Friday, July 18, 2008

Why it's Good to Enmesh Your Children

Okay, so it's never good. But it's not so bad to keep one of them around for awhile either, if it's good for him and if it's good for you.*

Not that I don't like the empty nest, the clean counters, less laundry, spontaneous nights out with FD. Who wouldn't?

The Story

I teach one night every other week on-line for a couple of hours. I monopolize the computer room upstairs during that time, sequester myself from interruptions. Teaching kills the night and exhausts me, only because it's the first time I'm teaching this particular class. I have to prepare, reread, relearn material that has passed me by, research concepts lost to the archives of long-term memory. For the most part it's readily accessible, a pleasant surprise.

But I get nervous about presenting the material. And you know, when you get nervous you get a little physically unglued, a little careless. I'm not the best coordinated individual, so for me, being unglued, isn't going to be a good thing.

What's amazing is that a person can be so graceful on a bicycle (K"H)**, can zip around twelve-year olds, make those turns just right, eyeball the distance between the cracks in the sidewalk, and yet, if there's a tumbler, especially if it's full of water, juice, doesn't matter, I'll find it and knock it over. You really have to watch me if you invite me to dinner.

Just about to start the class, the students are chiming in on the computer, and I'm pumped. This material is difficult. I know they're clueless, and it's a huge challenge for me to try to make it all sound easy and accessible. One student is missing. I ask, "Does anyone know where . . is? She can't miss tonight's class and pass the final." The final is in two weeks.

My phone rings. The house phone, the type that has a telephone cord. You may not know what these are, telephone cords. I reach for the phone (we called these receivers), thinking maybe it's the student. The cord is tangled, so I yank at it a little and bam! Eight ounces of water, about an inch of pomegranate juice, if you must know, all over me, the floor, papers, computer cords.

But luckily my son has picked up the line downstairs. He hears the following:
OMG, I just spilled an entire glass of water all over the place. Hold on.
I look at the computer screen. The students are frozen in space, waiting for instructions, surely stifling their laughs. Nobody's saying anything. I'm hopelessly hooked up with a headset, my notes are on my lap. There are books everywhere and the water is creeping to its lowest level on the floor.

I tell the person on the phone I'll call him back. It's not the missing student. In an instant my son materializes, several towels in hand. He's bending down, taking care of the spill. We exchange looks. "You're so wonderful." I whisper. "Thank you so much." I hand him the empty plastic tumbler (you learn to use plastic). "Uh, can you bring me a refill? Water with ice?"

He's good. Moments later, another accident, ready to happen.

Let him go? Are you kidding?

Bottoms up.


*Remember that I try to be funny so don't take everything I say literally or seriously, okay?

**(K"H) stands for kineyin hara, (rhymes win-Mayan-tore-uh) a Hebrish, Yiddish, who knows what, really, expression that wards off the evil eye to prevent what you just talked about from ever happening or to protect you or someone else. Everyone should do this type of hocus-pocus. Very good for the anxiety.


Anonymous said...

This blog is actually remarkable. When you get anxious you get a little physically unglued, a slight casual towards your kids. But this can act as devastation for your kid.

Anonymous said...

I tell my distance profs my trick - a sports top water bottle or something with a lid on it.

Even so - I'll admit that I have knocked over even one of those (the lid was off) trying to answer the phone, answer an email... and well - the 3rd thing is always the one that's one thing too much!

Love your blog! I'm a child abuse & trauma survivor and your blogs never fail to brighten my day, if things are schlogging along & getting me down.

therapydoc said...

Makes me so happy to unschlog people, and thanks, JULIA, too.

Annie said...

Cool post therapydoc, as if we haven't all been in such stressful and bumbling positions. Your kid sounds cool as well. I also learned from the comment "sports top bottle" it's like a tippy cup for grown-ups! I could say relax but I know it is hard to when performance is on the line. Take care Annie

Clueless said...

I loved this post. Made me laugh out loud especially the beginning, well the middle...the whole thing. Liquid and computers do not mix well!! Enmeshment is always good. :-) LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

LOL Ahh, the memories:
not to mention the dead sticky keyboards, the stains on most of my clothes, the table cloths ruined...

But you're right - total ineptitude in some areas does us good. It lets other people know we need them sometimes, for the little things that count =)

Being not so perfect works pretty well sometimes 'eh?

YZF said...

That was wonderfully funny!

SuperRaizy said...

What a sweet boy your son must be.

Anonymous said...

actually he drives a motorcycle (w/o a helmet) and smokes

Margo said...

aw, he's a good egg.

SeaSpray said...

Great post. I identified greatly with it. :)

Anonymous said...

You made it all up, didn't you?

therapydoc said...

I don't usually make up all of everything!

Anonymous said...

Your wonderfully charming depiction of your relationship with your son made me think of a question I've always had about teens who come of age in cultures where there is clear sex segregation after a certain age. Do teens who grow up in a "sex segregated" environment (religion, school, social activities, etc) go through the same sort of gendered psychological development as kids who grow up in a non-segregated environment? Or are there some important differences?

In other words, most teen girls in America clash with their mothers (as they try to differentiate), while fathers play the role of "male protector" (interviewing prospective dates, running interference, etc.) I'm thinking of those classic scenes where the boy comes to pick up the girl and ends up trembling before the father. In commercials the girl usually plays innocent (and maybe a bit embarassed by her dad), but clearly feels loved and protected by The Man, i.e. her dad.

In a culture like Orthodox Judaism, where teens don't date, and don't have much interaction with the opposite sex -- and girls are increasingly drawn into a "woman's world" -- do they still go through the same sort of adolescent psychological gender identification process? Or is it different in sex-segregated cultures?

I hope you have the time to respond -- or other commenters will help out. I'm really curious!

therapydoc said...

I don't know, Patricia. But my hunch would be that like everything else, these behaviors fall into some type of normal distribution, meaning the Orthodox kids are just like all other kids and it's unfair to generalize, even within groups. But it would make a good study.

Anyone else? I'm honestly clueless.

Anonymous said...

""In a culture like Orthodox Judaism, where teens don't date, and don't have much interaction with the opposite sex -- and girls are increasingly drawn into a "woman's world""

You seem to be under the impression that all of mainstream Orthodox Judaism is extremely traditional in those regards, and that's hardly the case. There are many variations both belief and practice. Adolescent male-female interaction - as well as the ideal "woman's world" - are widely varied between groups and families. In other words, some Orthodox kids date, some don't - some girls might aim to become domestic goddesses, others to conquer the world.

So the psychological associations of gender and identity are likely just as varied, although we would hope that they are all less cliche than the old man-as-protector, girl-as-innocent.

I do believe that the overall lack of PRESSURE to be a certain way at a certain age with regard to the opposite sex (in order to be considered normal and healthy) facilitates a higher value of the individual, regardless of gender, and a stronger sense of self at a younger age.

therapydoc said...

Thanks so much for that comment. I agree about the pressure thing, and taking it off. Postponing the sex games gives a person time to grow in other directions.

Anonymous said...

"The overall lack of PRESSURE to be a certain way at a certain age with regard to the opposite sex (in order to be considered normal and healthy) facilitates a higher value of the individual, regardless of gender, and a stronger sense of self at a younger age."

That kind of value of the individual would probably make for less enmeshment, right? But I have to wonder how that fits with "the shidduch crisis" from a few posts back. Therapydoc, your description of the situation was heartbreaking. You wrote, "Women in their mid-twenties have to be anorexic or wait for a miracle to get the right guy to take an interest in them. And many men, my son tells me, aren't terribly skilled socially, having waited for late adolescence or young adulthood to begin to date." In fact, your solution was for young women to seek a husband OUTSIDE of the Orthodox world.

It seems like a LOT of pressure -- and very little value of the individual or a strong sense of self.. beyond the role of wife or spinster.

therapydoc said...

Anon 2, lemme explain. What Anon 1 (above you) says is that there's tremendous diversity in the Orthodox community. Not every Orthodox kid goes through that system or even wants to go through it. They use websites, too, much like

So for some, like you say, the pressure's intense, the options not good. And for others, it's, Why shouldn't we go out? Why not?

I'll go back to that post, to the comments section, and put that out there.


therapydoc said...

I'm getting the impression that people think that this post applies to the entire Orthodox Jewish community. It doesn't. There's tremendous variation here, and not every young woman uses the matchmaker system to find a mate. Many young people meet all on their own.

Like in the good old days. My parents met at a Yom Kippor dance, like thousands of others like them.

Sorry if I gave the wrong impression here.

anymommy said...

I loved this post. Thanks for the link. I hope I can raise my kids to be like this, empathetic and helpful and responsible.

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?