The Funny Evolution of Jealousy

January 7, 2011

Dear Family,

“Everything has multiple variables, and _everything_ is non-linear! It's amazing anyone can make any progress at all.”
--Terry Matilsky [hard at work on his gravity/early universe theory...]



“Pig is my favorite meat. Pepper is my favorite pepper.”

“I love this car [toy with pull-back action], because it's SO frickin' cool! ...It goes, Zoomy! Zoomy!”

As we drive by a wintry Cayuga Lake: “Those really are frozen waves.”

“I think they're called grizzly bears 'cause they've got grizzly hair.”

“If there was a _real_ Hooey [toy stuffed bird], how would it talk?”

“Hey! That's a stick in the snow, and it looks like..._a stick in the snow_!”

“I don't want to be buried when I die.” Oh really? Where do you want to go? “I want to be put out on the grass.”

Ben was asking goofy research questions the other day: How big is the universe? What if we put a whole _universe_ into our house?! Well, Jem interjected, then “it would be a uni-_house_.”

Ben periodically puts in a plug for having another baby (for example, “Why can't we have another baby? I want there to be SEVENTY babies in our house!”) Sorry, Honey, I always say cheerfully, our family is just the right size with two babies. _But_, I reminded him the other day, someday Auntie Theeny or one of your uncles with have a baby! And then you'll get to play with your baby cousin(s)...won't that be nice?! Ben considered this, and agreed that yes, he would like that. He wondered when the babies might be arriving. I told him these things are unpredictable. Jem was listening to the whole conversation with a brooding look on his face, and finally he said definitively: “I DON'T want a baby. And if there WAS a baby, I would push it over till it FELL DOWN.”



“When do you first start calling someone 'old'?”

Ben keeps having moments of lucidity concerning his own health. “Do you remember when my tummy used to hurt REALLY BAD, _all_ the time?” he asked me the other night. Yes, I told him, I definitely do. “I'm NEVER going to eat grains again,” he said. I told him that although someday he'll probably be able to eat them in some form, at least occasionally, I fully support his commitment to better health...

On the topic of eating beef tongue: “I really like it, but I don't like it when I think about it.”

We're still reading the Little House books--currently nearing the end of “By the Shores of Silver Lake.” As I read aloud, Ben is starting to show all those “reading readiness” signs (which he'd begun back at the age of two, and then pretty much stopped until very recently) like noticing word groupings and patterns and capitalizations scattered on the page. He's also beginning to consider the fact that people used to live in different ways, and have different beliefs, than our family does. Much to my pride, Ben asked why Pa makes most of the decisions in the household. “Why did girls used to have to do only _girl_-like things?” he asked the other day. “Because I wouldn't like that.”

The camera that Uncle Jake gave to Ben last year is getting constant use. He's currently spending hours composing short videos of him or Jem running trains on the train track, and then viewing them over and over in slow motion and in reverse. He is very bemused at the tales of Jeff's and my youth, back when “film” had to be “developed” and kids almost never got to use video-capable cameras at all.

Today, Ben did something that I feel sure is something like trigonometry, and Very Advanced. He wanted to make a house out of printer paper, and using careful measuring, he created two sizes of rectangles to make a rectangular set of walls. Then, he folded another piece of printer paper in half lengthwise, and this, when opened up at right angles, was the roof. Then--most impressive--he figured out the scale of the necessary triangles to fill in the tops of the gable ends by measuring the length of the edge of one of the folded roof lines. His finished house (“it's a museum, so I can have a really good one and not need to go to the Museum of Natural History!”) is very cleanly done and perfectly taped all around, with popsicle stick struts to strengthen the walls. And inside, he's got two carefully-cut-out dinosaur skeletons, for tiny museum-goers to enjoy.


--We ventured out of the Bubble again last weekend, and went to our “New York Home” for New Years. Only because Jeff and I are strengthening ourselves using the GAPS diet were we able to not crumple completely from the stress. Aside from various Child Challenges, we had a great time, and got to hang out with all the uncles (not Athena :( ), and Mom and Dad, and even got to watch some good movies (see below). Also, Ben and Jem really liked playing in the “big house,” and watching Grandpa set off fireworks.

--Forget about the challenge of explaining the “proper” use of “curse words.” Our family is currently striving to understand/articulate the ways that the use of “hate” can be even more complicated. (Somehow, I've found, the boys' use of this word bothers me way more than any jokey and crude expletive.) In between his own bouts of experimentation with the term, Jem polices his brother. Looking innocent, he will say, aghast: “Ben! Mama _doesn't like it_ when you say you hate your food!”

--Yesterday Jeff decided to take the bull by the horns and actually get the boys outside into actual, frigid outdoors. The boys walked all the way down to Coy Glen, and found a “fossil rock” and a non-fossilized skull of some sort of carnivore. In their absence, I couldn't believe how thrilling it was to vacuum the house without any Help at all.

--While listening to a song the other day, Jem told Jeff, “I don't like the singing, but I like this _music_ .” Jeff is officially thrilled to have a son who loves crunchy guitar solos.

--Jeff and I watched “Dave” last night: “Dave Kovic looks so much like President Bill Mitchell that he's asked to stand in for him after the chief executive suffers an unexpected stroke -- and he's stuck in the White House till Mitchell's staff...can decide what to do. Dave gets into the part, passing legislation and even developing a crush on Mitchell's estranged First Lady.” This movie was _great!_ I now totally get why people watch “West Wing,” etc. It's awesome to imagine the potential uses of executive authority. A socialist utopia could evolve from a single dictator!! Oh, it just gives you faith in the possibilities of Government... Also, there's a _great_ two-bit part where the white house tour guide is leading people around like cattle; just re-imagining this has made me laugh out loud twice today.

--On New Years', Jeff and Ruth and Terry watched “The Sting” (I had to go to bed): “After rookie grifter Johnny Hooker tracks down veteran flim-flam man Henry Gondorff in 1930s Chicago, the duo plans to fleece a homicidal racketeer through a phony racetrack scam involving a string of double and triple crosses.” Everyone said it was very, very good.

--Even though I missed the first 1/3 of Sunday night's movie due to slow-to-fall-asleep boys, I enjoyed “Anatomy of a Murder” very much. “Nominated for seven Oscars, this legal thriller profiles the attempts of country lawyer Paul Biegler to exonerate Frederick Manion, who's charged with a local barkeep's murder but claims the victim raped his wife. Employing a temporary insanity defense, Biegler tries to outmaneuver slick celebrity prosecutor Claude Dancer but discovers there's more to the case than meets the eye.” This movie was _great_ (at least, I can vouch for the final 2/3), in that it was totally complicated and nobody was entirely not bad.

--The boys and I (mostly I) checked out some of the bridge books in the Engineering exhibit at the Sciencenter. Two of the coolest ones are: The Mileau Viaduct in France , which is the tallest bridge in the world and spans the romantically-named Valley of Tarn; and the Kiel-Horn drawbridge in Germany, which collapses in a really incredibly ingenious way… This is a super really nice song that Jeff just discovered--and which is getting constantly hummed by all ages this week.


The other day, a school teacher was telling me how much she admires the way I'm committed to implementing GAPS for Ben. She told me that every day, she interacts with kids with neurological/behavioral Issues, who could use a protocol like this--but when she tries to tell the parents, they just don't want to hear. In particular, she says, they don't want to hear it _from her_. The problem is, that the parents can get so jealous when their kids do well in her classroom, or when they interact with her.

Oh. God. In just about three seconds, years' and year's worth of painful thoughts consolidated and came zipping back into consciousness...

I can remember, as soon as Ben was born (starting right when I tried to put my nipple in my his mouth and he wouldn't nurse), feeling helpless to assuage my child's adversity--and my own. “Helpless” was not an adjective I ever imagined I would use when describing my feelings as a parent--and over time, this sensation of Needing Help only intensified.

I remember resenting the growing challenges, that morphed as my baby grew, and how desperate I was to fix them, him, me, _everything_. I remember how I constantly asked for others' advice, and sincerely hoped their advice would work, but it very rarely did. And I hated getting the advice, in a dirty kind of secretive way that had nothing to do with the concerned family and friends who tried to help, and everything to do with the ways I wished I could rely on my instincts. Things so rarely felt intuitive, and most often I felt ineffectual and exhausted.

Everyone seems to know, and many people often say, that mamas Just Know how to be mamas. This is how it happens with Good Mothers: they are happy, and peaceful, and loving, and therefore they naturally produce incredibly happy and contented offspring. Right? So what happens to that theory, and what do we call the mama, when the kids don't work out that way? What happens if you spend six and a half years (or many more!!) holding your parenting skills responsible for your child's mental state, and your child just isn't anywhere near Hunky Dory?

...Among many other consequences of such stress, you (meaning me) get pretty confused.

I remember how much I wanted to appreciate my child's talents, and maturation, and how slowly and Not-Rightly the latter was progressing, and yet how it sort of _was_ happening, in a confusing way, and how I'd get this twisted feeling when people would comment on it. On the one hand, I wanted them to realize how crazy it was getting in our house, how hard it was to deal with my child; on the other hand, I wanted to defend my kid at all costs; on the other hand still, I wanted a way to Make Things Better, and I sure didn't know how, but I couldn't stop constantly trying. On the other hand still further, I didn't want to send my kid to be Figured Out by somebody else, in school or anywhere--because in the end, shouldn't I be able to do any effective thing _they_ could, if only I knew the technique? ...Especially since Mamas are _supposed_ to be effective, and I was _dying_ to be effective, and I was Goddamn working my butt off to be effective, except that I couldn't put my finger on all the disparate things that were Wrong.

I remember how, rarely (but definitely sometimes, even during some of the worst symptoms of Dysbiosis), Ben would snap out of his rut and routine, or an Awful Fit, and suddenly Be Really Okay, Almost Great. Sometimes this happened with me. But sometimes it would happen with someone else. And in those moments, I would sit there, so tired of dealing with Things, so twisted with jealousy that suddenly my sweet child existed in the presence of Someone Else, probably BECAUSE of someone else, and I was so confused about WHY the heck parenting was like this.

Afterward, if the other person knew of some of the challenges I was having with Ben, they would offer earnest platitudes and advice: You really should appreciate the Great Things your child can do! You're too close to the situation to see. He just needs more time to play with his peers! You should give daycare/school a try! He just needs discipline! You just need to Offer More Structure. It's just because you're the mom, and you haven't yet realized that your kid will act differently with other people...

I died a thousand times inside, but tried not to show it. It hurt so bad because I was trying _So Fucking Hard_, and I'd tried all those things dozens of times, and although I _knew_, intellectually, that all those school-inspired truisms are fundamentally false anyway, my experience was similarly proving that all the ways in which I _used_ to think a parent could be “good” were also not working. By the time last March rolled around, I was completely overwhelmed by and yet in total denial about my child's semi-atrocious behavior. I felt like there were only two possibilities: accept that something was wrong with my son, and therefore with me, or accept that I was a Total Depressive Case, unable to Accept My Son as he was..and therefore something was still wrong with me. Neither of these possibilities offered any real glimmer of hope that I could learn to enjoy this parenting business.

But there was at least one more possibility, and a level of understanding that I'm only just starting to get: Something Being Wrong with a child does not always have to do with his or her parents' parenting skills; and no parenting skills in the world can stand in for healing a child who is sick.

The other night, listening to that schoolteacher, I remembered all these years and years of feeling like a crappy mother all the time. And I could so totally relate to the emotions that her pupils' parents must surely experience, when they are so super-exhausted by their kids' behaviors, so tired of people offering advice, so flummoxed by the true cause of mental illness, and so wanting to be able to do what mothers have always done, down through the ages: figure out how to help their kids.

I'm certainly nowhere near to having figured out my child's gut/brain issues. But I'm a lot closer to understanding What I Need To Do than I ever was before, in the whole history of my baby's life. In my better moments, I can really, really see--that the ways my child acts when he's in the throes of a screaming fit, or an anxiety attack, or obsession mode, are because he is sick. It is Not My Fault.

It's true that sometimes Ben can turn very lucid if a non-family member walks into the room during a fit, even when I've been there, unable to stop the storm, for an hour and a half. Even as he heals, his challenges are continuing to morph and change. It's a fact that he will _sometimes_ snap out of an anxiety attack if I do something particular. It's a fact that _often_, he won't. Even if Me Having Infinite Patience is the one thing that might (and doesn't always) stop Ben from screaming/obsessing, it's also true that my job description does not, and never did, include that requirement.

My real job is to do whatever I can do, whatever is in my Mama Power, to get my child better now that I know he is sick. I realize, more and more, that this is a task for which there is no monetary compensation, no awards for dutiful service, and no ceremonial banquet awaiting completion of a list of knowable, discrete Tasks Well Done.

I am starting to understand that Ben's body is going to make him do things, especially when he's around his parents, that are really crappy and un-fun and also fairly unprecedented, in the history of human evolution. In my own more lucid moments, I can see that still, when he's with me and Jeff, Ben is most comfortable and able to express his hurting when it hurts. And he hurts a lot right now, and often, and is also often inarticulate in the heat of the moment. I can see that detoxification is super annoying for him, and makes him crabby even in addition to the anxiety that is also intensified.

All these factors mean that it makes _sense_ that he will be “difficult,” because his life is difficult, even though it's not his fault. It makes _sense_ that I will sometimes get overwhelmed and fed up and annoyed; this isn't my fault.

As I can learn to see all this, I can also notice: as Ben gets better and better, he'll be more and more reliably joyful. He will be able to be consistently comfortable with people, and start connecting in that real, wonderful, human way that feeds our all-too-human souls.

I'm attempting to enjoy our baby steps: yesterday, Ben was able to walk with Jem to the other end of our neighborhood without me, so that he could go to our neighbors' house “all by myself!” He was so proud, and happy, as he walked off with his brother, hand in hand.

I arrived, as planned, ten minutes later. It was bitterly cold out, and when I walked into our friends' cozy house, I saw three children sitting at the table, folding paper together. Two of these children were mine. They had gone out in the world to get to this moment, they didn't need me in order to get there, they were in the presence of other good people, and they were, in this tableau of January tranquility, just right where they belonged.

I looked at them, and I swelled with pride. I was so proud to see my boys, totally happy and independent and self-propelled, sitting there at the table. I was so grateful that we have friends who will stick with us through the Crazy and know that we'll meet them, more and more often, on the other side. And I was happy for my very own self, that I can learn how I don't have to provide all aspects of my kids' fulfillment in order to be fulfilled as their parent. I only have to bear witness, in sickness and in health, to take pleasure in their happiness, and take responsibility for my own.