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parenting our children, parenting ourselves

2013 April 2
by Rachel Turiel

I’ve been outside planting seeds like a large, semi-verbal toddler trying to regulate a bad mood. If I were a cartoon character, you’d see this black cloud trailing me through the garden as I mutter: put seed in ground. Cover seed. Water seed. Do again.

My mind has been this scary, thuggish place lately – slightly dangerous to inhabit after dark. Full of tripping hazards, broken items needing fixing, and shadowy characters hissing from behind gaping, leaking refrigerators.

Every time I crack open the laptop to write something here, to show you the greenhouse pulsing with life! or baby chickens growing so fast! (so fast in fact, that they’re flapping out of their baby-house onto the bathroom floor, to fulfill all their escapist dreams, which is to say: pooping and sleeping outside of baby-house), everytime I go to write about this it all seems sort of ridiculous, what with the heap of broken, jagged furniture back in the corner.

And sure, there are some…transitions, happening here in real life. Namely, Dan is getting laid off sometime in the next couple months. Which is don’t-forget-to-breathe exciting because we have all these radical income-producing ideas, and scary because every idea needs approximately 10 well-connected cheerleaders (preferably with trust funds and boundless energy) to pull off.

And when fear arises in the mind, it’s so intimidating that all the rational and cheery elves that usually keep everything somewhat polished and orderly, scurry away. And the next poor, hapless thought to scrabble across the tundra of my mind gets immediately heckled by the bullies, who seem to be in an interrogating mood.

And so, I go outside and plant another row of lettuce seeds.

Part 2 – What I learned from being a parent

Meanwhile, or maybe in perfect synchronicity, Rose has been going through her own funk. It manifests as not wanting whatever is happening in the moment, and wanting lots of external feel-good entertainment. It sounds like this: “I want a barbie, I want gum, I want dessert, I want mac’n’cheese, I want to watch a movie, I want a snack, I want a friend to come over…” (She usually chooses one thing at a time and works this angle for most of an hour…or the next 24. This is not a strong, decisive voice. This is a whining, pleading, desperate voice). Occasionally she’ll pause, losing her place and start her chant up again with the saddest refrain, “I want…I want…SOMETHING.”

I’ve had enough practice, to know that for children, bless their unsophistication, the external mirrors the internal. And that Rose must be dealing with some serious internal turmoil, which she’s doing her 5-year old best to shake off by seeking quick and easy pleasure. I ask if she wants to talk about what’s underneath the wanting, if the hard shell of desire for these ephemeral things were to break open, what might lie underneath. “More barbies,” she sniffles.

I’ve also had enough practice to know that as wearying as it is to be presented with the steroidal version of my child’s daily wants, the answer is not: shame her for wanting, convince her she is lucky to have so much already, give in to all her wants, or punish her for whining and demanding.

And so I listen, “come here sweetie, tell me about it.” I empathize, “you really really want mac’n’cheese, huh?” And then I gave her information, “tonight’s dinner is already planned. It’s not mac’n’cheese. We can buy some next time we go to the store.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Meanwhile, I summon all my earthly patience. I call on the collective wisdom of all my parenting mentors, I call on a few early afternoon beers, I call on a lot of outside time and playdates. I give Rose lots of cuddles and tickles and as much availability as I can. I also tell her she can’t wear me down by pleading; I will stay by her side but I won’t change my answers.

And I listen for what is unsaid, for what a 5-year old can’t express. As some of my weariness wore off, I heard that Rose needs more stimulation and daily structure (whereas Col and I like rambling agenda-less days at home). She needs more playdates, more academic challenge and more physical activity.

Part 3 – Parenting myself

I realized that, though I didn’t understand all the causes of the girl-funk in our house (mine and Rose’s) we were having similar experiences and needed similar medicine. Instead of wanting barbies and mac’n’cheese, I wanted: things to be easy, to never feel worry or doubt, to be certain that I’m on the right path.

So, just as I listened to Rose, I began listening to my own voice. I became secretary to all the disgruntled thugs, taking notes on their grievances while giving myself truckloads of empathy. If the thugs said, you suck at homeschooling your kids, I’d grit my teeth, lean in and say, “okay, tell me why.” I’ll tell you, this is as fun as dancing on hot coals. I’d much rather watch Berenstain Bears while eating mac’n’cheese, so I can see what Rose was getting at. But sometimes if you can get the bullies to use their words, there is a kernel of truth that is worth noting.

After planting, oh, 12 rows of greens (except we all know I’m not much for rows), letting the bullies speak, and returning the pooping chickens to their baby-house, I started hearing what was unsaid in my own mind. You want to do a really good job homeschooling your kids, and you have other work that calls to you. Okay, now we have something to work with. I am open to change.

Rose has come out of her spell, and holy mother-daughter connection, so have I. It’s been five days (which as my friend Natalie astutely says, is a long time in blogging hours) since anyone has uttered the word “barbie.” I still have fears about our transition, but I also know that my mind (having returned to its slightly neurotic though courageously optimistic state), like my children, is still growing up and needs a lot of care.

Oh, and would you like to see my greenhouse, pulsing with life?




36 Responses leave one →
  1. April 2, 2013

    Your uncertainty and vulnerability and brilliance spilling out onto the page is nothing short of inspiring. Witnessing you find your light and treat yourself with kindness and patience filled my heart with hope. Thank you. For being so you.

  2. April 2, 2013

    So, I really hope that one of your radical income-producing ideas includes teaching an online writing course. I’m serious (and I realize this is akin to Rose’s wants because I’ve said this to you many times already – hah!). I’ve already signed up in my head. Now we just need to do it for real.

    I have started freelancing more lately, so it’s been tough to balance work, kids, life and blogging, which means something has to give. Being on the lower end of the totem pole means blogging happens only when the stars align and the sun is shining, but each time I get to escape here to this space at 6512, I feel this acute pang of why I miss this blogging world so much.

    Your words, your family – they are such a bright spot to my day, even when there’s darkness in yours, which I hope will dissipate swiftly as you guys deserve nothing but sunshine and daffodils. And chard!

    Thinking of you and yours…

  3. April 2, 2013

    Great big hugs. The only way out of pain and anger and fear is to move THROUGH it. I so love and honor your willingness to be vulnerable, here, and with yourself. And I would happily share an early afternoon beer with you.

  4. Laure permalink
    April 2, 2013

    I’m 51 years young, and can turn into an external-mirroring-internal 5 year old in the drop of a hat! :) Good job listening and staying strong and focused, Rachel. Things will work out….somehow…they always do, right? XO

  5. anne permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Thank you for sharing. I’m in line right behind Justine for that writing course–pleeeeeaaase? I’ve recommended your blog to a few friends by saying “you’re not going to believe that someone can actually write as well as she does-it’s breathtaking.” So yeah, I’d love to learn from you!

  6. April 2, 2013

    oh honey, sending love. And radical income production and ways out of funkiness. So much of this year has been about me saying to myself, “okay, right now you just have to sit here in this discomfort.” Just sit here and be in it and figure out what it might teach you.” I’m taking small solace, too, in the seeds sprouting on my windowsill and finding things I have alreadybut haven’t used/noticed in far too long, while fending off requests to write for free and taking pay cuts and not getting the contracts I really wanted because of budget concerns. And realizing that so much of parenting is hard and unfair and yet we still have to show up and live in the discomfort. I’m rambling. But thinking of you.

  7. Jessica permalink
    April 2, 2013

    What an insightful post! And bless you for recognizing Rose’s funk too. You BOTH are better for it.

    I think that getting into a funk is so frustrating. I’m more of a light at the end of the tunnel kind of chick, and I can rally with the best of them. Being in a funk without a direction sends me into the fetal position. But… the euphoric feeling of the funk lifting is like no other.

    I crave mac n’ cheese when I need comfort too. So I’m with Rose on that. And afternoon beers. : )

    Sending hugs from the west coast your way for your transition.

  8. Melissa permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Different details here; same feelings. Maybe that’s why we (your readers) appreciate you so much–because you (beautifully) articulate this shared experience. So thank you for that!

    We were role playing one day; Avi was the cat, I was Avi and Lilit was me. I said, “the only thing I want to do right now is watch something, have a treat, or go to someone’s house.” without missing a beat, he instructed Lilit, “ok, you’re Mama, so now you say no.”

    Ps. Not changing jobs. Long story. All good. It always is, isn’t it? Xo

  9. Jennifer permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Rachel, you’re so amazing at so many things! You’re an amazing writer, an amazing gardener, an amazing steward of the land, and most of all an amazing mom/teacher to yourself and your kids!

  10. Britta permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Beautiful and insightful! Thank you so much.

  11. Ellen permalink
    April 2, 2013

    What a beautiful honest post. You’ve spoken for all of us, at any age.

  12. Ellen permalink
    April 2, 2013

    And one more thing — Rosie is so lucky that you are hanging in there with her without giving in. She’ll be so grateful for it someday.

  13. Emmanuelle permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Dear Rachel, thank you for sharing all this – with all your honesty and insight. It is very inspiring.

    For one thing, I have complete trust in your (and Dan’s) ability to turn an unexpected episode like this into a truly satisfying, personal story. You are both very resourceful people and a very good team :o)

    It is so true that our fears put us into a very uncomfortable state of mind – we just feel like distracting ourselves from that state, instead of facing these fears. But yes! Facing them helps, and it is a very good starting point to find out a better plan – or several. Which in turn helps relieve the discomfort.

    Also, I think that if each adult grew up with parents who were able to discern – and take care of – their real needs like you manage to do with Rose, the whole world would be a much better place :o)

    Your lush greenhouse is a magnificent example of this!

  14. Claire permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Such a great post Rachel! So beautifully written. Once again, it spoke to me. Thanks for your blogging wonderfulness!


  15. April 3, 2013

    I appreciate hearing the way you work through these struggles in your head. I’m having my own existential crisis here myself, and am trying to figure out a healthy way through. I like how you let the thugs talk so you can get to the core message.

    I have a son who is very attuned to me emotionally. We are both super sensitive people, so that sometimes I feel that I can’t even have my own emotions, that I have to be careful because he will share my insanity. It can be exhausting dealing with both myself and my son.

    We’ve been through more than our share of job challenges the past several years (it really hit home to me today when I was talking with someone and trying to remember all the times hubby has been laid off and what the other life circumstances were each time.) It is so unsettling and such a challenging place to inhabit. It screams “DANGER!!!” to your deepest places. Sending you virtual hugs (from a stranger, no less) and hoping you can figure something else out quickly.

  16. April 3, 2013

    You are so honest and vulnerable here that I even felt a bit uncomfortable, which is a good thing. I SOO appreciate your sharing about really being with Rose and discovering yourself in the process, being so courageously honest with yourself. What a gift to your children and to us, your readers. Thank you.

  17. April 3, 2013

    well yes, I do want to see your lovely greenhouse. And read your wise words which are always always relevant and interesting.

  18. Kathy permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Sounds like spring fever to me! We went through this each spring, wondering how we would ever finish the year. We were creating NATHHAN alongside the many spring activities that first year. We planned times to get away. Sarah went along for the ride, but I gave Robin some choice to plan what she needed. (Later she planned alot.) I sympathize with Rose: I like structure and so did Robin. However, she was nine when we began schooling at home and had spent a few years in public school.
    So challenge Rose, in her own 5 year-old way, to choose some of the pace and the subject matter, for a time (that is, when it happens again). You did right in sticking with the firmness of already-made decisions.
    Thank you for reminding me of those early years 23 years ago! From this perspective, it was all worth it. And Robin would agree. And little Sarah still goes along for the ride.

  19. Sylva permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Rachel, I am a long time reader (since sometime in the ’09-’10 winterish months), who rarely comes out of lurkdom. I recently have gone back through your archive and reread your posts (I am somewhere in May 2012 right now.) All I want to say is thank you for this beautiful space on the internet -and the world!- that you have created. I have learned SO MUCH from you, and I have an enormous amount of admiration and respect for you as a mother, gardner, wife, writer, human… the list goes on. (and those are in no particular order)

    I am a Durango ex-pat that hopes and patiently waits for the stars to align so that our family might one day return to that wonderful place we called home for 6 years, so that I can maybe attend one of your classes -for reals. In the mean time, I am right in line with all the others just waiting to sign up for your online writing class!

    Sadly, I don’t have a trust fund, but I will gladly be a cheerleader. I am so, so grateful for the gift of this blog.
    p.s. we have dandelion-picking plans this weekend, which will lead to pesto making, I am certain. What do you use it on? Or do you just eat it with a spoon?

  20. April 3, 2013

    I think I can finally comment on my favorite blog now that you’ve migrated to your own space…
    Can I throw an “amen” in on a virtual writing class. Please consider? I’m rarely attracted to the idea of an online classroom but I would sell a small part of my left arm to be mentored by you.

    I have read you for a long time and I often feel like we are living out twin existences – homeschooling, homesteading, grasping at the peace and beating down the thugs of our own minds- but I think of you as a little bit of a boddhisatva on the path, a beacon for me to move towards. So thank you for being real, and being insightful with yourself, and generous/brave enough to share it all.

  21. April 3, 2013

    Gah! I so get this. I get myself whipped into a total frenzy and then I have to have a staredown with my other self, the one that is terrified and worrysome, until one of us blinks. It’s usually the worried one who backs down because, really, what’s the worst that can happen to me? All of my trevails are not going to kill me and boy, oh boy, do I ever hear some honest, helpful things come out of her mouth. And then I take another step forward into the life I want to live. Doesn’t take the pain of the unknown away, but it seems to put it into a better perspective and I’m free to move forward with a clear head. Hugs to you (knowing full well you really want/need my non-existent trust fund).

  22. April 3, 2013

    I hear you so clearly, it mirrors my own feelings and my 5 year olds at times. Being vulnerable in this space is so helpful to others and to ourselves as we write it. Love your blog in case you didn’t notice xxxxxxxx

  23. April 3, 2013

    i want to give you a big fat hug. you know my mom commented when i was like, maybe, 20 or so, that she noticed sometime during my childhood that she and i tended to “cycle” together, waaayyyy before i had what could be really considered a cycle. i totally think there is a lot to it, the mother-daughter connection. and i don’t mean to imply “oh it’s just hormones” by saying this, but that i think it is something uniquely for those of us with two x chromosomes to share, the way we handle emotions and work through our girl stuff. pretty nifty.

    greenhouse pulsing with life…. staggering! awesomeness.

    i soooo know that feeling of “i want…” and it is so awesome that you are able to hear beneath the surface of those wants, both for you and for rose. what we usually want/need most is that empathy, just to be heard and known and understood, and that is exactly the gift you give yourself and rose, the way you’ve handled this. quinn has cycled through some similar stuff with wanting (asking if i got him anything new each time i pick him up from his dad’s and such) and it has been pretty clear to me, too, that it’s not about the thing he wants, but there is a want/need not being filled.

    i’m excited for you guys and your transition… i also think your feelings/fears make total sense but valid as they are, they are not the end of the story for you, i am sure. you and dan are far too amazing to succumb to silly things like fear. i know the transitions of life (having just been through a similar one myself) can be stressful but man oh man if you keep yourself open to it, so much awesome stuff is going to happen. i am saying that as i am currently surfing the wave of my highest diaper sales week on record, after shipping them out to 3 different countries, and having one of your readers hire me as her blog gatekeeper to boot. i’m sure next week i might sell nothing again, but i can now see an upward trend that i am really liking over the last few months of my “transition”. just sharing in case it bolsters you in some way. because i really like you and i feel you. xoxoxo

  24. Ania permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Damn it, Rose did sound like a child on steroids. I wish I could deal with my son’s wants in such beautiful yet uncompromising way. Because it is the best way to deal with it.

    I hope you will find the way out of this stressful situation soon and that it will be a change for the better.
    Hugs, Ania

  25. Andrea permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Congrats on Dan’s forced life change! Danny’s Roadkill Jerky, Inc.???

    Ps. My sister homeschools her son, but sends her daughter to public school full time. Works for them! Don’t be afraid to get creative to suit everyone’s truth. You are writing your own story, any damn way you want:)

  26. April 3, 2013

    I am in awe of the gifts you discovered by listening to the thugs. Yet another lesson I’ve learned from you, Rachel. Thank you.

  27. Ben permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Wow Rach. You are such a teacher if mine. Thank you fir this post.

  28. Michele permalink
    April 3, 2013

    You and Rose remind me of me and my second daughter. Our energies are very intermingled. Her latest was ‘needing’ a yellow mechanical pencil that she had to have right away! I ‘need’ to know what is next for me career wise and am spending too much time thinking about it right now. She patiently waited the 24 hours and used her own money. I’m going to take tomorrow off thinking about it and cut back my rose bushes. :)

  29. April 3, 2013

    oh, you brave, beautiful woman, you. your ability to

    a.) ask for help when you need it,
    b.) roll up yer sleeves and shine loving, patient light on yer own darkness
    c.)midwife alla that green and pulsing life into the world

    never fails to leave me stunned and dazzled.

  30. Jennifer permalink
    April 3, 2013

    So, without trying to be too nosy…I’m very curious as to what you all may have decided in regards to Rose’s way of learning and your desire for more than just homeschooling. My family is in the midst of decisions and having a difficult time. Hearing what other people have gone through and how they came to those decisions has been very helpful.

  31. April 3, 2013


    I’ve been lurking for a few weeks now, but I just had to jump on and offer some empathy. Been having a bad case of the *I wants* lately, too. I want my job to last (it won’t), want my own schooling to go faster, want to be in a good, secure job already, I want certainty.

    I also want to second what some of your other readers have said. I would love to take an online writing course with you! Even if that’s not feasible, maybe you could offer editing/writing coaching services. Figure out a fee scale based on the type of service desired–everything from a slightly more advanced opinion than one could get from spellcheck to “help me figure out how to make this the best piece of writing it can be because I so very desperately want to get published.” Linda Hasselstrom in South Dakota offers a similar service. I think you could do quite well with it. I’d definitely be interested.

    My dream is to have a job that I don’t hate that gives me enough money to buy a small house on a big enough lot to grow a garden that goes a long way to feeding me. I don’t need more and then a little bit more; I just need enough. At 46 years old, I’m getting a late start on my dream, but I’ve got to believe it’s possible. Reading your blog gives me hope and practical gardening advice, two essential tools to making my dream come true.

    If you haven’t already discovered it, you should check out the fabulous children’s book, “The Big Orange Splot,” by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. You’d love it. Mr. Plumbean, like you, bought a house in Tupperware Heights and transformed it. The recurring theme of the book is, “My house is me, and I am it. My house is where I like to be, and it looks like all my dreams.”

    I want to be just like Mr. Plumbean. You have shown me that it’s possible. Thank you!


  32. Hilary permalink
    April 4, 2013

    So profound! I needed this at this exact moment of feeling the parental failure! My daughter is doing the exact same thing as Rose was. I have been trying to get to the bottom of her “wants” for the past few days and but can’t seem to get past my own frustrations. I’m ready to tackle this with more compassion after reading this post. Thank you Rachel!

  33. janie dalton permalink
    April 4, 2013

    I love you. Love your honesty. Love your words. oxoxoxoxoxo

  34. Ellie permalink
    April 4, 2013

    I have no words of wisdom for you, but so much gratitude for the honesty and courage with which you infuse your writing.

  35. Rachel permalink
    April 7, 2013

    My version of Berenstain Bears and mac and cheese lately has been James Herriot books and disgusting, disgusting amounts of sugar. While his books are always lovely, the sugar is not and I thank you for reminding me that sometimes I have to listen to the bullies and be more present with my kiddos, tantrums, teething and all, instead of daydreaming about northern England and chocolate. Your writing is, as always, awesome, reassuring and inspiring.

  36. April 23, 2013

    Oh man oh man. This is meand my 6 year old lately. Thank you for the encouragement. I, sad to fess up but I’ve been going more the Stop Whining, Look At All You Have route. Starting now I’m going to look for the deeper meaning. I LOVE the line ” I will stand by you but you won’t change my mind”. Thanks.

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