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Posts tagged ‘parenting’

Brittany Writes a Book

britmirandacropEditor’s note: Brittany and I have been friends for more than a decade. Our friendship started through this very blog and then transitioned to the holy grail of IRL. I’ve read enough of Brittany’s writing over the years to know that I love her work. So when I saw that she’d self-published a narrative chapbook of poetry, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Brittany graciously fulfilled my request for a signed edition and mailed it to me post-haste.

It’s always an interesting experience, reading the work of a friend. I’m a writer and editor by trade and have worked in the professional world of words for nearly 30 years. As a creativity coach, I enthusiastically applaud every passionate, whole-hearted foray into creative work—but that doesn’t mean I admire the work itself. As many of my creative friends will attest, I’m unable to say, “Wow, this is brilliant,” when I’m not of that opinion. I’m preternaturally allergic to even little white lies of artful affirmation. I don’t want to give or receive disingenuous compliments about creative work. With that nugget of context, here’s what I wrote to Brittany after receiving Courtesan

Courtesan

“Brittany, your book arrived on Monday (or was it Tuesday?) and after a ridiculous work day that capped off a 55-client-hour work week, I crawled into bed with it. Granted, I was a little punchy on account of chronic fatigue, but in the dozen pages I read that night, I laughed out loud and—I know this is going to sound like I’m blowing smoke up your poopchute but it’s the truth—I wept with happiness. Some of these poems are So. Damn. Good. At one point I had to explain to Liam (11 years old, who still sleeps with me when he’s home and my man isn’t) why I was making such a racket (‘persnickety douchebaggery’ set me off). I’m bursting with pride for you, Brittany. I truly am.”

Courtesan is an anthem to the contemplative divorcée. This slim volume will delight you, hit you in all the right spots, and leave you wanting a bit more—just as an experienced courtesan should do. These poems confront you with the pain and loneliness of being married to a person who (you are ultimately forced to concede) will never be able to love you in the ways you most want to be loved, even if one day he does stop screaming and throwing shit and raving like the asshole he is. (Apparently you’ll also find a dose of catharsis between the lines.) Despite what hurts, Courtesan is also a tale of hope—and finding oneself, and love, again. Highly recommended.


Brittany

It’s amazing how much can change in 11 years. In the spring of 2008, Miranda discovered my blog Re-Writing Motherhood and plucked me from total obscurity to ask me to become a Studio Mothers contributor. The Studio Mothers blog was still in its infancy, as was my life as a (theoretically) stay-at-home-mom and full-time novelist. That time marks one of the most prolific creative periods of my life. But considering that I’m *still* working on the novel I started that year, it’s clear that creativity waxes and wanes, too. Now in 2019, I’m in another creative period. In addition to the 900 craft projects I have going on, I recently self-published a poetry chapbook titled Courtesan.

Courtesan is a diary told through poetry. It’s an eye-opening, no-holds-barred exploration of social and sexual re-awakening post-divorce. This is the book I never had any intention of writing. Generally speaking, I’m fun-loving, free-spirited, and unabashedly whimsical. Dark, brooding, erotic stories that would cause my southern Baptist relatives to have a collective pearl-clutching stroke were never part of my repertoire. But as I state in the book, there comes a point when the last thread of I-would-nevers snaps, and you become someone who would.

I became someone who would when I got divorced in 2015, after 13 years of marriage, eight of which I’d spent as a stay-at-home mom. There is a reason stay-at-home moms don’t just up and get divorced and abruptly go from full-time mom, to full-time working/part-time mom. It is traumatic on every level, and something I don’t think you can ever be prepared for. I was completely unprepared for the cold, hard smack of reality that awaited me.

And I did this alone. I was in Upstate New York, which was a 14-hour drive from my family in North Carolina, and across the country from my mom in Idaho. Not that my family was supportive. No one could understand why I was willing to give up such a seemingly comfortable life to go back to work and become a part-time parent. They acted like I had selfishly decided on a whim that getting divorced, re-entering the workforce after a 10-year absence, and parenting my children only half time would be a fun thing to do.

Brittany_bouquetI sunk into a horrible depression, a depression deeper and more pervasive than the depression I had already felt in the last year of my marriage, a nasty black pit I couldn’t seem to dig myself out of. For the first time in my life, I experienced panic attacks and constant anxiety. I’d always been an introverted loner, and suddenly, I couldn’t be alone anymore. I would beg my friends to let me come over and sit huddled on their couches, just to hear the noise in their households and feel like I belonged somewhere again. I cried constantly. My relationship with my children suffered. They were angry that I’d left them. My relationship with my ex further deteriorated. My family was as unsympathetic and unsupportive as it was possible to be. And overnight I became a third wheel among my married friends. Suddenly, I had not very much in common with them anymore.

I liken it to throwing a grenade on my entire life and watching it blow up around me. And into this stew of existentialist crisis, I thought it was a good idea to jump headlong into dating again.

Fresh from a bad marriage, I lived in a fantasy land where post-divorce dating was like an island of misfit toys. Divorcées would arrive broken and battered, having seen better days as a result of living with the wrong partners, and there they would magically find a more suitable person and live happily ever after. But my little fantasy couldn’t have been further from reality. Dating post-divorce is an, as yet, unexplored layer of Dantean hell and I realized that for most men, I was merely a commodity. Interchangeable with every woman out there. The transactional aspect of these relationships left me feeling very much like a courtesan, or more colloquially, a whore.

Brittany_mermaidI wasn’t sure how to process any of this, but I started a diary and wrote down snippets, dialogue, things people said to me that angered or inspired me, and all the observations I made, to process it, make sense of it, and ultimately learn from it. I pulled the diary out periodically to add to it, but was mostly preoccupied with other things, like paying the bills and buying groceries.

The worst part of that period was the complete lack of creative spark inside me. For the longest time, I was barely functioning. And when my creativity started to trickle back, it only came in fits and starts. I knew for my own sanity, I needed a creative outlet, so I took a painting class. And a jewelry-making class. I started to dabble at doll-making and embroidery again in my spare time. My friends knew I was their go-to girl if they saw something on pinterest they wanted to try and we started having semi-regular craft nights. I felt better when I was crafting, so I crafted. I felt better when I was painting, so I painted. I wasn’t able to write anything for the longest time, but eventually, poems started forming in my head again. I wrote them down on whatever piece of paper was handy. If they were good, I stashed them away and saved them. They were shoved inside books and drawers, and sometimes fished out of the dryer lint tray.

Fast-forward three years. My life was entirely altered. In the past, I’d thought of myself as a writer, and only a writer. But during my post-divorce journey, I became an artist, too. And after three years, I was more artist than writer.

Brittany_carI bought myself a little green bungalow and painted the walls bold turquoise and coral and purple. I painted the furniture and decorated the walls with my artwork. The dining room table was always covered in hot glue, paint smears, and glitter from the numerous projects I had in progress. I was always creating something, and as a result, I was happier than I had ever been at any other time in my life. My happiness changed the trajectory of my relationships and three years post-divorce, I was living with the man who would become my husband. In clearing away my clutter to make space for him in my house, I started to rediscover the writing and poetry I had been stashing in all manner of strange spots for three years. He encouraged me to do something with them, rather than re-stashing them somewhere new. But what was I going to do with a bunch of mostly unhappy autobiographical poems about my days as a single divorcée?

Brittany_bouquet2One day as I was driving (a time when great ideas seem to arise), and it occurred to me that if I collected all those poems and added the love poems I’d started writing more recently, I had a story there. I imagined calling it Courtesan, as a nod to my former single life and the way dating had made me feel. I mulled the idea in the back of my mind for some time. It continued to grow on me.

This winter I put it all together and self-published my chapbook. People ask me why I didn’t go the traditional publishing route. I self-published because I figured my “weird little book” didn’t have mass appeal. I wasn’t really sure how you’d market a diary that was poetry. And I thought it would only appeal to women of a certain age who’d experienced a traumatic mid-life divorce. Plus, to be brutally honest, I wasn’t particularly confident in my writing. I liked my writing. I had written it for myself, but I wasn’t sure at all if it would resonate with anyone else and I didn’t want to alter it in any way.

Since I published Courtesan, I have been shocked to my core by the feedback I’ve received. Women who are single, and never been married, have written to tell me how much they related to and enjoyed it. I don’t know whether to feel pleased or saddened that so many women can relate to so much darkness and despair.

Brittany_wandsI think that in most stories, and Courtesan is no exception, the main narrative is that a woman’s life turns around when she experiences true love. But the story functions on two levels. While on the surface, Courtesan is the story of the darkest time of my life and how I fell in love with my husband, there’s also the secret story hidden in the pages, about my love of the creative process, how it brought me back to life, gave me purpose, and fueled the creation of the diary in the first place. Ultimately, I rediscovered myself through the act of creation. And I continue to be amazed at what I can do, and how much joy I get from the doing.

 


See more of Brittany’s artistic projects at her current blog.
Order Courtesan at amazon

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Busy? How Technology Can Save Your Creative Life

Marion Dooling is a real-life friend who creates enchanting digital art. After admiring her pieces on Instagram, I asked Marion to share her thoughts on the creative life, along with her wisdom as an empty-nester who has been through the trenches of raising children and has revived her creative life. Enjoy!


2013-02-26 11.48.14I’m sitting at home in the midst of a blizzard in an area that hardly gets snow. The weather forced me to cancel my workout plans. While we still have power, we have no WIFI because of a corporate mishap. I can’t access my art files in the cloud. I’m bored. And I can’t even watch Netflix to assuage my boredom. My laundry is half done, the kitty litter needs changing, and the bills are unpaid—but I’m unmotivated. I get stressed out when I feel like I can’t control my life or am off my routine.

I spent much of my active parenting days feeling this way. Like a blizzard of parenting had buried me and my creativity. How do you get back to creativity when the flow of life carries you through a blizzard of endless chores, appointments, obligations, meals, chauffeuring, and such?

The fact is, you can’t. Any creative life you may have had previous to children is gone. At least gone in the form you may remember. But not gone for good, just changed. It might be in moments, now, as opposed to in hours or days. But don’t despair: In this era, technology can help you fit creativity into those spare moments. A moment may come at 5:53 am, 9:28 pm, or midday naptime, or waiting for an oil change. These moments do exist—we just have to look for them and take advantage when they arrive.

SHADOWSMH

If you’re a parent, you’re inevitably already creative with your kids on a variety of levels. Don’t forget your own creativity in the mix. As a mother, I learned the hard way that it’s all too easy to forget ourselves and just become “Mom.” But we are more than that. I’m sure that if I had made the time for myself when my kids were young, I wouldn’t have become as depressed and isolated as I did.

Moments of Opportunity

When you find a pocket of time, do what you love. As active parents, we often want to take those free moments to eat popcorn and watch another episode of our latest binge. Especially if the kids are napping and you find a rare moment of solitude. But don’t. Instead, look outside: See the view. There are apps to help you write about it, draw it, edit it, film it, transform it, and then to share it. You will have a much better time doing that than holding the remote in one hand and a handful of popcorn in the other.

headopenMH

I’m a digital artist, collager, and recent empty nester still trying to find my routine after the advent of some major life changes. I’m coming to realize that as much as I want it, routine is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can become monotonous, dull, and in a word….routine. Creativity is a lot of things for me, but it’s never been routine. Over the years I’ve had to learn to squeeze my creativity into the pockets of my life that remain unclaimed by partner, kids, pets, and life in general.

Technology Is Your Friend

I’m a lifelong photographer, paper and ephemera lover, and inveterate collector of everything from buttons to feathers to boxes to Pokémon. Today, technology allows me to create anywhere and in many different ways.

More and more I use my iPhone for pictures, along with a plethora of photo apps that enable me to do whatever I want to my photos. I have a flatbed scanner at home to digitize my paper collection and I splurged and subscribed to Adobe Suite, which allows me to access Photoshop on my phone and iPad—and more importantly, allows me to access Lightroom and ALL my digital resources stored in the cloud. It’s like having my laptop anywhere I go. I can create in bed, on an airplane, or in a vet’s office waiting for the doctor. It’s all there as long as I have an internet connection.

MATHMOUNTAINSMHSomeday Is Today

I started on this path many years ago as a scrapbooker, well before scrapbooking became what it is today. And if you think I’m going to tell you I scrapbooked my kids’ lives from birth to 18, you would be correct. I did. However, they were 16 and 22 when I started. So don’t be impressed or feel bad. It took determination and commitment and waiting for my kids to be grown.

Back when they were young, I didn’t think I had the time, the resources, or the energy to make good use of my time. I didn’t have today’s game-changing technology. Instead, I saved every scrap of paper from their early years through graduation (remember what I said about collecting?) with the idea that someday, I would have the time to create scrapbooks. Finally, about four years ago, someday arrived. In a way I was glad I’d waited. Scrapbooking had transformed into the magic of stickers, papers, and all sorts of delightful things. I spent a small fortune on these supplies, on top of the considerable cost of photo development.

And it was very slow going. After slogging through 7 months of daily work and effort the old-fashioned way, I discovered digital scrapbooking. I made my oldest daughter’s high school yearbook as a digital scrapbook and had it printed. I loved the process and the outcome.

daydreamMHMy discovery of digital scrapbooking set me on the path of digital collage, photo compositing, and figuring out what to do with all those photos of clouds, trees, and interesting patterns and light and pattern I’d taken over the years.

Digital Tools

Take advantage of the resources available online. Find your people, live in those pockets of time, and relish that nothing goes as planned. Today there are even more there are apps to record our children’s lives in the moment. There are apps to create montages, scrapbooks, days in the life, etc. It’s really only limited by what you want to create: Ali Edwards’s amazing One Little Word, Tangie Baxter’s amazing Art Journal Emporium, and many other great artists out there on YouTube and Vimeo all there to teach you a craft.

As a photographer, I rely primarily on Snapseed to edit my photos. When I create collages, I use Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Fix. To transform pictures into digital paintings, sketches, or distort them into something new, I use Glaze, Decim8, and iColorama. When I draw, I use Procreate.

timestopsMH

During the course of my daily life I keep an ongoing bullet journal (I call it that, but it’s really a Moleskine with to-do lists, ideas, reminders, and thoughts). I also keep pen and paper handy. I also use notes on my iPhone for everything from passwords to prices paid when I’m out thrifting for the Pokémon who have escaped my grips so far. Dropbox and Evernote sync across multiple apps. If you’re are a Mac person, Airdrop is your ally.

Pockets of time are your friend in a busy life full of obligations. Use them to develop or rediscover your innate creativity, whatever that may be, and you’ll find that those pockets of time become universes in and of themselves, opening new realities and discoveries.

Find Marion at Instagram.

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Thinking About Role Models

role_modelToday I’m thinking about role models. Role models on the international stage, alive today, who are exemplars for ourselves and for our children. As we grapple with continually breaking stories about A-list sexual impropriety, sexual assault, questionable business dealings, and most every kind of NO YOU DIDN’T, it’s increasingly difficult to settle on well-known paragons of the behavior that we want to emulate and want to hold up as examples to our children.

What is a role model? In its deepest expression, a role model is a person whose behavior you want to emulate. Who embodies and exemplifies your personal values, interests, and beliefs. While on the one hand we understand intellectually that we all, as humans, make mistakes, we want our role models to be beyond reproach. We don’t want to have to say, “Well, this person is amazing and upright in 90% of his or her actions and speech, so I’ll ignore that pesky 10% of not-so-great choices.” We don’t want our most beloved icons to have feet of clay.

When I sat down to write a list of my personal role models — alive, well-known, and scandal-free — I had an extremely difficult time of it. I managed to come up with 30 names, but it wasn’t easy.

I share my personal list with you not because I want to create partisanship (my list is rather left-leaning), but because I want to contribute to an honest conversation about what we hold as important on a societal level; what we want to espouse as our legacy. With your help, I’d like to triple my list, which is notably low on artists (partly because many artists are not visible personalities).

The 30 people on my list are, to my knowledge, people of character. They are leaders. I may not agree with everything these people do and stand for, but I believe that their choices are guided by something I respect. I believe that these people want to make a significant and positive impact on the world — and that they share of themselves and their talents at least in part from altruism. My selections are people who are generally esteemed as “nice people.” I get warm fuzzies thinking about them.

My list, segmented by cisgender (for no good reason) and otherwise in random order:

Females

  1. Michelle Obama
  2. Brené Brown
  3. JK Rowling
  4. Helen Mirren
  5. Maggie Smith
  6. Judy Dench
  7. Oprah Winfrey
  8. Rachel Maddow
  9. Martha Plimpton
  10. Ellen Degeneres
  11. Malala Yousafzai
  12. Judy Blume
  13. Viola Davis
  14. Pema Chödrön
  15. Emma Watson
  16. Toni Morrison
  17. Byron Katie

Males

  1. His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Pope Francis
  4. Justin Trudeau
  5. John McCain
  6. Neil Gaiman
  7. Steven King
  8. Nicholas Kristoff
  9. Trevor Noah
  10. Steven Colbert
  11. Gabor Maté
  12. Thich Nhat Hanh
  13. Gary Zukav

And you? Who are the role models, alive today and free of scandal, that inspire you and serve as guides along the pathway of self-betterment? Please add your thoughts in the comments. Let’s grow this list!

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Why You Need to Leave

MH_crowDespite our romantic fantasies of the tortured artist producing works of genius, creativity is supported by wholeness and authenticity. Just as the best crops grow in ground that has been appropriately prepared and fertilized, the fundamentals of how you live your life have an enormous impact on who you are as an artist and the degree to which you’re able to produce work you find satisfying.

Several months ago, I posted the piece below to my personal Facebook page. In addition to a warm embrace from my community, I received private messages from women in my distant network who wanted to share their struggles and thank me for my transparency.

I share this post with you today. If one person reading this blog reads the words she needs to hear, the public display will prove worthwhile. This piece also serves as an update for previous readers who wondered about the long silence. With love:

Understanding that Facebook is not the best place for emotional exposition and vulnerability, here goes.

If you’ve been jaded by years of difficult and/or abusive relationships, have faith. After two marriages spanning 25 years, I’d concluded that the harmony and deep affection I wanted in a relationship was simply a fairy tale. When I emerged from my second marriage in January 2015, I decided that I was done for good. If dealing with conflict in a relationship necessitated yelling, violence, and intentionally inflicting pain, I was ready to spend the second half of my life alone—and happily so.

But the universe had other plans. I’ve spent the last 18 months in a relationship with a man who wants, as I do, a relationship based on kindness, unfailing mutual respect, adoration, and delight. We’ve shouldered considerable difficulty and challenges during our time together—but everything that life throws our way brings us closer. We are not a study in the attraction of opposites; we have uncannily similar life views, sensibilities, and curiosities. I did not think it possible to be so fully myself and be so fully embraced for it.

Now we’re engaged. It will be a long while—years, most likely—before we tie the knot and cohabit fulltime. Our first priority is our kids (all seven of them!) and ensuring that our relationship continues to enhance, rather than disrupt. Until we meld households, we’re able to spend 60%-75% of each week together. And we wake up every morning feeling like we’ve won the lottery.

To my female friends, especially: Hold out for the person who adores you—and demonstrates that esteem through behavior, not just words. Hold out for the person who possesses deep integrity. Hold out for the person who is characterologically incapable of saying unkind things to you. Hold out for the person who treats you like the princess, goddess, and warrior that you are. Hold out for the person with whom you experience an intense physical, emotional, and intellectual attraction that only grows over time.

Relationships need not require walking on eggshells. You don’t have to origami yourself into a form so foreign that you no longer recognize yourself. You don’t have to withstand criticism, unkindness, or cruelty. You are not asking for too much. And for the love of god—if you have children and you’re subjecting them to your abusive partner—whether a biological parent or otherwise—just stop. You’re scared to leave, but staying is worse than any unknown. My single biggest regret is keeping my five kids (three from my first marriage and two from the second) in a highly toxic environment for so long. The pain and guilt I carry for failing to protect them is inexpressible. Please, don’t make the same terrible mistake.

Be you, dear friends—follow your truth, and wonderful things will happen. Everything fabulous depends upon you being who you really are.

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Giveaway: Simplicity Parenting e-course

Oh, this one’s hard to resist. Have you been feeling like there must be a way for parenting can be more fun, peaceful, and less overwhelming?

Simplicity Parenting

Are you wishing for simpler times as the world seems to speed up and encourage us to cram more stuff into our lives? Wanting to find time to connect with loved ones competing with an influx of activities, screen time, and outside commitments? Daydreaming about having the support to implement simple but effective changes to your family’s rhythm and flow?

These are the reasons why Kathy Stowell decided to get certified as a Simplicity Parenting Workshop Leader. Kathy writes: “After reading the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, I realized that my desire for a slower childhood for my kids is a normal, healthy mama-bear instinct reaction to the hectic, materialistic culture we find ourselves raising our children in today.”

Kathy is excited to offer this four week e-course centered on the principles behind Simplicity Parenting. With much support, she walks you through simplifying your home life by touching upon these realms throughout the month of June; environment (clutter), rhythm and scheduling (activities, pauses), adult content (media), and tending to soul fever (meltdowns).

The class will be held via videos and blog posts in a password protected blog with discussions held in a private forum as well as an optional weekly conference call that will be recorded for later listening at your convenience. And with this held space, small steps will be taken toward your vision of a peaceful family flow in attune with your consciously crafted values and ideals.

The course runs from June 1 through June 29, 2012. To learn more, click here.

To enter our giveaway, leave a comment on this post with a note about any steps toward simplification you’ve recently taken or would like to take! How would you like to see your family life simplified? The drawing will be held on Wednesday, May 30, at 8:00 pm eastern time. Good luck!

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Alison: 5 New School-Year Resolutions for Writing Parents

Although it varies by a week or two across the Northern Hemisphere, for many parents, children round about now are returning to school and the more rigid routines of school days, homework, and earlier bedtimes come into play. As parents we need to be more organised and lovingly firm with our kids as we ease them through the change.

Whether you are a going-out-to-work writing parent or a stay-at-home one or a bit of both, it’s a good time to think about your own schedule, your priorities in terms of projects that you have to complete, client commitments, and projects that capture your heart and that you want to spend time on.

An important question to ask is ‘what is actually possible?’ We can take steps to create writing time by getting up early or staying up late, by being good at using small pockets of time between chores or on commute, but believe it or not, writing isn’t everything. Our resolutions need to take account of the current demands of our lives timewise, physically, emotionally, mentally. At different phases these demands will fluctuate. All-out commitment to the cause of writing without consideration of your current situation cannot be a good thing. As children settle into school they may require more of our empathy and listening time, will benefit and feel less anxious by us just being around, taking a walk with them, creating space for communication. Later on in the year these demands may change.

But if we get a chance to write, we want it to be as fruitful as possible. I often struggle to feel satisfied with my achievements because I have several tasks and projects on the go and have not identified which need to come higher on the list. At the end of the session, which is never very long, I have achieved not much of anything as I flit from document to document, to my email, to Google etc. A simple thing, but sometimes I’m not really clear what I’m working on. Just writing that down and having a schedule will make a lot of difference.

Sometimes I come to write and just can’t get into it, I have no spark. This is often after a period where I have not had any down time, general pleasant relaxation, a walk, or sit down with a book or even an evening in front of the TV. It is possible to make writing a stick that doesn’t bear fruit because you are beating yourself with it. (Ah the mixed metaphor, my favourite beast!)

So what resolutions might be good ones for the new school and writing year?

Five resolutions for the new school and writing year

1: Write less but more fruitfully and watch more telly.

2: Pick a project, set a deadline or a mini deadline, and work to it.

3: Think each day about your current demands/desires emotionally, mentally, physiologically, socially, for family etc. and decide what is most important, what is possible, and what is necessary.

4: Take pride and joy in what you achieve even if it is less than what you had hoped — write down what you have done; it’s easy to forget.

5: Think about, interact with, and support others, friends, extended family members, and other writers; create a strong and positive network.

Goodwill and good effort for the most part come back. Writing and life energy can be created by taking care of our time, ourselves, each other.

[Cross posted from my personal blog.]

Brittany: How to Get a Grip

“Let this become your key — next time when anger comes, just watch it. Don’t say, ‘I am angry.’ Say, ‘Anger is there and I am watching it.’ And see the difference! The difference is vast. Suddenly you are out of the grip of anger. If you can say, ‘I am just a watcher, I am not anger,’ you are out of the grip.”  ~Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

When we initially moved to New York, my three-year-old son, Sam, was all smiles and excitement. It was all a great adventure to him, driving cross country, living in temporary housing, and spending a week without us at the grandparents’ that ultimately culminated in the wonderous, never-to-be-repeated excitement of finally, finally, after months and months of talking about it, coming to live in The New House.

But like most things on the roller-coaster of life, once you’ve reached the highest of highs, there’s nowhere to go but down…

We moved into our house on July 1st and Sam hit Toddler Rock Bottom about two weeks later. (And I hit Parenting Rock Bottom right along with him.) It started with a tantrum or two, over nothing, and then insidiously, over the next few weeks, the tantrums escalated into mega-tantrums, where Sam bit John, and then began biting his new friends, to which I escalated my parental crackdown. My punishments were met with outrage so severe that Sam started having “accidents” — in public and at home. And by the beginning of August, our house was like a police state — justice was intense and swift — and Sam’s behavior was so unpredictable that Tom and I wondered where we could find him a good therapist.

Even when I was pregnant with Sam, I knew that he was going to test my emotional and physical endurance. In utero, he was active, demanding, and always a loud presence. Before he was ever born, I knew him and his moods as well as I knew my own because he projected them to me so intensely.

But things had been fine in South Carolina. After he turned three, the tantrums from his Terrible Twos leveled off, and his intense reactions to everything seemed to have been a passing phase. When they manifested again here it took me completely by surprise, and it took me several weeks to remember that an intense reaction to change has always been a facet of his personality. If I looked at things from his perspective, he’d just experienced a huge emotional upheaval leaving the only home, only friends, only neighbors, only life he’d ever known. He had nothing in his life to compare it to, no sense that everything would be okay after a while, no ability to understand the fear and homesickness gnawing at him. I incorrectly assumed he was too young to care much where he lived, as long as he was with me and Tom and John. By the time I stepped away from my own rage at this wild, unpredictable, irrational child that I was being forced to deal with, and think about the reasons behind it, the damage was done. My child was an emotional wreck. I knew I had to try a new tack, and soon, or things were going to get untenable.

I dug through still-packed boxes of books until I found my copy of the Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and re-read it from cover-to-cover twice.

One of Kurcinka’s suggestions in dealing with intense children is to give them a visual demonstration of their anger in the form of vinegar and baking soda “volcanos.” She suggests doing this with the child so he/she can see the volcano bubbling over and make the connection between it and the way they feel when they’re under stress.

I like to put my own spin on things, and since I knew the source of Sam’s anger, I tried doing things a little differently.

I gathered up the vinegar, the baking soda, a glass, and a quarter measuring cup. Then I told Sam that we needed to fill the glass up with “yuckies” — that for each thing that made him sad or mad, we were going to put a “yucky” in the glass. It took him a while to understand what a “yucky” was, but in no time he was on a roll. He missed his teachers, his school, his friends, our old house, our neighbors, our family members, punishments made him mad, our new house made him sad, and he was mad that this house didn’t have a swing set in the backyard like our old house had. Once the glass was full, I added the baking soda, and narrated a pretend (and ridiculous) tantrum — even by Sam’s standards.

“…What! No waffles for breakfast? Sam wanted waffles! Oh no! Sam’s yelling! He’s screaming! He’s thrown himself on the floor and he’s kicking kicking kicking! Oh no! He’s kicking Mommy! He’s kicking John! Now he’s even kicked the dog! Oh no! He’s kicked a hole in the floor. Now he’s kicked the house down! And he’s stomping stomping stomping on the house! And he’s throwing pieces of the house! Now the garage is flying through the air! And Sam’s still mad!”

Sam thought this was hilarious and so we spent the morning making more volcanoes and having more pretend tantrums. Every time we did it, I noticed that his ability to verbalize how he was feeling became more fluent. I knew he had completely caught on when he was playing with some friends, one of whom was getting very frustrated about something, and Sam called to me, “Mommy, Tyler’s glass is getting full of yuckies! Come help him!” Since then, yuckies, full glasses, and volcanoes have become part of our dialogue with each other. Now I can say to him, “Sam, your glass is looking pretty full. I can see you’re starting to get bubbly like a volcano. Do you need a break?”

After I say this, the expression on his face changes.You can watch him thinking about his emotions instead of feeling them, and then he’ll say, “I’m okay Mom. The yuckies are gone now.”

Yesterday, John was being a royal two-year-old pain in the grocery store, and we had to go past the candy aisle at check out. Both boys began begging for candy and I was feeling harassed. So I said to Sam, “Sam, please stop asking about candy. John is not being a nice boy right now (he was trying to leap out of his seat into the basket of the shopping cart) and Mommy’s glass is really REALLY full.” And Sam, to my everlasting surprise said, “Oh. Let me help you unload the cart then.” And he immediately got to work putting our groceries on the conveyor belt.

Please envision how I must’ve looked — absolutely flummoxed — mouth agape — eyes wide in surprise — as my toddler attempted to diffuse MY tantrum. It was quite the role reversal. Sam was able to give back to me what I had apparently been giving him — the incredible relief that comes from knowing that your feelings of stress are understood, that the burden of keeping it together has been lifted, and you’ve been excused for a moment to sort yourself out. All it took was a little understanding, and the weight of the day lifted from my shoulders. I was renewed and back to myself in seconds.

It was a good week for us. We seem to have gotten a grip.

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