A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Questions

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I posted this picture over the weekend, and I realized the power of visual images to spark conversation. Mari’s husband asked me why I had posted it, and after I clarified that it was Potamus (and not somehow a picture of me), I was struck with the thought that I often put things out into the world (writing, photos, words) that have a definite meaning to me, but may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by others. Or maybe there’s room for both my interpretation and someone else’s experience of my image to both be true and right at the same time.

It made me think of poetry, and how I loved the college classes where I had to buckle down and analyze a few lines of poetry, trying to figure out the word choice and how it intersected with history and the author’s life. And yet, when I write my own poetry, I am hardly so careful as to make sure I choose the word eggshell vs. white in describing that lady’s shirt. Though sometimes I am that careful, but how does the reader/listener know my intention fully when they bring their own thougths, life experience, emotions to the table?

The conversation about my child’s image, which I had taken in a moment of pure love, noticing that tiny little mole that dotted his neck (in contrast to the many moles that are all over Boof), my mind wandered to the thought that this is how I one day could identify his body if he were to die tragically. Maybe it was morbid, or practical, we argued a bit about it, but the exchange clearly showed different perspectives, neither right or wrong. I looked at that “morbid” detail of identifying a body by a little birthmark from a future-nostalgic motherhood place, the remembrance of his less-baby-more-little-man stillness as he sat on my lap in the sunshine watching TV and I stroked his little curls that look like mine did at that age. I don’t know what prompted him to comment on this particular picture (of the thousands I’ve posted), but I’m glad he did, because the dialogue and thought process made me take a tiny moment and examine it in light of all the things I do online (or in person, too).

It makes me wonder about every picture I post or text and the story that’s being told on the receiving end, or the intercepting end, or when you turn to your neighbor and say “hey look at this.” Maybe it’s my arrogance, or self absorbed way of living, but I often think that the way I intend a picture to be interpreted will be how it’s interpreted. But like the lines of poetry that I analyzed in college, we bring our own biases toward it, and meaning may be lost or changed or questioned, and it’s really a neat process if you think about it.

After college I took a communication class that detailed how miscommunications can form, and as she diagrammed Speaker A putting words into the universe, and Speaker/Listener B hearing and interpreting the word, it struck me that it’s really a miracle any of us can communicate effectively. Even recently in conversations with Boof, I said a word, that to me has a ‘standard definition,’ and we clearly were talking about different things, from different perspectives based on our gender, age, life experience, etc. It’s a really remarkable process to sit and sift and be vulnerable to get to the point where understanding occured.

That one image sparked a thousand words, a thousand questions. I might have posted it and forgotten about it, like I’ve done with the thousands of other images. But the dialogue brought me back, and almost like a meditation drishti point, I will think of that moment I thought how beautiful my child was, and how sad I would be to have to identify his body by that tiny little mole.

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Photos-The Half Truth Edition

For the past year I have seen many blogs about how the pictures we post on social media show a skewed view of life. And while I have always fundamentally agreed that yes, rarely do people show pictures on Instagram where they add a filter over their bulging anger face veins in a true-to-this-moment selfie. But I’ve also said that those picture moments are JUST AS REAL as the moments right before or after. They show one part of the story.

My opinions fundamentally haven’t changed on that opinion, but I have had two experiences in the past week that have caused me to be frustrated with my own portrayal of my life and emotions on social media. Because I have posted pictures of cool things, or times when I am smiling for the camera but am seething on the inside because all of my introverted faculties are being bombarded by an overwhelm of stimuli and I want to punch somebody in the face. In real life, I am a terrible faker. People know how I’m feeling from about 100 yards away, and those who can’t quite figure out my emotions usually assume it’s bad and steer clear of me unless I’m obviously putting out happy-clappy vibes. But on social media…that’s where I am good at faking.

For example…this sweet moment:

At the Park

The reason we’re at this super sweet park is because my parent’s pissed me off at YET ANOTHER Christmas get together. They told me to “watch my tone” when I was frustrated about the noise level and the fact that Potamus was melting down and we still had three hours to go until the party was over. So while I snapped this adorable picture, I was actually standing outside in the cold without a coat or a sweater, and was trying to calm myself down. Potamus hadn’t napped, was way over stimulated, and we clearly both needed a little fresh air to cool off. But this pic got slapped up to Instagram and Facebook and it looks so sweet, and truthfully the moment WAS sweet, but inside I was seething.

Sister Christmas

Then there’s this moment, where I’m snuggled up with my sister…who actually turns out to have had a 102.5 fever. We’re mugging for the camera, and all is going well with us, but I am completely overhwelmed by the noise and heat and stimulation happening in my aunt’s house at this point. I’m holding it together for the pciture, but can you see the way I’m gripping the table and my sister’s arm like please keep me sane.

And all those adorable pictures from MOHAI? Reason that nobody else was in them was because my in-laws were clearly in a pissy mood, and so I decided to do the tour by myself. I enjoyed myself, truly, but was also freaking annoyed at yet another family function that turned into a shit storm because there are too many opinionated people trying to run the show.

I know that my photos tell a truth. They might not tell the WHOLE truth, which is what’s going on in my head, versus what’s happening around me, versus what I want to be happening. But I still stand by them, even those these last few interactions I’ve taken have actually felt cruddier than others. I know I’ll look back and know that there were sweet moments where I have seen Potamus grow, but I hate that there’s a discrepancy between what I sometimes feel, and what I look like in a photo…though who wants to look like a bitter uncomfortable hag in every photo? Haha!

What’s your thoughts/opinions on photos posted to social media? Photos in general?

slow the fuck down

a boy and his dog. a rare moment in the mids of crazy.

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection as it relates to my parenting style/philosophy/way of being in the world. While my overall anxiety has remained pretty high, some conversations with really good friends, an appointment to begin therapy on Friday, and a quiet night that included 6 WHOLE HOURS in a row, has reigned me back in from the crazy cliff of burnout.

I have this bad habit of going full steam until burnout and it needs to stop. I know it’s part of my personality, and the stressor this time was Boof’s crazy work schedule, but truthfully I’ve been stuffing my anxiety and emotions for awhile. I’m not sure how long, probably since Potamus was born, but maybe even longer. The pioneer-buck-it-up woman has been working her ass off, because, in so many ways, moving forward full steam feels safer than pausing and acknowledging what is going on. That it’s hard. I know I say it with my head and mouth, but I haven’t let myself feel the weight of the difficulty for fear of breaking into a thousand little pieces.

And, while I’ve written about it before, I have come to this realization, that my tool for stuffing all my emotion is Facebook, my smart-phone, endless hours of mindless television. As an introvert, and a sometimes selfish person, I want “me” time. Lots of focus on “me,” and what gets in the way is this kiddo who I love and is trying his best in the world. In an effort to get MY needs met, I end up stressed.

But last night was different. Instead of facebooking, I spent 2 hours talking to different friends on the phone. Potamus was eating dinner, but I wasn’t mindlessly zoning out ‘liking’ things and surfing for the best answer to solve this to-wean-or-not-to-wean question. Or this co-sleeping-until-eternity dilemma. I was intentionally connecting. And, when Potamus had enough of Jake and the Neverland Pirates and his helping of tortellini, we played outside. He toodled around and I chatted with my other friend. And then we came inside and got ready for bed.

He was out by 8.

I didn’t feel guilty for nursing him.

I didn’t feel like I needed to be anywhere else.

I forgot about the dishes/laundry/crumbs on the floor/ and the anger that Boof wasn’t around to help.

We didn’t watch any TV past 5:30 or even listen to music on the TV and dance like we normally do. It was quiet, and focused, but not so intensely goal-oriented.

And I ended up with 6 hours of sleep in a row, and a feeling of being refreshed.

I don’t know if this relaxed way will always ‘work,’ but I do think that Potamus picked up on my calm and focused energy and it mirrored back at him a way to be in the world. I think, if I can’t figure out how to unwind, how can he learn it for himself? I have no idea how tonight will go, or how I will monitor my on-line habits, especially since summer is beginning and I will now be home with Potamus 3-5 of the 7 days out of the week, but I do think that the evening ritual was helped by this long unwind time.

Thoughts? Have you tried slowing down to achieve your parenting goals?

 

The Signs are EVERYWHERE: why I might need to dial back my “screen-time”

Beware of Dog

Signs.

I used to be one of those people that would look for signs everywhere. I would think to myself, “hmm, should I do this or that,” and then I would wait for a sign to show up leading my in that direction. When I met Boof I learned that not the whole world worked that way (what? people don’t go to India because they had a dream? And then the next day there was a talk about India? And then you saw a sari in a shop?). I guess, other people in the world don’t go looking around for confirmation from the heavens or fortune cookies or the internet for advice on which way to steer their ship.

But I do.

I mean, I’ve tried to ignore it, but those little internal proddings toward a direction feel right and I usually stuff cotton in my ears. And then I put a pillow over my head. And then I should “lalalalala” really loudly to drown out the still small voice that says, “hmm, maybe you should or shouldn’t do this particular thing.”

So, for the past month I’ve been irritated with all things…media. I’m talking about the Queen Bee (Facebook) and the wannabee’s (Pinterest) and the allure of the minions (DVR and Netlifx). Because, I have turned into a media junky. Seriously. If you cut me open and found Facebook beating instead of my heart, I wouldn’t be surprised. I look at it ALL the time. Once I tried to “give it up” and found myself checking it 2 minutes later. I am the equivalent of the woman on TV happily smoking through her trach-hole.

But let’s be honest, my irritation with all-things media gets directed at Boof. I seethe on the couch (while facebooking), resenting him playing Angry Birds instead of chatting with our son. When he turns the TV on to some mindless channel to pass time I feel like thousands of nails are on the chalkboard. I mostly am feeling this irritation because it’s something that I don’t want to be doing anymore, but it is WAY easier to focus on what HE is doing/not doing. Because removing a plank from my own eye is rather heavy and time-consuming and that little itty bitty splinter over there just needs some tweezers…

I digress…

So of course I’m frittering away my time on Facebook when I should be grading the stack of essays, and come across THIS article, which is entitled The Unplugged Home, and chronicles a family who lives in a house with all things old fashioned, like rotary dial phones and manual (what are they even called?) clocks that don’t flash or blink. And they do things like:

grind their own flour for pancakes, then flip through a print edition of the  newspaper over a hot breakfast.

Whoa. I think that’s going a BIT far don’t you think? I mean, I would say that I felt pretty damn pleased with myself on Saturday when I vowed to not watch TV until Potamus was napping (11am) and baked myself some homemade banana bread from SCRATCH. But it certainly didn’t involve planting my own bananas and grinding the flour. Boof has been extra tolerant of my foray into “artisan vegan cheese” making from scratch for my dairy-free attempt, but he might start to wonder who I am if I am suddenly elbow deep in home-made pancake flour. I mean, seriously. Though, my yard does need a good clean for spring. I guess I could do that.

Trying to not get hung up on the extreme screen-free aspect of the article, I did contemplate what my life could be like without a TV (or if it’s turned off for more hours during the day). But then I also wondered if I would go batshit crazy. Because, most days I do enjoy spending time with my little love-bug, but I also enjoy a good foray into the adult-conversation realm and facebook is full of that. Right? And there are always adult things, like pictures of shoes, and homemade crafts, calling to me on Pinterest. Surely that is more exciting and adult than spending time actually making crafts…right?

So, about 56 seconds after I read the almost-but-not-quite-becoming Amish article (or so I’ve dubbed it), I went on my merry way…graded a few papers…checked Facebook…popped on WordPress to look at some blogs.

Gasp.

Another one.

Seriously Universe, you’re starting to be a LITTLE BIT ANNOYING. Because there I am, perusing my Reader and I’m struck upside the head with the article It’s time for me to go to rehab over on Keeping Up with the Holsby’s. Funny. She sorta puts what I had been thinking into words. Like when she says:

I can check every damned thing all the time wherever I am. Problem is, I do. On the toilet, in the supermarket queue.

In my car. At the lights.

Invariably, I’m not missing anything but I just like to be reassured of the fact

Can I get a hand-raise for those of us who check at the lights? Please? I need to know that we’re not the only ones. I alternate between putting on mascara (one eye at a time) at lights and checking Facebook. Because I might miss something important. Which is why when I am really tired or really drunk (shh, that’s never happened) I have a hard time going to bed because I DON’T WANT TO MISS A THING (cue cheesy Aerosmith right now).

Wait. It gets worse.

After leaving a fun little comment on aforementioned blog, I headed over to Huffington Post to get some distraction from the nagging signs swirling about. Intrigued by the title: Why My Son’s Perception Of Life At Home Surprised Me, I mindlessly clicked on the link. Too Much Screen Time was what it was actually entitled when I clicked through. Damn you Huffington Post for tricking me into thinking this was going to be some cute, fluffy story about weird dinner tastes or quotes by children. But it got me thinking….what does Potamus see?

I know that he crawls around the house with his old cell phone, pretending to jabber away in it. I know he notices when I’m checking my texts behind his back when we’re watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or he’s playing with a toy. My gut (and the signs) are telling me I should make some changes.

But…

Am I ready?

 

Adoption Reunion: Meeting my Great-Uncle

Potamus and his Great-great Uncle

The beautiful thing about technology, is that it has opened up the possibility for reunion with my biological family. Starting way back in 2005, when I looked up my 1/2 sister on Myspace and contacted her, I have had an online reunion with biologicla family members. And the family circle widened even further when Facebook came into play. So, a few years ago (I think? the math is getting kinda fuzzy in my head), my great-uncle (maternal grandfather’s younger brother) reached out to me on Facebook and we hit it off. Which was SO refreshing, since I haven’t yet hit it off with my maternal side of the family. His older brother, (my grandpa) is kinda weird and hard to get to know, and chain-smokes more than a chimney, and is obsessed with Mayan calendars (haven’t called to see about his current obsession since the world didn’t end). We just…didn’t click. But Great-Uncle and I seem to have a very similar worldview, way of writing online, and from Day 1 it seemed completely…well…NATURAL!

So, we’ve corresponded via message and he loves seeing pictures of his great-great nephew, but lives all the way up in the great white North and doesn’t make it down to Seattle that often. Until last week. He was in town for 36 hours and we had bantered before about meeting up so he could finally give my son a hug, but I wasn’t sure the short time-frame would work with his schedule. Unlike my grandpa/grandma, he offered to drive to my work and meet me for lunch because he wanted to meet us. For those of you who don’t know, the drive from where he was up north of Seattle, to the Eastside, in traffic probably took a good 2 hours. AND THEN he would drive all the way back to Canada, get on a ferry, and go home. Yeah, my great-uncle rocks the socks, because he basically drove 4 hours out of his way to see me and meet Potamus.

And, by the look on my kiddo’s face, we clearly had a great time!

It’s funny, though, the day I met my great-uncle, I learned that my adoptive great-uncle had died.

The world is strange.

Help. Thanks. Wow: A Book Review

This book, is about prayer. And when I think of prayer, this is what I think of:
Anne is one of my dashboard saints. Though she would probably rather be my dashboard dancing hula girl, since the grass-skirt would cover The Aunties.  She is my go-to in spiritual famine. A breath of fresh air. I read nearly everything she writes including anxiety inducing facebook posts about the Election 2012.

And while this book doesn’t read as much like the hilarious coffee-house storytime gossip chat punched with spiritual wisdom, it does read like a really real fireside chat with a spiritual mentor, about things that are true and good. So it’s more spirit talk peppered with personal stories and wickedly true metaphors, than a personal jabber cupcake with Jesus sprinkles. Which, I was sorta hoping for the latter, but feel like the God I’ve been avoiding, really wanted me to read the former. Confused? Keep reading.

The book is about prayer. The 3 categories she puts prayer into (Help. Thanks. Wow.), is refreshingly honest and cuts across the denominational divides…though my fundamentalist upbringing sometimes shouts from the devil-shoulder that I shouldn’t listen to such nonsense, and that it does too matter if it’s God or Earth Mother or Hewlett Packard (Higher Power) that I’m praying to. But mostly I ignore that voice, because Truth speaks much louder.

Here are a few of my own prayer thoughts, based on some of her most powerful quotes.

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She says:

…and when I spent the night at your houses, I heard all of you saying these terrifying words, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my sould to keep. If I should die before I wake…” Wait, what? What did you say? I could die in my sleep? I’m only seven years old…
“I pray the Lord my sould to take.”
That so, so did not work for me, especially in the dark in a strange home. Don’t be taking my soul. You leave my soul right here, in my fifty-pound body. Help.

As an adopted kid, my parents had to modify the traditional bedtime prayer, because it gave me nightmares. Reading trashy kids books like The Face on the Milk Carton made me nervous that my own parents had kidnapped me. I then also worried about my unknown birth mother coming to snatch me away in my sleep. And then I had to worry about legit strangers coming to steal me and take me into an orphanage or make me a slave. I did NOT need to think about God, in all his scary white beardedness, coming into my bedroom and snatching my soul.

So my parents, awakened by my anxiety driven night terrors, made up a less terrifying version asking Him to  give us good dreams and God blessing mommy and daddy and monk-monk and monk-monk’s brother and sister, forever.  But still, the lingering fear of “soul to take” and “dying before I wake,” was still there. I mean, sleep is like a little death, and what 7, 8, or 29 year old really wants to think about the possibility of not-waking-up.

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“In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light…I see God’s light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet. I want to tell God what to do: “Look Pal, this is a catastrophe. You have got to shape up.” But it wouldn’t work. So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light. Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics.”

I think that’s beautiful, and definitely something to aspire to, though this is often more like how I am:

“…they might say, jovially, “Let go and let God.” Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead.”

There is nothing worse than that kind of  “let go and let god” drivel, in my opinion. And yet, I never know what to say to people when they give me such Hallmark lines. A friend, who later became an adoptive mom, used to practice lines with me to answer people who asked about when she was going to have kids. Not wanting to talk about her infertility with everyone, let alone in public, the lines we practiced sounded like, “this is not an appropriate topic for the frozen food aisle at Safeway.” It shut people up, and was less drastic as stabbing them in the forehead, though she had to practice in order for it to not sound rude or worse yet, burst into tears. It had to become muscle memory. Much like prayer becomes muscle memory after a time. Especially the help prayer.

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I write down the name of the person whom I am so distressed or angry or describe the situation that is killing me, with which I am so toxically crazily obsessed, and I fold the note up, stic it in the box and close it. You might have a brief mment of prayer, and it might come out sounding like this: “Here. You think you’re so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed.” Then I agree to keep my crazy mitts off the spaceship until I hear back.

This just kinda-sorta-don’t-really-want-to-admit happened to me this last week. If reconciliation and Help prayers can be facilitated by my over-functioning-anxious adoptive mother. Because, if you’ve kept up, I am crazily mad at my adoptive sister. So much so, that I did the only adult thing I could do: defriended her on Facebook. And, even better yet, have been almost-smugly telling people about how  annoyed I am with her.

And then I got her name in the rigged name-drawing for Christmas.

Awesome.

But instead of glowering, I changed out of my yoga pants and went out Christmas shopping. And, instead of  buying her athletic socks and gum, I found her something she would actually like. I’m almost sorta proud of myself for getting through my crazy anger, but then I don’t want to be seen as a braggart, so I’m just here blogging about it. Maybe my help-me-n0t-hate-her-forever prayer was sorta answered. Though don’t expect me to text her anytime soon.

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Help, help, help. Thank you. Wow. Amen…And then two hours or two days later. Help….

I think my prayers are sometimes even less sophisticated. I often pray Please, which is the younger brother to Help. It’s the “beggy prayers,” of please please please, which feels both more pathetic and more manipulative than the distinguished Help, which has an air of surrender to it. I mostly approach God like a 5 year old who wants ice-cream and feels that they might utterly die if the wish isn’t granted. Lately I’ve found myself saying please please please about all sorts of things, like Boof getting a job, or getting a few more hours of sleep (in a row, this time, thanks), or that my boss wouldn’t find out that I’m an utter sham and fire me on the spot. These pleading, groveling prayers also have this air of manipulation in them, as if I were to say the prayer in such a tone that surely God would get tired, but instead of my mother would say, “stop using that one of voice monk-monk,” She would, in her eternal patience, realize that yes, I really do need that ice cream cone.

Beggy.

Perfect word for it.

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Wow means we are not dulled to wonder…Wow is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes…Alpine blue spider lupine, monkeyflowers, paintbrush. Wow., because you are almost speechless, but not quite. You can manage, barely, this one syllable.

When I take pictures, I capture wows, and they somehow turn into well-worn wows when I re-visit the moments. When I’m seeing the world through my viewfinder, I am less critical, more open to wonder, more childlike and excited. I sometime shout

“LOOK A DAISY!”

Or stare in awe that such a beast can sleep with her mouth open

 

Or, a little gasp of wonder about the beauty of an upcoming wedding ceremony:

And even that sometimes-truth can be found on rusty burn barrels

Wow. I get to see things. I get to capture images. I get to re-live moments in full-color and share memories with others.

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Now as then, most of the time for me gratitude is a rush of relief that I dodge a bullet-the highway patrol guy didn’t notice me speed by, or the dog didn’t get hit by someone else speeding by. Or  “Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou” that iwas all a dream, my child didn’t drown, I didn’t pick up a drink or appear on Oprah in my underpants with my dreadlocks dropping off my head.”

This is a pretty thankful time of year, with people’s incessant gratitude posts on Facebook feeds, which mostly make me nauseated and remind me that I am possible the least grateful person on the planet. Though I am thankful, I just get sick of it being plastered all over the internet. The internet is for worry and anxiety and pictures of food that will make us guilty later. Why do I hold the things I’m grateful for in such a grinch-like vice grip? Probably because I’m worried about losing them, and hope that my cavalier, almost disdainful, attitude will keep the big bad God from taking away those things that He/She/It most likely influenced in the first place. Because, “The Lord Giveth, and the Lord Taketh Away,” as the saying goes. Where this Milk-Money Bully of a God idea came from I have no idea. Okay, a small idea. But I hate always blaming my fundamentalist upbringing.

So I say thanks. But quietly. And sometimes in that same beggy way, like “please please please don’t take this away from me because now I know I can’t live without it, I mean, don’t want to live without it.” And I feel almost worse than the groveling 5 year old ice cream kid. Like someone who thanks you for buying them a sweater from Goodwill. That sort of, martyr-ey way about people, as if God went soooo out of Their way to throw us a bone.

Gratitude is clearly not my strong suit.

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I think you should read this book, even if you don’t think you pray. Because, maybe you’ll find that you really do.

Adoption Quotes

“I have four children. Two are adopted. I forget which two.” Bob Constantine
 
I read this quote recently, on an adoption agency sponsored Facebook page. I received a lot of likes, and a few witty comments by adoptive parents about how it applied to their life or things like, ” I have two adopted kids, you guess which, I love them the same.”
 
I wanted to respond, but “bit my tongue,” because I don’t need to get sucked into an online comment war on a publicly sponsored page. But what irks me about comments like that, is how invalidating it is for the adoptee. Sure, in theory, it’s nice to know that that dad loves his children equally, but what it feels like, is that adoption is forced into fitting the exact same mold as biological families. Because, while I love and consider my parents my parents, I have never forgotten that I am adopted, and that they are my adoptive parents.
 
And similarly, now that I have a child, I KNOW that I could never forget giving birth to him. And if I ever were to adopt, I am sure the experience would be very different than giving birth to Potamus. So, I feel that quotes like this are invalidating and gloss over the differences that can be nurtured and honored rather than swept under the rug.