Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tricky Situations

I'm pondering the nature of love again. Naturally there's a man at the root of it, but romance in my happy little world is so convoluted at the moment that I'll leave it alone.

I know there is trouble in the world. There's always Trouble in The World. I can't imagine that life was better for anyone during The Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. Those two situations are outstanding illustrations of what happens when the concept of Love gets twisted all to shit. The Crusades and The Spanish Inquisition were both Christian initiatives and Jesus was all about Love. I'm sure those bastards at C Street think they are shining examples of Christian Love too. But I'm not interested in the imposition of twisted values on an international scale.

I'm interested in love between individuals like me and Velvet, for example, which certainly has Christian parallels but only in so far as Jesus was talking about the same kind of love that shows up in religions of every stripe. I count Atheism as a religion because No God is still talking about God, after all. What matters is ethics and how we treat each other.

There are lots of fucked up people in the world, and we run across them all the time - in the line at the drug store, driving down the road, at work, at holiday dinners with our families. They are everywhere. Anyone can have an assaholic moment - but some folks are pervasively fucked up. I suspect it all comes down to feeling angry and afraid all the time. Thinking about someone like Dick Cheney, who I always like to use as an example of humanity's worst traits, it's hard to muster up any mercy and compassion. It's pretty hard to muster up any mercy for jackasses on the road and argumentative jerks holding up the line, too.

With friends and family, though, it's much easier to approach a tricky situation from a place of love. The moment I walked into Menopausal Stoners World Headquarters on Central Park West last week when I got back from Texas, I was confronted with a tricky situation.

I had told Velvet that I would be tired from traveling and I was bumming out about leaving all my friends behind, so I wanted the living room to be clean and relatively kid free. I knew better than to say "No Kids," because Velvet is a social creature after all and if any friends from Tree Hugger University were sleeping on the couch, it would give me an opportunity to get better acquainted. I met everyone when I went up to Tree Hugger in November, but to tell the truth, I can't hardly tell one of those ruffians from another. I was glad Fizzo was there, though, because they want to get a place together off campus in the fall, and Fizzo's grades were worse than Velvet's.

Since I'm no stranger to parenting or to Velvet, I told him what I expected the day before I would be flying. I called him on my way to the airport. I called him from the plane before we took off and after we landed. And I called him from the taxi when I crossed over the Triborough Bridge.Predictably, the living room was a disaster area. Fizzo had been sleeping on the couch for a couple of days and his shit was all over the place. The big bong was on the floor. Cards, candy wrappers and coke cans were everywhere. Velvet said that he'd been cleaning all day and if I hadn't been thirty minutes early, the place would have been spotless.

I have to confess, I pitched a fit and had a glorious time doing it. I scooped up clutter by the arm load and tossed it into Velvet's room. I flung the pizza box, with half a pizza still in it, onto Velvet's bed and hollered that I was showing him the same respect he showed me. I chucked the dirty glasses straight into the trash, busting a couple in the process. Velvet didn't know I hated that set of glasses ever since Buzz Kill first bought them, so it made quite an impression. I chucked one of Buzz Kill's old coffee cups into the trash too.

Not that Buzz Kill had been drinking coffee at HQ. Buzz Kill had been in charge while I was gone, but he hadn't hung around with the kids much. I can't say as I blame him. I'm feeling fairly magnanimous about Buzz Kill these days as long as the child support is paid on time. He's an anxious mess, but he means well and in the land of ex-husbands he's not bad. He's never done anything I could prosecute which is more than you can say for many Ex-Husbands and Wives.

Velvet sputtered a few lame excuses. I told him that I needed an hour to calm down, sent him and Fizzo off to the diner and proceeded to clean in earnest. I even mopped, but I left the dribbles of pee on my toilet to show Velvet when he came home. Velvet knows I hate it when the boys get drunk and dribble on my toilet, and he had to admit that even if I had been a half hour late, he wouldn't have thought to clean the toilet.

I sat him and Fizzo down on the freshly vacuumed sofa and said, "You're grades are for shit. You've spent ridiculous amounts of money in the last few weeks, mostly on weed. You've had a non-stop party since the day I left, and all I wanted was a clean living room."

Velvet replied, "Well, when you put it that way, Mom, I don't have anything to say."
"Good," I said. By this time smiles hovered at the corners of our mouths. Fizzo said he was very sorry, too. They were tidy and respectful from then on. Velvet is still being conscientious about cleaning up and it's been nearly a week.

As it happens, Velvet and Fizzo were in the same cabin at Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp in 5th Grade. Fizzo was only there that one summer, but he worked at HDQ last summer. The boys may work there this summer. When I invited Fizzo to stay for one more night, I was pleasantly surprised that his father asked to talk to me. I told him that I had hollered at his kid but felt like it was okay since he'd been to Hippy Dippy Quaker Camp too and knew about life in a community. As it also happened, both of us had told our sons that if they didn't get a 2.0 in the spring, they weren't living anywhere except in their old bedrooms at home.

Life is good.

Velvet will be here for two more weeks before he goes back to Tree Hugger. Fizzo and Velvet will be repeating Calculus together. It's kind of like Velvet and Fizzo will be in detention together all next semester. Velvet only flunked one other class - biology lab - which had a 60% failure rate. I told Velvet and Fizzo that my trusted adviser, Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/Helluvafella!) had said colleges set kids up like that first semester to prove a point. Fizzo wondered who Woody was. Velvet said, "Some old stoner whose got our backs." Fizzo was surprised to hear that being a stoner and a college professor are not mutually exclusive.

Of the 60% who flunked Bio Lab, I figure about 10% won't make it in college. The other 50% are the kids who skated through high school. Maybe all of them weren't convinced college was an MTV movie like Velvet and Fizzo. Maybe they weren't all smoking weed and running around the graveyard in an altered state of consciousness either.

The point is that I could be all authoritarian and controlling about Velvet's behavior. And it's not like I wasn't angry about the partying and worried about the grades. The fit was important for two reasons. One is that it made me feel better to release a bunch of the tension that had built up over the holidays - not only because of typical family related foolishness but also because of that guy who won't talk to me. Most significantly, though, is that kids need logical consequences for unacceptable behavior so that understand they are accountable (which is more than I can say for Dick Cheney). As long as the grown-up is fair and the consequences make sense in the situation, it's all part of resolving conflict in a way that strengthens our connection to each other.

I'm not talking about taking an authoritarian, punitive stance like Crime and Punishment. I'm talking about a sense of justice. JD was talking about justice at Christmas time over at This Tumbleweed Life as a result of a post at Faithful Progressive. I'll leave the Christian stuff up to them.

What I've learned to do with Velvet, and I'm getting better at doing with the grown ups in my life, is to refrain from an impulsive reaction when I can help it so that I can reflect on my anger long enough to identify the issues. Then when it's time to decide what to do about it, take a deep breath and open my heart to understanding instead of shutting myself inside an wounded ego. From the description of the process, it sounds more like Yoga than Jesus - but as different as yoga class is from sitting in church, philosophically and theologically, there are distinct similarities.

It's easy for me to relate to the little kids in my classroom with an open heart because although their behavior is often attention seeking and occasionally oppositional/defiant - I don't experience it as disrespectful to me personally like I do with Velvet or Buzz Kill or other intimates. In a classroom, we call it being emotionally responsive and authoritative.

Now that I think about it, I'm probably having an easier time with all this relational stuff lately since I've had a year to get used to the idea that I'm Okay. That was something I'd always questioned before and needed an outside source to verify - like my mom, my shrink, my kid, miscellaneous teachers and boyfriends - an external source to validate my worth. It was a big deal when I curled up in the bed where granny died in my room at my parents' house and finally read Paul Tillich's You Are Accepted. My mom had been trying to get me to read Paul Tillich for years and years, but I wouldn't do it. It was just as well since I seem to have read it at the moment when it would do the most good.

I started to understand about Grace that night - about how you don't have to seek it because it's always there, but you do have to open up and let it in. Now that I've had some practice with recognizing my own light over the last year, it's not so hard to access anymore. It makes those angry days easier to get through and gives me a much more solid foundation when I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed in tricky situations. Lest I start sounding like a Church Lady, I am compelled to admit that I find it's much easier to get a relaxed, empathetic perspective when I've hit the bong a little bit. Maybe Bob Marley was onto something.


Beach Bum said...

You can't go wrong if you follow Bob Marley.

PENolan said...

Yeah, I'm trying to keep those three little birds in mind.

Gail said...

Hey Girl-

"......refrain from an impulsive reaction when I can help it so that I can reflect on my anger long enough to identify the issues. Then when it's time to decide what to do about it, take a deep breath and open my heart to understanding instead of shutting myself inside an wounded ego."

this is SO well stated. wow!!

and yes, All is well with Bob Marley close by.

Great, great post. I followed every word, I saw and felt everything. I was there in your living room. I swear I was. :-)

Love you

Kulkuri said...

The link to Woody didn't work.

Liberality said...

Thinking about someone like Dick Cheney, who I always like to use as an example of humanity's worst traits

ha, ha. He does typify that which is the worst of those authoritarian bossy butts. Five-deferments-Dick-Cheney has no business telling anyone what to do and he needs to be put in his place.

I believe you put Velvet in his place too, but with love as well as anger.

PENolan said...

Uh-oh! Thanks, Kulkuri, it should work now.

Gail, if you were in the living room, I hope you ducked ;) Liberality, I hoe we all live long enough to see Dick Cheney get his comeuppance.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Love the post and the Bob Marley music. Spin Doctor did do prosecutable stuff, and I never did anything about it, which is probably why I'm still holding on to so much anger for him now. He acts so superior because there's no paper trail to prove his misdeeds to me and the kids. I've also had fits with my kids' disrespect of my space. I think you're reaction was completely acceptable. I think you're right, sometimes it's needed. If we don't show them at home that there are repercussions for their behaviors, then they're in for a rude awakening when they try to pull that crap out in the real world where not everybody loves them like mom does.

PENolan said...

It's hard to know how to hold a self-righteous bully accountable without it making your own life more complicated.

I talked about kids a lot in this post, but my former boyfriend HCW/The Narcissist/That Guy who Won't Talk to Me has pushed me to my limits and I don't know what to do.

I know - take a deep breath and deal with children with an open heart. Sheesh.

Jaliya said...

You are brilliant!

I have a couple of friends coming over soon and if I don't shower, they will turn heel and run.

More later -- this is such a rich post!

... Those F*CKING yellow dribbles on the toilet ... Why the hell don't men sit down to pee?!

HealthyHoustonKids said...

Now that you've mastered finding your own Grace, maybe you find a way to step in when I'm about to insert my whole leg, not just my foot, into my mouth? Yes, friends, it's possible to be an assoholic when discussing vaccines!

GDAEman said...

"C Street," ugh!

PENolan said...

GDAEman, exactly.
Jaliya, I look forward to it and have fun with your friends

HH - No Worries. All it takes for grace to spread around that kitchen table is self-awareness and a broadened perspective. It's probably why everyone and their dog (or cat) winds up around that kitchen table sooner or later

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