Simpatico

You know how sometimes you think things for a long time and then one day you read the Internet and you realize that someone wrote down your thoughts?  And that they did it very well?  And you feel relief because it was going to take a lot of work for you to do it and, even then, it might not have come out as elegantly as the way the Internet put it?

Me too.

Lots of my thoughts on parenting boil down to what this woman said.  Thank you, lady.  Simpatico over here.

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Our Gangly, Spread-Out Tribe (and why we need it)

Malcolm Gladwell gave a name to the desire we have to locate our ‘people,’ those who are like us in some way, those with whom we feel an affinity.  He calls this the urge to find our tribe.  He explains that our tribe can be the people we live with or those with whom we share a deep connection.  Once we’ve discovered and connected with these people we feel better about the world–happier, safer, more understood.

Our tribe can be, and probably is, made up of people who share our interests.  For those of us who are people of faith we find something of a ready-made tribe in our houses of worship.  We share similar outlooks with the people we find there–on life, on the nature of reality, on God.  Even in church, though, there are no guarantees.  There are plenty of lonely people in the pews on Sunday mornings.

Our tribe can be our family members.  In some sense, it always is.  I’m blessed with a close-knit family.  They’re supportive in good times and bad.  My two sisters are the people I call most often.  I used to give little thought to the idea of finding a tribe because I assumed it was my biological family.  In many ways it is.  And yet…

After my husband and I moved overseas we felt like we found it.  We found our tribe.  They were young and old, they had large families, and were couples with no kids.  They were from Mississippi and New Mexico.  They were doing well with the local language.  They were completely inept.

They were missionaries.

They understood the joys of care packages full of beef jerky and Starburst candies.  They knew why those of us in certain countries couldn’t be on Facebook in the Fall to witness the advent of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes–again.  They commiserated with us about airports where the electricity goes out and people spit on the floor.  They laughed with us as we swapped stories about second (or third, or fourth) language gaffes.  They understood that you can meet a person in a strange country who remembers a certain park in a city near the one you grew up in and that, as a result, that person can become your friend for life.

We came back to the States, a tangled mess of grief and relief.  I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but I felt deep loss, the loss of our tribe who were going on without us.  That feeling hasn’t gone away completely.  But God is good and, ever so slowly, he’s helping us to gather our tribe again on this side of the ocean.  We’re adding them one by one.  We can tell them a mile off.  It’s something about how they order food and talk to the waiters.  Or how they look a person in the eye and want to know their story.  It’s how their eyes fill up with tears for people they remember, how their hearts are shaped like continents.

Our tribe is spread out now.  It’s right here and way over there.  But we have one.  And slowly I’m feeling happier, safer and more understood.

Who’s in your tribe?

Another Home

We lived in a dingy, Indian apartment for three years. We shared square footage with mountain monkeys, mice, and mongooses (mongeese?). The pipes leaked but only when we weren’t experiencing water shortages.

We ended up kind-of loving that place.

A dear family member visited us once and delicately called it a shit hole. After taking a deep breath, I looked around and tried to see it through his eyes in order to cut him some slack. I couldn’t. After all, the neighbors were living in tin shacks. Our concrete floors and lumpy walls had begun to look decent to me. My bedroom with the little porch felt familiar the way pajama pants do, the ones you wore after having your third baby.

Now we’re two years back in the US and we’re house hunting. I find that I’m at odds with myself and Husband about everything pertaining to domiciles. I mean everything. I look at ramshackle houses and love them (memory-soaked walls)/find them repulsive (why must the ceilings be so low and the walls so wood-paneled?) I visit new construction and salivate over stainless steel appliances and shiny wood floors while judging these Americans with their monstrous master bedrooms and cocktail party baths.

I decide that I want to stay in the cottage we’ve been in for two years, the one my parents own.  The one in which I crashed and burned upon our reentry into This American Life. But it feels itchy, like arrested development. I’ve got rocks in my nest, as good as it’s been.

I am propelled forward.

Husband will board a plane to Africa today. The kids and I will wave goodbye and then set the GPS to look at another house. I will imagine myself in it.  I’ll come away hopeful, then worried about money, then worried The One will slip through my fingers. Or I’ll come away muttering.

I will face the fact that I am uncomfortable searching for a home and that this is OK. I will remind myself of what Scripture says. Also C.S. Lewis.

I’ll find a house one of these days and it will be good.  Time will make it a (temporary) home.

Earth

This morning I returned to earth at 9:21 a.m.  The sounds of a made-in-the-eighties cartoon pressed through the doors of my bedroom, elbowing past the hum of my floor fan, and tapped my subconscious on the shoulder.  One of the dogs had curled himself next to me, wedging me on my side.  I suppose it was my tingling right arm that brought me back in the end.  I felt for the dog’s back and pushed him over, sitting up halfway. I blinked away eleven hours.

The first day of getting back to things.

It has been eighteen days since I’ve truly slept, paid attention to the kids, written, or been quiet for that matter.  I’m worn.  Every day I’ve spent with family (first husband’s, then mine) has been a gift.  I am reminded that, other than my faith, my family is really all I need in the end.  And if I had the choice to surround myself with my sisters and their children on a more permanent basis, I would.  I’d wrap them around me like a mink coat, aware of the luxury.

But I am a girl who longs for quiet, who craves routine.  These things are important for my long-term survival.  I’m ready to slip back into the familiar warp and weft of my life, such as it is.  Ready for the odd moment of fruitful nothing.

Husband leaves for Africa next week so life won’t be strictly normal in the days to come.  But I will spend many night hours staring and thinking hard and writing when he’s gone.  When he arrives home he’ll recognize me.  I’ll have put myself back together, one word at a time, and returned to earth for a longer stay.

Security Superpowers (or Just Another Day as Mom)

imagesWe moms all have superpowers of one kind or another.  We can tell our babies’ cries from others’.  Later we can sense when our kids have had a bad day.  We can carry a toddler on one arm, groceries in the other, and a human infant in our womb, all at the same time.

[To wit:  I was at the pool the other day and I watched an enormously pregnant woman in a maternity swimsuit push her toddler up a mulched hill in a stroller.  Sure she had to stop halfway to catch her breath, but that was only because she was doing something amazing.]

Nothing really brings mom superpowers to the fore, though, like discovering our kids are in dangerous situations.  In these cases even the most mild mannered moms become ninjas ready to destroy the opposition.images-1

When my three children were babies, my powers were focused on keeping them physically safe.  Now that they’re older and better able to make commonsense decisions (like looking both ways before crossing the street and not sticking their hands in fire), my focus has shifted to keeping them mentally and emotionally safe.  My superpowers have developed along with my children’s needs.  These days

  • I have X-Ray vision.  I can see when my children are feeling alone or are riding an emotional roller coaster (ah, middle school, we meet again).  I’ve been known to say to my kids, “Oops, honey.  I just peeked into your soul again.”  They roll their eyes but I can see that they feel relieved to know that someone understands them and will ask them the questions they need to answer.  (I can also see if they’re lying but that’s another post for another day).
  • I have fire power.  Well, not really.  But I can–and do–put up firewalls on my kids’ internet access.  I keep our desktop computer in the living room so that the kids have to use it in a common area.  This cuts down on lots of temptations of various kinds.  We have a no-handheld-internet-devices-in-bedrooms rule.  If, and when, the kids get older and want iPads, or phones, or data plans we’ll cycle back and talk about internet safety issues in more depth.
  • I can become invisible.  This one’s a more recent talent.  I find that my kids and I talk a lot about how to talk to adults, how to answer the phone, who to give information to (or not), how to answer the door, etc.  At different points they’ve had to practice these skills on their own.  Even when I’m in the house, I’ve learned to stay silent as my kids navigate conversations with grown-ups they haven’t met before or answer the phone to take down information.  I may not be invisible but I might as well be.  Although it’s hard for me to acknowledge, it’s the one power I’m going to need more and more of as they grow and mature.

All moms have “superpowers” of one kind or another.  It’s just the way we’re made.  Most of the time we use them to keep our kids safe or to help them make good decisions.

What are some of your “superpowers” and how do you use them to steer your kids in the right direction?

 

Aside

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On vacation this week with my family.  I so wanted to edit out the eye bags I’m wearing in this picture.  But I’m trying to set a good example for my daughter by not editing out my photo flaws.  I was this tired, on this day, of this vacation.  Those eye bags tell the real story.  And it’s OK.  (Now if it had been a zit…)