tamarjacobson

Looking back and thinking forward

Month: February, 2013

It’s never okay to hit a child

I could not help crying silently this morning as I started out my drive to work. The morning was peaceful. The usual, feeding of the cats, playing my few Internet Scrabble moves with Facebook friends and my nephew, yoga exercises and meditation, and a soothing shower. I boiled an egg and made a lax and cream cheese sandwich for the road, and after imbibing what seemed like a million vitamins and a potassium filled banana, I headed out to the university. Nine in the morning, the traffic had slowed to a comfortable pace, and I turned down a side street that would lead me out to the main highway. As the car pulled around to the left, my eyes attached themselves suddenly to a woman slapping a three year old child so hard that she fell to the sidewalk on her back. It literally took my breath away. I gasped out loud and pulled the car to the side of the road not sure how to react. Thank goodness, the little girl was wearing a down jacket that must have cushioned her fall. The woman dragged her up by her arm and pushed her to walk ahead. The child was sobbing . As I pulled myself together, tears streaming down my own cheeks uncontrollably, I noticed that the woman was holding a toddler on her hip and seemed to have tied to her front, a baby covered by a blanket shielded from the cold. The woman was clearly overwhelmed. I did not assume she was the children's mother, although it looked as if she was. I drove slowly forward, wiping away my tears, and staring at the little group as they walked slowly along the sidewalk. By now the woman had noticed I was staring and she put her hand out to the little girl who was still weeping. She pushed her ahead slightly more gently. I seemed paralyzed, stuck, and somehow unable to drive away. I did not want to leave the child, and yet there was nothing I could do. I was in hell, completely identified with the sobbing three year old. Finally, the woman glared at my staring interference, I quickly pulled myself together, and drove away. 

As I drove, I wept silently, all the while thinking of the little girl as she was slapped down onto the sidewalk. I was kicking myself for not having pulled the car to a stop and run out to help the woman, who seemed so overwhelmed with the children, the morning walk – whatever it was. Why did I not come to the rescue, just to show all of them that somebody cared? Instead, I sat frozen and stuck wallowing in pain and grief at all the insult, violence and hurt that small child was enduring on this wintry morning. 

I remembered how a couple of the participants at the keynote I presented in Ada, Oklahoma, last Saturday, had stated that hitting children was good. That the bible declared it so: spare the rod and spoil the child. They debated with me when I put up a slide that read: "It's never okay to hit a child. You don't have to hurt me to teach me." I considered the life of the young woman this morning as she carried two small children on her body and needed the third one to walk alongside obediently.  At three years of age, the little girl was the oldest, and had to give up all rights to her childhood needs: perhaps to dawdle along the way just being in the moment to stop and look at things as they appeared. If she was "needing attention," probably she deserved it still being so young and needing her mother's love as much as the other two clinging to the woman's body. How lonely and cold that morning must have felt for that three year old child. How hurtful adults must seem to her. 

And then again, how could the woman be a good mother to all three needy souls simultaneously? What if all she knew was beatings and pain from when she was a child? I was emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed as I drove along the highway to work. After about half an hour I managed to stop crying, and twenty minutes later I was pulling into the driveway at the university. I parked my car and walked thoughtfully into the building. My body seemed to ache in all sorts of places, as if I had been on a long hike. 

I wondered almost out loud, "How could there be a God, who allows small children to live in hell?"

Alleviating the burden

 Quote of the day:

Well, most days I feel like I have to to accomplish way more than any
person should or possibly can do in a single day

Thinking back to what my colleague reported a few days ago, I imagine that many parents feel the way she did before she experienced what she termed as: a mini meltdown. It made me wonder what I, as an early childhood educator, might do to alleviate the stress for parents of young children. 

For starters, I could stop judging them! Especially since I know that everyone parents differently. Mostly, we have learned how to parent from our families, three generations back. And all families are different. Their styles, experiences and biases vary from one to another. So, who am I to judge? Who says my family's way is the right way, anyway? 

Second, I could learn how to support and validate the adults who care for the children in my classroom. For, when I listen to them with an open heart and mind, they are able to trust me thus enabling them to feel safe, calm and, even proud of the way they parent their children. To this end, I might purchase boxes of tissues in case parents want – or need – to cry. Sometimes their lives are so busy, stressful and filled with impossible self-expectations that they just need to vent a little, or a shoulder to cry on. Hence the tissues! Dear early childhood educator – be sure to stock up on those, if you really care about supporting parents. Sometimes all they need is validation for some of the feelings that they might be ashamed of admitting to. 

I do so wonder why we are so hard on ourselves. Sometimes I hear a voice in my head that says things to me I would never dream of saying to anyone else: Self deprecating and insulting comments about how stupid, ugly, fat, lazy, irresponsible I am, and on and on. This morning, for example, I walked up to my study before the break of dawn. As I bent down to click on the switch of the coffee maker, I thought to myself, "Why did you eat so much last night, you fat thing!" It was a harsh thought – admonishing, and I felt my face tense up with dislike at me and what I had done. There wasn't a touch of kindness or understanding in the way I thought it. I looked up in the soft light of the lamp I had switched on. Oscar and Mimi were sitting upright on the carpet, looking at me hoping for a treat. Their little faces were sweet and welcoming and I smiled at them gently. Then I thought to myself, "Why couldn't I smile at me like that? Why couldn't I be more understanding and kinder to myself?" As a fellow writer termed it most recently, " …  my internal editor has been attacking non-stop …"

Indeed, we are our own harshest critics. But we must have learned this from someone, somewhere, in our earliest childhoods in order for it to rise up out of subconscious, and to stick so viciously, unrelentingly, unforgivingly over and over again.

Surely, there is a different, kinder way to guide our youngest children to fit in with our social norms, without those harsh criticisms that tear them down and leave them with those memories about themselves forever?

Retaining the joy

Quote of the day:

Right now, in this moment, there are so many things that are good, that are right in your world. Focus on those. Notice what changesGeneen Roth

For one reason or another recently I felt especially joyous and triumphant, and as the old self-punishment habits for happy feelings crept up on me, I found myself in a metaphorical game of tennis with them.

Reaching up high I made a powerful serve sharing my joy with colleagues, friends, and family. If my joyous serve was returned with anything other than positive responses, I pulled back slowly, sized up my feelings, and then with great confidence and strength, firmly planted yet another strong stroke into the opposing court. With each come-back I scored a point sending fears, guilt, or feelings of shame out of there. And every time I scored, it seemed as if feelings of joy grew stronger. Sometimes into elation, and even pride and self-worth.

Joy eludes as fast as it arrives. And yet this week I was able to retain it for days. 

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Mercury Morning

The blog connects

Yesterday morning, a colleague stopped by my office. She poked her head around the door and said, "I don't know if this would count as guilt for your blog, but do I have a story for you!"

She continued:

… Well, most days I feel like I have to to accomplish way more than any
person should or possibly can do in a single day.
 For the most part, I
handle this pretty well and take it in my stride! Basically, I am a very
happy person. However, there are always those days where a mini
meltdown occurs anyway. For example, on Friday night, I had reached my
boiling point (through no fault of anyone) so I left the half cooked dinner
in the oven, put my 3 year old in front of the TV, told my husband, "I'm
done for the day." Then, I grabbed my Kindle and got in bed (oh yea…
it was only about 6:30)!  

After resurfacing later in the
evening, I emailed a good friend and colleague who I knew could relate. I retold her my story of the evening's events. Her email response
said, "Well, my day started with a dead fish!" I'm not sure who trumps
who there, but it is good to have friends to relate to what you are
going through in your life
.

I was delighted that she told me her story, because I realized that other parents or teachers might connect or relate to my new blog in similar ways. The fact that it existed had already encouraged my colleague to think about her feelings and interactions as a parent.  

I asked her to email me her story, and received permission to post it on my blog. She responded immediately.

New adventures, new territory

Even though it feels a little daunting, I have started writing a third blog called: The Good Mother: A Handbook of Guilt for Parents.

Expectations and the complexity about how to be a good parent has been on my mind for some time, and recently I realized that I am now psychologically ready to explore it further in a blog with a format all its own. I am hoping that people will comment and share their views about what I write, because after all, what constitutes a good parent for most people is deep and personal. Early childhood feelings are embedded in the emotional memory of our brain. No doubt about it, we remember how we were parented for the rest of our lives. Of course, what we choose to do with all these memories is where it becomes intriguing and exciting for me to think and write about. 

Yesterday at work, I walked down the hallway and mentioned the title of my new blog to a couple of colleagues. They exploded with encouragement and then immediately began sharing their own expectations and standards about good parenting. Before long, they were reflecting on how they were raised as children, and the ways that affected the way they were mothers to their own offspring. I thought to myself, "I just have to mention the title, and the subject takes care of itself!" Indeed, most likely everyone who is a parent has thoughts and feelings on the subject. I am not alone in this!

So, now I am excited. It's like packing for a new adventure, heading out into new territory. A road stretches out in front of me and, quite frankly, I don't know where it might lead. As with all travel I have a general idea about where I would like to go, a few expectations, and some imagination. I will, of course, continue to write, right here on Mining Nuggets, reflecting and ruminating about life in general, and the development of my psyche in particluar.

And I say to all who take the time to read my ramblings: "Stop by! Welcome! Come on in and join the fun!"

The Good Mother (Update)

I cannot
remember the exact moment in my life when I decided that I would be a good mother. I think it might have been in my late teens, early adulthood. In
fact, I wanted to be the mother of all
mothers
. I had the perfect model in mind. It was clear to me that if I was
in touch with my child’s emotions, loved him unconditionally, and gave him
everything he needed or wanted he would have the perfect childhood and would
live happily ever after. I just needed to be present for him emotionally and then
all would be well. It was a simple, purist view of my self that blocked out
complexities of relationships, and did not take into account the fact that I
was young, human, and fallible. It was an omnipotent view that denied any other
person’s role in my son’s life as having influence or importance. I would be
solely responsible, and, thus, to blame for whatever happened to my child –
forever. Indeed, I would be a saint, modeling my feelings and behaviors after a
Maria-type fantastical stereotype – all-loving unconditionally and
self-sacrificing at all times through even the most challenging moments. I left
myself no space for failure or real life situations.

As I
write this, my mother is well into her nineties. Even though she is  no
longer able to walk, she knits and is still an avid reader. In fact, a couple of years ago she knitted me a blanket in pinks,
lavenders and greens with brown and peach colors splashed throughout. The blanket reminds me of her love for me even as she grows so
old. I look over at the blanket lying warmly, gently over our sofa, and think
back to my childhood. It was a complicated time in my mother’s life, and not
easy for me. Indeed, growing up my relationship with my mother had some rocky
moments accompanied by feelings of abandonment, exclusion, and longing.

When I
was young and beginning to process repressed early childhood anger and pain, I
decided I would be the mother I had always wished I had, and not model myself
after the one I had grown up with. As I have become older – with an
adult son almost forty, more and more I want to understand my own mother’s
motivations, struggles and challenges as well as the decisions she made, and I find that I am more able to forgive her for the pain she
caused me as a child. And yet, there is much to explore about how she considered herself as a good parent to her five children. After all, she did not
have an easy childhood either.

Long years ago, when I left Africa for Israel, my mother gave me a picture called the Madonna of the Lilies. It was an old-fashioned picture post card in
an artificial gold embossed frame, probably from the nineteen twenties or
thirties. A wispy, young woman in a diaphanous gown, who was standing in a garden surrounded by tall, white lilies, portrayed the Madonna in the picture. In her arms she
looked down lovingly at a gentle infant in swaddling clothes that she was cradling in her arms. My
mother had cherished that picture since she was a young child, vowing to be the
mother she had never had, but had always longed for. I had not always
understood why she gave me that picture but realize now that perhaps she wanted to
share her aspirations with me about wanting to be a good mother. However,
when I was in my twenties, struggling with the typical challenges young mothers
face with a first-born child, that picture represented a burden for me – a model of high expectations I had to follow. Indeed, the picture made me feel as if I had to strive to be
an even better mother than mine had been. As I look back now, I think
I might have felt those expectations from within me, rather than my mother actually had for me. Instead, I think she just wanted to share her aspirations
with me – woman-to-woman.



As I think about our different life stories, I realize that “good mothering” was an important feature we
both focused on, surely for different reasons, or perhaps similar ones. She was
always a harsh critic of women, who did not live up to her expectations and
high standards about being a good parent. I wonder, though, how she came to
terms with life’s complexities and the times she was unable to live up to her
own high standards of good mothering. On a past visit to see her in
Israel before she became bed ridden, she declared forcefully that she had
nothing to feel guilty about as a mother to her five children.

I, on the other
hand, am a harsh critic of my self, ridden with feelings of
guilt and regret about how I could have behaved or supported my now-grown
son better.
 And yet, I wonder how I have become more understanding and accepting of people who parent differently from me. Perhaps a combination of formal education as well as living and
working within a number of different cultures has helped me. 

Update:

Just in … from a colleague's email about this new blog:

Just wanted to let you know that this blog is exactly what I needed to share with an old friend today. She is the grandmother. She will be sharing your blog with her daughter. Thanks, Tamar!!

Dedicated to Carrie

Quote of the day:

it's not like that all ends when you're 18, 41 or 61. It never, ever ends … there is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown … Jason Robards, from: Parenthood.

Many years ago a former
graduate student reconnected with me. When I had known her as a graduate
student she was in her mid-twenties and quite newly married. She was a quiet
person, observant and wise for her age, and an excellent teacher of young
children because she related well to them by listening carefully and validating
their feelings. I was excited to meet her again after some years had passed and
I knew she had two children of her own. I thought I would find her enthusiastic
and happy to be a parent herself. After the usual hugs and smiles, greetings
and excitement at reconnecting with one another, we sat down to drink coffee
and eat the cakes or cookies we had ordered. We both had so much to tell each
other to catch up with the years that had passed. Before long, she was describing her life to me. She told me of the challenges and difficulties she faced with two small young children.  She poured out her heart to me saying that she wished someone had warned her of how hard mothering would be. She had set high standards for herself as a parent, especially since she had studied child development in her graduate early childhood courses. She found that she was constantly feeling guilty about her feelings of anger and dismay with her young children's behaviors. At one point in the conversation, she turned to me and said, "Someone should write a book called, A Handbook of Guilt for Parents!" We both laughed out loud, she through the tears in her eyes. I became quiet and put my hand on hers. "I'll write it for you one day," I assured her. 

And so, I dedicate this new blog to my old friend and former student, Carrie. I hope to share ideas, memories, struggles, wisdom, and joys I have experienced as a mother, early childhood teacher educator, author, presenter, and consultant. As I embark on this new journey, I welcome your own thoughts and comments, gentle reader, should you wish to stop by.

Bath time ruminations

I look across
the classroom at the faces of undergraduate students. I think to myself,  “I wonder if they realize that I was a
child once.” For, now I must seem old to them. My short gray hair, cheeks
sagging a little, and there is a slow limp to my step. I stand before them
talking about syllabi and schedules, expectations, and attendance grades. They
take notes and gaze in my direction. Some seem alert and even pleased to be here.
Others look weary and lonely; probably wishing they were anywhere else but here.
I think about ways I might connect with them so that they will believe me when
I try and teach them about compassion and kindness for all young children in
their future classrooms …

Revelation.

I have been
going to therapy for years for self-alteration. To become a better person. Not
to become happier. Indeed, therapy was a perfect avenue for me because I could
say to myself over and over again – there is something wrong with me and I need
to fix me. Now my therapist explains in a way that I can hear. He says he is
always telling me (at times he thinks it must seem as if he is trying to bash
me over the head) that I am more than okay. He goes onto tell me that this
information should make me feel better, and yet I argue with him. Over and over
again he has been explaining to me that it is other people who have hurt me
over and over again. Instead of me realizing that and allowing them to own
their behaviors and insults to me, I take on the problem as if it is my fault. I
tell him that I came to therapy to fix me, and now he is telling me there is
nothing to fix, nothing to alter.

He says gently,
clearly that for me to change would be to realize that I am okay. No need for
self-alteration. Just to accept myself as I am. Not that I am without flaws.
But, that I am human and more than all right. Oh, and, by the way, it is not my
fault.

This blows me
away. For days after our session, I wander around in a daze not fully
understanding what was said to me recently. I look back on my life and think of
all the times I ran away or missed out on chances for happiness because I kept
on thinking, “There is something wrong with me.” Whenever emotions became
strong or pain unbearable, I thought there must be something wrong with me. If
people hurt me, I thought, it must be my fault, and, yes, I deserve it! And
now, what is my therapist telling me? That it wasn’t my fault? What do I do
with all these years and years of feeling to blame, unworthy, unredeemable, or in
need of serious alteration? I wonder how long he has been trying to explain
this to me, and why it confuses me. I realize that I have been unable to hear
him, but for some reason this time, I hear him – loud and clear. It strikes a
chord, hits a nerve, and penetrates my brain. It taps into my ancient,
emotional memory.

And now, I feel
free, vulnerable, wide open, and without defenses. Flapping in the wind, flying
and tumbling about wildly way out somewhere in the universe.

I pull myself out of my bath and wrap a large, white towel-like robe close to my body enveloping me in comforting warmth. Water is still dripping on the floor as I almost run up to my study to my computer. How strange. Sun is streaming through the window, where snow was blowing just a short while before. I look up at the wall and see the note Wendy wrote for me in Villa Lina last October: First in Hebrew, she wrote, "To Tamar, with love," and then:

"In one ancient language the word memory derives from a word meaning mindful, in another, from a word to describe a witness, in yet another it means, at root, to grieve. To witness mindfully is to grieve for what has been lost," (and to be present for all that is – Wendy adds). From, Freeman House, Totem Salmon

I am in unchartered waters …