Mar 31 2015

Write or Call

I love a good long plane ride. The thought of hours cramped into an airplane horrifies many, but to me, a long-haul flight over the Atlantic or further is a gift of time and privacy. The hum of the airplane lulls me to extreme focus. I read, thoroughly. I write, prolifically. I’m in the zone. And then, after a few in_the_zonehours of productivity, I plug into the entertainment system and watch movies or catch up on TV series I rarely watch elsewhere. One after another, until we land. No phone calls. No texts or messages. Nobody calling me from the kitchen, or screaming “Mama!” from upstairs.

The thing about a flight like this, though, is that once you land and disembark from the sealed tube of delicious quiet, the world smacks you in the face. Portable devices begin to bing and beep, passengers are roused from the inward calm of their flight to face a bombardment of calls and messages and news of the outside world.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed one of those epic journeys, a 12-hour day-time flight and as expected, I was hit with the bushel of unread messages as soon as I landed. I eliminated the ones I could easily identify as a spam that snuck through the filter, or as one of the newsletters that get less attention when I’m traveling and screen time is limited. (My appetite for reading never matches my on-line stamina and after a trip like this I’m inspired to purge the overload of subscriptions I’ve too ambitiously taken on.) Then I scanned what was left, assessing which ones were mission critical, and then I saw the emboldened letters of my daughter’s name. Short-pants had written me an email message. I opened it right away.

The message contained four or five well crafted paragraphs telling me about her day. How a boy she might be a little sweet on had stared at her in class. Her favorite teacher gave an interesting homework assignment. She made up an equation: the boy + the teacher + the subject she loves = her smiling all the way home from school. How she missed me but knows I’m away doing the work I love to do. It startled me a bit, how articulate her phrases, the absence of any spelling mistakes or punctuation errors, capital letters where there were supposed to be caps. It was a grown-up message.
fun_to_write_letters
Over the next few days, we wrote back and forth. A message or two each day, each one from her rich with descriptions of not only her activities, but her observations – some of them rather keen insights – about why things happened and how she felt about them. She’s always been good with words, reading like a fiend since she was a peanut, writing charming little notes, winning a spelling bee, but something has shifted. It’s no longer cute and precocious. It’s thoughtful and reflective, the words of a lovely young woman.

~ ~ ~

Every day, at about the same time, my phone rings. Even if I’m not in the mood to be on the phone – I’m more of a writer than a talker – I answer cheerfully. Buddy-roo walks out of the school and her first instinct is to turn on her telephone and give me a call. I want her to feel like that call is always welcome, so unless I’m truly in the thick of something else, I’ll answer. She chatters away, slightly breathless as she walks up the hill toward our home from school, filling me in on who told whom what in the courtyard, and how much homework she has, and what she had for lunch. Much of it is banal, but I ask as many questions as I can, to keep the exchange going. I want her to create a habit of telling me what’s happening in her life.

Buddy-roo experiences highs and lows at maximum velocity. She’s having the best day ever or else her life is a catastrophe. One day, after a tearful call that lasted a good portion of her walk home, she turned her key in the door, dropped her heavy backpack on the floor and threw herself on the couch.

“My friends all think I’m too dramatic!”

I don’t disagree with her friends, but I figured they’d already made the point. I didn’t pile anything on top of it. What I don’t want to do is keep her from telling me what she’s feeling, even if what she’s feeling seems exaggerated. Who knows how long she will keep open this doorway locked_into me, showing me her raw thoughts and feelings as they occur. Dismissing her ups and downs as drama, right now, would surely close the door and lock it tight. So I listen and ask questions that might make her think beyond the hailstorm that she perceives is pounding upon her. Okay, and I hint a little, that maybe her friends are on to something. But mostly, I try to be there to answer her call, while she’s still dialing.

Short-pants hardly touches her telephone. An occasional text, but calling is not her thing. I had to give her lessons about how to talk on the phone, otherwise she just sits there breathing while you do all the work. Getting Buddy-roo to write a quick email – let alone a thank-you note to someone who’s given her a present – is like pulling teeth, but she’s expert at chatting away on the telephone. They are products of the same parents and the same environment, and yet, so different. As babies, toddlers and now as they crash into their adolescence, the things that make them distinct from each other become that much more apparent, more palatable.

One writes, the other calls. But at least they both want to tell me what’s happening in their lives. I’ll take that while I can get it, and relish every word.


Apr 20 2011

Big, Little Girls

I never imagined that they would turn out to be so lovely. When I watch them from a distance – not when they’re crowded around me and clinging, demanding my attention, but from afar, as they interact with others – I am a little bit amazed. I knew I would love my children, but I didn’t consider how much I might admire them. Or at least that this feeling of admiration would happen while they were still so young. Both Short-pants and Buddy-roo have poise and a thoughtful exuberance, and in certain settings they rise to the occasion in remarkable ways. They have become such big, little girls.

Last week, our annual voyage to Sestri Levante, Italy, for the CREA conference. We go every year to see friends and reconnect with colleagues. We go to sharpen our saws as facilitators and practitioners of creative process. We go to experience our own creativity in new ways. We go to be in service – we are volunteers – to give back to this community because it has given us so much, including our current careers. I realize now there’s another reason we go: for our children.

The girls weave in and out of the sea of adults attending the conference with ease and enthusiasm. It doesn’t hurt that the kind of people who attend a conference on creativity have a special knack for appreciating the wisdom of children and recognize well that we all could be childlike in adult bodies if we’d only let it happen. When I am at CREA I feel an enormous gratitude toward this community for being so open to my children, and for giving them a chance to interact with adults who truly respect them and engage them in very attentive way.

This has a huge impact. Short-pants and Buddy-roo are the kind of kids that can look people in the eye and can carry on conversations with people of any age. Because they are not merely seen, but heard as well, they believe in their own voices and they know how to articulate their thoughts and feelings. They share themselves with others. Occasionally I do have to remind them not to interrupt, but they heed this reminder because they know that when they are in a conversation, I will wait until they are finished, too.

At CREA, they are free-range kids. It’s a safe environment. There’s a bit of parenting-as-community; friends volunteer to take the girls out for a walk or to get a gelato. The CREA kids program is very ad hoc, friendly colleagues volunteer to devise creative 90-minute activities for the children of all the parents attending the conference. A rat-pack of creative kids runs around, often without serious supervision. But the rules are clear: don’t leave the hotel grounds, don’t cross the street, don’t go near the pool. Otherwise, they run freely. My kids live independently at CREA.

There are, of course, exceptions. For example, each morning I’d enter the dining room, looking to touch base with the girls, who’d get up and dress themselves and make their own way through the grand hotel foyer to the dining room. They’d find a table of adults, always delighted for their young company. They’d pick up plates and bowls and select fruit and cereal and a slice of sweet cake or focaccia from the buffet table and settle in for breakfast.

Of course we’d preview this the night before in very deliberate, repetitive conversation about how in the morning Mama had to run an early writing workshop and Papa wanted to go to an early yoga session and how they should get dressed and leave the key at the desk and how we’d join them in the dining room when we were done with our programs.

“Yes, mama,” Buddy-roo would say, full of disdain for our apparent over-parenting, “I know what to do. I’m a big girl, after all.”

She seemed to relish – at least in the evenings – the idea of this grown up activity, managing the morning all on her own. But every morning in the dining room, Buddy-roo would give me the cold shoulder: a dramatic toss of the head to look away from me, the 2-inch long pout and the narrowing of her eyes as she’d bite into her long slice of foccacia.

“Are you angry?” I’d say.
No verbal response, only the folding of her arms.
“It looks like you’re feeling a bit mad at something.”
Then she’d let loose the angry tears.
“You left me alone! There was nobody there when I woke up!”

At the age of 7 and 9, I suppose, meltdowns occur. (At my age, too.) Short-pants, who has no problem making her own way to breakfast, leaving Buddy-roo to wake up alone in the room, is an extroverted introvert and loves the chaos of crazy, creative people – up to a point. She, too, had her grumpy moments, storming away in tired tears because of the overload of noise and energy.

But if you take the long view over the full week of the CREA conference, a week when both their mother and father are often distracted and delighted by others things and not always paying full attention to the parenting part, our girls do just fine. In fact, they are growing into interesting people because they get to fend for themselves a little bit. CREA is a good and safe place to do that, and coming back each year is like periodically measuring their height and marking it on the wall; we really see how they’ve changed, and how they’ve grown. We see them for who they are in the company of others, learning to express themselves, to convey their own creativity. We see who they’re becoming, in and of their own right. And I couldn’t have imagined – nor could I be more pleased – to be the mother of such lovely, big, little girls.