Thursday, February 16, 2012

Observations and Joey's Journal

I would like to share these observations I have made about the human experience as I live and school in close quarters with my family:

-Unheeded advice often leads to frustration and discontent for both giver and recipient. 

-Taking responsibility is powerful for you and your relationships.

-While contentment is strongly influenced by who and what surrounds you, its ultimate source is your own attitude.


At this point, I'm conflicted whether to stop and say nothing more, or to go on and elaborate with some of what has inspired these observations.  On one hand, I've always liked keeping a journal, and this space is my journal this year.  My journal has always been a powerful place for me to codify and clarify my thoughts.  But it has always been completely personal.  This year, my journal is public.  This feels a bit strange.  I am concerned that I will be judged or boring or both.  Despite this, I will go on.  But know that what follows was not written to be read or judged.  It is like a first draft or a preliminary sketch--not a final draft.  It is not a call for help or comfort (or, ironically, for advice).  It is just my thoughts, put down to help me understand my experience and shared to provide the interested reader (perhaps me in the future!) with some further perspective and meaning.
.  .  .
I got to speak with Mark Simon today, which is always refreshing.  He told me that he recently emailed Eli with some advice and humor in relation to his Bar Mitzvah.  We agreed that Eli probably understood the humor.  We were less sure how the advice would be received.

Before even speaking with Mark today, I had been reflecting how, as "teacher/dad", I find myself giving lots of advice (or, similarly, instructions).  Generally, I think it is pretty good: Do your studies, Clean up after yourself, Be on time, Care for the animals, Treat each other with respect, Listen.  I'm usually heard.  I think my students/kids even usually listen and care.  But how well is the advice really internalized?  Remember Polonius in Hamlet with his tired: "Never a borrower nor a lender be"?  Or the parents in Charlie Brown: "Blah blah blah..."?

Often what I have to offer seems unwelcome and/or I have to repeat it.  This is frustrating for all involved--but not necessarily more frustrating than not giving the advice/ instruction at all and seeing things messy and undone!  For example, when I hold back from reminding Eli to practice his trumpet (or feed his dog, or clear his dishes off the table, or whatever), my blood boils while he fiddles his iPod instead. Later he is frustrated when he can't play a song well (or he receives some other natural or artificial punishment for not getting his work done).  Or, even worse, I get  blamed for how it has turned out because I took him away from school where he would surely be getting better at trumpet (see earlier blog entry: "Melancholy").

With this in mind, I thought about titling this journal entry "Frustration." But after starting to write, I don't really feel all that frustrated any more.  (Plus, on the heels of my "Melancholy" entry, I thought that might be a bit much--especially for some of our more compassionate readers).  While the frustration I describe is present, to distill the extent of my feelings that way would be inadequate. 

In place of simplifying, I'll try a more holistic approach.  This requires some background:

This year, Juliana and I took a leap.  We are following a dream.  We are responding to our own observations about life and heeding the advice of all those who keep telling us: "it goes by so fast." We've slowed down and the dream is good.  I have time to write and read and ski and travel and be.  But as I've said many times, it is still life with all of its accompanying wrinkles.  Once the novelty and excitement of "living the dream" passes, we still are inhabitants of our bodies, involved in our relationships with all of their complications, interacting with the unpredictable. 

Furthermore, there are the kids.  This wasn't their dream, necessarily.  They have been dragged along, following with varying degrees of resistance, acceptance, enthusiasm, and neutrality.  Really, this is always the way it is for kids.  Early in life, they follow along with their parents.  Eventually they begin to individuate and start making their own decisions.  My kids are just starting that process of individuation.  They are just figuring out who they are and what they want.  They aren't sure our dream is theirs.

Eli, in particular, is at a place of uncertainty.  This presents a challenge for all of us.  I love that kid.  I believe deeply in his abilities and heart.  Yet he has not learned (or often chooses not) to take responsibility.  So I end up in the position of giving the advice I have been describing.

I'll indulge in considering another example involving the young man: lets say we have a plan to ski tomorrow.  The night before, Eli is given the advice/ reminder to prepare himself for the morning.  He sighs heavily and may or may not do it.  In the morning, he ends up rushing and apologizing and getting frustrated with himself.  We are late.  I have some choices: 1) remind him some more or help him, 2) leave him behind, 3) just stand by and let us be late.  All of these are a bummer for me and him: 1) we are both annoyed by what has become nagging and/or he is "enabled" by my help and more likely to continue the behavior, 2) we both have a less good day--he is at home, I ski alone, 3) I'm mad at him for making us late and he feels bad about it.  It should be noted that I have tried all of these options more than once.  I dream of a new possibility: 4) he takes responsibility. 

I don't want to be unnecessarily hard on my children.  But it also seems there are some basic rules of engagement--responsibilities--that must be followed (consider the list from above that started with "Do your studies").  I understand change is gradual.  Though "it goes by so fast", growing up also takes time.  I think growth is what we are striving for here.  And some of the change needs to come from me, too: let it go, let them fail, don't be overly attached to outcome.  But it isn't always that simple as often their potential failure effects others--like me (as I tried to illustrate in the ski departure example). 

I hope they will learn (and at this moment, I refer in particular to Eli).  I hope I can find the balance to support them while also letting them be.  Ultimately, their mistakes lead to their own frustration and their own desire to change.  But we're in this together, so often the challenges are mine--the whole family's--to share. 

Everything around us is so perfect as we "live the dream".  I have time to write and reflect.  We talk.  I think I can sound my advice and still find a place of ease when it is not heeded.  Though it can come with frustration, I appreciate the opportunity our interaction brings to for us all to question our habits and methods and to grow.
 .   .   .
P. S. I started these reflections by clarifying that they were just a sketch of my thoughts and not intended as writing to be read, per se.  I also said I was not seeking help or support.  These statements are true.  But if you have read this far, I am curious about your related thoughts and experiences.  With the busyness of most folks' lives, I realize there is not lots of time for written reflection, but I'm interested, should you want to share.

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