor mortis-ed hand.  What the fuck?  If that’s suitable viewing for kids, I’ll be under the couch.

This week, the new version of Carrie is hitting a box office near you.  Frankly, I would rather poke hot coals in my eyes than see this movie.  If it’s anything like the first, I’ll be a blithering idiot for the year following my viewing of this flick, and I will be of no use to society.  BUT…I have friends who watch the shit out of this stuff and LOVE it.  I mean, they go to zombie live performances where they get sprayed with blood, have horror movie clubs and read scary books too.  Why?  When the keys of the piano start playing in that high pitched soundtrack to Halloween, I have to cover my ears.  But they are like, bring it.

To all you horror loving folk, what you are experiencing has a name.  It’s called the excitation transfer process.  Sharing the scary is one reason for loving the scary.  Most people who love the horror stuff love it in groups.  This way, they can enjoy going out to eat or getting a drink afterward.  Have you ever gone to a scary movie and afterward hung out with a group and you were just laughing and having a great old time?  Because it wasn’t you that got chased by a zombie and your brain chewed out?  Talk about relief!  Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration all increase during the frightening foray into murder and mayhem, but they continue to stay elevated as you are having a beer and enjoying your not-death.  And what do you know?  To your brain, that translated into a good time.

In the instances of say, a fearful young girl watching the Exorcist, well the neurological response is not so favorable.  Not surprisingly, some of us are just wired differently.  About 10% of the population love the adrenalin rush (aka:  physiological arousal) of horror flicks.   They may also be the same people who love roller coasters and other high-fear experiences.  Men also are much more likely to love horror movies than women, who sometimes go to horror movies simply to snuggle up to someone.  However, very few enjoy watching a scary movie alone.

Also, scary movies may be one way that our primitive brain is still trying to master control over dangerous situations.  Or, we may be subconciously attempting to deal with violence in our own world.  Or we just can’t look away.  Like that wreck on the side of the road.  In any event, highly empathetic people resist scary movies altogether.  A-ha! That must be me.

At a Halloween party today, there were zombies, skeletons and a cute/freaky Easter bunny.  And it was dimly lit.  And I found myself wanting to bolt.  Candy is awesome, but I don’t want to be trapped in a room with a guy in a hockey mask. I have seen too many movies, people.  Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Exorcist…What do they all have in common?  The suburbs.  Face it, some scary shit goes down here.

And so, last night I turned off Paranorman.  It was freaking us all out, anyway.  We turned on Spy Kids 2 which was quite literally the worst movie I have ever seen.  But it wasn’t scary.  And any movie with Steve Buscemi can’t be that bad.  I got in a good cuddle with my 9 year old.  And I surfed the internet on my I-pad.  And I forgot about all the dead people and cemeteries and body counts.   Instead, I focused on one thing I really love about Halloween:  the glow of a bright harvest moon.

Are you a scaredy-cat?

I'm not scared anymore.

I’m not scared anymore.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen of Mt. Hood Mama photos.  These photos are so eerily beautiful.

Control Geek

You gotta go to this salon.

You gotta go to this salon.

Last weekend, this really cool thing happened.  My kids had been trying, for like a month since our anniversary, to have a “spa day” for my husband and me.  We kept putting them off.  We’ve got soccer today.  You need to get your homework done.  I’m too tired, etc. etc.  A lesser set of kids would have given up, but no, they kept at it.  And we finally had our spa day.  The day (not even a day, an hour!) that they had meticulously and sweetly planned.  You’d think I would be looking forward to it.  But no.  I winced at the thought of it.

What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I just stop doing the laundry (dinner prep, dusting, cleaning, organizing, etc.) and enjoy the gift my kids are desperately trying to give me?  Why can’t I allow them to do this incredibly thoughtful thing?  Well, the only reason that I can come up with is not one I am particularly proud of.  I like to be in control.  Now I am not too keen on the control freak lingo.  It makes me sound fucked up and I’m not.  (But a geek?  I can totally geek out on neuroscience and pop psychology and yoga.  So yeah, “geek” is better.)  Besides,  a true control freak manipulates, pressures and is empty in a spiritual way.  I just want it to go my way.  Like, all the time.

Is this you?

Here in the suburbs, there is a lot of shit to do.  And worry about.  We have to do the carpool tonight.  Your friend found out her asshole husband is cheating on her.  You walked into your son’s room and mistakenly thought a bomb had gone off in there.  You have a deadline, a PTA meeting, a cold sore.  Your to do list varies from call the plumber to make an appointment to renew your anti-depressant.  Damn, it’s no wonder you’re feeling a little overwhelmed!

In your brain, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released when things are clicking and going your way.  You know, your kid got an “A” on his report card, someone told you that you looked good in those pants, you got out of the house this morning without yelling at anyone…you get it.  This neurochemical makes you feel good in the wake of these often unexpected good tidings.  But then, when things aren’t going your way, those neurochemicals (your friends:  neurepinephrine, oxytocin and seratonin) stubbornly do not release.  This is when you feel out of control.  This is when you feel powerless.

But wait!  Good fucking news!

There are other ways to open the feel good neurochemistry floodgates.   You actually do have control over your neurochemistry!  First of all, you could go straight for carbs.  That will do it.  Just don’t OD on them, you’ll only feel worse.  I personally recommend a slice of bread with butter.  Delish.  (*note* not five slices, just one).  Sadly, with carbs, the seratonin boost is short-lived.   If you want a boost that lasts longer, choose sex.  An orgasm.  That’s a surefire way to get your brain in a good mood.   Husbands:  you’re welcome.

Get a double whammy and go outside to exercise.  The light combined with aerobic exercise are known ways to increase seratonin production.  Also, hugs!!  Not a quick one, it has to last like up to 10 seconds for oxytocin to do it’s thang.  Positive social interactions also support your brain in a myriad of ways.  This means happy hour with friends to some.  To others it means bible study or book club or a sports bar for the game or quilting club.  Whatever floats your boat, but it has to be something you look forward to, not dread.

News flash!  You do not have control over your life, your child’s life or your spouse’s life.  You do not have control over whether your neighbor cleans up his yard either.  But it is up to you to make space for happiness, for quiet moments and for getting deep.

So when your kids have a spa for you, let go of your to-do’s.  Yes, the manicure is a little messy.  Yes, the hair stylist hurts you when she brushes your hair.  Yes, the massage therapist does this awkward poking-like hand motion.  But it all feels good anyway.

Because you let it.

Are you a control geek?

I'm in the process of getting over myself.

I’m in the process of getting over myself.

Above image credit:  growingandserving.com

Goodbye, Junk. Hello, Mental Clarity.

Ok that gives me a headache just looking at it.

Okay,  that gives me a headache just looking at it.

My husband started it.  He started clearing out drawers and cabinets.  Sorting, organizing, purging.  At first I just rolled my eyes.  Then I kinda got into it.  The pile in the photo above was taken when he was emptying a room in our house that had started to fill up with clutter.  His way is to empty the space first and clean then deal with the pile later.  Not my method, makes me crazy, but the results are good.  I cleaned out kitchen drawers, cabinets and the pantry.  Then I got to thinking, why does taking a carload to the Goodwill feel so fucking good?  And why does that pile make me want to scream and run into the street like a crazy person?  And another thing, how are those people who work at Goodwill so absolutely nice and polite?  They are going through other people’s crap all day long and they still have time for a wink and a smile and a have a nice day.  These people are the true heroes.  You need to go there and hug them.

Here’s what we do when we notice that things are starting to get cluttered.  First, we ignore it.  We close the door.  We tell ourselves that we might eventually find that other earring or wear that ugly dress.  We couldn’t possibly discard a ticket to Italy that we might someday use in a scrapbook.  This line of thinking, it seems to me,  is a trap.  It keeps us stuck and unable to move on.  Letting go of something is liberating.  All that stuff is heavy, literally and emotionally.  It weighs us down.

But here’s the bugaboo.  What we keep says something about us.  About who we are, where we’ve been and what we believe to be special and important.  Getting rid of those things is hard.  It’s emotionally taxing.  So here’s what I have found to work:  First, do not have too much coffee.  It makes you jittery and edgy and likely to throw a fit that everyone is trying to make your life miserable and disorderly.  Or maybe that’s just me.  (Coffee, I’m sorry.  See you in the morning?).  Second, start a de-clutter project when you have a buffer day before you have to go back to work.  Or you will never get that shit done and the PILE will stare at you every day that you can’t do a damn thing about it.  Third, get yourself some inspirational jams or podcasts.  I like to go back and forth between the two.  And last, stay in your pajamas if humanly possible.  As soon as you get dressed, it’s like putting on reality and who needs that shit.  Get lost in it.

Also, if just the sheer joy of spreading sunshine at Goodwill wasn’t enough, your brain does not like clutter.  Physical clutter in your environment has been shown to not only negatively affect your ability to process information, it also affects your ability to focus.  You know how your daughter is talking to you and all you can see are those wet dirty soccer socks on the floor and it’s all blah blah blah until you go and pick them up?  Your brain’s visual cortex sees the clutter, wants to do something about it because it’s so damn distracting and then can’t process any outside information.  The longer the clutter hangs around, the more taxed your brain becomes and the more likely you are to express your resentment in not-so appropriate ways.  According to the study in the Journal of Neuroscience, when there is clutter present, you will be more irritable, less productive, more distracted and significantly less able to mulit-task.  In other words, to be the best “you” you can be, get rid of it.  No therapist required.

Want even more good reasons to say goodbye to your 80’s cassette tape collection?  When you clear a space, even if it’s just your counter or your desk, it frees space in your brain for creativity and problem solving.  In my family, they know that if the counter is not cleaned off, mom is not happy.  Just that simple act of cleaning off the counter can take me from Def Con 5 to Def Con 1 (watch WarGames if you don’t get the reference).  Plus, when you do get to clean out a drawer (or cabinet or closet or room-you overachiever) you then have the beautiful task of wiping with freshly scented cleaner and reliving the good feeling for days afterward by just opening the drawer (or cabinet or door) and gazing upon your goddamn glorious hard work.

Then there’s the magic.  Magic, you ask?  In cleaning?  Yes.  The magic in the finding of the long lost or long forgotten object.  For me, I had asked my kids to remove photos from about a 100 frames that we were donating.  It was fun to reminisce about all the photos.  But I came across something that I had framed that was not a photo.  I cut it out from a card that a friend sent me when my husband and I had moved here more than 10 years ago.  It said:  Favorite things:  Mountains.  Sea.  Wildlife.  Peace and quiet.  Good people.  Living somewhere that is close to your own soul.  A connection to your community.   

Wow.  What a great reminder of who I am, why I am here and why we all matter.

Enough said.

Enough said.

Growing Pains

They're growing up.  It's inevitable.

They’re growing up. It’s inevitable.

When you’re pregnant, people say, “Enjoy your sleep while you can!”  When they’re babies, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re mobile!”  When they’re toddlers, people say, “Enjoy it before they start talking back!”  When they’re in preschool, people say, “Enjoy it before the friend problems start!”  When they’re in elementary school, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re teenagers!”  But when they’re in middle school, well all that “enjoy it” shit comes to a screeching halt.

Why do people say these things anyway?  Is it to give you pause, make you think?  Is it to make themselves feel better?  Or is it so you can look back and say how fucking brilliant they were?   By the way, it’s not really a loving little tidbit meant to engage you in the present.  It’s a reminder that they have laid the groundwork, you are the novice and your happy little life is about to get a kick in the ass.   In any event, you won’t find many middle school parents telling you to enjoy it.  Sure, it’s the last rodeo before teenager-hood sets in.  But it is a road paved with tricky twists and turns. It was formed from the anxiety that you experienced not so long ago.  After walking this road for about a week now, I’ve decided that I need to pull over.  I need to regroup.

In my house, we’ve had our share of nervous excitement, first day jitters and existential preteen drama.  What I was unprepared for, what I am still unprepared for as a parent to this day, is how completely and fully I inhabit their experience.  After my first heartbreak, I remember my mom telling me, “As a mom, when you hurt, I hurt.  When you’re sad, I’m sad.”  As a fully realized teenager, I of course shrugged it off.  How could she possibly know how I feel?  She is old.  She is married.  She is boring.  But as the years pass, it becomes clearer and clearer.  She was right.

In a 2013 article published in the journal Neuroscience, saliva samples were obtained from middle schoolers who were making the tough transition from elementary school.  As it happens, their saliva is chock full of cortisol-meaning they are in a state of stress where their brain is having to intervene to try and achieve some calm.  In addition, a preteen’s brain is way more focused on emotional processing than logical reasoning.  Uh-huh.  I see you all nodding.  This is referring to the moment when your preteen’s head literally explodes in front of you and you are left wondering, “who the hell is this person?”  All of a sudden, when everything seemed to be going along swimmingly, you are having to set boundaries, delineate rules and establish order.  And guess what?  Despite the fact that chaos is ruling your home, it’s all perfectly normal.

There’s nothing like novelty to get your brain supercharged.  Some people thrive on newness.  They get bored when things are all routine and predictable.  They need intrigue and new ideas to explore.  I am not one of those people.  And guessing from the talk of the suburbanites around me, we are all feeling a bit challenged.  Yesterday at a mom gathering at a friend’s house, some of the moms were wondering where their child had gone and who was that stranger now occupying their body?  (Here is where I apologize to parents of younger children.  I won’t be that bitch who says, “Enjoy it!  Before your kid gets to middle school!”) Last night, my husband astutely told me I was in supermom mode right now, but that it was temporary and everything will normalize soon.  It’s all gonna be fine.  I tried to believe him.

But it wasn’t until today while talking to my wise friend Tami that it all came together.  She was talking about how she had left a note on her daughter’s bed before she left for work.  Without knowing the exact wording, essentially it said the following:  I’m sorry.  I love you.  This is a transition for me, too.  She acknowledged that she was going through this as well.  We are in this together.  I’m not perfect, but you can count on me.  Isn’t that cool?

There are no easy answers, I suppose, although I wish there were.  There is great advice to read and be gained from your friends who have been there.  But, there is heartache ahead for your child, no matter who you are.  My daughter, who is too big for my lap, cuddled up in my lap last night.  She said, “When I was little and I had a nightmare, you told me it was okay and I wasn’t scared anymore.  Now I guess I have to do that myself.”  Sniffle, yes.  We can help.  We can listen (not to be confused with that other “L” word:  lecture).  Spend time with them without their siblings. Keep our shit together when she is losing hers.  Remind ourselves that their brains aren’t finished growing yet; that emotions often control their behavior.

And let her know, your lap is always there if she needs it.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen, for the beautiful photos.  She has a high schooler and a middle schooler.  You should talk to her about it.  She’s a great mom.