Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, America

This is the Thanksgiving entry from my Facebook page. I thought I'd share it with you here....

In February 2003 I was invited to a home for lunch. Not knowing the hostess well, nor having been to her home previously for any appreciable time, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be casual or formal? Would the company be enjoyable, welcoming? Would the topics of conversation involve and engage me, or would I have nothing to contribute and little to learn? Most of all I wondered what sort of food would be served. Would it be boring, stodgy food which was a chore to eat? Or bland food that was all nutrition but no fun? Or what if the food was overly rich – delicious at the time, but leaving me sick and bloated by the end of the meal? I went with a polite smile on my face, but trepidation in my heart.

And yet, when America opened her door to me, all the warm, wonderful, complex smells of an exquisite meal tickled my senses. After being ushered kindly to my seat I was served a tantalizing appetizer of career possibilities and professional opportunity which whet my appetite and made me hungry for more. This was quickly followed by a rich and hearty main course of freedom, justice, egalitarianism and tolerance which nurtured me and sat warmly in my belly. Finally came dessert; a light, complex dish made from the sweetness of new friendships, the tang of individuality, and the smooth creamy lushness of support and acceptance.

At the end of the meal I collected my coat to leave. “Stay!” said America, and reached out her hand. I hesitated for just a second…then hung my coat back in the cupboard and replaced my hat on the hook by the door. To this day I sit in the big comfortable chair by the fire in America’s home, my feet curled up under me, content and grateful for the welcome I’ve received from this most gracious hostess.

Happy Thanksgiving, America.

Yours Gratefully,

K.E. Stapylton

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Carrot and the Stick

The Terror of Prism Fading focuses on the adventures of four children, Rabbit, Rupert, Jasper and Aden, each of whom have a remarkably different family experience. Rabbit has lived in a series of foster homes, her parents and young brother having been killed in a car accident when she was five years old. Rupert is an only child, and although it’s not explicitly stated in the books, has learnt to be the peacemaker in a family where both parents are alcoholics. Jasper has two wonderful parents, but his mother, a significant and powerful figure in the land of Prism, does not live in the family home and is rarely seen by her son. To all intents and purposes, Jasper is an only child in a single parent family. Aden also has wonderful parents but, as king and queen of Prism, they are rarely in a position where they can place family ahead of their public duties and enormous responsibilities. Despite a loving bond with her parents, Aden has been raised largely by a succession of nannies and tutors, isolated from her peers and with crushing expectations for the future resting on her shoulders. At their respective ages of 13 and 14, Rabbit, Rupert, Jasper and Aden already bring significant baggage to their experiences together in Prism.

In creating these characters, I tried to recreate problems and struggles I’ve encountered during my life, particularly my years as a therapist. In a society where children are often indulged beyond what’s good for them, it seems there is still a striking lack of adequate nurture and appropriate support given to the children in our communities in general, and in our homes in particular.

I watched an episode of Dr Phil recently where he discussed the topic of ‘sexting’ – the sending of text messages with a sexual content - and the exponential rate at which this seems to be generated by children. It was jaw dropping to have to see him say to the parent “Well, have you taken the phone away?” (no) “Well why not?” (multiple lame excuses along the lines that ‘my child needs a phone.’) This from the mother of a 12 year old girl who had been sending naked photos of herself out into the ether using said cell phone! He spoke also to a teenage boy and his mother. The boy had been practicing auto-asphyxiation at the local amusement park, riding on the roller coaster unconscious and oxygen deprived. When asked how the boy got to the amusement park, his mother replied “I drive him.”

My firm belief has always been that the majority of parents try hard to do a good and self sacrificing job with their children. But it’s becoming increasingly culturally unpopular to say no, to monitor, to set boundaries, to say “You’re not old enough”, to punish, to deprive and to weed out the behavior in children that we deem to be culturally, morally and socially unacceptable. We have fallen victim to a twist on the ‘me generation’; the ‘you generation’, where we bring up children implying by our own actions that everything they do is precious and deserves our respect and consideration. In trying to empower children, it appears that we often go so far as to give them inappropriate levels of power, giving them possibilities, options and choices that their moral, ethical, social and emotional development simply has not readied them for.

I would encourage – not all – but some parents to be a little less ‘respectful’ and rather more invasive. I spoke to a 17 yr old girl this week who told me – with a straight face – that she prefers to keep her family and her Myspace page separate “because she didn’t think adults would be interested in what teenagers talk about.” A request to join her friends list will be met by being blocked from her page. I talked to a 15 year old boy on Facebook this morning whose 50+ underage friends all had a photo of themselves up for all to see. Where are these children’s parents? In a world where people feel so anonymous that they seem to believe every aspect of their lives needs to be recorded before it’s significant, the role of the family is being eroded.

The point is to make your children feel significant – to you, to make them feel as though they are essential – to you. We make a sad mistake when we imply to children that they are the center of the universe - yet largely invisible in their own families.

There are few pictures more ugly than a world full of grown up children, each and every one believing that world revolves around them, few things more dangerous than children with electronic gadgets and no parental monitoring, and few things sadder than children who go through life with insufficient boundaries and a belief that nobody loved them enough to stand up and be a parent. When parents love children they set boundaries; they make them high and they make them intractable. And it keeps their children safe.

I hope all parents will make the decision to be willing to be the bad guy, to notice all that their children do – the bad and the good – and to keep working hard to find that elusive balance between ‘the carrot and the stick’,

Yours Protectively,

K.E. Stapylton

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Most Wonderful Woman in the World.

Fall has come to New York and we're deep into this most gorgeous time of year. The colors are glorious, the leaves are thick on the ground, and the air is rich with that toasty smell of damp, crusty foliage. Wonderful!

More wonderful still is that I am sharing this beautiful season with my best friend of 32 years, Wendy, who has travelled over from Sydney to spend 5 fabulous weeks with me. (Now seems like a good time to assure you all that we met when we were children...more or less...)

Last night, as we were taking my dog, Dixon, for a walk around town, Wendy said to me "if we met now, do you think we would still be friends?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!" So this post is a tribute to Wendy, the most wonderful woman in the world.

Wendy and I met on a beach in 1976. I was at a camp and she was on vacation with another girlfriend. I noticed Wendy speaking with a young man from our camp who was, at that time, considered very handsome but rather arrogant and egotistical; the biggest impact his success with the opposite sex had made was in his own mind, though his general appeal was widely acknowledged. Both Wendy and the girl she was vacationing with apparently knew this young man via other people, and it was sheer coincidence that she had encountered him on the beach. After a short conversation, however, he wandered away, leaving Wendy more or less stranded in the middle of a large group of people she didn't know with no-one to talk to. She wandered off awkwardly and took up a position by herself on the sand; the girlfriend she had arrived with also apparently having evaporated. For reasons of my own, I knew what it was to feel alone in a crowd and, having been brought up a proactive kind of girl, I went up to Wendy and introduced myself.

Was it an immediate synergy of souls? Nope. Did we have a lot in common? Not really. But we were polite and friendly, we chatted, we laughed over a few things, and we made ourselves 'socially available'. This conversation led to dinner together back at the campsite one evening, then phone numbers exchanged and phone calls made. From here we graduated to get-togethers in each other's homes when summer was over, a sharing of thoughts, a commitment to each other's well being, and a loyal bond that grew into 32 years of the most nurturing friendship I have ever known. When her boyfriend dumped her, I was there; when my mother (and later on my father) died, she was there; when she had her babies, I was there; when my husband and I bought our first home, Wendy was there - with her check book. When Wendy's marriage broke down, I was there - on the end of the phone for an hour or more every day and then with a plane ticket to NY and an open door for as long as she wanted. When living on the other side of the world gets too hard, Wendy is here - spending her vacations, her long service leave, and more time than she realistically has to spare, looking after me and simply helping me to travel successfully through life with fewer bruises than I would otherwise have. As we age, so we realize that we will face bigger and bigger challenges, and so we discuss things like living wills, power of attorney, euthanasia, and who we want to have 'grandma's good tea set' when we finally kick on. More to the point, we have the sorts of conversations only best friends have; "If I am ever incapacitated and in hospital and can't talk, promise me you'll regularly pluck out the hairs that grow out of that mole on my chin..." "Can't I just get it electrolysized?" "Well, ok - just make sure *something* gets done." "You could always get it done now of course..." "Hmmm...maybe I will..."

Wendy and I are very different in nature. I am analytical; she is emotional. I want to discuss politics; she wants to read cook books. I want to grow roses; she wants to grow herbs. I cook complicated French cuisine with complex tastes and subtle, layered flavors; Wendy makes enormous, earthy Italian dishes you need your hands to eat and which make you glad to be alive. Wendy loves to shop for clothes, while I have a passion for collecting unset diamonds. Wendy loves the pre-Raphaelite school of art; I am all about the abstract artists - Kandinsky, Rothko, Pollock. And Wendy adores emotional, intense classical music; I would rather eat glass. In many ways we're about as different as two people can be.

And yet despite all our differences, we both believe in God, we both believe in the responsibility of 'those with' to share with 'those without'. We both believe all people are equal, and we both believe in 'using our words, not our fists' - both in relationships and in international politics. We both strive to tell the truth, to be responsible, to make a positive impact and to leave a place better than we found it. We believe in being polite, paying our own way, and in making ourselves available to those we love. We both believe laughter is the best medicine, that points of view different to our own are not necessarily wrong and should be listened to, that we all could be better than we are, and that manners are the oil in the complicated machinery of life. And we both value loyalty and trustworthiness, and believe that all good relationships start with those things.

Perhaps if we had met now, it would have taken us longer to be friends, to have found where each other fit into our lives and to see the value in each other. But I believe we would have ended in the same place, valuing each other - similar yet different - passing time together, a cup of coffee in hand, our feet tucked up on the sofa with laughter and love in the air.

I think I still would have recognized the most wonderful woman in the world.

Yours Awash with Blessings,

K.E. Stapylton