About Me

My photo
Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

PW, part 2 unedited again

If you had told me that one day Phyllis, or PW as some of us called her, would be folding piles of my kids' laundry on my dining room table, I would not have believed you. Not because I wouldn't expect her to do something kind and helpful like that but because. . .I mean. It's like the coolest girl in school offering to come over and fold your laundry. Wait, no. Not the coolest girl in school. The coolest, young teacher at school who you love talking to and learning from and want some day to be like and can maybe some days imagine being friends with because you have a connection and if she weren't a grown up and you weren't a kid and. . . .yeah, it just never would have crossed my mind. I can tell you that I'm not the only one who feels this way because when I mention to some colleagues, the ones who have worked there for a long time and who worked with and for Phyllis, that she is home watching my kids they look at me as though I just said "Oh yeah, Sting came over to babysit today."

Not exaggerating.

There are so many things to say. I already described what it was like to have her as a boss. It would be another essay entirely to describe what it was like, organizationally and professionally and personally for many people, when she retired so I won't do that here. I can say that we have been friends for years--sharing books (well, mostly she brings me books) and going to Giants games (she took me to Giants games) and talking about love and friendship and travel and work. About motherhood and how much I wanted to be a mother.

We had one another's phone numbers after she left and we stayed in touch, going out to dinner (she took me to dinner). Sometimes we talked about work and I always wanted to know her opinion about things, especially when I was a manager and struggled with so many different aspects of the role. She always kept her commentary about work brief. I could tell she missed it. I could tell she had opinions she wasn't sharing. We never got deep into the dissection of challenges or practice changes or people. She was a mentor and a dear friend. She came to our wedding. She bought us china.

Somehow she started coming to my house once a week after the big twins were born. Was it once a week back then? I can barely remember anything but if not once a week, close to it. She is a loving grandmother to two girls who are growing up and she was happy to spend time with some little babies. She was already coming when I got pregnant with the little girls and noticed how wan and exhausted I was, before I knew the reason why. She just kept coming, holding babies, helping, taking care of us.

The littles are almost two and she has rarely missed a week. Every Tuesday she drives across the Bay, bringing me coffee, lunch for the whole family, snacks and treats for the kids. She was always a great dresser at work and she somehow manages to have the same style now but in clothes that can be muddied and streaked with paint and snot and everything else that propagates our house and covers those eight little hands. She changes diaper and diaper. She climbs into the back of the minivan to load kids in and out of those hard-to-reach car seats. She reads and plays and takes kids to the playground, puts them down for naps, talks to them. They call her Aunt P, or Auntie P, and they not only love her they expect her and ask for her and position themselves temporally in the week based on when she is coming. My husband and I absolutely do not know what we would have done or would do without her.

When I started working at the donor network again she not only wanted to keep coming on Tuesdays but she offered to go solo--to watch all four kids alone, all day. Let that sink in. There is nothing I have ever done in my life that is more exhausting than taking care of my four kids. At the end of the day I flop onto the couch and do not want to get up, not even for food or water. I am done. The only other people who take care of them alone are Stephanie, our babysitter, and Haku, our other babysitter. I was worried about Phyllis when she said she would do this and gave her as many windows as I could to change her mind or back out. She hasn't yet. And though I worried, I knew absolutely that she could do it. She's PW. She can do anything I think.

All of this is to say how much we love her and appreciate her. But I haven't said yet how hard it has been for me to, slow by slow, relax into the reality of having this person whom I admire so hugely come into the most exposed version of myself. The true truth. The mess, the food stains and poop and crazy hair and no bra and dirty clothes and crazed eyes. The rawness of how hard this life is with all these kids. It took many many months, more than a year, for me to stop feeling like I needed to entertain her and talk to her and treat her like a guest. That was hard hard hard for me to do. We keep peeling back layers, talking about death and the hard parts of marriage and health issues. We have been friends for years but this is something different. Family is a good word for it but it's something different than that too. I'm not sure I have the word for it yet, just the feeling.

But Tuesday, when I was practically overcome with rage at the shit on the floor, at the overall powerlessness of my role as a mother, I had moments of wishing her away. Not wanting her, or anyone, to see how ugly I could get. How miserable. How mad. I stalked around, I hid. I was tempted to release her, to release myself, by suggesting that she leave. At one point, even after I was mostly calmed down, I came back out to the living room where she was folding laundry and huffed "Well motherhood doesn't live up to the dreams I had about it!"

She didn't say much but and she didn't get scared away. We didn't have a big talk about it and we mostly moved in symphony for the next little while until she left. But the next day she sent me this text:

"Keep thinking how hard you are working at being a good mom. You don't give yourself enough credit for handling an overwhelming responsibility. I just wish you had more time to spend with them one on one. Lily is never going to let anyone take advantage of her; Cyrus will be the love of life for so many people; Cleo will be that great observer and then will throw herself into things full force; Daphne will always have that cute smile on her face and will get away with a lot because of it. They are amazing kids and you are responsible for that."

This is my love letter to her, to PW, Auntie P, to Phyllis. To my friend, my mentor, my boss. The gifts you give and have given will stay with me, have lifted me, continue to save me and humble me.

Thank you forever.

PW, unedited

Speaking of tantrums I nearly threw one myself on Tuesday. Nearly? Maybe it was fully thrown--what constitutes a tantrum in an adult? As previously mentioned, I am not much of a yeller or a express-your-anger-in-a-healthy-external-way-er. I get pissed and I go quiet. That's what happened on Tuesday when I was home all day with the kids.

I won't go into all the reasons as they're myriad and nothing special. Typical toddler stuff driving me nuts. It was when nap time was a bust and no one but one was sleeping and I ended up having to clean up shit from the floor for the hundredth time. Hundredth is an exaggeration. Fifteenth? Let me just say that cleaning human feces that has been deposited all throughout a room with deliberation and artistic concentration takes it's toll and adds up exponentially so that each time feels like ten times. I was pissed.

I've gotten pissed about it before and I've yelled. I've held the small child by the shoulders and looked said child in the face, sternly and grimly, telling my beloved young person that pooping on the floor is not.ok.

Ok, the child says.

And then it happens again. Not always but often enough. It happened on Tuesday and it was the last straw. I gave up on the naps and stomped my way back to my bedroom where I furiously folded clothes and cleaned up my perpetually-messy space, taking deep breaths and blowing them out. Stomping around. Trying not to think that I'm the cause of all the wild behavior and tantrums--that it's not because I went back to work that they're acting this way. Even though I think that's part of it.

A child came back. Not the pooper. Attempted to engage me. And I responded "I need you to leave me alone please. I am mad and I need some quiet time."

This was respected.

The pooper eventually came back and I said something similar. That child left as well.

It took me thirty minutes of angry clean-up before I felt decent enough to go back out. I felt shy and very exposed to have gotten so mad with Phyllis here. Phyllis being here was the only reason I could escape to my room to cool off, for which I was grateful, but which also made me feel so embarrassed. I try to hide the less than perfect parts of me. Of course no one who knows me thinks I'm perfect. . .but that doesn't stop me from trying. What is starting to stop me from trying is the slow, drip drip of acknowledgement that I am hurting myself with this behavior. With this fear of making mistakes, of getting mad, of not having it all together. I especially don't like to show this stuff to someone I admire so much. To Phyllis.

Who is Phyllis? I've thought about writing about her so many times, though never in the same essay as one that starts with poop on the floor. Ack. The incongruity of those two things is a good place to start in explaining this woman who means so much to me. To my family.

Phyllis was my boss. Not just my boss, my big boss. The biggest. The CEO of the company I recently started working for again. Not just the CEO but the one who started the organization and ran it for twenty years or so. Not just the one who started the organization but the one who made it into the leader in the industry for years and years. A legend. I do not say that lightly.

In the days when I was hired she did the second interview for anyone being considered for hire. Alone. I don't remember being scared, though I'd never had an interview with a CEO before. I was nervous because I had bombed my first interview and because I was sick as a dog, carrying a pint of orange juice with me into her office. Within minutes I was at ease, talking to a woman who was clearly smart as hell and who also clearly got me. She saw me, she knew I was someone to hire and so she hired me.

I was introduced to organ donation by an organization that she created in her own image. There was a deep respect for donors and donor families, a deep respect for how hard the work was and how much the people doing it matter. A love of learning and trying to be better. A commitment to community and team, to talking about all aspects of our process and working together. She bought people gifts for their anniversaries with the company. She threw a going-away party for a colleague going off to Irag. And a coming-back party many months later when he returned. She started each day walking through the office, saying good morning to everyone. It felt really good to work there.

As I took on roles requiring more skill and more responsibility, I saw behind the curtain bit by bit. Saw some of the difficult decisions being made and the challenges being dealt with. I traveled to national meetings and learned that we were among the best in the country at what we did. People wanted to be like us and that had a lot to do with Phyllis. There was instant respect, instant cred, that came with the name of our organization, that followed her throughout the room. I felt proud.

The main thing, the most precious thing, that she gave me in those years was a confidence in myself, in my ability to assess a situation and make a decision, in my ability to take a risk. There were fewer rules back then. From the beginning, I knew I could walk to her office and say to her "Here's the situation. This is what I think we should do and this is why." She didn't always say yes but she usually did. She had my back, had all of our backs, and that inspired me and most others to ask why not, to push beyond perceived boundaries, to do what we could imagine was possible. I will never stop being grateful to her for that because that is in me, deep in my heart and my bones, and it makes me the thinker and problem-solver I am today.

Was she perfect? Of course not but I don't know much about the parts of her that weren't. I'd sit in meetings with her and hold myself up against her, seeing her sitting sphinx-like in a room full of surgeons, keeping her emotions to herself. I want to be like that, I thought. I wore my reactions all over my face, in my voice. I felt too emotional, too reactive.  How did she do that? I still wonder

She retired several years ago and it was a blow.

To be continued....

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On tantrums--unedited

My son woke me up this morning, asking if he could come sleep with me in our bed. I said yes, although his twin sister was asleep on the other side of me and there wasn't much room. He climbed in, rustled around as is his habit, and kept talking in a loud voice to me. After a couple minutes I sat up, gathering my wits about me.

Let's get out of here so we don't wake Lily up, I said.

He started yelling and I got immediately pissed. I scooped him up and stalked out of the room, putting him down in the kitchen where he continued to scream. Not proud to admit that I held my hand over his mouth, trying to staunch the sound. He yelled louder and louder and all I wanted to do was yell back STOP YELLING. You do not get to wake your sister up just because you're having a fit for no reason! I wanted to smash him.

I put myself outside, like a dog misbehaving. I closed the door on the screaming and stood in the cool morning air, braless in flannel pajama pants, closing my eyes and taking deep yogic breaths as I tried not to listen to the yelling muffled by the wood and glass. It's disorienting and scary to go from asleep to in a rage in less that five minutes.

When I was six my mom took me to a psychiatrist to help me stop having tantrums. I remember nothing of the experience except that I got to pick a candy bar afterwards and I picked Mr. Goodbar and hated it. Getting candy was a very rare occurrence so to think and choose so carefully and have it not be good was devastating enough to still live inside me as a visceral experience, three decades later.

A month ago a friend asked me to write about how we deal with tantrums. I wrote a quick response on Facebook but that wasn't enough. This is one area of parenting that I wonder about with some regularity.

One common piece of advice is to ignore them. I am almost certain that this is what I did during the many years I took care of other peoples' kids as a baby-sitter. I can't tell you for sure since that is pre-child raising and we all know my memory is completely shot. Unless it's candy as a six year old and then that shit is iron-tight. The reason I'm pretty sure is that it feels like what I would have done, feels like what I believe(d) was the right way to respond. Not to pay attention, let the tantrum burn itself out. Or maybe, now that I'm really thinking about it, I distracted. That seems more right, and more in line with the "Hey, I'm only here right now so I'll do what works" philosophy of a teenage sitter.

Here's the thing. I have been stomping down my own emotions, especially the bad ones, for years. Decades. A lifetime. I can't remember not doing it, though I wasn't always as aware that I was doing it. The bad ones--rage, fear, resentment, jealousy. The ones I don't like feeling, feel ashamed of feeling, feel exposed and wrong for feeling. So I shut them off, turn Ice Queen, and go on my way. Feeling like you want to smash your kid because he won't stop screaming would fall into the category of reactions I am not proud of. Even the thoughts that run through my head during it arne illustrative:

You are screaming for no reason.
You don't have the right

I want my kids to know it's ok to feel mad. So mad that you want to kick and scream and throw yourself on the floor because it's just so not ok what is happening. Even if what is happening is not getting to eat a cookie for breakfast. I mean, I'm not saying I want to listen to it. And I don't want to sit there narrating it to them either. If I could choose exactly what I want it would be to create the space for them to let it all out. And after a few minutes for them to go somewhere else to yell and scream in their own room. Because I am not a bottomless vessel for patience. Far, far from it. And though I want them to know it's ok to feel their feelings. . . the truth is I don't feel that comfortable in the face of anger and sadness. I'm getting better. I hope. And I think I'm better with sadness than with anger.

The truth is. . .I don't know anything about tantrums. Not enough to write in such a way that will be meaningful for everyone. I will say what I think and wonder about. What I hope for. What I worry about.

Last week a mom friend from the NICU wrote our group an email entitled OMG, the gist of which was Good grief I can't take the constant tantrums. I read it and thought, yeah we deal with more tantrums than we used to but it's not so bad. . .

And then every day since then it has been a constant barrage of fits being thrown. Over the slightest things. It's hard not to immediately think there's something deeper going on, like the fact that I went back to work and they're missing me and having a hard time adjusting. That's one of the many reasons I appreciate my tribe of parents, chiming in "Me too" about much of this--not just the tantrums being thrown by the short people but the tantrums we throw ourselves, out loud or by freezing them out or in an ongoing inner narrative. Have we learned to handle them better?