Tuesday, May 31, 2011

40 Months (2)

"I'm a woman, too!"

Quinn says enthusiastically.

This comes from a story Christina tells me about taking Quinn to a Buddhist meeting for women. While listening to other women talk about their perspective of life, Quinn somehow made the connection that she was exactly like the rest of them and she decided to include herself in the discussion. To say that I wasn't surprised by her reaction is putting it mildly. This image of her is one that we see each and every day.

Quinn loves to be included with any situation and she will interject herself into the scene with confidence and understanding. She is remarkably aware of what people are talking about, even when it comes to an incredibly deep subject matter. Just her desire to understand is enough to make her presence known and at three-and-a-half, she is very smart and witty when it comes to expressing herself.

One aspect of life where she always identifies is her intimate connection to her gender. She is a girl and she won't hesitate to let you know all about it. Whether it's due to her color preference (pink) or what she finds beautiful in the natural world around her (the pretty flowers) or choosing a role model from our wonderful pop culture (Princess Leia), she doesn't want to just be one of the guys. Most of the other children who revolve around her world are boys but when she gets a chance to play with another girl, her excitement knows no bounds. It's very endearing to watch as she connects to her feminine spirit but it is something that also concerns me.

I think it is extremely important for Quinn to truly connect to the divine feminine reality of her life. To truly connect to your natural human experience is a powerful goal that all people should aspire toward in their lives. For my daughter, I can only hope and pray that we are able to help her find the correct path that leads her to a strong and healthy existence. I know how difficult it is for women to contend with all of the trappings of our culture and the perspective of beauty can quickly become twisted and fucking overwhelming. Despite that horrible reality I have great faith that Quinn has the power and passion to fight for what she believes in, as she does it on a daily basis right here in our home. Yet it is extremely important that we discover a way to help guide her so that she may have the wisdom to cut through all of the seductive bullshit that distorts our daily experience. She's going to be an intelligent little fiery furnace but she also is easily persuaded the moment her heart blooms at the first sign of the cutest little wonders of the world.

If you don't believe me, just come on over to our house with a kitten and watch her melt before your eyes.

She's still very young and can quickly break down if things aren't going exactly her way. She has a very sensitive heart, an affliction both of our children have but one that also allows them to be magnificent and beautiful creatures more often than not, so I can see her struggling when difficulties may arise. As a young woman in our society, there are going to be people who try to take advantage of her sensitive nature, who are going to try to steal her beauty from her. I know that it may seem too early to worry such things but we have to think about this stuff now because all of the devices that will trip her up ten to fifteen years from now are already in her environment. The forces of evil are already trying to persuade her to give up her power so that they may use her for their nefarious plots. Perhaps I'm a bit paranoid and sound like an over-protective father but it has nothing to do with control, except in the sense that I only wish for her to be in control of her own experience. The only way I know to provide some guidance in that direction is to work every day harder than the day before because one day she will no longer turn her ear in my direction as acutely as she does now and this crucial message may not have the force it does today.

But there's more ways to help her learn than bombarding her with words. I've expressed before my great desire for Quinn to grow up a feminist, to believe her relationship to the rest of the people around her to be one based on equality regardless of gender. I continue to bring it up because it is something that I am constantly struggling with as a man who sometimes gets trapped by those tempting snares our society displays on a continuous basis. If I am going to have any success with my attempts to raise my wonderful daughter in the best way possible, I am going to have to change the prejudice that flows through my blood. I am going to have to become an extraordinary human example of beauty that Quinn may admire. Maybe then she will be able to believe in her fellow human citizens even when life drops a few dark clouds of disorder over her head. Maybe then she will be able to raise her head to the sky and declare with all her heart that she is a woman who is stronger than any attempt of confusion that may come her way.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

79 Months

It's well known that Lucas has spent many hours with his thumb in his mouth. From the time he was a wee one and just like his old man before him, who also was a notorious thumb-sucker, Lucas has found sweet comfort from the delicate solace of newborn remembrances. But at his age it has become a crutch and we've had many conversations with him about it, had many arguments about it and have tried many different remedies that haven't taken hold. We've gone over the subject more than enough and he still relied on his thumb to help relieve the stress.

I haven't wanted to become an ogre about the issue because I remember my parents and their hideous methods when they tried to remove the digit from my mouth. Their attempts at torture didn't help me to overcome my debilitating situation, actually causing the opposite reaction, one where I shrank further down into myself and pushed them farther away from the small island I chose to inhabit. I needed to discover a different way to deal with my stress and demands or taunting or shouting simply don't create the proper environment where I can thrive.

Lucas is the same way. When we are hard on him or demanding or even loud, he shuts down, always pushing us away. He wants to find a lonely dark corner where he can hide with his shame and anger and suffering. It's something that has become more and more apparent the older he gets because he is more and more expressive. The hurt and terror flash across his face in an instant and we can't escape the reality of what we are doing to him. But it's not easy learning to evolve our parenting techniques as he evolves right in front of us. We're so used to the lessons we've learned over the years and every day that we get older we find new ways to fall back on rutted habits that have developed in our daily routines. There are days where the last thing I want to deal with is a sullen six-year-old who doesn't know how to express his emotions in a coherent way. It can be infuriating and I have often come to realize that there are times now when I commiserate with my own parents and some of their methods that I always hoped to never repeat if I had children of my own.

But ultimately I know in my heart that my gruff, lazy response will get me nowhere with Lucas because he's a lot like me and it's taken many years to redevelop my relationship with my parents and it still isn't where I would like it to be. I don't want that to happen with my children. So that means that we needed to find a better outcome to the thumb situation. Lucas needed us to help him push his boundaries and find some peace in his heart when the storm clouds appear so menacing.

It's psychological but it's physical too. He is responding to stress in a obvious physical way that hearkens back to a time when it was the only answer for him. Well, a friend of ours, Dr. January West said that she would be willing to help. She practices Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), which is a chiropractic procedure that is not aggressive or invasive but focuses on the exact type of stressful energy that your body has difficulty releasing. NSA helps your body get back in tune by coordinated trigger points that help release all that negative energy that your body has locked inside. It seemed reasonable and she said she was willing to try and help Lucas out a little bit with his ordeal, so why not? It was better than fighting with him every night in order to tape up his thumb so it didn't end up stuck right back in his mouth.

Since Lucas started his treatments, it's been an interesting ride. He seemed to actually get worse for awhile but January said that it could take a little time, changing years of behavior doesn't happen overnight, and Lucas seemed to enjoy the sessions so we kept on keeping on. There even came a point where I was sure that it was useless and I even reverted back to taping his thumb up at night but then he simply stopped pretty quickly. You could see him catching himself when he reached his hand up out of habit and he even became proud of the fact that he was no longer sucking his thumb, bragging about it to me all of the time. It was very cute and sweet to see a change in him, even if he did have a setback or two over the next couple of weeks.

His evolution was pretty definitive though, in many ways more than just with his thumb. His bad attitude about school began to change, as well. We had fewer crazy tear-stained fights that had come up more recently. He also became more loving in gesture and deed, even kissing us on the lips again just because that was what he wanted. It's been a beautiful transition and I've become so convinced of January's NSA treatments that I've actually tried a few myself.

But through it all the thing I may be most happy about is that Lucas has started chanting with us. As we conducted our Buddhist practice over the years, Lucas has always been right here with us, occasionally sitting down for a minute or two but then bouncing up and out of our laps to terrorize the house like a hurricane. Though he's never really taken to it, he's always known what we are doing and we've tried to help him to understand why we feel it is so important to us. Now he spends much more time actually chanting with us and he seems to enjoy it! It's wonderful to see him taking this step on his own because we've always been very clear that his spiritual practice must be about him, for his own growth as a human being and that means taking responsibility for it when he was ready. It's ultimately his own decision but we have always encouraged him to join us when we chant, hoping that it would help bring him some solace.

Lucas is a very observant little guy and there have been deep, precious moments when it's been very clear that he is listening to us with all of his heart. Oh, to look into your child's eyes and really see that he is listening is such a gift and a moment of enlightenment all on its own. I think we try to be honest with him, most of all, and I hope that he truly appreciates that about us. I simply want him to understand that the greatest gift that we could ever give to him is the realization that whatever he wishes to accomplish in life, all that he desires, must come from within himself. He isn't ever going to stop sucking his thumb or biting his nails or beating himself up in some manner without challenging himself, without finding a way to reach down and grab that powerful potential that embodies who he is, that is only Lucas. If he can discover a way to touch that, he will find it much easier to overcome any idiosyncratic tendency that might arise in his life.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

39 Months (the second)

The incident almost happened. The one most feared by parents, cutting straight through your bones just thinking about it. The one of nightmares that may languish the rest of your life if it were to ever come true. The one that reaches into your heart with the icy devilish touch of dismay and terror. No one who has ever felt a moment of love for a child would welcome the event that happened at casawex and we were the lucky ones.

Quinn loves to eat with gusto, cramming her food into her mouth without regard for the capacity of that orifice. We often find ourselves shaking our heads at the comic display of her attempts to masticate a congealed blob of savory goodness that easily may veer off into an unsavory spectacle; food spat on the ground or pulled out then shoved in your general direction or choking. More than once we've had to encourage her to slow down and enjoy her food but it's difficult to get through to a three-year-old sometimes.

Shockingly, the incident didn't arise because of overabundance of food but I'm sure the grape arrived in her throat due to an eager carelessness that surrounds our lovely daughter when it comes to meal times. I don't even know how it all began because I was casually lounging in the other room enjoying a good book as the day was fading from view. All I heard was Christina asking Quinn if she was okay. This is a common question that we ask of Quinn, from her typical crying reaction when she doesn't get what she wants to common toddler mishaps to brotherly bratiness, so I wasn't concerned. Until I heard the concern in my wife's voice. Then it escalated very quickly once we all realized that the reason Quinn wasn't responding was because she wasn't breathing.

We've had moments with both Lucas and Quinn where you freeze for an instant because you think, Is my child choking right now?, then they invariably start breathing a second or two later. When I went over to check out the situation, I quickly realized that this wasn't going to correct itself of its own accord. If we didn't want Quinn to die, we were going to have to do something about it.

Let me just say that I either don't know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver or it just doesn't work with a three-year-old. While panic began to escalate around the room; with Lucas running in fear as both his parents voices and breathing reached tremulous levels and as Christina pounded out 911 on the telephone; the only thought in my head was that I could take care of this. I don't know why I thought this, because I have never been in a situation where I had to help someone to breathe again. I also have been known to become overwhelmed with confusion during extremely stressful moments, even though during normal tasks I always feel very comfortable handling whatever comes my way. Though this was far from an ordinary situation I did find myself responding with confidence rather than confusion and I felt that if I just take one step forward, I would be able to accomplish this crazy and terrifying task.

Step One: The Heimlich Maneuver.

I got down on a knee, turned her around, put one fist into her stomach and proceeded to push upward. Each time I did this it felt absolutely ineffective, which turned out to be true because nothing was happening. I pushed and pushed, each time harder and harder, waiting for that revelatory moment when the grape would expel violently from her mouth and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. Nope. Nothing happening.

So then I thought, Well, every time I saw the Heimlich in action, the person was using two hands. This seemed like it wouldn't work on Quinn's little stomach, which was why I only used one hand to begin with, but we were getting toward a minute or so without breathing so the stakes were going higher and higher in this poker match. I reached around with both hands, pushed my chest against her back and lifted with all the strength that I had in me, while still taking care for her safety, of course. We didn't want any broken ribs in the process. I pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled, her feet now completely off the ground, all to no avail. Nothing was coming out of her mouth.

With my heart pounding more and more desperately, all I could think was, How is this even possible?

Step Two: Reevaluate The Situation.

Whatever you do, you cannot panic at this point because it could easily spiral out of control but I have to admit that I was definitely starting to panic at this point. The strangest thing about it though was that Quinn was completely calm, so much so that I had to put her down and look closely at her. Maybe she wasn't really choking after all. She could stand on her own two feet, looked right at me with no fear in her eyes, so I asked her if she was all right. No response. I've heard that people who drown reach a point where everything descends into complete serenity, almost as if they accept the moment filling them with calmness. Now, I don't know if that was happening to Quinn but she was very mellow about the entire situation, the only one in the entire house who could say that. Even Mishu was probably stressing out.

But then I looked closely at her and I could see the skin around her mouth was turning purple. And her forehead was as white as a sheet. And Christina was saying into the phone, "She's not breathing! Oh mt god! She's turning blue!"

This was the moment of despair for me. I immediately imagined Quinn dying in my arms and it was the most terrifying thought that I have ever experienced in real time. That instant I was overwhelmed with the horror of it all but fortunately my brain or body did not shut down.

Step Three: Do Whatever It Takes

Sometimes, to diffuse a situation you have to be as honest about what is actually happening as possible. I've seen people stand forth during such incredible confrontation that all ulterior motives vanish and the raw truth of the experience shines anew. I only knew one thing, my daughter was dying because a grape was stuck in her throat. The only way I could think of getting it out was to reach down and take it out. I figured I would either pull it out or squash it so that the juices would make her cough it out or throw it up. I have no idea if this is foolish and if this story may cause others to attempt what I did causing a deleterious effect. All I knew was that I had to get that grape out.

So I reached in and immediately could feel the obstruction. It wasn't far down and my finger was long enough. Yet, when I felt it, I forced myself to stop for just a second. This was difficult to do because it seemed at this point every second counted but I knew that if I didn't do this correctly, I would be regretting it for the rest of my life. I felt the grape, massaged it. How stuck was it? I turned out that it was actually just kind of resting in a bowl like depression at the top of her throat but it was just too big to come out. It had squeezed into this small space but it wasn't jammed in there.

I delicately began to work my finger around the edge of the grape until I could tell that I had enough leverage to yank it out. So that's what I did. Then I presented a mucus swathed grape toward Christina, who was still on the phone.

"I got it!"

I had saved my daughter's life by reaching in and taking the grape out of her mouth. It sounds so simple but it was the most traumatic two minutes of my life. Christina was so happy that tears were streaming out of her eyes. Relief poured out of us with joy in our exhausted hearts. We were the fortunate ones who didn't have to tell another story that only brought grief with each telling.

Quinn, meanwhile, was acting like nothing had happened to her. Still serene, she sat back down at the table and began to eat more grapes.

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