Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Kids and creeks

Water and children—they go together like peas and carrots.

The home where I grew up had a seasonal stream in the back yard, small and friendly, that flowed down from a natural spring on the hill behind the yard. My parents still live in that same house; we go southward to visit them, and once there, I often end up losing track of my young son. When I seek him? Inevitably, I locate the kid hunkered down on the edges of that little creek; it still flows there when rains are plentiful.

He has to keep his balance because it's a deep-set trickle, with a grassy slope on either side that descends to the tinkling sparkle. Sometimes he has found a rock to settle on, and sometimes he's just folded his legs on themselves; I find him gazing at the water's bright surface, listening and watching the flow. More often, though, he is hard at work on some small, strange, water-related task: giving an ant a ride on a leaf boat, or building a waterfall, or trying to create a dam for the tiny swimmers in the water. It's very serious work, this water world re-design; I am reminded of a quote by kid expert Maria Montessori, about how "play is the work of the child." It is absolute truth to me, as I watch my little dude build, excavate, place and replace rock ledges, set various insects adrift, toss in sticks to see them float, and rock back on his haunches with satisfaction as he directs the diminutive cascade in his desired direction.

I remember doing the same thing at his age, even when I was older. I could sit by that water and lose myself in the musical sound, in the endless flow to points known and unknown. Toys made their way to the creek, visiting children got muddy there and loved it, and even my fashionable, wasp-waisted Barbie dolls took a few wild rafting rides after heavy storms.

I watch my son staring in that running water, how the sun reflected on its surface also makes light dance across his serious yet delighted face; the creek is alive, still drawing life to it after all these years.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spewings of a discouraged, uptight visionary

There was an old eighties song with this refrain: "What are words for when no one listens anymore?" (Remember that song, that band, the singer with her trademark breathy, squeaky style? You do? Then you, too, are old.) But the song stuck with me, and I keep singing it to myself lately. More true, it is, every day. (Now I'm being Yoda.)

When I was young, I loved words. I loved to read, to write, to journal, to gab for hours and hours on the telephone. Words were magical, a sanctuary for me, a means of achieving change and growth, of acquiring new relationships and knowledge. Back then, I put a lot of stock in words.

Years passed, and I began teaching school. I honestly became aggravated by my own voice; perhaps every teacher does at times. And then there was grad school, where words themselves started to become tiresome. Often, nothing new was being said, it was only being expressed in a different way. I wasn't quite as enamored of words; I stopped short before finishing the Master's. I just didn't want more words in my world.

I switched careers, and technical writing and editing fit better, because it encouraged a more terse, to-the-point style of writing. Fewer words seemed like a good idea; being taciturn was downright appealing to me.

Words took center stage once again when I had my baby. Watching a child learn to understand language, then try to speak for himself, is fascinating. I grew tired of the sound of my endless voice, explaining, conversing, reading aloud, but it paid off. Thankfully, my son speaks and reads well.

But now? It seems I release my words into the wind, where they soar away, unheard, resented, ignored. My words have become traps, because what I say can and will be used against me. The words I employ are almost always displeasing to others, because they involve responsibility, work, jobs, schedules and timetables, commitments no one wants to keep. I am the lone Type A, and therefore I am the regular bearer of bad news.

I was recently accused by my partner; he informed me that I love telling people what to do. Truly, I do not. I am a reluctant leader. On personality tests, I always score high in leadership yet low in soft edges and relational skills, and I know that about myself: I'm effective but often insensitive when in charge. I don't enjoy leading, just like I didn't enjoy teaching; since I know I can be a cruel leader, I am guilt-stricken the entire time I'm doing it. Am I being too black-and-white? Do those I'm leading find me callous? Will I achieve anything other than hurt feelings? Usually, I end up leading only because there is a lack of leadership and an abundance of indecision, which I can't stand. Sometimes others are willing but not able—or the others who want to lead would clearly wreak havoc for various reasons.

I tried to defend myself, to explain to the accuser that I don't enjoy telling people what to do. I don't. But someone has to do it. To make matters worse, I told him, I am skilled not only at seeing inefficiencies, but also in foreseeing danger and mishaps and the like. I imagine the near future, and all sorts of avoidable but probable events leap out with crisp clarity. I want to help people get work done faster, reach their destination sooner, avoid any silly foibles. I want to help them steer clear of painful consequences, of injuries and unfortunate occurrences. And a lot of times, I am right; the things I foresee with concern pan out just as I'd feared. I hate it. There's no joy in being right about that stuff, just as there's no joy in leading when you know you're likely leaving a wake of bitterness.

I ponder the rest of my life, and I feel laden with the burden of silence. In all human situations where I'm involved at more than a surface level, I will be required to either bite my tongue or annoy people. Always. And how can I bite my tongue every time? Work still needs to be done, projects still need to be completed, meals need making, shopping must happen, laundry and tasks and cards and gifts and homework checks and appointments... how to accomplish it all without speech? Must I be the responsible, nagging wife and mom for all my days? And there's anxiety in being that one who supposedly "loves telling people what to do": I fear for my son and husband if I die. I ask my friends, Please, check in on them. Make sure they don't become hoarders, make sure the kid still goes to school, eats something other than pizza.

Would a big chalkboard work? A daily agenda that is written and need not be spoken? Doubtful. I fear it would go unseen, as do the jobs, assignments, timely meals, household messes, grass un-mown... It would likely be one more thing to go unnoticed by them, and yet one more item on my to-do list ("#47-update daily agenda"). I am weary, so weary.

I wish I would remember that no one is listening, and that more importantly, people learn best by doing... even if that do-ing involves falling flat on one's face. I wish I could remember to pray more and talk less,. And I really wish I were a mature enough Christian to say that I find as much satisfaction in God's working things out instead of me warning, reminding, carping, and then saying, "I told you so." No one likes hearing that.

Alas, I am not that big a person—yet.
I'm a small man in some ways, Bart. A small, petty man.
-Principal Skinner from The Simpsons