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Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Duck Song

I used to tell young parents that until their kids learned to read, there was no sedating them.

We've since learned that television does a more than admirable job Not that I'm condoning it. FD and I literally cut the power cord. He transformed the piece still attacked to the TV to a female, and added a male connector to the other (both ends male) and either took it with him to work, or hid it where we thought they would never think to find it. They would, of course, we heard years later, and dangerously fiddled with the double-ended male electrical cord, eventually turning on the tube to watch He-Man and the like.  It is a miracle no one electrocuted themselves.

But anything electronic will lull most of us into a state of uncomfortable consciousness, sleep without the glitter. There seems to be research to the effect that our electronics keep us awake. It isn't that way for everyone, and with very small children the effect might be paradoxical. It probably depends upon what they see and how much sugar they had before bed. There are always variables unaccounted for.
Steven Kellogg and Margaret Mahey treasures

Sometimes I have the privilege of putting my grandson to sleep, apparently a task no other babysitter is equipped to do, and we have a routine and it includes both the hard and the soft drugs, meaning real books hard, and animation or old Beatles songs on my phone, soft. He'd love to ditch the paper in favor of the electronic, but I won't let him. He can read, too, if he tries. He's almost six.

Fact is, when children can't read yet, or are only just beginning to read, someone has to read to them, or should read to them, for reading is a wonderful sedative and we depend upon it to learn, that and other ways. Bedtime is the best time to introduce it. Mother Goose is totally out, by the way, a bad idea, as Into the Woods has made abundantly clear, too violent and libidinous. Aesop's fables, surely had a moral, but at what price, nightmares?

But remember the frog and toad books? They're still around. And if you've never met Robert, not lived through his experiences with hippos following him home from school, you haven't lived. We gorged on anything by Steven Kellogg in my family (Can I Keep Him?), and checking Amazon, there are no less than 641 pages of books by the celebrated author-illustrator. He also wrote the Pinkerton books. Let's not forget The Green Bath by Margaret Mahy, and Much Bigger Than Martin, a story in every younger brother's top five. 

My daughter-in-law surprised me when she said that she sits on the floor with her little guys, just two, and they stare at her phone, watch the animated version of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. It is on YouTube.  Don't judge. Watch it. I dare you to stay awake. 

So that got me started, but when I showed it to their cousin one night, perched on his enormously tall bed in pajamas the very first time, he did not fall asleep and only wanted to see more animation. So we scrolled through the suggested children's books on video, rejecting most of them as too seedy or too boring, and suddenly we found The Duck Song. (The song by Bryant Oden, video, Forrest Whaley). This is not about Donald. It is an upbeat video-joke, obviously a song Bryant made-up while trying to put somebody to sleep, monotonous but cheery, seemingly never-ending, with a punchline at the end. We kind of love it. At almost six, my grandson gets it that the duck's mission is to annoy the guy at the lemonade stand. A duck walks up to a lemonade stand and he says to the man running the stand, "Hey, you got any. . .grapes?" The duck is teasing him, pure and simple.

Last night I have the honors, and as we cuddle up on this enormously high bed looking for something new and fun on YouTube, the closest thing to new and fun is a video of a small group of children between 5 and 13 watching The Duck Song, discussing their reactions. Some are really angry at the duck for being so annoying (they must have younger siblings). Some get it, like my grandson gets it, that it is fun to be the object of a prank, and it is fun to be the perpetrator of the joke, too. Best to be able to take it, even better, to predict it.

Great moral, teaching about being the brunt of a joke, handing over the control, even if it is to a duck. How many kids have avoided depression in just this way, by laughing at themselves?


P.S. I realize it is not that simple, avoiding depression, and the anti-bullying programs are late, but here to stay, for good reason. Bullying and child-adolescence are associated, so if your child is the object, do not tell him, Hey, just laugh along. Get a family therapist and talk to the people at the school. But there is such a thing as benign teasing, meant to be taken well.

And when I need a good laugh, all I have to do is ask a six-year-old, almost any six-year-old,  "Hey, got any grapes?"

P.S.S. For all the years I've been blogging, I still don't know how to create links in a consistent fashion. Just know that any type that isn't black is probably a link to a book, or a movie, or a resource. It could be yellow, ochre, red, scarlet, or if you are color-challenged, another shade, but it will take you somewhere if you click on it. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and Informed Consent

Fifty Shades of Grey-the ebook
Prior to reading the book, I thought 50 Shades of Grey had to be a middle-aged woman's lament about her hair.

Okay, that's the last joke.
Men Can Stop Rape

I bought the book months ago, needing an ebook to read while the nails dry. The problem with ebooks, however, is that if you lose your place (which happens, reading on multiple devices), you might never be able to find it again. Not being patient about such things, so much to read in paper, (you can fold over corners on these), I gave up on Grey. This turned out to be for the best because Understanding Mass Violence: A Social Work Perspective is much more interesting.

The poster above is from the Men Can Stop Rape organization. I bought a bunch of them. 

Not that Fifty Shades of Grey is about rape, per se, but it is about hurting. And therapists deal with hurting pretty often, tend to wince when people intentionally hurt themselves. Doctors as a rule are down on self-harm, risky behavior. My father-in-law, a family doctor, called people who ride motorcycles organ donors. Knowing it is dangerous isn't a deterrent for everyone. Because you know, it looks like fun, riding that bike. So is it worth the risk? Maybe. Maybe not.

Risky behavior is expected at certain ages. There's a post on the blog about being crazy in college. Point being we often regret what we have done in the past, might suffer shame then and in the future, even when we know, rationally, that free from the watchful eyes of parents, kids push their own limits. Forgiveness is hard because these types of moments form snapshot memories in the brain, and often, body memories. We don't forget.

That should put informed consent into context. We can consent today, woefully regret it tomorrow.*

Quick recap: The 50 Shades story finds Anastasia Steele, an average young woman working for a very handsome, very rich business executive, Christian Grey. She falls in love with him at first sight. He likes her, too, and offers her a contract to begin a sexual relationship. He likes bondage, whipping, and other types of torturous sex, so he wants to be sure she consents to it. Keep things kosher. No consent, let's not even begin.

Five things to consider when we speak of informed consent for sex in real life:

(1) neither party can be impaired by drugs or alcohol in the consent process
(2) both parties must be of legal age
(3) both parties must be competent, understand exactly what is going on and why
(4) neither party fears personal injury or punitive consequences for refusing to have sex (in the sexual harassment literature, this is called fearing retribution)
(5) neither party is in a position of authority over the other, i.e., a supervisory position, a teacher, an older relative, because this could be interpreted as financial, academic, or emotional coercion

Now technically, because he is her boss, Christian Grey is guilty of sexual harassment, even with his signed contract, because he is in a position to coerce Anastasia. He can fire her from her job, suspend her without pay. Just bringing this up in case you're dating an employee or a student. Think twice because these cases can drag on and they cost companies, and perpetrators, millions of dollars every year.

But that's real life and this is the movies.

MamaMia reveals the ending. The handsome dom, Christianchanges, probably so that he doesn't lose Anastasia, his subdom, his prized possession. He learns the meaning of true love and the hole in his heart, the one suffered as a child, begins to heal.

Because that's how it always happens in real life, right? Relationships are so curative.

Let's just say, not usually. Don't marry (date) the man to change him, that old expression, spot on.

So Anastasia, without any pressure from her boss, signs a contract and agrees to let him whip her, hurt her, in the name of "great" sex. (You will love this, he assures her). She is sober, of age, of sound mental capacity, and isn't feeling coerced. She becomes his possession, agrees to let him tell her what she will eat, what she will wear, how she should bathe, the amount of sleep she must get, how many hours she works out per day, etc. She is to be there for him, when and where tells her to be there. She must sublimate her will to this perfect stranger.

15.21 The Submissive shall accept whippings, floggings, spankings, caning, paddling or any other discipline the Dominant should decide to administer, without hesitation, enquiry or complaint.

That, if she wants him as boyfriend. There is a time-limit to the relationship and she can complain if he kills her, we suppose. She is crazy for him, so she signs on the dotted line.

So you get it what it means to be a dom, versus a subdom right? He owns her.

Courtesy of Relationship-Wise
As women, it has been a cultural battle, gaining control, becoming an equal, even dominant, a forceful, respected, powerful person in the corporate world. Forget the corporate world, in life. We celebrate Martin Luther King Day. We've seen 12 Years a Slave. Being a subdom should feel bad, not good, especially because so many of us, one in three, have suffered some type of negative experience with domination, (see chart to the right), especially likely is sexual assault, any kind of unwanted touch, in our lifetimes. Children, too. Logically we should be violence-averse, flogging, cutting, averse.

Oh, but these are loving relationships.

When I blogged about this many years ago, the dom-subdom community told me that these are loving, consensual relationships, not to worry. It is intimate, they love one another, and bondage, et al helps them work out their family of origin/childhood relationship dysfunction. Totally intimidated, I considered myself informed and dropped the conversation.

What I didn't say, but can say now, is that as a first year graduate student, one of the very first treatment modalities presented to us happened to be Joseph Moreno's psychodrama. In psychodrama, families act out what has happened in the family of origin, or what is still happening in the home today. They do this in the confines of the office. There isn't any real hitting, only shadow-boxing. This is play-acting. It feels good, too, very healing, and I sometimes still use it. So, if the purpose of the dom-subdom relationship is to master what happened in the past, we could say that it is overkill.

Remember styro-foam baseball bats? People whacked our sofas to their hearts content until expressing anger lost status. We also talk about things. Some of us prefer that.

There's this other thing, which I don't see talked about on any of the blogs. This type of relationship violence might start out with a slap, innocuous enough, maybe. But then more and more force is possible, whether intentional or not.

We have laws that prevent corporal punishment with children. It is considered child abuse, not because a child is irreparably damaged from a spanking, but because we never know when we'll lose control, hit one too hard. When a kid sees stars, it is too late to say you're sorry. Ditto when the symptoms of a concussion become apparent.

And here, in a dom/subdom relationship, defined by "corporal punishment" it might feel right to want it to become progressively more punitive, this from either partner.

I say this based upon experience with persons suffering from depression who cut themselves to externalize their pain. (What comes next is not for the squeamish, and it is not fiction, so it is a little scary).

Some people who cut themselves started with picking, or scratching, which felt good. Then the scratching gets harder, because that feels even better. The nails dig deeper, even more satisfying. Then a knife is introduced. The cutting with the knife starts with light cuts, which get progressively harder, and deeper, then deeper, and pretty soon we see ( therapists, because few showoff their scars to others, hide beneath long sleeves and pants), but therapists are privy to seeing deep, red, ugly, keloid scars that run up and down a person's arms or legs. It is the stuff of secondary trauma.

That's what some of us worry that not only will the memories of this type of relationship be snapshots, difficult to erase, and that the shame of what happened will damage self-esteem, but that the need to be hurt will become a deeper need.

What of the dom? He isn't getting hurt, and he's likely not a Jeffrey Daumer, a psychopath who murdered children as an adult, drowned cats as a child. More likely it just feels good to play the master, empowering. But is that good for his identity? Is this the person he wants to be? A master over another human being?

What I really want to know, is the answer to this: Is sex that important? If it potentially damages our identity, dings us emotionally (those memories) and literally scars us physically, is it worth it?

In therapy we're all about loving our bodies, loving ourselves, being cautious and kind to others, respectful, independent, and growing into the people we want to be..

So do I hate this stuff? You bet I do.


PS. Two more things.

(1) This is a system based upon fear. Fear is arousing, for better or for worse. What makes us afraid today, won't make us afraid tomorrow, which is why the stakes will get higher. 

(2) It is true that some of us suffer low-self esteem and feel we deserve to be treated badly. We want to be treated badly. Negative self-messages, inhaled with mother's milk, can program a person to want and to accept punishment, to seek out partners who, like our parents, make then feel badly. A dom, also working out childhood abuse, will gladly accommodate.

In therapy we prefer to work on self-esteem and the feeling of deserving punishment with words. What is needed when one has low self-esteem is not more abuse, but a wider lens, a bigger family systems picture, insight and healing. It can take years to work through all the garbage, but a good therapy is also a good relationship, a therapeutic relationship.

* Just a reminder that well over ninety percent of all sexual assault is between acquaintances. Acquaintance rape is by definition not mutually consensual, rather, an act of force, power and domination.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Other People's Stuff

It has been some time since we linked over to other people's blogs and websites. We are totally overdue. Here are some goodies.

(1) EMDR  Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.

Still one of my favorite techniques, although it requires a little upper-arm muscle, focus, and yes, intensive training.

That can be tough, that trip to San Diego in the winter. (There's a post on this blog about it somewhere, all about me, naturally.)

For many years we used EMDR primarily to treat PTSD, but now it is popping up in all kinds of other ways. Check out this link to Anastasia Pollak's Not just for trauma: EMDR and Performance Enhancement. She even explains how it works, the theoretical why, that is.

And of course, so does the founder, Francine Shapiro.

(2) TopCounselingSchools infographic is tops in my book. How we love a good visual, check it out. (Blessings, Brietta, thanks for your patience.)

(3) How to Give a Time Out: Give a Time In Instead  We used to use The Green Chair, and the very thought of it kept my kids in line. (Start them young, is the thing. If they need EMDR later for the trauma, by then it should be cheaper and everyone will be doing it).

Jenny Kepler does a lovely treatment on time-outs in this post. It's mostly about you, you know, not the kid. Surprise.

(4) You've heard it here for years, that when the therapist is talking, half the time nobody's listening. Which is why we really do have to listen and cut the blather. Justin Lioi: The Best Advice a Therapist Could Get? Stop Giving Advice.

(5) David D. Burns, MD has a blog, Feeling Good, with wonderful articles, well-written, for therapists and lay people interested in the therapeutic process. You can't go wrong reading anything by this man.

(6) I'm getting to know some people on Facebook's Therapy Blogger page (this is called social networking) Most are in private practice and they are from all over the world.

Laura Hollywood, along with her thoughts on perfectionism, even quotes Brene Brown: 
“Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.”    
 Also love that British spelling, "s's" instead of "z's".  Coming to London soon, Laura. Will call.

(7) Then there's Psyched in San Francisco, an edgy group of young therapydocs writing their brains out. Thanks Traci Ruble for a few sample articles from Psyched.
Brett Penfil's New Year’s Resolutions for Psychologically Savvy Leaders
Brett is one of the "real deal" executive coaches. She is the Director of coaching for UCSF Medical Center so this is a direct piece that combines psychology, executive coaching and pragmaticism.
Marty Cooper's “Greedy Bastards!”: or, Why Paying for Missed Therapy Sessions is Good for You
Outcomes research shows knowing what to expect in therapy improves its effectiveness and Marty deftly describes why setting really tight boundaries helps clients make real change in therapy.
Abby Volk's Why the “Small” Things Matter: Stop Avoiding Yourself and Your Truth
Abby's work always appeals to the young urban professionals. She has a "tell-it-like-it-is" rawness that is provocative and motivating. In this article she beats the drum for authenticity.
Lily Sloane's Sidelining White Shame and Joining the Social Justice Conversation
How and the heck can regular old white people get involved in the social justice conversation after the court rulings in the last year that sparked riots. Lily covers this with smarts and grace.
(8) More writers from San Fran, must be the salt in the air. This time,The Couples Institute. You might start with Painful Interactions Are Defining Moments in Couples Therapy,. Ellyn Bader makes it look easy; but even she admits, this is cringe stuff.

You would have to be a masochist to enjoy it, but couples therapists do sign up for this, war in the office.

(9) And finally, Michael J. Formica  writes prolifically at Psychology Today. Take a peek at any of his many wonderful articles. .Awesome.

That's enough for now. If you have links you would like me to share for the next Other People's Stuff, comment below or shoot me an email.

What to expect anytime soon around here? Maybe an old favorite, the treatment of pervasive OCD, because it is one of those difficult to treat of psychological ills.

Or maybe we can talk about how to pitch the virtual 15-minute family poker game (because who has time for anything else) penny a chip, a pitch to my family, a game that marks the fourth anniversary of my father's death, which happens to have happened on the exact anniversary of my brother's death, 45 years ago next week.

Ante up.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

I have to admit, lists rankle me, especially when they are lists of shoulds.*

But Amy Morin wrote a list of should nots. The book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, pulled me in, just like Where Have I Been All My Life, life coach Cheryl Rice's biography, last week. Love those book tours.**

The good news is that the list of don't isn't as focused on avoidance as it  leads on. That's good, because avoidance isn't generally therapeutic. In fact, it can be anti-therapeutic. Just don't  ___ (fill in the blank), never works, not for very long. Humans are far too willful, prone to habit and addiction. Therapy is a process, an examination of the whys and the wherefores of pain--the opposite of avoiding problems.

We even suggest that patients lean into problems. Don't avoid. "Bring it up in a safe place" (before leaning in in vivo). Enough focus and we get sick of feeling sick, leave it for awhile.

Remember what the late Morrie Schwartz suggested to his biographer in a different kind of book, Tuesdays With Morrie?  Morrie's path: embrace the pain, feel it, pass through it. This is mindfulness and it works for some, but it isn't a be all, end all. Yet I find myself referring patients to that book lately, especially when therapy is about a materialistic obsession with success.

So you see why  just don't is too simple. In therapy, we do. Or we intentionally postpone tackling a problem, give it a time and date for re-examination. Timing is everything.

This book, these 13 Things, does manage to focus on doing, thankfully. The "tips"embedded in each chapter are rational-cognitive-behavioral strategies, in list form.*** Alternative behaviors (huge on her suggestion list) add to self. Morin's formula: monitor behavior, regulate emotion, and think about thoughts are basic CBT steps, a steal (totally kosher) from the well-known Beck A-B-C's, affect, behavior, and cognition.

A glimpse inside the mentally strong, the first chapter:

They Don't Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves.

If anyone has the right to feel sorry for herself, our author qualifies, having lost her mom, her husband, and her beloved father-in-law in a few short years. Any loss can throw us into another universe, center us on ourselves. And self-pity, if you're a 12-step aficionado, is stinking thinking. Amy uses herself, just once, as proof that we can rise above it, our pain, use our strengths to take the negative and make something good out of it. In her case, a book, and a good one.

We could and maybe should stop here, but the idea for this particular book tour is that the reviewer choose one of the 13 and personalize it. The chapters apply to most of us, so this isn't all that hard. Look at the first eight.

Mentally strong people . . .

Don't Give Away Their Power
Don't Shy Away From Change
Don't Focus on Things They Can't Control
Don't Worry About Pleasing Everyone.
Don't Fear Taking Calculated Risks
Don't Dwell on the Past
Don't Make The Same Mistakes Over and Over
Don't Resent Other People's Successes

I stopped at the last, because I remember telling friends that I never envied what others have, wasn't quite sure of the meaning of the word jealousy, not until my daughter and son-in-law moved to California. He would attend graduate school, ostensibly, but had family, close family, in L.A. The likelihood of their return to the cold Midwest seemed dismal at the time.

The negative feeling, however, whatever one calls it, jealousy or envy, set in after the grandchildren started coming along. His parents had them. FD and I did not.

Me, to the fellow on the left at the zoo: We have to stop meeting like this.

Then in February, when the temps are below zero in Chicago and I'm visiting a little guy at his other grandmother's pool: We have snow in Chicago. Isn't that better?
And to those children scampering ahead on a hike in the mountains: Wait up!

I tried to keep it in, and truly, my son-in-law's parents are wonderful, and if anyone is going to be good for those kids, they are. To manage my negative feelings, all a person like me has to do is share with others (long dinners with friends, my preference), remember that things do change (there are universities in Chicago), find conferences in Los Angeles (and stay a few weeks, why not), and stay creative, be a grandparent that grandchildren want to talk to, want to visit. Be your best possible self.

It isn't easy, as we say, to rise above it.


*I tried to like BuzzFeed, ended up writing that list, Ten Things to Do Other Than Text While Driving. Went nowhere.

** Next post, seriously, we won't review anything and it won't be about me.

***For those who like to write up reminders and tuck them into their wallets, just a mantra is a good idea, something like, Do I really want to stop at the bar on my way home? (Watch another show on Netflix?) Maybe it is time I worked on myself, or helped somebody, somehow.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Enmeshment and Parenthood, the TV Show

(1) The Queen of Enmeshment

We've talked about finding meaning in life, the search for self and identity, and how the dynamics of our closest relationships, enmeshment in particular, can make that quest seemingly impossible.
Cheryl Rice

But nobody will teach you more about what it is like to really be enmeshed than Cheryl Rice. How the needs of a parent can hijack a child's sense of independence and well-being are the essence of her memoire, Where Have I Been All My Lifethe definitive treatment on the subject.
Where Have I Been All My Life

I don't want to spoil it, but the first obvious sign that Cheryl is in trouble starts with kindergarten. Most children are anxious, their moms excited to send them off to their first full day of school.
Have a great time, don't forget to write!

Cheryl can't handle the separation, probably because her mother set the stage. She can't handle it.

Tears of separation anxiety, sobs of sadness, breaks even the unbreakable resolve of kindergarten teachers, those masters of child psychology, professional child wranglers, my personal heroes.

Only attachment-disordered children fail kindergarten, have to start over the following year. Kindergarten is only the beginning. In a few short years Cheryl will tearfully, hysterically, beg the staff at summer camp to send her home. She will plead non-stop, yearn for her mother's warm cocoon, love sick, wondering if this longing for her other half will ever go away.

Textbook enmeshment, her father is powerless, can't look his daughter in the eye, suffers his own emotional demons. When he does deign to speak he is critical, unhelpful. Cheryl's take on it: her idol, her father, can't possibly love her, not if his few comments all point to her weight.* Eating disorders, come to her naturally. She welcomes anorexia, her relationship with food, like her relationships to everyone, grasps at control.

Enmeshed children know only one relationship, that with a needy parent. Rejected by one parent, captured by another, Cheryl's feeble attempts at surviving relationships are all about pleasing. She is good, kind, giving. Literally self-less. Intimacy, sharing about herself is impossible, for she hasn't a clue who she is. 

Yet this young woman is bright and hard-working, marries and has a career as a life coach. She may not know it at the time, but she writes well and is very funny, creative.

In her mid-forties she suffers the the worst thing possible. Her mother dies, little warning. cancer. Cheryl is back to therapy, and that relationship, with its ups and downs (she falls deeply in love with her therapist right away) is the path to wellness. Apparently everyone falls in love with their therapist.
I had no idea.
Parenthood Screen Shot

(2)  Parenthood, the TV Show 

It starts with the theme song Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

May god bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every run
May you stay, forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

We all have our shows, and one that millions of Americans pine for, a second only to Everyone Loves Raymond as a dramatic, yet sweet enactment of enmeshment, is on its way out. On Thursday, January 29, 2015, fans will say goodby to Parenthood.

Get the tissues ready.  True Parenthood fans watch it for permission to cry.

I came in a few seasons late, as young mother Kristina (Monica Potter), battles cancer. She makes a friend in treatment, one who will ultimately surrender to the disease. So charming, so kind, we know the friend, a mentor for survival, won't survive. One of the very few relationships that exists outside of the family doesn't last.
Not to be left out, I catch up to learn that Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham, still a  Gilmore Girl at heart) has returned home, a failure as a single mother with two teenagers. She can't make it alone. Her family supports her decision to return, helps her find work, and counsels her children, lost and confused, now separated from their alcoholic father, a grade B musician.

There's conflict with that loose end. What if Dad somehow steals back the loyalty of the kids? What if he sobers up? Will he take Sarah away again, too? We are left thinking her decision to leave the first time a consequence of poor decision-making. She is a poor decision-maker without her parents. And why would a Braverman ever leave Berkeley, anyway? Mother Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) doesn't say I told you so outright. She doesn't have to.

It is the family support that neutralizes the tension, that tension of too much closeness in the family. Even therapists will learn from the treatment of Max (Max Burkholder), the grandson with high functioning autism (formerly Aspergers), and the management of his disorder. We witness a family's love, caring and patience with Hank (Ray Romano), too, Sarah's boyfriend, who has the same problem as an adult. 

As the seasons progress, it is implied that, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), the patriarch of the family, is often on another planet, not fully present, perhaps a function of post traumatic stress suffered as a Vietnam war veteran. Yet everyone loves him, respects his opinions, and he learns to be present, a powerful lesson. He will ultimately make difficult decisions regarding his health, and the idea that he might not be around much longer has the family scurrying maniacally to support him, to make his last years richer, to show their love and appreciation.

This is functional stuff, if seriously bordering on enmeshment at times. We haven't even talked about Crosby (Dax Shepard), the middle son who still brings his laundry home to his mother, until Jasmine (Joy Bryant) captures him with her pregnancy and beauty. That's enmeshment, bringing home your laundry in your thirties.

Maybe we should define enmeshment as expected, unbounded family loyalty that conflicts with one's likelihood and capacity to meet developmental milestones.

But the Bravermans, for the most part, meet theirs. Far from feeling pathological, it feels lucky, good to be in this family. Season after season, the in-house support makes us all wish we were Bravermans. Maybe this accounts for the show's popularity, living it vicariously on Thursday nights. The intimacy in Parenthood takes our breath away.

What we'll miss, besides the Dylan song, is the thought of three generations constantly colliding, noisy family dinners around an exceptionally long dining room table, the family's sprawling Berkeley homestead, complete with barn. We'll think of adult siblings frequenting each others' living rooms, endlessly toasting to small emotional victories. And the idea that everyone is expected to attend everything.
Adult siblings survive a nephew's school play by sneaking off to smoke pot in the school bathroom together.

Attendance is mandatory at Little League baseball games. The scenes with Victor up at bat, the adopted son having difficulty finding his place, move us, despite the predictability, in a wonderful way.

We'll think of barbecues, old cars, and botched home repairs that require son-in-law Joel, the Jewish carpenter, to rewire; and the emotions that each grandchild suffers, trying to cope with problems that everyone will share with everyone else. All secrets are spilled, shared. All doors are open, even at the workplace, where family members habitually barge in to offer advice or beg opinions, support.

Enmeshed, sure, but is it so bad, these travesties, when people make one another happy? There is no turning anyone away because of that expectation: We will be there for one another.

Just don't leave.


PS. Haddie, one of the grandchildren, does leave. Off to college with her female lover, ten will get you twenty she's back for the last show. 

*Take note, parents. Kids get it when you think they are fat, and translate fat to ugly. Not good for their self-esteem.

Finally, thanks to Cheryl Rice for sending me her memoir. I hope I did it justice, feel your pain and love that it is a story about recovery, growth and healing. I'm sorry for your loss.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ten Ways to Stop Texting Behind the Wheel

Just today, heard about an auto fatality, first grief case of 2015. Somebody's sister, daughter. Somebody's friend. 

At a stoplight that signature tone announces an incoming text.

"Somebody loves me," I tell no one.

'Somebody loves me' is what FD says when his beeper goes off. He still has a pager and it still goes off at the worst times. He is always on the phone. If he had it his way, the chirp of the pager, high pitched, annoying, should mimic a baby's cry. The cry could be for anything from a request for a referral, to a medical emergency. Somebody loves him, loves that he can fulfill a need. His lover wants him to respond immediately, which he does. But we're not all doctors, and he doesn't text and drive. 

But here, in the car, we’re talking a matter of life or death. The latest statistics reveal that texting is the new drunk-driving. Texting causes more accidents on the road, more fatalities, than alcohol.
And yet, replying right away is what we want to do, conditioned robots that we are. Even while driving the kids to school we’ll try to peer at the phone with one eye, look over the windshield with another.
So let’s not. A few strategies from those of us who don’t like to do grief counseling if we can avoid it, even if it is what we’re paid to do.
1. Think: I’m actually not that important. If I don’t answer the text, the sender will have to think more independently, live without me. Think of a text as a writer’s first draft. Wait for the second, the better one. Even the third.
2. Think: It is good to work the brain, to try to remember what we want to say, text it later when we’re not trying to control a two-ton vehicle. Find a mnemonic, like some of us do grocery lists. Pasta, Eggs, Tomatoes, PET. Or just try to remember words. We apparently can remember 7 key words without that much difficulty. Certainly five. Or three. How many depends upon a lot of things, actually, including how much pot we smoke.
3. Ask yourself, Is this making me happy, being at the world’s beck and call? Try seeing life in three dimensions, not two. Use windshield washer, see the world beyond the wheel, especially when traffic is slow or you’re at a stop. In many places (Chicago comes to mind) construction never stops. Check out the clothing on flag-wavers. Notice the sign warning you not to hit one,
4. Sing. Before texting became the number one thing to do when we’re bored, people responded to a survey to say that they sang while alone in the car, probably because singing makes us happy. Number two had something having to do with one’s nose.
5. ThinkTaking a mental health break when I stop the car will do me good. I can text then and nobody gets hurt.. Rather than bolting off to work, take a full twenty seconds at the end of the trip to breathe, just chill awhile. This is empowering, unless you are late for work, in which case you should have read that post aboutbeing late for appointments.
6. Think: I’m really not a gambler, not when it comes to life. Texting and gambling are associated, or will be in someone’s PhD thesis one day.
7. Listen: Literally, turn on the radio. Listen to music, give classical a try, or an audiobook or podcast, anything. We still can listen and drive simultaneously, most of us.
8. Think: I am being rude if I’m holding up traffic, especially at an intersection, sitting on a green light. Everyone else wants to get through. Why wouldn’t I want to help them, make that happen?
9. Think: There’s a law against this in many states. Our electorate, the good people who make laws, suffered through hundreds of more-than-sad testimonies from people who lost loved ones to texting-behind-the-wheel accidents. That couldn’t have been fun. The laws are interventions to spare us the same
10. Understand: It is normal to want to respond, to want to feel the love, to want to return it right away. But this is one deadly gamble, and more than mildcodependence. Scoffing off this particular law might just come down to two primitive psychological constructs that none of us want to own:
(a) egocentrism: thinking, I’m good at this! The laws shouldn’t apply to people as talented as me, and
(b) denialnot thinking, ignoring the reality that texting is dangerous. You can think,Nothing bad is going to happen to me, or anyone I know….
But it could.
Bottom line: Let them wait. Because honestly. If you’re so important, why don’t you have a chauffeur?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snapshots: Cooperative Decision-Making and More

A post on Top Five disappeared last week. You'll understand why in awhile. It got embarrassing.

Three snapshots, all related to the movie in one way or another:

(1) catastrophic expectations,
(2) cooperative couple decision-making, and
(3) two movies we probably don't have to let our kids see.

Take it away.

1. The Catastrophic Expectation

After publishing about the new Chris Rock movie, a crazy thing happened. A catastrophic expectation came true, related to my fear that the blog would be pirated and spammed with objectionable photos.

It happened on Facebook last year. We opened the ap to find new pics, except we hadn't posted any. Thousands, mortified. Facebook rectified the situation immediately. But if this happens to me, what do I do? Delete years of psycho-education?

I pushed "publish" for the Top Five review, but probably because of the word (in bold yet) that starts with a "p", ends with an "n" and has an "or" in the middle, Google Ads paired it with a Sugar M____ies ad. (Think blood relation, not Daddies).  Soft ___ but definitely not so nice.

I'm upset by the betrayal. This is a family blog and kids love to mine it for content that they can plagiarize for their school essays.The ad is close to a realization of my catastrophic expectation (one of many, I'm Jewish). In therapy we use catastrophic expectations to manage anxiety, not exacerbate it.The patient discusses the expectation and we work together on what to do if it comes true.

This calls for an emergency treatment plan: Delete Google Ads entirely from the blog?  Sure. Because really, nobody cares.

I apologize if any of you saw anything you didn't sign up for. Life in the fast lane, what can I say.

2. Couple Decision Making

Choosing a movie with someone you love can be exasperating. Yet cooperative couple decision-making separates the solvent couples from those who will ultimately dissolve. (I think I read this somewhere, someone remind me.)

A popular intervention to bring couples closer, help them understand one another and love each other more, relies upon exposure therapy, a form of desensitization. Force the partner who hates violence to sit through a violent movie, then the one who hates romantic comedies has to sit through one of those, Legally Blond, maybe.

This is just dumb, as interventions go, imho, and I'm a CBT therapist, one who relies heavily on exposure therapies. But the reason some of us resist seeing certain genres of film is that we have already seen a few samples, and we don't like them. We know we hate violence, we know we hate mush. We've suffered enough. A date is supposed to be fun.

So it is back to the intervention tool chest. Here we find that when couples disagree there is always something in-between, either a compromise or an alternative solution, the product of a good brain-storm. That, or don't go to the movies together, see a play. (There is a post somewhere in the archives about recreational intimacy, check it out.) Frankly, I suggest people see movies with like-minded movie-goers, else why would we even have labels like chick flicks and Westerns. But some guys rarely go to the movies with buddies, they go to a bar. 


The story goes that December 24 is traditionally a time for Jews to go to the movies or play poker. FD and I are home a little earlier than usual. I want to pull him away from Law and Order reruns, begin the dialogue.

" I need to get out. And it is Xmas eve. A movie?"

He scratches his chin. "We haven't seen a movie in over a year." As in, why wreck a good thing?

"Speak for yourself. Some of us have friends."

He doesn't remind me that my dates for Big Hero 6 were five and ten years old, respectively. It was really good.

"I hear Wild is interesting," he offers, hoping to be helpful. "A Reese Witherspoon tour de force."

"Yeah, I read the book. which was good. But what about Selma? I really want to see that."

"Not out yet, sorry." He's polite.

"Wild will be scenic, which is good, a big movie. But there's is that heroin thing."

"Heroin?" he asks.

"Yeah. A little too much like work for me, watching people go through their addictions. But maybe."

He's got another idea. "How about Mr. Turner? It's about an eccentric artist. Got a great review in the Wall Street Journal."  FD devours the Journal.

I check it out, find it is two and a half hours long. "No go. Long. What about  Exodus: Gods and Kings? That has to be a big movie, if not exactly a thriller."

"Sure, but the this one is light on the miracles, the Red Sea parting is a trickle. No competition between a trickle and the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner."

"True enough. Yul Brynner in that, wow."  Agreement, take note, we're agreeing, but on what not to see. So not very helpful.

He perks up. "Before I left the office tonight a patient strongly suggested Big Eyes."

"Nah, saw the trailer and now it feels like buying a ticket is superfluous. Plus the movie is about financial abuse of women, not at the top of my list of things to think about right now. I need escape, not cringe."

"But everything makes you cringe," he counters.

"Not Babe: Pig in the City."


"We're stuck. Let's call in some experts."

When you are stuck, it is good to ask advice from other people. They don't have to be experts. Family and friends will do, and they may be experts on you.

So I text my daughter who is probably leaving Wild just about now.
Did you like WILD?
Good, but a little slow and felt long.

I text my son, who knows my sensibilities, ask him what I might like.

Whiplash, about a young drummer, has come and gone,m and we should see Annie with a younger person, too, for perspective. Into the Woods with Streep and that kid from Glee, how can this be a disappointment?  But it is, apparently.

We will have to go with the fail safe, Eeny Meeny Miney Moe, always a good decision-making strategy. We land on Top Five.

 (3) Two Movies We Probably Don't Have to Let Our Kids See (and may not choose for ourselves on an annual trip to the movies).

The first of the two: Top Five

We are not alone and it is almost show time. The parking lot is mobbed. Apparently, everyone tries to skip out on family Xmas eve. There are at least ten people here to see Top Five, everyone else chose one of the other six shows at the AMC.

Still, the conflict in the movie is smart enough:
Dare we risk turning away from what we're good at, maybe great at, to break into something new, something unfamiliar, yet important, something that matters?
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is good at comedy, but he wants to shift to movies that tell untold stories, serious film-making. The problem? His fans won't fall into step. They want to laugh.

This isn't Michael Jordan leaving basketball to play baseball.

Andre, who is a changed man, no longer uses alcohol. In the past he used it for courage, perhaps even to overcome performance anxiety. No longer. He's just going to switch artistic venues and not tell anyone.

Laced throughout the film are cameos of movie and television stars, comedians, and rappers. Not knowing much about rappers, for me, this is a needed education, will help me relate better to young people who rap. You know who you are.

The cameos are cute, but the stories that make up the narrative are so sad. Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson, wonderful) is a journalist looking for Andre's real story, the story of his past. Hers, meanwhile, is about her choice to be exploited, her low self-esteem so low she participates in things she doesn't want to do, just to keep a relationship. The stuff of addiction, surely, but not only addiction. You know this person.

The things she's done? Not hings you want your kids to see, unless you think they are traumatic-snapshot-memory averse.

Andre's story about hitting bottom is embarrassing, humiliating. Sad. And we see all of the story in the film. We see so much we begin to wonder why we came. If we thought Chelsea's issues tough to watch, Andre's are worse. 

The kids will want to see the rappers. But they'll see lots more.

Second, Mocking Jay Part One

My daughter and son-in-law are leaving town for a few days and FD and I volunteer to watch the kids. It is Thanksgiving break and their 12-year-old has high hopes that we will take him to see Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One.

I can't do it, even though I suspect it is probably harmless, know he has seen as much on television, probably worse. His video games are probably violent and graphic. But holding onto principles, I risk the silent treatment for three days and say no. Children killing children. No.

He doesn't even try to ask FD, and works on me instead. It is admirable, his assertiveness. He brings up going to the movie, I say no, he drops it. He brings it up again, I say no, he drops it. Each time I say, "Dude! This is the stuff of nightmares. Let your parents be home when you have the nightmares."

It isn't good. But I hold my ground and a few weeks later buy him a solid round of books with content similar to Hunger Games for Chanukah. Anything to get him to read. It helps to have a children's librarian in the family.

Finally, Xmas day, his mom takes his younger brothers to Annie, and his father takes him to see Mocking Jay. Great. If he has to see the movie, let him be with his dad.

I pop over later and he throws his arms around me, already a break from tradition. (We share an obsession with the Ninja Pro blender and make smoothies, so it isn't as if there's nothing in common.).

"What did you think of Mocking Jay?" I ask, fully expecting to hear it is amazing.

He is dying to tell me.

"At first it was boring, nothing especially great, really. Blah. Then, the last 20 minutes. OMG. I was TERRIFIED. I was freaking out! I was SO scared!"

"Do you wish you hadn't seen it?"

"Yup. Annie would have been better."

Yes, for sure. For both of us.


That list of books for kids 7th grade and up. Note, these are for kids who devoured The Hunger Games but hate reading any other type of books.

Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone by Pfeffer
The House of Scorpion by Farmer
Trash by Andy Mulligan (her favorite)
Gone by Michael Grant
Legend by Lu
Unwind by Shusterman (she's iffy about it-- she uses that word, Terrifying, thinks it might be for older kids)