Friday, May 19, 2006

Still

with butterflies

Today we went to the zoo. Winston’s objective was to see crocodiles. There aren’t any. There were alligators.

However, the pair at the zoo were dozing in their pool. Snuggled on top of each other like we do at night. Nice. But, well, not fascinating.

We found Raja at home, strutting through his gigantic Komodo Dragon Palace. Cool.
But, suddenly, chips seemed like the most interesting thing to do at the zoo. And with big rain promising damp fleece and oozing shoes, chips it was.

From the cafe, we saw the new Butterfly Paradise. It looks like a cross between a bouncy castle and an oversized caterpillar. We resolved to visit the Butterfly Home immediately after chips. Not only would it be shelter from the rain - but it is part of an ongoing obsession of Winston’s.

Over fifty butterflies - a myriad of shapes and colours - took wing the moment we entered Butterfly Paradise. Entranced, Winston promptly began chasing them. He held his hand out to them. He called to them. He beseeched them to let him hold them. He promised to be gentle.

Something in his soul was simultaneously stirred and stilled. He really, really wanted to hold them. He wanted to commune with the butterflies.

It was a busy time in Butterfly Paradise. Lots of busy children racing through shouting, A butterfly! A butterfly! A butterfly! And out the door they went.

As usual, Winston froze every time a parcel of toddlers raced through. He’d just stop moving. His eyes quickly darted in every direction - hoping not to be noticed; taking in their relative position to the space around his body; ready to respond; on alert. His whole body rigid the entire time.

And in this moment he found within himself, the benefits of stillness. A blue butterfly landed on his arm. It fluttered there -

probably tasting the sip of soda which had dribbled down his chin at snack. Maybe a taste of the toothpaste from after lunch. Who knows? But, it lingered up and down his shirt before winging off to a leaf nearby.

Should I even say Winston was thrilled?

It is enough to say that we spent about three hours today in Butterfly Paradise. A place where if your body and soul are quiet, these fluttery, ephemeral creatures will spend a moment with you. Three hours of a three year old practising being absolutely contained and quiet within himself. Being rewarded for voluntarily making the choice to be quiet, calm,

still. Here is the gold

in the straw.

Final thoughts: I keep returning to the fact that he is now three years old. And that this is the time in his life which most resembles that of the final stages of a butterfly. He is emerging. Drying his wings. And poised for flight as a boy - not a baby.

But, sometimes it is so hard to be part of a child’s process. The Butterfly Paradise staff thought I was kind of kooky for the first hour. The second hour, they sympathised with me and agreed that, yes, it would be nice if there was a bench. In the third hour, The Head Butterfly Keeper took pity on us and let Winston hold a butterfly in his hand. Again - the gold in the straw.

Stillness. Quiet. Acceptance. Reward.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Straw To Gold

We didn’t do anything today. It really started to bother me at around 3:00. We haven’t done a durn thing! Until I thought about it.

We made frog puppets. We made good and bad fairy paper dolls. We played (for what seemed like an eternity) with the frogs and fairies.

Bad Fairy seems really important. She can say and do all of the things he is unable to do and say. She can be mean and exclusive and even turn people into nasty things.

I kept begging him to go outside. Every time the answer was, “Not yet.”

Finally - I suggested we go outside. He could wear his wings and bring the bad fairy. He agreed to this idea. (The fairy wings, giraffe costume and leopard outfit were completely forgotten in the U.S.) But, upon our return, he seems to need these costumes and props to face the public.

I became aware of the depth of his phobia in The States. One day, on the playground, he fell. An older boy saw and ran towards him to help. Winston panicked. He jumped up screaming and ran towards me. “He’s going to hurt me! He’s going to kick me! He’s going to hit me!” He shouted as fat, juicy tears splashed all around him.

The mother came over to let us know that her son had seen him fall and was going over to help. I apologised and let her know that we live in London. (I’ll refrain from the rest of the conversation.)

I explained to Winston that the boy had wanted to help him. We talked about it for two days. We’d be at our favourite Indian restaurant and suddenly out of a pappadom bite he’d say, “That boy wanted to help me.” And we discuss it again. And again.

The rest of the visit saw him gregarious, outgoing and independent on the playgrounds of America.

But, what has been learned from the trip, is that he doesn’t feel safe here. And I’m at a loss for what to do. Of course, he has ingenious coping mechanisms. And I’m proud of him for finding ways to feel safe. Still, I’m trying to spin this straw into gold.

I get the feeling that the “nothing” I have in my hand is "gold." I just can’t see it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

P.I.T.BU.L.L.S.

Progressive Information Technology BUsinesses Lack Livid Spouses

My dear husband is "somewhere in France" for a company retreat. I’ve been given the telephone number of a hotel in France and a URL with a disgustingly Flash heavy site. (Please note: my son and I have been home for a total of 3 days after a major surgery which involved me flying alone with the child from London, England to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Which means - God knows where he is...because I don’t have the bandwidth to find out.

Anyway, my dear husband called to let me know that he had landed safely. This is great! I love him very much. I enjoy all of his pieces when combined in the proper, animated and God-given arrangement on his body. And he deserves to be happy, healthy and in one piece.

He also called to let me know that he had been stopped and searched under suspicion of being a drug runner.

At this, quite frankly, I laughed. Maybe it’s not the best response. But, then again, I’m feeling very focused on my own needs at the moment. I'm trying to frame this in a positive manner.

After all, the company is forking out money so his team can mountain climb, canoe, and do cool orienteering stuff in France. It will certainly build necessary morale. Whose morale, I’m questioning. And not just myself - I am taking into account the needs of others.

For example - I wonder about the morale of employees whose wives just can't board the nookie train because they've got all of the other issues spinning on their plates while they tap dance? Perhaps, an evaluation of the morale of husband-employees with wives who just want to read their book even after the husband walks in and wants to talk after a long, late day. Should I even discuss the daily veggie burger diet of employee’s wives who are just too damn tired to cook? And I ask myself, is this complaining?

No, I believe myself to be observing. I observe that P.I.T.BU. L.L.S. - companies such as Google - cater breakfast, lunch and dinner. I observe that P.I.T.BU. L.L.S. pay their employees a fair and liveable wage. I observe that P.I.T.BU. L.L.S. provide private health, dental and medical insurance for families and employees. I observe that P.I.T.BU. L.L.S. ask for a ton of work - but does not buy - ooops - fly employees off for orienteering weeks to build morale. They recognise that morale is a complex and highly individual issue.

I observe that morale is best served in meeting the day-to-day needs of employees and their families. Morale is built when an employee is secure that his/her family's needs are being met, addressed and provided for.

Still, I wonder if I’m kvetching just a bit. After all, the reality of embracing this is far too uncomfortable. Like - why do I have an easier time of it when I’m on my own with the boy? Why would I want a corporation to provide 3 healthy meals a day to my husband? Why would I want the disposable income to fly off and explore on my own when he has to work late and meet deadlines? Aren’t these precious days about affirming that ephemeral spirit body we call our family? Why are we co-sleeping, home educating, investing in this intellectual, spiritual, emotional body we name family?

And perhaps - I have my own answer. When it is just the boy and me - we have no expectations. So - we have no preconceived ideas about needs or wants that go unfulfilled. We are free and unencumbered. And is that a family?

(Whole other blog there.)

And in asking the questions - I have found an answer. We must all agree on what it means to be a family. And then we must find P.I.T.BU.L.L.S. to protect us.

Inviting A Quiet Mind

The benefit of being surrounded by minds of exceptional quality is that one is forced to keep up with the pace. This past trip home to Pittsburgh reopened tunnels and passageways I had forgotten in only the span of a year. And while I miss my eclectic, exceptional and often eccentric gaggle of friends - I find myself warmed by their continued presence in my life. The ease with which we all returned to sharing space showed me that distance is not about physical limitations. Perceiving distance in this manner confines intimacy to the corporeal world.

What the hell am I talking about?

I think I’m trying to say that over the course of this year - I have been over-focused on the lack of physical contact with like-minded people. Rather than celebrate their spiritual and emotional presence in my life, I dwelled upon the physical distance. I was allowing myself to observe and mourn the body. My definition of physical absence prevented me from embracing the truth of these relationships. These relationships exist outside of the body - they reside in the mind and the soul.

When I teach - I often find myself saying again and again - “You control the words. The words don’t control you.” An exercise I give early in the term invites my students to understand the power of words and use them to change the way in which they think about writing. I ask everyone to transform a negative statement they think about their writing into a positive statement. “I only write rubbish,” can become, “The words I’m writing now are the compost necessary to feed future great works.”

But - was I practising what I preached? Sometimes. But - certainly - not often enough.

So, I’ve challenged myself not to complain for a month. Instead, I shall try my best to offer myself either tangible solutions or try observe a situation from all angles. I’ll also try to reframe negative attitudes into a postive affirmation. I’m also going to attempt to reserve judgement about what the universe is serving until it has been fully digested.

I have a number of friends to thank for this insight. Two examples jump to mind.

One night, my friend Lawrence and I shared a taste of 12 year old single malt Scotch. We were talking about my imminent return to England. Lawrence slips easily into pastor mode, it is one of the things I adore about him. (Real men of God don’t just become holy on the pulpit - it’s just part of who they are...all of the time.) We sat quietly for a moment, then he looked up and said, “You, know, there is something good waiting for you in England. You just have to be open to it.” That fit well.

I also had some good conversations with my friend Karen. Her husband is up for an exciting new position in a new city. I’d be frantic, planning, making lists and attempting to force the universe to take my desired shape. Not Karen, she said something like, “We’re just staying open. We know what we want from our lives and what we hope will happen. Looking at all of options makes it clear to us what we already have. We’re not making any decisions. “ I found this exceptionally powerful.

Both were discussing that in-between place where magic happens. They were talking about the way in which spirit / faith/ trust are fluid, energised, changing, unconfined. And that there is power in remaining open, flexible and in tune with nature’s most basic principle - everything is always changing. You can resist. You can insist on a shape. You can struggle to hold it. Or you can accept and observe each and every one of the wonderous transformation occuring all around you.

What would the world be like if we insisted that a flower bud on the verge of opening stay forever in that one particular pose?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Conclusion - Saga Of The Teeth

Thanks to everyone who helped by sending money, housing us, feeding us exquisite meals, supporting, loving us, and just being there in our time of need. You define the word community.

Our visit “home” was a success in so many ways.

First - the teeth

The dentist and support staff who treated Winston were an extraordinary example of compassion, empathy, knowledge and skill. They scheduled the surgery for 6:45 AM - which was such a blessing as he could not have any food or beverages from midnight prior to the surgery. So - we were able to get him into the office with a minimal amount of discomfort from bodily needs. (Our appointment in the U.K. was scheduled for 11:00 AM no food or drink after 10:00 pm.)

The procedure was done with sensitivity and an awareness of our lifestyle choices as parents. For example, Winston was not happy to arrive at the office the morning of the surgery. But, they waited for him to calm down and adjust to the idea. I’m so grateful my daughter was there. She won Winston over and they played happily for a long while.

Then, the anaesthesiologist came out to the waiting room. He chatted calmly with us and put Winston at ease by playing with him. I’m overwhelmed by the fact that they respected my child, his attitudes and perceptions so much that they were willing to give him their precious time. They waited for him to be ready and he didn’t need to be ready on their timetable. Amazing!

There was no struggling or pain - except one tiny pinch from the shot they gave him to put him out before they put in the I.V. He went quickly to sleep. Woke up a bit groggy from anaesthesia. We gave him Motrin. He slept off and on all day. When he was up, he was happy and bouncy. He ate non-stop the entire trip. And didn't stop after the surgery. (Soft foods but lots of them!)

The dentist was able to save five teeth. He had four extracted. Only 9 teeth needed treatment - as opposed to the 10 to 12 that the NHS suggested completely removing. So we saved him a lot of pain, cruelty, inappropriate treatment, and danger by coming back to Pittsburgh. The Sunday New York Times had a huge article about the appalling condition of dentistry in the UK. How's that for timeliness?)

Second - the place

He doesn't remember anything from the surgery. He mostly remembers being surrounded by loving friends. We arrived and he ran into our friend’s garden to play. He slipped right into our old way of life as if he’d never left. Well, all of us did. He remembers all of the loving "dolts," who take care of any problems that arise. (I love that phrase - all of the children call us The Dolts - because they aren’t quite catching the “a” sound.)

He did gain an example of children who play well and cooperatively with each other. He was able to develop his peer conversational skills. (The children were actually listening and talking to each other about all kinds of things.) He learned that children can successfully engage in conflict resolution on their own and when that doesn't work out - the "dolts" will help make fair and reasonable solutions. He had a great time at the Science Center and the Zoo. He became even more aware of letters - as many of his friends are already beginning to write words. Finally, he saw that playgrounds don't have to be scary, frightening, dangerous places.

He is happy not to be in pain anymore and has really blossomed. I hope it lasts here in London. He was willing to eat so many "new" foods back in Pittsburgh! He slept heavily and well. His conversation skills burst open. His active engagement with the world became wider and more trusting. He didn't want to come home. But, he did want to see his Daddy - so home he came without a struggle. It was a good trip.