Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Killing me softly... still requires a funeral.

My least favorite expression is “kill them with kindness.” I have such a visceral reaction the first time I hear this expression, I can conjure the very moment I heard it and the in-law that said it. I believe there are specific rules of warfare that ban this particular modus operandi. Kill them with kindness? Sneak attack? Killing is NOT kind, period end of story. The pig with lipstick is still the pig. If I can see your sharpened, gleaming shank as your voice lilts and your toothy smile approaches me, you are clearly unkind and cruel. If I react, out of terror, I may appear to be out of control- but at the end of the day you are still evil, you still did the killing. No? Most certainly. Perhaps some were fooled along the way. I have been, and then some. Killed with kindness-is that like Agent Orange, Tobacco campaigns, The Defense of Marriage Act?

The flip-side of this is "You're dead to me!" I have very close and wonderful relatives that have presented this model. Naturally, I grew up believing this to be perfectly normal and rational. It works much easier if you also believe in life ever lasting and reincarnation or something close in nature. This way if you are dead to me now, there is always opportunity for you to come back to life at a later date. It might be much later, but that's hope. Something to work towards. Possibilities abound, remember? I have been dead to others, and I am feeling pretty darn spritely. With no other choices, I have had to determine someone "dead to me", or at least in a coma with round the clock care, just not provided by me.

Karma, fate, destiny. These concepts easily work there way into all and any relationships and circumstances. Someone you don't like has a problem? Karma, bad karma. No questions. They got what they deserved. Someone you like has a problem? "It's meant to be", which translates to "something good will come out of it", or simply, fate. Yet in all this, killing with kindness just doesn't gel. It's malicious and psychotic to say the least. Killing with kindness gives me the willies. It's taking God's work into your own hands. We can see circumstances as gifts or plans from a Greater Being. We just can't do the work for Him or Her. But that's just me. Stay with me, "You're dead to me" just frees my life from you-it doesn't take yours away. See?

I have been severely wounded by "kindness" or falseness. I am recovering, quickly, happily and peacefully. I have a few favorite expressions, killing with kindness is not among them. Destiny? Oh that's yet to come. I am looking forward to that one. It's going to be amazing. I can feel it and see it coming into view. And it is going to be some serious good karma- I have made my way through some sort of purgatory and I am heading towards Nirvana.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marriage, Make Believe and the Pursuit of Honesty

Around this time last year, I was holding on tight to any resemblance or familiar sense of a marriage that was long past salvaging. I wasn't ready or willing to face the truth of us. I wanted to believe in what I perhaps only imagined we once had. We once had so much more. We worked and played together. We laughed, often. We fought, as though our lives depended on it, sometimes. We then had intermittent moments of great unity and long bouts of tired wary, mediocrity.

Last year we came to a crossroads. We ignored it, because it became easier to deaden ourselves to it. We both knew we had passed the intersection that might have lead us to a more fulfilling relationship or the opportunity to go our separate ways with love and support. We decided instead to travel straight down the dead end road until we made it to the end, warn down, frustrated, wondering why the other didn’t look at the map, ask for directions, or just know. The road back to the intersection forced us to look at the same deserted and abandoned debris that we had been piling up and collecting. By the time we got back to the intersection there were no other choices, we could only go our separate ways severed and broken.

Why did this happen? Why does this happen to so many? I believe we continue to look at marriage as this union blessed with fairy dust and rainbows. Conflict does not belong here. We can't have conflict because we can't have problems. Problems mean something isn't working. Why would anyone get married to someone that might cause problems? Honestly!?

We have children, they are perfect beings. We love and adore them. We can't hurt them. We do, anyway. We can't believe this, but it's true. We fail ourselves and each other and them. Sometimes this spirals out of control because we can't have problems remember? We can't solve the problems that we aren't supposed to have because, duh! that would mean we have PROBLEMS!

The very children that somehow lead us to imagine we could protect from reality, become witnesses and victims to such pain. We attempt to protect them from honesty, and instead we force them into this world of pretense and shiny plastic dreams that can’t be sustained. While we attempt to provide this Santa Clause version of relationships that are good and sugary, we fail to see what is apparent. We keep trying to shield them or distract ourselves. We add new bells and whistles. We ignore the sadness that has become the lens of our children's souls. We don't want to, we just can't look at it. As we try to pretend Mommies and/or Daddies don’t have problems, they see that Mommies and/or Daddies are not tangible beings. They are horrible imposters, or merely flawed humans.

Santa only comes once a year. He and his magic dream machine don't live with us. As adults we brace ourselves for the holiday blues, the family conflict, the reality that we will never fulfill all of the dreams and wishes of those around us. We ready ourselves for the spouse that is balled up in the fetal position avoiding the Christmas trauma from years gone by. Or the in-laws that ignore everyone and determine the day’s activities based on their need for adoration. Oh there went the spouse back in the fetal position… And yet we want so much for our children, or the children within us to believe. To believe in hope and life and dreams. Can we begin do this with some sense of balance? Can we do this with a little less pretense and a little more truth?

I am direct. I have been learning to temper this, but slightly. I am not interested in pretense while toxic radiation and volatile acid is leaking past the artificial smiles of others. I don’t do well around theatrical “types”. Yet, as a parent, I needed to hold back and not ooze my directness everywhere. My children may find this hard to believe. They think they know me completely. They do, as a mother. As a woman, and an individual, I don't yet know everything about me. I am still working on myself. As my children age, I hope they will respect and like what they see, but it's important that they don't see everything. They are not my closest friends, they are my children. I wish that I could have protected them from any and all dangers real and perceived so that they would never know pain. I also know that had I been able to do this, they would never know how to handle some of the pain and struggles that life brings. They will have problems that does not warrant or connect any involvement from me. It will hurt and they will survive it. They will always be welcome in my love and embrace even if they do not recognize the home I may inhabit.

I move around the earth in need of guard rails and safety nets. This is because I am occasionally, easily fooled and ever hopeful. I want to believe, so badly I often miss the glaring signs and flashing red lights. I have safety nets for those times. I have good friends. I have good memories and bad ones. I want to participate in life and that brings risk. I want my children to also participate in their own lives. I believe they are on the right tracks. The pain we are all experiencing and healing from will soften and the opportunities for love and lives fully lived abound.

I love Christmas too. Always. I get excited and happy and hopeful. I am not in need of much, Christmas is itself the gift. Hope and love is magic. This is always all around us, but on Christmas, I get to sit and honor it. Only 242 days until next Christmas!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just a spoon full of sugar, or a few lumps

I like tea. I enjoyed my first cup of tea with my grandmother. Nana was a tea drinker, and a tea-totaler. A fine little power-house of a woman from Ireland, was she. At fourteen she sailed across the Atlantic with little more than the desire to have a life with less misery than those that stayed behind. It’s safe to say, she was a worker, maybe a dreamer, not much of a scholar. Scholarly pursuits are often diminished when release from hunger and survival are your guiding forces. She may have gotten an honorary diploma with exceptional distinction at the School of Hard Knocks. I don’t recall any artifacts with her school colors. I never heard her hum her alma mater theme song- Oh, wait, yes- it went something like this, “ Oh, Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, tsk, tsk.” She made a mean cup of tea. Milky sweet confection, definitely worthy of a prize, a ribbon, an honorary shout out.

Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen. Tsk Tsk, indeed! Heart rendering personal memoir, tales of goodness and virtue, self-promotion and grandiosity and suddenly the cream has curdled and we are pointing our fingers in shame and disgust while looking for the next best thing. The media has uncovered and/or produced one shameful example of false bravado after another. I, myself, seem to be surrounded by adults attempting to convince a committee, college review board, or Pulitzer prize panel that they are worthy, the best, the ultimate in all around goodness. What is this all about? Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame on crack, I think.

In the education industry- perhaps it is the “Race to The Top” that replaced the “No Child Left Behind” philosophy that is encouraging a group of attention-seeking, pretentious egocentrics. Hurry run, me first, I am the best, the brightest, on top. If I (the proverbial “I”, not me personally) look good and sound even better, you may not notice that I am not meeting every need of every student, or even just a few. I am not attempting to do my job or much of anything.

An administrator that I know was recently awarded a prestigious distinction with a ceremony in Washington D.C. to celebrate his, or his school’s prominence. The sad fact is, anyone can write their own ticket to greatness and receive prestige and honor for doing so. This particular school administrator told tale of a trip abroad that enhanced the concept of teaching about, and understanding diversity in his application. The sadder truth is, the administrator claiming this correlation was a chaperone on a church-based trip, not the director, coordinator or creator of a camp. He certainly enjoyed the trip as I recall. Yet his claims toward being a great leader of diversity in the rural district that employs him went unchecked, on the local level as well as the national level. His blue ribbon prize might look pretty but what does it represent? Or worse, what does it misrepresent; his lack of authenticity? His need for perceived greatness? At what cost? The same district was charged with bullying based on racism. But hey, they have a blue ribbon, and that is a ribbon of color, one might say. The administrator and the school may be doing some things very well, but I suppose not enough or not well enough to gain an award without seeking credit, where credit is not due.

Like Greg Mortenson, or his imagined best self, many of us want to enhance schools, build schools, and provide excellent education for our children, and those we are responsible for teaching. We want to teach all children, to the best of their ability. We want to respect and celebrate diversity. We sometimes want to help the children of the world so they may experience the freedoms and opportunities that we have. Sounds good. Sign me up! Let’s buy the book, the package, the as-seen-on-tv version of grandeur and boasting and bragging. Look here at my shiny awards, ribbons, newspaper and media blitz! This way you won’t notice some hard truths.

Let’s build schools for girls in Afghanistan. That’s the ticket! Why worry about our own girls? 25% will be abused this year, and next, and the year after that. But hey, they have schools! Yippee! Give out a ribbon or a star! Let’s promote more myths about other cultures. See how much they need us? We are so much better. We are so lucky, fortunate, and educated.

Education is work. It takes time and effort. It doesn’t always look pretty or impressive. Some days it is plain old drudgery. Open up to page 58, write down the notes, put down the pencil, demonstrate, regurgitate, faster, better, Now! Let’s make something pretty instead. I might be playing the banjo and singing about the Magna Carta or the Pythagorean theory, but the children are not gaining on the ever changing battery of testing. The scores are pretty low, but that’s ok we can lower the passing score. Voila! We look great again, we passed, or we pretended, we passed the buck.

Don’t look now, these are big, hairy issues. CPS, social services, and law enforcement don’t have any award ceremonies for families, students, or educators. Students are lost, dealing with abandonment, addiction and abuse. Some. Not all. Not all the time. Budgets are being butchered. Rather than provide a circus of celebration, and a few small pockets of excellence, why not have some honest conversations to determine how best to serve our children and our communities? Why not focus on creating students and adults with integrity and purpose. Do we need any more false and empty promises?

I don’t have the answers. I do know that we seem to be operating from a place of entertainment and celebration more so than a place of expectations, inquiry and knowledge-seeking. I do think a couple of lumps of sugar makes almost anything taste sweeter but only briefly and not at all if I have to try to swallow the big hairy truth with it. Can Oprah highlight a quiet school district with fair to middlin’ test scores? A teacher, administrator and parent that work together to help a student- even if the help is provided without ceremony but the rewards are long standing and possibly life changing? Maybe as simple as motivating a student to do their homework, come to class, and later life, prepared. Save the banners and blue ribbons. Pour the tea after homework, help yourself to a biscuit. Two lumps or three? From where I sit, the enrollment for the School of Hard Knocks is growing in leaps and bounds. Can you sing Nana’s song to the tune of “It’s a Hard Knock Life”?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Family Secrets: You Learn to Like

And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life
from The Lion King, The Circle of Life, Tim Rice

What is it that moves us through? I suppose we can each decide that on our own but for me, it has been family. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The mildly attractive and the beautiful as well. The in-laws, the out-laws and the everything in-between. Family is that on-going drama that adds light, darkness and shades of gray. Family is that stage we develop on, acting out or providing an audience to. Is the term family drama an oxymoron? I’m going to take that as a yes. Family- that system that we are born into. Fate, predetermined destiny, chance, dangerous disregard, thoughtful matchmaking, careful codification and matching of DNA, genetic crap shoot, all leading to family. What you do with it once you get there, or better yet, once you attempt to create one of your very own is up to you and those you add, willingly or willfully.

Do you try to re-create from the ground up because surely the one you were born into was a complete social and genetic malfunction? Do you keep everything exactly as it was, because it was nothing shy of perfect? Do you keep it the same because you fear the wrath of those that came before you? Do you keep it the same because you don’t even know where to begin to change it or even know that you can? Do you try to emulate the good, or at least functional and recreate some new as you blend the belief system of another, and discard the dysfunctional, disastrous disseminations? Do we ever truly add or blend the systems of the other, or do we quietly submit? We try, most of us. Some, not so much.

Most of us attempt to make it work however we can. We try. We work. We try to work it out again. When we add children into the mix, we try one way for the first. We let go of some of our angst and fear for the second. We are tired and delirious after that. The last born gets the benefit of time and worn down hysteria, or something close to calm or maybe numb. We give in and give up and sometimes just stop trying. So hard. We stop trying so hard to figure it all out and somehow everything that we tried so hard to do takes hold. And everything we tried so hard not to do also takes hold. And we become a little more like the same family we ran to, or from with a little more or a little less.

The pleasure of time softens some of us. We look like our mother’s. We look like our father’s. We act like them. We tried so hard not to. And one day we don’t exactly mind. We start to appreciate them, more. We sometimes enjoy the familiarity of them being so close to us. We finally accept the inevitability of it all. We see them through our children’s eyes. If we are fortunate, we like what our children see. It helps us embrace the future that has been skipping years by leaps and bounds making us, old. Older at least. And if this all works the idea of getting older starts to feel a little safer. We tried. We made some progress going around in this circle, ending up where we are meant to be. That's the secret we don't get told. We will end up very much like our parents, and we will learn to like it. I am cracking the code, and I hope this morsel of information may change and alter generations of those that come after me.

Hmmm, I think my mother even said that to me once, "You can learn to like it!" I probably just misinterpreted the tone, she probably was cooking a pot roast with pearls and heels on, whistling dixie or some such pleasant tune letting me know I would come to love the grizzly part of that old pot roast, I could even learn to love it if I smiled and had the right disposition....., stay with me while I hum....

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round