Relationships are trying, in every sense of the word.
I found myself at Marshall's in downtown Brooklyn the other day, unable to resist the lure of its shoe department. It offers the thrill of the hunt like no other place. If you can find your size, or even two shoes that match, you are lucky, finding two shoes that match in your size that you actually want to buy feels like winning the lottery.
As I tried on a pair of fur-lined high-heeled clogs, broken, I discovered sadly, or I would have bought them, I overheard an older mother and her daughter bantering over what one another thought of various styles as they searched. I smiled. They were cute. As commonly happens, for I am not subtle, I was caught eavesdropping.
The mother, I'd place her in her 70s, with a sassy grey bob, turned to me with a smile to say, "We want to be together, but then all we do is fight!"
The two of them giggled, then the daughter piped in, "We're on day six, and we've decided our limit is five!" Her mother, she told me, was in from Florida.
In the midst of the shoe rubble, this seemed a perfect moment to reward efforts expended. I hopped over to my bag on one furry clog and grabbed two of the biggest stars in the pack, handing them over to the ladies, now seated closely together on a little bench. "Well," I said sincerely, "good for you for even trying!"
They sat, matching mouths open wide as they took their stars and, in unison, placed them smack dab in the middle of their shirts. "Oh my God!" the daughter said, "We got gold stars!" They turned to one another and hugged, huge smiles on their faces.
At this point, I wished, as never before, that I was making a documentary, that I could have video-taped this moment.
"I've been giving out these stars for six months and I've seen a lot of great reactions, but you guys win the award," I said. "You're awesome."
I gave them one of my new cards to lead them to my blog and, back in my own shoes but with a new bounce in my step, I moved on, out of the store to do my real errands, to buy a skateboard for my 6-year-old for his birthday. It is amazing to see how hard some people will work on their relationships, laughing through the difficulties of them, putting up with things they don't want to put up with but still doing it. It is so much easier, of course, to let things slide, to just stop trying altogether.
My kids remind me every day that effort is necessary for a relationship to work. Much as I would like it to be, it is rarely smooth sailing and if I pretend there are no waves, we all begin to go under. It never fails: if I check out, my kids begin to notice and retaliate. But keeping checked in is so hard! Sometimes it feels like you are constantly on day six of what should be a five-day stay!
I spoke on the phone yesterday to a woman I met recently at Naidre's, Kathy. When I met her, she had been searching for something that fit her dietary restrictions, but she settled, in the end, for something that wasn't perfect, something that she would enjoy in the moment at least. She is a registered nurse and has a business counseling parents on how to establish peaceful environments at home, one she blogs about at www.parentingpresence.blogspot.com. I'd say her services are well-needed in Park Slope as in every place where kids abound.
She wanted to interview me about my needs as a parent, what I wanted to work on. She had slotted me in for 20 minutes. Ha! Did she have 20 years available? As we talked, I did gain clarity on some things, for example, that I am in constant conflict because the things I love about my children are also the things I loathe. Their physicality, for example. I love that they often snuggle close in one or the other of their single bunks, using one another as a safe harbor, a refuge. But when they seek that same safe harbor through wrestling at pick-up, pouncing on one another and pushing into other people? Not such a fan.
Kathy imbued a bit of science to make me feel better, offering that such physicality is a great way to get rid of stress. Of course, that makes sense. We, as adults, get stress relief, too, from physicality, if we're lucky:) We tend to downplay, sometimes, the need for physical connection, especially in kids, because of our own fears, our own inhibitions. But it is important, she said, and I wholeheartedly agree. The problem, of course, is, like with all things, learning to keep it in check, learning to control oneself in moments where you can't be clawing all over someone just as a stress reliever.
After the conversation, which ran, of course, well past the 20-minute mark, I felt a renewed sense of energy to work on my relationship with my kids and also a deep feeling of dread. I had to really work on my relationship with my kids. It had seemed to be going so well for a time that I had put it on the back burner, focusing on other priorities. But, of course, it's the most important priority. It's the hardest, though, the one on the list that you're least able to check off at the end of any single day.
Last night, as he went to bed, Eli smiled up in his bunk, shutting his library book on Obama.
"It makes me so happy to read about presidents," he said, explaining why before I even asked. "It's really amazing that someone could set such a big goal and actually achieve it! You know, I could be a professional baseball player, if I really try..."
I felt myself tearing up as I leaned in through the slats of his bed for a kiss.
"Yes," I said, "you can do anything you want as long as you try!"
No matter what isn't working in our house, one message, one mantra is definitely shining through loud and clear. Like Obama, I have pushed hard on a single-word stance: Try.