for my daughter, my inspiration and my teacher

I have been on a journey to removing my daughter from the conventional education system since she was 2 1/2. Today, we are three days away from seeing that dream realized. My daughter, so full of energy that she has been diagnosed with ADHD, so sensitive to noise and light that she has been diagnosed with SPD, so in tune with her brain’s physiological need to feel the breeze, the soil, the rush of equilibrium as you jump or race through space, that she has been called disruptive, annoying, “special needs”, and wild (even by me), would have done so well in a hunter gatherer society, where the sensations of nature all around her would have given her a sense of balance and peace, where her energy and enthusiasm would have made her one of the most successful members of her tribe, where her curiosity and incessant need to do would have driven her to quick and easy accomplishment and satisfaction.

She doesn’t live in a hunter gatherer tribe. She lives in a truly weird version of humanity that has arisen in 3% of human history. (Written human history is 3% of anatomical human history.) She is, historically speaking, a completely normal homo sapien. She has not adapted genetically or physiologically to the last 3% of our biological history. She possesses completely normal biological instincts, as most children do, but unlike many children, she has not been able to adapt, in her 6 years of life, to a biologically weird culture. And so she is a biological norm, and a cultural anomaly. She is “wild”, and I, her mother, have failed to “tame” her. All of the supplements, occupational therapy, food restrictions, punishments, rewards, pressure, shaming, and leading-by-example in the world has not transformed her from her biology.

But it’s ok. I can’t change the culture or the society or the world that she was born into. I can step back and look at the big picture. I can take advantage, at every opportunity, of the scenarios in which she shines as a truly human mammal. Look at her on the beach, for example, running and digging and playing for hours. Not too tired, not too cold, not whining about sand or sun or wind. She has stamina, she has the ability to meet her own needs, she has drive, she has focus, she is kind, she is insightful, she is generous, she is in all her glory.

When you see children who do not learn well in school, they will often display characteristics that would be valued and admired in any number of non-WEIRD cultures around the world. They are physically energetic; they are independent; they are sociable; they are funny. They like to do things with their hands. They crave real play, play that is exuberant, that tests their strength and skill and daring and endurance; they crave real work, work that is important, that is concrete, that makes a valued contribution. They dislike abstraction; they dislike being sedentary; they dislike authoritarian control. They like to focus on the things that interest them, that spark their curiosity, that drive them to tinker and explore.

-Carol Black, “A Thousand Rivers”

My daughter is exactly as above. She wants to contribute to the real world. No amount of “Montessori work”, as brilliant and creative as it may be, can take the place of figuring out how to make a bridge out of sand, how to make cupcakes out of random kitchen ingredients, or how to keep a fire burning with leaves and sticks. She needs to play, and not in the cutesy way of driving little trains along little tracks, or assigning mother/father roles to baby dolls (although yes, she does that, too). She needs to play exuberantly, and with the force of her whole body. She can play this way all day, and she can because she must. She is driven to socialize and interact in every moment. You can sit her at a desk, but that won’t diminish her need to talk to and explore with another human being. This is how she learns and grows from her world. She is the fullest expression of what it means to be a young mammal. Observe and study young monkeys, young tigers, young dolphins, and you’ll see what I mean.

Is my job as a mother, then, to force her to comply with the trappings of this modern era? Should she be made to sit still in a circle, or at a desk, for hours on end? What will this achieve or accomplish, other than a sense of control for the rest of us? I must encourage and model kindness of spirit, respect for the boundaries and needs of others, and the ability to regulate oneself for ultimate inner peace. Yes, those must be my goals as a parent. And yet, my little human mammal has arrived on this planet to show me that this need not be achieved within four walls. She is at her most regulated, kind, and respectful when she is respected for who she is and what she needs. And what she needs is the type of environment where she will blossom into who she is meant to be.

My daughter, my teacher, my inspiration: In three days you will be released into this world. You will be asked to take control of your own learning and your own fate. You will be given guidance and leadership, but not force or control. You will become responsible for what you know, and how you know it. You will learn to regulate yourself in whatever way works best for you as a unique individual. You will find those places in which your caring spirit and your insatiable curiosity lead you to greatness.

You will bloom into your truest, most radiant self. I am humbled to be with you on your journey as your mother, your mentor, and your friend.

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a parenting meditation on acceptance

I accept that my child is loud.

I accept that I do not like noise, and my child is noisy. This will make me uncomfortable. This will trigger sensory defensiveness in me. This will mean that I have to find ways to cope with her loudness, as well as help her learn to discern when and where to NOT be loud, as well as to encourage empathy in her so that she knows when to back off. I accept that this will be challenging.

I accept that my child is rough.

I accept that this will also trigger my sensory defensiveness. I see that she is sorry when her rough movement causes me pain, and I see that she is embarrassed and ashamed. My job as a parent is to help her modulate her rough behavior so that no one gets hurt, and to help her find the appropriate outlet for her proprioceptive needs.

I accept that she will ask for boundaries by pushing my buttons.

My job is to hold those boundaries firm with love, modeling calm and anger management. I accept that I will often fail at calm, loving boundary-holding, and will dissolve into yelling. I will then attempt to model repair, and an attitude of perseverance toward bettering myself.

I accept that she is impulsive.

I accept that she will do things that a child several year younger would do, but probably not a child her own age. I accept that this part of her brain is still developing, on track, but behind most of her peers. I accept that I will have to repeat myself more often than not. I bear witness to the fact that although it takes time, she does learn to do things that must be done. I accept that I will sometimes be overcome by frustration with this.

I accept that she won’t always be able to do what her peers can do.

I accept that there are some things my child cannot do yet that others her age can, like sit still at a restaurant or for a show. She may not be able to take group swim lessons because she can’t yet follow all the rules. She has to be supervised at times that other children do not. I accept that I will have to make accommodations for this, even as I see that in her own way, she is maturing and reaching the milestones she’s meant to reach. I accept that I will feel anger, disappointment, resentment, and most of all, fear, when she is unable to keep up with her neurotypical peers. I accept the responsibility for my own feelings and my own expectations, which are not hers, but only my own.

I accept that she is exactly who she is, and who she is meant to be.

I accept that the challenges presented with parenting her are gifts of growth to me. I accept that by not fitting into a prescripted developmental timeline, she has brought me with her outside of the box, to explore new paths together. I love her for this. I appreciate her for this. She is a unique expression of the divine. Her energy is her gift to the world.

the madness of children

Over the weekend, I broke. The loudness, impulsiveness, defiance… being ignored, talked back to, forced to clean up after, disrespected… it was too much. I felt like I was swirling down a drain. I could barely talk to or look at my child. The life-force had been sucked out of me, and there was nowhere to go to recharge or recover. So, I went to bed at 6pm, and then went back to bed with my daughter later.

I tried to do better the next day. I didn’t do a lot better, but I did do better. And I’ve suffered the mom guilt thing ever since. Why, when I love my child more than life itself, when I study and memorize respectful parenting texts, when I intellectually know how to do better, do I not do it all the time??? What is wrong with me???

Ironically, this is the question my daughter asks herself every single day, all day long. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop myself every time? Why didn’t I think things through? Why is it so hard for me to listen? Why do people get so angry at me? Why can’t I be “good”?

So, as a mom, I’m here today, doing my best. Apologizing and owning my own shortcomings with my daughter. All morning I made a herculean effort to be less short-tempered, to not yell, to not storm off. She could only find one shoe. She wanted chocolate candy for breakfast. She crawled over the middle of the seats in the rental car. She wanted a jacket. Then didn’t want it when she had one sleeve on. She wouldn’t go into her classroom because she hated the shoes she was wearing because we couldn’t find the other shoe she wanted. On, and on. And I kept saying, “I’m trying so hard not to lose my temper. I love you and I want you to know how much I love you. I’m frustrated by this but I’m trying not to yell. I want to have a good morning together.” Over and over. And somehow, the morning was a little better for it. Not because she did what I wanted in the end (she wore the shoes she didn’t like, but complained the whole time, she didn’t wear the jacket, she crawled over the seat), but because I didn’t throw gasoline on her fire. So the fire was smaller and easier to recover from.

My daughter is my spiritual practice. She pushes me to practice what I preach. She insists that I never stop growing. Her existence forces me to mindfulness. I’m grateful to her in every way.

California, what are you doing to me?

Yesterday we went to the beach. I walked to the edge of this continent and felt a sense of coming home. The incoming waves glided slowly toward me and kissed my feet before receding back with the tide. I felt the full intensity of the sun shining right through me. M and I ran across the sand, through the shallow pools, laughing and squealing, ageless. Hours passed and we felt not a single minute. The ocean breakers in the distance rose and fell and crashed, like the inhale and exhale of breath.

The other day I was driving back from East Bay, and somehow got routed down a rural road. We wove through the emerald hills, while the sun sank down and tinted them gold. I pulled over three or four times just to take photos, just to let my eyes absorb it all. Is this the same country I’ve always lived in? Has it always been so beautiful? Why do I love these hills in a way that only someone born there should?

Not to cheapen the poetry with finances, but my paychecks are now rolling in every week. I can afford to pay my bills. I can afford childcare. I can afford to send M to a Montessori through 8th grade. I can even save some money. A huge weight has lifted off of me… oh my god, I can be a single mom here and be ok. They pay nurses here what I feel like I actually deserve to earn most nights. 

I was not ok in Michigan. I was alone, I was broke and going into debt, I was worried about child care, about putting M in a school that wasn’t the best for her just because it was free. Nothing was coming together. Worse, it was all falling apart. I felt trapped, stuck, like being in a relationship you’ve long concluded was unhealthy, but were never able to repair no matter how you tried. And yet I’d known nothing else, so I thought surely it was better than any alternative. But I was wrong about that. Now that it feels like I’m standing in the clear light of day, I can see that I was so dangerously on the edge of sinking into complacency and old, fruitless patterns of thought and emotion. Thank you thank you to the universe, god, my inner self, all of it, for pushing through the fear and making the leap. It wasn’t easy to shed so much old skin, but I have not one single regret now. I have no desire to look back, because my forward seems so amazing.

I have a chance to begin again. I can be who I truly am, who I know I must be. Now I can breathe. I’m finally breathing. The ocean called to me and I came: now I know it’s all going to be ok. Whatever the future brings, I will never forget this chance I’ve been given, this freedom and weightlessness.

Lucky. Blessed. Gratitude. That’s all I feel right now.

waves of anxiety

I’m on a roller coaster. At times I’m fine, thinking that everything was fine at the new job and I’m going to get through every night just fine, take it one night at a time. I got this. Then there are some hours where my body is in agony, panicky, unable to eat, my stomach churning. Luckily, I hadn’t really had panic or anxiety like this in years, and I didn’t expect to have it like this again, if I had I never would have come. I still feel like I’m in the right place, but I’m begging the universe to let this anxiety calm down in the coming weeks. It’s exhausting and I’m already so exhausted. I know that night shift is the worst possible thing for my panic attacks (it was so bad for me when I did nights in 2010). When I’m tired, I’m prone to anxiety. I also know that evening (right before I work) is my trigger time, and not drinking enough water. I’m trying to force myself to eat and drink as much as my stomach will allow me, and remind myself that I’m overtired.

I keep telling myself that it’s ok for me to be anxious right now. Every single thing in my life changed in a week’s time. It was all like a vacation until they put some patients’ lives in my hands, and I was in a social situation with strangers for hours on end. It’s totally normal to feel panicky in the beginning weeks. But god, it’s such an awful feeling. The symptoms themselves trigger more panic in a positive feedback loop. The tightness in my stomach, it causes my heart to race and my body to shake, and then the tears come. I’m out of practice for keeping it at bay and I’m trying to dig back to five years ago and all the ways I coaxed myself out of a life of anxiety.

There are some other travelers on their first contract who are feeling the same way. That makes me feel a little better. There is even one from my same hospital back home. We are both missing our home hospital fiercely, well at least the comfort and proficiency we had achieved there. If my old hospital suddenly popped up here, I’d run into it with tears of joy streaming down my face. I miss feeling competent, like I’m really good at something. Good enough to train others, good enough to make a huge difference in the care of patients. Right now at work I’m just struggling to keep up. My only homesickness is for the comfort I had at work, which is totally gone now.

Well tonight I’ll be on my own for the first time. Charge nurse and unit, please be kind.

self-care

I’m going through a bad spot in my emotional health, so many repetitive painful thoughts dominating my head space. So I’ve been trying to dig through my old bag of tricks for this type of depression, things that I painstakingly learned when I went through this for a long time in my 20s (and had a wonderful therapist).

1) Act “as if”. Acting as if I’m fine and as if it’s a normal day is not the same thing as denial, because it’s supposed to be used as a tool to get you out of bed and get out of wallowing. Go ahead and make coffee, clean the house, go for a walk, run errands. Don’t lie in bed in fetal position for more than an hour.

2) Give yourself permission. Permission to feel bad, really really bad, for as long as you have to.

3) Turn off the tapes. The tapes on repeat in your mind are damaging. Turn them off even if it means listening to political podcasts. It’s unnecessary to play things over and over… once you’ve had a thought, you don’t need to think it again times 1000.

4) Run new tapes. Tell yourself that you are ok, you are lovable,  you are strong, you have gotten through things before and you will again. Remind yourself that nothing is permanent, even and especially feelings. Find quotes that make you feel inspired or stronger and repeat them in your mind. Read books or watch shows that are about getting through hard shit.

5) Get a new perspective. Leave town, visit people, anything but staying home in your own little bubble. Even going to work can help. Traveling is also a good way!

6) Find something to look forward to and focus on that. Planning a trip is my go-to, but it can be anything.

7) Talk to yourself like your own best friend. Tell yourself that you deserve the best. You deserve happiness and to be surrounded by people who treat you well all the time. Don’t tell yourself that you are stupid, a fool, too needy, or too anything! A best friend would never tell you that. A best friend would tell you that you did fine, you are fine, and you don’t deserve to be anything but loved and treated well.

This is my first holiday season without my grandparents, and sometimes I talk to my grandma in my mind and try to imagine what she would say. I try, but I can’t always hear the answer. I can hear her telling me all of those things I said in number 7, however. So many of us are going through hard times and the holidays make them that much harder. Be kind to yourselves!

draining magic

I made an amulet as a gift for a friend yesterday, and I won’t get into how I go about doing such things, but I don’t do them much anymore and it really drained me. It also puts me in a weird, nostalgic, other-worldly mood that I have to slowly dig myself out of. It’s different having a kid, you can’t source your energy into something like that and then just lie around refueling. Although that’s basically what I did anyway.

Even without having done something like that, it’s autumn and my grandparents are gone and I’m about to start a whole new life. It’s like the trees are changing and leaves are dying and it’s such a physical manifestation of everything going on with me. I try not to think too hard or long about the past because honestly, it just makes my head feel like it’s spinning around and around. Trying to remember who I was 10 years ago, reconcile my childhood, try to guess at who I will be 15 years from now… nothing meshes, nothing feels completed. Everything about my young adulthood is loose ends, and my childhood links are disappearing before my eyes. I’m optimistic about being an older adult, however, because it will be different than what it would be if I stayed in this life. Different how, I don’t know, but staying here is increasingly like hanging out with my own ghosts all the time. I will get lonelier, I will get crazier.

I went on so many adventures in my younger years, including the adventure of foster care and pregnancy and adoption. I had adventures overseas, both physically and emotionally. I was someone who set off into the unknown and knew awesome amazing things would happen to me. And they did. I was also someone who got beaten down over and over by the whims of my own heart. I treasure some of those memories, I abhor some of them, too. Some of those stories I carry with me forever, the love and heartache and sweetness and loss of true love. Others I wish I could discard on the roadside, the betrayal, the anxiety, the naivete, the bad decisions.

Regrets? I think I would do some smaller things differently, yes. I’d get out of bad relationships sooner. I’d give more time and attention to the people who really matter. I’d spend less of my emotional energy on anxiety and depression. But I wouldn’t take those bad decisions away totally… after all, that would mean that I would have to learn the lessons I learned in some other way, and the evil you know feels like a safer choice than the evil you don’t! The things I don’t regret are often the craziest… spontaneous, joyful, free pouring out of my own spirit: temporary but ever-lasting whoops straight from my heart.

I hope in the next decade I can learn to not only hear my intuition, but to trust it. The way I did when I was in foster care training and had a girlfriend telling me if I did foster care, she’d break up with me. (As she was still cheating on me.) Something in me just said NO, I’m doing this. Stay or go, my path is here. And I did it. And in the end we aren’t together, and we were never going to be, but look what I have? The best thing I’ve ever had in my life, my daughter. Because I listened to that inner voice, and I trusted it. I’m doing the same with this travel nursing thing even though I have not the foggiest idea what our life will look like a year from now and that’s scary as hell. Just do it, the inner voice says, and I am.