Thursday, June 23, 2016

Raising Children is an Economy. (Or creating a life worth living.)


No wonder I married him.


The single most influential experience of my adult life was working at the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. That is a big thing to say, but I truly believe it is true.

I worked there from January of 1991 until July of 1995. The philosophy I learned there shaped how I think about most everything. It shaped how I raised my kids, how I encountered yoga, how I am/operate in my current living situation. It affects my beliefs of health and wellness. (It is also how and where I met my husband and very many of my best friends.) It has been many years since I worked there and I cannot say whether it is the same place it used to be, it was changing even as I worked there, but I will forever be grateful for the way my point of view was trained by the philosophy of that resource.

The Minneapolis Crisis Nursery provides respite for parents in times of crisis by taking in children between the ages of zero and six years old. Crisis was defined by anything that challenged the functioning of the parent.

Think of normal everyday things like moving from one apartment to the other, or a break-up, depression, and illness. The whole point was to take in the kids from families whose resources may be limited by factors beyond their control. Give them time and space while their children are being cared for while they get their ducks in a row.

These kids, who under other circumstances might have gone to stay with grandparents or an aunt and uncle, could come and stay at the nursery. As Crisis Care Providers, we worked eight-hour shifts and provided around the clock care. Back in that day it was housed in an old convent building. There was a cafeteria and a playroom with an infant area and rocking chairs and the kids rode trikes and climbed the jungle gym in the old chapel. Essentially it was a daycare where the kids came and stayed over night.

All well and good.

The most important part was how staff was oriented towards parents and families we served. It was made clear that these parents were brave. That the act of asking for help is to be encouraged, rewarded, applauded.

As staff we came to love the families that came back with their kids. We understood them and knew which kids would require which adult, where they would need to go, what volunteer supplied what kind of care, being “in ratio” meant a many and varied measurement of factors. Some of which you could never account for before hand. Children and adults were cared for and supported and it was a fast paced and graceful juggling act/crashandburn chaos. Staff learned how to pay attention to language, what not to say to kids and when not to say it. When to pick your battles and when to let them go. And on the other side of the hall, the family counselors did the same with the parents.

It was complicated and it was messy but it worked. Everything I ever needed to know about life I learned from balancing the energies at play in that delicate system.

And it is impossible to see the complete ecosystem it takes to raise a child.

These particular structures are built through years of meeting the changing needs of inter-dependant individuals. A family cannot be understood from the outside.

And the understanding certainly doesn't come easy from the inside.

Experience is often felt more than it is understood, and the meanings that make these feelings are built into cells, into chemical reactions that have no words at all, just a pattern of interaction, feeling and response.

So glad I know this. So grateful.

And what I can also see is how the phrase “protecting young children in danger of abuse and neglect” is a commerce in itself. It builds that feeling in people - mother-bear-righteous-protective-anger - and as a result produced funds in the form of donations so necessary for such a resource heavy service.

Cue Cyndi Lauper here: Money changes everything.

The words themselves make it seem like there is only one thing at stake, the physical body of a child, and what the Nursery taught me is that there is so much more going on than meets the eye.

Wanting to “save” these children is most of the problem, because you can’t “save” children when their parents are in the process of just that. The phrase that creates an energy that inspires people to give also turns on the beneficiaries of that gift like a vicious dog. These become the stories of very folks who need to know their limits and take action. It becomes the means of their control at the same time that it is their own trap. Walking the line of this reality is the very way you grow as a community of caregivers and care receiver.

The phrase becomes a warning, "abusers" are in our midsts and they are the very people that you rely upon for your very existence. Without them, you could not exist.

This energy (this commerce/this money) can be harnessed with respect. When we respect how difficult parenting is, with or without resources, we are acknowledging all the things that we cannot possibly know and account for. When we respect how brave the act of asking for help is in and of itself; when we respect the work it takes to make things better, or different at all, we acknowledge that transformations require the breaking apart of things before they can be reformed and are necessarily painful. When we respect that infrastructure already exists to support the life that currently lives and breathes in front of you, we acknowledge something somewhere is supporting that life in a real, day in, day out, way.


And shall we remember that respect goes both ways. And I mean this in an Escher-like way, that however we are respecting the survival choices of the animal across from us, we are also required to turn around and respect ourselves. Doing everything on purpose, the best way you know how, is one way towards freedom. At some point you can no longer do the "good" work because of the "bad" feelings created. And then you pick yourself up, hold yourself close and do what you need to do to keep going, realizing you are doing the very best you can.

Civil society works, but only when there is mutual respect and a nod toward faith (otherwise known as flexibility/lovingkindness/we can't know everything/there is something bigger out there/ greater good/whatever).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Guilt is Emotional Commerce

This blog post is a response to an article from the New York times called “White Debt,” by Eula Biss  In my response I miss the whole point and instead use this article to make another entirely.


Biss discusses her own new debt and pleasure at owning things: her new house, her furniture, her education. All these things, a direct reflection of our social status. Then goes on to discuss Nietzsche, particularly his philosophy that the system of cutting off body parts by the “creditors of antiquity” in order to satisfy a debt was pleasurable for a creditor. She compares this to the story of the white Texas trooper who beat a black woman while she asked, “You feelin’ good about yourself?”


My problem with both of these is the supposition that it is pleasurable for the person eking out punishment. I have no interest in the question of whether the punishment is just. It is not. In both situations it is an excess in force by the person in control. What I want to think about is the collateral collected by the severing of a person from their body part or by beating. I am not convinced it is pleasure, unless it is the pleasure in satisfying the urges that provocation creates. Systems are put in place to maintain a certain civic society, policemen are put in charge to keep the peace, but when do these measures of control go awry?  How do we train our front line of society, our officers, our teachers, our parents, to withstand the provocation so they don’t lose sight of themselves and the greater good that they are working towards? How do we inoculate ourselves from that particular out welling of anger that can bring us down to our most base level so that the monster of hate can be passed between us like a poltergeist? We have all been triggered, by our children, by our siblings, by our partners, by our bullies. Do you remember that singular moment where emotion takes over your system and the itch to lash out is bigger than the physical space your body inhabits? What is required is patience and practice.


The author tells of her intention to watch the shooting of Samuel DuBose on the Chicago Tribune website to mourn his death and how it is foiled by the intrusion of an Acura commercial. Before she makes it to the site, she turns away.


It is a hard and daring act to allow yourself to feel the loss of something. There are many sensations and thoughts that need to be tolerated. Biss could not, the commercial interruption brought up discomfort at her own privilege and she closed the window. My intention is not to discuss her privilege or even the validity of her observations. I’d rather discuss ways she could have responded differently. Could it be in that very moment of the Acura add, staying there despite the discomfort and seeing her intention all the way to the end could serve as payment in some way? Perhaps it matters less with an Acura ad and a video of a shooting than it did later when she and her son come upon an officer handcuffing a black man. She stops to watch. Perhaps if she had practiced earlier she could have been different when the cop is on the defensive. He asks what she is doing and proceeds to get angry. She tells him, “I am being a witness.” He could realize in that moment that a witness serves everyone if there is impartiality. But he does not. She could realize that he is vulnerable. That he fears her impartiality, in fact she isn’t impartial, she is watching on purpose to protect the black man. Perhaps he senses that and his hackles go up. He wants people to understand that he doing good work, that his intentions are to protect the public. What if in that situation, Biss had held her ground but also assuaged his heightened emotions. It would be hard. It would perhaps be superhuman. But if she could have convinced him that it was to his benefit that she was there watching. What if in that moment the witness, cop and handcuffed man all honored everything that it took to get to this moment in time, both the good things and the bad, and made some radical and different response to the stimuli. Could she  reassure the cop, reassure herself and her son until the situation comes to its conclusion with everyone the better for it?


Life serves up a million different Acura interruptions every day. Or the desire for your own house. Or a particular body, hair color, facial features. Or any of another million images that pop up on the Internet, or in your mind's eye, as we are on our way somewhere else. Our short attention spans and distractibility from real pain are the true road block to equality.

Our culture of whiteness, sameness, social advantages perpetuates itself by poking and prodding our triggers all day long until we spend our money, find that complacency, incur more debt.

This is a cycle that cannot be broken by declaring war on whitey, as long as he is someone else. Because his list of triggers may be just as long as yours. You need to see how the two triggers fire together. Or I guess the trigger and its finger, otherwise known as never the twain shall meet.

Our triggers are conditioned to be close to the surface in this culture. That is the debt that we have incurred.

Guilt is emotional commerce. It signals that it is time to pay attention, slow down, see what the situation is asking you to do, on an individual level first and foremost, and also remember what your goal is.

Do not ignore your guilt too long and let it get big and out of control.

That is when your triggers surface and even most tiny, most innocent fingers can scratch there.

Take care of yourself, take care of your teachers, take care of the kiddos, teach them how to take care of themselves.

Walk through this world as a peacekeeper.