How I Found The Spirit of “DanShaRi” – My New, Favorite Japanese Word

dansharipicMy acupuncturist worked her magic on me but kept muttering over and over about how tense I was compared to my session just two weeks prior.  Finally, after the session I told her that we were about to move to a new apartment in Tokyo, and it was just plain stressful.  Adding to the stress was the fact that this would be our first move without babies.  When we moved into our house six years ago, we had small kids – ages 5 and 8.  We had an entire room in the house stuffed with their toys and books.  Being a writer and writing teacher myself, I get very attached to books.  In addition, my mother, a career kindergarten teacher, calls herself Grandma Book, and when she closed her classroom in the U.S. and moved south, she sent five packing cartons full of children’s books.

But fast forward six years with kids ages 11 and 14, and most of the books and toys had to go.  I spent a lot of time on the floor one weekend in early May just going through a lot of books and remembering them.  Crying. Feeling. Mourning a little, even. Some special books, the ones my kids really remembered and loved, they wanted to save and keep on their shelves, and I certainly allowed that.  In the end we had at least ten trash bags of toys to give away and five suitcases full of books to donate.  In my heart, I knew that other kids would be able to love the books and toys as much as my babies and I had loved them, but letting go of them was tough.

That’s when the acupuncturist, listening to my tale of woe, taught me a new Japanese word.  “Dan-sha-ri” she told me.  “That’s what you’re doing: Dan-Sha-Ri”.

She wrote out the Kanji for me, and it’s really three Kanji put together to make up the very connotative word.

Dan the first Kanji, means to refuse.  People are supposed to refuse to collect more THINGS in their life, or refuse to block the flow of their lives with stuff.  Sha means to throw away things – get rid of unnecessary items in the home.  And Ri means to separate – separate what’s actually valuable from your possessions – your stuff is not your life; you and your memories and the people you love are your life.

When put together, the word DanShaRi means to let go of possessions, but also to free yourself from them; to poetically purge what’s cluttering your life and let go of it gracefully.  The result is intended to be a lighter and free-er person.

Yes, I spent some serious time on the floor stressing and crying over my children’s bygone childhood, but I admit now, three weeks later, that I do feel lighter for the exercise of it.  My children are growing into such fine young adults, that I find I don’t need their baby stuff anymore.  I can carry the memory of their babyhood in my head and in a few photo albums without having to carry the actual, physical trappings of that babyhood – which also means that I can fully enjoy the present.

I am grateful to my acupuncturist at Theracua for treating the whole person a few weeks ago, and not just my joints and muscles.  She made the process of DanShaRi in my life a whole lot less stressful and more of a thankful experience.

Sometimes the connotative, on-the-fly nature of Japanese has just the right word for the situation.

blog matsuri pic

Post Trick or Treat – or “Now What?” with Teens

My son, Bailey, is a young teen, having just turned 13 and in the 8th grade.  He and his friends, however, never ones to miss an opportunity to get free candy, put on costumes and hit the street,  just as they had for years on October 31st.  This time, though, they didn’t have parents or any other supervisors with them.  As I have mentioned before, Tokyo is a relatively safe place.  The biggest danger on Halloween here is getting hit by a car due to the swarms of kids on the streets and the refusal of the police to block off said streets to accommodate said kids.

Since we don’t have daylight savings here in Japan (another topic – don’t get me started) it gets dark by 5 already.  By 5:30 the boys were ready to meet up.  One of Bailey’s friends met him here at the house, and a few more would meet up with them at a nearby spot.  I had attempted to get food into the kids before heading out the door, but the excitement was too high – no one wanted to eat before candy-fest 2012.

I told Bailey that he should be home between 6:45 and 7pm at the latest.  An hour and a half of procuring candy should be enough, I felt.  The phone rang at 6:40 and my heart leaped into my throat.  Of course it was Bailey calling, but not for the reason I expected.  I had a whole speech ready about how he should come home and not be out later and he needed to get some decent food in him…blah, blah blah.

“Mom,” my son said, “We’re done and near the house.  Is it okay if the guys just come over to hang out for a while before they go home?”

This was my mother-dream come true.  Some people might not want a group of smelly, gangly boys in their house, but I can’t think of anything better.  To me, if the boys are in my house where I can see and hear them, then they are automatically not on the street and not getting into trouble.

“Sure,” I said. “I have lots of frozen pizza.  I’ll start heating it up now.”

There was a heartfelt “thanks, Mom” from my son before he severed the connection.

The boys came in, sat in the living room sorting candy, and then occupied the dining room to eat, once I had everything ready.  I put the food on the table and promptly removed myself.  I took a seat by my husband in the living room, and we had our backs to the boys, though with the open layout of the house, they could see us.  The kids ignored us, as we hoped they would, and kept talking.

They had some really funny conversations about girls, some pretty serious ones about soccer and then some talk of school.  When they finished eating, my son directed everyone to bring their plates and cups to the kitchen sink before they all repaired to the computer area to watch some funny videos.  My husband and I snuck back into the kitchen to eat our own dinner.  We were quiet as we listened to the videos the boys watched and then couldn’t help laughing at their hysterical laughter.

The boys were all out of the house before 8:15pm, having only been there about 90 minutes.  They all thanked me politely as they left.

Bailey shut the door on his friends, turned to me and said, “thanks, Mom.  That was great.”

“Bailey,” I told him, “you bring your friends here any time you want.  We’ll always have pizza in the freezer.”

My son is still just a young teen and has a lot of growing up and experimenting to do yet, but I feel that if we can start out this way, with him feeling comfortable bringing his friends around all the time, then we are headed in the right direction.  A lot of pizza and a little luck will hopefully get us through the teen years.

On Parents, Not Parenting

My parents left last night after a ten-day visit.  I was sorry to see them go, but the feelings were much more complex than just missing them.  There was a bit of relief to get my house back; a little sadness for my kids missing their grandparents; and a lot of deep nostalgia for my childhood, even though the visit was nothing like the way I grew up.

Like almost all adult parent-child relationships, mine is fraught with not just emotion, but emotional memory.  I have forty years of remembering my father’s quirky and wonderful habit of wearing cowboy boots with a suit.  When I see those boots, I am reminded of being a child and  young teen and pulling them off of him at the end of his long work-day.  Simply watching him don his shoes and take them off in my wholly Japanese genkan for ten days flooded the emotional memory part of my brain with the smell of rich leather. My mother is the most organized and put together woman on the planet.  She makes me, the consummate planner, feel like a slacker.  So instead of being grateful that she was showered and ready for the day (leaving the shower free for others to use) at 7:30am, at least two hours before we planned to leave, I got annoyed and felt like she was taunting me for being late or lazy,  neither of which is remotely true, nor was she taunting.  But, as a child, I was late and lazy until her lessons started sinking in post-college, so it’s old, outdated emotional memory that her early-ness triggered in me which made me automatically annoyed before I could think to be grateful.  Once I thought it through, of course I was pleased that she had been so prompt and thoughtful, but it took me a moment to remember that I’m no longer seventeen and entitled to that trigger.

Humans learn and grow every day and I’m pleased to report that my parents visit was a great one, full of new sights and adventures, as well as regular family time.  They got to attend the Tokyo Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, and meet all of my friends and the boy’s.  What my husband, the kids and I were able to show them in a concrete way, is that we have a warm and loving community in Tokyo.  While they are sad that their kids live so far away, I think they were gratified to know that we have such a rich, full life here.

What I see happening with my parents as they get older and so do I, is that our neural pathways continue to expand and we continue to learn about each other, with each other.  No one is perfect.  We all slip into old, unwanted and discarded patterns far too easily.  But we continue to make the effort to be together, enjoy each others company and plan future visits.  Emotional memory only extends so far; the future needs its own time to unfold.  Nurturing relationships requires work – all relationships require care and feeding – the good ones, anyway.  It’s worth the work.

My house is very quiet today as I’m in recovery mode and trying to get my proverbial house in order.  Without the quiet times we cannot fully appreciate the noisy times, however, so I am glad for the chance to move forward with my own to-do lists, writing and other tasks that did not get completed in the past week or so since they arrived.  We will see my parents again in December and I’m already looking forward to it.

A Baby No Longer

This is a photo of the Baby of my Heart, as I have always called Bailey, at age one, nearly twelve years ago.  He loved boxes and would squeal with delight if he saw the UPS guy in our driveway.  It never mattered what the boxes contained; the boxes were the fun part.  As you can see, most often Bailey himself ended up in the box.

He has always been a talker, this boy of mine.  He talks through his feelings and ideas, and can give you the play-by-play of every baseball, basketball or soccer game in which he has ever played and scored.  This past week when he was away with a grade-seven trip to Izu, south of Tokyo, the house was wildly quiet.  He has also always been an independent and curious person, eager to explore the world and what it has to offer.  He never went through an attachment phase and he has never minded leaving my side to go to school, to a sleepover, or even sleep-away camp.  He is always happy to come home and holds on tight when he’s here, but leaving is not an issue.

So last night, after the three days away with very little sleeping, he went to bed early.  By 2:30am he was in my room, waking me up.  “I feel funny, Mom,” he said.  Well, it’s really to be expected, I explained.  Just as his body is changing through puberty, so is his brain.  Part of the issue was that when they were away near the beach, they were required to shake out their shoes lest there be a caterpillar in them – the biting type of bugs, and he was concerned that one might have gotten into his stuff that he brought home.  His bag, when he brought it into the house and opened it, exploded in a mass of wet and stink! I assured him that we had already thrown his entire bag into the laundry and there was not a bug in sight.  But then he went into the particulars of the social nuances of the week he had spent.  There was one kid on the trip who was a bully and no one liked him any better on the trip than they did at school.  There was one boy on the trip who is “different” – on the autism spectrum – and Bailey tried his best to include him with varying degrees of success.  He talked to and played card games with girls for the first time.  He was concerned that some of the teasing that occurred on the trip would be carried over back into school.  He feels glad that he has a lot of friends spread out over various social “groups” at school, but gets frustrated that the groups, which he is experiencing for the first time, exist at all.  He keeps asking why everyone can’t just sit together – why does he have to choose which group to sit with at lunch every day?

All of those questions and that information came out in the hour between 2:30 and 3:30am last night.  I didn’t say much – just listened and gave a few minor suggestions. Finally, as his talking slowed, I told him to just go to sleep.  Just stay there and go to sleep.  As he fell asleep and I stroked his hair, I assured him that he was normal. I told him I appreciated that he wanted to talk to me and that I would never say no to a conversation.  If he wanted me in the middle of the night, he should always come to get me – or his dad.  I did assure him that we are good for talking in the middle of the day, also, and at other times when we’re normally supposed to be awake.

The baby in the box is definitively out of the box and out in the real world these days.  In just three months he will be a teenager and I feel like we’re just at the start of the all the changes that are on the horizon.  It is going to be a wild ride, I am certain.  But I do realize that if I can get Bailey to keep talking to me, then we’re most likely going to get through it just fine.  I admire the young man he is becoming as much as I adored that little boy in the box.   Here  we go.

Growing Together – A Hopeful Sign

The following is a post that first appeared on the e-zine, A Hopeful Sign, for which I write monthly.  The site itself inspires me every day with its messages of positive living and the beauty of life.  Please look at it if you get a moment.

For me, the ability to process my life through language is one of my biggest gifts.  I write because it helps me make sense of the world around me.  Please enjoy this attempt to learn and grow as my children learn and grow.

For twelve years, my life has revolved around kids and kid activities. Even though I have usually worked at least part time, my first priority has always been the munchkins.  I’ve been involved with their schools, done charity work with them, had dinner with them almost every night (except book club nights – those are sacred) and fretted over every whim and trifle that has come into their lives.  However, about two weeks ago, I had a glimpse into my future – my kid-free future.

That week my daughter’s school had a few days off for a mid-winter holiday, or as it’s commonly called, a ski break.  I couldn’t get the days off from teaching, so I sent her with a good family friend on a community ski trip.  My son was headed to the Valentine’s Day dance on Friday night.  On Thursday, we got word that since the flu was so rampant in his school, they were cancelling the dance – too many pre-teens in close proximity to each other.  Of course my son was upset, but only for a minute.  He and his friend cooked up the idea of a double date to the movies.  We had discussed it a few days earlier and agreed that if the dance went well with the girl he was taking, that perhaps in a few weeks, he could ask her to the movies in a sort of group date.  After speaking with a few of the other mothers, we had all agreed that the plan was fine.  Well, the dance was not happening and I couldn’t think of a good reason why the group “date” thing would be okay in a few weeks, but not right that minute.  It was one of those parenting moments when it took all of my self-control not to shout, “I’m not ready!”

My husband has spent the balance of this winter working at a client site away from home, so he wasn’t in town at the time.  It was left to me to handle this date thing.  I got home from work at 5pm, and Bailey had to leave for the movies at about 5:30.  He had had a snack and planned to eat something at the theater.  He had some money in his pocket and was prepared to spend it on his own movie ticket as well as the girl’s.

A second or two after I got into the house, Bailey said, “Mom, Star Trek is on.  Can we sit on the couch for a few minutes to watch?”

Certainly I wasn’t going to refuse.  He actually sat right next to me on the couch, his legs touching mine.  Bailey is a snuggly kind of kid (don’t tell him I told you) and he leaned right up against me slouching a little so his head was on my shoulder.  I didn’t dare move a muscle; I just squeezed his leg a little.  I sat there with my son staring at the meaningless flickering images before me, going through all the moments in the past that led us here, to this day, to this moment.  The baby of my heart, as I had called him all his life, was becoming the young man I knew he could be, and he still stopped for a moment to put his head on his mother’s shoulder.

After about fifteen minutes, he jumped up suddenly, proclaiming that he really had to go if he wanted to be there on time.

I jumped into action with him, making sure he had his phone and his wallet in his pocket, and reminding him to come right home after the movie. Tokyo is an amazing city.  Without a moment’s hesitation I could let my twelve-year-old son head out to the movies on his own and wait for him to come back without worrying about his safety.  He promised, kissed me, and threw a vague “love you” over his shoulder in my general direction before zipping off down the street.

And I went back inside the house from my perch on the front stoop.  I shut the door.  I stood there staring at it for a second, and then, without warning, I sat down hard on the floor and burst into tears.

My husband was away on business, my daughter was up skiing, and my son had gone out on a movie date.  It was Friday night and I was home alone with nothing to do.

That’s what I mean about seeing into my future: the kids were busy and I would have to think up something to do all on my own.  There was no one to whom I was responsible for the next three plus hours and my time was my own to fill however I liked.

At first the idea of that much time alone felt scary.  I missed my babies. I missed the running after them, the picking up after them, and even, in a weak moment, bathing them.  I couldn’t help but think of the past few years of nightly homework patrol and activity shuffle.  All of that was eventually going to come to an end and for the first time I could picture that alternate reality.  Those two amazing kids would probably become amazing adults with whom I’d hopefully have a great relationship, but at some point, they would be on their own and I would have a different life.

It took me a few minutes to pick myself up off the floor.  It was cold down there, though, and the kitchen would be warmer.  Then I realized that I could eat the leftovers from the night before all by myself.  In fact, I could make popcorn and eat the whole bag.  Perhaps I could even put on a chick flick and stretch out on the long sofa that I was all mine for a few hours.  Wait a minute!  This wasn’t going to be all bad after all!  A long time ago, a friend once told me that the purpose of an education is so that you’re never bored.  I am almost never bored and I wouldn’t be bored or feel sorry for myself this night either.

When Bailey came home around 9:30, he found me watching the end of an episode of a crime show that I like.  I am always glad to see him, but not often that glad.  It had been a great time by myself, but I was ready to hear about how he didn’t eat much because his arm was occupied around the girl and how he had walked her home (she lives hear our house) first and that he couldn’t wait to do it again soon.  I heard that it was fun with the other friends and that he enjoyed the movie.

Foolishly I had thought that parenting only involved watching the children grow and change on a daily basis.  Before that night, I never thought about the changes in me in response to the growth of the children. But as with every move we’ve made or new job I’ve taken, I will now be aware of the need to be flexible and at times, maybe even reinvent myself.  It’s all part of the journey that my son – and daughter – and I are taking together.

Parenting and Writing

There are definitely days when I feel sorry for my kids.  Having a writer for a mother cannot be easy.  At ages 9 and 12, they have not yet discovered all the places where their lives are exposed for the world to see and on which to make comment.  Not only do I keep a regular blog on which they appear often, but I write monthly for “A Hopeful Sign” which is more of an e-zine devoted to messages of hope, optimism and beauty and they’re often the focus of the stories.  I have written about Bailey in a magazine called Asian Jewish Life and I had a two-page spread a few years ago about both kids and my observations about their Montessori classrooms in the official magazine of the International Montessori Association, Today’s Child.  Sometimes little blurbs about them appear in my academic writing since I test out so many of my pedagogical theories on them first.  When I give speeches, I tell anecdotes about them, and in my classrooms, all of my students invariably know a lot about what the kids are doing.  Admittedly I used them as entree for lessons.

It is my choice to self-disclose in a public way.  Bailey and Sydney, however, have not made this choice – their public mother has made it for them.  Actually, at this point they still like it somewhat.  They feel famous.  I haven’t yet mentioned to them that the venues in which I publish aren’t quite national news and that their fame has a  limited  readership.

Oh, there are a lot of things I don’t discuss, including the kids’ schools, friends, doctors’ appointments – those are strictly tabo0.  As they move into teenage-hood, I imagine the list of “don’ts” will increase by their demand.  I have already heard, “Mom, are you going to write about this?”  I wasn’t sure of the mood or motivation of the question.

But for now, the kids are my best fodder.  They interest me, and it is a challenge and a goal to make their escapades and adventures interesting to potential readers.  As a writer, I’m always looking into real life for interesting ideas in both fiction and non-fiction.  Of course my family is my first go-to for material.  And hopefully, thirty years from now, after years of very expensive therapy, both of my children will be able to talk easily, if not disparagingly, about their mother the writer.

Nobody loves you like I do, Kid.

I Have A Daughter, Too!

Sydney and I had a ball getting her ready for the father-daughter dinner dance this year!

I write so often about Bailey and his issues and antics, that I have woefully neglected my daughter, Sydney, who is just as interesting as her brother, but in a wholly different way.  Since Bailey is away at camp for much of the month, I have had the singular experience of one-on-one time with Sydney.  What I’ve discovered is that she is a really neat kid in her own right.

Sydney is a bundle of contradictions.  In one moment she’s a princess, and in the next moment, she’s scoring a goal on the soccer field.  She likes to cook and bake, but she loves riding her bike just as much.  Some days she wants to sit in my lap and be my baby, and some days she wants to be left to her own independent devices. Sydney is nine years old, and these types of activities are supposed to happen concurrently; she is supposed to be exploring what she likes and what she’s good at.

Recently, I have noticed that she has a particular skill in processing information.  She takes in what I (or anyone for that matter) tells her, thinks about it and then is able to regurgitate what was said with her own brand of understanding.  She can articulate feelings and ideas easily, and she is always aware of the emotions of the people around her.

Of course she can drive me crazy in twenty seconds or less with her constant chatter and utter insistence on being in control of every situation (I wonder where she gets that from…) but that’s the mother-daughter relationship talking.  In the past two weeks, we’ve taken a road-trip, eaten dinner with various

Sydney and her very favorite activity: EATING!

friends, spent time in many places where there were only adults and no one for her to play with, and done many other things that required extreme flexibility.  She has handled all of it with grace and charm.

I’m sure as time goes on, I will be able to tell some more specific stories that illustrate her personality and the particular daughter-based issues that she and I have, but for now, I’ve just been enjoying her and want to share that with you.

Parenting – It’s Tough

Bailey and me on opening day of Camp Airy in Thurmont, MD

Of course with Bailey away at camp for the month, I’ve been thinking a lot about him and the things he does and says.  He’s a great kid – an interesting kid – and I seem to be appreciating him a lot without him here.  One incident in particular has been on my mind as I’m watching my various friends’ kids on the swim teams of their pool clubs.  Back in January or early February, Bailey was thinking that he didn’t want to be on the swim team anymore.  He’s a good swimmer, but not fast enough to compete with kids his age – especially since he’s little.  His size does matter already in some sports.  However, I had registered him for the session already (this team swims year-round in an indoor pool).  Bailey plays soccer and basketball and does other things – I wasn’t married to the idea of swim team for him.  The deadline approached for getting a partial refund for the session and he was still swimming every day for the coach.  I told him that he had to make a decision by the drop-dead date.  I’d inform the coach of his decision.  I was pretty sure Bailey would quit the team.

Well, he didn’t.  Not by the date anyway.  A few days after the drop-dead date, he complained again and said he didn’t want to swim anymore.  I was mad.  I said that he was too late and now he had to swim for the whole session – another month or 6 weeks.  He was pretty calm – he often stays calm when I’m riled up – and he said that maybe I could tell the coach he really didn’t want to do it anymore.  Sincerely.  He meant it this time.

I really was pissed.  The deadline had passed, so I lost $300 for the session.  At least if he had quit a week prior, I could have gotten half of it back.

We were in the car at the time, and I specifically remember pulling up to the American Club to drop him off for practice and turning around to face him.  “No,” I said, “If you want to quit, then you have to take the responsibility now. You have to deal with the coach.”  To be honest, I never in a million years thought Bailey would do it.  I knew how much Bailey admired the coach and how he really did not want to disappoint him. Bailey works hard, and the coach is a very encouraging person.  They got along well together.

Later, after practice, I picked him up again.  He was distraught and I could tell he had been crying.  I asked him what was wrong.  He had done it.  He had told the coach that he wanted to concentrate on his other sports, and thanks for the encouragement, but it was time for him to leave the team.  I was shocked to say the least.  He said the coach was great, thanking him for the effort he put in, and glad that Bailey could concentrate on what was important to him.

Later Bailey said it was the hardest thing he had ever done.  And the coach later sent me an email telling me that Bailey had handled it very gracefully.  It was the best $300 I ever lost.

Both Bailey and I learned a big lesson that day.  He learned to do something difficult, and stand by a decision if it was the right decision for him.  And me, Bailey’s mother, I learned to let him take the bumps and bruises of it because the little bumps and bruises he takes now will prepare him for life’s greater bumps and bruises later on.

Yesterday I read a great article (Thank you, MLZ!) from this month’s The Atlantic by Lori Gottleib, titled, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.”  Gottleib is a mother and a therapist, and it is her contention that young people land in therapy in disproportionate numbers due to their parents’ desire to shield their children from ever feeling any pain.  The parents, she reports, intend to be the best parents they can be, but in their zeal to create an atmosphere of perfect happiness for their little darlings, they fail to teach their kids how to handle hurt in their childhood, and therefore the same children, reaching adulthood cannot handle the bigger hurts of the real world.  But it’s not just that.  Gottleib details the effects of boosting the kids’ self esteem to the extreme and offering kids too many choices.  The piece is beautifully written and delightfully descriptive and detailed.  It’s rare to find something that speaks to today’s parenting so completely – at least in my opinion.  Here’s the link:

I have been feeling  guilty for months because I let Bailey take the heat for quitting the swim team, and made him stand up and speak to his coach when it would have been so easy for me to do it for him.  But thanks to the article, I feel great about it now.  Easy is not always better. Learning right from wrong and how to handle various situations that life throws your way – in the long run, that will make everything easier.  Long term goals – hard to keep in mind, but definitely worth the effort.  It’s my job to teach my kids to handle these things and there’s no time like the present to start.

Boys and Basketball – and Moms

A family we know pretty well recently moved into our neighborhood and allowed us to install a basketball hoop on their property.  They love it too, so it’s a win-win, but they have more room than we do, and in Tokyo, a place of no space, this is no small favor.  For two weeks now, my son, Bailey, age 11, has been spending every spare second outside shooting hoops.

Bailey is now, and has always been, an interesting kid – a real bundle of contradictions.  He’s an athlete, excelling in most sports involving a ball, but he has a soft side that lets him easily climb into his grandfather’s lap even now and tell him how much he loves him.  At bedtime, he wants to be tucked in, but never kissed near school.  He plays the violin beautifully, with great coordination, but is a major klutz, falling down often.  He loves to play with babies, but also loves rolling in mud. Part of this is the fact that he’s nearly twelve years old and straddling the line between childhood and full-fledged teenager-hood.  But part of this is just Bailey being Bailey.

In recent weeks, Bailey has had a pretty rough go with things.  He’s in a very small school and doesn’t really have a close friend there.  He knows a lot of nice kids that he speaks to and plays with at recess, but there’s not that one best friend who likes the same things he likes or does the same things he does.  He’s graduating this year, finishing sixth grade, and is ready to move on.  The five other kids with whom he will graduate feel exactly the same way – the classroom has become too small for them and they are ready for the bigger adventures that await them.

Last week, Bailey’s teacher called my husband and me to ask if everything was okay; he was so quiet and solitary in the classroom.  We responded that he’s just trying to get through the last few weeks of school without any conflict.  For all of his sweetness and kindness, Bailey can also be a troublemaker and an attention-seeker.  In the past, he has poked at the other kids until they notice him, or tried to get them to do things his way.  He has a very strong sense of right and wrong which will serve him well in the future, but currently gets him in trouble with other kids if he complains that something is unfairly done or played.  Now though, he feels past all that, but has realized that the damage is done with the other kids in the class.  It’s too late to forge better relationships, he feels.  It’s better to keep to himself and he has decided to just put his head down and plow through the last weeks of school.  He’s sad, but realistic.  I haven’t felt like I can step in on it; this is his way of handling things.

The basketball hoop, however, has revolutionized things.  Every day after school, he runs into the house, says hello to me, drops his bag, and runs right back out with his basketball to shoot around.  For at least an hour on most days, he shoots basket after basket without another care in the world.  He’s a good shooter.  He plays on a city team in Tokyo, one that’s made up of half foreigners and half Japanese.  He’s a pretty good player in general and when he joined the team last year, it made him feel like a million bucks – a place where he can excel and put his energies.  But the team practices twice a week and the hoop is there for him 24/7.  He shoots out his frustrations and his angst.  He shoots out his little hurts, both real and imagined.

This afternoon, I decided to go out there and shoot with him.  I don’t love basketball, but I can shoot a decent basket and it was a warm afternoon with a bit of breeze.  Perfect for shooting baskets.  We played a game of “around the world,” and Bailey whipped my butt.  He was kind about it – allowing me extra shots and bending the rules a little.  We chatted as we played.  He told me about something that happened on the playground at recess.  He told me about the book he’s reading.  He mentioned something about his sister’s birthday that I had forgotten.  We talked a little about the other kids in his mixed-age classroom and how he likes being among the oldest in the school.  He even said that he’s so excited for the summer and the four weeks he will spend away at camp.  All of this happened in about twenty minutes while we dribbled and shot, dribbled and shot.  Hook shots. Jump shots. Layups. Swishes. Everything.

As we played and talked, I could see into the future and the young man that he will become.  I see a strong, sensitive person who needs reassurance, yet, slowly but surely will learn to stand on his own feet.  I see tough transitions and difficult classes, but also exciting sports, dances, friends and activities.  I see hard work, homework, and new avenues of learning opening up – connections and ideas and growing every day.

But mostly, I see basketball.  Tons and tons of basketball.  For both of us.

Shades of Gray, Part Deux

In this ongoing journey of parenting, sometimes you hit on something that has the power to change your outlook, and this week, we have caught a glimpse of such a thing.

On Monday, when I picked up the kids from school, Bailey came out with a big frown on his face.  From his point of view, there had been a meeting of sixth graders led by the teacher, Sainoor Premji, in order to pick on him and tell him all the things that he’s doing wrong.  Well I wasn’t going to have it!  I marched right upstairs to see her.

Well, when I got to Sainoor, she put her hand on my shoulder and assured me that the meeting had been about the Model UN thing, (the sixth graders in the class are going to New York for a special United Nations program for Montessori children, and their year has been very focused on it) and was meant to show how countries can go to war over petty issues seen from different points of view and that every child had raised a petty issue as an example, not all of them focused on Bailey.  She was trying to bring globalism down to the kids’ level and Bailey, in his inward focus, had completely missed the point.

Bailey’s teacher, Sainoor, is a gift to him and to all of us here at Chez Weinstein.  She’s tough as nails as a teacher, but one of those tough teachers who is hard on the kids in a respectful way, born out of love and a genuine desire to see them succeed.  Some families might disagree with me, but Bailey and she have always had a special bond.  Because of the mixed-age classrooms, Bailey and Sainoor are now spending their fourth year together.  Bailey adores and respects her – and knows that even when she is not happy with him, it’s for good reason.

In her spare time, Sainoor has a business.  It’s called Healthizar Natural Healing and she works with people on wellness and natural remedies via nutritional counseling, hypnosis, and other therapies.  I have taken her Peaceful Parenting Workshop and gone under hypnosis with her, both with great success.  Until recently, though, I haven’t wanted to mix Bailey’s school life with Sainoor’s private life.  Why now?  Well, he’s only going to be in her class for another few months, and he needs the help.  Marc and I have felt that he would benefit from some hypno-therapy.  We had our first session about a month ago and it was very successful.  By successful, I mean that he emerged a bit calmer, and had a method of controlling some of his anger – a little trigger, success point.

Bailey and I went to see Sainoor that very night at home.  We had had the appointment anyway, but she and I were both doubly glad of it.  Well, she asked me to bring a Monopoly dollar with us.  When we arrived, after giving us tea, she took the Monopoly Dollar, and she wrote on it for him, “The buck stops here.”  She had him take the buck and put it in his pocket for keeps.  After giving him a good, strong explanation for what that meant, she told him that he was on the throne of Bailey-land and that no one had the right to overthrow his throne.  Buck, she said, rhymes with muck and yuck and luck, and if you receive much and yuck, you need to replace it with luck.  Turn negativity right around.  She also reminded him that most people are so busy with their own lives that they are not focusing on him.

Then she read him a story about two children who were too negative and their mother was upset about it.  She said whenever they felt negative; they had to say “That’s not me.”  At first it was hard for the children, but eventually they got rid of the negativity.  But that wasn’t enough.  The next to-do item for this mythical mother and children was that every time they could think a positive thought about themselves or the outside world,  they had to say, “Now that’s like me.”  Not just get rid of negativity, but replace it with positive thoughts.

And next Sainoor put him under hypnosis.  This is the second time she has done it, and I find it fascinating how quickly he goes under.  He trusts her completely. She took him through a visualization of cleaning out his inner negativity.  He had a tool belt and he could choose a tool with which to just get rid of it.  Release it out of him.  (Later he said he took a knife from his belt and chopped it all down and trashed it!)  It was interesting because she left him to wrestle with himself internally.  At least twice during the exercise, she asked him if he was done and he said no.  She was quiet until Bailey could express that his inner negativity was completely gone.  She then read him the story again, still under hypnosis.

She brought him out slowly.  It takes him just a few moments to come up.  Sainoor then asked him what he was going to do when he felt a negative thought.  He repeated that he would say “That’s not me.”  She asked him what he would do if someone handed him a “yuck” comment.  He told her that he would replace it with luck – turn it right around.  The example she gave was “Hey Bailey, I hate your hairstyle.”  He looked at her and said, “That’s okay.  I like it.”  In that way, the offender doesn’t replace him on his proverbial throne of Bailey-land.  He rules himself positively, and is not ruled by others or affected by any outside negativity.  She reminded him that positive thoughts are meant to be shared.  He should tell people positive things about the world, but not to overdo it.  Positive things, though, she reminded him, come to positive people.

Sainoor invited me to sit at the table with them. (I had been seated on her couch, behind Bailey and out of his line of vision – I had offered to leave both times, but Bailey wanted me to stay.)  With me right there, she told Bailey was that even when “yuck” arises, he has to stop giving it to his mom.  Sainoor, said to Bailey, “Your mom, like all moms, wants to protect you and keep you safe, but there are some times when it’s not appropriate.  When you give this to her, you’re released of the burden and she takes it on, which hurts her, so you’re both hurting.  If you’re positive, your mom can be positive.  And if negative things do happen, you can talk to her, but in a way so that she can listen to you because she is a good listener, but she doesn’t take it on.”  Bailey and I both understood her point.  Sainoor knows how emotionally connected he and I are, and she is trying to make that connection healthy, not unhealthy.

One outcome of the session, and Sainoor could see it instantly, was that his internal energy was shifting and he was wildly energetic.  He came home and could barely sit still to eat dinner.  He shot baskets for an hour on the third floor of the house! Then, also as she predicted, about 9pm, he was so tired that he could barely get up the steps to his bedroom.

The whole thing was a great lesson for both Bailey and me.  I have been letting other people sit on the throne of Aimee-land lately, controlling how I feel and act, just as Bailey has been doing.  We can both take a lot away from the lesson of not only letting go of negative thoughts, but also of replacing negativity with positive thoughts.  Clearly, my son and I are a lot alike.  He’s emotional and expressive about those emotions, too.

He and I are both so lucky to have the support that we do.  Is this a cure-all? Not by a long shot.  But it’s a start – a kick in the right direction.  From here, Bailey and I can move forward on a better path. And if we need a bit of a tune-up, we can always go back to see Sainoor.

I’ve mentioned that the next three and a half months are going to be difficult for us.  Maybe a little less so than I feared.