Trust the Process and other Such Jabber-Wockey

We’re picking up M-ito on Saturday, two days and counting.

The apartment has been strangely silent. Mom-ita and I have adjusted. We’ve had some wonderful time to ourselves while missing our son, sometimes alternately and sometimes at the same time. How strange that is – parental guilt laced with joy.

We’ve seen pictures of him since day five almost every day. He is smiling but then they wouldn’t take pictures of a disheartened and unhappy child, would they? Still, we have been trusting the process developed by the camp over its 125 years of service in helping children to be away from home for the first time.

We received a letter from M-ito on day nine of his adventure. It is the only letter we’ve received so far. He wrote the letter on his first full day of camp and let’s just say… he was not happy. According to his letter they were (you guess and I’ll tell you the answers tomorrow) on his first full day at camp:
1. made to play dodgeball for 2 hours
2. force-marched for five miles up mount Baldy and back without food or water
3. tortured with roasting marshmallows without chocolate or graham crackers for an hour before bed
4. made to sing songs about God
5. made to eat cocoa pebbles until their stomachs were ready to burst
6. made to watch Yellow Submarine three times in a row because of heavy rain in “the big house” which is like a prison

Seriously. If you read his letter it would break your heart. He actually said, “I miss you very much.”


I’m glad we didn’t get this until day nine. At the same time if we had known how upset he was on day one would we have gone up and taken him home? Did he expect that? Have we failed as parents and will he feel like we abandoned him? Do I foresee skyrocketing therapy costs in our future? Did we do the right things by trusting the process and the pictures and the words of his counselor? These are the things that keep Mom-ita and me up at night staring at the ceiling.

It’s almost 9pm Thursday evening.

Less than 2-days to go.

Yarmulke’s, Crusades, and Bobby Pins

I’m driving the kids in to school so both Austino and M-ito are sitting in the back seat. The first subject is religion. I don’t remember how we got onto it but we did.

“Why do religious people strap bombs onto themselves and kill other people,” asked Austino.

“Well, not all religious people.”

“But religions do that.”

“Well… no major religion has anything in its sacred texts about killing everybody else, but there are crazy people everywhere so even the major religions have them too.”

“But terrorists do that kind of thing – ”

“So did the Christians during the crusades. Do you know about them? They tried to conquer the holy land from the Moslems and then the Moslems took it back at them.” Man was I in trouble.  In my head I was getting Moslems and Christians, Byzantines and Romans all mixed up in my head. “There are groups within all groups, especially the major religions. Like the Jews have all kinds of groups from Hasidic to orthodox to not-so frequently-attending jews, to non-practicing like myself.”

“They wear those small hats on their heads, right?” M-ito asked.

“Yes, a yarmulke.” We were on yarmulke’s which I figured was safe ground – away from terrorists and bombs.

“Why are they so small?” M-ito asked.  “They fall off your head pretty easy. I still have the red one.”

“From Lizzie’s bat mitzvah.”

M-ito nodded. I could see him in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, they could use a bobby pin or something, right, to keep it on?”

“Yeah, they could. That would make sense.” M-ito said.

Then it got quiet for a little while. Whew. I was grateful we hadn’t ventured any further into religious territory. Last time I ended up talking about reincarnation. And that had repercussions. Mom-ita still won’t let me forget that one.

PDAs in School

My son gave me a hug today. It’s not that we don’t hug – we do. We’re a hugging family. But it was unexpected because it – the hug – occurred at M-ito’s school.

These days when I drop him off at school, which is only one day a week as the norm, he presents me with the top of his head, tenses his shoulders as if it will be painful, then let’s me kiss him goodbye in the hall to the common room where his schoolmates await him.I places his hand up in front of me like a crossing guard to say, “Here no further.” It’s written all over him. Here no further, please.

But today I worked from the Starbucks near his school so I could take him in and Mom-ita could work out of the house (as a mom she’s always working in the house). I came back after two hours for the first day of Hannaka celebration. M-ito was supposed to light one of the candles of the minora along with a group of his Jewish classmates at their weekly assembly. I was so proud of him. He saw me in the audience and waved a small wave along with a smile. Then after it was all over and the rest of the kids had gone except for his grade, he ran over to me to give me a gave me a big hug.

I’m still smiling.

Another Zen Koan

Same subway ride. I give M-ito another Zen Koan.

A Zen Master has a student who leaves the dormitory at night to carouse in the town. He places a tall chair beneath his room window and climbs out. One night the Zen Master goes to the young man’s room and sees the chair. He takes it away and stands beneath the window where the chair had been, his head coming up to about the same height as the chair had. When the young man comes back through the window it’s dark so he doesn’t see the Master beneath him and places his feet on the Master’s head. When he gets down the Master says, “It’s a cold night out tonight.” The young man responds, “It is,” and gets in to bed. The young man never goes to the town at night again.

I asked M-ito what he thought of the story.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I thought for a moment and then had an idea. I retold the exact same story but with a friend of his, Aus-ito, and the boy’s father, Big Aus-ito, in the place of the master and the young man. I thought he’d understand it better if it was about someone he knew. Aus-ito is a very adventurous boy who loves to climb and explore and who I knew M-ito could see doing something like the zen student – ie: escaping his room via the window. I figured he’d understand the story better this way – that it would be more relevant.

I asked M-ito what he thought of this version of the story.

“I don’t understand,” he said again.

“What do mean? I thought you’d understand it better if I used Aus-ito in the story.”

“That’s just it,” M-ito said. “That’s not possible because Aus-ito would use some kind of crazy zip-line and never have to touch his father’s head. Then he’d make some kind of bomb and blow up the zip-line so no one would ever know he’d used it. That way he’d never get caught by his parents and no one would know that he’d ever left his room.”

I’m still laughing about that one.

One Hand Clapping

I took M-ito to work with me today. Mom-ita was working, teaching a consulting gig, and out all day. I had work that had to be done so I couldn’t take the day off. We walked to the express station – what is normally a fifteen minute walk – in half an hour. The trains were fast though, and instead of 11am I made it in by 10:15.

He sat in my office for almost three hours, reading a Pokemon Manga and playing games on my iPhone. He’s so good. He even waved, his small, shy, bent-elbow wave, to everyone I introduced him too. They smiled back at him.

We had lunch and walked about twenty blocks downtown to the comics store, Forbidden Planet. I had him avoid all the “adult” sections and the “monster” sections. He bought two ugly dolls with his allowed funds, eyeballing the USS Enterprise model and a Godzilla action figure.

On the R train home, both of us exhausted, nodding a little, I took out a book of Zen Koans I’d been reading (Zen Flesh, Zen Bones) and asked M-ito if he wanted me to read him some stories that were like puzzles.

He said, “Sure.”

I told him the story of the Zen Master who had a young student who wanted to the master to give him a koan to help him to study and learn. The master asked him if he knew the sound of two hands clapping and the student said, “Yes.” Then he asked him, “What’s the sound of one hand?” The student went back and forth over a year coming up with answers like, the wind, an owl hooting, the breath and each time the master said, “No. Come back when you have figured it out.”

Well… I only got to the first time the master asked, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping,” when M-ito interrupted me and said, “there is no sound.” My mouth hung open for a moment. Then I shut it and continued the story, ending at the same place my son had already been to, camped out at, and completed. It took the student a year. It took my son about three seconds.

A Two-faced God

Dinner was almost over and we were sitting at our dinner table, still piled high on the far side with childhood debris (tiny plastic creatures from birthday parties and gumball machines, M-ito’s old homework assignments) and adult debris (catalogs and bills). I’d made us dinner and Mom-ita was in the bedroom resting, not feeling well.

“What does God look like?” M-ito asked me. We’ve been down this road before so I wasn’t completely surprised he’d asked me but still, it seemed out of the blue. 

“I don’t know,” I said.

“If God was a color he’d be yellow.”

“I like yellow.”

“So do I.”

“Does God have a shape?” I asked.

“He doesn’t.”

“What if God was a woman?” I asked.

“What if God had two faces? ” M-ito countered.

“You mean like a Hindu God with a man’s face on one side and woman’s on another?” I said.

M-ito nodded.

“There’d be half a man’s body on one side and half a woman’s body on the other.”

“And,” M-ito jumped in. “On one side he’d have a penis and the other she’d have a vagina and when she had to pee it would go on forever!”

“I guess it would,” I said. 

Mom-ita walked in sometime in the middle of this and sat down next to us.

“What are you two talking about?” she asked.

“God,” I said. “And he’s got two faces, on one head.”

M-ito nodded, smiling.

Do You Believe in God?

“Dad-dito,” M-ito asked. He was lying on the floor of our dining room/office, making pretend snow angels on the wooden floor.

“Uh huh,” I answered, my attention more on the computer than on him.

“Do you believe in a God?”

I stopped typing and looked down at him. His arms slid along the floor and his legs opened then closed. “Yup,” I said. “But you know Mom-ita and I believe in a Goddess.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

“I believe we each have a soul, a divine spirit,” I said, tapping his chest, “right in here.”

He nodded.

“And I think God or Goddess can come in all forms, like Ganesha, the elephant-headed God and others.”

“Yeah, he’s part animal.”

I nodded.

“Dad-dito, do you think God’s a girl or a boy?”

“I like to think of her as a woman.”

“I think of God as a girl and a boy – both.”

That made me smile.

“You want to wrestle now?” he asked.

I looked at my computer and the work I was supposed to do. I shrugged. “Sure why not.” What else was there to do after you’d finished a conversation about the divine with your five year old son?