“Mom, I’m scared.” Yeah, me too.

I'm thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

I’m thinking about fear; how it affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

As parents, we are often called upon to allay our children’s fears.  Spiders, the dark and blood are common fears among the kid-set.  But what about when their fears overlay our own?  What about when the things they fear bring about thoughts about what we fear in ourselves and our own lives?  When your 8 year old says, “I’m afraid that you might die in a car accident,” is there a little voice in your own head that says, oh my sweet girl, that scares the shit out of me, too.

The things I am scared of now are not the same things I was scared of in my twenties.   Then, it was more about worry over getting my heart broken, obtaining a speeding ticket, sleeping through my alarm or getting caught with an open bottle of beer in my car.  Now, my fears directly relate to my people.  I’m sure yours do, too.  Am I doing damage by the way I parent them?  Subtext:  will they get pregnant at 18 and drop out of college?  Am I giving my husband the attention he deserves?  Subtext:  will he finally get tired of the fact that I put my pajamas on at 7:30 and go have an affair?  At this point, all my fears come down to one basic fear:  There are people in this world for whom I am responsible.  They count on me.  I can’t screw this up.  It is no longer just about me.

This week has piled fear on top of fear in our country: bombs, jihad, chemical explosions and all manner of anarchy.  The footage of those young guys calmly preparing to kill people is disconcerting to say the least.  The London marathon, held this past weekend, reportedly had significantly fewer and more jittery spectators in attendance.  My daughter, despite her fears, rides in the car with me on a nearly daily basis. So it got me thinking.   How do we do it?  How do we get past our fears?  Of course, there is a fear and subsequent emotional response when we encounter situations which make us afraid.  Your lovely amygdala, almond sized in the temporal portion of your brain, mediates the fear response.  When you get sweaty palmed, tight lipped and tummy-sick from fear, you have your amygdala to blame.  So what keeps this little guy from going into overload?  Another structure called the rostrate cingulate tells your amygdala to chill out.  In my daughter’s case, having been in the car many times, the rostrate cingulate quells the fears by relying on prior evidence that this car thing is actually pretty safe.

That little gem the amygdala.

That little gem the amygdala.

And also, there is Brene Brown‘s work which tells us that “faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”  According to her research on courage and vulnerability, anything worthwhile we get in life is basically because we put ourselves out there.  And being fearful is in direct conflict with being joyful in the world.

Ok, so I get it.  Fear is part of life.  We rely physiologically on fear to prepare us in case we need to get the hell out of a situation.  We need to walk through fear to feel relief and relinquish the idea that we actually have some modicum of control in our lives.  I think about people like Woody Allen or author Jonathan Goldstein, who have made careers out of their fretful, some would say neurotic manner.  Both are highly successful, but retain a certain level of skepticism and arms-distance from the scarier aspects of life.  Then I think about adventure junkies like that rock climber who doesn’t use ropes.  Or people who hike by themselves for vast distances without knowing where they are going.  We are all part of the same human continuum.  After the Boston marathon, we can choose to never do a sponsored race again.  We can live in blame.  Or we can sign up.  And show up.  And see what happens.

In suburbia, I have heard people wondering if this is the “new normal.”  Worrying about the future of our children.  Of our country.  I get it.  I worry, too.  While following the news coverage of the hunt for the suspects, I heard the story of a community in the heart of the lock down.  The families gathered in a neighbor’s house, made pancakes, the kids played in the playroom and the adults made inappropriate jokes and speculated on the reasons the suspects did what they did.  What an awesome gathering!  What a remarkable way to heal.  Together.  Because really, aren’t we all just a little fucking over being afraid?

So, yes, my 8 year old is afraid.  She frets.  She worries.  But I admire her deeply.  She tells me what scares her.  She trusts me listen, help and most importantly, not judge.  With such unabashed honesty, her giant pooling eyes well with tears.  But she is so smart.  She knows she doesn’t have to go it alone, that sharing gives purpose and meaning to things which make no sense.  In her fear, she does not blame and she does not get angry.  And after we talk and snuggle, she’s better and runs off to play.

We could learn a thing or two from her.

It's okay.

It’s going to be okay.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen from Mt. Hood MaMa Iphoneography for her beautiful photos.  Don’t be afraid to check out some of them.

Advertisements

Conversation #3: Extra Special Extrovert

I spent an absolutely delightful afternoon with my friend Michelle at Pine State Biscuits last Monday.  It was sunny outside, a welcome change, so we took advantage by sitting outside in the sun.  Michelle is technically not a suburban mom, she lives in the city limits, but her upbringing was solidly suburban and she fits in well with suburbo-types.  Michelle is a “work friend,” she is an occupational therapist (like me) and we work together at a local clinic.   As a new hire last year, Michelle was the first OT I met and we worked together pretty intensely covering a maternity leave for another OT.  I instantly felt a connection to her, and you would too.  Trust me.  She is one captivating gal.

Michelle has a wide-eyed, curious, outspoken and open-armed view of the world.  She has a huge smile and you feel completely unjudged, listened to and giddy when you are around her.  The best word I can use to describe her is twinkly.  She is just that nice to be around.  Don’t get me wrong though, she has her opinions.  She is resistant to pigeon holing because she is a dichotomy in a few ways.  Michelle worries about underserved kids and families, but is also a cute dresser with a flair for color and finer textiles.  She is patient, calm and easy with the kids we work with, but will raise her voice when it comes to things she finds an outrage.  She is the parent of three Waldorf educated boys, shuns technology and enjoys the creative process.  However, she has high standards for her crafts.  No crap crafts, please.  Michelle believes in healing and the ancient practices of Qigong and yoga.  She is a certified cranio-sacral practitioner (and a few more certifications that are less known to readers) but the glory of a walk outside is also a direct route to curing what ails you.  She sits in the front row at her church so her boys are well behaved while in attendance.  Despite the stereotypes of churchgoers, Michelle is liberal and open minded and she has no tolerance for things which block the path to happiness, yours or her own.

“Most people would probably say I’m a good mom,” is what Michelle says when asked what is the most frequent compliment she receives.  That’s an understatement.  I personally feel empowered by Michelle’s parenting style which steadfastly upholds her ideals.  Those ideals would be togetherness, fun, firmness, free thinking and good old fashioned values.  She has an uncanny ability to not get sucked into peer pressure.  Talking about a friend who starts worrying about summer camps in January, Michelle says she shuts it down.  Her first priority is family time, not scheduling, worrying, list making and competing.  She says she can’t be bothered by that stuff, it’s a drain on her and all the things she would like to do with her family.  Michelle travels back to childhood home in New York at least a few times a year.  This is incredible to me, a native East Coaster.  Three kids and mom and dad making the cross country trek so frequently?   But when Michelle describes her family, I see why it’s so important to her.  While her siblings are all very different, their mom was the guiding force- always telling them that they could do anything and giving them powerful messages of self ability every step of the way.  Family is the center, and that is that.

Friendships are also a high priority for Michelle.  She gravitates toward others who feel the same way about family and together time.  Michelle is a self professed extrovert.  When I was younger, I probably could not have been friends with Michelle.  Her ability to completely pay attention to me, eyes never failing to connect, ideas always supported and firmly entrenched in an underlying confidence: this would have been unnerving to me.  It would have scared me and made me uncomfortable and nervous.  But now I welcome her strength because I think it strengthens me.  It motivates me to be a better parent, friend and less wishy-washy.  She understands that community begins with family and extends to friendships and neighbors and her loyalty is a result of that.  She craves relationships with other like minded people, like school moms or neighbors.  She feels drawn to others by something not quite known, but trusts her ability to recognize a friend.  She is practical too, instinctively knowing it’s harder to be friends with people whose kids are different ages.  Michelle and I are drawn together by the similarities in our husbands and how they think alike, in a very pragmatic way.  We also bond over our the fact that we are most definitely not techno-savvy. When it comes to gossip (topic of an upcoming post), Michelle enjoys a bit of it now and then but knows where to draw the line.  She stops if it comes down to saying something that you wouldn’t say directly to the person.  And she would.  Believe me.

In 10 years, when two of the three boys will be out of the house, she sees herself as being the same in many ways.  But she would definitely like to travel more with her husband, something she loves but has largely let go of in order to raise her family.  Michelle will no doubt be the same anchor for her children that her own family in New York continues to be for her.  She will be the same protective, loving and compassionate person she is, but with more time to sew and create.  She will be the same person with the same “can do” attitude.  I love that the next work day after I interviewed her, she came in and said, “I keep thinking of things I should have said when you asked me things!”  She is compelled to get it right.  Just by virtue of knowing her, so are you.  In 10 years, I am sure that Michelle will be sending home made care packages to her sons, continuing to frequently visit family members, traveling, voicing her opinion (loudly), struggling with technology, working a pop of color in her outfits, giggling, and in general making the world a better place.  I only hope I am still her friend to see it all.

Thanks Michelle!  Biscuits and tea are awesome.

.

Judgment

I judge people.  All the time, every day.  Even subconsciously.  It is something I would like to do less.

Yesterday I did an informal test.  I wrote down every time I judged someone.  When you do something like that and write down why you are taking certain positions, it can be pretty humbling and embarassing.  And you know what?  Most of the judgments I made were about myself.  By definition, when you judge someone, it is often without evidence or consideration.  It just shoots out, like a thought cloud in a cartoon.  Here are some examples from yesterday:

“She has no business wearing something like that.”  At yoga class. (Wait, aren’t you supposed to be Zen and non-judgemental there??)

“He must be some kind of idiot!  He has 20 items in the express lane which clearly says 12 items or less.”  At Fred Meyer.

“Shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about.”  To myself, when trying to give guidance to my daughter.

“I fucked up,” To myself, when I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to get done.

Wow, pretty harsh.

Judgments go that way, they are quick and sharp.  It seems to me that my brain is trying to distract me.  From what?  Things that are painful?  Things that are hard?  Things that make me anxious?  Let’s take each of the above examples.

She has no business wearing something like that.   This is a tough one for women, and for me.  Was I commenting on my own feelings of body image?  Probably.  I was trying to make myself feel better about who I saw in the mirror.  We are flooded with images of beauty, but I would be hard pressed to come up with my own ideal image of beauty.  When I think of my own specific image of a beautiful person, and I close my eyes and let myself go there, it’s not what I see in a magazine.  Today it was my mom.  What?!

He must be some kind of idiot!  Okay, I admit to getting in the express line on occasion when I am in a hurry.  I do this often with driving too.  The inexplicably seething anger which arises in me when someone cuts me off is so sudden and so fierce, it sometimes takes me by surprise.  Maybe he had a really good reason to get out of Fred Meyer quickly, and maybe he didn’t.  Displacing my anger on him distracted me from the fact that I probably wasn’t going to get everything done, and the time it took waiting for his order was spent ruminating on that fact.

Shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about!  My ten year old daughter was asking me about friendships (a huge issue at this age for girls) and I was trying to help her with a situation that has come up at school.  She asked for advice while I was in the middle of a cleaning project that I had undertaken.  Having been ten and a girl, I was very qualified to help her.  However, I was telling myself to be quiet.  The truth is that I am very uncomfortable with my daughter being sad, and not having an easy answer to comfort her.  Protecting her from pain is my job as a mom, so I think, but I can never keep her safe from all pain.  That’s rough.

I fucked up.  Setting unreasonably high expectations is pretty common for me.  I have my lists of things I want to accomplish and very rarely do I meet all of them.  Then I beat myself up for not getting it all done.

Are we seeing a trend here?

My judgments of other people are really about my own ideas, opinions and sentiments about myself.  While I am a reasonably grounded and self confident person, this is unsettling to me.  All this judging and reacting is taking up valuable space in my aging brain where I’d like to make room for peace and aliveness.  It keeps me from really knowing you, and ultimately, myself.