Signed

Alden’s at Invention Camp this week. It’s a week-long day camp, run by the school district, and he was given a scholarship to cover the cost, for which we were surprised and really grateful. It sounded right up Alden’s alley – taking things apart, making inventions, tinkering, solving problems.

We’ve talked about the camp now and then since he was registered back in March, and mentioned when we did that Alden’s good friend M. would be going, too. In typical Alden fashion, he didn’t really express a lot of curiosity, anxiety, or excitement about it, just said, “Hm,” and “yeah,”  and got back to whatever it was he was paying attention to at the time.

Then on Sunday, I filled out the paperwork we needed to bring. Permission to participate. Permission to treat in medical emergencies. Any special health concerns. Who’s allowed to pick up and drop off. And then, the Acceptable Behavior Policy. I scanned it, signed, and then asked Alden if he had a minute to come and read something. He did. He frowned.

“So,” I said, “I need you to sign it, or print your name, right there.”

Frown. Head shake.

I turned. “Buddy,” I started. “I had you read it because, well, I don’t want you to sign something you haven’t read. And I need you to sign it. You have to sign it or you won’t be able to go.”

Though his eyebrows were still frowning, the edge of his mouth quirked into a tiny smile and it hit me. He had just read it, so he understood: if he didn’t sign it, he wouldn’t go.

“Hm.” I sighed. “Well, you sure don’t have to sign it right now. But you will sign it, and you will go.” (Wince. Ultimatum, statement of fact, NEVER a good idea.)

“It’s just,” he said, in the tone I recognize so well as the “I Am Having A Big Feeling And Don’t Want To Talk About It” tone, “I don’t…really…want to go….”

How I hate that moment. How my heart sinks and I sigh and panic, picturing having to force something on him that is an amazing opportunity, that he should be excited about, that we’ve been looking forward to…

There was a lot to do, besides the signing of the form, so I let it go for the moment.

But when Josh had filled a bucket with “upcycle-able” items for Alden and other campers to use throughout the week, I suggested we dump it out so Alden could see all the treasures, Hinges, corks, drawer pulls, washers, bits of chain, all kinds of strange and wonderful hardware odds and ends. Alden was suitably impressed and intrigued by all the random junk, full of potential. We filled another bag with more mundane recyclable materials, and Josh carefully prepared the “take-apart item”, a broken cd player.

But when Alden was reading on the couch before dinner and I placed the unsigned form there, asking him to sign it when he had a second, I got the same quick frown and glare.

So after dinner, Alden asked for dessert and I told him he could have dessert after he signed the form. So help me, I did. And he did. And had dessert.

And afterward, again on the couch, snuggled before bed, I told him something I really admire about him. “You’ve started new things many times,” I said. “When you were just two, you started going to Roots and Wings (a child care he attended for a year.) And right away, you made friends.”

Alden nodded slowly; he still sees those friends sometimes.

“Then, when you were three, you started at Community School,” I reminded him. “And, in just a day or two? Friends.” He nodded more confidently; many of those friends are still friends he sees often, including his buddy M.

“And then?” I went on (he was starting to smile, seeing where this was going.) “You started at Missoula Valley Montessori and, what happened?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding in agreement. “Made friends.”

“And last summer? When we went to my reunion? We were only there for TWO days and you made friends! And at school this year, too,” I said, “At Lowell. LOTS of friends.” I was hoping this was the right strategy, hoping he was hearing me, hoping I was helping him see the capable, socially able guy I see in him. At the same time knowing that, the older he gets, the more his relationships mean to him, and so the more trepidation he has about new situations. But also knowing that he really can do it, and that he will find a way to get the most out of a new experience if he trusts himself to take the leap of faith.

“I think it’ll be that way this week, too,” I told him. “It’s something I think is really cool about you, the way you find friends everywhere you go.”

He didn’t run circles around in anticipation, but he didn’t say again that he didn’t want to go.

And the form, after all, was signed.

 

Evening

Aside

Could’ve gone so differently, at so many different moments.

I was taken by surprise when Alden first expressed his upset, and only realized it because I heard him saying to the dog, “Hate you, Raisin, Hate you Raisin” as he got her bowl and put down her food.

“Were you saying, ‘hate you’ to Raisin?” I asked, genuinely confused. “You enjoy her, so much of the time… I know the dogs can be annoying, but, I don’t understand…”

“YES,” he said, frownyface and screwed-up-tight-shoulders telling me something was UP. “And I said “BAD DOG” when I put her food down.”
The heck? I thought, and felt myself shift into gear. “You sound pretty mad,” I said. “I’m not sure why, but I can sure tell you are mad.”

And, as almost always happens when I have the presence of mind to observe, comment, and WAIT… a few minutes later, he dissolved into tears and said he was mad because Daddy went to (our good friend) Brendan’s house and Alden didn’t get to go.

And only more time of patiently listening and reflecting and not rushing to fix helped me realize that he was upset because A) Alden had WANTED to go visit Brendan when he and Josh went for a bike ride earlier, but Brendan hadn’t been home; and B) he hadn’t REALIZED Josh was going to go over while Alden had to go to bed, until Josh left. This is all on top of C) it being 8:30 at night after D) a big busy and social day.

It wasn’t easy to just let him cry, hard, over something that, to me, shouldn’t be “such a big deal”… except, emotionally, I know what it feels like. Alden and I are pretty similar, in a lot of ways, emotionally. For me, when something has pushed past the defensive perimeter and caused hurt,  and I’ve started to let it “out”…. well, it sometimes feels like it has a scary uncontrollable energy. I think to myself, “how would I want someone to respond to ME, when I am feeling stupidly, annoyingly, out of control, emotionally? I want them to not rush to FIX it, not try to distract me–until I am ready– and not to abandon or reject me.

So that was my response to Alden, tonight.

When he asked for the lavender-flax heating pad for comfort, I heated it right up, and asked him if he wanted an extra blanky. When he wanted to read a few extra Shel Silverstein poems to each other I said sure.

I know that some would say I was indulging a child who was having an irrational tantrum. That I am teaching him that he can get away with disrespectful crappy behavior. I don’t know. Believe me, I second guess my choices all the time. But here’s what happened tonight.

After all that nurturing, patient stuff…. after the reading and the hugging and the heating of the flax pad and the getting of the extra blanky and the turning off of the light, and after I’d settled down at the computer, I heard steps, Alden, out of bed, asking me, “Mama, where’s Raisin?”

“She’s out back,” I said, rising, and following as Alden headed out back. “Buddy,” I asked, as he petted her and stroked her head, “did you want to make up with her a bit? From before?” Still petting her, he nodded. “Dogs are really amazing at forgiving,” I said softly.

I watched him make up with the brown furry friend he’d taken his anger out on earlier and thought about the easy release that it is, to unload on someone who can’t really fight back. And about the emotional healing that forgiveness offers, if we are strong enough, and feel deeply enough, to ask it.

He went back to bed after that, and again, he cried, I heated up the flaxpad, and helped him snuggle once more into his soft and warm bunk. And I headed back to the computer to write this and think to myself about the many, many ways it could’ve gone differently.

 

 

Mothers

At first, I thought Mothers’ Day was kinda dumb, a Hallmark holiday, an invention of the Flowers’n’cards lobby, a reason to feel guilty, a reason to feel obligated, a day upon which millions of women feel like somebody else is being treated to “Queen For a Day” and they have to pretend not to resent doing the dishes. Or laundry.

Then, I thought Mothers Day was kind of a set-up… a day on which one picture of motherhood was held up for applause, a day upon which millions of women feel cheated or slighted or depressed or stressed because they don’t have kids, or don’t want kids, or can’t conceive kids, or because their marriages didn’t last and they’re now raising kids alone, or because their mothers died, or because they didn’t have mothers, or partners…

The siren song of comparison….

Today… My facebook feed filled up with pictures of my friends’ mothers in black and white from the 50’s, and 60’s, and garish hippie color from the seventies. I saw pictures of my mom friends running races with their kids yesterday, as babies in their mothers’ arms thirty-five years ago, and holding their elderly mothers tenderly five years ago, a year before she passed away. Women’s faces, smiling, stern, surprised, sly. Children, babies, toddlers, teens…

And today, my world was full of the wonderfulness of just being in life….six-year-old Alden bursting with energy, ideas, enthusiasm, and go. Walking by the river, snuggling on the couch watching a movie, sneaking downstairs for a shower and a snuggle while Alden reads “Runaway Ralph”, grilled chicken and asparagus over homemade alfredo pasta, dreaming big dreams for our neighborhood and our town.

And my husband and son each in their own way brought me to tears with their sweet notes in cards slipped my way. A special day, for sure.

April 10

At Chico Hot Springs, Feeling like Raymond Carver, Thinking about Richard Hugo

You can’t live in Montana too long

(if you have a certain kind of bent

for reading and drinking and mountains

in no particular order)

without meeting Richard Hugo

out there somewhere.

He’s a quote a friend tosses out

before he hands you a beer,

He’s a book you find

in a heap of poetry and fishing magazines

in a bathroom at some party.

Driving Montana

is one of his best,

you thought today

(like many days)

driving Montana

West to East today,

and, really,

not even all that far East

but enough that you saw that antelope,

you wondered about that ranch house,

you wished you had time to pull off

at the stops with No Services.

And in this hotel room now

with no phone,

no TV,

the bathroom’s down the hall,

you wish you could buy Richard Hugo a beer

at the bar downstairs.

April 8

The Tulips

Against the odds,

the tulips are coming up.

In fact, they appear to have multiplied.

I don’t mean the ones

by the fence.

Those?

Who plants white tulips, anyway?

Doggedly returning spring after spring,

I suppose I could dig them up,

transplant or replace them, but

I probably won’t.

Resilient annoying flowers.

No, the ones I admire

were the loners,

yellow-and-red-striped,

curly-petaled,

strangely pushing their way into corners of the yard

where no one would ever plant,

well,

anything.

Then we trenched and tracked and excavated

the whole yard

to move the water supply

and I was startled to see

curly yellow-and-red stripes

gamely emerging

from the pile of clean fill.

 

April 3

In the Coffee Shop

She’s saying hello,

stretching arms for a hug,

almost before I see

who she is.

(There’s a name for it,

this problem with recognizing faces.)

She looks healthy, alert,

sundrenched and smiling,

and I can’t help watching

to see if she scans me,

my wintery pallor

and newest pounds added;

I wonder,

is she wondering

if I’m doing OK?

The last eight or ten months

are flipped through — the basics.

She mentions she’d like

us to come out this summer (they’re

still at that place on the river)

and with that we finish,

I’m onward, she’s off,

we’ve connected,

we’re good,

so, 

am I OK?