• new year

    With the new year, I've been thinking about newness, and the rawness of the new--new babies, new families, and new ways of being. This article addresses this kind of experience, and the ways in which our experience can be transformed. The author wonders:

    What would it be like in winter, awake in that dark silent house, holding a baby I couldn’t even imagine? I’d always thought of the deepest part of night as the witching hour, a time, my childhood books had taught me, that was not for humans. In a month or so, I’d see the witching hour again and again.

    Then my son was born, and what shocked me most — more than the surprising goriness of my body’s healing, more than the strange sounds newborns make, more than the ferocity of my nursing-mother appetite — were the nights. Those long, dark, cold winter nights I had feared more than childbirth itself. They became something I hadn’t known a night could be: a haven. A shelter. 

    It's a lovely read for these short days, when the year is still new, and we feel ready to make changes to the ways in which we experience the world.

  • a poem for the winter solstice

    See Paris First

    by M. Truman Cooper

    Suppose that what you fear
    could be trapped,
    and held in Paris.
    Then you would have
    the courage to go
    everywhere in the world.
    All the directions of the compass
    open to you,
    except the degrees east or west
    of true north
    that lead to Paris.
    Still, you wouldn’t dare
    put your toes
    smack dab on the city limit line.
    You’re not really willing
    to stand on a mountainside
    miles away
    and watch the Paris lights
    come up at night.
    Just to be on the safe side
    you decide to stay completely
    out of France.
    But then danger
    seems too close
    even to those boundaries,
    and you feel
    the timid part of you
    covering the whole globe again.
    You need the kind of friend
    who learns your secret and says,
    "See Paris first."

  • emotion word: solastagia

    We often need words to describe our experiences and our emotions. And as our circumstances change, as our environments or our responses to our perceived environments change, we need new words. Solastalgia is one of those new words, coined to describe a new feeling in response to a new reality.

    In 2007, Glenn Albrecht wrote that "[a]s opposed to nostalgia--the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home--solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment." He went on to describe the process of coining this term: 

    Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. As indicated above, algia means pain, suffering or sickness. In addition, the concept has been constructed such that it has a ghost reference or structural similarity to nostalgia so that a place reference is imbedded. Hence, literally, solastalgia is the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory.

    It's a good word, I think--useful in helpng us to identify this new feeling inside many of us, that we are not at home in our home environments. These environments have changed, are rendered unfamiliar, and in some profound way, inhospitable--not because they are forbidding but simply because they are deeply different from our expectations. 

  • the fourth trimester

    I was prompted to write about this--"the fourth trimester," the three months following the birth of a full-term infant--for several reasons. First, I've been devoting a lot of time over the last two years to learning about attachment, the process by which we come to be connected to our caregivers early in our lives, and through which we come to underatand what it means to be a person, and especially, a person in relationship. And that learning begins in the fourth trimester. By twelve months, a baby has arrived at a deep understanding of how to be in relationship, of what it means to care and be cared for. 

    As this is happening for us as babies, for us as mothers? We are navigating our own changes, ranging from postpartum physical recovery to neurological and psychological changes that typically allow us to be more attuned to the needs of their babies--and often less attuned to our own needs. Partners too, when they are present, are busy coming to terms with changing relationships in the household, with the enormity of their new roles, and what it means to them. 

    I'm moved by the efforts of babies to reach out and engage the people who care for them, just as I'm moved by the efforts of those same caregivers--mothers, fathers, grandparents, and many many others--to rise to the challenge of care as best they can, all the while confronting the physical challenges of care and the profound feelings about being in relationship that typically surface at this moment.

    And then I saw an article in the New York Times that touches on this moment. It's flawed in a variety of ways--most obviously to my eyes, in its assumption of economic privilege--but it's still an important recognition of the vulnerability of this moment in the lives of families. It mentions some great new books, like The Fourth Trimester, and urges women to attend to their own well-being in a variety of ways--getting help day-by-day, getting sleep, supporting physical recuperation, supporting breastfeeding. 

    Please know that if you're seeking support at this moment, there are many local resources available to you, everything from pelvic floor therapists like those mentioned in this article, to lactation specialists and nursng mother's groups, to free support groups for women experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety, and much much more. And there are therapists like me who are ready to help you make sense of what's happening for you. 

  • the dying time of the year

    This is the time of the year when the light begins to ebb, to shorten, to fade, when we are reminded of mortality. But it is of course always with us. Children discover it in myriad ways: the broken cookie; the dead bird on the sidewalk; the death of a friend. This essay, by Monica Dux, is a meditation on the ways in which her daughter makes community and makes meaning in the wake of the death of her stick insect, Johnny:

    My grief-stricken daughter put him in a glass bowl on the kitchen table, where he lay in state, while she decided what to do with his body. 

    She knocked on the neighbour's door, to let them know that Johnny was no more.  She spread the word at school too, and it was there that one of her wise teachers comforted her with the words "It's not how long you live, but how well that counts". This was true, my daughter told me. Johnny had lived well. She repeated this solemnly when she rang her grandparents, to break the bad news. 

    If you're wondering how to help a young child you know begin to make sense of death, if you want to offer some ways of beginning to speak about it--as the teachers Dux describes do--you might explore some the following books.

    And if you're with an adult, you might simply hold space for them. 

  • what needs to change?

    It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a sick society.


    AND ALSO?:

    The goal of therapy should never be to help people adjust to oppression.

    --Carmen Cool

    Therapists are challenged in these times to walk a path between, on the one hand, helping people adjust to thir circumstances in ways that diminish their suffering (by reframing perceptions, or finding coping tools, for example), and on the other hand, helping people recognize when they are encountering circumstances that are unjust, that create pain, that demand action in the world. This has in fact always been our work, to notice together what is in our control, what is not in our control, and how best to make sense of those realities, and of the actions that feel meaningful and appropriate in the face of those realities. Here is an essay in the New York Times that addresses just this problem--the necessity of talking about people's external lives as well as their internal lives.

  • a poem for the fall equinox

    The Heat of Autumn

    The heat of autumn
    is different from the heat of summer.   
    One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.   
    One is a dock you walk out on,   
    the other the spine of a thin swimming horse
    and the river each day a full measure colder.   
    A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
    Before he goes she straightens his belts in the closet,   
    rearranges the socks and sweaters inside the dresser
    by color. That’s autumn heat:
    her hand placing silver buckles with silver,   
    gold buckles with gold, setting each   
    on the hook it belongs on in a closet soon to be empty,   
    and calling it pleasure.
  • emotion words: sonder

    I meant to keep posting these imaginary words for emotions, emotions that are themselves all too real. Most are from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a wonderful website that may one day take form as a book...

    In any case: here's a word from it, one that seems to me so important for each of us.

    sonder. n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

  • back-to-school rituals

    It feels like school is starting so early this year! I'm not sure anyone feels ready for it--children and parents alike. And yet, part of our task as parents is to help prepare our children for that first day, to register its significance without adding to our children's own feelings about school, whatever they may be, from excitement to dread and everything in between. So much of what we're encouraged to do revolves around shopping (new shoes, new shirts, new dresses, new school supplies) and around food (special breakfasts, special lunches, or after-school treats)--and if these feel like a good fit for your family, that's great.

    There are ways to step into the school year that cost less and that keep us connected at this moment when it can feel either like we're being pulled apart or like we really can't take one more day together. Practicing the way to school if you walk or bike or drive, or walking together to the bus stop, or playing at the playground in the week before school can help settle nerves by answering a child's unspoken question: what will it be like? (And if your school allows you to meet your teacher in advance, so much the better.) For walkers, making friends with neighborhood cats to greet along the way; for bikers and drivers, special songs to sing, or trees to observe throughout the seasons can be comforting touchstones each day.

    Reading books about school together--classics like The Kissing Hand, or less well-known books like Edward Unready for School for the youngest--books that acknowledge children's feelings about school can be supportive in the days and weeks leading up to school. Even after school has begun, reading about school can be a window into experience. A book like The Year of Miss Agnes or The Wheel on the School goes a long way to illuminating feelings about school, its purpose and its meaning for older elementary children. For those already more comfortable in school, the Louis Sachar Wayside School books can be entertaining. Or the adventure of school?: Harry Potter! Or, for high school students, the constraint of school and the necessity of finding oneself in the midst of it?: Among Others, or The Catcher in the Rye.

    A quiet dinner the night before school where you remember something special, just one special thing, about the summer can feel like a good goodbye...

    For many children, receiving a talisman can be helpful: a photo of you, or a felt heart you've covered in kisses, a worry doll to share troubles with throughout the day, or a note you tuck into a pocket to be read throughout the day--all of them reminders that you did and will think of them, that they are not forgotten but are held in your heart...

    And on the first day itself, a morning photo (candid in pajamas at the breakfast table or posed dressed by the door) is quick, and a wonderful way of marking growth. And if your child can trace their hand to pair with that photo, you get another tangible reminder of how small they once were--and how much they've grown by year's end.

    Good luck this year!