Sunday, July 8, 2012

Speaking the Language of Love: Or Tovah's Guide to Being Cool

I don’t know why I’m writing a blog right now.  It’s 6am.  I’ve been up for an hour.  My mind is racing.  I went outside.  The birds are composing a beautiful symphony with frogs on the horns and crickets on the strings.  The sky is brightening in this gold-ish way. Leftover storm water is gently dripping of the porch roof.  And while I sit and take in the moment… I’m drafting a blog in my head.  A Zen monk, I was not meant to be.

But at least my computer is placed in front of large windows looking out at this scene.  So I’ll claim I’m taking it all in, while I write.  That makes me feel better about myself.  And that’s mostly what this blog is about, feeling better about myself. 

I’ve been reading this book called The Five Love Languages of Children.  As you know, I am always looking for ways to better understand my son, (all my children, but he needs the most deciphering) and this book was a pretty nice window.  Its premise is that there are five main ways through which we communicate and receive love.  And we all have tendencies towards one, more than the others.  They are: Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts and Acts of Service.  I won’t go into much more detail, save to recommend the book.  (A quick word of warning: I do not agree, as the authors seem to imply, that if you do not discover your child’s love language, he or she will be doomed to a life of low self-esteem, drugs and venereal diseases.)

It turns out that my sons primary love language is touch.  Followed by quality time.  And perhaps this explains why, when I think we are having a nice day, he spoils it by acting out physically against me.  He is asking for something he doesn’t even know he wants.  And that he drives me to spank, even though I never dreamed I would be a mother who spanks, also makes sense.  He wants the contact.  And if that’s the way he can get it, so be it. 

Now, I’m a pretty touchy feely person.  Almost to an annoying point.  But yesterday I tried to really turn up the juice.  I thought I was making a lot of physical contact with all my children, but I did touch on steroids.  Every time my son came anywhere near me, I reached out and stroked his arm, or tickled his back, or cuddled him.  I thought after an hour, two hours, half a day of this, he would push away and get annoyed (I mean, I was starting to annoy myself).  But he didn’t.  In fact he lapped it up like a little puppy.  More, more, more, he seemed to ask. 

Well, buddy, get ready for a whole new sport: Full contact life! At every chance I get, I am going to try to fill his apparently depleted love tank with all the physical affection I can possibly muster.  Do I feel like I’m suffocating at the very thought? Slightly.  Is it worth a try anyway? Absolutely! Are there any negative side effects? Unknown.  But unlikely.

But that’s all back story.  Here’s what I was processing in bed, that wouldn’t let me sleep.  For years I have searched out validation.  I mean, who hasn’t, right?  But for me it was in words of affirmation.  I want my husband to tell me I’m beautiful.  I want to be told that I’m maternal.  I want to be called sweetie and honey and any other name that causes a mental cavity.  I want long, sentimental letters describing all my amazing qualities.  One by one.  Preferably alphabetically.  

I thought this made me vain.  I thought this made me weak.  I thought this made me highly uncool, since cool people don’t need anyone to tell them what they already know.  But as it turns out, it just makes me normal.  I want to feel loved.  I feel loved through words of affirmation.  Perhaps that’s why, after writing each blog, I incessantly check the comments section.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve turned to writing.  Words are powerful to me.  They hold a lot of weight.  They make or break me.  A careless, or even hurtful action, I can often forgive.  But hurtful words sting me to the core.

And now I know that this is just me.  It's who I am.  And seeing that there are five love languages, chances are that a fifth of humanity is the same.  We can’t all be cool like you acts of service people.  Some of us have to remain cheesy and long for a Shakespearian-type love letter written daily.

It goes back to an earlier discovery I had which is that it is not my preferences which make me cool or uncool.  (Yes I am somewhat fixated on the idea (dare I say, hope) of being cool.)  I used to think that if I liked my coffee black, that would make me cooler than if I preferred cream.  Or that if I liked dark, bitter chocolate that would be better than liking milk chocolate.  (What is it about milk that is so inherently uncool?)  I wish I liked oil and vinegars as much as I like mayonnaisy things.  But I don’t.  And you know what?  It’s just my make up.  These are the things I cannot control.  And truly, if I spent too much energy on changing my personal tastes, I could not, with any confidence, ever call myself cool.  Cool people don't change who they are.  They embrace it, and say, "Go ahead, tell me to be someone else, if you dare..." No, I guess cool people don't really talk like that.  Maybe I am so uncool I can't even come up with imaginary cool dialogue. 

No, the things I have control over… Rather, the things worth putting energy into changing, are my behaviors.  My mother rage.  My listening skills.  My relationship to G-d.  My kindness towards humanity.  My judgments.  These are the things that can change.  These are the things worth changing.  My distaste for capers and really dry wine? Just a preference, not a character definition. I can only take credit for my character weaknesses I have strengthened.  No need to feel ashamed for them.  They were given to me.  It’s what I do with them that counts. 

So with that I say proudly, “I am a sentimental, touchy-feely woman who loves being told how loved she is. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

1. The air outside
2. Watching my children on the trampoline
3. My mom
4. The amazing songs my sister leaves on my voicemail
5. I still have a little bit of time before the kids wake up 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Making mistakes

I can’t stay long.  I’m truly tired, and desperately in need of a shower.  Not just for my own sake, but for the sake of anyone within a ten-mile radius.  Just doing my part to better the world, one clean armpit at a time.  But it’s been a bit, and I wanted to check in.  Plus I have a few revisions to make from the last blog. 

First, my apologies to John Hyatt (Hiatt?) the actual writer of Have a Little Faith in Me. 

Second, I have not mentioned the amazing wonderfulness of my mother in my blogs.  She comes to my aid, whenever I need, putting whatever she has going on in her life aside.  And she doesn’t complain about it.  And she doesn’t ask for anything in return.  She just does it.  Always has.  And because of that I’ve come to expect it, and have stopped appreciating it.  Well, let’s get the Good List rolling early tonight with number one.
1.    My most bomb-diggity, cool, ever loving mama.
You deserve more, but I'm tired and I know you would yell at me to go bed.  So, I'll move on.

Well, here’s a bit of what’s going on, and maybe y’all could help me with this one.  In raising my oldest son, my husband and I had too many expectations of him. We were hard on him.  We criticized him.  Now I’m not saying he came here a perfect little angel whom we messed up.  But, with all his stuff, I think we exacerbated the problem, rather than helped heal it.  When perhaps a softer heart could have melted his tough core, we hammered.  First children are like first pancakes.  They test the heat of the frying pan.

So now I have a tough little boy.  A very tough one.  A boy who is dying for love, acceptance, affection.  And he is trying to get it by fighting.  Fighting about teeth brushing, or dinner, or getting dressed, or going to the bathroom, or anything that could possibly be answered with an OK Mama.  So I have VERY little patience left for him. Remember, I'm also all alone out here, without a husband or anyone who could help out.  Just me and three little, needy children.  And if I try to collect myself, remind myself of the fact that he’s just a little boy, he’ll find a way to push my worst button at that moment.  It’s sort of a gift of his. 

And sometimes I tell myself, Fine, just let him be.  Have no expectations of him.  Let him act like a spoiled, selfish brat.  And love love love him.  Maybe, he’ll see that he doesn’t need to fight for love, but that he can just BE in it.  It’s free.  From me to him.  From his father to him.  From G-d to him. 

But then I see that I am raising a selfish, spoiled brat, and I wonder if that’s all he’ll ever be.  And I freak out.  How can I have NO expectations? How can I let all the little, stupid, petty insults slide by? How can I present this child to world, and still say, Yes, I am doing right?

Perhaps that’s it.  I feel that so often that what I do is contrary to what is done.  Contrary to what I have been told I should do. Becoming a religious Jew.  Marrying the man I fell in love with at age fifteen.  Moving to Israel.  Moving back to America.  Never getting an education.  Never trying to be a professional.  Not trying to make a ton of money.  Moving my family out to a farm in the middle of nowhere.  Homeschooling.  Not vaccinating.  I mean, the list goes on and on and on.  And yet if I can present myself in the right way then I can justify all of it.  No, I didn’t marry a doctor move to suburb and send my children to school… But look, I have the perfect, happy marriage, no financial needs outside of our means, and three perfectly healthy, brilliant, polite and well mannered children.  So I guess I’m doing something right and you can all shut your big, fat, judging, I-know-what’s-right-for-you mouths.  Well, not you guys.  Just the voices I imagine are in everyone’s minds when they see me. 

So maybe this isn’t about my son at all?  Maybe this is about me feeling the need to justify myself and my choices by creating the perfect kid?  And perhaps he knows that he can only disappoint, so he fights for love instead?

Oh my son, my love.  If you ever read this, know this: I love you.  I freakin love you so much it breaks me over and over.  And the brokenness fills me deeper than anything ever could.  You do not need to be my self-confidence in body form that I can show off to the world.  I will deal with my own insecurities.  No, you be you.  And you can make mistakes.  And you’re mistakes are not who you are.  I will not hold you to them for the rest of your life.  Mistakes are the strongest building blocks of life.  And I will let you make yours if you forgive me mine.  And perhaps we will build something so strong, so great, that we won’t even need to show it to anyone.  No one will need to validate it.  Because we can hold each other.  I love you, my sweetest. 

Whew, okay.  *Tear wipe* Thanks, doc, but I guess our time is up and this therapy session is over.  See you next week. (Maybe, I have a lot of company coming.  But since it’s family I’m sure I’ll get plenty of material for the following one.)

1.    Mom (just to repeat, because you deserve it)
2.    This moment
3.    I made my bed today, and I get to lay in it soon
4.    I’m getting a shower.  Now.