Remembering the Sabbath

By , 02/09/2013 22:24

It’s a constant litany I hear in my practice, from moms and non-moms working and trying to make it all make sense in an ever-accelerating world.

“I need to find balance!” “There’s just too much to do.” “I feel like just as I am catching up, something happens and I’m back buried by the next wave.”

or simply,

“I’m exhausted.”

You would think I’d have this down. I’m actually quite good at helping others figure out how to balance things more effectively, how to make meaning in the bustle, how to create islands of quiet in the fray. Still, in my own life, I am always a few steps behind on the different fronts I am working…and never feel like I can do enough for my five and a half year old son whose dad is continents away. Many nights, I find myself on the edge of emptiness, with a mountain of urgent To Dos and no petrol in the tank.

I was struck this quote, which the Interaction Institute for Social Change posted today:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. -Thomas Merton

Wow. While ‘finding balance’ sounds good and I’ve realized it’s necessary to keep up with all I am doing, could allowing mental ‘frenzy’ really be to

succumb to the violence of our times?

Yet Fr. Merton’s words ring true. This year, I set the New Years intention to move toward a life that is more sustainable in the long-term. I started by signing up to participate in the Courage to Lead retreat series for Nonprofit leaders which is all about taking time to reconnect with one’s most closely held values and knowledge in ways that are restoring and regenerative. I highly recommend the Courage and Renewal® retreat for anyone feeling burnt out. Not a nonprofit leader? There are retreats all over the world.

Here in Southern California, Courage and Renewal retreats are held at a beautiful conference center in Montecito, near Santa Barbara. Retreats for me so far have meant great conversation, lots of hiking, and active reflection and planning for my life. When I joined the Fall retreat last month, though, I was forced to slow down. I was sick and trying not to get sicker. So, instead of taking up every opportunity to hike, I did more sitting and drinking tea, or laying quietly by the pool.

As a part of our more structured activities, there was a reflection on Sabbath and the value of rest and something clicked. I set the intention of carving out more time to do absolutely nothing – especially on Sundays. Toward the end of the retreat, the facilitators gave us each a small box that, when opened, was empty. We were invited to take some small things to remind us of our retreat time, something we wanted to remember when we went back into the activity of ordinary life. I thought about it a bit. Then, I went to the mound of art supplies (that are always available at the retreat – we are encouraged to write a lot but also can paint/draw/collage/do nothing if it suits us). I took some sheets of paper and cut them into strips about one inch wide and folded them into the empty box, which I brought home and put on my nightstand.

Yesterday, on Sunday, my mind was crowded and worried with all that had been undone. Thoughts of the nonprofit, private practice clients, house purchase, and mounds of unsorted personal business swirled around my head. My son had no school last Friday, today and is off again this coming Thursday AND my mom (who pinch hits on child care) is out of town. How was I going to do it all?

He was a bit under the weather and we had decided to stay in out of the heat and watch movies. At one point, he said, “MOM, come WATCH with me.” I realized that I was allowing myself to be “be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns” and missing this precious time with this precious person who, soon enough, won’t be begging me to sit and watch movies with him.

So, I took one of the strips of paper out of the box and wrote the date then quickly listed of all of the worries flying around my brain on it. I folded the paper and put it back in the box, mentally locking it up for the day.

Then, I cuddled up with my little guy and watched what may be the worst Disney movie ever made. It involved courageous appliances. Really.

And it was wonderful.

Mama’s Back!

By , 25/03/2013 22:42

Hey there. Where have you been?

Kidding. I know I was the one who bailed for a bit.

The thing is, about eight months ago, in the midst of some big, crazy stuff regarding my kid, my blog started sending out links that took people to some weird sites proffering eastern European get-rich-quick schemes and other unsavory opportunities. I’d been hacked or malwared or something. I spent some time trying to sort out what to do about this issue but – not having the technical knowledge, time to gain said technical knowledge,  or funds to pay someone else with such technical knowledge – I soon gave up. Put it off for a day when one of these resources magically became available.

And got really busy.

Then, yesterday, I decided to have a look-see at the old blog again…and it seemed the problem was gone. Mind you, in eight months, WordPress had more than a couple of updates. When I loaded them up, things seemed to run like a CHARM. So, I figured I’d give it a go.

So, this is a test. If you get any weirdness, please let me know. Direct Message me on Twitter @MominLACity or email me at mamapaloma at gmail dot com.

The past while has been super intense and I’ve been processing a lot. There’s a lot of good that will come out of this time and, I think, a lot of good writing. Here’s a snapshot of the past two-thirds of a year, and what they have me thinking about.

Drama with the preschool got worse (if that was possible). The little guy started in a new school which has been all right but a tough adjustment, in large degree because of how crappy the original school was about it. It was sadly comforting to see the reports of another school that was closing due to almost identical issues – because I had been painted as being over-reactive by my son’s school, which is still open, and some of those evil people are bringing their kid to my kid’s soccer team (well, it’s not ‘his’ per se but we did get there FIRST). Can’t say much more about that as there are legal issues still pending. Still thinking about making our communities safer by challenging the ‘culture of silence’ around child sexual development and abuse prevention.

This connects to my recent obsession with Zerlina Maxwell and several rape cases that have received unusual press coverage.  One blogger wrote about the night that Jane Doe was repeatedly assaulted in Stubenville, Ohio as “the saddest night that Steubenville, Ohio, has ever seen.” It was sad all right, but hardly unusual. The videos and commentary by the perpetrators’ and victim’s peers made it clear that this was nothing new in Stubenville. For those of us who have been working in the rape crisis sector for years decades (!), nothing about these situations are surprising. This kind of assault is so common, especially in High School and college social scenes (though I personally have been assaulted twice in my thirties and forties by men my age). What is awesome about this and other situations coming out is the amazing conversations going on about rape culture and how to change it, particularly about how to raise our boys to not rape or be silent bystanders.

Recently, after a long hiatus, I made a foray into dating. With a much younger guy. It was fun for a New York minute but, man, did this dude have some internal conflicts and an inability to express what he really wanted. Desire for connection and sex and commitment are so easily confused and tangled up and put in opposition to one another. This has me thinking (in parallel to/connected with the combating rape culture theme) also about boys and the mixed up messages they get and how to raise my son in a way that he can fully enjoy being affectionate and sexual and own his own longing for connection and be ethical and respectful about it. Am sure there’s more to say about that.

Hopefully, there’ll be more dating in my future as, contrary to rape apologists’ ideas, this super feminist lady does love men and is ready to get back out there.

Then, just under two weeks ago (the morning after I told the young fella to hit the bricks once and for all),  a friend finally lost her war with cancer. There had been many battles and she was a trooper and the end came abruptly for those of us who had seen her rally a dozen times before. She left two little boys, almost exactly eleven months older and younger than mine. In addition to the sadness I feel that she isn’t in the world, this has brought up a ton of stuff around our mortality, our children’s fear of losing us, my son’s father being so far away and what will happen if he never sees him again, valuing people while we are lucky enough to have them around, and honoring them when they are gone.

I really believe that there is power in teaching both empathy and action. Last weekend, just after Denise died, my little guy had his third haircut ever at the LAPD/LAFD annual St. Baldrick’s Day event. He got sponsored (you can still chip in!) to have his head shaved to benefit children’s cancer treatment and research. Before he let them take off a year’s growth, he helped his buddies at Station 89 polish their truck before Chief Cummings showed up. The firefighters invited him to join their lineup and this photo has been making the rounds.

In other news…

My non-profit has grown and expanded projects. While we carry on developing our innovative peace-building project for Liberia and supporting transgender youth to find their social media voices, we’re getting ready to launch new collaborations with families affected by incarceration and Los Angeles area homeless people. It’s pretty awesome and terrifying – especially as our funding has not grown and expanded with the work and I am broke. Know any rich people who want to make their legacy by launching an innovative, awesome nonprofit into the stratosphere? Send ‘em my way!

Seriously, though, we are always looking for volunteers and are assembling a fundraising committee of people who love putting on events (I don’t) who will have a blast getting our work visibility and support.

So, this was meant to be far more entertaining. Sorry. This WordPress thing seems to be working, except the photo posting bit. I’ll get right on that…after I go get the laundry, tidy up, sleep a bit, get through tomorrow…OK, I’ll get to it eventually.

Of an intimate nature

By , 18/07/2012 22:10

This is a tough post for me to write for a couple of reasons. The subject matter is sensitive and the situation in question has been really, really difficult for me.

It’s every parent’s nightmare…that your kid tells you that someone did something to them. You know the kind of ‘something’ I mean. In my case, it wasn’t so bad. My kid told me that another kid had introduced him to, ahem, age-inappropriate information and activity. My kid, in a very preschool manner, told me initially by acting out with me, suggesting I do to him what he was asked to do to another child. My twenty-plus years of dealing with these kinds of disclosures (had to do my first suspected child abuse report over 20 years ago while a volunteer in college), knowledge of child development, and experience helping children who have been through sexual abuse served me well. I think I’ve done okay and my kid will be okay.

But this situation has me thinking about  how damn hard it is for adults to deal with these kinds of situations on behalf of kids. This has been the worst part of the whole thing for me. In the ONE situation in my WHOLE LIFE where I should be able to just be the mom – just look after my child, just fall apart when he’s asleep and a friend is near – I have had to be an advocate, an educator, and a scapegoat.

His awesome preschool that I have loved for many reasons has flat out refused to take responsibility. Their response to my clearly articulated concerns has been to state 1) what happened was ‘nothing out of the ordinary’ (trust me, it was) and 2) that it didn’t happen.

The fact is, it did happen. My kid spontaneously described at least four interactions with two different children in three specific locations. What happened wasn’t ‘ordinary’ behavior for 4 and 5 year olds. The things that were done and said are things that a kid does and says when an adult has done and said them to the kid, or when another child who has been abused acts out with that kid. Do I know where it started? No. Do I know that it started somewhere? Yes.

Somewhere is patient zero, the child who was abused.

And this school that is otherwise so loving, so protective, so encouraging to little minds, would prefer to put their collective heads in the sand than deal with that reality. It has been made clear to me that I am the problem and that they don’t want other parents at the school to know that anything really happened.

Adult fear is understandable but can not be a reason for ignoring a problem. Kids who have been acted out with, like my son, are primed for future abuse and for acting out with other kids, perpetuating and expanding the circle of vulnerability. I can’t participate in that.

So, my son is going elsewhere and we are getting professional help to try to ensure that this stops here. There may be other ramifications for the school’s choice but I can’t control that.

Which brings me to my thought number two – what I can do. Which is why I am writing about this, my experience. Like I said, my kid is going to be okay. I have handled things remarkably well, if I do say so myself.

And I am a wreck. My eyes are constantly red and irritated from fatigue but I haven’t slept before midnight without Benadryl (hard core drug for me) in over three weeks. I get heartburn (heartburn? didn’t realize what it was for a few days…never have it) whenever I think/talk/write about it (excuse me while I get a Pepto). Mostly, I am sad. Sad, and scared. Even though I know I have done things right, that what happened was relatively minor (I have plenty of perspective on that), I worry that this will be somehow significant in his schema. I am grieving my inability to keep him protected from the seediness of the world for a little longer.

And I am mad. Mad at whatever adult started this string of acting out with some kid out there. Mad at the school for responding so poorly. Mad at our twisted up culture that links sex and shame so tidily and deeply and keeps parents and kids silent about their experiences.

It makes me appreciate how hard this is for other parents who don’t have the benefit of years of training and experience, of seeing the effects of unattended abuse and the benefits of appropriate action. Other parents who had their own weird experiences and don’t want to mess up their kids with their own ‘issues’ and so believe a school administrator when they finally get up the nerve to say something and hear “Oh, that’s normal.” Parents who are so scared to see/hear what their kid is trying to show/tell them that they hope it will just go away, that their kid will forget.

And so I am committed: to making our communities safer for kids, to expanding the circle of support for parents.

But first I am going to go about making sure my kid is all right, that he gets to learn about his body and sexuality in safe and enjoyable ways, at the times that are right for him.

One of these things is not like the others…

By , 14/06/2012 00:06

My son is over the moon. This weekend, we get to go camping with about 30 other families from his preschool. Sounds like fun, right?

I have been preparing for weeks. This year, I decided to go ahead and buy us sleeping bags and a tent and to take the opportunity to simultaneously upgrade our emergency preparedness kit by getting things to cook with (I think my original plan was to just put the soup cans directly on the camp stove). I have lists of supplies, a menu, and a travel scrabble kit.

What I can’t prepare for is something more intangible. Can I be honest here? It is sometimes really hard being the single mom in the bunch. I should be used to it by now, I suppose, but I am not.

Occasionally, I am aware of being treated or regarded differently because of my singleness. Sometimes it’s pity, sometimes mistrust…especially on the part of other moms. This makes it hard to just hang out with other families, as there’s this weird vibe like I’m after any good dad that might be around.

Mostly, though, this discomfort is my own. I can almost hear that old Sesame Street song in my head:

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things doesn’t belong.

Can you tell me which thing is not like the others before I finish this song?

So, the whole pack-way-too-much-in-the-car-to-go-sleep-in-the-dirt part of it aside, I should be excited to be going on this camping expedition. And I am. Really.

I am also dreading it. Other families hang out regularly and already have plans to collaborate on meals. Other families (except one with two moms) have dads who will be there for the Father’s Day activity on Sunday. Other parents will trade off for trips to the loo and showers.

And then there’ll be AJ and me. Which I actually like, in a lot of ways. Except when we’re in a crowd of “real” families. Then, whether I should or not, I can feel like the wallflower in the ugly dress at the prom.

Whose life is this, anyway?

By , 11/06/2012 22:37

It just occurred to me, when I stopped in at my local FaceBook, that I may need to step out of my bloody cave. For when I peeped in on what my 945 closest friends are up to, I discovered that the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup tonight.

Wait, what? The Kings won the Cup for the first time ever, just miles from my house and I had a sitter and I used that time to work.

Seriously.

To be honest, I do have a ton to do. Unpaid work is kicking my ass (in a good way) and the paid work is screaming for some attention (in a less good way). Then there’s the whole I-have-this-kid-and-that-means-things-like-laundry-and-food-shopping-can-only-wait-so-long thing.

This week, we are going camping. Holy effballs, there’s a lot to buy and organize for roughing it! We (the other, unpaid work, we) are in high gear fixing the website in a new platform. Talk about a quick learning curve. Oh, and I got a call to maybe go to Sierra Leone in two weeks. So, there’s that.

But, nothing can be this important. Really. I used to like sports. Never a rabid fan but always knew what was going on for playoffs and participated in the fun. I used to like movies. Dancing until the wee hours. Sleep. The company of the opposite sex.

I used to have a clue what was going on in the world.

Now I have a tent and an effed up website and a beautiful little boy who berated me when I told him to toss a blue m&m he didn’t like on the ground.

“NO!” he practically screamed, “That is not part of Mother Earth.” After I put the m&m somewhere else (his cup holder in the car – remember this next time you want to judge a mom for the sticky bits all over her vehicle), he went on to tell me that Mother Earth (“Mudder Urf”) is everyone’s mother like God is everyone’s father. “We have to look after Mudder Urf, because she gives us life.”

Fuck the Kings. My kid’s a genius.

Don’t try to talk crazy

By , 14/05/2012 00:01

Just got sucked into an online ‘debate’ with a crazy person. Wow. disappointed in myself for letting that happen.

Reminder to self:

Life is too short. You have too much to do. Let crazy people keep their crazy delusions and keep working to be sure they don’t run the show.

My kid just said…

By , 08/05/2012 20:47

Mommy, I love you.

Even when I am angry, I still love you….

…Even when something is broken and I am really angry,

I know you are here.

And that is beautiful.

 

Outsider in

By , 29/04/2012 12:06

Last night, a friend who I met almost five years ago through our local MOMS club had her birthday at Akbar, a local and unpretentious gay bar/club where the 7 foot (with platforms) DJ in neon pink was spinning 90s techno to her hearts content. The  music was fairly awful, the beats irresistible, and the vodka effective.

We danced until well after midnight, and I had a great time.

Almost all of her guests are also parents, friends found through their preschool and others who work in ‘the industry.’ Almost everyone else at the club was gay.

And then there was me. Not gay, not coupled, not a writer/producer/actor. Not the same.

This happens all the time. I end up being the single parent in the group of coupled friends. Most of the time this is fine. Sometimes, the wives in these groups get weird and territorial when their husbands talk to me.  Occasionally, people have been unintentionally mean (like when one of the MOMS members made a comment about not choosing a charity that serves teen moms because, “…most of them are single and the MOMS Club is here to support families…“).  Here in liberal Hollywood, I am a  wild card, a threat to the order of things.

Even in the single parent scene, I’m a bit of an oddity. In my experience (which I admit is pretty limited) ‘single parent’ groups are mostly divorced people, dealing with the issues of coordinating with an ex (I wish my son’s dad would coordinate more but, given that he lives on another continent, every other weekend and shared school responsibilities are not a part of my reality) and wanting to smush their broken family with someone else’s (twice the dysfunction = twice the fun!). Now, I would like to date more, have more grown-up fun, and be open to connecting with someone and seeing where that goes but I feel no urgency to cobble together a family. AJ and I are a family, with a rich network of extended relations and friends and love.

I attended a group called Single Mothers By Choice for a bit and even had the honor of helping a friend get started on the whole sperm donor choosing process. Wow. Who knew?  But, ultimately, I didn’t relate there, either – I didn’t ‘choose’ this situation, really. I mean, I did make a choice to have my son…but these ladies are choosing to go to all kinds of lengths to be moms. I kind of fell into this world by accident, unprepared, and don’t know much about hormones and insemination and IVF.

So, in many situations, I find myself an outsider – observed observer in worlds I half inhabit. Still, I am not really interested in socializing with people based on their partnered/parental status. My friends are amazing, talented, wonderful people…and I want to spend time with them.

On the other hand, I am not likely to meet someone for me while dancing the night away at a gay bar with a bunch of couples. Just sayin’.

Redemption, redeemed

By , 08/04/2012 09:42

I posted last night’s essay, rather impulsively, without waiting, at 12:30am. The first thought I had on waking this morning was this:

Redemption isn’t about receiving love, it’s about giving love.

What? The other half of my brain responded. But that’s backwards.

As I pondered it more, this idea began to make more sense to me. I reflected again on the piece I read last night about the “penal-substitution theory of atonement.” The author proposes that Jesus didn’t die to balance some kind of cosmic account. He didn’t “pay our price” because that would mean God didn’t really forgive but just transferred our balance to someone else who paid. He died because he lived out his practice. Gently, relentlessly, he spoke over and over of God’s unbelievable love and forgiveness. This was so threatening to the powers that be that he was killed. He lived his practice of love even though it killed him.

Whether you believe that accounts of Jesus are literally true or not (for the record, I don’t really know and this doesn’t bother me), the Jesus of  Biblical stories was indeed the perfect role model of love. He redeemed through his love. I consider myself a Christian (though others won’t because of that last parenthetical comment) because I endeavor to follow that example of living from love. (And am supported in this by Buddhist and Taoist teaching and meditation, especially, as they give practical direction on reigning in the ‘ego’ that so often gets in the way of that radical kind of love.)

Still, somewhere in my rational, Western mind, redemption has been sort of separate from love. Love is great and all but people need to be accountable.

This has been a major barrier in sorting things out with the-one-I-am-having-such-a-hard-time-loving. I realized that have demanded in a number of ways that he be accountable for his actions as a precondition for my continuing to show loving-kindess towards him. I can pray for his happiness and well being but I still, somewhere deep down, want him to pay.

I have been looking at the other person as being the one in need of redemption and forgiveness. He’s the one who did wrong, right?

Right?

I get heaps of support for this. Righteous anger and disappointment are reflected by all who care for my son and I. And, indeed, I want justice, I want consequences, I want him to know that he has wronged us and suffer for it.

Of course that’s right.

Except for this. As I realized this morning, all evidence to the contrary, I am actually not in a position to judge him–his motivations, intentions, or worthiness. My practice is acting and living out of love and equanimity. It’s what I aim for, continually move toward and back to.

The situation, as it stands, where I stand, is that I am the one in need of redemption. I have stepped off of my path of love and into the murky, dangerous realm of the cosmic balance sheet. I am mired in the muck, tangled up in the twining roots of trees that choke out the sun and hide all manner of creepy crawly things that bite.

I have felt stuck here for a long time.

What struck me this morning is that release from this stuckness – a practical and spiritual redemption – is readily available.

All I am required to do is to return to the path of kindness, gentleness, compassion, equanimity, and love regardless of the other’s actions.

Because, truly, that’s what Jesus did. He showed the way, loving even those who couldn’t see their worth and worthiness. Holding to the truth of the-Love-greater-than-we-can-imagine-or-understand even when it meant his execution and still not being held down by this – which is why we have Easter, right? – somehow rising up from destruction to live on eternally as The Inspiration to love.

Redemption in a prayer

By , 08/04/2012 00:20

Today, a friend (and writer in her own right)  posted a piece from Huffington Post entitled “Is God Angry at You?” In it, the author challenges the dominant Christian interpretation of Easter – what is referred to as the ”penal-substitution theory of atonement” – which I won’t go into here other than to say that I really enjoyed the writer’s critique of this taken-for-granted-in-many-circles understanding of God.

And it got me thinking about forgiveness.

Years ago, I wrote about saying prayers with my son. He was a tiny baby then, but this act had taken on some significance for me. Each night, as a part of our ritual, I would say “Please be with Addison’s daddy, wherever he is, keep him safe, and give him everything he needs to be happy.” You see, (and to save you the trouble of reading back for that bit of our story), this guy had dropped off the face of the earth about half-way through my pregnancy and we hadn’t heard from him since.

About three months after baby-daddy went AWOL, I was reading an Anne Lamott book in which the protagonist was facing betrayal and decided that she didn’t want bitterness to consume her – so she started praying for the betrayer. This resonated so strongly with me that I started doing the same. Every time he came to mind, every time someone else made a disparaging comment about his character or intentions, every time I thought of the pain my son would likely experience in his dad’s absence, I repeated this mantra. Well, maybe not every time, but many times, as I caught myself falling into  bitterness – mine or another’s – this little prayer pulled me back from the edge.

After a while, it got to be less hard. With the baby, it was easy, because I could imagine that his dad being happy would likely create the most possibilities for him. When the guy finally called, around the time AJ was two, there was space in my mind and heart to not turn him away from knowing his son.

But then it got real. He hadn’t become a different person. He was still dishonest and manipulative.  And now he’s done it again. After a year and a half of regular correspondence, calls, and some visits, he’s dropped off the face of the earth.

And I am pissed.

It’s one thing to mess with me…and another to mess with your child. It’s heartbreaking to be told, several times a day, “I need my daddy” or “I want my daddy” and know it’s so true and know there is nothing you can do about it.

I am pissed and I am becoming bitter. I want to punish like the God of the penal-substitution theory only I don’t want a substitute. I want retribution because it must be, or maybe it is about substitution…I want him to feel the pain that our son is feeling and going to feel in the future.

Fucker.

And, at the same time, I feel the pull of my heart – the truer, better part of myself that knows what I really want – back to that place of that simple yet profound prayer.

It was easier when he wasn’t real, when I knew nothing about him. When I could imagine he’d never actually come back.

It was easier before I had spent four plus years trying to sort out some reasonable child support situation without going to court, going further and further into debt in an effort to preserve my son’s connection only to come to this place where I can accidentally notice that he is getting along quite well, thank you, with a new life and lots of partying that somehow keeps him from bothering to call or even text his four-year-old kid who remembers that the last time they talked was his birthday two months ago.

It was easier then.

It’s more important now.

For my son, for this guy I have to fight not to despise and wish ill on. For me. I have to do it. I have to keep forgiving and wishing well and holding his safety and happiness in my heart and mind. I have to forgive myself for letting him in and exposing my child to this heartache. I have to let this forgiveness and well wishing peel back my grip on the need for justice and retribution so that I can take steps forward without entirely justifiable  malice.

I have to, as someone in the Twittersphere so eloquently put it today, speak for my anger, but not from my anger. I must speak from love.

Fuck.

Perhaps those who pray can pray for me on that one…”Give her everything she needs to be loving.”

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