“They Grow Up So Fast.” On memory, and remembering, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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My boys, when they were four (the Hubble Space Telescope phase) and one.

“They grow up way too fast.” It’s so cliché, you’re probably rolling your eyes as you read it. We all know it, and yet when we’re in it, in the day-to-day of parenting, we forget. So even if we have a knee-jerk “yeah, yeah, I know” reaction to the cliché, how do we actually remember this thing we all know? As our children grow up at dizzying speed, faster with each passing year, is there any way to counterbalance the feeling that it’s getting away from us, without holding on to them—or the past—too tightly?

Most mothers of small children have had some version of the following experience: you’re in a public place and your toddler is melting down while the baby is screaming (or substitute some other flavor of wildness and chaos that comes with parenting small children).  An older mother, or a mother of children older than yours, gives you that knowing smile and says, “They grow so fast—hang in there, savor every moment!”

Some people (like this mom) hate this. They find it patronizing and invalidating and I get that, which why I resist the urge to say it myself—especially to people who are clearly struggling—now that my kids are getting older. It never bothered me, though, and in fact, I always appreciated the reminder. Because it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when things are hard? Or even when things are fine and routine but we’re on autopilot, caught up in the busy-ness and tasky-ness of life.

So, whether or not we want to hear it from others, how do we remind ourselves how soon these days, months, years, will be gone?

How do we slow it down and preserve memories? Does it matter whether we’re meticulous scrapbookers or slackers who rarely manage to upload our photos? Is it more about documentation, or moment-to-moment presence? What tricks can we use to remind ourselves to at least be here for as much of it as we can—not only because our kids need as much of our full presence as we can give, but also because even the Pinterest queens can’t possibly capture and preserve it all? If we pay more attention now, will we not only be better parents, but also remember more of their childhoods later?

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Maybe it’s the convergence of midlife with my firstborn’s approaching the cusp of his teen years that’s made me acutely, and sometimes painfully, aware of the time passing. Nearly thirteen years ago, this child went everywhere with me in the baby carriers I collected like some women collect bags or shoes, or I was strapping him into the car seat. And then I blinked. Now he’s an inch taller than me, riding shotgun and vying for control of the radio while talking to me in this new deep voice that has me doing double-takes every day.

My little one just turned nine, and I’m hanging on to the last delicious hints of little boy-ness as he moves undeniably into the Big Kid category.

So we’re past the middle. My firstborn will be old enough to move out in way fewer years than he’s been with us (OMG), and my younger one is halfway there.

Other than my loudest monster mama moments, some of my biggest parenting regrets are failures of documentation. I have a gazillion still photos but not enough video because I always forget to empty out my phone, and too often there’s not enough space. And all those still photos? They live in the computer, except for a couple of albums and one grouping of framed ones in the front hallway. My plan was to pick favorites from each year since we had kids until I got caught up, and then update with new ones from each year going forward, eventually having a whole wall of family photos. I started in the middle, with 2013, and that’s as far as I got.

As for photo books, I have one each from when the boys were newborns and one from a family vacation to Arizona. Photo books are hardly urgent, so it’s been easy to bump it to the bottom of the list—increasingly so as each year passes and it becomes a bigger undertaking. (This is THE year I finish both of those projects, though, I swear!)

The other project on my forever to-do list? Gathering the scraps of paper tucked here and there, going through my Facebook feed, and making a book of all the hilarious and poignant things my kids have said that I managed to get on paper or in a status update.

Part of it is, I want my kids to grow up having family photos to look at—in physical, tangible form (gotta hurry up!), and I want them to be able to look back and read their awesome kid quotes when they’re older. But it’s for me, too, so I can solidify the memories of their childhoods, at least as much as possible given my questionable organization habits and tendency toward procrastination.

I wish I were like my friend, who has a shelf full of Shutterfly books, created chronologically in a timely fashion, and walls full of beautifully framed prints (from more than one year!). Or my other friend, who started a giant blank book when her oldest started talking and kept it open on the sideboard in her dining room, readily available so she could write down those kid quotes and other funny moments before she forgot—in order and in their permanent place. Or the one who wrote letters to her children monthly when they were very little, less frequently but still regularly as they got older. The letters were full of the exquisite, minute details of what they were doing and saying during each snapshot in time.

I try to refrain from too much advice-giving with new parents (because, how annoying), but I do tell friends who are having babies now, whether it’s photo albums or written memories or both—do yourself a favor and keep up with this stuff in real-time. You don’t want to have a decade-plus of stuff to catch up on (or the regret if you never get to it at all). Try to do it monthly when you do your bills or something, I tell them.

And. Even if I had managed to be like my more organized friends—even all three of them in one!—it’s still an illusion to think I could come close to capturing it all. If I wanted to try and hold on to who they are now, I couldn’t. I could be as present and mindful as I’m capable of being, take a hundred pictures and even a video, and still, the memory of who they are in this moment will take on an ephemeral, ghost-like quality when I try in a few years to conjure them up at their now-ages.

This becomes clear whenever I come across something one of them said that I managed to write down, and it jolts me back to that time, and the memory is vivid, and it speaks to who they were in that moment. And yet, I’m struck—even a little freaked out—by how I would never have remembered it if I hadn’t just seen it written.

It becomes clear when I watch a video from more than a couple years ago and I’m struck by the higher, littler kid voice that is oddly unfamiliar.

So to some degree, their childhoods do simply slip away. Much will be lost, at least in terms of conscious memory, and nothing can be done about it. As I come to accept this, the kid quote book and photo projects keep their spots on my to-do list, but they don’t feel quite so heavy.

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When my older son was four, his favorite show was a NOVA episode about the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope by an astronaut named Mike Massamino. He must have watched it a hundred times on Netflix, usually while wearing his little white NASA jumpsuit. He wanted to be Mike Massamino. This was a big enough thing and it went on for long enough that I probably never would have forgotten it entirely. But you still can sort of forget about even the bigger phases when it gets farther back in time and they become older kids with different interests and habits. The Hubble Space Telescope phase came up somehow when my husband and I were talking and I realized I hadn’t thought about it in a few years. I did forget about it, temporarily anyway.

Not long after that, I found this little plastic toy when I was going through the kids’ stuff during a decluttering spree. It’s a figurine of the Hubble Space Telescope we picked up from one of those plastic toy bins at the children’s museum gift shop years ago. It sits on my altar now, where I sit (almost) every morning and do some combination of journaling, prayers, meditation.

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Now, even if I don’t finish the photo sorting until they are grown and out of the house, I have my daily visual reminder that these days are fleeting. A daily reminder that what I want is to stay awake and out of autopilot—not just to be a better parent for my kids, but for me, too. So I’m more likely to notice and feel fully. And remember.

 

© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2019

Voices

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Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

The following is a guest post by my husband, Gurpreet Singh. He wrote this poem leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, for victims of gun violence and hate crimes. 

 

Voices

by Gurpreet Singh

 

Daddy, this morning 26 of us played and now we are none.

Motek, I too will miss our Shabbat dinners.

My Sardarni, I miss our quiet Sunday morning rush to get to the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

Mama, thank you for making a space where boys like me may be a little safer to play and to make art and music. I miss you.

I am so very glad you couldn’t make it to Pulse tonight. Love you.

Darlin’, sorry we could not have dinner together after Bible study.

Rana Sodhi, my brother, I am happy you forgave and found some peace.

Get yourselves a good football coach, Marjory Stoneman, you are going to shine.

Many came and many spoke, a lot more cried and no laws changed.

PLEASE VOTE

 

© Gurpreet Singh and Wake Up, Mama! All rights reserved. 

 

Spiritual White People: Do we really want to help heal humanity? Or are we full of sh*t?

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Photo by Stephen Sandian on Unsplash

Spiritual white people: do we really want to help heal humanity? If we do, it’s past time to take a long, hard look at the ways we use spiritual beliefs to harm rather than heal.

Spiritual bypassing continues to show up in white-dominated spiritual/personal growth communities and wreak insidious havoc. Sometimes it’s empresses who turn out to be naked, like Danielle LaPorte or Marianne Williamson. Sometimes it’s emperors, like Tony Robbins. At least weekly, a lesser known spiritual entrepreneur—who may not be a household name but still might have followers in the thousands—uses their social media platform to push platitudes that deny and minimize oppression and legitimate suffering. This encourages their followers to follow suit. Just when I think I’ve said all I have to say on this subject, fresh inspiration is always right around the corner.

I’m talking to and about white people living in relative privilege who hold spirituality (not necessarily religion) as part of our identities and value systems. When I say “spiritual white people living in relative privilege,” I’m speaking about us as a collective, not as every single individual. So let’s practice observing our knee-jerk tendency to start concocting #notall type rebuttals, and then let that go, ok? On second thought, I do mean every individual, because we’ve all been complicit in some aspects, to some degree.

The following is a short list of beliefs and behaviors people in white-dominated spirituality/personal growth circles—including way too many “thought leaders” and spiritual business gurus—are very busy selling, buying and feeding each other. Continue reading

Spiritual Bypassing and White Fragility, By the Playbook

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Photo by Valentina Aleksandrovna on Unsplash

At the end of this essay are some links to pertinent articles, videos and books, mostly by women of color whose perspectives on this matter most. Also, on a time-sensitive note: on May 17, there is a free webinar for white women who want to do the internal work necessary to be part of the solution on these issues. More info and sign-up link here.

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Last week, Danielle LaPorte, one of the biggest names in women’s spirituality/personal growth entrepreneurship, launched a program with some marketing images that were racially problematic at best. When she posted her promotion of the program on her business’s Facebook page, numerous women of color (WOC) and white women in her target audience, many of whom had followed her and bought her products and programs for years, were upset and concerned. They let her know this with thoughtfully written, heartfelt (and yes, in some cases, angry!) explanations of why the marketing campaign was racist, and gave a wealth of educational links and suggestions for repair.

The original insult was compounded by her response to the feedback. She removed the images from online marketing materials and acknowledged the problem with her marketing campaign, but simultaneously implied the real harm was being done by the people giving the feedback rather than by her actions. Continue reading

Getting Unhooked: What Happened When I Took a Break from Facebook

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash. Image description: smartphone showing Facebook log-in screen next to the words “social media” spelled out with Scrabble letters.

Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. I’ve reconnected with people I never would have without social media, which has been (mostly) a blessing, and made new friends. I’ve seen some ideas that have changed how I operate in my daily life, like bullet journaling, and found some great parenting advice, insight and camaraderie. In the last couple of years, political and social justice actions have been facilitated or even made possible by Facebook. I’ve participated in some important and enlightening discussions (along with the many futile and exhausting ones). I’ve been educated, enraged, amazed and moved (both to tears and to action) by countless articles, blog posts, long form Facebook posts, and discussions I likely would not have seen otherwise. And this platform has allowed me to share my own writing. Lots to love.

AND. Facebook trips the wiring of my addictive tendency, which is always looking for a way to get reactivated, the minute I leave it unsupervised. Continue reading

Fear of February: How my winter depression shifted

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I really have no business living in New England.

I was born in New Orleans in August, in the middle of the afternoon. I could check what the temperature was that day, if that info is even available, but whatever. It was hot. We moved when I was just over a year old, and I spent a few years of my early childhood in Rhode Island. I can access a few hard details and events that stand out in stark relief, but most of my memories from that time are only sketches, shadows, colors, feelings. Vague images of snow angels are among those.

Before kindergarten, when my parents divorced, we (my mother, baby brother and me) moved back down south, initially to Mississippi where my grandparents lived. My mother remarried shortly thereafter and I was back in Louisiana—Baton Rouge this time (much less interesting than New Orleans, just as hot). For a couple of years at age 10 and 11, we had a stint in Indiana where I enjoyed the snow and don’t remember hating the cold, after which we were back in Baton Rouge.

Then, at age 13, my fighting spirit collided with family issues and catapulted me back to Rhode Island alone, this time without my mother and brother, where I arrived to live with my father, stepmother, stepsiblings and new baby sister—a process which was set in motion in February of that year. Continue reading

When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting

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Photo credit: StockSnap. Description: Woman with eyes closed and shadow across face.

I want to talk about something I witnessed last week in the online world.

First, a little background. A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of a pervasive phenomenon in the (overwhelmingly white) women’s spirituality/ personal growth circles I move in. I noticed persistent attempts to deny and disown painful realities by insistence (overt or implied) that we create our struggles with our negative thinking or energy or low vibration or fill-in-the-blank. I do believe the way we frame things in our thinking can be important to our well being and success, up to a point. I do believe we have some authentic choice around where we place our focus, and those choices can impact our well being and success, up to a point. However, I found the blanket application and oversimplification of these ideas to be profoundly negating of people’s life experience. It also borders on blaming people for certain external realities truly beyond their control.

I wrote a blog post at that time called “Anger and Spirituality Are Not Mutually Exclusive” in a stumbling attempt to speak to this thing I couldn’t name. I didn’t know then that I didn’t have to name it because it already had a name—Spiritual Bypassing—and there’s a whole book about it. I found this out when a dear friend put her copy of the book in my hands and said, “Will you please read this already? It’s what you’ve been bitching about for a year.”

Here’s the quick definition: Continue reading