Friday, January 25, 2013

Mama Bean projects herself into her parenting (surprise, surprise)

I think I would rather have my child get hit or scratched or pushed than have them told, "You can't be in our group" which is the same as "I don't accept you" which is the same as "You are not loved." (And vice versa, I'd rather my kid hit someone than say something like that.)

Part of this is due to my parenting aptitude. I know, more or less, how to deal with physical hurts. I have a script to follow, and it's a pretty black and white no-tolerance issue. "We don't use our hands that way. That is not okay" etc. etc. I feel like this is the first script of parenting I learned. And it's usually pretty easy to solve the instigating problem - figure out what toy needs to be shared, what distraction will be sufficient, whether a nap or a snack is the solution to all problems (as it so often is.) (See? This is where we learn that food solves problems. Oi.)

I don't have a script for emotional hurts - it's so much greyer. On the one hand, there is the fact that words hurt. On the other hand, it isn't realistic that all children will be friends with all others, and I don't want to force friendship. That would be invalidating their feelings. But how to explain tact and diplomacy and respectful words to a three year old?

I suppose it comes down to separating emotions, which happen and can't be denied, from behaviours, which are choices, and some should most certainly be denied. Physical wrongs are motivated by feelings, too - anger, frustration, envy. The script is not "We don't get angry or upset when someone takes out toy." The script is about not turning that anger into a violent action. So I suppose it can likewise be taught that, though we may not like someone or may not wish to play with them, we don't turn those feelings into mean words or cruel behaviour.

Part of it is my children's developmental status, also. A physical hurt produces a well-identified area of pain, sometimes even a visible mark. They know the word(s) for that pain, they know how to point/show it to me, and they know a kiss and a hug (and maybe a Spiderman band-aid) will make it go away. Certainly time fades all such wounds. But, emotional hurt is still so confusing and nebulous - they don't have the words, it's hurts somewhere strange inside, and a band-aid will not help. Sometimes not even a hug, if it's not from the person who produced the hurt, y'know?

And here I feel my own emotional immaturity is my own worst enemy. I get tripped up in my explanations because I can't even explain these hurts to myself. To me, not being accepted is the greatest hurt. Has been so since childhood. Thus, when my children are hurt in this way, I lose all perspective.

[A lengthy aside: the adopted child is always aware of feeling Other and Outside, and they are terrified of being excluded or rejected. It is the nature of starting in one family and ending up in another; the sense that all relationships are transitory and fragile. I believe this feeling is permanent, that is, it cannot be loved away, and if it is ignored, all the worse. If you know or love an adopted person, the way you love them should acknowledge this fear in them - even if they don't have the words to name their fear.]

Part of it is, naturally, that my children are beloved to me, and I want them to be beloved by everyone. I was thinking the other day that, in this very shallow way, I want for my children socially what I never had - to be part of the In Crowd, part of the Popular Kids. I don't want them to be social outcasts, geeky pariahs, nerdy loners - because that hurts. But let's be honest, I want it all for them, just as we all do - the academic success of nerdiness, the social success of popularity. (And I do know these things are not mutually exclusive, I experienced a strange such mixture in my high school years.)

But life being what it is, the truth is they will be disliked and/or discluded, often. And my parenting strategy (and I'm using that word loosely...) feels like this nebulous mixture of a) hiding them away b) helping them accept and adapt and rise above these hard truths of life c) teaching them to love themselves as much as I love them (or because I love them?)

Hiding them in/with/behind my love is not a complete solution. That is, I feel with certainty it is not enough to respond to social hurts with, "Don't worry, baby, mommy loves you." Because I do want my love to be their place of safety, their place to hide, but I don't want running away and hiding to be their default solution to trouble (of any sort.) I am so prone to running and hiding, and it is maladaptive. How to teach them to stand on their own and fight on their own, when I cannot do these things myself? (And, deeper down, this is not a complete solution because I am human, I will make mistakes, and I will disappoint them; and an imperfect love is small comfort in the face of a cruel world. But here I may simply be projecting. Ha! Of course I'm projecting.)

Accepting an imperfect world is also not a complete solution. Taken too far, it normalizes bad behaviour - what starts as "Oh that's just how kids are" too easily becomes teaching them it's okay to turn a blind eye to injustice, it's okay to ignore (or worse deny) the rights of the oppressed, because "Hey, we live in a crappy world. Get over it!" What a strange dance it is to learn where it's a waste of time to try and where it's a wise investment of one's unique ability to change the world.

And frankly, this notion of self-esteem has been so diluted and distorted, if it offers any solution, I personally cannot parse it out. I know that my love is a foundation for developing their self love. I would never want my love to encourage arrogance. I don't want to deny the reality of The Bell Curve - that we are all simultaneously special stars and also all pretty average. Special average stars of normalcy. But each with, yes, this opportunity to change their own little world. More of this tricky balance! Finding that just-right-amount of confidence, not too little, not too much.

Sheesh, what a lot of words, and I've gone off track. All this to say, life is socially complicated, my childhood was marred by hurts from this, I thought it'd be easier in adulthood but it's not, so I project my social insecurities onto my children, and feel helpless in the face of their social hurts, but I've got to get it together for their sake, if not my own.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mama Bean is trying to be an Ally

I was introduced to the term "benevolent oppression" today (in the context of chivalry, being a sort of benevolent patriarchy, a rabbit trail I don't wish to follow today.)

I sat and thought about it for awhile.

I've been quite captured by the Idle No More movement. It's been about a year now that I've been exploring these ideas of my own privilege, and how it relates to my feminism, my Christianity, my politics, and my racism. The INM movement has brought all those thoughts into a very stark reality. I have been challenged in a variety of (mostly online) arenas to confront the ways I am oppressed, and the ways I have participated in oppression.

And the ways I no longer want to participate.

Benevolent oppression is the favourite defense of most of the racists I see on my facebook feed these days. It's the argument that we (the majority, the White man, the colonialist, the not-Indians) have done so much, give so much, spend so much on these lazy people who can't help themselves. It's the argument that history can't be changed, so why don't they just get over it. It's the argument that tries to turn the oppressor into a victim.

"Don't you see we're just trying to be so nice and you insist on being such ungrateful wretches?"

(Read an excellent summary of The Distress of the Privileged here.)

You know what? I don't think anyone in this situation likes dwelling on the past. Would you want to relive over and over the way generations of your children were taken from their homes and systematically denied their identity? But the presentation, the cultural message, is this seeming broken record of rehashing the past - doesn't it feel that way?

Maybe it's just that we're not getting the fucking message.

I tell you what, I did not get the message. I thought I did, I thought I was sensitive and understanding and compassionate. I read the books, I watched the National Film Board documentaries, I listened to the CBC broadcasts. I thought I was on the right side, but I had a lot to learn.

(If you feel like you have something to learn, start here.)
(Interestingly, I also agree with a lot of what this guy has to say.)

The past that we don't want to dwell on anymore is that Canada is a benevolent oppressor (and sometimes often not so benevolent) of its indigenous people - and I for one don't want to dwell in that past anymore either. The Indian Act (and other comparable legislation) treats aboriginals like they are less than human (for example, by suppressing their rights to education or equal health care) under the guise of being some great Colonial Provider. These laws allow us to live here and benefit from a land that is ridiculously blessed with resources, without properly compensating the original inhabitants.

You and me, we are not the original colonialists, I know that. We didn't sign those treaties, we didn't create those laws. It's not our "fault" that our country is this way. But it is absolutely and completely our fault if it stays this way.

Let me invoke Godwin's law for you, or on second thought, how about no. This is not like blaming all Germans  for Hitler and the Nazis. I'm not blaming our history of Colonialism on you (and me.) I'm saying if we hide our heads in the sand, if we refuse to listen, if we deny justice, then we are no better than the colonialists. No better, and frankly, useless.

We can't go back into the past and right those wrongs. I can't just hand my house over to the nearest aboriginal person with my very best wishes. We can't move our cities, we can't change (most of) the current resource extraction, we can't move reserves (or outright abolish them in any overly hasty manner.) That isn't even a logical place to start the discussion! But it is fair to look for something equitable, it is fair to look for something just. It is fair to say the Indian Act and its compatriots don't work, have never worked, and must be replaced with something else.

By the way, it's also fair to say the old treaties aren't working terribly well either. The signatories of those treaties are no longer geographically accurate - Canada is its own country now. It's time for her to sign her own damn treaties.

I still do not know enough to know where to go from here, but I know that I want to be an ally. I want to be open to and learn from and participate in this dialogue. And that means, right now, I listen. I listen and read everything I was not taught before. I listen to what the oppressed think is fair and right and just. I am 1000% sure that they don't "just want more money." They've been denied so much for so long, poverty and marginalization and the continued cycle of oppression were inevitable. I can't even imagine what justice will look like, and I don't want to imagine something that merely puts words in the mouths of people who've been denied a voice for so long. I just want to hear, for perhaps for the first time in my life, their voice, their words, their life. No more lip service. Idle no more.

[My blog, my rules. If you comment ignorant shit, I will delete it. Don't like that policy, tell it to the rest of the internet. They'll care, I promise.]

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mama Bean is going to do one thing at a time

I have had the most fantastic New Year! And it's for the nerdiest reason: I've been cleaning. Well, reorganizing. purging. fixing my Space. It is so amazing! There are boxes and boxes of crap leaving my house to the garbage bin and the recycling bin and the giveaway bin. We have RUN OUT of boxes, people.

What prompted this? Well, Bean has been alone on the upper floor, but Sprout's grandparents bought her a bed that's been waiting in the second bedroom up there, along with boxes and dressers and a wardrobe full of clothes and toys and crap. We decided Sprout's ready for her big girl bed, which means turning the All Purpose Dumping Ground into a Real Bedroom. Ha! So where did we start? Oh, the basement. Of course. 

Stuff Management, at least in my house, is like one of those grid puzzles where you slide the squares around until they line up into a big picture - you can't move one thing into the place it belongs until you move that thing over there which means moving that thing down here which means... you get the idea.

Some stuff from Sprout's new-room went to Bean's room, and then his stuff came into our closet and basement. The other stuff from her new-room went into the closet of her old-room. The stuff from that closet came downstairs to the cold room. The stuff in the cold room was given away or redistributed in other parts of the basement. Those parts were likewise cleared out. My desk was cleaned off, and the filing cabinet was reorganized. Sprout's old-room is going to become the Guest Room, so we shuffled bookshelves and hutches, and tomorrow we'll take the bed up from the basement. Every day, I'm piling up more stuff to get out of my house and it feels so freaking cathartic, I want to dance with glee every time I walk by it - or put more stuff on it!!

Anyway, you're on the internet so you don't care what my house looks like, and if you know me in real life, you'll see it (in person or pictures on facebook) soon enough.

This post, surprisingly, is about Resolutions. I'm not making any this year, in the formal sense. I spent 8 (or more) months of 2012 in a deep fucking pit of depression - all I want for this year is to not do that again. I've taken some of the right steps, and continuing on those paths have nothing to do with January 1st, y'know? But I like the idea of giving the year a theme or OneWord (as is the bloggosphere trend) and I need a better Theme than Not-Depressed :P 

So my theme or focus is going to be One Thing At A Time (what's OneWord that will sum that up? Any ideas?) By which I mean, I can't Fix My Life all at the same time. It's like this whole Sprout's Room Project - we had to do each step one at a time, in the right order, while still feeding and clothing ourselves and our children. If we'd done too many steps all at once or not in the right order, it would have been total chaos. As it was, things definitely got Worse around here before they got Better, and there's still a pile of fifty or so books sitting in my living room for donation.

I read something last Fall that K directed me to, can't remember the link of course, but it essentially said, in a very encouraging and affirming way, that ya can't have it all. I can't have it all - at least not right away. I can't have the clean house and the organized meal plans and the orderly laundry and the well-adjusted well-behaved children and the happy spouse and the close walk with Jesus and the sassy girlfriends and the smoking sexy body and the happy peaceful spirit all at once. Not all right away.

But that doesn't mean I can't have any of it. It means I can only work on one thing, for a bit, until I get the hang of it, while still feeding and clothing ourselves and our children, so that it's not total chaos, even if some things get worse before they get better. And when (When!) they get better, I move on to the next thing. 

This dovetails nicely with a book/method I've been trying (inconsistently) to help normalize my emotional control; it's called Calming the Emotional Storm for anyone curious. The central tool is Mindfulness, as in keeping your mind in the moment, with the task, on the one thing you are doing right now and enjoying it for whatever it is. Turns out, I pretty much blow goats at mindfulness. And to be honest, with young kids around, complete mindfulness is almost impossible, but I keep trying. And it is helping. I can feel my emotional resources draining from my body when my brain is getting to far ahead (or in the past) of itself, and I feel myself get calm when I bring my head back into the present. Just this one thing, MB, cook the dinner. Just this one thing, read Bean a book. Just this one thing, fold this one load of clothes. Just this one thing, let your husband hold you. Just this one thing...

And then on a bigger scale. Reorganize the house. Not done yet. So. I don't know what the next thing is and I'm not thinking about it. Because I can only do One Thing At A Time.

So it's not like I'm going to do some kind of regular update thingy here about how my One Thing Project is going, but I hope it will be apparent that things are getting better and that 2013 isn't sucking as hard as 2012 if only by the fact that my posts won't be so sad sack all the time ;) Let me know if you have a resolution or OneWord or even a One Thing that I can support you with this year.