One of my children really liked to make messes when she was small. You take a kid who is curious, who is sensory seeking and who is creative and you get a lot of messes. (Many of you are nodding and sighing and wringing out a sponge ready to clean up your own child’s brand new mess.) This child of mine used to find new and unusual ways to make already messy things even messier. She used to find a particularly sticky or wet or ooky thing and she had to take it to the next level, wondering how it felt or how it smelled or how it might look over here instead of over there or what might happen if she dipped a stuffed animal into it.
Now I have to give her some credit because even when she was small she would clean up her messes with the caveat that first she had to realize that they were messes. If she didn’t realize it then I would find it eventually and she was generally amenable to being handed a sponge and being told to go to work. Most of the time I could be pretty calm about it. I understood how it was for her — she often didn’t realize that the mess has begun until it was already pretty crazy. At the first part she would be in the moment. She would be humming and swishing her hands through the soapsuds for quite some time before she realized that the soapsuds have spilled out of the sink onto the book she brought into the bathroom with her or that the water was running out of the sink onto her shoes. She was very in that moment, focused, experiencing the mess. And when she did realize it, she was often dismayed. She did not want to be that messy girl all the time. She didn’t like having to come tell me what happened so I could help her figure out how to clean it up.
My way of dealing with it was to emphasize how responsible she was even before she knew what responsible was. So when I came into her bedroom and saw that she’d found a stray bottle of black tempera paint and that her resulting art projects had gotten out of control I would say, in a calm (but certainly sometimes simmering) voice, “I know you are a responsible person so I expect you to take responsibility for this.”
And she would as much as she could and I would help her the rest of the way.
Eventually when she spilled her soup after deciding to fix herself a little snack she would say, “Don’t worry, Mommy, I’m responsible. I’ll take care of it.”
I was thinking about this because we sometimes have to fight not to give a messy child a negative self concept because she happens to be a messy person. It’s hard, I know, because I’ve been there.
When things were NOT messy, I would sometimes talk about what a creative, curious person my messy child was (and remains) and how sometimes this makes for messes and then I would add, “But you are so responsible, you always clean them up. Even if you whine a little first, you take responsibility for it and you take care of it.”
Jean Luc Picard has faith that the messes will lessen. Trust him.
I said this before it was true. I said this when the only reason she took responsibility was because I stood over her and coached her through it. I said this even when her efforts made things worse as she toddled behind me imitating me cleaning it up. I said it to make it true. My husband and I gave her that self concept, “You are responsible” and we are still giving it to her because we are like Picard, we are saying, “Make it so.”
The other thing I would do is tell her that it’s OK to be a little kid and to be messy. I would say, “Yes, you are having trouble with X but that’s because you are X age and kids who are X age are learning about that.” So when my child was lamenting her propensity for messes, I would say, “You make messes because you are learning. You will get bigger and you will make fewer messes. Besides it doesn’t matter as long as you take responsibility for your messes, which you do.”
I’m not trying to pretend that I didn’t tear out my hair or stomp around or holler because I did those things, too; after all I’m human. When I saw yet another roll of toilet paper ruined or another bar of soap squished into wet oblivion I sometimes did not behave with an iota of grace or patience. But we worked on it together and I trusted that if I said it often enough and gave her the tools, she would get better. And happily she has. She’s still creative and she’s still messy but she’s also independently responsible about cleaning things up 99% (ok, maybe 96%) of the time.
So these are my parenting tips for loving our messy kids: Act like Picard (“Make it so”) and give them a little perspective (“It’s normal to do XYZ but my job is to help you grow out of it”). Not necessarily in that order.
That was the thing about our conception: there were too many players to be jealous of any one. And once we made the decision to have children this way, and put away regret, I felt happier embracing it than just tolerating it. There was even something I liked about the idea of a family created by many hands, like one of those community quilt projects, pietra dura, or a mosaic whose beauty arises from broken shards. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not begin with conception? When I tried to think about why I don’t want to have donor-and-surrogacy amnesia, it isn’t that it seems unfair to them (although it is), but that it erases our own experience of how our children came to be. At a basic level, the fact that our children originated through the good will of strangers feels like an auspicious beginning.
If you consider third-party reproduction to be simply a production detail in the creation of a conventional nuclear family — a service performed and forgotten — then acknowledging the importance of outsiders could make it all seem like a house of cards. But if you conceive of the experience as creating a kind of extended family, in which you have chosen to be related to these people through your children, it feels very rich.
via Meet the Twiblings – NYTimes.com.
I really like what the author says about feeling “happier embracing it than just tolerating it.”
Creating our families is a journey that starts with the idea of what (and who) makes up a family and continues for the rest of our lives.
Some of us create family more consciously — when we choose friendships that we elevate to family, when we face unexpected challenges in our reproductive efforts, when we contemplate our choices in a crisis pregnancy.
When we step into a greater consciousness of creating family, we may need to mourn the family of origin we wish we had or the children we hoped to have or the partner we dreamed of having that with.
On the other side of grief is hope and joy and love. It may look different than what we expect, but when we have room to honor our losses, we create space to celebrate those differences rather than deny them.
This post originally appeared on this woman’s work, my now defunct personal blog.
You’re invited to join Eve Hermann, LMT, at her annual Presence in Transition: The second Deep-Winter Day Retreat for Women at Spring Hollow Lodge in Westerville, OH on January 13th from 10am to 3:30pm.
Join a circle of women at Columbus Metro Parks’ most welcoming lodge.
“Our appointment with life takes place in the present moment. And the venue is right where we are right now.”–Siddartha Gautama
Enjoy the calm of wooded ravines, trees, winter birds and community.
Focus for a day on movement, meditation and healing.
Recharge yourself in the midst of winter.
Listen, laugh and move as everyone shares their journeys to a higher level of self awareness.
Share with the other participants how you maintain presence in transition.
• Yoga and meditation led by Elizabeth Miller
• Engaged Embodiment movement and Presence in Transition Sharing Circle led by Eve Hermann
Cost for the day: $55
To register & pay online, visit Eve’s website here. You can also visit the Facebook page for this event right here.
For more information, contact Eve Hermann at email@example.com.
This is from A Portrait of Pia, a young adult book by Marisabina Russo about a 13-year old girl who goes looking for her — and finds — her long-lost father.
Pia could see herself standing in front of the class holding the [self-portrait] upside down. How foolish she had felt! Then she remembered Mrs. Lavelle pointing out the negative space behind her hair. It made her think of her father, the part of her life that was not here, but still defined her.
I was pleased to see that she wrote The Line-Up Book, too, because this was one of son’s favorites when he was little.
I’m always looking for books that aren’t just about adoption but also about kids finding themselves in unusual family circumstances. In this one, Pia’s mom’s boyfriend tells her that he was adopted. He tells her about finding his birth mother while he’s sitting with her at the airport before she gets on a plane with her mom to go meet her father. He tells her:
“In that instant I realized that although I’d found her, the woman who had given birth to me, I was still Greg Finer … I remember feeling really relieved because you know …” Here Greg finally took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to change. I liked who I was.”
Our children — most especially our children separated by birth parents for whatever reason — need to know that while they become better everyday, they are who they are. They are right and strong and true and they are exactly who they should be.
This is a great long review of the book and I encourage you to check it out.
I think Russell Crowe ought to play Sondheim if they ever decide to do a biopic. What do you think?
I thought I’d tell you about how I write my clinical case notes because it’s the kind of thing was interested in before I became a counselor and I still like learning how other people write theirs. (Treatment plans, too, but that’s a topic for another day.)
When I think about writing case notes I think about turning one of Sondheim‘s writing rules on its head. Stephen Sondheim says that writing lyrics for musical theater comes down to these three principles: Content dictates form; less is more; and god is in the details. In writing case notes I think that form often dictates content. In other words, I write to a form and it directs my train of thought thus dictating the content.
Like a lot of therapists, I use a modified version of what’s called a SOAP format. SOAP is an acronym that stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan. For example, if I was counseling, say, Mama Bear of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and she was telling me about her frustration cooking breakfast for her picky family, I might write:
Client was present with therapist. Client discussed her challenges in cooking breakfast. Client says her husband likes his food much hotter than she does but cooler than her son prefers it. Client says she ends up having to cook three different breakfasts and gets up several hours early to do so. Client reports feeling “resentful” towards her family. Therapist asked client about her previous plan to serve family cold cereal. Client says she feels guilty when she does this. Therapist and client discussed her feelings of guilt. Therapist asked if client’s feelings of resentment may come out with her family in other ways. Client identified that when she feels resentful she has trouble being pleasant on the family’s morning walks in the forest. Client says that in many ways her guilt about feeling resentful is worse than the guilt of serving cold cereal.
That’s the Subjective part of the case note, which basically means it’s what the client has to say and what I had to say. Now here’s the Objective part:
Client appeared extremely tired as evidenced by her repeated yawning during the session. Client had her apron on backward, her fur was uncombed and she had to ask therapist to repeat herself several times.
Notice there isn’t any opinion in there. I wouldn’t write, “Client is clearly being run ragged by her selfish family” or “Client needs to get it together and focus.”
In the Assessment piece I look back at our treatment plan and see if Mama Bear is making progress towards her goals. In Mama Bear’s case, she might have said that two of her goals are to make more time for herself and help her family become more self-sufficient. In this case I would say that Mama Bear is making progress because she is starting to think about the ways that her resentment towards her family is more of a problem for her than feeding them cold cereal. Even though she hasn’t changed her routine and even though she’s still having trouble putting her needs first, she’s thinking in ways that are moving her forward. I would note that like this:
Client is thinking critically about her choices and beginning to consider how taking care of herself might serve the family, too.
Finally there’s the Plan part of the SOAP note. Here I would write what our plans were whether they’re to meet again in a week, to have Mama Bear keep a diary of her feelings around breakfast or to ask her to ask Papa Bear to take one morning over this week.
What’s interesting to me about writing up the case notes is that using the SOAP format orients me to see the progress we’ve made in the session and in our counseling relationship as a whole. That’s the Sondheim-ish, “Form dictates content.” Writing our sessions in such a detached format gives me the perspective I need to really understand what it is that we’re doing together. When I’m in session, I try to stay present with my client. Writing up case notes after our time together gives me the chance to think back and reconsider my experience, which gives me new insight.
The second reason I keep things so bland is that case notes are confidential except when they’re not. Clients are (obviously) allowed to access their files and sometimes courts are allowed to access them, too. If this happens I want to protect the client (by keeping my opinion out of things — imagine the difference between sharing that Mama Bear’s apron is on backwards and saying something like, “Mama Bear sure didn’t know where her head was at that day” if she ends up in a heated custody battle) and I want to protect myself. I do that best by stating just the facts, ma’am.