Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Saturday Night in a Well-Seasoned Marriage

Seasoned as in 17 years of cohabitation.

Toss in three children, two jobs (one in real estate, good God!), one deaf-blind incontinent 15-year old dog whose food and dignity are constantly being stolen from him by the treat-stealing, humping Satan's Familiar, the 96-year old house with its Repair Menu -- well, that well-seasoned marriage is simmering in about 15 complex and sometimes, downright uncomplimentary, marinades, simultaneously.

Because she teaches an 8:30-12:30 Saturday morning class that has only 6 students ( although 6 is better when it comes to the grading, actual classroom song and dance requires massive energy on the Matron's part, keeping this bunch awake and engaged long enough to discuss the art of The Short Story for FOUR HOURS), the Matron went to bed early last night. Early being midnight -- and with Scarlett as her bed partner, given that her daughter had recently arrived home from the theater, tired and in need of Maternal Cuddle. So bestowed.

John, in the meantime, stayed up until nearly 2 am watching Oprah!

Today, driving together in the van, the following conversation ensued. Children are in the back, listening to music.

John: "Wow. That Oprah show is kind of amazing. Lots of really intense stuff. You should watch it."

Matron: "At 4 pm on a weekday or the middle of the night?"

John: "I couldn't believe they were so frank -- used the language they did. The whole show was about sex in long-term marriages. How to keep the love flowing. But they were very anatomical. Just amazing that you can do this on TV."

Matron: "Hmmmmmm. Oprah can do anything she wants. She owns TV."

John: "One thing that really struck me was how that housework is like an aphrodisiac. An afternoon of household chores -- vacuuming and that kind of stuff -- is like an afternoon of foreplay. All those wives on the show swore that was so."

Matron (considering 4 hour foreplay or 4 hours of husband cleaning house -- you all know her answer): "True."

Scroll forward to this very moment. It's 6:22 pm on a Saturday night.

Guess who's downstairs mopping the kitchen floor--with dinner in the oven and a deep cleaning foam on some stained carpets-- as she types?

Friday, November 21, 2008

It Girl

Two years ago, the Matron suffered one of her recurring bouts of temporary insanity, and decided to surprise her then- third grade daughter by having lunch at Scarlett's elementary school. Insanity? That place is LOUD.

Scarlett was delighted to see her Mama show up at lunch!! Smiles and glee! So the Matron tucks in by Scarlett's side--the right side--on the long lunchroom benches and a small diplomatic summit ensues.

Eleanor: "Scarlett's mom took my spot, so I get to sit on the other side."

Four little girls sit up and shift over.

Ava: "Hey! It's my turn to sit across from Scarlett and now I'm on the edge!"

Eleanor: "Wait! I'll write that down on the seating chart."

Matron: "There are rules for lunchtime?"

Eleanor (Scarlett's soul mate, sister and beloved friend since birth): "Not really. It's just that I get to sit on one side of Scarlett and either Jordan or Rachel sit on the other side of Scarlett. Ava gets to be across or to the side, sitting next to either Jordan or Rachel, who are ACROSS from Scarlett. Every once in awhile, Ava gets to sit on the other side of Scarlett--not mine--just to be nice. It's like art class, only there we pick numbers because just one of us can be by her."

Scarlett beamed and nodded.

This was the first time the Matron was exposed to hard core realities of her daughter's social hierarchy. Readers? The egalitarian Matron was embarrassed. She's never been the most popular so she didn't know this dance. Her daughter, on top with complete disregard for any other? Caused the Matron pain.

A couple of weeks ago, the Matron was discussing Girl Culture with Ava's mother, Bebe, a woman she adores.

Matron: "I have NO idea what people are talking about when they say girls can be mean and petty. Scarlett has never, ever complained about her friends talking about each other or being anything other than 100% IN LOVE with and supportive OF one another. I think the whole mean girl thing is completely overblown."

Bebe: "Well, I think we're lucky. You're right. Ours have a little circle that full of nice. The only hard part is when somebody falls out of favor or takes the second spot."

Matron: "Oh that's horrible!" Slight pause while realizing she had absolutely no idea whatsoever that sentence meant. "What do you mean, fall out of favor? Second place?"

Bebe: "You know! With Scarlett! I mean, she's only 10 and she doesn't understand it, but it's hard on the girls when she has a clear favorite. I mean, besides Eleanor. Then there's a definite ranking of preferences for play dates and everybody is subject to the flow of Scarlett's mood and desires."

Matron: "Oh."

She suddenly underst0od that she'd heard no complaint from Scarlett only because everything was going her daughter's way. The Matron recoiled while her cells reorganized: she had spawned the Queen Bee!

Yesterday, talking with Scarlett's teacher about the one million weeks of school that child will miss because of her performance schedules, the teacher and the Matron both decried the prinicpal's suggestion that the Matron pick up her daughter and Home School, leaving the system behind.

Homeschooling would be wonderful if the Matron didn't have a full-time tenure track job at the moment. She really hopes to get one year of homeschooling, at one point, in under her belt. But not this year. In addition, Scarlett is in year two of a three year classroom. She's not just part of a community, she's in the midst of that community experience.

Matron to teacher: "I can't home school her. She'd be devastated not to be part of that classroom community. She totally sees herself as part of the community. She'd fall to pieces."

Teacher: "Mary, the community would fall to pieces without Scarlett. She's sort of the center of the action."

Now, the Matron's highest point of praise for her daughter has been -- for like, oh, the past 10 years of Scarlett's decade on Earth --- for being a good friend! Kind to others. Thoughtful. Your own self? Should be in service of a greater good. All those qualities get high praise! In fact, in the midst of all the theatrical accolades, right after strangers and family and friends have swooned over Scarlett for her stage presence, the Matron has made a POINT of saying:

"Do you know what I'm the most proud of you for?"

Scarlett: "The friendship and kindness thing?"

Matron: "That's right. I'm so proud of you for being such a good friend. You're a kind, good person. That's the most important."

Scarlett: "Whatever."

But she is. So far. Still, the Matron has seen a few Red Flags flying these days, given all the potential for too much focus on the daughter doing the deaf-blind stumble and Ramona squeal.

More than anything else? The Matron VERY much hopes her child does not peak at age 10. To that end, she will keep her eyes on the prize. How do you cope when you're not the It Girl? How do you carve out a meaningful life if --when--you don't get the lead role?

It Girls often grow up to to be-- washed up. Even if growing up is just hitting 12 and never getting the callback or the best friend. That's what Scarlett needs to prepare for.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hell Phone

The Matron is certain she had "SUCKAH" written right on her pretty (okay, wrinkled) forehead when she walked into the Sprint shop last week, with three children in tow.

Why did she engage in such reckless behavior?

Recently, John and the Matron agreed to purchase a cell phone for Stryker. The Matron is all about the cell phone and teenagers. Go ahead and decry the next generation -- grown-ups have been doing it forever, all 'we didn't get a cell phone until we were thirty and there's no need.'

She gets it. And doesn't disagree. But she's going about the cell phone thing a little differently.

Teaching and being around teens in other settings has granted the Matron this great wisdom: It is what it is. Technology and children have a different relationship than they had even five years ago. Technology and teens? Even more intimate because there's more independence and voice.

How integrated are cell phones and iPods into the young life? The Matron recently agreed to help College XXX study how course materials could be loaded onto hand-held devices like iPods, cell phones and the venerable DSLite. The going educational theory is that hand-held devices will become an integral part of pedagogical approach. Sound like the distant future? Stryker has his algebra textbook loaded onto his iPod and that's how he does his homework.

Technology changes relationships and relationships form around technology. As in, "Hi friends the Matron has never met!" But you are friends, and she's happy to have you visit her, here, in this little space she created.

Teens' relationships form around texting, email, electronic game, video and the like. For a history project, Stryker and two buddies downloaded stuff from historical sites and made a documentary on the Civil War, with voice over, music and special effects. They got an A+ by the way (only if the Matron is going to be all generational and grumpy it's about the A+ and its staggering frequency. . . grrrr)

Cell phone? Stryker is already fully loaded with technological gear. He just wants an upgrade to the teenage years.

Whoops! As the Matron's posts sometimes do, this one took on a life of its own because she sees she is now giving a lecture. Let's turn off that mic (and you thought she actually planned these things out!)

Anyhoo -- the upbeat salesman took one look at that salivating 12 1/2 year old boy and the parent already intent upon making the purchase in the future --and that sharp upbeat young man focused in on THE most important part of that current picture: the five year old falling to the floor and weeping.


It took that long for the salesman to offer the Matron the deal that would make his commission -- phone with a half-price mail in rebate AND? By magic! He discovered some special discount that meant the phone would come without a monthly fee!!

Now the Matron has never ever given a child a Christmas present before Christmas --and that's what the phone was supposed to be.

Stryker caught the ball from the salesman and dribbled right up to that hoop.

"Mom? I'm in the science club! I built a laptop! I'm doing all my homework without being told! I'm getting straight As and A+s. I am proving myself the genius you desired in one of your children, thus fulfilling one of your dreams. You alone have the power to fulfill one of mine."

And he got on his knees. Now she had two children on the floor and Scarlett sagging suspiciously.

So she said yes. What the heck. Buddhists don't even celebrate Christmas.

But that phone?

She has never had so much maternal communication, dialogue, and dissect. Too much! Sure, she wants Bonding, Open Line Between Them and all that. But, Stryker?

You really don't have to have that much connection to your mother. Hang up!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Warning -- prochoice post

Merrick! 9 lbs, 11 ounces, 4:43 a.m. Feb 20, 2003

Before the Matron fully bloomed and she was Youngish Miss, she had her first child--Stryker. Here is how long Youngish Miss and her husband discussed becoming parents:

Youngish Miss: "Should we skip the diaphragm and see what happens? Just once. If I get pregnant, we'll know we're supposed to have children. If I don't, we're not."

John: "WHATEVER! Come here."

When the Youngish Miss found out that she was pregnant, she suffered some serious regret (not pretty but true). She wasn't sure motherhood was actually up her cigarette-smoking, alcohol-adoring, intellectually edgy, creatively potent, privacy-loving alley.

That baby? Was going to cramp her style. Plus, consider the weight gain! Stretch marks.

The unfinished dissertation.

Sigh. . . .

The Buddhist view on abortion sort of varies by continent. But the very Pro-Choice Youngish Miss dismissed that option at the get-go. Religious and moral reasons aside, she had political concerns. Because being married, well-educated and deciding NOT to use birth control and then having an abortion due to Unpleasant Emotion, would make her sort of the Poster Child for Bad Reasons to Have an Abortion and therefore, she herself personally would be playing right into those Pro-Life hands.

So political strategizing kept her pregnant.

At four months in and past the puking, she had settled into Acceptance, if not excitement. Then a very bad thing occurred.

Youngish Miss spent an afternoon with an infant.

Her sister-in-law (John's twin, we'll call her Jan) brought over her 4-month old son, Sam. Youngish Miss, Jan and the Proud Grandmother had tea and talked about that baby. And looked at that baby. Held the baby. Talked more about the baby. Took pictures of the baby.

Ever have one of those moments when the Red Sea parts or God otherwise sends you Vital Communique? The Matron vividly remembers this next moment, in brain-shattering Technicolor.

Youngish Miss was in her bedroom with Jan and Proud Grandmother and all three women were looking down at the baby while Jan moved his chunky little meat legs up and down and tugged at his arms and Proud Grandmother made apt observation about Sam's adorability, in all ways.

The light illuminated the bedroom, just so, and in that second, Youngish Miss understood that this afternoon was THE most boring time she had ever spent in her entire, entertaining lifetime and that this very moment might be the most BORING moment she experienced during that BORING afternoon.

She was not interested in that baby.

Throughout the next few months, she quietly took note of what happened to her when she was around babies:

  • She wanted to read a book

  • She needed a snack

  • Oh? Is it time to go already?

  • She yawned

  • She wasn't in the mood to touch, thank you

  • Where is that thing's mother?
When she admitted her complete disinterest in other people's infants to a few friends, they all reassured her -- it's different when it's your own.


The first problem was that once you have a baby, YOU ARE THE MOTHER. Unless somebody else happens to be around, you are required to take care of a baby 24 hours a day (literally), seven days a week. Or else you might get arrested.

This is grueling.

And for the Young Miss, largely, unpleasant. Turns out that her instincts and concerns were right -- Young Miss was not much of a baby person. She found her first two, well, tedious. Work. Struggle. Yawn. She never got enthusiastic about the baby fist grip or the first tummy flip. She had a hard time adjusting to the inability to get up, hop in the car and go to a grocery store or library whenever she felt the need.

Or shower.

Stryker was born without the sleep gene, so there was that, too. All in all, Young Miss so stumbled through and grumbled during Stryker and Scarlett's first year that when she got pregant a THIRD time, people who knew her well hugged her and said, "Haven't you been through enough?"

But a couple of things happened throughout that journey. First, babies grow into toddlers, then preschoolers and then (Hallelujah!) 4-year olds! There is nothing more magical than the self-sufficient, curious and beautiful 4-year old. Finally, four years into motherhood, Young Miss experienced the deal-maker.

More significantly, when she got pregnant for the last time at 39, Youngish Miss wasn't so young. Her laissez-faire attitude had suffered a few knuckle punches over the years. She lost her father. Jobs and houses and health had some major unexpected hiccups. Not-So-Youngish-Miss finally understood that bad things happen because many had recently happened to her.

So the third time, she appreciated success! She appreciated lightening speed conception at a ripe old age. She appreciated the miracle of a third perfect child. She appreciated that first month birthday, the baby's ability to eat with a spoon, the gift of big brothers and sisters.

Lest you think that Matronly edge softened entirely, not to worry -- appreciating isn't the same as being intellectually engaged. Still, lots of tedium and drill. Just that the third time around she was wise enough to be grateful (even as she still felt the need to read a book).

These days, the Matron enjoys holding a baby, now and again. The pleasure isn't in every detail but the bigger picture -- that astounding gift of new life, coming at her again. Babies remind her of her own place in history: tiny teeny. Miraculous and humbling, those bobbing reminders of mortality and life's cycle.

Oh, and those cigarettes? How did she solve that problem?

Took three years ON the gum. Not that she's addictive. (But if you're smoking an expensive French cigarette blow some smoke her way. . . . )

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Mood in Minnesota, November

November's gray is nearly complete--from the low-hanging sky to the newly bare trees, to the quickly dirty snow when it blankets the ground. Gray. Even the leaves, once a rich jeweled blaze, fall victim. Off the trees and flittering through the gutters, they darken and crumple, dead.

Time for some Rilke.


Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boy Germs

Outside of the suite of faculty offices sit two bathrooms, side by side. Women. Men. These are closet-size bathrooms for one -- just the basics, folks.

Now, the Women's Restroom is very busy. Its door? Revolving. Sometimes, there's a line. For about ten minutes before and after a flurry of classes start and end, there is always a line.

Remember, the Matron has a bladder the size of a pea. Thanks to a prolapsed uterus -- wait, thanks to MERRICK who weighed TEN POUNDS at birth--that pea now hoists up her football stadium-sized sagging sack of a uterus.

It took about 1/2 work day and thirty thousand trips to that bathroom and just ONE minute waiting in line for the Matron to decide to skip all this nonsense and use the Men's Restroom when the Women's was in Party mode. She never ever has to wait.

No man is aghast when she exits, either.

But the women?

Girlfriends! Men are not responsible for cleaning this bathroom! No, there is a very fine team of Janitorial staff, men and women, who get paid for keeping both bathrooms clean. And they are. The adult men using this toilet don't appear to have the Stream-Aim-Fire problem that leaves her own bathroom at home, well, messy.

Then there's this.

Merrick in bathroom: "Daddy! Daddy! Let's fight with out pee swords!" Everyone with a penis comes running and they ring around that potty and slash each other's pee. In the meantime, Scarlett and the Matron are busy deploying their own Uterine Tracking Devices to locate all the things the males lost or dropped or forgot about while they were playing with urine.

So this college sanitary Pee War Free Zone is just lovely. The toilet is scrubbed, daily. The sink and floor are clean. There's always plenty of toilet paper and paper towel.

The Matron has tried to convert the sisterhood, but they'll have none of it. Here's the Matron, sauntering past the line of women, waiting: "Use the men's bathroom. I do it all the time!"

Here's what she gets in return for that very fine unsolicted advice.

Ugh! Never.

No way. That's disgusting!!

Today, one young woman actually recoiled in horror. Consider that phrase for a moment -- we've all heard it. Recoiled in horror when the Matron suggested sullying herself so. Given that said young woman could have been seen exchanging salivia with her boyfriend about ten minutes earlier, the Matron thought her a complete hypocrite, all "boy germs' and such.

Then again, that young woman's uterus -- and breasts -- are probably sitting all high where they should be, she probably doesn't have children who sit in closets, build laptops or revel in warfare, and she isn't spending her mornings checking the house for rabid bats.

So the Matron wil continue to use the Men's Restroom. She's special that way! And in some others. . . .

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday, Meditation

Today, Todo Institute founder Gregg Krech gave the dharma talk. The Matron had no idea that there was a guest teacher in the house and once the meditation part was over and the topic announced?

She was annoyed. It IS possible to sit peevishly on a meditation cushion.

You see, Krech is an expert on Naikan, the Buddhist practice of relentless self-reflection and scrutiny.

This was the Matron's Internal Response: More navel-gazing! People. Plus, she is a therapy affeciando. The occassional six-week counseling session? A spa! Long-term theraputic relationships for the Young Miss? Life-saving!

And this was the kind of mood she was in. Before arriving at Clouds in the Water, she had this exchange with her husband.

John: "Why are we rushing? Doesn't it start at 9:30?"

Matron (in a purposely very pleasant voice): "Now, why would you think this started at 9:30 when we've been going there all fall at 9 am?"

Stryker: "Mom, I hate it when you do that."

Matron: "What?"

Stryker: "Talk down to Dad like that."

This exchange -- the conversation and the observation -- was a little burr on the Matron's skin. She wasn't very interested in reflecting on that burr at the Zen Center.

So Krech jumps right in by noting that our bodies soften as we age -- sometimes, so do minds. We might fight this, but there is no winning that battle. But our hearts? Our hearts both harden and soften--and frequently, the heart hardens more. As we age, tolerance shrinks. Belief systems become rigid and certain. The heart has been beaten up and locks that gate.

He asked us to consider our own hard heart--the heart that blames, shames, destroys, or reduces. He wondered if everyone in the room softened their hearts toward all beings, just a little, if we would operate differently during our day.

Krech described his Naikan training which involvled several one week retreats, during which he reflected on his relationships and his life for 100 hours a week. One moves year by year, starting with the first memory and person by person.

Here are the three question Naikan requires you to ask of each year, of each person.

1. What did I receive from this person (in this year)?
2. What did I give this person (in this year)?
3. What problems and difficulties did I cause this person (in this year)?

Is it possible, wondered Krech, to still be annoyed at your spouse for forgetting the dry cleaning or burning the dinner, when you're fully aware of what he/she has given you and the problems you've handed them, in return?

He challenged the sangha to start asking those three questions as part of a daily practice: mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, friend, colleague. What did I receive? Give? Problems and difficulties that I presented?

At this point, the Matron's heart was pure puddle and she had taken that burr and put it firmly in the palm of her hand, seeing how frequently she could be mean and demeaning. It wasn't pretty, but real.

Then, Krech addressed something that had long bothered the Matron in her role as Therapy Queen Bee. You see, even though she has had adequate theraputic oiling, she has not been much of a forgiver. The Matron's life includes some unpleasant stuff and if she is accountable for her part, then others are accountable (responsible!) for theirs. She can't get past that accountability/responsibility thing and that's where she stops, unable to forgive or, alas, forget.

Krech explained that he is not much of a fan of what psychology considers 'forgiving.'

Oh! Interested!

Indeed, Krech said that much 'forgiving' done in the name of therapy seems to be done from a position of superiority. The 'forgiver' has done the hard work and knows better than the person being forgiven. The 'forgiver' has 'moved on.' And isn't that better? The 'forgiver' has largesse and benevolance, the 'forgiven' left forever with the taint of crime.

Krech said it better but that sentiment resonated with the Matron. Then he told a long Buddhist story, from oh, like the year 500, which she won't repeat here. But the upshot was that instead of forgiving someone for their crime against you--or the simple mistake--you understand this as the 'thing' that person gave you.

When someone gives you something, you say thank you.

In this paradigm, gratitude is the end game instead of forgiveness. Because even when someone hands us something bad, a raw deal--injustice, pain, ignorance, anger, intolerance, disinterest, disdain--we get that raw deal and frequently, from that muck grows something different.

If you're living an examined, reflective life--a life with a softening heart--the raw deal can serve as a catalyst for new self-analysis, sharper vision. The more fully you embrace what others hae given you, bad and good?

Soft, soft heart.

So the Matron left the Zen Center about one million times humbler and more patient than when she arrived. Much to consider. Like all people, the Matron has been given much throughout a middle-aged life. Lots of goodies, some sticklers, and a few real stink bombs.

She has to consider how she carries these gifts, good and bad, even now. And who to thank for them.

Friends, she hopes she's set you on a bit of a journey yourselves - three questions can keep you busy for a lifetime.