Wednesday, August 25, 2010

book talk - John Updike Edition

I was having a conversation with an older teaching friend once and she remarked that she just had to finish this puzzle she was working on. It was one of those huge jigsaws that take up an entire kitchen table. She muttered something about "once that thing is done I can get on with my life".
I feel the same way about books all the time. I realize that reading is a pleasurable, free time activity, but I also see it as something you kind of need to motor through. For the last few weeks, Rabbit, Run by John Updike has been my jigsaw puzzle.
I loved reading adult fiction this summer, but I have a lot of children's books piling up on my desk that I really have to read. Last night, I finished the first of Updike's Rabbit books. At first, I didn't love it. A story of a man abandoning his wife just bugged the hell out of me. Especially a wife with a drinking problem and a two week old baby. But, I liked Rabbit, Run's stream of consciousness because, it reminded me of the stuff I enjoyed reading in high school and college. I like Updike. I read The Complete Henry Bech a few years ago and really enjoyed Bech as a character. I think of Updike as being like an author's author. He seems pretty snooty to me. Probably because of the whole New Yorker thing.
Anyway, when I was reading Rabbit, Run I kept whining to people about how much I disliked Rabbit (Harry Angstrom) and what was wrong with John Updike to create this horrible character and then go on to write 4 more books about him! My dad is like this too, he always hates to read a book that has nothing but bad guys in it. I gave him Blood Meridian for Christmas several years ago and didn't like it because "stories should have a good guy". I used to think this was silly, but I guess I've turned into my dad.
But, towards the very end, Updike starts writing from the perspective of Harry's wife, and that's when I saw the merit in the book. Updike knows what it feels like to be a woman. He knows. He made me feel like he knows the physical and emotional toll giving birth has on a woman. And he knows that losing a child by your own hand is "the worst thing that has ever happened to a woman". And then I came to my senses and realized that Updike doesn't really "like" Harry either, but that's not the point.
Some day I will read the rest of the Rabbit books. Like maybe when I'm 40.

When I dropped the book in the library drop box this morning I felt refreshed. Sure, I still had my late night reading hangover headache. But at least I was done and ready to move on with my life. And the 12 Mark Twain Award Nominees that my library students are expecting me to have already read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

time out

This weekend was really tough. Ramona was just not herself on Saturday, she spent the whole day crying loudly at me. She had a bit of a cold and was also working on some molars. It was a long and tiresome day for us all.
Yesterday was a lot better, Ramona was back to her happy self. But, in a way, the day was harder. She spent a lot of time doing things she shouldn't do. Touching the tv, climbing on EVERYTHING, throwing food, getting into the dog's water. My dad says we named her wrong. Instead of Ramona Maple, we should have named her Ramona Monkey.

I worry that I'm not teaching her properly. I'm worried that people will think I don't care enough to discipline her. I hear from my pediatriatian that I tell her NO too much, I hear from friends that I need to put her in a time out, says I need to place her on a bench and offer choices. Other people say she needs a swat and that my pediatrician is an idiot.
What the hell? She's a baby! She needs a hug, a pat on the back, and a distraction. Right??? Right?
But I dislike permissive parenting. I did when I taught first grade, anyway.
I am writing this because my heart is hurting. I feel anger at myself for being disloyal to Ramona. The avalanche of worry began, and it's still coming. I first began to doubt my parenting and it quickly became a doubt of Ramona.

Why is she so wild? Why doesn't she listen to me? Is she behind in cognitive and language development because she can't understand a no or a time out. Are other people's babies better than mine? Are other mothers better than I am?

The truth is that we parents are all experts. Of our own children. In the space and time that we inhabit, we have found some success. When we hear some poor dolt whining for an answer, we deliver it, probably along with a little bit of exaggeration and forgetfulness. I am guilty of it too. Parenting is not in itself hard. It's hard because of, it's hard because of "norming charts" and parenting contemporaries who have "been there and done that".

My heart says not to worry. Everything changes, usually on its own. My wisdom from teaching other people's children tells me that children will blossom in their own time, in their own beautiful expression of themselves. My practice reminds me to be gentle with myself. To be gentle with my child.
Why do I still feel like this?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

this life

My very best friend designed a new masthead for Ramona and Her Mother and also gave it a little spruce while she was at it. Gorgeous girl, gorgeous photography, gorgeous friend.

Awhile back, I read something on twitter from Karen Maezen Miller. This life of ours, it is the life of a Buddha.
This morning, I turned thirty. As I got ready for this day, as I looked in the mirror, this bit of wisdom took hold of my heart.
I don't feel desperation. I have felt, in the past, that I was coming up short, that I was never going to get "there". Right now, I don't feel like I'm coming up anywhere, and I am beginning to understand there is no "there". I see that this wisdom about the Buddha and about me is true. I am on a path. And it really is nothing less than the life of a Buddha.

This life and death we are encountering all the time is no other than the life of the Buddha. - Maezumi Roshi

Sunday, August 15, 2010

a place to practice

Yesterday, I attended the last of my summer meditation retreats. It was kind of grueling. The Rime Center is not air conditioned, which is usually kind of pleasant, but lately with the extreme heat it has just been too hot. By the 5th sitting the sweat was rolling down my body and I was having trouble breathing.
I am always surprised that I've never seen anyone hurl a cushion across the shrine room and stomp out. That's the kind of stuff my students do when they're frustrated and I feel like doing it all the time. Grown ups really have a lot of self control.

Sometimes Lama Chuck will do a dharma talk during retreat, but yesterday it was all meditation. Sitting and walking. After 3 sessions of sitting and 4 sessions of walking, I was walking by a window and "accidentally" gazed outside. I saw a car driving down the street, and then another, and then a bird flew by, and then someone honked. It was the most beautiful thing I could remember seeing in a long time. As I returned to my cushion, my mind went to Ramona. I saw her face in my mind and tears came to my eyes at the preciousness of her. I marveled at how after just three hours of meditation, after just three hours of not being at the mercy of my constant flow of thought, worry, and fear, the world seemed so fresh and so very beautiful. Can you imagine how precious you would find your family after a weekend retreat? How miraculous shopping for groceries among your fellow neighbors would feel after a week long retreat? Lama Chuck says that going on retreat is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves. I believe it.

As I walked out of the Rime center yesterday I felt gratitude. Sometimes I feel lost because I haven't found the perfect teacher, the perfect Sanga, the perfect place to retreat. But yesterday, I felt simple gratitude for having a place to practice.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

back to school night

I remember thinking in 6th grade how much I hated the first week of school. I remember very clearly telling myself that in just a few weeks it would all feel like old hat. That pretty soon I would have my schedule memorized and I would have a rhythm to my day. I have always really struggled with transitions.
Tomorrow is my first day back to work after my two month vacation with Ramona. I had a very nice time with the girl who isn't really a baby anymore. I also had a tough time with my new role. Brian and I have a hard time when I'm home for the summer. We struggle with who should be doing what and that breeds animosity.
I am feeling a lot of anxiety this evening, because as relieved as I am to be going back to work, I also feel nervous that I don't really belong there either. I should have done some lesson planning and professional reading. I feel like all of my fellow teachers are really fired up, and I am lacking the ability to feel any of their excitement.
So, I feel like I don't belong anywhere....but my bed, with the covers pulled up over my head.
The 6th grade Nova is telling me to hang on. Give it a couple of weeks and it will all be old hat again....