Felix’s last stand


Felix was having none of it. His parents had chased him around the house for an hour, trying to snatch him up. This was the day to get his hair cut for the first time.

They had braced him for it for a week – dropping hints as to what to expect, offering promises of treats if he behaved. He knew full well what they were planning to do to him. He knew that of all the things they had done to him in the name of his ‘best interest’, this was the last straw. He had to finally draw the line.

He was sick of being directed, ordered, bossed around. Nobody ever asked him what he wanted to wear. Nobody even cared to know what he wanted to eat. Every day of his three years of being alive was a battle of wills.

Every now and then they got it right and they gave him something that wasn’t tasteless to eat or scratchy to wear. Those days were rare, and on every other dull, grueling day, he felt that his very being was being washed away bit by bit until the rock that he was had worn away to nothingness.

Little Maxie was his only friend, the only one who understood. They’d gotten her when Felix was six months old after a particularly difficult trip to the doctor for booster shots. They hoped she would be a calming influence on him. It turned out that the two had developed a stronger bond than his parents could ever imagine. They both felt the same way.

Both were ordered around. Both were ignored, neglected, relegated to the ‘passive’ pile in their parent’s minds. Felix and Maxie developed a common bond out of their silent mutual suffering.

They forged a method of communication that worked perfectly for them, which his parents were oblivious to. Why wouldn’t they be? They never even thought to speak with either one of them – always at, or to, but never with.

It was funny in a not-so-funny kind of way. Both of his parents were all about communication, but they never thought to apply their skills at home. Mom spent her weekdays teaching dolphins how to communicate, getting them to mimic human speech or to point at symbol boards with their noses or flippers. All day she taught them how to tell her what they were feeling. She constantly modified her techniques to better understand their needs and wishes and thoughts. Never once did she think to learn their language.

These ‘animals’, these beings she and every other scientist thought were lesser than, purely by virtue of the fact they weren’t human, were expected to learn human language rather than the other way around. Who was less intelligent?

Felix’s Dad was equally culpable. He too had no excuse. They both knew better and they both didn’t act upon their knowledge. Ignorance was indeed bliss, but they didn’t have that luxury.

His Dad worked as a counselor with people who had learning disabilities. It had been his passion for a dozen years, far longer than his marriage, a third of his life. He’d even gotten professional recognition for his techniques to reach patients who were considered unreachable by conventional methods.

Neither of the parents thought to take their work home with them. Felix was a child, and that was that. It was unthinkable to them that he should be asked his opinion. Dolphins and profoundly autistic children were paid more heed than him, purely because he was theirs. The idea of trying to communicate with their child was something they never would have considered. Why would they ask him his opinion? They knew that their job as parents was to tell him what to think – not to ask.

Felix and Maxie had refused to budge from the settee. That stiff sofa was the ultimate symbol of all they were fighting against. It had been moved into Felix’s room last winter when the parents had bought a plush leather sofa for themselves. They had decided unequivocally that dogs and children were not allowed on it, out of fear of stains and rips. They were relegated to the board-stiff contraption of cloth and wood that had been in the family longer than anybody could remember. It had stains but no stuffing. In their minds it was perfect for a boy and his dog – they couldn’t wreck it any more than it was.

The boy and his dog thought otherwise. Here they were going to make their final stand. Here was going to be the epicenter of their future, the point where they were going to make their captors listen to them for the first time.

In unison they both peed on the couch.

Horrified, Felix’s parents and Maxie’s owner (or was it the other way around?) stared at them both as the warm pungent liquid seeped into the threadbare cloth. As a communication technique, it wasn’t the best. It got them to be noticed for sure, but not taken as seriously as they had hoped.

Children, God, and community.

We need to remember that we aren’t God. We need to remember that everything we have comes from God. And we need to remember that God wants to help us – that we can’t do everything on our own.

When we are sick we have to rely on others to help us get well. We need folks to take us to the doctor, to get us food, to feed us. Then we rely on doctors and nurses to care for us. Sometimes we end up in nursing homes and we rely on people to get us in and out of bed or to wipe our butts when we need to go to the bathroom.

The poet John Donne tells us that no man is an island. When we think we are, that we can do it all on our own, we fail. We do better when we unite and work together.

Children are like that. They are a reminder from God in this way. One person alone has a very hard time taking care of children. It can certainly be done, but it is easier with two. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the Asian concept of multi-generations living together. My Laotian neighbors all live together. An Indian friend tells me that when she moves back to India she’ll be living in her in-laws house. This is good – it saves money. It shares resources – people can share food, time and energy.

Children are from God. We can think that we created them – but we didn’t. We just have sex, and sometimes a child is created. We didn’t do that. It is amazing. It is a miracle. This being, this other person, just happens.

And then, it is very hard to raise this child (We are told it takes a village.) There is day care, mother’s day out. I remember how it was when I worked at the Choo-Choo and parents would say to their child “Don’t hit your sister” or “Keep your hands in your pockets” (as a positive version of “Don’t touch!”) and the child ignored it. But when I said it, it had the force of law – because a whole different person said it. Kids tend to ignore what their parents say – but when a stranger says it – the same it, the same rule, it must be true.

(Originally worked on 12-4-12, edited 4-14-15. I’m still not sure this is fully worked out. I think there are some good ideas in here, but it is more a sketch than a drawing. It was titled “God gives us things so that we have to turn back to God.” But I don’t think it lives up to that.)

Children are promised

There are many times in the Bible where children are prophesied. Sometimes they are long-wanted, sometimes they are a surprise. Sometimes they are the answer to a prayer and sometimes their birth causes more questions than answers. In each case, God shows us that our lives and our concerns are always in God’s hands. God knows our needs before we do.

This is a complete list as far as I know. If I find more, I’ll add them. Please comment if you know of other examples of God telling people that they were going to have a child.

Ishmael (Gen. 16:7-16)
Isaac (Gen 18:1-15)
Samson (Judges 13:3-20,24)
Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1-20)
John (Luke 1:5-25)
Jesus (Luke 1:26-38)

Poem. Old/new

I find it very interesting
that young children
and old people
are very similar.

They both need to be wheeled around
by someone else.
They both need their print large
in the books they read.
Sometimes they even need
or want
someone else
to read their books for them.

Someone else has to handle
their affairs – bills, doctor’s appointments,
groceries. Someone else has to cook.
Sometimes it even means that
someone else
has to feed them
soft food
spoonful by spoonful.

It isn’t that
the old are becoming feeble.

It is that they are practicing
being children again
for the next go around.

Blessing the children.

Some parents were bringing their young children to Jesus so he could bless them. The disciples tried to turn them away.

Jesus was upset with them and said “Don’t prevent children from coming to me. The kingdom of heaven is made up of people who have a childlike faith. I tell you truthfully, if you do not welcome the kingdom of God in the same manner as a child, you will never get in.”

After taking the children in his arms, he laid his hands on their heads and blessed them.

MT 19:13-15, MK 10:13-16, LK 18:15-17

Mid afternoon crash

I am in an unusual position at the library. I get to see things happen over and over. From this I learn patterns.

One of the patterns is the 3:30 to 4:30 crash. In general, small children tend to lose their minds between 3:30 and 4:30. Usually these are children below the age of six.

They need to have either had a nap or had something good to eat around a 2, in order to prevent this. Otherwise they tend to fall apart. They start to become cranky and they wail. Nothing consoles them. “Irritable” is a mild word to describe what happens. By “good to eat” I mean something healthy and nourishing – not candy, and not caffeine. Real food, not a snack.

Parents don’t notice this because they don’t see it happen over and over again like I do. They just think they are mis-behaving, when they just being small children. They can’t help it. It isn’t their fault.

They don’t have the capacity of self-regulating. Nor are they able to know how to ask for what they want. They just know they don’t feel good. So they wail. Don’t punish them for it – plan for it.

How many of us suffer from the exact same crash and we don’t realize it?

Juggling children

I saw a lady with two young children at the library last week. It was obvious that they were in her way. This tableau happens a lot. She was in the computer area and she kept trying to tell them she was taking a test. The children were probably five and three. They kept trying to sit with her and ask her questions. She kept being very frustrated with him and telling him to stop bothering her.

I had a lot of questions and no answers. Where was the father? Or were there two fathers? Why weren’t the children in daycare, or with a relative? If this test was so important then why didn’t she make time to take it when they weren’t with her? Were they always with her? If she was taking a test to get a better job, where would she put the children while she was at work?

She had not brought anything for them to do on their own. She had not thought of what they could do to entertain themselves while she took her test. At that age, children have to have some direction. Meanwhile, the phone rings and she answers it. She has time to talk on the phone but not time to talk to her children. She finally gives the phone over to her son and tells him to talk quietly, reminding him that they are at the library. The library has a policy that you shouldn’t use the phone at all, not just quietly. Ideally, it would have been turned off.

It wasn’t the children’s fault that they were born or that they were there. That was the mother’s doing. She was treating them as if they were an interruption to her day and her life. Everything she was saying to them was in an impatient and unkind tone. The only time she talked to them was to tell them to stop bothering her and to shut up. Sadly, I see this a lot.

The mom kept getting more and more frustrated with her children and her children kept demanding more and more attention from her. Any attention is better than no attention, even if it is negative attention.

I felt that it was not my place to tell her how to parent her children. I felt that if I had done so she would have felt very embarrassed and threatened. Meanwhile she was getting further and further behind on her test and further behind on interacting with her children in a kind way.

I fear for the children of these mothers. They grow up angry and frustrated, just like their mothers. They grow up expecting to be yelled at for asking for help with their basic needs. They grow up thinking that they are worthless and meaningless. They grow up empty, having never really grown up at all. Meanwhile, they have children and they treat them the same way, and the cycle continues.

Plus one

You know how you’ll have a friend who you’ve known for many years and then she will get a boyfriend that you don’t like? Or worse yet, it is a spouse that you don’t like. So then you don’t want to spend any time with that friend, because she feels like she has to bring her boyfriend or spouse along to every single thing that you two normally did just together. I think the same thing about people’s children as well.

These are all their “plus one” relationships. They are invited to the party, and they bring someone extra that you don’t know. You haven’t really agreed to them being there, but you have to go on trust. Except it isn’t a party, it is a relationship between friends.

I want to have a relationship with just that person, not the significant other and not their child. To me, it shouldn’t be a package deal. Sometimes I luck out and the s/o or the child is very pleasant. But more often than not the opposite is true. The s/o is self-centered or abusive, and the child is, well, a child. Children can’t help being annoying when they are young. They can’t help being loud and interrupting all the time. That is just part of the nature of young children.

Sometimes you might try to arrange the gatherings when you know that the child is with his other parent. I know a lady who will invite her friend out for seafood – knowing that her husband is allergic to shellfish. This way just the two of them can be together.

Sometimes adding a s/o or a child to the mix signals the end of a relationship. Sometimes it is because people get too busy to spend time with friends. But sometimes it is because they don’t realize that their friends didn’t sign up for the s/o or the child. They’ll try to drag them along, and then nobody is happy.

Having a relationship with someone is like a contract. We agree on how we will be together as friends. We agree that we’ll call or write or visit a certain amount of times with each other to keep the relationship going. We agree that we’ll share each other’s good times and bad. But when you add a significant other or a child, it adds a whole other person to the contract. Everything has to get renegotiated, and rarely do people even talk about this. They seem to think of it as “Love me, love my partner or child” and it isn’t always that way. Just because I like you doesn’t mean I like who you live with.

Sometimes partners are abusive. Sometimes children are unruly. Sometimes the problem isn’t just dealing with the abusive or unruly other person that is suddenly in the mix, it is dealing with your feelings about this new and unpleasant person in your friend’s life.

You love your friend, and you don’t want to see her hurt. You can tell that this guy is bad for her. You can tell she’s totally inept at parenting. Watching her with these people hurts, because you know she is in for a lot of pain.

So some of the problem is about how you feel with this “plus one” added to the party. Some of it is about how it changes or destroys the relationship you had with your friend. Some of it is about how you feel bad for her, living with such difficult people.

Old? Never.

When did my skin get so wrinkly?
When did my doctors get younger than me?
How did this happen?

When did all these young people around me become bit players in my life? When did I start looking at old people for signs of what to expect?

They are “computer illiterate” or using walkers or confused all the time.

I don’t want to become them. I don’t want to be helpless or hopeless or lost. I don’t want to be taken advantage of.

I’ve read that you are only as old as you feel, and that age is a social construct. I feel it knocking on my door.

I don’t want to answer.

I think it is time to pull out my crayons and my fingerpaints. I think I’m going to defeat age by becoming a child again.

It is part of why I tutor kindergartners. I’m learning tips.

3:30 crash

Young children can only handle so much. Around about 3:30 in the afternoon they start to lose it. They start to become not quite human. Parents don’t seem to notice this because they don’t have perspective on the situation. I have worked in customer service for most of my life. I have had the advantage (?) of seeing this happen over and over again every day for many years. Around about 3:30 children start to have what is sometimes termed “a meltdown”. They start to cry and get whiny and fall apart.

One mother even said “I’m just going to smack him right in the mouth.” about her whining child. I’ve seen other mothers very impatient with their children and think that they are just being difficult. I’ve seen other mothers just stare at their children as they flop on the floor, crying and wailing loudly. They have no idea what is going on, and no idea what to do to stop it.

Children aren’t being difficult at that time of day. There’s only so much they can handle.

Do you expect to get a gallon’s worth of milk out of a quart bottle? It isn’t possible. Children are the same way. They just don’t have the capacity that adults have.

Children are not small adults. Children wear out a lot faster. Children need rest and food and water a lot more often than adults do. And by food and water I don’t mean candy and sugar and caffeine. That only makes it worse.

It isn’t fair to expect a small child to be able to go the whole day on limited resources without falling apart. You have to understand their limits and work with them. It isn’t the child’s fault that they have been out all day. Children don’t have control over their environment or what happens to them. They feel very frustrated and they don’t have the words to express their frustration. They express them in the ways that they have. With their limited resources they express that they are unhappy by crying or wailing or holding back from going anywhere. Sometimes they resist a change in their environment because it is a way to exercise control.

The whole issue is control. They don’t have it. And that is the problem. Around mid-afternoon they start to lose their self-control so they try to exert control over whatever they can. Sadly, at that point, nothing will soothe them because they just don’t know what is wrong. Sadly, many parents don’t either, and they don’t notice that their child’s inconsolable wails have little to do with anything obvious. It looks like they are crying about their dolly, or their shoe, or their brother, but really, they are crying because they are at the end of their rope because they are worn out.

When I was working at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo I often saw families that were all worn out come mid-afternoon. They had small children with them and they had been adventuring all day long. The children were not about to sit down and be still and calm while mom was looking through the craft store. I learned to dread that time of day because the parents always got frustrated with their children.

The children were just being children. There was nothing wrong with them. They were doing what comes natural to them when they are worn out. The problem is the parents who weren’t parenting. The parents were not taking into account the natural limitations of being a child.

The parents were not being kind to the children. It wasn’t fair to the children or anybody else around them. In order to travel or be around small children, you need to plan ahead to avoid problems. It is good if the whole family can have a nap some time shortly after lunch. If that isn’t possible, then at least have everybody sit and be quiet in a cool, darkish place for at least 30 minutes. People recharge better if they are away from the harsh stimuli of heat and light.

Most of all, make sure that they have had enough food and enough water. This does not mean candy bars and sodas. You have to give them the right fuel in order to keep going. But it’s also not fair to push them beyond their limits. Don’t get frustrated with them – they can’t help it. Learn from it, and plan ahead.