Tuesday, March 22

different must mean "gooder"

So today I was going to post about defining parenting, about finding and creating that definition ourselves but I stopped to peruse (read: procrastinate by reading) kelly rae robert's latest blog on her experience of feeling lost as a new mother and it got me to thinking in a semi-different direction than I originally intended. Hm, maybe not a different direction so much as adding another layer to my thought processes... (Scary, isn't it. I'm not ending that with a question mark because I'm being rhetorical. Which I love to spell. Rhe-tor-i-cal. tee hee.)

Add to my usual nonsense that you'll really get to bear with me today because I am too darn lazy to get off my duff (yes, I said duff, people. I gave up swearing for Lent. Pray for me. For reals, <insert expletive>) and fetch my pen and journal to jot down notes as I go (yes, it really is just over there on the counter, not 10 feet away, and, yes, I am that lazy today)...

I have been thinking a lot lately on the whole notion of how every single person (male or female) that becomes a parent has a different idea of what parenting means. While a lot of us carry the same notions, values, ideas, there is always something that makes our definition of parenting different.

It's this difference in definition that, I believe, leads to many of us feeling lost, feeling overwhelmed, even feeling misguided...

I'm willing to bet most of us were raised to never question our own parents' parenting definition or style. Because, you know, our parents were always right. Even as we got older (but before we had kids) many of us defended our parents' parenting decisions. Even vehemently so.

I know I once did.

I know why I defended my parents, though, even if often times I cringed when I did it or otherwise defended them more loudly to drown out the sounds of my own inner questionings. I did it because I didn't know any different. And, coming out of my childhood environment, I didn't know that I could know any different.

Until therapy, that is. (hahahahahahaha... seriously)

Therapy's when I realized how drastically different my values were compared to those of my parents. Not better, not worse. Just different.

Then I became pregnant. That changed everything by landslides because now life was motivated by something else, someone else. And my heart was completely rewoven.

For those of us who do eventually question (gasp!), it's believing that we're wrong for doing so that leads us into parenting without a clear map, without a foundation, and, sometimes, a sense of being lost. That feeling of living without any type of functioning compass (even one that always points north) is only compounded, exacerbated even (gasp again!) by the fact that we've been led to believe our entire lives that parenting should come naturally and that parenting automatically elevates us to infallibleness.

Yes. Infallibleness. (Another fun word to spell. In-fall-i-ble-ness. See? FUN!)

You didn't know? (That parenting made us infallible, not that infallible's fun to spell. Though maybe you didn't know how fun it is to spell. Now you do. You're welcome.)

It's that idea of parenting infallibleness that drives us to bewilderment, to feeling dropped in the parenting sea floatie-less (not so fun to spell) and with the stark feeling of impending doom brought on by the realization that those aren't dolphins in the murky water and shouldn't I know what I'm doing - I mean, I'm a parent for crying out loud!

Which is where I get back on track to my original idea for today's post. (I think.) Parenting is different from person to person, family to family, and even sometimes different for each child in a family because we're not infallible, because of those differing ideas, beliefs that make our parenting true parenting. And not a one of us goes into first-time parenting having a clue as to what we're supposed to be doing. Seriously. Not a one. Even though some of us <expletive!> make it look like we do.

When we're dropped floatie-less into the sea of parenting (and no one tells you that once that baby's born that you will be dropped), we come equipped only with what we knew of parenting - what we learned from our parents, what we learned from relatives, and what we learned from friends who've been dropped before us. But what we knew doesn't qualify as a floatation device. It's what we come to know - whom we come to know - our child and the new ourselves - that become the pieces of what will keep us afloat: our true parenting definition - the vessel that looks ridiculously similar but is somehow different from everyone else's.

Our individual parenting definitions are the only vessels that will keep on sailing an infallible course if we remember that by "infallible" I mean the best for your family and by "course" I mean your definition of and growth in parenting.

Not that there's any of us who won't ever feel lost out on this open sea. Sometimes I think that parenting is all about being lost because I, for one, have felt lost more times than I can recall - and mostly because I can't recall a whole lot thanks to postpartum depression other than that I've felt close to lost almost the entire time I've parented.

But (!) that's when I look at my children and evaluate who we are, what our vessel is and if it's the right time to unfurl the sails or to sit back to watch the dolphins. I also look around at the marvelous vessels I admire and believe in and see how their captains are handling the unpredictable sea and incorporate their differences into the crafting of my vessel.

Because my vessel is different. And by "different" I mean "gooder". Which, by the way, is also fun to spell.

Monday, March 14

different is good

What company am I ripping that off from? I just know some company used that as their byline...

At any rate, why is it that so often "different" must equal ungood... wrong... bad? Why does something that varies from the "way we've always done things" have to mean that somehow it's wrong in every sense of the word and that the "way we've always done things" was the smart way, the right way, the best way?

I want to say that this isn't an issue that I am faced with on a daily basis. However, the more I think on it, the more I realize it is a notion I have to combat every day. Because doesn't everyone and everything in mainstream media tell us we're wrong for not doing what they tell us to do? Like our parents often told us? Or, perhaps, still do...

During the course of my stay at my parents house, one evening I was eating dinner with my stepdad, sending down my gullet the very little food I'd set out for myself (lack of appetite, gee, I wonder why) before he and I made a second trip to the hospital so that he could "give" (read: yell at and "goddammit") the nurses a "piece of his mind" (read: tell them how and why their ways are wrong), he directed his stress and upset toward me. Understandable. I mean, I was the only living, breathing being within a five foot radius that could possibly give the satisfactory reaction he was looking for.

"I guess you just do things differently" he said. And not like "oh!" in that "a-ha, I get it, there's a difference here, tra la la" influction of the voice. Rather as in "differently" meaning wrong, despicable, bad.

He continued on with "You know, just the way you do things. [Here he's referring to my lack of set schedules and, specifically this time around, set meals at set times throughout the day.] I hope I'm not offending you. You just... time means something to me and means something different to you..." At this point I can see he's beginning to escalate, chomping his food with extra grit, shifting in his chair.

"You do things different! Do you understand what I'm saying?!"

Oh so many options for me at this point.

As a child my response would've been "yes", trying to fight back tears and invariably scrambling to quickly shove apologies out of my mouth as fast as possible but inside desparately trying to figure out why I was the one who was wrong and what I did to be so wrong.

After years of therapy, years on my own, years to create my own definition of different and years of practicing taking being different out of the context of good/bad, right/wrong, I have other ways in which I could respond to him...

I could point out what a jackass he's being by pinning on me his dislike of "different" or projecting onto me his stress and upset over the whole mom's-in-the-hospital situation.

I'm sure that'd go over real well. Bet he'd sit back all scholarly-like, whip out his steno, and take notes with a quill pen!

Not so much.

I could respond with some sarcastic remark about him being old and crotchety. I actually have run this one over in my mind on several occassions. I see rapid explosions going off in response to this - most of them involving his head.

As I sat there in that two-second flash frame that seemed like a million, I thought to myself: why does my way have to be wrong and your way have to be right... why does either way have to be anything?

I take a breath and turn to my dad. "I get that we do things differently." I smile as warm as I can without letting on that in my mind I've flipped the table and smashed every plate within reach. I gently pat his arm, excuse myself from the table and ask if I can take his plate.

Now's not the time for such an argument. And never will there be a time when such an argument would have any benefit.

For someone who likes to keep his existence neat and tidy and "safe" inside a box, I can see why equating different with wrong and wrong with bad make sense to my dad. If it's not in his predetermined box like it should be, it's different. If it's different, it's wrong. If it's wrong, it's bad. Outside the box = different/wrong/bad.  Thus, inside the box = good.

Is that what life's really all about, though, narrowing things down to a simple equation of if something is different from me or my ways then it's undoubtedly wrong? If people have a different (better?! never!) way of living then they're just automatically wrong? How is that living? 

If that's the case, and everyone and everything can be sorted into right/wrong, good/bad, then there's a lot of wrong people and my dad is going to be the only one in heaven.

For his sake, I hope heaven's the size of a box.