Thursday, August 30, 2007

Conversation About Conversation

It's been an interesting week for conversation here in Lilyville. What do I say? What don't I say? How do I say what I mean? What are the kids saying? What do they mean by it? After more unpleasantness whereby my ex told me that the letter from his attorney threatening to try to take my parenting rights away was a "compromise" - I decided I needed to tell my kids that there was more going on than whether they wanted to live here or there. I've thought about every single word I've said. I strive to make sure I give as much accurate information to the kids as possible with as little emotional stress as possible. It's hard work - especially knowing how little Mr. Tapioca Head thinks before he speaks (or sends me email.) After talking to my lawyer (who sounds just like Terri Gross from Fresh Air!), I decided that my response to the threats is to follow the protocol in our divorce documents. I'm going to try to go to mediation over this issue even though I'm fairly sure it will be as useless as it was for the previous issues. I'm going to ask for more conversation.

As much as I don't think mediation has a snowball's chance in h-e-double hockey sticks of succeeding in this case, I have come to realize that deep down I have a surprising amount of faith in words as a means to resolve problems. Aside from the fact that our document REQUIRES the attempt, I want to try one last time to talk through our parenting disagreements. The talking turns out to be important to me. I lie awake thinking of what was said, what needs to be said. I find comfort in the idea that the mediation process is out there (and required as a first step) in this "battle" over what's best for my children. I pay very close attention to what my guys are saying and what they're not. I've been re-reading emails and processing what's said there. I've thought about why I choose certain words and what the emotional connotation is of the words that are being hurled at me. The more I've thought about the words, the communication process - the more centered and hopeful I've felt. I see (hear, think about) words differently than I have before. It's a bit like when you take an art class and the teacher shows you how to look at the world in terms of light and shadow, line and hue - instead of the way you're used to seeing things. On some days I've thought about one word over and over until it begins to sound bizarre and mean nothing. Other days I've turned over phrases and instructions, interested to see how sometimes clarity arrives out of the blue. I don't know that it will amount to anything concrete - but I have to be fully me as I wade through this crap. Being fully me means being aware and intentional and committed to the communication process for as long as possible.

And it's not just the legal stuff that's got me thinking about language and communication. It is exciting to live in a new place. It is amazing to me how much the "cultural dialect" changes just moving one state over! My kids seem to be dealing with the newness remarkably well. They're finding friends - many of whom are newcomers too. With the university so close, there is always a large and diverse transient aspect to the community. In my kids' schools, one fifth of the students are "new kids" which definitely takes the stigma away. My kids have new friends from Russia, San Francisco, Birmingham (the one in Alabama AND the one in England), and Boston. In addition to new friends from new places, the kids are navigating new schools - each with its own lingo. The primary wing, the kiss and go circle, the cafe, the Seven Aces - all of these are new and important labels my kids had to decipher on the fly.

I'm not as good at deciphering as they are. I had lunch with Havoc yesterday. Havoc's new buddies Tommy and Ben were pointing out the kids in the class and telling me everyone's names. Ben was born here and Tommy, though a transplant, moved from New England a whole year ago and is quite the expert now. Tommy is diligently passing his hard won knowledge on to Havoc, and by extension to me. He took it on himself to make sure I learned about everyone in Ms. A's third grade class. The row we were sitting on had an Erin (from England - been here a week), a Sophie, a Brandon (from LA), a Zin yu (from here), a Noemi, and a Zoe. It was hard to hear over the din so Tommy had to repeat some of the names a couple of times for me. One name in particular was hard for me to understand - Themeena? He said it again and again - finally getting out of his seat and coming around the table (which is against the rules) to say clearly right into my ear, "She's THE MEAN ONE - Havoc needs to stay away from her. She thumps people." I couldn't help but laugh. (And of course I told Havoc that if that girl ever thought about thumping him, he was to talk to a teacher immediately.) I never did learn her real name.

To add yet another current to the communication stream - this week we've gone from zero to four foreign languages being studied in our household. Chaos is taking German, the Princessa Latin, Mayhem and Havoc both French, and Bug (who is coming back on Saturday to live with us permanently!) is studying Japanese with Linus. Havoc came home yesterday and announced, "La fenetre!" as he pointed to a window. And "la poubelle" as he threw his snack wrapper in the trash can. Chaos can count (to 9) and say (most of) the alphabet in German. We are quite the melting pot family. We're cross contaminating each other with all of our separate new experiences. I love it. I love that it's deepening and enlivening our family tongue.

I think all families develop a pidgin to some extent. Families have nicknames, inside jokes, and funny references to family events that might be hard for outsiders to follow or understand. The patter changes with the ebb and flow of shared experiences. Our family patois is rich and has roots in Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, sci-fi books, and unusual board games. Recently we have all watched (over and over) the stand up comedian Eddie Izzard's show "Dress To Kill". (He's an actor in films like Mystery Men and Ocean's 13 - but it's his stand up that we love.) He is bilingual and did an encore of his show in French. In the show itself he has several bits about studying languages. His comedy seems to magically fit our family's ethos right now. (Although it's not really a family values kind of gig. It's definitely pushing things to have Havoc watch it - just so you know. I semi-justify it to myself by talking to him about the inappropriate bits. I also console myself with the fact that no matter what I did, his big brothers would quote it to him - so I may as well not leave him out.) If you had been at our supper table last night you would have heard an amazing array of out-of-context Eddie Izzard punchlines like "Of which there are five'', "Were you surprised? I was surprised!", "The City - uhhuhh", "Cake or Death?" and "Love all this!" We were in stitches. You probably would have smiled and nodded and looked for the closest way out.

The laughter helped. Everyone had a line to throw in and everyone laughed. Laughing together helped open everyone up to talk about their days. It helped us feel closer to each other. It just helped everything. I wanted to bottle a bit of it to save for a rainy day. While laughter can't be bottled, it occurs to me that one of the great thing about words is that they can be shared, remembered, saved, and used to evoke past good times. I think the next time one of my kids is gloomy, I'll offer them "Cake or Death?" (I think sharing a real smile is worth possibly having to explain myself to the family court judge!)

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