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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

My daughter – my oldest daughter, I should say – started middle school this year and though it was a rough start and huge adjustment, she is now doing really well. She’s found her stride not just with her classes and subject matter, but also with the getting to all her classes on time, walking to the bus stop, being out there in the world with all her stuff and keeping track of it… which, written down, seems like very basic skills but for her was completely new this year.

She actually gets herself up, makes breakfast, packs a lunch, dresses appropriately, loads her backpack, and heads out the door with no real supervision required. She returns and unpacks her lunchbox, does her homework, practices her violin, and gets her cleats on in time for soccer practice. This is astounding. Especially compared to my son, who, in second grade, would eat maple syrup for breakfast, still puts his shirts on backwards, forgets his underwear, forgets to pee, forgets indeed that he is supposed to go to school without my serious, minute-by-minute interventions.

Anyway. This big kid of mine. She’s knocking it out of the park. And while she is doing really well academically and organizationally and out-in-the-worldly, I am fretting for her on the social front. The hard thing, for me, is figuring out how much of the fretting I should just do privately and how much – if at all – I should act on. The substitute who yelled at her for asking a question and then not understanding his answer. Do I let the teacher know her sub was a douche? Or remind my daughter that the world is full of people who abuse their authority, and strategize how to deal with it next time? Or, the bus driver who yelled obscenities at another driver who got in the way: call the transportation office to complain? Or remind my daughter that people can react inappropriately when frustrated, and if it’s not threatening her safety, try to roll with it?

And then there’s the kids.

Her best friend from elementary school moved away over the summer, and there are a few kids from that school attending middle school with her now, but it’s a huuuuge school and she hardly sees them, and the ones she does see she tries to be friendly with, but it doesn’t seem to me that it is being reciprocated. She says she’ll ask one girl, let’s call her, oh, Madge, she’ll ask Madge to save her a seat at lunch, but when she gets to the cafeteria the table is full and there’s a rule about the number of people at a table so she has to go find somewhere else to sit. Or she’ll text her asking about a thing in a class or if she’ll be on the bus and Madge will text back, “You suck.” And then a few minutes later, “JK, LOL :-)”

And my daughter is confused, because she thinks this girl likes her. Because this girl is the supposed awesome girl, you know, that one who is both popular and nice and talks to everyone and has the best outfits and the coolest bag and compliments everyone else on their slightly less cool outfits and bags and shares her candy and has the latest iPhone and perfect side-swept bangs and knows the words to all the songs. That girl.

We all know this girl, right? She’s super cool but makes a point of being really nice, too. She talks to everyone, even the secretaries and the lunch lady and that weird mumbly guy with the puppet. Being nice is her thing. It’s her brand. Malcolm Gladwell would call her a connector. Everyone wants to talk to her. She sparkles, she schmoozes, she’s got the world on a string and she’d be thrilled to hook you up.

But sometimes we get a weird feeling. She’s still smiling, but it seems a little unfocused, like maybe she’s not smiling right at us. She put her bag on the seat next to her just as we got on the bus, seemingly absorbed in Candy Crush, then moved it off when someone cooler boarded. She forgot to include us at the company presentation, when we had done that whole big Section on the important Thing, and when someone pointed out her omission she said “Oh right, they worked on it too.” She would have invited our child to the birthday party, but the venue only allowed thirty people, so sorry. She didn’t get the three voicemails we left, her phone was being “weird”.

And most of us, I think, receive this unspoken message and move on. We find people we really connect with instead of continually trying to connect with someone who seems “on” but is never actually available. This is what I keep hoping my daughter will do. It’s a school of more than one thousand kids, so I know her people are there, people she’ll click with, who will appreciate and relate to her, goofy quirks and all. People who will want and remember to save her a seat.

I just don’t know if I should say it out loud or let her come to it on her own. Madge isn’t really that nice. She doesn’t really want to hang out with you. Go, find the people who do.

What hurts more, hearing the harsh reality in one fell swoop, or months of ambiguity and solitude?

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out with the tide

I’ve been trying for days to write about where we’re at with my son; his behavioral challenges have anted up significantly over the last few weeks and I know I need both the venting and commenter insights this space affords. However I just can’t. Maybe it’s too fresh, I don’t know. Words just won’t come. So, I’m going to punt that topic for now and try to do Peep’s birth story instead, which itself is 4+ months overdue.

So!

I’ll skip the days (weeks!) of prodromal labor, during which I contracted sporadically during the day and regularly during the evenings, for hours on end. Instead I’ll start two days before Peep arrived. It was early Thursday morning, around 3:30 am, when the contractions hadn’t stopped all night and seemed to be worsening, that I finally woke my husband and pronounced it Go Time. We called our friends, and husband took the two big kids over to their house while I put a few last-minute items in the hospital bag.

While husband parked, I shuffled and panted my way up to L&D triage, which was blessedly slow and they got me in a “bed” very quickly. We watched my contractions on the monitor, and I felt so validated as the enormous double peaks scrawled across the paper; the contractions weren’t a figment of my imagination nor just trifling little cramps. They were real, they were strong, and they were frequent. They just weren’t doing anything much, so I was sent home after a few hours. Oh, that long, hangdog slog back out of L&D. I felt like Napoleon, slinking from Waterloo.

We arrived home just as the kids would be heading to school. We let our friends know, and that we’d play pickup by ear, and I grumpily settled in bed to continue laboring ineffectively. (I should mention, at this point, that my separated pubic symphysis prevented me from walking or exercising my way into stronger labor; any movement hurt, even rolling over or trying to sit up.) 

The minutes and hours crept by in a strange, slow blur. My mother arrived in the afternoon, and she and my husband talked in hushed voices while I tried to rest. The contractions didn’t diminish, but they didn’t worsen, either. I manuevered and re-positioned constantly, trying to find any spot that would give even the slightest relief. We decided that while we didn’t know when things would actually get going, it was best not to let the kids come home and see me in this much distress. I was having a hard time moving through the contractions, and I didn’t even want to see them and try to put a happy face on. Our friends picked them up from school and would keep them for the night. I knew they’d be thrilled to have this extended sleepover with their besties, so I didn’t worry about them too much.

That evening found us back in triage, I was contracting regularly still, and they felt stronger and more intense to me, but upon being checked – by the resident with the world’s biggest hands, just think on that for a minute – I hadn’t progressed beyond 3ish cm and so I couldn’t be admitted. 

I can’t remember if I cried. I probably did. By now it was late Friday night, I’d been awake for two days, was in constant pain, and was SO TIRED. They gave me a shot of morphine and sent me home again. By the time I was back in my own bed, the morphine was working and the contractions felt like a mere dull roar. I slept for three hours, until I woke again to pain so intense I white-knuckled the headboard and moaned – no, growled – for my husband to apply counter pressure. (I’ve heard women speak with awe and amazement at how primal childbirth is, and how our animal nature takes over, etc. That may be true, and I do truly appreciate the magical insanity that is labor and birth. However. I do not like the strange, deep, bellowing sounds I emit when in that kind of pain. It just makes the whole experience feel even more out of control and surreal.)

This phase lasted until dawn, every contraction rendering me a gasping, sobbing wreck, desperately clutching my own ass in an undignified attempt to find leverage on the pain and subdue it. At some point during the morning I decided I had to go back to the hospital, if only to get more morphine. While the thought of riding in the car was unbearable, and the thought of having to walk out of L&D again even more so, I just could not manage the pain at home on my own. The breathing, the stretching, the focal points, the meditation, the music… I’d tried it all and come up short. I needed help.

Saturday mid morning found me in the same bed in triage, getting checked by the same large-handed resident. (“That’s the guy,” I hissed at my mom when I saw him outside the door.) I dreaded what he would say, dreaded hearing that my cervix continued to clamp itself at an uncooperative number, dreaded being in labor purgatory for another indefinite, insufferable stretch.

“Well, that’s a six!” he pronounced brightly, and everyone in the room cheered. I was beyond relieved. So far beyond. I think my husband was, too. He’s one for action, and all the limbo was driving him crazy.

It took the usual amount of rigamarole to get me up to a delivery room, and I remember upon arrival my mom and husband exclaiming over the beautiful view of the mountains, and feeling a twinge of sadness that I couldn’t enjoy it properly, what with the miserable pain and all. I decided I wanted an epidural, despite my desire to go without this time. When I had imagined myself having an unmedicated labor, I had imagined that the hours leading up to delivery would be brief; third babies, after all, have had the way well-paved. What I didn’t know was that I’d be awake for nearly 48 hours and be in active labor for more than 20 of those hours prior to delivery, and would have burned through all my reserves before the action even got started. So even though it wasn’t what I wanted, it was what I WANTED. 

My nurse was super nice, young but warmly maternal and gentle, getting all her intake chores done while making me feel like she was completely focused on me. My mom and husband called various family, letting everyone know that things were happening. I sweated and struggled through every contraction, hoping that the anesthesiologist would hustle it up already. She arrived, young like the nurse but brisk and utterly lacking in bedside manner. “Hold still,” I remember her saying, as I shook silently with the effort of not writhing through a contraction, trying to curl into the proper C-shape that would open my vertebrae. My husband held my shoulders, and as the epidural took effect, I said something about how it was weirdly working feet-first, looked up at him, and that’s the last thing I remember for a while.

It turns out the anesthesiologist punched the needle too far, into the subdural space, but didn’t realize it and injected the full drug load, which instantly bottomed out my blood pressure and caused me to lose consciousness. I was out for about two hours, which on the bright side gave me a nice break from the pain marathon, however it did cause my mom, husband and nurse a serious case of fretting. Fortunately I didn’t go into respiratory distress, which can be common in these situations; unfortunately later that night I would get the first pangs of a resulting spinal headache, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The return to consciousness was slow. At first I was aware of voices and sounds around me; slowly I realized they were talking about me, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I didn’t know what had happened, or even if the baby was ok. I managed to open my eyes and my OB’s face hovered over mine. Her lips were moving, but nothing was making any sense. I must have managed to ask about the baby, because I remember finally understanding her say “the baby is fine” over and over. I think I was crying, I was certainly disoriented and scared.

As my head cleared, I realized I had no sensation in my body and couldn’t move. The perks of this situation were immediately obvious: no pain! Gradually I was able to talk and understand more about what had happened. I was still in labor – the contractions were merrily chugging away on the monitor – but couldn’t feel a thing. My OB pulled up a chair and said it was time to go over the game plan.

Up until now, the game plan had been to go for an unmedicated, vaginal delivery if circumstances allowed. My previous baby had macrosomia and shoulder dystocia, and we’d had conversations about the probability of it happening again with this baby, and what the best management strategies would be. (You can read more about it in my last post.) 

Now, the long labor and failed epidural threw me a curve ball. At least, I felt it did. The OB was honest and said she really didn’t know at this point what to recommend. A c-section would obviously eliminate the chance of shoulder dystocia, but carried its own risks and difficult recovery. However, she said, if I was going to proceed with a vaginal delivery, I had to be ok with her breaking the baby’s collar bone or breaking my pelvis to get her out, should a dystocia occur. No, I said. No. I’m not ok with breaking the baby.

I thought and thought and thought, and felt like a c-section would be the safest path for both me and the baby. I couldn’t face getting another epidural after the last one failed so spectacularly, but I didn’t think I could get through delivery at this point without one. I was afraid I didn’t have the strength to push, after everything I’d been through. I didn’t think I could squat or get into optimal positions for getting the baby’s shoulders through. I just didn’t think I had it in me anymore, as much as it hurt to admit it.

My husband told me he’d respect my decision, but reminded me how much I wanted to do this naturally, and told me he believed in me, that everything that had led us here was fate. He wanted me to try. That he had so much faith in me meant a lot, though I didn’t think fate had anything to do with anything. 

During this conversation the feeling was returning to my body. The contractions broke over me in waves, bearable at first, but growing quickly in intensity. The pressure was on to make a decision. I really was leaning towards a c-section, the last thing I thought I wanted, but now suddenly seemed like the safest path. I looked at my mom; she nodded. She wanted me to choose safety. She believed in me too, believed that I knew myself enough to make the best choice.

As the decision slid into place in my mind, another kind of sliding was happening. I felt something shift and move down below, a strange but unmistakable sensation. “Oh my god, she’s here,” I gasped. “THE BABY IS IN MY BUTT.” (Because that’s what it felt like, and because my subconscious knew this birth story would need some humor later, apparently.)

The doctor’s eyebrows went up, she checked me, and it was true: I was at a 10 and ready to push. “It looks like she made this decision for us,” the OB said, and the room kind of started whirring around me, suddenly full of people running back and forth and moving things around and clanking the bed into its fully functional position. I remember looking down and everyone had white galoshes on. It’s one of the visual details from the entire experience that stands out the most.

Meanwhile the contractions were raging full steam ahead, and while I was relieved not to have to dither about what to do, I was also having an incredibly difficult time getting through each contraction. Grabbing my hips, scrabbling backwards in the bed like I could escape them, breathing through pursed lips so hard I was spitting all over everything. My husband and mom were holding my hands, encouraging me, but none of it got through. I was very near panic.

“Open your eyes,” my OB said quietly. “Open your eyes. Look at me.” So I did, and it somehow helped. “Stay here, stay with me.” She was gentle but so authoritative that I just somehow did. I still felt crazed with pain, but also more grounded in knowing that the only person who could finish this was me. I took a huge breath and started pushing.

The pain was unbelievable. Indescribable. Stretching, searing, hot, impossible. Just as I thought to myself I wouldn’t be able to do it long enough to get the baby out, the OB said, “Her head is out!” and I was stunned with gratitude. I pushed again, against the stirrups, against the pain, against the fear that had been building to this moment. I felt like a wild thing, a hurricane, a supernova: the sensation of opening was slithery and explosive and unbearable.

“It’s out,” the OB said, her shoulder is out.” Everyone cheered, and I cried, incredulous. Her shoulder was out. She was going to be ok. One final push and the rest of her slid through me, like the tide going out. And suddenly there she was, nestled in the OB’s lap, a deep yellowish purple, eyes tightly closed. I stared and stared, drinking her in. “She’s not crying,” I cried, as they lifted her to my chest. She opened her eyes. 

I don’t remember the order of what happened next. I know she spent some time in the warmer, and I got cleaned and stitched up, and she nursed, and my husband and mom held her. I know we all marveled at her, and the path her coming had taken. Mostly though I just remember holding her, looking into her face, and her looking back into mine.

 

 

*David Copperfield

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spark of life

Big news! I’m pregnant! And… due in ten days! Uh, and absolutely terrible at updating this blog. Sorry. But anyway, baby #3 is coming soon, and we’re very happy and excited about that, despite knowing full well that the impact of a newborn will be a mixed bag for our family. With a 10 year old and almost 7 year old, we’ve gotten accustomed to the luxuries of life without nap schedules, or diapers, or choking hazards, and revisiting all that will be… interesting, especially for the big kids.

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably blocked me by now, because in recent weeks I’ve gotten very vocal (ok whiny) about wanting to get this baby OUT already. I feel like an asshole about it, because I know so many people would give anything to be pregnant and can’t, or have had horribly frightening experiences with preterm birth, and that my seemingly “I’m so uncomfortable I can’t stand being preggo ANY MORE” tweets must appear shallow or offensive or both. I don’t want to offend or alienate anyone, of course, yet I can’t be disingenuous about my own truth, either.

Here’s the thing. I want this baby out NOW because I am absolutely terrified what will happen if she stays in another minute more. My last baby was macrosomic, and his shoulder got stuck during childbirth. This is called dystocia, and is highly risky both to mother and baby; because the head is already delivered but not the chest, the cord is compressed against the baby in the birth canal and the baby suffers oxygen deprivation. This can be fatal, or cause brain damage, or permanent nerve damage and paralysis, or or or. 

There are a few things the medical team can do to help free the stuck shoulder, including breaking the baby’s collarbone (GAH, I KNOW) or performing something called the McRobert’s maneuver on the mother: pushing her knees up somewhere behind her ears and then applying significant pressure to her pubic bone to release the baby’s shoulder. The latter is what they did in my delivery experience, resulting in a perfectly healthy baby, thank the stars, and a separated pubic symphysis and dislocated pelvis for me. This took months and months to recover from, was extremely painful, and limited my physical activities (such as, you know, walking) severely. But I eventually recovered, and life went on, save for the occasional modified yoga pose so the teacher wouldn’t get sued if I dislocated my hip.

Flash forward to this pregnancy: pubic bone separation begins around month 7, which, ow, but ok, I’ll try to work with it. And then an ultrasound at 36/37 weeks shows the baby is already clocking in at eight and a half pounds, “on track” to be a little more than 9 and a half pounds by my due date (same as my son was), according to the doctor. I sputter something about margins of error with ultrasound sizing and am reassured that a previous history of macrosomia reduces that margin. Not to mention, a previous delivery with shoulder dystocia significantly increases the odds for a repeat scenario.

So. My pelvis is already destabilizing, there’s a giant baby percolating in my belly, and she’s likely to get stuck. Obviously the risk to her scares me, obviously I’d prefer not to dislocate my own bones to get her out, obviously this is a double-plus ungood scenario and excuse me if I feel perfectly justified in eating pineapples, eggplant and sriracha in an attempt to jumpstart labor. Yes it’s early and generally not recommended, but: macrosomia, dystocia, pubic symphysis — maybe not on the same panic scale as preterm labor and NICU stays for some people, but definitely waaaay up there on mine.

We all have the lens of our own personal experience that colors how we view the experiences and decisions of others, and I am not guilt-free when it comes to judging others based on my singularly anecdotal evidence in some situations. But lately I’ve felt guarded in expressing my fears and frustrations with remaining pregnant, because the common party line is that it is always better to wait for a fully cooked baby than risk getting her out early, and I feel like people must thing I’m some kind of shallow idiot to want otherwise.

I’m lucky that my OB has made me a solemn vow to do everything to protect both the baby and I no matter what happens, that we will make decisions together as a team, that my fears are completely valid and if the baby gets stuck we can try some other techniques first (for example the Gaskin maneuver) if time and circumstance allow. She supports my idea that going without an epidural will give me greater flexibility to get into positions that could reduce the risk for dystocia and promises that the nursing team will also be very supportive in helping me get through an unmedicated labor. She gives great and reassuring hugs at the end of each visit and I feel safe in her hands. I wish I felt just as safe in talking about it out in the world at large, but the truth is, I don’t. 

And I know that’s part of the joy of living in a world of free & unfettered speech; that we don’t always hear what we want to hear, or get validated in the way we hope. That people may not agree with or even disapprove of our ideas. That even a civil and respectful dialogue about it may still hurt. I know all this, and yet, a part of me wonders if my body isn’t releasing the baby yet because my heart is still in its own infancy and needs the validation and support of entire, multiple communities before it can let go and fully trust that all will be well. 

This self-doubt, it’s frustrating. And also oddly reassuring; I’m just one little human, trying to make another. Wish me luck?

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in the shadow looking on

Well, it turned out I was not pregnant after all, though it took a considerably long time to establish the fact. The odd thing was, so invested had I become in being prepared for the possibility, that when all was made absolutely and finally clear, there was, I had to admit to myself, a little regret mixed in with the relief.

As one part of me kept listing all the many reasons a third child would be a disruption to an already syncopated family rhythm, another grew excited at the prospect of feeling again the flush of new life and all the promise it holds. The possibility of beginning again, reveling – perhaps even hiding – in the uncomplicated newness of an infant, the simple care of love, feed, hold, nourish.

So much of my life now is governed by uncertainty and worry, there is an appeal in retreating to the safety of that warm, post-partum bubble. My many now-pregnant-with-their-second-baby friends would guffaw (if it didn’t put them in danger of vomiting) at my romanticizing life with a newborn, and while I understand it’s not all sweetness and light (particularly with older children still carrying on demanding things), and that things like colic and reflux and sleep deprivation can really rip a hole in one’s sanity, I still think of those early days as beautifully simple.

My oldest is entering the tween years, and my youngest is dealing with a mental disorder. As exhausting and uncertain as their early childhood was, it all seems even more so now. And perhaps all of parenting feels this way, to everyone, no matter their situation: always new and difficult and slightly opaque. Always the questions of what to do, how to navigate challenges, how to help your children grow and learn and love and be healthy, happy, independent people. From here, the diapers and the sleepless nights and the breastfeeding saga, even at their worst, look so manageable. But I have to remember that I was operating far out of my comfort zone then, just as I am now. It felt then there was just as much at stake as it does now.

The difference is, the further along the path you get, the farther your future’s endless possibility recedes. The lens narrows, the children take shape, your faults helping to form them as well as your better aspects. I don’t feel that I have failed my children, but I do see now that I could have done better. If only I could have carried that protective envelope of love forward, that their lives didn’t need to become burdened with such pain and confusion. Naive, perhaps, but isn’t it human?

In wishing, however faintly, for that third baby, I think I was really wishing for a chance to try again with the two I already have. When it became clear there wouldn’t be one, it also became clear that the only steps I can take with them are forward. We are where we are. It’s the curse of the path not taken – you don’t even see it until you have missed the turn.

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At pickup one afternoon this week, my kindergartner’s teacher asked if I could stay and chat a few minutes. I turned my kids loose on the playground, and followed the teacher inside. She talked about how he has been acting out, how he is so easily angered, how he hits and pushes and yells and threatens. How he’s been sent to the principal’s office because his level of disruption was just plain unfair to the other students. She also talked about his sweet side – how he engages with the work, helps her with various things, asks interesting questions, cooperates in joint tasks.

It was clear to me that she really sees the whole child, and wants to work with me to be his advocate. He’s not a problem, she said, but he does have problems, and we are all going to help him. She’s already spoken with his private therapist, and arranged for him to have regular pull-out sessions with the school counselor. She reads books with the class about feelings. She told me she can see that I’m doing all the right things, that this isn’t my fault. And then she looked at me with such gentleness, such concern, and said, “You must be so worried.”

Of course I started crying. Mostly with gratitude – that she understands, that she really sees him, that she’s not writing him off or giving up on him. She suggested trying some approaches that she has used successfully with autistic kids (“not that I’m saying he’s autistic,” she quickly added), some activities that can be calming & therapeutic for kids with sensory issues. She loaned me a book. She described how she would modify some expectations for him in order to build his confidence and let him experience success. I felt so hopeful about the potential for helping him this year, that maybe, even, with love and understanding and help on all sides, he could become a “regular” happy and healthy kid.

And then at back to school night, several parents accosted me with tales of my son acting out. I couldn’t tell if they innocently thought whatever they witnessed was an isolated incident, just a quirky kid getting all up someone’s grill kindergarten-style, a fun and amusing little anecdote. Or if they truly see my kid as That Kid, the jerky, out of control one, and were uncertain how to tell me this directly so instead relied on a lame, jokey delivery. What was clear was that people were noticing he’s outside the bounds of expected, acceptable behavior, even for 5 year olds. I put my best Stepford smile on and thanked each one for letting me know. “Boys,” they all laughed. “What are you gonna do?”

Good question.

I came home and told my husband, and he reminded me that we have to have faith, that we’re doing everything we can, we have support and professionals on board, and most of all that we love him. He’s right, it’s all true. So why do I feel so sick?

 

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division

I saw Tree of Life yesterday, the latest film from Terrence Malick which has garnered numerous walkouts and lengthy, irate spiels from various critics. Maybe I don’t possess adequate critical chops, or am just plain simpleminded, but you guys, I was deeply moved.

It opens with with the idea that there are two ways through life, the way of grace or the way of nature, and proceeds to illustrate both paths as they were forged by a semi-fictional family in 1950’s middle America. While the plot is inarguably nebulous, if not quite non-existent, the emotional force of the film is undeniable.

As each character struggles to understand both life and senseless loss, the loving yet hurtful ways of human relationships, we see them superimposed on the lens of our collective beginning: the big bang (divine or evolutionary, take your pick) and our eternal, impossible remove from its source. We hear our own existential questions asked in whispered voiceovers as lowering sunlight plays through gnarled branches and underwater grasses sway in unseen currents. The abstraction of creation only magnifies how astonishing it truly is; that consciousness emerged from particles of dust, that life grew from light and heat, that cells divided, spheres fell into orbit around each other, and the entire universe expanded into infinite possibility.

And to my eyes, all this humbling cosmology makes the faltering, painful steps of human nature somehow more forgivable and innocent. We see a child struggling with what he perceives as his father’s cruelty (nature) and his mother’s loving acceptance (grace), and it is too easy to see them as battles of dark and light, evil and good, played out on the screen of the human psyche, but I don’t think the director means us to. We are instead meant to see how as parents, as creators, we will always be distant to the understanding of our children. They will only see us as they need to, as their own narrative circumscribes. They will ask us why, just as we ask God; and we won’t answer, not because we don’t have one, but because it is beyond our ability to contextualize the truth for them.

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