One day, Pam and Gave went to the little library in Bartlett that was hosting a story time. I got to go and hike Mt Tremont. It’s a wonderful hike about 3,300 ft, short, steep, excellent views. I had 3 hours of solitude. It was blissful and of course it gave me time to think. I got to thinking about this blog and wanting to write about this trip and how aside from just being busy and not having time to write, there is something else that keeps me from writing. Its this fear, that if I were truly honest about who we were and what we do, it would be too much for people, they would get scared away.
I have had to do a great deal of hiding in my life, I have gotten quite good at it. Growing up Jewish, working class and then later, Queer; there has been a constant feeling in my life of either needing to hide who I am to fit in, or pretending I belonged even though I did not. I grew up poor, in a middle class neighborhood. My father spent the better part of my childhood unemployed and searching for work and I don’t remember ever talking with any of my friends about this. Of course there was a certain amount of shame, but it was more than that, I wanted to just fit in and not have that be at the center of my friendships, I feared that if I came out about my family’s financial struggles my friends wouldn’t be able to relate to me. It was almost as If I was protecting my friends from my life.
Growing up, my last name was often mistaken for French and for several years during middle school and high school, I simply did not correct people. I didn’t want to come out as Jewish. Of course if someone outright asked me if I was Jewish, I would have said, yes, but I wasn’t going to offer that information up.
Then of course, there is my sexuality. Which looking as I do, I often get mistaken for being straight and again, I am in a position of deciding to come out or not. Of course, there are times when I have to weigh whether it is safe to come out about being queer, but mostly I have decided and re-decided to take the leap of faith and to come out. Part of this is not so much protecting myself, its this weird feeling that I have to protect other people from feeling uncomfortable around me. In my adult life I have decided to continuously work through these fears. I am out, I am proud. I am a queer, Jewish, working class, married mother. I will not hide who I am. I don’t have to protect any one from myself any longer.
Well, I decided on my hike that my next blog was going to be about coming out to you all. Which involves the even bigger challenge of our camping trip, which was parenting Gave the way we do with out a whole lot of privacy. As I mentioned previously, we strongly believe in giving Gave abundant opportunities to feel his feelings. We believe that providing him space and attention to have his feelings will allow him to have more of his mind, behave rationally and empathetically. The process of giving him this space and attention can look very disturbing to folks who aren’t in the know, which happens to be most people.
Ok, here it is. We do this thing called Re-evaluation Counseling (RC) or Co-Counseling. It’s where two people get together and trade time giving each other attention. During this time the idea is to discharge (release, express) feelings by crying, shouting, laughing, shaking, yawning, shivering etc. In a typical session, each person takes some time while the other person pays deep attention and listens. Its all about remembering the person’s innate goodness. All while saying little more than encouraging the person who is “clienting” to feel what ever is coming up for them. The theory is that because most of us were not given the opportunity to express our hurts from our childhood, they get stored in our brains as false recordings about ourselves. As we walk through the oppressive society in which we live, all of the new insults and hurts that get hurled at us get attached to these false recordings. They grow bigger, like a snow ball and result in a lot of confused, irrational adults who can’t think clearly about present upsets, because we are constantly responding to things as we did when we were five. Ideally we want to experience every new moment as it truly is, a new moment; not some recreation of a time when we were powerless and not in control of our lives (i.e. childhood). It’s radical work, I have been practicing RC, for about 13 or 14 years. I introduced Pam to it and she was immediately into it. If she hadn’t been hooked by the theory before we had Gave, she certainly got hooked after. We both marvel at how much sense it makes and really wonder how we would even handle parenting with out it.
A typical “session, or time in” as we sometimes call it, with Gave, or any child looks a little different than two adults. For one thing, we don’t take turns. Gave doesn’t listen to us, after we listen to him. The other bigger difference is that its non permissive. We decide as his parents, as the adults, that he needs a session, or time in.
Here is what typically happens. We ask something of Gave, like “let’s brush teeth, or let’s put on shoes or let’s clean up your toys.” During many of these moments he can (and then subsequently will) be cooperative. However, sometimes he just can’t. Often we look at young children and think they are making the choice to not be cooperative, however that is not the case with children. If they can, they will. It is that simple. So if they aren’t cooperating it is not because they won’t, it is because they can’t. See the difference? It is subtle, but it is huge.
Something is getting in his way and he needs us to get in there with him. Of course, the feelings getting in his way are painful at a deep level, you know those times when you just feel shitty and you don’t have the words to even describe what is going on but you know on some level that you just need a “good cry.” So we move in, hold him close, stay connected, give him good eye contact and say “We are right here for you…We have good attention for you…We want you to have these feelings…we are not confused”. Because the feelings are painful, he fights feeling them (think of reaching for a piece of chocolate, zoning out on Facebook, etc). So he rails against us, he cries, he hits, he fights, he tries to get away. We hold him close, keep him safe from himself and from really hurting us. And mainly we do things to keep him discharging these hard feelings, all the while looking at him with loving attention, genuinely pleased that he is getting the opportunity to get these feelings out.
He tries to not feel these feelings, sometimes by trying to suck his fingers and twirl his hair. These are things that comfort him and that numb him. We do not let him do this. Most people would think we are nuts. When he was little and he would suck his two fingers people would say, “Oh, you have a self- soother, you are so lucky, I tried so hard to get my son to suck his thumbs.” It isn’t that we don’t want him to be able to soothe himself, we do. We do want him to be able to soothe himself, mostly out in the world where people are not going to have the attention for him and we want him to know that when we do have attention for these feelings (and sometimes we don’t) that we want him to use that attention to get those hurts out. Interestingly, sometimes he will do those things that he knows will lead to a session, even as he is saying that he doesn’t want one. He is testing, do they have attention for me? After a session we will often ask him how it went, does he feel better and he always nods yes.
So, the bigger challenge, as I mentioned is how to give him this attention in our lovely campground? So what did we do? We went in the car! And all I could think of while I was giving Gave this loving attention and he is saying, no, screaming; “I’m all done, with this session. Stop, you are hurting me. Ow, Ow, Ow! I don’t want this, please stop doing this to me”. Is that, someone was going to call the police on us, or DSS, or at the very least the campground host would come knocking on the car window and see my 3 year old son squirming in my lap. Me holding him and trying to make eye contact, all while telling him I am right here for him and that I am so glad he is taking this opportunity to share his feelings with me, while he is kicking me and the gear shift and I am pulling his fingers out of his mouth, because I know as soon as I let him suck his fingers he ends his session and pulls his attention out and we are both sweating profusely, because the windows are rolled up. And how would I even begin to explain? …
“Well, it starts with all of us being completely good, you see, just a little confused”, I would say.
…Uh huh, I could see her saying, looking at me sideways. Sort of like maybe you all are looking at me now. But there it is, I am out and here we go…. More to come.