Irreverent Mama

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Parenting brings wisdom. Wisdom and humility.

Know why?

Not because of the mistakes you make and learn from, though of course they help. Not because you constantly run the risk of psychologically damaging your children. I think that risk is HUGELY over-rated by parents. Kids are just not that frail. (Look at how many parents are terrorized by their toddlers and teens. Frail? Pfft. Those small (and not-so-small) bullies are causing trauma, not receiving it.)

No, parenting brings wisdom, and a cold dose of humility, because you can see yourself in your kids. You see echoes of your younger self in their behaviour, and thus, you get an adult perspective on your own behaviour.

This particularly applies to adult children. My eldest is 23 now. A young adult, but an adult. Given that she's been living mostly on her own since she left for university, and that since graduation she's had a job in a different city and paid her own way completely, she's earned those adult stripes.

But she is a young adult.

We're just wrapping up a conflict, she and I, and a significant one. At one point, I greatly feared we were heading for another estrangement. We had one of those for the three years between 17 and 20, and I'd assumed that with adolescence behind us, we'd left that kind of thing with it. This week, I seriously questioned that assumption.

But it seems we'll make it out of these woods. And what have I learned?

1. Keep my opinions to myself.

Not that I am terribly forthcoming with them. Once they hit their late teens, my kids can go months without hearing an opinion. They get lots of questions bytimes, exploratory questions, not aggressive ones. But I don't often pronounce on their lives. When they leave home, I do this even less.

At this point, though, I'm thinking that I won't tell her anything I'm thinking, at least when that "anything" is at all critical of certain areas of her life. I think I'll be reluctant to do it even if I'm asked (which, we can all note, I wasn't this time). We will call this A Lesson Learned. From here on in, she is welcome to learn from bitter experience.

Lesson 1b: It is probably best she learn from experience.

2. She is not as measured and mature as I thought she was.

I'd expected disagreement with my position, expressed with some degree of huffiness. I did not expect a full-on onslaught of furious outrage. I expected her to disagree with my opinion, even to tell me I had no business imposing it upon her; I did not expect her to deny my right to an opinion. (Obviously, expecting a negative response, I did not embark on this conversation lightly. I felt it necessary, a maternal duty shouldered with stoicism rather than enthusiasm.)

She is certainly not as meaured and mature as she thinks she is... which leads me to the Most Important Lesson of all:

3. At age 23, I was not as measured and mature as I thought I was.

Without a child of that age to point the way, I'd have only my memories to go on... and they are, of course, the memories of a 23-year-old. I'd have a 23-year-old's perspective on the situations, the people involved, their responses, my own behaviour.

Of course, I've gained perspective over the years, even without my children's input. I've learned some stuff about my younger self along the way, but I will tell you now, NOTHING shows you how blinkered and restricted a 23-year-old's thinking is like arguing with a 23-year-old, even a sensible, mature, intelligent 23-year-old such as mine.


Um, mom? On the off chance you ever stumble across this blog?


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Friday, August 07, 2009

"How do you know when you're hungry?"

It was a question posed by the leader at the Weight Watchers meeting I attend periodically. (When you're losing weight, you go weekly. When you've reached your goal and maintained it for long enough, you only have to go in monthly. I am less reliable than that, but I do show up from time to time. Keeps me honest.)

Sadly, the leader is poor at leading discussions, so what could have been a fascinating discussion bottomed out after a few tentative offerings from the group.

That was a while back, and I'm still mulling it over, because my honest answer is "Damned if I know."


For the record, I'm slim. Not fat, not skinny, just smack in the middle of my healthy range. I come from a family of morbidly obese people, though, so when my forthy-something body starting hording those fat cells a few years back, I panicked a bit. Do I want to be 100+ pounds overweight like my mother, my brother, my sister, my aunt? Wheezing at the effort of crossing a room, groaning to get out of a chair? Suffering asthma, arthritis, fatty liver, diabetes, colon cancer, clogged arteries, heart attacks? Having to sleep with one of those machines that keeps your airways open? Every single one of those things is suffered by at least one member of my immediate family, and every single one of them can be connected to overweight. And my family isn't just overweight: they're morbidly obese.

Fat like that isn't about aesthetics or vanity, it's a quality of life issue -- it's a life-threatening issue -- and I want no part of it.

So, after floundering for a few months, unsuccessfully trying to slow the steady increase on my own, I joined the local Weight Watchers.

And it worked!

Four months later, I was 25 pounds lighter. (My family mocked me, you know. "YOU'RE not fat! What are you doing at WW?" In point of fact, with those 25 extra pounds on my body, I was technically overweight. Not fat like them, no, not wallowing in poundage, but as I said to my sister, "What? You mean I should wait until I'm a hundred pounds overweight before I do anything about it? I don't see how that would make it any easier.")

But... "How do you know when you're hungry?"

When I was younger, I knew I was hungry when I wanted to eat. Easy. And if I didn't want to eat, I wasn't hungry. Simple.


If 'hunger' is the drive to eat determined by your body's genuine needs, then I can't trust my 'want to eat' cues at all. Because, following them, I'd probably end up as fat as the rest of my family. I have days where all I want to do is eat. Every time I wander into the kitchen (and I work from home, so I can do it a LOT), I open a fridge or a cupboard, grazing, constantly hunting for something else to push into my mouth. (Mercifully, I have balancing days where I can forget to eat. Surely I'm 'hungry' on those days, and yet it's not recognized hunger that tells me I need to eat, it's the dizziness or the extreme fatigue.)

So, what's 'hunger', anyway?

I eat by the clock and by the charts. I don't obsess, I'm not bogged down by minutiae. I have general principles I adhere to, essentially Michael Pollan's basic guidelines: "Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too Much." I drink lots of water. I avoid junk food.

But hunger? What the hell is hunger? When am I hungry?

Damned if I know.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

July's Library Challenge Books

1. Charms for the Easy Life, Kaye Gibbons. Three generations of strong and strongly individual southern healing women, headed by the powerful Charlie Kate, narrated through the grand-daughter, Margaret. If you're looking for depth, nuance or layers, it's not here, but the book succeeds marvellously as a straightforward narrative about interesting people.

2. The Petty Details of So-and-So's Life, Camilla Gibb. Sister and brother Emma and Blue survive the ordeal of being 'raised' by a negligent, alcoholic mother and a psychotic and viciously cruel father by bonding together. They respond to his abrupt departure in wildly different ways, each seeking healing from the trauma of their childhood with greater or lesser success.

3. Everything Changes, Jonathan Tropper. I have a new Favourite Author. I loved this book, absolutely loved it. A man, shaken by the possibility of cancer, is further shaken when his father makes a decades-overdue reappearance in his life, and suddenly, everything comes into question. The results bounce from rambunctuously funny to heart-rending, and, ultimately, just right.

Each main character is realized with unshadowed honesty and compassion both. The son's introspection and analysis is full and sensitive, and yet his passivity in his dealings with his fiancee is nothing less than cruel. The father is worthy of both respect and scorn. No one is perfect, but everyone is worth knowing.

4. Otherwise Engaged, Suzanne Finnamore. I refuse to believe that getting that diamond can turn a sensible 36-year-old woman into the nitwit portrayed in this book. Of course, I was never a woman who would scheme and manipulate to get the ring in the first place. No wonder I found this book so annoying.

5. Digging to America, Anne Tyler. Two families brought together by their decision to adopt a Korean baby: one All-American, one an Iranian immigrant family. It's a fascinating look at the perceptions and mis-perceptions that occur across cultures... with a romantic thread (between the independent widowed Iranian grandmother and the kindly American widower grandfather) for good measure. Excellent book.

6. This Room is Yours, Michael Stein. It's well-written and on an interesting topic, but I just couldn't get into the flow of the book, probably because I found the narrator tediously self-absorbed. Given that it's a fictionalized memoir, that's probably unfair -- a memoir is, by definition, about yourself.

7. Thornyhold, Mary Stewart. A nice light read for a summer afternoon. A young woman with an unhappy childhood finds a home in the house bequeathed to her by an eccentric aunt, and love in the arms of a handsome neighbour. With a little witchcraft lite thrown in for a gothic twist to a sunny plot.

8. Not Wanted on the Voyage, Timoth Findley. An untraditional re-telling of the biblical story of the flood. Beautifully written, tragically bleak. Found it dreary and enraging in equal measure, and my rage was equally distributed across pretty nearly all parties, including the sympathetic ones.

9. The Sunday List of Dreams, Kris Radish. Facing retirement, Connie decides to step outside her practiced routine and act on the list of dreams she's kept all these years. It's a nice premise, and the book starts off well, but bogs down 3/4 through, losing much of its initial energy as it trudges to its close. I'm completely onside with the idea of women claiming their sexuality -- I'm the mother who buys her teenage girls their first vibrator, remember? I just wish she hadn't become quite so preachy about it. It felt more like a (rather boring) lecture than a novel at several points. Nonetheless, if you're the type who can flip past the tedious pages in the latter quarter of the book, it's an enjoyable read.

10. Oh, drat. What was that book called? A short little item, about a writer mourning the loss of her composer husband. I returned it to the library before I made note of it... and now, it's gone. I can picture the cover: leather arm chair covered with woven back piece, in warm tones of brown and red. It had line drawings at intervals throughout, unusual in a book for adults... Oh, well.

Ten this month, bringing my total so far this year to: 48. Given that my goal was fifty, and I'm quite sure I've forgotten far more than two, I can safely say I hit my goal by the end of July. However, this is entertaining, at least for me, so I'll be continuing until December.

From here on in, it's all gravy!