Thursday, June 10, 2004

Weepy, Confident, Insecure, Optimistic, and blah blah blah

This is one of those days. I feel so sad. I feel defeated. But I also feel optimistic. How does anyone describe how they feel at a given moment? It always seems like such an impossible number of emotions all at once.

Yesterday it occured to me that I am an ineffective authoritarian. And when looking over my life, I realized that I had never picked up any good coercion skills. I would make a very, very bad dominatrix.

Let me explain: Within 24 hours I had my daughter hit me as I stood in line at Sears buying T-shirts. Then, less than one day later, I had a stranger scream into my face, "Control your dog!"

Incident #1: the hitting in Sears. We had gone to buy some shirts. I am trying to be more frugal, I am trying to stay away from expensive stores. I had a T-shirt I bought there a few months ago when I got my new stove (very exciting, my new stove, btw, it's a whole new world cooking) and the T-shirt was $4.99. And I really liked it. It had a good weight, a good color, I liked working out in it. I found myself sad when it was dirty and glad when it was clean. So, I decided that I had to get more of these T-shirts. Also, I am letting my gray hair grow out (yes, I have a crazy reverse strategy for looking youthful wherein I confidently am gray) and I realized that my "colors" have changed. I no longer look very good in vivid colors. Like my hair, I needed softer colors, baby blue, gray, sage, etc. And this new T-shirt was a good color of blue. So, I picked Mulan up from school and we headed to Sears.

I try not to shop with Mulan. I just don't like the idea of us spending time together shopping. I don't want her to think of shopping as a leisure activity, as something fun. I want her to think of shopping as something special and necessary. I try not to let her be in situations where we spontaneously decide to buy things. I want her to learn to shop with a specific agenda. But sometimes shopping with Mulan is unavoidable. I try to use every minute she's in school to either be writing or working out, and that means food shopping, clothes shopping, basically everything else has to be done together. So there we were at 5:00 p.m. at Sears hunting down this blue T-shirt.

But Mulan's head was exploding in Sears. She wanted this dress and that dress and some sandals and pants and a necklace. I had to explain to her every three minutes how everything costs money and she didn't need any more clothes and she had several necklaces and we just bought her new sandals (that cost $50!!!) a few weeks ago, etc. She got angrier and angrier and she started saying she was going to run off and that she hated me. It made it very difficult to find what I needed. Eventually I did, AND we also got Mulan a new dress that was $10.99. Then I saw the line to pay. I have this theory that the cheaper the items you are buying, the longer it will take to pay for it. There's one big place to pay in the middle of the whole floor at Sears. There were about 15 or 20 people in line. I knew I was in for it.

While we waited to pay Mulan thought of another thousand things she wanted. I said over and over again how she was already getting a dress and I threatened to not get the dress if she kept whining. She said, "Fine!" I put the dress aside. That's when she hit me, really hard. I grabbed her hand and said that if she didn't behave we were leaving the store. Which in retrospect was the crappiest threat, of course she wanted to leave the store! She naturally said, "Great." I, confused, tried to think of what to do. Then she kicked me. A weak little kick, a half-hearted kick, but it got the attention of everyone in line. Now I was on the spot and had a nightmarish kid.

One thing I've noticed is that in upscale stores or neighborhoods, the fact that I am a white mother with an obviously adopted child goes without much notice. Unless it's smiling approval, which is a little creepy as well, but still, it's approval and understanding. But when I'm in a downscale neighborhood, or in a very specific immigrant neighborhood, like Thai Town, or in Hispanic neighborhoods, we are more of a curiosity. People say, "Is she your daughter?" And then, inevitably, "She dosn't look like you." Sometimes I say, "No." And sometimes I say, "She's adopted." I vascilate between saying more than I want to and being polite but cold.

The woman in line in front of me, with three perfectly behaved children said, "Is she your daughter?" I said, "Yes." And Mulan said, "No she's not. I want another mommy." I gave a weak little laugh and leaned down and whispered in Mulan's ear, "I want you to behave properly or you are getting a big time out when we get home. And no ice cream. And no TV. " I knew I was dilluting my threats by throwing in too much. Mulan said, "Then can I have my dress?" And then I was there in the middle of a negotiation that I didn't want to have. I said, "Okay." And we retrieved the dress from the counter where we'd laid it.

The rest of the time went without incident. When we got home, I gave Mulan a time out in her room for ten minutes and she screamed and cried. But I wasn't even sure if she knew why, at that point, she was getting a time out. I went in and sat on her bed and we talked about hitting and kicking and how wrong and bad, bad, bad it was. And how she could take some deep breaths and use her "words" to tell me how she felt. Although, I have to say I am reluctant to tell her the oft-used slogan of "use your words" because JEEZ, that's all Mulan does is use her words. The kid talks A LOT already. When it was over, I didn't really think she understood. She apologized and said she'd never do it again, but it felt like she just was saying anything to get me to stop being mad. I am not confident this will not happen again. In fact, I'm sure it will happen again.

I felt defeated and embarrassed and ineffective. I do not inspire submission.

Sometimes Mulan will say things like, "Mom, are you still mad?" And I get overwhelmed with guilt. Usually I am not mad at all. But it makes me remember when I used to think my mom was always mad, all the time. And I fear becoming her, and at the same time, in retrospect, I have so much compassion for my mother.

I think I need a parenting coach. I know a person's name. I 'm going to call her today.

Incident #2. The next incident which exposed my inability to force obedience happened when I walked the dog in Runyon Canyon with my trainer, Roberto. I work out with Roberto three days a week. It's a big expense and extravagence, but I like it, and I totally, totally, totally wouldn't work out like this if I were trying to do it on my own. After my work out with him yesterday, we went to my house and picked up my dog Arden and headed off to the hike. It takes me about fifty minutes to do the whole loop. I don't go very fast. People with handicaps often pass my by. Usually I am listening to my iPod. Actually, I just finished listening to House of Bush, House of Saud, by Craig Unger. Ohmy, ohmy, this administration is so bad. I almost would use the word "Evil" to describe them, even though I resent Bush for using that word so often. It's absolutely horrifying, the illicit collusion that exaserbated the problems with fundamentalist Muslims. And the whole congressional report that had the 28 pages exorcised from them about the Saudi's. Anyway, I recommend it. James Naughton reads it -- he's great, it has this fantastic fatalistic, authoritative, investigative feel. Which is exactly right. Because it's all true. I even scoured the internet one night looking for contradictions to the facts in the book. Nothing. No challenges. It's true and it's terrifying.

Anyway, Roberto went a lot faster than I usually go on this hike. A lot, lot, lot faster. Like, we did the whole hike in 30 minutes. I felt bad because Roberto kept telling me how this hike was not hard in any way and like, how could I ever consider this hike a work-out? I felt wimpy. Arden scrambled along and kept up and I didn't put on his leash (it's off-leash for a big portion of the I mean, walk...) until the last minute. Then we went through the door to get into the park. I wasn't paying all that much attention, there was a woman and her dog going through the door at the same time. Arden sniffed the dog, the usual. But then he started growling and barking at this dog. And the other dog was doing the same thing, I wasn't sure which dog started it, actually. In any case, I moved quickly through the door saying something completely ineffectual like, "Oh Arden, what are you doing? Arden, stop," all wimpy and passive like. I was not prepared and not authoritative. The dogs didn't bite each other or anything, just growled and barked. That's when the woman put her face close to mine and screamed, "CONTROL YOUR DOG."

I was so embarrassed. By that time, the dogs were sufficiently away from each other. Roberto turned to me and said, "You have to make sure your dog knows who's boss."

In retrospect, I wasn't sessing out the situation. I shouldn't have walked through the doorway while another dog was walking through. I was all in my conversation with Roberto and feeling weird, crappy and bad already. Then I was confused about what to do when he growled. I should have jerked his choke-chain, screamed at him, something. I failed. I failed.

We drove back to my house and my hands were almost shaking and I tried to make the weakest small talk. "So...what are you doing this weekend? And how many clients do you have tomorrow?"

I came in the house and my eyes filled up with tears. I have not made it into adulthood with the skills necessary to be in charge of anyone! Dogs or kids. Cats are good for me. I should have stuck with cats. SHIT. But now I'm in love with my kid and in love with my dog, so I just have to learn to dominate, control and have authority and all these things which are completely unnatural to me. I think my whole strategy for control in my life, subconciously, was to get the animal or person or child or whatever to like me, and then they would do what I wanted or behave because of their "like" for me. Now I understand what an ineffective strategy that is. I mean, it works okay for adults, but not for kids or animals. I am so in over my head. I am so not that good at this.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

This morning I felt a little teeny bit better. I resolved to inspire the respect of my child and my dog. It may require the very expensive consultation services of experts. I am in awe of anyone who is good at this.

I mean, I was basically afraid of my mother. But is that good, to be afraid of your parent? My dad was completely passive and my mom had to do any and all disciplining. But for the most part, with one big exception, we were all very dutiful, well-behaved kids. And I worshipped my dad. So, what gives?

This morning I got up early and had about an hour to work before Mulan even woke up. I listened to my new favorite CD, Nellie McKay's, "Get Away From Me". It's so good. I just got it last week, and I've been listening to it non-stop. My favorite songs are "Ding Dong", "Inner Peace", "Sari", and "The Dog Song". She's really hilarious, this combination of Peggy Lee, Elvis Costello and... M.C. Hammer.

Then I listened to NPR's "Morning Edition." There was a report on a young Puerto Rican boy who got killed last week in Iraq. He was 3 credits away from getting his physics degree and he had aspirations to teach science to young people and he was very enthusiastic about it. He was in the National Guard and he was called up. I was so overwhelmed hearing about this boy -- he'd come so far, all the way from a big family in Puerto Rico, and his teachers loved him. I couldn't stop crying. I just broke down about this boy. He seemed like he was such a fine human being. All his effort, all everyone's effort in his advancement and accomplishments, all a big waste. Now that I'm a mom, I cannot hear about anyone's death without the images in my mind of them taking their first steps, running into their mommy's or daddy's arms, sleeping with their parents when they were scared, learning how to read, discovering how the world works. And then shot. Dead. And for what? For what? I was so sad about this kid. So depressed.

Mulan woke up and came into the kitchen and said, "Why are you crying, Mommy?" I said I had just heard something very sad on the news.

This morning Mulan went to the dentist for the first time. The dentist was so good with kids. He gave her a balloon and he had a great way of engaging her and getting her excited to have her teeth cleaned. She had her hair in pigtails and the new dress on she got at Sears. They put these sunglasses on her so the light wouldn't be too bright. She was so cute and polite and sweet and responsive. The attendant kept saying, "She is such a sweet little girl." I was so proud. Then I thought of that Puerto Rican boy. And how he went to the dentist too, and his mother probably sat next to him just like I was with Mulan. Suddenly, my eyes were filled with tears. I kept thinking about how much dental work this Puerto Rican boy had had in his life. It was a strange musing, but impossible to avoid. My eyes were once again filled with tears. I widened them trying to get them not to spill. I coughed trying to distract my face from crying. Then Mulan said, "Mom, why are you CRYING." I said, "Oh, you know, you are just so cute lying there getting your teeth cleaned." I swear Mulan rolled her eyes. She looked at me like, "Give me a break, Mom, jeez."

Oh dear. Oh dear. Sometimes I think life is too fragile for me to go through it without anesthesizing myself. I used to do it with God, and then I did it with sugar, and fried food. But now I just feel it, and it feels pretty damn bad sometimes.

On the other hand. letting myself feel all the sad stuff makes me also feel the great things. It's weird, I would say that as I get older, my mood has leveled off substantially. In spite of this blog, I am fairly even keeled. I don't walk around in emotional panic or despair or blind optimism anymore. I've learned to be "cautiously" optimistic, and "cautiously" pessimistic. But at the same time that this mood leveling out has happened, I also feel I have deeper, and more profound appreciations for what I have in my life, and deeper awarenesses of how sad things really, truly are. Reality is sad. Reality is beautiful. Reality is full of fortune. Reality is full of injustice. I can't properly explain this vortex. This awareness accompanied by a leveling off of mood in general. Maybe it's just what happens to everyone as they get older, me included.

I just took Arden on the..."walk" again. I made sure that his leash was very much in my close control around other dogs. Just the fact that I was doing this made him nervous, I think. He growled at a dog from a distance. But when he's off leash he's great with other dogs, wouldn't even think about attacking or barking or growling at all. Hmmm...

I relistened to the last hour of "House Of Bush, House Of Saud." Wow, it's really good. I'm so glad Craig Unger wrote this book. I think I will download Richard Clark's book next. I see that he recorded it himself. Cool.

It's so disturbing how much the media is glorifying Reagan. When he first died, last Saturday, NPR, at least, had objective reporting about the positive and negative legacy of Reagan. I spent the entire 80s hating Reagan, but when I heard the clips of him speaking, I realized how much better he was than Bush! But then, from about Sunday on, the objective reporting went out the window and it was all idealization of Reagan, even on NPR. How could this be? My friend Jim Emerson sent me this link. It's just amazing how much the media is distorting the truth about his popularity. However, today on NPR, the reporting appears to have returned some balance. I can't wait for this whole thing to be over.