Category Archives: family

So not self-helpful…

I think I may have PTSD when it comes to self-help books, books on migraines, or generally any written device intended to explain to me how to make my current state in life better.

I have been trying to unwrap why I loathe self-help lately and I have hit upon a theory. It’s a relatively new theory so bear with me but here we go.

Ours is a society of the quick fix. If we have a cold and can’t sleep we take NyQuil. If we have a cold and need to go to work we take DayQuil. What we don’t do is rest long enough for our bodies to battle the cold on their own.

Due to our quick fix mentality we have a tendency to offer solutions to the people in our lives who express problems. We rarely actually commiserate. It’s not because we don’t feel sympathy or even empathy for them, but our language of caring has morphed over time from listening and empathizing to offering solutions.

As a migraine sufferer I have had a lot of experience on the receiving end of solutions. It doesn’t bother me from friends or family but it’s the complete strangers that make me crazy. Usually when I meet someone and they find out I have migraines I get asked my entire medical history by someone without a medical degree because their fourth cousin once removed has migraines and maybe they can mention something my nationally recognized neurologist hasn’t thought of yet. It is exhausting and not a way I want to spend one of the rare times I actually leave my house to go out into the world.

I think this is why I hate self-help mechanisms. Rather than listening to each other, talking about our feelings, and creating deep, strong bonds of friendship we are offering other people’s takes on our interpretations of someone else’s problem.

Meet someone at a party going through a divorce? Offer them this book. Got a brother with MS? Here’s a book on how one person worked through their experience with it. Children being… children? Here’s a book on how to parent in a way the person who wrote the book likes most.

Now I am not saying seeking self-help is a bad thing. Personally, if you want to read books on parenting, relationships, investing, whatever medical diseases you may have, and that helps you handle life, go for it with my blessing! There is nothing wrong in my mind about seeking out information.

What upsets me is offering these unsolicited solutions to others in lieu of care.

I get it, caring is hard. It’s time consuming, it takes real listening and empathizing to truly succeed at it and none of us have the time or the energy.

Is that last part true though? Would we find consoling someone less tiring if we did it more often? Could it be we are out of practice and therefore it seems more tiring and time consuming then it truly is?

Here’s my truth: My best memories are from times when I opened up my mind and heart and joined someone in their hardships. Really joined them. Crawled down into the hole they were stuck in and sat with them for a while. I have been blessed enough to build truly amazing relationships with people because I was simply sitting with them and listening when they were having a hard day.

Sometimes the way to be the most helpful is to offer no help whatsoever.

The velcro child…

He used to play by himself quite well. If fact he would spend hours imagining entire worlds with his stuffies or even rotting his brain playing video games. He used to be self-reliant. Then he lost his favorite playmate.

She didn’t die or anything horrible like that, she simply grew up. The 5/12 year old who was there at his birth and grew to be his favorite person in the world became a freshman in high school and stopped wanting to play games with her now 8 year old brother. It’s a normal transition for her even if it is horrible for him.

He has never lived a life without a playmate – until now.

Which is why he now spends every waking moment of his time with me at my side demanding my complete and total attention to everything he does from changing the name of his character on the ROKU game we play to watching how much juice he has already drunk from his glass since the last time he asked me to look three seconds ago.

He is a velcro child, a snuggly burr, stuck to my side and refusing to let go without pain and discomfort.

He honestly feels he isn’t getting enough attention from me and his father because he used to get this huge additional attention from his sister who would now rather listen to music and read than pay much attention to anyone. Those rare moments when she calls him to her and asks him to join in an activity are like sunshine in England. He rushes to her side and soaks up the time and attention like a dry sponge dropped into a lake. The he dries back out in tearful spurts as she inevitably moves onto something he is welcome to participate in. He returns resignedly to me and I resignedly welcome him, setting aside my work/play/whatever to spend some time on only him.

I keep waiting for it to pass. I encourage solo play and even parallel play with me so I can get stuff done but all the self reliance in the world won’t replace what he’s missing. He is missing his sister’s childhood. His fellow adventurer and play pal. His best friend. His very favorite person in the whole wide world.

And she is never going to return.

My mother’s tiny glass heart.

It’s hard to be a child. School is challenging, scary, and often filled with awkward and unpleasant social encounters that eat away at the enjoyment of your day.  If you think about how tiny the wee people we send to school are, how thin the shielding around their easily wounded hearts can be, and the plethora of peer induced traumatic events awaiting them each day it’s no wonder they often fake illness to stay home.

When I was a little girl my mother, who has always considered herself a bear, would tell me there was a little bear on my shoulder, sitting next to me and giving me love and strength.  It worked wonders knowing that no matter what the more popular kid said to me or the angry kid did to me or who “accidentally” pushed me at recess my mother bear was there with me to help me stand up, brush myself off, and move on with the day.

Now my wee offspring are navigating the tumultuous waters of school, and while I tell them they have a little cat on their shoulder, which is the animal I identify with, it doesn’t work the same way it did with me.  (Perhaps because cats are capricious and don’t always want to do what you need them to do.)

So my mother gave them each a little glass heart:

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They carry her little heart along with them in their pocket during the day.  Oliver told me proudly that Nama was with him all day at school because her heart was in his pocket.  Marlena found herself comforted by gripping the tiny expression of unquestioning love when she was having a sad day.  Each day before they go to school, they make sure they have their little glass heart with them, just in case.  Each day they feel, tangibly, that someone who loves them with the unconditional fierceness of a grandmother is walking by their side as they deal with the myriad of problems that arise in their day.

I am not sure mom realizes what a huge difference her tiny glass hearts have made in the hearts of her grandchildren, but I know the benefit these small people get from her thoughtful gesture will be remembered forever.