Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tub time and the Golden Rule

I had an insight this evening about Jesus' dictum to treat others they way we want to be treated. My two little ones (Satya and Kuruna) were playing in the tub. Kuruna kept pulling Satya's hair with the predictable response: Satya would scream "Mom! Tell him to stop!" I would come in and say don't take his toys and Kuruna won't have reason to pull your hair.
After a few more episodes of this sort, I told them, you're on your own.
When I popped around the corner to grab some laundry out of the dryer, I heard a huge splash. Satya had dumped water over Koreans 2 year old head. He was too befuddled to cry. "Satya, don't do that!" I insisted. "How is that any different than his pulling your hair? You must treat Kuruna as you want to be treated." There was Jesus coming out of my Buddhist mouth.
I noticed, however, that Kuruna seemed to actually be enjoying himself, drenched. Satya noticed, too. "But Mom (she says this like "Mah-um") He's not crying."
"O.K." I said. "When you are playing with him, be sure to watch how he is reacting, so you know whether he is enjoying it or not."
The Golden Rule no longer translated to "be nice so others will be nice to you." That's how it had always been defined to me (Ok, "nice" could be kind, compassionate, patient...insert virtue here).
Perhaps we have it all wrong. Perhaps the Golden Rule is not a command, but a formula. Treat others as you would have them treat you, means: figure out how you want others to act towards you and instruct them by example. In that way, you are more likely to have enjoyable interactions with others. If you like to hear compliments, give them. If you enjoy having the door held for you, hold the door for others. Even, perhaps, if you enjoy having water dumped on your head, dump water on others' heads? hmmm.
Well, I guess that's the audience participation part of the formula that is not so explicitly laid out in the New Testament. The key to my theory is that the "other" has to be an attentive observer. If my husband tickles my feet (which I HATE!) is that because he loves having his feet tickled? Yes. If he buys me presents every time he thinks of me, is that because he hopes I will do the same. Well, actually, yes.
Now I recognize we are getting into territory that would make psychologists' hair stand on end. Am I advocating that we attempt to read other's minds by how they treat us? No. Yes.
No, because the people we interact with are most likely NOT participating. The Golden Rule or anything like it are furthest from their minds. They are for the most part unaware of anything they do. They act automatically. So, there's not much point in trying to interpret their actions as instruction.
Yes because I do think it possible for mindful people to instruct others by example. Watch any good mother with her young children and you will see what I mean. Not only will she tell her little ones to say thank you or please, to look both ways before crossing the street, to clean up their messes; she will do it as well. She has thought about how she wants them to act in the world and is demonstrating it.
And, finally yes, because everyone, no matter how unaware, can teach us something. At the very least, they can remind us to keep listening and watching our own actions and what we are teaching others about how to treat us.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

New Year's Revolution

I have heard the wimpers of a coup d'etat in the halls of my unconscious; and I am not impressed. I have seen it before. The do-gooders, the change-agents, the liberal reformers--all adorned in stately idealisms--have got themselves riled up again to campaign anew. The annual bout of amnesia has set in, erasing year upon year of failed crusades from memory, making room for false courage and false loyalties. To listen one would hear nought but "discipline, health, spiritual growth and public service."To witness, all is planning, strategy, and "optimizing!"
Yet, I stand as proof agaist these voices of Janian renewal. There will be no usurpation, no regime change. The status quo will prevail! Renewed dedication to fiscal responsibility? No! Thrice weekly runs at lunch? Not! Meditation twice a day? Don't think so. Twenty hours of public service? Afraid not. A perennial victory in a war of attrition.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why the piece counts on puzzle boxes?

I always thought that puzzle piece counts on jigsaw puzzle boxes were about competitiveness. The boxes heckle to passers-by: "How many pieces can you handle? Twenty? One hundred? TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY?!! Come on, how smart are you, really?" The checker at "We B Toys" judges from behind her bar code reader, "Oh, a fifty piece puzzle..." ... "It's, uh, for my, uh niece."

What I have learned, now that I have been inducted to the secret society of motherhood:Those piece counts have nothing to do with skill level, challenge or even quality control. They are for moms. 24 Jumbo pieces, it says. I can only find 22. I'll give the two pieces a week to ransom themselves for the group. Otherwise its into the "box board" pile for Tuesday curbside pick-up.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chalk dust

Our Unitarian minister remarked in August on the paradoxical state we are in as the only known conscious observers of the Universe and simultaneously as such tiny and brief and inconsequential participants. So it is with the Universe; likewise in the minute space of our own lives.

My best friend sent me and Satya, "the star princess," a poem by Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate, entitled Telescope. The telescope becomes the tool for engaging such a paradox in all of its terrifying reality. Through its use, "the depth of the stars stays always constant / and we are able to sleep." Somehow, Yes!, our insignificance writ large by the night sky makes all the day's mistakes and miseries bearable. Indeed the cold starry universe is a kind reminder that we matter so very very little - in our suffering, in our wretchedness and even in our triumph. Today was such a day for me. I was glad to see that chalky blackboard erased of all the day's scribbles and tabulations. I just hope no one was taking notes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Liberals are losing another sure bet

Where is Mother Theresa when we need her?
The New York Times, in an article entitled, "Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate" is a perfect illustration of the shell game going on among the rich in this nation. Jason DeParle gets all the sound bites I have been hearing too:
"We can't raise taxes now when the economy is hit so hard by Katrina."
"The programs we would cut to pay for Katrina are broken anyway"
Is it really so political to help the poor? I did not know that I had to be liberal to be compassionate. I thought economic prosperity was a conservative value, too.
I am not convinced we as a nation have to divide over this issue. Perhaps it is not an issue that can be solved at the federal level. Maybe this is a "Mother Theresa" problem. By that I mean that the possible solution is to start with our own voices speaking about what we see that disturbs us, articulating why it is wrong, and inviting others to conversation. Then with those thoughts articulated, act on them in local, tangible and personal ways. Instead of getting caught up in the politics, walk down the street to a shelter and offer one person help. People locally can start to organize around individual people, acting out of a spiritual personal connection to people in need -- like Macy Gray or Michael Moore did in their way -- by just listening to someone's story, by helping someone network to find a job, by feeding someone physically and spiritually.
I think the liberal are losing the war because they don't know how to fight the battle. There is still time left before daylight to change our plan of attack. It's poverty and hopelessness and isolation the liberals need to fight. Not the conservatives in Congress.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rescuing our culture before it is bulldozed away

NOLA's Ark? ...In this case, after the flood.
I was dreaming this morning and somehow (maybe it was from celebrating Rosh Hashanah last night) Noah's Ark floated into my mind. Honestly I thought about Noah after the Tsunami, also, but I didn't have anywhere to talk about it.
Could there be a "NOLAs Ark" as a part of this effort? A place to put things we want to save and renew or restore when there is "dry land" again in New Orleans? This cultural community ark could be anything. I see it as a keeper of links to cultural icons (however we define culture and icon!) during their restorations, as a place to document architectural culture, as a place to keep up with our musical icons and places...It could also be a place to say "Hey! What happened to X?" and alert people to find out and recover those things.
The idea is that when we finally land, we don't want to look around and say "Oh, we forgot the Unicorn!"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Jumbo Roll

'Just wondering if anyone else can call up the scent of Charmin toilet paper on demand and if it invokes in them the same sense memory that it does for me....
I have many many memories associated with smells--Granma's Shalimar, Papa's kitchen, Mom's gardenias--but none so readily available as those associated with a roll of Charmin. It is not a complicated nostalgia: an image of my childhood home, the second floor bathroon by my room, a feeling of total security, that all was right and would ever be so.
I just have to think that all of us - humans, at least - might have a sense memory for something that invokes feelings of simple childhood well-being. A scent, a texture, a sound, a color can take us to a place where we were once safe from and safe in the world.
Within our hearts - even the adult ones - there must surely be a recognition that every child has the capacity for and human right to feel well-being. Can we all agree that, all children get at least a moment or two of physical and psychological safety?
Can that include safety from
ex-secretaries of education de-valuing the lives of generations yet unborn? Can we extend that particular right to the rest of us?
Whether we are black or white or Indian or Pakistani or Jewish or Muslim or Tibetan or Chinese, certainly there was a time for each of us when were pre-hatred -- from others and for others. Can we all take a sec and remember when that was, what it felt like, maybe associate that memory with something that surrounded us at the time, a mother's arms, sunlighton summer grass, a wooly blanket, gospel music on the radio? Pre-hatred, folks...for those who simply can't get back there on their own, I am offering a coupon for a jumbo roll of Charmin...Let's try this. O.K?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Why the title?

Stretch marks - Buddha lessons from my children

I have often thought of starting a teen-pregnancy prevention movement educating girls about the ins and outs of pregnancy. The curriculum would consist mostly of my showing all of my stretch marks (no, they do not become silvery almost invisible "trophies") and discussing the joys of morning sickness, sleep deprivation (yes, I am still talking about pregnancy) and "sharing" space within your own body that you never really thought you would have to sublet.
I hated pregnancy, every doggone moment of it.
I LOOOOOOVE being a mother!
But there are definitely stretch marks involved. They start during pregnancy, creeping across the body. They continue post-partum, all over the psyche.
And the wonderful thing is that whether they are physical or psychic, they teach the same thing: having kids is about letting go of control, of neat-and-pretty, of perfect and grabbing hold of confusion, of messy, of whatever you've got at the time.
As it turns out, that's pretty much what Buddha was trying to teach.
So it is for Buddhists and parents: the more you think you're in control and everything will be perfect, the more you will suffer. Yet when you can let go and be in the moment and in the messiness and confusion, the more you will reside in joy.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Over a year and in and out of weeks

Last night I spoke to local and state legislators about my son and how far he has come in a year. It prompted me to look back at where I was a year ago - struggling to communicate with him....

September 2004 - It’s like being under water, isn't it? Everything sounds muted and dull. Sounds thud in without any “brightness.” Music is fine, still interesting with enough variations of frequencies to be groovy and fun. But some sounds: “em,” “ess,” “eff,” “oo,” don’t make it in at all. They disappear right in front of your eyes - like the thin fingers of rain on the desert that evaporate before ever touching the ground. You grasp at the words for a while, thinking if you just reach out far enough, strain to hear, they might make it in and be understood. But after a few minutes, you discover it’s the same as always, hopeless, frustrating, and futile. You give up and zone out. Then, just as you have retreated into the sounds within your head, your thoughts, or the beating of your heart, an outside buzz, hum, or beat intrudes, confusing your silence. Then, you cup your chubby little curled up hands over your ears and look around trying to get some recognition and some relief from the sound you so earnestly sought out not moments before.

I don't know. This is my best guess of what the world sounds like to my son.

Kuruna only says Da-da and ghnh-ghnh (for "nu-nu" or pacifier). He began saying those words at ten-months. Eight months later, those are the only words he can say. He has gotten by until now solely on his irresistible grin, his three dimples and the twinkle in his eye. Kuruna can’t tell me what it sounds like in his world. I can’t ask Kuruna what he hears. He has no language. We have taught him some sign language, but he is slow to pick it up and limited mostly to signs for “food” “more,” “drink,” “all-done,” and two social signs “so big” and “big love.” These signs--and lots of hugs and kisses--get us through a typical day. But Kuruna’s inability to express more than the bare minimum of his needs increasingly frustrates him and us.

Kuruna and I, we are straining to listen to each other and to be heard.

He screams at me. I yell at him.
He grasps at my words. I grasp at his signs.
I ask him, “who am I?“
He says, “Da-da.“
He screams.
I ask, “More food?“

We can cover the important stuff, like “big love.” But the nuances of communication are lost in this huge gulf between us.

There’s a sign Kuruna uses that I did not teach him. I wish he could tell me what it means. Sometimes, Kuruna puts his chubby fists over his ears and looks around plaintively. I think he means that in spite of what he doesn’t hear, whatever is getting in is “too noisy,” but I am not sure. Maybe he is inviting me in to his world. “Just put your hands over your ears, Mommy,” he may be saying, “It sounds just like this.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

3-5 minutes

Tonight I will address a room full of people about my son and his progress over the last 12 months. I have 3-5 minutes to do it.

The purpose of the meeting is to give parents the chance to talk about the support we have gotten from our local parent-child center. The Family Place is wonderful! Our case worker is a terrific warm friend who has helped us through many a frustrating day. With their help, Kuruna, who last year did nothing but sit on the floor, tap blocks together with his fists and scream "Da-da," has blossomed into an active communicating boy.
I won't bore you with the details. Kuruna has over 200 pages of medical reports generated since last summer. Suffice it to say, he underwent every hearing, vision, metabolic, genetic, disease, neurological test known to his doctors. He has been under anaesthesia three (or four? I've lost count) times. We still do not have a diagnosis besides "developmental delay of unknown etiology."
What we do have is an amazing team of therapists who have been working with Kuruna since last September. It is because of them that he can now walk and run, feed himself, pull on a shirt, hold a crayon and draw a circle. It is because of them that he can say and repeat words, turn the pages of a book and help me sing songs. And it is because of them that he can now say "Mommy!"
Wait, there's more! Now that Kuruna is approaching three, he must make the transition to the school system. This team, lead ably by our case worker is expanding to include a occupational therapist, a nutritionist and an early educator to help us make the transition.