They call it urge surfing.
I call it swimming against the Gulf Stream
In the dead of night.
Posts Tagged ‘relationships’
They call it urge surfing.
On bike, top of hill, foot down. Red light. It was green as I was climbing but turned yellow before I could get through. It’s a quiet Saturday, holiday weekend. A few cars cross in front of me, no one behind me. The rotation complete, my turn next, I step on the pedals and inch out. The light stays red, though. It is red as oncoming traffic starts to enter and turn left. Because no drivers had joined me on my side of the intersection, the signal never kicked to green. I could wait here all day at a red light that stays red. Instead, I press through. The oncoming drivers pause for two extra beats to wait for me before turning left across the empty lane.
A man jams his body halfway out of his driver’s side window. His head, arm, torso look like they’re about to climb out after me. He screams across the road, “Why don’t you obey the law, you fucking idiot!”
I catch my breath and keep riding.
Through my head race all the answers I would say if his were a real question. Louder than my imagined response is the clang clang clang of his fury: “You fucking idiot, you fucking idiot, you. . .” For the next mile at least, I tense at every approaching engine, sure he’s whipped around to come after me. Will my helmet work when he clips me and I flip onto the side of the road? It’s a quiet, leafy neighborhood. People are out. Surely someone will see it and call 911.
You fucking idiot, you fucking. . . (more…)
. . . a discouraged child tends to focus increasingly on her anxious desire to fit in and quickly loses sight of the needs of others in the family. Children are always trying to improve their sense of securely belonging as valuable members of the group, and they fear losing that connection. Therefore, the more the child’s discouragement deepens, the less capable she feels of interacting with others in useful ways. Instead, she is more likely to resort to misbehavior to connect inappropriately, to feel negatively powerful, and finally to gain at least a perverse sense of respect before giving up when her attempts fail.
– Linda Jessup and Emory Luce Baldwin, Parenting with Courage and Uncommon Sense
My boy has been back with me for a week. During that time, I have not screamed once. I have not stormed out to cool down. We have been on time for camp drop off every morning without a fight. Bug has gotten himself out of the bath, teeth brushed, and into bed before 9:00 every night without me raising my voice or lifting a finger.
On July 7, I made a commitment to heal our family. This is a tall order. A family is more than just one mom and it would seem that one mom alone can’t overhaul a whole family culture. Each of us can only control ourselves. As it turns out, this may be the concept that brings the most significant change to our family.
When children are very small and dependent on us, we can haul them out of troubling situations and put them in their cribs at specified times. We can decide what food is in front of them. As they get older, this control shifts. They fight their own playground battles. They can get up out of bed and turn the light back on. They can snub dinner and sneak treats from the fridge behind our backs.
A parent cannot control a child. Control is an illusion. Dominance as a method of control is an illusion. A parent can withhold, wheedle, punish, threaten, bribe, and ignore, but even with these dangerous tools, a parent cannot control a child.
What a parent can do is model healthy choices and guide a child to build the capacity to navigate the world.
I made a commitment to learn whatever I could to strengthen our family. The past few weeks, I have planted this commitment into the center of my days. Between reading and journaling to reflect on the approaches I’ve taken (and might like to try), I’ve immersed myself in a 16-hour Parenting Encouragement Program class. The process has been intense and even transformative. That word that usually makes me roll my eyes, but in this case, “transformation” about captures what’s happening here.
My son comes off the day camp bus in a foul mood and immediately lays into me for some perceived slight, like asking him to please hand me the tablet so I can charge it. He is furious, steaming, telling me he hates me. These are his steps in our standard friction-filled dance, one we’ve been perfecting for years.
Now, I choose a different dance, one that improvises and responds. First I catch my breath. No reaction. I ask myself quietly to note that Bug’s behavior is a textbook version of discouragement, that he is actually seeking connection and a sense of belonging through a mistaken goal of taking revenge on me.
A parent cannot control a child. A parent can only control her own choices.
I choose my words with care. “It seems like something is really bothering you. I’m sorry it’s hard. Remember that it’s not okay to call me names or hurt me. When you are ready to talk about what’s bothering you in a less hurtful way, I am here to listen.”
He continues to simmer and spit but it’s cooling down. I sit quietly and breathe, remembering that my son is a creative child, he’s bright and resourceful. That he is learning, as I am. Even in my silence, I keep my mind on the goal of encouraging him and helping him feel connected and capable.
After a little while, after we’ve moved on to the next phase of our evening, he quietly — almost distractedly — says, “You should write a bad review of that camp.”
“Really?” I say, just as casually. “And what would I write in this review?”
Then he opens like the sky. Something happened this morning at the high ropes course. A misunderstanding, a punishment he felt was unfair. We talk it through and I match his tone. Attentive but calm, like this is any old conversation on any old day, not a huge issue. I do not come up with a list of solutions or reprimand him for what most likely stemmed from his failure to listen to instructions. I reflect back what I’ve heard and capture what his feelings might have been about this. Finally, I say, “Would you like to think through what you could do if this happens again? Or to keep something like it from happening next time?”
Bug shrugs and says “maybe,” then turns to his crafts. He’s had enough for now. Enough is fine. Enough is miles ahead of where we were a month ago. Enough is a victory. When and if he does want to tackle the issue, I’ll be ready to help him tap his courage and find his way.
I can only control myself. The choices I make contain the threads that stitch together this family. When Bug and I were stumbling through our difficult 9-day stay-cation together in June, this was my commitment:
I am determined to sustain a creative, positive planning attitude for the duration of this stay-cation with my son. This means I am equally determined to postpone any self-improvement initiative that might divert energy from our formidable endeavor.
Now I see that these two journeys — family health and personal well-being — are part of the same whole. Indeed, they turn on the same axis. The more skillful a parent I become, the more loving our relationship, the more encouraged my son, and the more nourishing our home. From this place, we all grow. In this place, we thrive.
Image: Pristine Cartera Turkus, “Mother & Child”
Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes. It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach. Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back. They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity. The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.
Down in the cave, incline benches. Pull-up bars. Clangs and grunts. Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.
The Cave of Dudes skews young. They cluster in packs, spotting each other and counting off. Their tattooed calves flex with effort. When they finish a set, they pace, flushed and breathless. They turn their arms just so to see the cut in the mirror. They try to look like they’re not looking.
The few older men who dare to visit are made of sinew and focus. They grip through fingerless gloves. Intensity makes their neck veins pop. Even though they lift less, they seem stronger. Grounded. The old dudes are more likely to end up on a mat doing the peacock pose.
I am a 42-year old woman with cellulite and stained sneakers. It takes an enormous force of will to peel myself from the whirring breeze of the elliptical and descend into the Cave of Dudes. It stinks of testosterone. The man-juice is thick as brine and you’ve got to churn your way through the miasma to get to the dumbbells.
I go because I love the place. It’s a playground, full of toys to mess around with. Yet every time I start down, up drifts the bass dialogue and the metal bang. With it, a clench of dismay. Couldn’t it be silence? This time, couldn’t the room be mine alone? It never has been, not in all the years I’ve been going. There’s no reason to believe it would be now. Still. Traveling has offered up enough deserted, junky hotel fitness rooms that I know what a blast it can be to bounce around by myself.
Better yet, how about a gaggle of gals? If my girlfriends in their saggy capris and cheap Reeboks joined me, that would be a party. We could shut off ESPN and crank Throwing Muses and Flogging Molly. We could do all the wrong things with the iron maidens in the corner. We could dance between sets.
But in the Cave of Dudes, antics are unwelcome. Talking, unless it’s about muscles and stuff, is also rare. Dancing? Who would dare to try?
To will myself through the throatfuls of male musk, I’ve learned to man up. Every gal has a store of Dude inside her. She knows how to act remote and invulnerable. How do you think she survives the subway, the office, the bar, the street? When it’s necessary, she taps the supply, adopting tunnel vision and shooting straight for the target. No distractions.
Even when — especially when — those distractions are the echoes of ancient patterns learned by a girl surviving in a universe of threat.
I know rationally that the dudes in the cave have things more compelling than me to capture their attention. They may notice the arrival of a female of the species, but what’s it to them if I’m clumsy or old or weak? What do I care even if they do care (which they don’t)? I’m safe here.
I know all this rationally, but still, the sense of intrusion, of outsider-ness, as I walk in almost overwhelms me. Among the dudes, the racks and incline benches look as sinister as they do inviting. My toys, in the company of dudes, look like mistakes waiting to happen.
Stepping across the room, I try not to glance at the bench press. It’s my favorite piece of equipment. I started on it a year or so ago with just the bar. Eventually, the weights went on. Week by week, they increased.
It’s a strange kind of thrill to climb of my own free will under that iron bar. Lifting it off the stand exposes my girly chest parts and delicate neck to a grimy mass, one that’s entirely in my control. It’s danger, it’s power. Nothing beats finding out how much this body can do.
Despite all this love, I start to stride past it over to the relative safety of the dumbbells. A trio dudes are all gathered up near my beloved bench. One of them is doing some sort of big-cock-lunge-squats while the other two watch with their arms crossed. It looks like a dare. Or a hazing.
As I pass, a little voice whispers, I wish he were here.
Oh, you again.
The voice accompanies me everywhere, all the time. But I hear it right here, at this almost imperceptible moment of choice. The timing makes me pause. That wish is whispering up right as I am about to abandon my very favorite exercise on account of the presence of men.
I stop. I let that wish bob and dance like a soap bubble , the little voice a song inside it. Yes, we always got such a kick out of sweating together, punching stuff and finishing the run with a wind sprint. Yes, this was one of highs we climbed together. And yes, if he were here, every piece of equipment in this place would be fair game. We’d mess around with it together.
All this wishing. Wishing to be alone, wishing for the company of women, wishing for My Mister. Wishing to be younger and stronger. Or older and more free. Can I actually change any of these things? For the ones I can change, do I want them enough to take the leap?
Or do I choose this?
Wishing without action is a destructive habit. It’s biting nails and picking at scabs. It’s holding the fact of the terrain up against an ink-stained map of Rivendell. It’s falling from a cliff then cursing the earth that’s caught you.
He’s not here, Smirk. It’s just you, your grit, and your capacity to make your own bliss.
Get to it.
I touch that bubble with the tip of my courage and let it pop.
Then I slide on right past the trio of dudes, grab two 10-pound weights, and rack up.
Image: “River in a Cave,” John Spies, Thailand