Tag Archive: parenting


My Daughter is a Geek


I’m a geek.  So is my husband.  He gets to wear the supergeek badge because he’s a programmer.  I’m just a garden variety geek who’s into science.  Meteorology, microbiology, and geology are my pet subjects.  We both love a good map: we once spent $75 on a world atlas, and we’re often not sure what’s more fun, going on a trip or plotting it out.  We’re staunch supporters of critical thinking skills, and encourage our daughter to question everything.

We also like more entertaining geek things, like the holy trinity of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.  We like cheesy sci-fi disaster movies, even if they’re completely ludicrous, like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core.  So it was with great pleasure that we gradually introduced these things to our daughter.  She cut her geeky teeth on Star Wars at first, then we moved her on to Star Trek when we thought she could keep up with it.  Gradually she discovered her own geeky things, Minecraft in particular.  She is an absolute master at  that game.

One day I stumbled across a Doctor Who episode (“42”) on PBS, and was hooked like a migrating salmon.  We all fell in love with The Doctor instantly and began fantasizing about the TARDIS dropping out of the sky onto our lawn (you bet your sweet ass I’d go with him!).  I got a sonic screwdriver for my 40th birthday, and we began collecting other bits of Doctor Who merchandise.  Our daughter demanded to dress like the 11th Doctor for Halloween, and later Comic Con.

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Her passions didn’t come without a price, though.  See, it’s not much hipper to be a geek or a nerd today than it was when we were growing up, despite what popular media wants you to believe (just loving something a lot doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd).  And if you’re a girl geek, then Heaven help you.  Geekdom is a land still mostly inhabited by males, who staunchly believe that girls are too stupid or weak or whatever to be true geeks.  She’s not only excluded by greater society because she’s a geek, but also from within geek society, because she’s a girl.  She has a hard time making good friends with classmates because she’s interested in things that they are not, and vice versa.  She’s 11 now, and could give a furry crack of a rat’s ass about any of the things other girls her age are interested in, mostly clothes and makeup.  She sees a girl fretting about her appearance and thinks, “What’s wrong with you? You look just fine.”  I’m probably responsible for this attitude, as a woman who shuns makeup and typically wears shorts and a fandom t-shirt of some variety on a daily basis.

She has found some acceptance on the internet, but other times she’s bullied on the Minecraft servers because she’s a girl.  She’s refused to give in to the pressure as other girls have done, and keeps a username and a skin on her character that clearly identify her as a girl, or perhaps as gay (I’ve seen it, it’s very rainbow-y, as she also likes My Little Pony).  This gets her no end of shit on some of the servers, where she will often be called out on her appearance straightaway.  Other characters go out of their way to attack hers in order to get what she’s carrying, since everything you own drops to the ground when you die.  She gets jabs of, “You can’t play here, you’re a girl! Only “real gamers” can play here!”  I’ve seen her in tears more than once because she’s been bullied on a particularly mean server and had her character killed repeatedly.  When she complains to the sysop about unfair treatment, she gets excuses that are creepily reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming women get when they’re raped, basically “you were asking for it”.  These things are run by people, and reflect the attitudes of their sysops.  Maybe that’s just how everyone gets treated on some of these servers, but she seems to get an awful lot of flak because of her sex.

All I can do when these things happen is to remind her of how awesome she is, to tell her to just avoid places where she knows she’ll get bullied (which makes her sad: some of these servers are very interesting places to play), explain why jerks are jerks (typically boiling down to the need to put others down to make themselves feel better because their own lives suck, and as such it’s sometimes best to pity people like that from afar), and do something else fun with her (like watch Doctor Who).  I encourage her to keep loving the things that make her happy, and show her things like this video:

and this one:

I feel bad about encouraging her to avoid places she likes in order to avoid being bullied, but when someone’s engaging in cyber-murder to keep you from playing, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it (no parents or school officials to go to), it seems fruitless to keep going there.  I’ve told her to stand her ground but to pick her battles, though not in those words.  She doesn’t really need to be told that, though: she does it naturally.  Thanks to Daddy, she now has her own Minecraft server, where she can make the rules.  We’ve given her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech (Spiderman) in the wake of a cyber-squabble on the server that ended a friendship because she had to ban a couple of people (the culprit: a bullying boy).  I’m going to encourage her to promote her server where she can as a safe place for other girl Minecraft players can come to play without fear of being bullied.  I’ve been really proud of her unwillingness to cave to humiliation and prejudice unless it gets so bad that she just can’t play.

We’re going to keep introducing her to geeky things.  She loves robots, even once keeping a blog about the life of a robot.  I look forward to when she’s older and I can introduce her to more adult geeky things, like Ghost in the Shell and other anime, movies, and games.  And I’ll keep telling her to explore new people, places, and things, even though she might get picked on, because sometimes she won’t be, and those will be the strong connections that will carry her through life.  In the meantime, we’ll keep on playing the games we love (Skyrim, Minecraft, D&D), watching the movies we love (The Matrix, X-Men, Lord of the Rings), and cultivating friendships with like-minded people.  Just because she’s in the minority doesn’t mean she has to be lonely.  She and the other girl geeks of the world will prevail, and we will all be better off from it.

Appropriate


Two social hot-button issues have come to roost at our house: what music is appropriate for our daughter to listen to, and whether or not it’s okay for her to play violent video games.  The first has to do with exposure to depictions of sex, alcohol, and drugs, as well as possible degradation of women or other populations; the second has to do with exposure to an activity that may or may not lead to increased aggression of her own.  Both boil down to whether or not the influence of the parents can counteract the outside influence of things our children really want to participate in and enjoy.

Let’s address the first issue.  I’m having a really hard time with it largely because of my own personal baggage surrounding children and exposing them to sexual imagery and energies before they’re ready for it.  I suppose “ready for it” should be my guide here.  If she weren’t ready for it, she wouldn’t be so gung ho to listen to music singing about it, because otherwise, it would bother her.  And it’s not so horribly explicit, although there is one song that refers once to S&M that makes me raise my eyebrows.  Which raises the issue of whether or not it should be such a big deal to let kids listen to music singing about things they don’t understand in the first place: all they care about is the music itself.  If there’s something they don’t understand and they have a good relationship with you, they’ll ask you about it.  At least, our daughter does.  Which should ease my mind to at least some extent.  And pretty much any question a kid can ask can be answered in terms they can understand.  Even “What’s S&M?”

I mean, what are parents really afraid of when they don’t want their kids listening to music with sexual imagery? They don’t want their kids having sex too early, if at all for some parents.  I can combat that with education and openness.  Keeping her away from music that sings about sex won’t keep her from knowing there’s sex in the world, and if all of her friends are listening to the same music, she’ll find a way to listen to it anyway, and then we’ll just have a relationship built on deceit and mistrust.  I’d rather let her listen to what she wants to, make sure I know what she’s listening to and that she understands what she’s listening to, and arm her with the knowledge she’ll need to counteract anything negative she might have picked up from the social messages she got.  Which she’ll get anyway eventually regardless of what she’s listening to.

The same goes for anything else negative she might hear in her music, such as references to alcohol or drugs, although I draw the line at anything that degrades another group of people.  I haven’t heard anything like that yet though.  She doesn’t hang out with kids like that and has such a strong sense of justice and fairness that I know she would never tolerate that sort of thing in her music or from her friends.  I’ll have to keep an ear out for subtle put-downs, though: things she might not pick up on and wouldn’t realize are mean things to say about other people.  She’s still young enough to be learning those social rules and slang terms.  It’s a pity I have to be worried about such things being peppered into something as innocent as dance music.

She can’t listen to whatever she wants to unsupervised, though.  I have to know what she’s hearing if I’m going to be able to protect her from what’s negative or educate her about something.  She hates this, but that’s my job to oversee what goes into her head.

And the same is going to have to go for the video games.  She and Daddy got new video games for Christmas.  Daddy gets to play games rated ‘M’, and it really chaps our daughter’s ass, not to put too fine a point on it.  I can’t say I blame her: all the really cool games are rated ‘M’.  What kid doesn’t want to kill zombies?  Resident Evil is deemed too violent for the under 17 crowd, though.  And I can’t say I blame the game raters, either: there’s a lot of gunfire and gore.  Other games, I’m unclear as to why they got an ‘M’ rating and not a ‘T’ rating, since there’s killing in ‘T’ games as well.  The whole ratings thing makes me wonder, why is it okay for teens to engage in video game killing in hand-to-hand combat (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) but not stab monsters with a sword (Skyrim)?  The husband’s only been playing Skyrim for a few days, so maybe there’s more in the game further in that makes it clearer as to why it has a higher rating.

My daughter’s begging made me pull up “video game violence and kids” on Google and do some research on the subject.  Unsurprisingly, there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that violent video games make kids more violent or even aggressive.  In fact, as video game sales have skyrocketed in recent years, juvenile violent crime has gone down (as has crime overall, if I’m not mistaken, even though the news would have you believe otherwise).  Much like every other new invention that hits humanity, video games have been decried as the new harbinger of the decline of society, though that tends not to be the case (I’m sure you could find those would argue to the contrary, though: television, automobiles, computers, etc.).  I’m much more concerned with how changes in economic policy over the last few decades have caused a whole host of maladies that now afflict our society than with television or video games.

So is it okay to let her play whatever she wants as long as she knows games are games and not real life?  It’s really hard to get around certain gut reactions, particularly in the wake of the recent elementary school shooting, which has many people vilifying anything having to do with guns.  Unfortunately, we’re a very black-and-white society and are very poor at navigating the gray areas.  They’re just too messy.  We like clear cut answers, and there just aren’t any when it comes to the really big societal issues.  Like guns and violence.  We’d really like a convenient scapegoat to blame, like video games.  It would be so easy, and would give closure to the awful gaping wound.  I don’t think it’s that simple, though.

So what’s acceptable violence in a video game for a kid?  Is it okay to involve a person as long as you’re not killing them?  Or is person-on-person violence always straight out?  Is all killing not okay, or is it okay to kill as long as you’re killing monsters?  Is it okay to kill a person as long as it’s not using a gun?  Is all violence okay because it’s not real and you’re supposed to be educating your kid about these things anyway?  Is all violence not okay because it’s not okay to depict violence?  Are all of these things defined only by our societal morals and nothing else?  I have very wise friends who say that they are.  I have equally wise friends who say they are not.  My Buddhist morals tell me that what I put into my head directly correlates to what comes out of it.  It also seems paradoxical to tell a kid that it’s not okay to hurt other people and then let them play a game that allows them to do just that.

What am I, and all parents, really afraid of when we have these discussions about video game violence and our kids?  We’re afraid of our own kids having aggression problems at school, and deep down, we’re afraid of them turning into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine High School shooters).  Or Adam Lanza.  Statistics tell me these fears are patently ridiculous.  At least, the last one is.  The first one is only mildly possible, if the research is to be believed.  Like so many ‘scientific’ studies, most of the ones that say there is a correlation between violent video games and aggression in kids have severe methodological problems that, once adjusted for, negate their results.  Still, I have a really hard time getting around my gut reaction when I think about my kid playing a game involving building an arsenal of semi-automatic and automatic weapons intended to kill as many enemies as possible, even if they aren’t human.  Maybe if they were all plasma rifles or something, it wouldn’t bother me.

On the other hand, we’re huge Mythbusters fans, and boy do the Mythbusters like their guns.  Always under safe circumstances, of course.  We’ve seen them shoot a huge array of firearms over the years and have gained an appreciation for the engineering of guns, as well as the fact that it’s plainly enjoyable to shoot them, just as it’s fun to blow shit up.  No, that doesn’t mean that the Mythbusters are condoning acts of terrorism or violence because they like explosives and firearms, and I don’t think it means our daughter is in danger of becoming a violent person because she is exposed to these things through their show.  It does raise the question: what’s the difference between the Mythbusters blowing up an effigy of a person in the name of busting a myth and someone shooting a representation of a person in a game?  Both end in the same result: a dead un-person (though it’s admittedly a lot funnier to watch Buster get blown up than it is to watch a zombie get its head blown off, but maybe that’s a matter of opinion).

I bet a lot of this has to do with perspective, as well.  Would I feel differently about video games involving guns if we were a family that regularly went to the shooting range? Or lived on a farm and had grown up with guns?  Or lived in a country like Switzerland or Israel where a high percentage of the population owns a gun?  Or lived in a place like Newtown, CT?

As with the music, I will probably let our daughter play what she wants to, but with supervision, and within certain limits.  Each game will likely be evaluated individually.  I learned she had been playing Call of Duty at a friend’s house after she came home and talked about how much fun it was to fire off an AK-47.  I made a polite phone call and requested the games with gunfire not be played when she comes to visit.  In retrospect, it wasn’t so much because of the guns, but because that game is all about hunting down and shooting people, which is something I will never be okay with.  The more distanced it is from real life, the less I mind it.  And isn’t that what video games are supposed to be about?  A break from reality?

Minefield


I’ve been inordinately preoccupied lately with the subject of how girls mature in the modern world, seeing as how I have a 9-year-old daughter who seems to be maturing at a frightening rate.  My own upbringing, along with cultural stereotypes, have primed me to see the teenage years as a minefield requiring an emotional flak jacket, forcing me to steel myself against having my daughter unwillingly ripped from my arms as she does everything in her power to separate herself from me using methods guaranteed to purposefully shock and horrify.

Pardon me while I attempt to rip this pair of shit-colored glasses from my face.

I know this is the most extreme version of adolescence possible, and it is generated by my fear that my daughter and I will have the same hate-filled relationship that my mother and I had.  I do not trust my own bipolar-addled mind to react in a healthy way to the vagaries of her changing brain in the coming years, and I’m terrified of ruining the relatively happy relationship that we have now.  I’ve also heard too many stories of mothers who have loving relationships with their daughters, only to have them turn sour once they become pre-teens and teenagers.

I’m also greatly disturbed by the cultural forces that are at work in my daughter’s life.  She is 9, but the kids at her school are already listening to music filled with descriptions of sex and partying, even the occasional mention of S&M (!).  I know she doesn’t understand most of what they’re talking about (she didn’t even know what the word “porn” meant), but I do, and it bothers me.  A lot.

I would put my foot down and put an absolute ban on such music, but I’m wary of ostracizing her from her friends, which is just as damaging.  And as a very wise friend pointed out, you can’t dictate someone’s musical choices to them.  I’m also aware that every single  generation of parents has thought that the music their children were listening to was going to send them to Hell or ruin their morals.  I am equally aware that the things musicians have sung about really hasn’t changed, not in centuries.  People think of decades earlier in the 20th century as being more innocent somehow, but they were singing about the exact same things they’re singing about now.  Just not quite so blatantly.

There has to be a balance.  I must allow her to be the person she is, but without exposing her to things earlier than she should be exposed to them.  And that’s where the problem currently is.  I don’t know how to do that without cutting her off from the the things and friends that help her express her identity.  I know what it’s like to feel completely separate from everyone around you, and it’s terrible and will do just as much harm to her as not doing anything.

Music is just the tip of the iceberg.  She’s only in the 4th grade.  If there is a hell on earth, it must surely be middle school.  What’s going to happen then, when the minefield really begins in earnest?  Then there will be the clothing battles, and the battles over anything else that I feel oversexualizes her.  I probably will put my foot down with those things.  What about the other things I have to protect her from?  Cyberstalkers?  A culture that with one hand tells her that sex is bad but with the other that she must be a sexpot?  Our culture’s horrible views on body image and health?  Our culture’s twisted views on just about everything?  I sometimes question the wisdom of having a child at this time in history, although I suspect that, as with the music, every generation has felt the same way.

All of these things have stirred together in my brain into a melange of terror that will undoubtedly do its own damage even if everything else is going just fine.  I can barely sort my thoughts together.

I’m trying to turn to books for help, but cultural forces are changing so rapidly, what with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, that almost all of them are woefully out of date.  Reviving Ophelia, written in 1994 and long held to be the gold standard of how to save our adolescent girls from the cultural forces at work in modern times, is grossly outdated (not to mention it views society through the lens of a psychologist who sees only troubled girls, and as such is extremely biased).  Surviving Ophelia is a similarly biased and outdated work that I refused to read as I knew it would only feed the fires of my fear, as did Reviving Ophelia.  I need something that will make me feel better, and empowered, not worse and powerless in the face of the forces I’m trying to battle.

There is one fight that only I have the power to help her win, and that is body image.  It is well known that daughters look to their mothers for how to treat and view their bodies, and that terrifies me, because I hate my body with a passion.  Hate it.  I’ve never had any reason at all to love it.  Why should I?  It’s never brought me anything but grief.  First in the form of negative attention from men and boys, and then in the form of an imbalanced endocrine system which has caused irregular, heavy periods my entire life.  Then I gained weight as a result of trying to make myself unattractive in an effort to shun the attention I got from men.

There was one very brief period in my life when I lost weight and was happy with my body and the attention I got, but my own mental baggage betrayed me once again, and I went back to hating my body and being ashamed of it, wanting to be ugly once again.  I’ve stayed that way ever since, even though I was really quite attractive, at least until I had a baby.  My husband tells me I’m still beautiful, but I don’t believe him.  I look in the mirror and am disgusted by what I see.  I detest what pregnancy did to my body and know that what beauty I did have before I had a baby, and did not appreciate, is gone forever.  I hate my hair.  I hate my skin.  I can’t think of a single thing about my body that I like.  I know that attitude is going to poison my beautiful daughter’s attitude about her own body, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I know there are people who think the way out of this trap is to look in the mirror and tell myself every day that I’m beautiful, but I want to choke when I think of doing that.  I can’t even imagine saying the words, let alone actually saying them.  I can barely look at myself in the mirror.  I don’t wear makeup: it just makes me feel like I have to go somewhere.  All I wear is t-shirts that cover up my body.  I wear my hair in a ponytail all the time.  I don’t take care of myself the way I should because I don’t see what the point is.  I don’t have a mental image in my head of what I looked like when I wasn’t fat, because I don’t think I ever actually looked at my whole body in the mirror.  Ever.  Certainly not on purpose with gladness.  Maybe if I was trying on clothes, but that’s it.  Even then, whatever I was trying on wasn’t for looks, it was for comfort and just to make sure it fit.

I don’t want to be this way.  I want to be someone who gets up in the morning and is happy to see the face and body in the mirror and wants to take care of them, to make them look pretty because they (I) am worth the attention and energy.  I want to be someone who makes the effort and time to go to the gym and to yoga and karate classes because they’re good for me and because they make my body look and feel better.  Mostly, though, I want to be someone who loves themselves enough to think themselves worthy of the effort of all of these things.  Because I don’t love myself.  I think I’m a pretty mediocre excuse for a human being.  Most days, all I can think of are all of the things I’ve ever done wrong and how I don’t measure up.  I certainly don’t treat my daughter the same way: quite the opposite in fact.  But I know the way I treat myself will seep into her psyche.  Maybe not now, but someday.

Maybe the minefield I have to navigate isn’t hers: it’s mine.

Compromise, Cat News


After my rant about games the other day, I realized that my attitudes were very much based in my own experiences growing up and not so much in today’s reality of game playing, at least not as it relates to my own family.  My family is made up of nice people who aren’t jerks, even when they are playing games.  The same can be said of my other game playing friends.  Just as I now do not associate with the greater relatively uneducated population, neither did I feel any particular kinship with it when I was growing up.  So it’s inappropriate of me to apply experiences from one sphere to another.  (Yes,  I know that sounds incredibly snotty and elitist of me, but I can’t help having a really high IQ.  It makes it really hard to be around less intelligent people sometimes, and not because I’m being judgmental of them.  It’s really my own problem for not being able to moderate my own impatience.  Anyway.)

With that in mind, and with temporal fairness in mind, we came up with a better plan for how to approach games and screen time in general, not just for summer but hopefully for the school year as well.  First we had to distinguish the difference between ‘good’ screen time and ‘bad’ screen time.  “Bad” being a completely relative term, not a judgmental one.  “Good” screen time involves imagination and creativity.  As such, a game like Minecraft totally counts as ‘good’ screen time since its entire point is the creation of new worlds.  Reading on a screen counts as ‘good’ screen time.  Watching educational shows or documentaries counts as ‘good’ screen time.

“Bad” screen time is what we decided to call “brain candy”: screen time that has absolutely no creative, imaginative, or intellectual value and is for sheer entertainment purposes only.  Non-creative games are brain candy, though this gets a little fuzzy when it comes to puzzle-solving games like Portal.  Reading Facebook is brain candy.  Pinning to Pinterest is brain candy.  Watching television shows and movies is brain candy.

After making those distinctions, we had to come up with scheduling.  During the summer, at least during the weeks when our daughter’s summer camps aren’t in session, we’re both home during the day and so we need to divide the time up appropriately so that everyone gets equal time on the computer.  We decided each person should get four hours a day on the computer, whether good or bad screen time, with Daddy getting dibs on the evening hours since he’s at work all day.  During weeks when our daughter is in camp, we’ll have to come up with a different plan, but between the computer, the Playstation, and our daughter’s iPod and 3DS, I bet we can come up with something.

We also decided that no one should get more than three hours of brain candy time a day, adults included (summer schedule: that goes down to two hours during the school year).  We also decided that the person has to do something else after two hours that isn’t brain candy and that we should remember to get up and move around at least once an hour when we’re on a screen to avoid leg compression and repetitive stress injuries.

Other stipulations for our daughter are that she must read two hours a day (on a screen is okay), and she must draw for one hour a day (again, on a screen is okay).  It’s just very important to me that she keep her imagination active, and I know that’s the real worry of the “screens are bad” camp of people.  They don’t want kids or adults with bricks for brains who can’t think for themselves (though it can be argued that our entire society’s goal is to keep people from thinking for themselves, but that’s another very long post).  We’re also going to use timers so that there isn’t any question about how long someone has been doing a particular thing.  I think this plan will ward off a lot of fights over the summer.

In other news, our MamaCat is making a miraculous recovery.  Last week, I didn’t think she was going to live through the weekend, she was looking so poorly.  She was having a hard time walking and was having difficulty making it all the way to the catbox on occasion.  I decided she was on her last days and that I should just give her whatever she wanted, so I started feeding her nothing but tuna fish, seeing as how she wouldn’t eat anything else anyway.  She pretty much scarfed it down along with the water that the tuna was packed in.  She has kidney disease, which demands a low-protein diet according to vets, so I was certain that the pure meat diet would do her in.

She kept hanging in there, though, despite my not being able to give her any meds: she just threw them back up.  After a few days, her appearance seriously improved and she even put on a little bit of weight.  Her fur looks better, and she’s not holed up in the bedroom like she has been for the last week.  She’s also eating food other than tuna now, which is another positive sign.  I think it’s too early to throw in the towel on the old girl quite yet!

Her turnaround on the tuna makes me second-guess myself about Yin-Yang.  What if I had tried to feed him tuna those last few days?  What if that had made him turn around?  Did I give up too soon?  I don’t think it would have helped.  He was so full of toxins by the time I was able to take him to the vet that it would have been almost impossible to flush them out without aggravating his heart condition.  Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to review his health and behavior for the last few years, it’s quite evident that he was ill for several years longer than I originally thought, given the amount of water he was drinking for the last several years of his life.  Like, he had probably had kidney disease for at least five years if not more.  Longer than his mother, much longer.  Each cat responds to kidney disease completely differently, and he also had heart disease (which makes me guilty because he was always a bit overweight).

I really shouldn’t be beating myself up about his death, seriously.  I just really, really miss him, and I’m trying hard not to feel like I failed him somehow (which is so stupid: my friends tell me they want to come back as one of my cats, I spoil them so).  I just want so badly to be able to turn back time and do some things differently.  Hindsight and all that.  I keep getting jolted by little reminders that he’s not here, like looking for a photo on my phone and running across one that I took of him.  Or eating my yogurt and getting to the end.  He always liked me to scrape the last bits of yogurt out of the container and let him lick it off my spoon.  He’d sit patiently while I ate it and then stand up to get his treat at the end.  Just normal things, like noticing an overall reduction in food and water intake as well as a cleaner catbox, remind me that he’s not here any more.

I’ve had to get rid of several things that I just couldn’t bear to look at any more because they reminded me of his last couple of months with us.  My daughter and I agree that we’ll have to replace the purple rugs in her room where he slept most of those last couple of months, because we keep looking for him there.  There are other spots in the house where I reflexively look for him, and I suppose I will for a long time.  Fifteen years is a long time to get used to someone’s presence.

For now, though, I will try to focus on the happiness that is MamaCat’s recovery and enjoy not only her time with us, but also our other cat Samadhi’s increased attention and affection.  She’s a sweet cat who is exhibiting new behaviors now that her brother is gone.  It’s neat to experience them.

Summertime


The last day of school was this past Wednesday.  And there was great rejoicing (yaaaay!).  Neither of us likes getting up early in the morning, so summer arriving is a welcome respite from getting up at the asscrack of dawn every day.  I’m fairly certain I suffer from something called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which is the medical term for people who really do function much better when they’re able to get their eight hours of sleep when they want them rather than when society dictates when they should need them.  Given my druthers, I’d go to sleep at 2am and get up at 10am.  That’s when I sleep best, and I can be extremely productive in the late evening.

Summer being here doesn’t mean I get to sleep in for the next twelve weeks, though.  Our daughter has science and technology camps for five weeks out of the summer, so there will be getting up early to get her to camp.  I can manage 7am, though.  Anything before then is psychologically daunting.  I just really, really hate getting up in the morning, regardless of how much sleep I’ve had.

Of course, summer arriving means a whole new set of battles with the child.  I am torn between the largely-based-in-speculation medical opinion that kids shouldn’t have more than two hours of  “screen time” a day, and by the very plain evidence to the contrary with at least one set of our friends who have a brilliant son who is well-adjusted, and is allowed to play all the damn video games he wants as long as he has his homework and chores done.  Really, the kid is an honor student and doesn’t show any of the signs of being unable to concentrate or having a lack of creativity that the scaremongers say will happen to our children if they watch too much tv or play too many video games.  Which is a funny thing to try to pass over on a society that is hardwired into their devices.  And who can blame us?  Most Americans work soul-sucking jobs that don’t pay them enough to do anything more than exist.  I’d watch a fuckload of tv, too.

So I’m trying to decide how much time she should get to play games and watch television over the summer, because if I leave it up to her, she’ll never read another fucking book again for the rest of her life if it means she can play fucking Minecraft 24/7.

Have I mentioned my deep and abiding hatred of games?  All games?  Board or otherwise?  Games do nothing but bring out the worst qualities in human beings, if you ask me.  Nothing will turn an otherwise perfectly pleasant human being into a total asshole like a competition or game will.  I despise competitive games.  Even the single player games are still competitive due to the nature of how game players compare themselves to other players.  Maybe there’s some base instinct being served by all that competitiveness, but I hate it.  Competition makes human beings treat each other like shit, because while we are in the modern world intellectually, the rest of our body is stuck in instinctual and biological modes that are more suited to surviving out in the wild than they are to modern existence.  Competition was a matter of survival for most of our relative existence.  If you didn’t compete, you died.

Well the world isn’t like that any more, not where I live, anyway.  I guess I should see games the same way that the Greeks saw the Olympics, which were invented as a way to give their warriors something to do in peacetime.  They recognized that you can’t create a combative personality without giving it something to combat, whether real or imagined.  I’m just not sure how to extrapolate that reasoning to modern games.  I don’t see what’s fun or appealing about them.  I tried playing Portal, but after the fifth or sixth puzzle, I just didn’t get it.  I like solving puzzles, but not those kinds of puzzles, and I have very little tolerance for the repeat-ad-nauseum method that most games seem to employ before you can pass to the next level.  I’m sorry, I don’t want to do something a hundred times before it’s successful.  That’s not fun to me, and unless I miss my mark, games are supposed to be FUN.  Fuck, I didn’t even like playing Myst!  Booooooring.

Understand that my attitude towards games places me in diametrical opposition to the other two members of my family, who love games and would play them all goddamn day and night if they could.  I don’t understand that, at all.  Particularly the wander-around-figuring-things-out games, like Fallout.  There’s so much nothing in that game, just a lot of walking around, talking to people, picking things up and looking at them, all interspersed with the occasional spate of zombie-killing.  If it were all  zombie killing, I might be able to understand it.  But all that other crap?  WHY?!?!  WHY is that FUN???

So even though summer is starting, in a way I’m not looking forward to it because it’s going to mean probably daily battles over how long she can play games and what it is that she’s doing with her screen time, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her do NOTHING but play games all summer.  I do agree with the doctors who say it’s bad to do nothing but play games.  Our brains aren’t meant to do that for hours on end, nor are our bodies meant to sit in one place doing nothing for hours on end.  She’s going to read, and draw, and do other things that don’t have a fucking thing to do with screens, and after a while I’m going to stop explaining myself.  She’ll just have to suck it up.

It’s going to be a long summer.

Drama


It’s been a bit stressful at our house in recent days. Our daughter just turned nine, officially making her a pre-teen and bringing with it all of the emotional fluctuations one would expect. There’s been a lot of drama and stomping off to slam a door or a dresser drawer. I had to have a really long talk with her today about her strange tendency to ignore us when we talk to her and then when we finally get angry about it, she flounces away in hostility. Not cool. Neither is her tendency to ask for a particular kind of food and then reject it when we bring it home from the store. Or have us make food for her lunch and then *buy* her lunch from the cafeteria. Very not cool. I have a low tolerance for having my time or my money wasted. I can’t count the number of different foods that have had to be thrown away because she would never eat whatever it was that she requested.

I’m familiar with this pattern by now, and I know that a) it will end and b) when it does end, she’ll be smarter and nicer than she was before her brain decided it needed to rewire its pathways. Again. She’s a total pill about twice a year. Once around her birthday, and then again in the fall. Which jibes with something I read in one of the myriad parenting books I’ve read over the last nine years, which is that children go through six month cycles of equilibrium and disequilibrium. When they’re balanced, they’re generally happy and easy to get along with. When they’re unbalanced, they’re discombobulated and understandably cranky, if not outright defiant. I try to remember this whenever it’s apparent that she’s going through another mental and physical growth spurt. I suppose this is all good practice for when she’s going through puberty, the mother of all growth spurts. I can’t lie and say I’m looking forward to that. We’re both really stubborn, and our relationship is the sort that will either bond like cement, or explode like a bomb. I’m pretty sure we’ll get the former, though.

My other stressor this week is my cat, Babalon, aka MamaCat. She is at least sixteen years old and is in kidney failure, the severity of which ranges from mild to worrying. Right now, we’re worrying about her. Which is a bummer since she was doing really well for a couple of weeks. We went through six weeks of antibiotics to treat a chronic UTI, which was difficult since Mama’s not the sort of cat who tolerates being messed with very much. She gets angry when she merely has to be restrained for more than about half a minute. After the antibiotics, she looked so much better. She put on a little weight, which was great because she’s gotten very skinny in the last couple of years. She looked perkier and her fur looked better. Her tummy even stopped making bizarre noises.

All of a sudden about a week ago, she went back to looking sad and sickly. Right now she weighs under six pounds again. When she was healthy, she weight over eight pounds. I’ve already spent quite a bit of money getting her tested and treated, and I can’t afford another set of blood tests for another week. I’ll do what I can when I can, but I’m having to contemplate hard questions. Like how much money I’m willing to spend on her. How much stress I’m willing to put her through. How long I’m willing to drag this out. How to balance our desire to keep her in our lives with our desire to make sure she’s happy and comfortable.

For the most part, I’m in the “make her comfortable” camp. She’s already far outlived the average lifespan of an indoor/outdoor cat. Anything I can do for her probably wouldn’t equate to a lot more quality of life and might actually detract from it, and it’s not like we haven’t had many wonderful years with her. And we still have two of her kids, who are themselves 15 but looking astoundingly healthy for cats their age. I’m just sad to have the moment of clarity that she really is dying, whether slowly or quickly. So we’re just going to love on her as much as we can, make sure she has everything that we know makes her comfortable, and be ready to do whatever needs to be done to keep her out of pain or misery.

So that’s my world this week.


I’ve been increasingly sad lately that Zoe’s getting so big. She’s shedding another ‘skin’, so to speak, by outgrowing another layer of toys and interests. Every time I see her/us getting rid of something else that she’s had since she was very small or a little-little girl, I get really depressed. Other small things will set me off: seeing someone carrying a toddler, or unsubscribing from an e-list that’s no longer relevant. It’s been quite some time since I could carry her (though if I had to, I still could, but not for very long), and when I didn’t have to anymore, I was grateful because she was getting so heavy. But I find myself wishing she was small again. She’s too heavy to sit in my lap comfortably anymore. We can cuddle next to one another still, but it’s not the same.

I think it bothers me more than it might other parents because I was so depressed for the first three years of her life. I wasn’t really completely there because of the postpartum depression that just seemed to go on and on and on. Sometimes I’m surprised I made it through those first few years at all and still think I wasn’t a very good mother. I feel like I missed so much. There must have been good and happy times, but mostly what I remember is being unhappy and stressed out.

And now she’s nearly 9, halfway to being an adult, and I often desperately wish I could roll everything back several years and do it again without being so sad and angry and sleep-deprived. Almost nothing happened the way I thought it would or wanted it to.

I get sad like this every year around her birthday. The actual act of having her was so traumatizing, and my doctor so cruel and insensitive, that it still sticks with me even after all this time. All I can do is wonder how much better things would have been if we had all gotten a better start. I feel like something very dear was stolen from me, from all three of us. I guess I’ll get over it someday, but it doesn’t look like “someday” is this year.

Yeah. Not little anymore.

Anhedonia


Cover of "The Wall"

Cover of The Wall

From the Greek ‘an-‘ meaning against or not, and ‘-hedone’, meaning pleasure.  Therefore, a lack of pleasure.  One of the hallmarks of depression.  Not to mention something I’ve been suffering from to one degree or another for months (years?) now.  Really, I can’t tell how long anymore.  When was the last time I was truly happy and enjoying my life?  I don’t know.

I define happiness as an overall contentment that makes a person pleased when they wake up in the morning and eager to get out of bed to meet the day’s challenges, whatever they may be.  Those challenges are not met with anxiety but with fervor and gusto.  Episodes of unhappiness or down feelings are fleeting and do not last long, unless something big like a death has occurred.  A happy person has things that they work on that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s their job or their home or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

I’m missing these things, and I can’t tell anymore if it’s because of my brain chemistry or because the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Worse, it’s entirely possible that my brain chemistry causes me to think that the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Like a horrible trick is being played on me from inside my head.

Then the shoulds come marching in, like Pink Floyd’s hammers in The Wall.  I understand that double-album so intimately now, from end to end.  I get it in a way I really wish I didn’t.  But there they are, those hammer-like shoulds.  You should be happy because you have a beautiful family.  You should be happy because you live in a great city.  You should be happy because you have great friends.  You should be happy because you have so much freedom.  You should be happy because your husband takes such good care of you and makes sure you have what you need.  You should be happy for a billion reasons that you must be ignoring or else you’d be happy, and therefore you should feel bad because you are not happy.

The shoulds spiral around in an ever-tightening circle that inevitably leads back to me, laying the blame of everything in my life that should make me happy but doesn’t at my weary mental feet.  Guilt, shame, and blame: the staunch guardians left over from a childhood of watching the hammers beat down the other people surrounding me.

I would give anything to want to get up in the morning and to greet the day with enthusiasm about what it may bring, rather than weariness or fear.
I would give anything to go through my day with ease and contentment, addressing each task in a relaxed way that did not tense my body and mind.
I would give anything to deal with my family with a serenity that did not treat every problem as though it may be earth-shattering.
I would give anything to lay my head upon my pillow each night feeling good about the day, knowing that there was another one on the other side of my dreams.

I would give anything to be freed of this demon that has followed me for so many years and has only relented when I’ve been able to travel, have been in school, or have been in a position to have goals, dreams, and hopes bigger than myself.  Perhaps I have these things and I just can’t see them for whatever reason, and need to clean those shit-colored glasses I seem to find myself wearing so often.  Is this one of those places where it’s difficult to tell where I stop and where my illness begins?  If so, I truly hope the answer is found soon, as my tolerance for the medication dance is already wearing thin.  “Nope, that didn’t work, let’s try another one!”  This can go on for years for some people.  I’m not sure if I have the stamina for that.

In the meantime, I wait and tell the appropriate people when I’m feeling particular ways and try not to do too much damage along the way, to myself or anyone else.  And hope that I am bigger, stronger, and more patient than anhedonia.

Bad Feelings


I got a letter from a large insurance company the other day informing me that they had a policy for my grandmother that might possibly be something I was the beneficiary of.  I raised my eyebrows at it in surprise.  I had remembered finding the policy (from 1934) in her folder of important papers and put it in the growing stack of Things I Ought To Do that sprouted after my mother, and then my grandmother, died.  Then I remembered why I never dealt with it.  I didn’t want to deal with the morass of paperwork that was very likely going to accompany the task of proving family lineage.  An easy task in thought, since I am indeed the last person who actually knew her that was also related to her.  A difficult task in practice due to the fractured nature of the family and the fact that my mother had her name legally changed in the late seventies, which is going to snarl the proceedings mightily in the absence of that paperwork.

I first need my mother’s death certificate, a task that will either be super easy, or a serious pain in the ass due to not knowing exactly which name is on all those records.  I may have to file that request two or three times before I get it right, and I’ll have to pay for every one of them.  Easy or hard, getting that will be accompanied by a lot of bad feelings given the nature of her death and because I have to utter the name and think about the horrible man that she lived with when she decided to shuffle herself from the mortal coil.  I have to think about the inequities of our country’s social service system, which would have essentially made her live under a bridge for two years before granting her the benefits that might have saved her life.  I have to think about our own relationship, which by then precluded any good feelings whatsoever: we hated each other.  I hated her because she was abusive and selfish, and she hated me because I refused to let her forget it or behave that way around me anymore, particularly since I had a brand-new baby only months old who was too important to be tainted by that bullshit.  Mom flat out told me not to offer her any help anyway, so I didn’t.

Following her death, her charming husband shunned my sister and I, dumped her ashes in his backyard, and later gave away the rest of her possessions, leaving us nothing, not even a coffee cup, to remember her by.  I let him know just what the rest of us thought of him and tried to move on.  It was the one and only time I’ve had the opportunity to tell someone to shove a red hot poker up their ass.  Hopefully it isn’t too difficult to see why dealing with anything regarding my mother’s death got shoved to the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile.

Fast forward five years.  I had had the blessed opportunity to actually spend some time with Gram after dangling the prospect of a visit in front of her since Mom died (don’t taunt old people, they don’t like it).  I spent several days with her in May 2007 and then again in September, when I brought the whole family out and she got to meet her great-granddaughter.  I didn’t know it would only be a year later that she would die.  In fact, her last year would take her away from her beloved cabin in the canyons of Orange County, though it was really for her own safety and that of the other people who lived there.  She just didn’t move fast enough to escape a brush fire.  Specifically, this one, the Santiago Canyon Fire of 2007:This fire would come within a single mountain ridge of utterly decimating Trabuco and Holy Jim Canyons, where Gram and her neighbors lived.  She went to stay with friends but her health precluded her ever living there again.  Less than a year later, she died in her sleep.  She was 85, just a few days shy of her birthday.

Memories of the Santiago Fire haunted me, and fire season was rapidly encroaching, so I knew I had to get out there to save what was in her cabin as quickly as I possibly could.  A couple of weeks later, I flew out and her dear friends Doug and Scarlett got me out there and later helped me pack up the UHaul that I was going to have to drive back to Texas.  Alone.  For 1700 miles.  First I would have to clear out the cabin of a woman who had been raised during the Great Depression and never.threw.anything.away.  And I do mean anything.  I had laughed and teased her about it when I had visited before, but all of those extra sheets, towels, paper bags, and other things actually came in handy.  Given the circumstances, I was reluctant to get rid of any of it anyway.

I still felt bad about it all, of course.  I had been unable to come and visit her again as I had wanted to, and Gram was one to hold a grudge.  I felt it was my duty to preserve what was left of her with as much dignity as possible.  These were important things, if not to the world, then to me.  They represented a family past that I had never, ever been privy to due to the fractured nature of her relationship with Mom.  It seemed the entire family was filled with women who were difficult to get along with.  I wouldn’t know anything about that.  *looks around and whistles*

Miraculously, and I mean that completely, the loads of her belongings were jolted down a 5 mile pitted washboard dirt road in the back of pickup trucks, packed into a UHaul, and then driven from Rancho Santa Margarita in California to Austin Texas without a single thing breaking.  Not even the three massive mirrors or the fragile glass and pottery.

And so began the long and arduous process of first, finding a place for it all somewhere in the house or garage, and second, going through it all, as it was all packed in boxes and Rubbermaid trash cans (one of the items about which I could hear her saying, “See? I told you so, that’s useful!”).  I found a pair of red canvas shoes that apparently I had worn as a baby.  I found her letters and pictures.  I found so many things that were wonderful to me but useless to anyone else that I did nothing but go through her things for the next two months.

Then I crashed.  There were so many questions in those boxes amidst the photo albums and books.  It became overwhelming after a while and I just couldn’t bring myself to go through any more of it.  Even today, there are a few boxes and a trashcan in the garage that still need to be gone through, which I’m sure Doug would love if I would get around to that, as he is now the owner of her little cabin in the canyon and they hold papers relevant to it.

I also found the aforementioned insurance policy, and knowing that I would have to drag all that bullshit about Mom back up from the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile, I did nothing about it.  I came to the proverbial screeching halt.  Now I have to start my engines again and try not to let it all bother me, too much anyway.  There’s just so much there, the mad and the sad and the disgusted and the raging and the depressed and so on and so forth.  Like a bubbling cauldron that no one in their right mind would ever want to stir.  But I have to.  If I want those last questions answered and those last connections forged, I have to.  It’s not even about insurance policies anymore.


I’ve been slowly, unconsciously, and in some cases, unwillingly removing various influences from my life lately.  Some little voice way in the back of my head is constantly asking me, “Does that serve your purposes?” and if it doesn’t, whatever it is goes out the window.  I think the first thing that went by the wayside was my subscription to my neighborhood e-list.  I decided I just really didn’t need to be involved in petty arguments about dogs, street repair, and other various goings on of the neighborhood and the City.  It’s not that I don’t care about some of those things, but there are much more efficient ways for me to be involved in such things that won’t result in crazy neighbors writing to me off-list over some perceived offense.  In short, I saved myself the offense of being involved in the soap opera, which is what it largely was.

Once that e-list went, it was easy to ditch any others, including the one for the larger neighborhood that encompasses my smaller one.  It was even more guilty of being mostly concerned with lost dogs and what the exact protocol is to handle bird feathers, etc.  I just.don’t.care about such things.  Not anymore anyway, and clearly there are people who are already well-prepared to take care of such things.

The shedding of unwanted influences also extended to people, more than one of which have either removed themselves from my life or been removed by me as I’ve continued on my journey of being more assertive about what I do and do not want in my life.  I don’t need judgment, first and foremost.  I don’t need angry criticism, nor do I need self-righteousness.  I’m in the middle of trying to STOP being those ways myself, and unfortunately that’s meant the deliberate and sometimes unwanted distancing of myself away from people who bring those influences into my life.  I need a shirt that says “doormat no more”, because that’s really what’s happening.  I don’t let people step on me anymore, and I suppose that’s probably really shocking to those who were doing it and are no longer allowed to do it.  I’ve tried to assert myself in such matters as kindly as possible, but if someone’s standing on me and the only way to gain freedom is to push them off, it’s going to make them angry.  There’s nothing I can do about that, and I’m having to be comfortable with that, as well.  Pushing people off me and making them angry was a very dangerous thing to do for many years, and I carried the habit into adulthood.  Now I’m trying to drop that habit, and I suppose I can’t be surprised when the odd person gets upset about it and tries to judge me for it.

My job in that particular journey has been not to focus on those who I’ve lost due to my changing, but to focus on those who have stayed, those who I have gained, and those who have applauded my efforts to be a better person, or who have even called me their hero for doing so.  That one hasn’t sunk in yet, but I hope that it does in time.  I have a lot of work to do on my self-worth, still, and the less I focus on the ones who don’t like me or judge me and the more I focus on those who remain and support me, the better.

I still have a great deal of trouble with going through life with the attitude of “be here now”, though.  I still have to be in the world, to drive in it, to buy groceries, to deal with other parents, to deal with school administrators, to deal with a whole host of people and behaviors who are definitely NOT practicing “be here now”, and it makes it extraordinarily difficult some days.  I live in a city with particularly bad driving manners, for some reason, and the other day those bad manners had me in tears for the short drive between my dojo and my home.  Ten minutes, that’s all that drive is, and I was driving and crying before I even pulled out of the dojo parking lot after witnessing three separate incidences of stupidity or outright meanness behind the wheel.  Granted, I was being sensitive that day and needed to eat, but it’s a good example of my needing to practice being where I am and remembering what’s important at any given moment in time.  None of those people really mattered, but I still let their selfishness and lack of concern bother me.  By the time I got home, I was in a deeply despairing mood in which I wondered what the point of anything was, if people couldn’t even drive from point A to point B without being murderously stupid to one another.

I even asked for guidance in what is probably a bad place: Facebook.  Many of my friends tried to point out what is true, that it’s important to do the right thing no matter what everyone else is doing, if for no other reason than to go to bed and wake up in the morning knowing that I did the right thing.  Then today I got a couple of pointers from the same place, one in the form of a very short video of Pema Chodron basically illuminating the idea that it’s better to wear slippers than to carpet the world and that it’s easy to do that by cultivating awareness in your own mind.  I don’t know how to do that yet and I would do just about anything to know how.  The other came in the form of a very smart friend’s blog called The Good Life in which he talked about how damned difficult it is for we Westerners to simultaneously live in the world that we are forced to live in while also trying to cultivate momentary awareness.

That rang so true for me, and I wondered if it is particularly difficult for parents.  After all, “be here now” means just that: not dwelling in the past nor thinking about the future, two things that seem nigh impossible for a parent.  After all, a good parent must always analyze past behavior to identify mistakes in order not to make them again in the future, which we are always thinking about so that we may properly prepare our children for it.  How does “be here now” fit in to that?  I do not know yet, and I imagine that it may very well be impossible to cultivate a pure state of presence and awareness, but I know that it probably IS possible to cultivate something else that has one foot right now and another foot everywhere else.  Or perhaps it really is possible to cultivate that kind of awareness and still exist in the modern world while raising a child.  I don’t know yet.  My level of knowledge as it pertains to Buddhism and its base concepts is still as rudimentary as a child learning to draw the alphabet with a crayon.  But I feel that there is something large that I am only beginning to be aware of, like a blind man holding his hands up to something very large and trying to figure out what it is.  I do hope that my eyes are opened soon, or that my mind perceives what my hands only detect part of.  The place where I am now I can only describe as limbo or purgatory, and I don’t like it here.

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