## Random equations in the mathematics of life

### Around and Around

A few years ago, I planned a trip for the family.

It was a crappy time in our lives. The Scientist and I had just barely come off of a 6 month legal separation. My father died after 4 months of being in and out of the hospital. The Ambassador was dealing with the disintegration of his relationship with a cousin whom he used to worship, who had now turned into a bully. His physical bruises were numerous, but the emotional ones took a lot longer to heal. The Professor and the Artist were navigating the treacherous waters of teenagers. All in all, it was a mess.

So I planned a trip.

I told the kids I’d chosen a spot with “something for all of us”. We were going to Idaho. At first, they were shocked, incredulous, and even protesting. Then they figured out I was outright lying, but couldn’t figure out the real destination. I explained that they’d need passports in case we crossed over into the Canadian Rockies. Those beautiful dress clothes? Well, they’re for the formal barbecue and hayride, of course. All throughout the spring, I would expound on the beauty of Idaho, and all the cool stuff we would see there. The kids would roll their eyes, and wonder out loud where we were really going.

The week before we left, I gave the kids a puzzle with about two dozen questions on it. The answers fit into numbered spaces, and all were about, you guessed it, Idaho. They hunted down the answers, and kept the papers until the day we left, salivating over the final clue they’d unscramble.

We packed the car, got in, started driving, and stopped for breakfast. I handed them the last piece of paper – the holy grail containing our true destination, simply by placing numbered letters into the spaces.

Almost.

Remember Ralphie, from A Christmas Story, and his secret decoder ring? Yeeeah. Theirs said, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine” too!  I found this hilarious. The kids? Not so much. The Ambassador didn’t speak to me for half an hour!

We got back in the car, and I handed over my laptop. On it was a Power Point, set to music (Two Tickets to Paradise and Guitars and Tiki Bars), detailing our cruise ship, along with each port and what we’d be doing there. The kids freaked out. They forgave me incredibly fast, amazingly enough, and the fun began.

That trip was really good for us. We spent time together, away from the outside world, reassuring each other that no matter what else, we would always be a family. But there were tensions. The Scientist and I were in a really bad place, and though we covered pretty well, we both felt it just the same. I was fine being on the trip with him, but would’ve preferred not to share a cabin with him. We do pretty well when we travel together, but even the Caribbean couldn’t erase the problems in our relationship. Our friendship was crumbling around us, and that had always been the foundation for the rest of the family. We were in danger of losing everything.

2 months after that trip, I asked for a divorce. We separated once again, starting the one year clock required by our state before a divorce would be granted. A month after that, we started therapy, not to rebuild a lost marriage, but to at least attempt to sew back together the shredded fabric of a long standing friendship. Quite honestly, I thought it was a lost cause. While I would never speak against their father, I was done, and simply wanted to move on to parent the kids and try to pick up the pieces of my life.

Now, 4 ½ years later, we are headed back to Idaho. We’re going to a different area, but Idaho just the same. This time, our friendship is in a really good place. Our relationship has changed in so, so many ways, but we are still best friends, and now we’re both much better parents to our kids.

This year, like 2009, has also been tough. The Scientist lost his father after almost the same amount of time as my own father. We’ve lost some friends in sudden, tragic ways. The stresses have slowly eroded us, but we know the island sunshine, and the bond we have as a family will help us put each other back together.

We’ll miss our friends while we’re off the grid for a few days, but it’s a much needed break. There are times in which social media is great, and times when it gets in the way. This week, it would get in the way of the rest and reconnection we so desperately need.

Hopefully, everyone will find the peace they seek this holiday season. There is no perfect world, but maybe, just for a little slice of time, we can find our own version.

### 43 – 17 = I was wrong

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very protective of my kids. No, I am not a helicopter parent. I’m not that insane, thanks. (No, really, my shrink agreed!) That being said, I’m well aware  things are different now, and that kids face perils that we didn’t necessarily have at their age.

So. Let me toss this one out to you, and without cheating by skimming further, be honest with yourself about your own first reaction. Deal?

You have a 17 year old son. He’s outgoing, intelligent, charismatic, hilarious, and a total goof. At times he is more mature than the 25 year old grad students you know, and at times he’s about as “teenage boy” as they come. He is extremely empathetic to people who are sad or lonely, and if he could, he’d save the world from that particular plight. That 17 year old suddenly starts hanging out socially with a 43 year old Judo coach, including going to out of town tournaments and classes, and even spending the night at his house, since they leave really early in the morning for these.

Be honest. If not here, with me, then with yourself. I’m going to hazard a guess and surmise that your response was somewhere between, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and “Oh HELL no!”

Mine too.

Especially when, just a few months ago, I read this article about Kayla Harrison, the Olympic Judo champion who was sexually abused by her coach for years. Now, before you get your hackles up, I did not automatically assume that the Ambassador’s Sensei was a child molester. Come on, people, go back to the top of the post if you need to, and reread where I asserted that I’m not quite that bad. But while I did not assume that my son was in imminent physical or psychological danger, my antennae went up. Coming from a history of sexual abuse myself, and having my own child be abused by a babysitter (she has no memory of it), and having been made mind-and-heart-weary by way too many news stories, it was just . . . bugging me.

But again, let’s be crystal clear here. At no time did I feel that the Ambassador was in danger. At no time did I have any indication that something was wrong. All I had was history, too many stories in the media, and a nagging question.

Why would a 43 year old want to hang out with a 17 year old?

Good question.

Instead of risking turning into one of those parents, I decided to trust humanity, and simply observe.

The Sensei has now been to our house for meals, video game sessions, and yes, he has spent the night in our guest bed as well. He is a quiet, well spoken, intelligent man with a great smile. Yes, I will be honest with you all – the fact that he passed a state background check helped as well. (He is a long-term substitute teacher in our county school system.) The Ambassador has given me a lot of insight into his Sensei, and the puzzle pieces definitely started to fall into place. At 18, the Sensei had two younger brothers, ages 16 and 13. A family beach trip was planned, but the Sensei had to stay behind for reasons that are unknown, but also unimportant. What is important is that on this trip, Sensei’s younger brothers drowned. To lose your siblings like that would be a grief that would consume most people. When I think of my own crew, and how incredibly close they are, I cannot imagine the despair and depression that the remaining child would face, day after day. So in this friendship, my son finds a mentor, and his mentor finds a younger brother. They are bound by a love for their own siblings, a passion for the beauty and discipline of martial arts, and the fun of anime and gaming. While an unlikely pair, their friendship makes sense in a way that my admittedly guarded mind didn’t think possible. Of course, I’m glad that I was wrong, but not just for the obvious reasons. The Ambassador has struggled mightily in the past several months, with the immaturity and absurdity of the behavior of some of his peers. He has lost friendships that he trusted, and his discouragement was palpable. In this new friendship, he bonds with someone who is more mature than he is, with whom he can just be himself without judgment.

At the end of every day, a parent has got to trust his or her instincts. They will never fail. But at the same time, I’m truly grateful that I was able to stop the knee-jerk suspicion long enough to stop and think rationally, first. Maybe it saved two people from being lonely, which is the worst feeling of all.

### Changing the angles

I told a story to the Professor this morning as an allegory into solving an issue she’s having, and realized that it applies to more than just her situation.  So, I figured it might make a good post.  Let’s start with the story:

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess named Professor.  She had long dark hair, dark eyes, and an independent streak about a mile and a half wide.  Her favorite phrase was, “I do it mySEFFFFF!” much to the eyerolling chagrin of her long suffering parents.

Aaaaanyhow, I digress.

Princess Professor was quite clear about her likes and dislikes.  Her mom, who wanted to be a Very Good Mother(tm), read the parenting magazines and had heard how imperative it was to develop a child’s palate.  So, as she was advised, she offered Princess Professor a variety of foods at each meal, including some she didn’t particularly like.  The reason for this, according to The Parenting Experts, was that babies and toddlers’ tastes do change.  So a Princess or Prince may hate something one day and like it the next.  This theory worked on a few things, but one thing that never seemed to gain acceptance was watermelon.

Now, the Princess’ mom and dad loooove watermelon, and so they bought it a lot.  They would offer it to Professor, and she would take a piece off of her high-chair tray, and throw it down onto the Royal Dog.  Sometimes, the dog would be in a perfect position to catch the Princess’ offerings.  Other times, not so much.  It was during those times in which the Princess Professor’s mom would be found scrubbing sticky watermelon out of long Sheltie fur, all the while trying not to growl at the Princess.

After a few months of this, the Princess’ mom said, “Ya know what?  The little snot doesn’t like watermelon.  I now have three options.”

Those three options were:
1. smack the Princess every time she threw the watermelon
2. force feed the Princess the watermelon
3. quit giving the Princess watermelon projectiles

I’ll let you conclude for yourself which option won out in the end.  And they lived happily ever after.  (And yes, Princess Professor now likes watermelon!)

This particular allegory made the Professor laugh, which was a secondary goal, but the real message is quite simple.  If you are in conflict with someone you care about in your life, chances are there is culpability on both sides.  You will never change another person’s behavior, but you can change your own.  You must stop giving the other person watermelon if you want her to stop throwing it at the dog.

Does your partner get snarky when you simply must show him your gorgeous new sweater right in the middle of the game he’s watching?  Hmm.  Well, you cannot control his response to you.  You can, however, wait til a commercial, half time, between innings, or even *gasp* after the game.  If your coworker is constantly taking your lunch out of the microwave to zap her own, does it take that much effort to let her heat hers first?  No.  If your mom constantly criticizes your parenting techniques, then discuss any topic other than the fact that Johnny got detention today for shooting mashed potatoes across the table in the cafeteria.