Bad boys


On Saturday night, I spent time with my reciprocally adopted five-year-old grandson Cooper. It was getting late, and I couldn’t find Charlotte’s Web, so I grabbed a German children’s book.

We snuggled on the couch, and I opened to the first page. Suddenly, I realized that I was about to expose this innocent child–who got so scared by Finding Dory that we had to leave the movie theater–to unimagined levels if mischief that do not end well.

“Cooper,” I said, trying to prepare him. “This book is about bad boys. Very bad boys.” At this, Cooper hopped off the couch, walked over to the Amazon Echo on the kitchen table, and said, “Alexa, play bad boys.” And Alexa did!

Theme song established, I began translating Max und Moritz for Cooper.

“Max and Moritz tied strings into an X, then tied delicious morsels to the end of the strings and left them out for the Widow Bolte’s chickens to find and eat. When they did, it tied the chickens to each other like a string of fish, and in their panic, they wrapped themselves around the branch of a tree. The hens laid one last egg, and then they all died.” 1-10

“The Widow Bolte cried when she found her chickens dead, but decided to roast and eat them. Max and Moritz smelled the chicken roasting, climbed up on the her roof with fishing poles, caught the chickens with hooks, pulled them up, and ate them.”


“The Widow Bolte blamed her dog, Spitz.”


“Next, Max and Moritz nearly sawed through a bridge, then taunted Taylor Böck from the other side. He came after them, the bridge broke, and Taylor Böck plunged into the water.”


“After that, Max and Moritz put gunpowder in Teacher Lämpel’s pipe.”


“The pipe exploded the next time he lit it.”


“Then, Max and Moritz put bugs in Uncle Fritz’s bed.”


“The boys broke into a bakery, fell into a bin of flour, fell into a vat of dough, and the baker kneaded them up and baked them. Somehow they survived being baked, chewed themselves out, and escaped.”


“After that, Max and Moritz cut Farmer Mecke’s sacks of corn, which made the grain run out. But Farmer Mecke caught Max and Moritz, put them in a sack, took them to the miller, and asked him to grind them up. The miller did.”


“And his geese ate up what was left of Max and Moritz.”


The end.

There was a moment of silence. I thought perhaps I’d traumatized Cooper. This was like no children’s book anyone has ever read to him.

“Again! Again!” he said excitedly, hopped off the couch, told Alexa to play Bad Boys, and snuggled in for a second round.

Max und Moritz was written by Wilhelm Busch and published in 1865. It has been read to generations of German children (including myself), who did not resort to lives of crime.

Go figure.

New Year’s Day

Frost lay thick on the ground,
and people in sensible coats,
warm hats, and woolen mittens
gathered to reflect
on New Year’s Day.

But the four-year-old would not
wear her jacket.

“What were you most grateful for last year?” the guide asked.
We plodded down the trail, contemplating,
and the girl bounced past,
with the focused concentration
of a new skipper.

“What did you let go of last year?”
We stopped to recall,
and the four-year-old embraced
the legs of one stranger
after another.

“When did fear hold you back?”
As we remembered,
the girl hid among trees,
chirping occasionally to
let us know where she was.

“What will you stand for in the new year?”
This time, we walked,
and the girl stood still,
watching us flow around her
like a river.

© 2015 Petra Martin

When nature trumps nurture

Parenting a teenager is kicking my butt.

The good news is that my now 15-year-old son has made enormous cognitive leaps in the past three years, and recent testing gives us a peek into his brain that we haven’t had before. He’s been in Special Ed. for three years, but is now essentially at grade level, and the person who conducted his testing has never seen progress like his before. It was she who said, “Maybe all that cognitive development work you’ve been doing actually helped.” By that, she meant Fast ForWord, which, through “games,” strengthens the cognitive weaknesses that make reading difficult.

The bad news is that my son’s behavior in school has him in danger of being suspended because he is so disruptive and disengaged. That behavior is going to keep him in Special Ed. As is the case with many teens, my son has developed an “allergy” to me and tunes out everything I say, which effectively closes the window of opportunity I had for influencing his development through nurture. At this point nature has the upper hand.

I have turned over stone after stone and done everything I know to do for my son, and feeling discouraged, recently told a friend (who happens to be a neuroscientist), “I wonder how much of this challenge is accepting my son the way he is. I keep trying to ‘fix’ him.”

ImageHe said, “So here’s the glorious opportunity that kids provide us: lots of practice by what they say and do in not letting our own adrenals be the boss of us. Remember the old Pink Panther movies? Inspector Clouseau had this manservant, Kato, whose primary job was to try to catch him off guard with a surprise attack. Your son is your Kato, inviting you to become more skilled in the game of mastering your own neurophysiology and escaping from Adrenal Hell.”

He’s right. Not only do I need to view the dynamic between myself and my son differently, I owe every mother I’ve ever judged an apology. I radically overestimated the amount of influence one can have over one’s children.

Though I did everything I could to establish a solid foundation that my son could eventually build a life on, the “house” he builds on that foundation is up to him. Now my task is to let go of the illusion that I have control over this outcome, hope my best was good enough, and comfort myself with stories of what men I respect today did when THEY were teens–including my dear neuroscientist. It is truly a wonder that our species survived.

Oh, and from now on, I’m calling my son Kato.





Antidotes to chaos

Typically, I blog after having had an epiphany. Today, I am blogging in hopes of reaching one.

I am feeling tearful and fragile. Of course, I want that feeling to go away because I don’t like it. But I created a card deck that helps people put their feelings into words, and I believe that emotions are the inner guidance system by which we navigate our lives. That means I have to sit with and engage all the following emotions at the same time (mouse over each illustration):






Why? I could say all kinds of things. Money worries. Having a full-time job plus two businesses and a non-profit on the side. Learning to be earthmates with my soulmate. Raising a teenager with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and a tendency toward oppositional defiance. The tension of integrating into our family a father-figure who has already raised two teenaged boys to manhood, and can anticipate anything my son throws at him. (My son hates that.)

But those are all excuses. Bottom line: I’m not good at taking care of myself. I have a low tolerance for chaos and hate doing anything half-assed. So the more I do, the less chaotic my life will be. Right? I self-medicate with busyness.

The aforementioned soulmate is a Buddhist who gets up at 5:30 every morning to meditate and study the dharma for an hour. With a few exceptions (one of which I call “Facebook Man”), serenity has eclipsed his Irish temper. I have seen him get through an absolute train wreck of circumstances with tears, but an astonishing equilibrium and grace. His antidote to chaos is the time he spends on his cushion every morning.

When he suggests that I might benefit from meditation, I get all fit-pitchy and refer to the many times I have “failed” in my attempts. (I consider intrusive thoughts failure. I also consider intrusive theme songs from television shows such as Bonanza failure.)

I’m not sure why I want to throw tantrums whenever anyone suggests that meditation would do me good. Walking and shamanic journeying work better for me, but in the end, I don’t think it matters how I center, ground, and calm myself. It’s just imperative that I do.

Grandpa’s role in history

Danny, my grandma, died in August–a few days after her 94th birthday. My grandfather died decades ago, but it wasn’t until Danny died that my uncles began sorting through the belongings they’d amassed over the years. That was when Dick discovered that Grandpa, an Army chaplain, had accompanied some of the defendants who were sentenced to death for war crimes at the Nüremberg trials to the gallows.

Grandpa with boxer

Grandpa in his “uniform” of engineer overalls and cap. He and Danny always had a boxer. Always.

Wait. What? The guy who looked like a train engineer because he always wore blue-and-white striped overalls and a matching cap? The guy who always had a toothpick in his mouth, looked a lot like his boxer, and could be counted on to have Coffee Nips on hand? That guy?

In addition to evidence of the role that Grandpa played at the Nüremberg trials, Dick found a hand-drawn map of the concentration camp in Dachau with Grandpa’s writing on it. We know Grandpa was at Dachau after it was liberated, but we’re not sure when.

Honestly, I don’t remember my grandfather as a kind man. Though he was a “man of God,” religion seemed to be largely an intellectual exercise for him—not something he put into practice in his daily life. He originally wanted to become a doctor, but World War II put an end to that, so he became a chaplain instead. I did not know him to be a spiritual man. He often insulted and demeaned Danny and my father, which made him hard to trust and still harder to like.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Gary W. Roush, Sr.

What’s interesting to me is that, in spite of his Nüremberg and Dachau experiences—which might’ve led most Americans to draw unfavorable conclusions about the German people—it was Grandpa who met my mother, a German citizen, and insisted on introducing her to his son.

My German grandparents were Methodist descendants of Huguenots who were convinced Hitler was the Antichrist. At the end of the war, when Hitler was running out of men of draftable age, my Opa (grandfather) was drafted in his 40s and served as a cook in the Navy. My uncle was drafted into the SS at 17, but Oma (my grandmother) worked diligently to change that and succeeded. He became a Gebirgsjäger (mountain infantryman) instead, and both my Opa and uncle survived the war without seeing combat. Onkel Walter became a Methodist minister and met Grandpa, a Methodist Army chaplain, which led to the introduction of Mom and Dad. Which led to me.

Danny, Grandpa, and Onkel Walter with my uncle  Bill

Danny, Grandpa, and Onkel Walter with my uncle Bill on Mom and Dad’s wedding day

I owe my existence to Grandpa. Somehow, what I learned about his involvement at Nüremberg and Dachau helped me see him in a different light. He didn’t judge Germans by the worst he’d seen of them. He saw what author and historian Robert Abzug says was “the trappedness of good people in the machinations of history at its most evil.” He saw the good in my mom, wanted that for his son, and it didn’t take long for Dad to realize he was right. I have rarely seen a man love a woman the way my dad loved my mom.

When I look at the following picture of Mom and Dad, whose people had been enemies little more than a decade before they met, I think of the song, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” I never viewed Grandpa as spiritual. But he held a practical vision of peace that enabled him to welcome a German woman into his American family. Peace began with him. And it led to me.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Irmgard and Gary Roush, Jr. on their wedding day

Soul mates, courage, and happiness

The “Happy” image from the Mixed Emotions card deck (c) 2012 Kris Wiltse

If I were blind, how would you explain “yellow” to me? “It looks like the sun feels on your skin,” perhaps. Or, “It looks like lemonade tastes.”

Until about a year ago, the term “soulmate” was just as inexplicable to me as “yellow” is to a blind person. Nothing you could’ve said would’ve helped me understand what it means–until I met Eddie and discovered the exquisite agony of finding my soulmate. Exquisite because I have never felt compatibility or unconditional love like this before. Agony because Eddie and I could not be together.

The best definition of “intuition” I’ve ever heard is: knowing without knowing how you know. I have only a nodding acquaintance with the concept of reincarnation, but when I met Eddie, I knew that our paths had crossed in many lifetimes. I also knew that we’d seldom been together. There were lifetimes in which I wasn’t allowed to choose my own mate. Lifetimes in which he was poor, I was a nun, he was a Jew, I was a slave, he was married, or we were both the same sex.

Though there were obstacles to overcome, we realized that in this lifetime, we could finally choose to be together. There was a price to pay, though. It would take courage to be happy. Eddie would have to unplug the life support of a marriage that had flat-lined years ago. He’d have to hurt people he loved and grieve the loss of what had been while simultaneously acknowledging and celebrating what could be.

The “Hopeless” image from the Mixed Emotions card deck (c) 2012 Kris Wiltse

It was as if Eddie had been in a ship that sunk so slowly, he didn’t realize he was underwater. Then, on realizing where he was, he swam toward the surface so quickly that his body could not accommodate his rapid ascent. He got “the bends” as his body caught up with his soul and the emotional work of processing endings and beginnings sometimes left him physically exhausted and ill.

Meanwhile, my heart and head were at war. I had never known or been known the way Eddie and I knew each other. I had never felt more safe. There were so many words we didn’t have to say, so much explaining we didn’t have to do because we were One. When I was with Eddie, I felt a sense of rightness that never wavered. But when we were apart, my head kicked in. The ghosts of failed relationships haunted me. I lived in fear of judgment. Eddie wasn’t a logical choice for a number of reasons, including financial ones, and it would take blind faith to keep putting one foot in front of the other and see where a life together would take us.

The “Loving” image from the Mixed Emotions card deck (c) 2012 Kris Wiltse

There’s a saying that I’ve lived by: leap and the net will appear. Eddie and I screwed up our courage and leapt. Life has been real, gritty, and often hard. But now, we are experiencing the enormous privilege of living it together–held safely in the net of unconditional love.

Recovering from emotional bankruptcy

Grief, by Kris Wiltse, for the Mixed Emotions card deck

Last Tuesday, while my son was at his father’s over spring break, I broke down. I came home from work, crawled into bed and cried, fell asleep, woke up, and then cried some more. My eyeballs felt like unhusked chestnuts from weeping, and I felt utterly depleted emotionally. It was a good thing it happened while my son was gone, because if he’d been home, I would’ve made it about him, somehow.

The problem? Maybe it’s the hormonal train wreck of my son’s adolescence and my menopause. Maybe it’s matters of the heart. Maybe it’s because I not only parent my son alone, but have started Whidbey CareNet, a nonprofit organization that provides free care for a hundred or more emergency responders on Whidbey Island. Maybe it’s because I have a 30+ hour-a-week day job, as well as two businesses (the Writer’s Refuge and Heron Lake Press) in addition to the nonprofit. Maybe it’s the fact that in providing care for a lot of people, I completely neglected to care for myself.

In any case, I had a week to pull myself together. Fortunately, several Whidbey CareNet providers have “grandmothered” me in and extend free care to me, even though I’m not an emergency responder. I received free craniosacral therapy and counseling, then went to a naturopath, who gave me a vitamin IV and prescribed supplements as well as dietary changes. I also spent time with three friends who make me feel nourished, one of whom offered me some CDs about the law of attraction.

I’ve been bah-humbugging the law of attraction since going through one of the most painful periods in my life several years ago, but I love my friend, so I took the CDs she offered. As I began to listen to them, I was reminded that when we feel good, it’s easier for good things to find their way to us. I had completely forgotten this, and made feeling good a higher priority.

When I awoke the next morning, I could barely walk. It was incredibly painful to put weight on my left ankle, even though I hadn’t injured it. An EMT friend checked it out, but it wasn’t a break or sprain. It felt like someone had taken the bones of my foot out, shaken them up in a paper bag, and then done a bad job of reassembling them.

I committed myself to feeling good that day anyway. We headed to the home of friends for Easter–friends I enjoy spending time with, and whose family I feel privileged to be part of. They lent me a pair of crutches to make it easier get around.

Then my son and I went to see a movie at our small-town theater, which is one of our favorite things to do together. When we purchased our tickets, we were told to hold on to the ticket stubs, because there was going to be a drawing for six dark chocolate truffles made by a local chocolatier. I knew those truffles would be mine, and I was right. They were a cosmic wink that let me know the law of attraction was working.

When I went home, I looked up “ankle” in Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body and learned that “Ankles represent the ability to receive pleasure.” Surprised? I wasn’t.

The next morning, I woke up in no pain whatsoever and was able to take a two-mile walk with a friend that afternoon.

Point made. Point taken. Thank you, Universe.