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St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
April 02
chief instigator
don't tread on me
I'm not dead yet


Ladyslipper's Links
OCTOBER 14, 2010 5:05AM

Slow Children At Play

Rate: 30 Flag

When our children were young, my neighbor Kathryn and I, prompted by two or three chronic speeding offenders, chipped in to buy two signs for the alley. They are there still, though the bright yellow enamel has faded to a pale shade just slightly lighter than dry mustard. There is an old-fashioned picture of a boy running, embossed in the metal below the words:




The lack of punctuation and its effect on the meaning of the words never occurred to me until years later. And the irony. Our children were not slow; they were endlessly energetic and impulsive, following their joyous souls where they led. Hence the sign. And of course we saw them as precocious when perhaps they were only exemplars of the Lake Wobegon  effect: where all the children are above average. Our lives revolved around them, they were front and center in nearly every conversation. They had to be: we were stay-at-home moms. What could be more important than her son and daughter, my daughter and son?

We took walks together, rising at six to circle the campus of a private college. Three miles, almost. It wasn't a marathon, but it was enough for a half hour of uninterrupted conversation. And of course we spoke mostly about our children, and about the best ways to "parent" them. (You never said "raise" or "rear" them.) I remember a lot of talk about Dr. T. Berry Brazelton's ideas - he was the Dr. Spock of our era; about magnet schools and toilleting (never "training" - the child took the lead, and you followed); about whether her son would have a growth spurt. Although six months older, he was more than a head shorter than my daughter. Seeing them together was like seeing a smaller version of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley. And that is how I will always remember them: one stocky, one gracile. My daughter holding him at arm's length as he took swings at her and we swooped in to intervene. Use your words! 

We had conversations about concerts and plays and movies, and many discussions about our husbands. Even more about family dynamics. We were obsessed with families. Her mother-in-law was in the throes of an attempt at recovery from the alcoholism that would eventually kill her. She was a "dry drunk." Kathryn's three siblings were in therapy. My parents were repressed. I was living a stunted and painful existence. Our families of origin had been hotbeds of dysfunction. We read Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child," and though I do not recall a word of it now, I remember it being about family systems and how they damage children. We were not going to allow our children to be damaged, as we had been.

Oh how damaged we were. But we were healing. 

How strange it all seems now, how vastly removed from the present. A little embarrassment peers through the nostalgia. The walks lasted for a year or so, through rain and bitter cold and a few times when we saw the northern lights like flapping green curtains as we rounded the stone buildings and headed home. In many ways, these were the most intimate times of my life. We talked about things we never spoke of with others - money, sex, politics, religion. We told each other our truths.

And then one day she appeared on my doorstep, a cigarette between two fingers.

She did not smoke.

"What's up?" I asked.

 "I got a job offer. My old boss wants me to come back. And he's offering me a lot of money."

"How much?" She quoted the sum, and my heart sank. I knew she would take the job, and that my life would be changed irrevocably.

And she did, and it was.

* *

The walks ended. I continued them alone for a time, but it wasn't the same. I felt lonely, and I didn't feel safe. I started to walk, by myself, after dinner. The conversations I had were in my head but that was okay. Eventually I went back to work myself. Our children disengaged. Things happened: her son and daughter followed their father into chemical abuse and dependency; mine followed me into bipolar disorder.

Their lives sped up. So did ours.

Kathryn finished her four-year degree at the age of fifty-something. She called one evening to ask if I had a certain shade of thread, knowing that I would always bring over three or four spools, and that one of them would be the right one. 

One shade matched perfectly. We sat at the lace-covered dining room table, drinking tea. She had served me tea the first day we met. 

"The worst part was algebra." She spoke as easily as if we had just said good-bye after one of those brisk morning walks. "I had to take algebra. And I wanted to build this little shed for my back yard. A place to do gardening, to have people over for a glass of wine, or drink my coffee in the morning. So I drew up the plans, and set them here, on my table, while I did my algebra homework. I'd look at them, and get inspired. I told myself that if I passed this course, I could build my shed. I got an A. And I have all of my materials." 

Kathryn is a grandmother now. I am not, and perhaps will never be. I know I am not ready to become one. It is a role I hold at arm's length in my head, the image of her son flailing away at my daughter forever seared into my brain.

At the time it had seemed so shocking. Now I think it was kind of cute. 






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In spite of everything, they seem to have survived. Add "resilient" to their list of attributes.
Ladyslipper, There is a lovely quiet tone to this. I wish I was sitting at that table having tea after discovering you had brought just the right colour of thread over. I'm glad you treasure that image/memory now. I wonder if your girl remembers it too?

And oh, I know Alice Miller's DOTGC. It's still on a book shelf here. I was only a stay-at-home-Mom for a very short time. The book was for myself years before I ever had a child. The Miller book that changed my life was For Your Own Good. The latter was crucial in treaching me that my intellect and analytical thnking was standing in the way of private joy. Move over head, give me some heart. You and thinking of Alice brought that back this morning.
I have found that friends orbit closer when they are most needed in my life; and with the true ones, it's like the conversation just flows as it did hours or years before. And somehow karma reciprocates and puts me in that orbit of a friend who needs me quite often...It's mysterious to me but speaks to the interconnectedness of us all on many levels.
i think i can recall reading another parenting piece by you and enjoyed it very much. this was no different. and if you ever become a grandmother, i think you'd be a fine one.
You are among the best teller of these kinds of stories I know. You see the feelings beneath surfaces so very well and maintain a calm that is ironic and wonderful. r.
This is my new favorite. Entirely different circumstances, shared understanding...~r
What a wonderful and yet heartbreaking post.....probably because it reminded me of my own ideals, hopes, and heartbreaks. Isn't it amazing how aging and life experiences change us? Something we just can't see or imagine when we're first starting out.
When I was overseas, there was an attempt to duplicate the sign in English for the kids of GIs near a military post, and the sign read: WARNING! CHILDREN PLAY SLOW.
Do your children read your posts?

This is a heartfelt piece. Thanks for sharing.
Wonderful post. It reminds me of sitting in the yard with my friend Jennifer for hours on end, watching her daughter and my son. I was the one who went back to work - the first in our moms' group. Our kids are still small, but now we are scattered across the country. Still, I know we could walk into each others' kitchens and begin talking as though we just got up out of our lawn chairs.
I remember those times, those friendships. I called a woman last year, who was a friend like this, till the children grew and we all moved. It was fun and there were promises made. None kept. Thank you for the memories today, LS of another life ago.
I was never a stay at home mum, but today I wish I had been.
rated with hugs
Scarlett, Miller meant a great deal to me, and I am rediscovering her work as I learn to bring joy back into my life. I'm glad you enjoyed this; I enjoyed sharing my memories.

linnnn, it's eerie, isn't it?

Renatta, thank you for your faith in me!

Jonathan, thank you.

Joan, I'm honored.

patricia, I took things so seriously back then. Now I realize there are few things more important than a shared cup of tea.

Duane, that's hilarious!

Cindy, I'm so sorry about your migraine, and I'm glad I was able to help alleviate it for a few minutes. I hope your pain eases.

Midwest, my children do not read my posts, at least not to my knowledge. I think there may be some major turmoil if they did.

Blue, isn't that a feeling to treasure?

rita, I have been thinking of calling the women in my moms' group. It's been only a few years, and I think we might enjoy seeing each other again and exchanging memories. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Linda, we all have our paths in life. I'm glad you enjoyed this.
i loved this :) the pace of it and the intimacy just hit the right chord with me today, Thanks Ladyslipper
Julie, I'm glad you enjoyed this.
I love the pace of how you told this with some memories having more words devoted to them and then a few lines that sweep through many years. You carry your readers through the pace of life so well.
I feel like I can see this through the lens of twilight and faded photo albums, softly lit lamps in the background. What is the color of memories of dreams?
Such memories are among the most cherished, aren't they? Reading yours took me away on a tangent to mine for a while. Thank you, Ladyslipper, this was lovely and serene.
This really took me back, to my own kids and how I raised them. We did so many things different back then. I think they turned our right. I hope they turned out right.
This is so vividly, beautifully described. I'm sorry life made you guys have to end your walks. Thanks for an interesting and moving and lovely read. R.
I could so relate to this LS, in so many ways. But you tell it as only you can. Beautiful.
I do remember those early days of parenting, making those connections with other mothers who were going through the same thing. Aren't you glad you couldn't look ahead? I liked thinking that if I did everything "right" then of course my children would turn out perfectly, even if the thought didn't last very long.
You share the tension and intimacy of that time in such a way that it reminds me of the film "Ordinary People". We are the audience watching and your words are the actors on the screen. I can feel them.
Beautiful, surrealist, bittersweet - THANKS!
Once more I am so a part of your words here. Lovely this as are you.
Greta story! I really enjoyed this one!
Q: Did she ever get that shed built?
When I finally could read DOTG I knew I was making some progress in therapy. Before that I shut it out as I read. Hard truths.

I was across town from you in the neighborhood of a public college. :) The coffee pot was always on at my house. I remember convincing my friends that we were not wasting time - we were working every bit as much as our husbands were in their seminars and conferences.

Did you read Rudolf Dreikurs, too? He was very helpful for me.

And when I went back, I loved, loved, loved algebra but not as much as calculus.
What a wonderful gentle story filled with love.
rated for love
Terry, what an interesting remark. Thank you.

Oryoki, a lovely thing to say.

Fusun, a big hug to you.

Bonnie, they do, don't they?

Scanner, of course they turned out right.

Alysa, thank you. Life does intervene, sadly at times.

trilogy, I'm honored.

kate, a good friendship is something beautiful, to be cherished.

Bellwether, if I could have seen into the future I don't know what I would have done! It's a good thing I was denied that gift.

kitd, thank you.

anna1liese, what a lovely thing to say.

PW, thanks. And yes, she built the shed, and it's a thing of beauty.

nerd cred, I haven't read Dreikurs but now I will. I didn't belittle myself as a stay-at-home mom, either. I am in awe of your studying calculus - I can barely calculate the tip in a restaurant.

poetess, how kind of you.

cartouche, what a generous comparison. I feel very flattered.
Ladyslipper, I (we, my circle of friends and neighbors) read/used Dreikurs raising our children. I don't remember the name of the book or if he exclusively aims at children. He is Adlerian, I remember that. And he is a good part of the reason my children are excessively responsible and independent.