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Published by Vickie Gill on 17 Oct 2009

Zen and the Art of Parenting

In one day I heard about the sudden deaths of three people I barely knew.  One was a local woman in her 80’s who lived alone and the other was a young couple just starting out in life.  The death of anyone’s child sends me reeling–my greatest fear is the late night phone call where there is nothing to be done.  It makes me want to move next door to my daughters–physically impossible since they now live in different states–and protect them from the inexplicable, random tragedies. 

When our kids are small, we spend much of our time creating a safe environment for them to grow.  We are careful about what they eat, where they go, what they see–we even peek at them when they’re sleeping in their own beds, just in case.  But well-raised children are curious about the world, make plans that extend far beyond ours, and have the confidence to create lives of their own.   If we’re lucky, we are one of the first they call with their triumphs, and we serve as back-up for problems they could not solve themselves.

I’ve been talking with my students about the importance of myths in our lives–the stories that help us deal with the inevitables.  My story for the 80-year-old woman who died in her sleep is that she was lucky to pass so peacefully.  But I have no story for the young couple who happened to be on the wrong highway at the wrong time.  I feel helpless when I think of the parents of these kids–my heart aches, and I know that there is nothing anyone could say to comfort me if I were in their place. 

The only story I know for these losses is one that’s been around for thousands of years.  Death is inevitable, the moment impossible to determine.  But we do have time with these people who enter our lives.  We don’t spend it fearing its end–that’s the same as wasting it.  We are fully present when a person is in front of us, we give and take what the relationship will allow, and we say what we need him or her to know. 

Those who are gone are at peace; we need to make sure that we who remain can find that, too.

Published by Vickie Gill on 19 Apr 2009

Being Out of Touch

I’ve been thinking about how accessible we’ve become as we develop more sophisticated technological tools.  I wonder if it’s the fear of being forgotten or the fear of being out of touch.  We just got back from a week in Mexico.  When the plane took off from LAX, I turned off my cell phone and dropped it into my bag.  We took iPods but no computer.  The first place we stayed had a “business center” with two rather slow computers–when we passed it as we were checking in, I promised myself that I would go all week without looking at email–something I normally do three or four times a day.  I wasn’t tempted until the second day when Kam wanted to let his parents know we arrived safely–when he sat down at one computer, I naturally checked in.  No notes from anyone I know, I think because everyone at work was on vacation, and family and friends knew where I was.  When we moved to a far more remote resort on the Sea of Cortez, we were truly incommunicado–no phone, TV, Internet, radio–nothing but the iPods.  I love that feeling, but as soon as we landed in LA, I turned on my phone to make sure everything was OK with my daughters.  In truth, Casey had our itinerary and we could be found in an emergency. 

My family always had a telephone in the house, but I don’t think I had an answering machine until I began my first teaching job in Monterey.  If someone needed to talk to me, they had to keep calling until I was home–same for me with them.  Somehow, things worked out.  I probably got email sometime in the ’90’s and I’ll have to admit, it’s my favorite form of communication–I can check it when I’m ready.  When I lived in Tennessee, I never worried about answering the phone–three children in the house–but when I lived on my own again in California, I set my answering machine to two rings and rarely picked up the phone “live” unless it sounded urgent.  I got a cell phone around five or six years ago, but most of the time, it sits in the car.  I have to admit that a cell phone has made traveling much easier–especially the airport pick-up–and it’s comforting in case my car breaks down, but I buy minutes once a year–I just don’t use it too much.

I’m not sure how I would have handled cell phones, IM, Facebook, and the Internet in general when my children were young.  I probably would have done the same as TV–limited their “live” viewing time to a couple of hours a week.  The girls could watch movies or programs on the VCR, but mostly they were outside playing or as teenagers, in their rooms listening to music, reading, writing or talking.  I’ve talked to parents who cannot control their kids’ texting, emailing, surfing.  I’ve talked to teachers who have problems with kids surreptitiously text-messaging in class, I’ve talked to kids who cannot live without their cell phones on their person as all times.  This all worries me.  Sometimes it seems like Myspace and Facebook are like quick get-rich schemes–instant fame for just exposing oneself–“I have 350 friends!”  I don’t even know what that means.

But another thought is that the technology has ways to release us, too.  I know my family had a TV when we first moved to San Jose when I was five–my brothers and I were definitely addicts–undiscriminating, for the most part, in our viewing because there were only a few channels.  When the girls were little, I used to get them in bed by 7:30, partly to have adult time, but also because if we wanted to watch Masterpiece Theater or something more grown-up, we had to be in front of the TV when it aired–we didn’t own a VCR until we moved to Tennessee.  As soon as we got one, I became quite proficient at scanning the program listings and taping favorite shows.  We could watch these when we had time, skip commercials, and stop watching TV to talk to someone who needed to be heard–even now, I rarely watch “live” TV.

We woke up this morning listening to NPR Sunday morning–far less disturbing news, far more interesting interviews about art, life, books, etc.  As I lay there, I thought that it would be nice to have this playing as I ate breakfast, but then I love to read the paper in the morning.  Too bad it can’t be recorded, but then I realized that it can be downloaded.  The technology has made it so we can access almost anything, save it, and listen/view when we have the time. 

I know I do not want to be accessible every waking moment, but it’s wonderful to stay in touch.  We control the technology, it does not control us.  Just like food, just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to partake; and just like food, extremes are always unhealthy.  Either your life works or it doesn’t.

Published by Vickie Gill on 30 Dec 2008

From a Distance

Lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that I’ve lived most of my life at a distance from those I love.  I moved out of my parents’ house the day after I graduated from high school.  I attended college in the same city, but I would drop by only when I was feeling hungry or guilty.  When I accepted my first teaching job, I moved to Monterey, about 90 miles southwest of San Jose.  I got married, and after four years of teaching, we decided to take off to see America in a VW bus.  We moved back in with my parents for a couple of weeks to get ready for the trip, then I found out I was pregnant with Delaney.  We were thrilled and surprised at the same time.  We rented a house that was 5 miles from my folks’ home and literally right next door to their church–an institution I escaped from as soon as I could.  After a year, we moved back to the Monterey area to housesit for friends in a canyon in Big Sur while they toured Europe for six months.  Then we rented a house in Monterey where Jenny and Casey were born.  Two years later we followed the yellow brick road to Nashville, hoping to strike it rich in the music business.  The plan was to stay for five years, then take our millions back to California to settle down.  Seventeen years later, I moved back home by myself.  Tennessee had never been a comfortable fit for me, but the dissolution of my marriage made it impossible to stay.  Even though they understood and encouraged me, the decision to leave my daughters behind was the most difficult I’ve ever made.  None of them lived at home anymore, but I was brought up with the Ma and Pa image–the homestead down the road where the kids could drop by at will.  Instead, in a good year, I see the girls two or three times; that’s still hard to get my head around. 

I’ve always been at odds with the greeting card images of females throughout every stage of my life.  I grew up in a male household–a patriarch, 3 brothers, and a mother who would give in.  I knew what I was supposed to do as a member of the family–serve and obey–but mostly I wasn’t supposed to cause trouble.  Go along.  Put yourself second, third, fourth.  Instead I fought and moved out as soon as I could.  I put my heart and mind into being a good mother, but as the girls grew up and needed me less, I realized that I was repeating the same patterns from my childhood; I allowed myself to step back into the river and drift until the current swept me away.

So, I’m a mom who lives two time zones from her kids.  After a rough start, we’re finding our way–the girls and I talk at least once a week on the phone and email often.  When we’re together, we easily fall back into that closeness.  But I wish I was nearby when they’re sick or have too much to do, and hopefully, we’ll have this travel thing figured out by the time they have children. 

Lately I’ve been calling myself “the wordy pilgrim”–I’ve always been on a quest to find and protect my authentic self, and I talk way too much about what I’ve discovered and what I’ve lost.   It may seem that I have thoroughly rejected the beliefs of my parents, but there is no doubt that I can recognize my father’s gait in my stride and my mother’s wonder in my heart. I hold onto their myths that work in my life, and I let the rest of them slide (leaving only the tiniest smudge of guilt as they go).  

I’m no longer running away and I haven’t stopped searching.  Our challenge is to figure out how we can stay close from a distance, stay linked in our freedom, and find the path that leads us home and away at the same time. 

Published by Vickie Gill on 09 Jun 2008

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Throughout my career I’ve met students who claim they don’t need to learn whatever I’m offering because they know exactly what they’ll be doing in a few years – they have it all figured out. I tell them that if someone had told me when I was a teenager that by the time I was thirty-six I’d be married with three children and living in rural Tennessee, I’d have laughed my head off. At eighteen, I was mildly interested in getting married at some later date, but I knew for a fact that I’d never have kids and I’d never move away from California. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

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