10-Minute Meditations: Summer of Anxious Parenting


First week in August. That means here in Fickle-Spacetime-land we’re fast approaching deep summer, where the days get shorter and the hum of the nighttime insects gets heavy and thick. There’s a sense that the wildlife has settled in. Life in general is operating smoothly: leaves have their chlorophyll, mosquitoes their flesh to feed on. Nothing to do now but wait for that awful slide into cold, gray, sludgy autumn, and then start looking over your shoulder for the snow and ice to set in.

God, I hate winter.

I don’t know if that’s going to be different this year. We’ve kind of had a packed summer, you see. Lots of visiting and vacationing and camp, camp, camp. You’d think that summer would be a relaxing, fun time for kids and parents alike. This year, though, it seems like I can’t keep my head on straight for all the new scheduling I have to do. Instead of wandering down the block to the bus stop, I have to pick up Little Fickle at his camp a whole hour and a half earlier than he gets home from school. Then, what to do with Little Fickle (a chatty seven-year-old) in all that extra time? Stick him in front of the computer for two hours? No, can’t have that. He’s on the spectrum, so too much unstructured screen time isn’t good for him. The Parenting Police would haul me away. Or else I’d suffer the sort of existential paralysis that happens because we twenty-first-century parents feel like we need to interfere with and coordinate every waking minute of our children’s lives, or else Something Bad Will Happen at some future date.

That’s what it feels like to me, at least, even though I try to stay away from parenting manuals and other mom-advice literature (because it all makes me even more anxious). Or maybe I’m just reacting to a parenting culture I don’t understand. Around here, there are a lot of nannies, a lot of part-time dads, and many, many people who seem baffled by (what seems to me, at least) relatively easy stuff.

Here’s an example: Little Fickle and I went to get some ice cream the other day. We came out of the store, frozen treats in hand, only to find a group of kids and parents already sitting on the sidewalk steps. Not a big deal, until everyone leaped up and pressed themselves against the storefront. I heard the buzz of a cicada nearby, and the father of two elementary-school girls said something like, “I think that big guy’s done for.”

“It’s so big! Is it a wasp?” one of the girls said.

I wandered over. “It’s a cicada,” I told her. Because it clearly was. A big, fat cicada on its back, flailing around like it was desperately treading water.

Even after I told them what it was, no one in the group moved. A knot of people–two adults and three kids–with frozen treats melting in their hands, stood and stared at an insect (albeit a big, loud one) and did nothing but watch it struggle. The older boy in the crowd didn’t even offer to step on it.

I suppose I was the only one there who knew what a cicada was, and that it wasn’t dangerous or lethal. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why they let me walk down the steps and start trying to nudge it with my sandal into some mulch. They all stood, silent and unmoving, when soon after I bent over and tried to scoop it up with a napkin, so I could get it away from the seating area and it could do its frantic death dance in peace. (At one point, it was spinning so fast it made a perfect pinwheel.)

I must have inadvertently set it on its feet, because after a few seconds of me and my fumbling napkin, the cicada stopped whirling and took off. “Bye!” I said, not knowing what else to say to an insect that I’d been told was dying but apparently wasn’t. The group of people I’d saved from a harmless creature never said thank you. They meandered to another spot on the sidewalk and left the steps to my son and me. Maybe that was what we got in return for intervening. The little girl who was afraid of wasps asked me what cicadas do. “I think they hang out in trees and buzz,” I said, which wasn’t a particularly useful response, either. Her dad, meanwhile, had started checking his iphone, while the mother and the older boy had disappeared into the store.

This isn’t much of a story, I know, and it seems designed to make me look like the hero of the story, the Knight in Shining White Armor or the civilized woman in the land of ungrateful brutes, which I kind of feel like I was. I really can’t shade this one in any socially palatable way. The kids’ fears I understand, but the fact that the other adults on the scene made no effort to do anything other than let me clean things up, like I was the babysitter, makes me wonder if they can deal with snot or shit or vomit without help. Has the whole country become so infantile? Should I start teaching my son survival skills, so that he’ll know how to cope when civilization crumbles around him?

Oy. Truthfully, I try not to dwell on apocalyptic slippery slopes most of the time. That’s a symptom of my anxiety disorder, one of the many medical issues I shepherd around with me on a day-to-day basis. For Little Fickle, we’ve instituted a nice little routine after camp. He comes home, goes to the bathroom, tells me three things about his day to jot down in a notebook (otherwise he forgets what he’s done), then we have Mommy-Little Fickle time, where we take turns picking activities to do together. Many times the activity involves watching TV, but I don’t care. Most days, I figure parenting is probably much simpler than I make it out to be. Plus I know what a cicada is. And so does my son.

Okay, way past time to stop for today. Self-righteous net-rant over. Bye for now, Fickle Readers!

10-Minute Meditations: The Chatter That Goes On In My Head

Yesterday, I lied about writing up the chatter that goes on in my head. No, yesterday’s post–the first of the ten-minute meditations I’m making myself do each day–is more like what comes out of my head when I focus on one thought and channel that train of thought onto the page. (It’s not particularly coherent, I know, but that’s what appears when I sit down and launch into written language.)

What goes on in my head is much more tiresome and repetitive. I think about all the things I need to do, or remember to do. Like cleaning the house. I ruminate on cleaning the house quite a bit–to the point where I feel like I’ve done something already, and then the next thing I know I look in that corner and the mess is still there and I’m convinced I’m a worthless schlub that’s incapable of taking care of a house.

You see the problem with this kind of process.

Just the other day, I had a five-minute stare-down with a silverfish I found on the bathroom door. (I myself was seated on the toilet.) Over and over, I thought to myself: I’m going to kill that thing. I’m so going to kill that thing. After I’m done sitting here, I’m going to get up and walk over and squish that little slip of hairy legs and antennae with a wad of toilet paper. I wanted to inscribe this on my memory like Hamlet scratching “avenge my father’s most foul murder” on the tablets of his mind. (Hah! See what I did there? Shakespeare Is Everywhere! SIE!!!)

But we all remember how well Hamlet’s tablet-scratching went. He says those lines at the end of Act 1, right after meeting the ghost of his father. “Remember me,” the ghost says before he disappears. And then Hamlet says, in essence, “By gum, I’ll remember!” Then he spends the rest of the play remembering, or goading himself to remember, or testing himself to see if his father’s injunction is worth remembering, or chastising himself for not remembering the right way.

This is how my mind works. Any task–cleaning the house, squishing a bug, even working on my writing–goes through this painstaking process. I am not spontaneous. I guess this is also why I loathe Hamlet so much: he reminds me too much of myself. Friggin’ Prince of Denmark.

And I think I’ve overrun my ten minutes by now. I’m not much of a clock-watcher, either, unless there’s something I must must must do, like pick up my kid from camp.

And that sentence at the top of the last paragraph? I rolled that over and over in my mind, trying to keep it there before I forgot it. That happens a lot with things I’m unwilling to forget.

Must write that down, must write that down.

New Writing Challenge: 10-Minute Meditations

Hey, Fickle Readers! Someday, I’ll get back to Mighty Tiny Bill and his imprisonment in plastic, but today I’m starting a new challenge for myself: writing on the blog for 10 minutes a day.

I don’t know if I can achieve this every single day. I don’t even know if I can hold myself to writing for ten minutes. I tend to write forever. And ever and ever and ever. Then I get bored and stop. That’s how my fickle mind works. I have scraps of ideas, essays, stories, poems, and notes littering my hard drive. Sometimes I read them, and I actually like them, and I’m reading along and they end. Then I wish I’d finished them, because I want to see how things turn out. But as poet and fiction writer Annabel Banks tweeted this morning: “Reading process = inspiring. (Writing process = hard!)”

Oh, Annabel, how I wish I could alter this universal set of equations. If only writing were the easy part. Then I’d be coughing up readable material like Neil Gaiman in a thunderstorm. But alas, I’m only me, and I have no magician’s wand to wave, turning all ambitious writers into Shakespeares or Neil Gaimans or Jane Austens or Joyce Carol Oatses or Zora Neale Hurstons or Haruki Murakamis. And now my ten minutes are up, so I can’t even resolve the can of worms I just opened up.

Peace out, Fickle Readers. This is the chatter that goes on in my head.

Let’s Look at Pictures: Back from Vegas Edition

First, I should say that I can barely put words together right now. I felt this slide into speechlessness and fatigue happen right after dinner. And lemme tell ya: it sucks. I know, I know, that’s my mantra these days. But I’ve always loved being busy, doing everything, absorbing the whole world and then finding more to do.

Funny–that’s sort of like Las Vegas. It’s probably why I love that absurd party town in the desert, that fist in God’s eye, that irrational need for 24-hour pleasure gone just a little further into batshit-crazy territory.

It doesn’t make sense that I love Vegas as much as I do. I’m not a gambler or a heavy drinker. I tend not to like loud music or tacky advertising or, well, people in general. I’m an introvert who flirts with the autism spectrum. I like the feeling of being all alone, a guru on a hill.

But then there’s Vegas, where everything I dislike about the outside world meshes in such a beautiful rush that I can’t help getting caught up in it. I love the flow of bodies on the Strip. I love the chaos of meandering vacationers and conventioneers. I love that you can find another universe across the street, even though you can’t escape the same damned slot machines burbling away, or the identical alcoholic slushy bars, or the two or three companies that own, like, 90% of all the primo casino real estate. (The MGM group owns something like 15 different casinos. Where’s a good old-fashioned trust-breaker when you need one?)

I love taking it all in. It’s a bombastic shriek of cheesy culture all crammed together in one spot. And then if you want, you can take off into the desert where there’s nothing but mountains and rock and Joshua trees and miles and miles of empty space.










So I’m back from a 10-day Vegas vacation. On top of everything else, I’m guessing I have the post-vacation blues.