Monthly Archives: October 2009

Going Mother Bear

I remember twenty years ago when our son Cameron was a newborn and my husband and I ventured bravely from the suburbs to downtown Washington, DC on the Metro. He must have been three weeks old or so, as Cameron lay on my shoulder sleeping. A man across the aisle looked at the sleeping baby, I’m sure out of natural curiosity or happy memory, and I doubt I’ll ever forget my reaction. Holding tighter to our baby, I worried fiercely he wanted to take Cameron from me. I probably shot him a look that would kill as I envisioned all the ways I would protect my child.

Mother Bear

Mother Bear

Childbirth had its way with me chemically. Bruce said about a week into motherhood that I acted like I had been hit by a truck OK, not a good metaphor to use with a woman recently recovering from childbirth, but I had to agree with him. The woman I was before the birth had replaced Stepford Wife style while I slept postpartum in the hospital. No, I didn’t become a more diligent cook or housecleaner (no such luck there), but I had become a person who now suddenly would be willing to rip the eyes of out a fellow Metro traveler.

The “mother bear” instinct that took me over was often frightening. I must be honest, Before Cameron (BC), the thought never entered my mind how I might “take out” someone who would threaten one of my loved ones. After Cameron, I began to run scenarios on how I would jump in the tiger area at the National Zoo to rescue my children. How they would have gotten in the pen, I have no idea. Yet as I visualized attacking one claw equipped animal after another, I realized the footloose and worry free BC Deidre was gone.

Around our house in Montana, every couple of years a yearling bear cub appears trying to forage for food. Bird feeders and garbage cans are our usual casualties, but I used to wonder why the mother bears would send off their babies so young. Watching how my mother bear instinct rages within me even though we have grown and almost grown children, I wonder if this early send off is nature’s way of keeping both mother and teenaged bear sane!

With a twenty year old and two teenagers in our family, I am struck by how I still desperately want to keep them safe. I guess I always thought the “BC Deidre” might return when the kids reached a certain age. No luck there. Much to my children’s dismay, the mother bear instinct still remains.

When our children play upon cultural edges, be it teenaged antics or a racy outfit, I notice that I don’t act my best. I want to throw a baby blanket over their heads and take them home, even if they are home! “Guess what, teenagers and twenty year olds need some self-determination and independence,” says my rational brain. Meanwhile, Mother Bear tries to take over, even if her logic on safety is completely out of whack.

Sports are a funny aberration of mother bear gone awry. Go watch the antics of soccer moms. Why might you ask are these women ready to eat the referee alive, find themselves screaming at coach or opposing team parents, or pushing their children to run harder and play tougher? My theory is all the mother bears on the sidelines are internally chanting, “Winners are safer,” and “Great athletes have more opportunities and are thus safer.” Oh yes, and there is the constant message they could repeat that “Athletic kids are healthier (safer), get better grades (safer) and are less likely to do drugs (that will protect them too.)” Our logical minds can find counter arguments to all these pronouncements, yet the mother bears seize the stage and run to sign up little ones for another summer camp.

So, in terms of this blog’s theme, how does a biologically programmed mother “play well”?

I have found three supporting tools:

  • Self awareness – that my hormonal mommy makeup wires me to “keep them safe at all costs,” reminds me to pay attention if I’m going “bear.”
  • Check out the story – When I get a bit territorial, it helps to realize what statement I’m using. It usually that ends with, “…are safer.” It’s then good to remind myself that it’s not always true that kids who get straight A’s are safer for example. What’s the story I’m using? Is it appropriate? Is it fair to my children?
  • Be compassionate – I often dislike how wishing to create safety creates fear-based reactions. I want to support self-determination, creativity and independence in my children, so worry, inadvertent fussing or nagging rarely pleases me. But, I’m still a mother. Get between a grizzly and her cub and you’ll be in trouble. That my claws come out from time to time is only natural. Being kind to myself is better for all involved.

Once out of my childhood house, but “Before Cameron,” I was always confused by my mother’s reactions when I’d periodically visit. Going out with friends, she would be worried if I returned late or struggled over choosing a new job direction. I would remark how silly it was how I could travel all over the country and live thousands of miles away and it didn’t bother her at all, but at home I needed a curfew. Now twenty years AC, I understand entirely. Mother bears become just that when their cubs drop by, whatever their age!

Say Yes

Life is movement. The more life there is, the more flexibility there is. The more fluid you are, the more you are alive. – Arnaud Desjardins

Ask a Buddhist what we can count on and he will probably explain that nothing is permanent or, as Desjardins says, “life is movement.”

Sometimes that precept is welcome news. It’s great to know that homesickness or a sore back will eventually end. That your toddler will someday not need diapers and will learn how to dress herself brings a smile to your lips. Yet, as you look across a table at a dear friend, at that beloved toddler or at an aging parent, you’d probably rather forget that everything changes including our favorite people.

So, how do we come to terms with the axiom of constant and sometimes heartbreaking change?

This question has been accompanying me closely as our cousin Charles Bach passed away from congestive heart failure last month. Six months my senior, Charlie assumed the role of elder brother by providing relentless teasing and instruction throughout my childhood, which I usually resisted. Our extended family’s favorite memories include Charlie and me arguing for hours rooted literally and metaphorically in the spot where we began.

Charlie

Charlie

So, fast-forward to today, I’m still balking at the presented topic — I’m not a big fan of impermanence right now, thank you very much. I would love the opportunity to battle with Charlie over introducing it. “Sometimes people need to leave,” I could hear him saying…

Some of Charlie’s last words were, “Yes, yes, yes!” and “It’s an amazing world of yes.” I am told that he died happy and very much at peace. As one of my lifelong teachers, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he left behind answers on how one is supposed to cope.

Since he was a gifted musician and actor, Charlie’s statement reminds me an improvisation rule — “say yes to whatever appears.” For example, what if on stage your partner suggests making spaghetti on Mars? Go along with the program. And if the clarinetist wants to riff in a new direction? Follow her lead. The scene calls for you to now to be ninety-year-old hip-hop star? Fantastic – start dancing.

Patricia Madson, author of Improv Wisdom expands, “The world of yes may be the single most powerful secret of improvising. It allows players who have no history with one another to create a scene effortlessly, telepathically. Safety lies in knowing your partner will go along with whatever idea you present…Seize the first idea and go with it. Don’t confuse this with being a “yes-man,” implying mindless pandering. Saying yes is an act of courage and optimism; it allows you to share control. It is a way to make your partner happy. Yes expands your world.”

A deliciously talented improv actress, friend and teacher Katie Goodman reframes this concept in her book Improvisation for the Spirit as “don’t negate.” She writes, “If someone offers a tidbit of information to move the scene forward (such as “Oh man, I left the money we stole from the bank, um, at the bank,”) and I negate the offering (“No! It’s right here!”) it would do several things: First of all, it would be a power-play over the other actor, which is really not fun for the others and over time makes people not want to work or hang out with you…Secondly, the energy of the scene would have fallen flat – if you outright negate and say no to an idea the scene comes to a screeching halt. And most importantly, I would have just blown an opportunity for a creative challenge, which brings energy and enthusiasm to our lives.”

Not only opening us to exciting new opportunities, saying yes is an act of recognizing reality. We accept even that to which we want to say no. On stage it might be easy to say, “yes, we eat spaghetti on Mars” and yet in real life we are called to say, “Yes, atrocities are being committed against innocent people in the Congo,” “Yes, you think I’m a jerk,” or “Yes, there is racism and misery in the world.”  We see what is, we center into the facts, and then can decide what must be done.

A fighter by nature, I was never happy when it looked like Charlie won an argument. But here, yes, he gets the last word (Charlie would have teased me for choosing that figure of speech so I’ll leave it.).  Yes, I stand silently vanquished not only because I admit that he made another excellent point, but also because as Seneca once said, “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.”