Nov 17

Healing

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Just over three weeks ago, I had surgery on my shoulder.  It was a revision for a previous surgery, 2 years ago this month.  The whole thing started in May of 2012, and the only reason I’ll always remember that is that it was Mother’s Day weekend, and we’d spent the weekend camping with friends.  (Here’s the original post on that) There were better days here and there, but I basically haven’t had a pain free day for 2 1/2 years.

This time around, he repaired some stuff from the first surgery – an anchor was rubbing every time I moved, so he removed that, as well as cleaned up new tears, scar tissue and arthritis that had developed.  He also did something called a biceps tenodesis, which basically means that he detached the bicep on one end, and literally moved it and reattached in a new place further down my arm to take the pressure off my shoulder.  I have a permanent metal button that’s holding it to the bone.  Crazy, right?  I know from experience that recovering from the work on the shoulder (the labrum, in this case) is no picnic, but it’s actually the bicep piece that’s going to be the most frustrating recovery, in the sense that it requires the most restriction – and patience! – to heal properly.

I spent the first two weeks after the surgery on the couch…. taking painkillers, eating comfort food, and logging more hours canoodling with Netflix and Playon than I care to admit (I knew I’d reached a particular low when I started re-watching the original Melrose Place from the very first episode.)  It’s a frustrating feeling, having to be waited on. I’m not very good at it.  And the whole thing was compounded by the fact that it only took a couple of days before I was feeling sad, lonely, and embarrassingly sorry for myself.

I was longing, literally longing, for someone to show up at the door with baked goods, or coffee, or just themselves, and sit and keep me company and give me something positive to chat about for awhile.  My sister, who scored some major good sister points, did exactly that a couple of times.  And when a dear out-of-state friend happened to be in town visiting another mutual friend, they stopped over as well, bearing cupcakes and hugs and conversation, just two days after the surgery.   And I did get one sweet card in the mail.  Other than that, it was pretty much radio silence (save for dire warnings about the addictive nature of the painkillers I was taking), from friends and family alike, and it made me…. mopey.   How hard is it to pick up a phone, I’d think, and send a get-well text?  Or ask if I needed anything?  

I know;  self-pity is an undeniably unattractive thing, but it’s exactly what I felt.   I was a spectacle.  Moping around in my sweatpants and my sling, wearing the same shirt for days because it was just too much painful work to change it, hopped up on drugs (that I’ve since stopped taking, but at the time genuinely needed and got chastised like a unruly dog for taking). I was a zombie from not sleeping, so I tried the Ambien my doctor prescribed, which only caused a horrible reaction that kept me up all night  (I got chastised for taking that too.)  I was literally starting to gain weight – over the course of just two weeks! – because of my inactivity and the general volume of non-nutritive food I was eating.  My upper arm had a really weird, creepy looking new shape to it that I feared was permanent.   And to top it all off, I felt like I had no friends.

(Ha.  I just re-read that last paragraph, and is it any wonder no one came to visit?  :) Who’d want to spend time with that miserable person? God bless my crazy sister.)

Last Monday, I started physical therapy, which even though I knew it would be painful, was a huge positive step in my recovery.  For a lot of people, going to physical therapy reduces their pain…. but when you go to re-gain strength and range of motion after a surgery, it actually causes pain, at least in the beginning.  On a side note, it amazes me the movements we take for granted until we can’t do them anymore, like straightening out your elbow, or raising your arm up over your head.   Anyway, I decided on that first day that I would use that pain as a reminder of the healing that’s going on.  It’s truly amazing when you think about it…  tendons and muscles and bone, all slowly slowly knitting themselves back together.  Every day getting just a little bit stronger, every day getting just a little more flexible.  I never properly healed from the first surgery (or, I guess more accurately, I never had a break in between healing from the first one, and dealing with the subsequent problems it caused) but I know I can’t let that allow me to think I won’t properly heal from this one.   Being a revision, by its very nature it’s going to be “messier” than the first one.  In other words, I shouldn’t be expecting to reach 100%.  But 80% sounds wonderful right now.  And I’ll get there.  I will.

Slowly, painfully, I’ll heal.

And so it goes with my shoulder and my sorry, sad-sack attitude.  I’ll heal.  It’s funny how something as simple as a surgery and its accompanying rehab can suddenly propel a person (again) into full-fledged mid-life crisis mode, but that’s exactly what it’s done.   And it’s a good thing!  It’s time once again to look at my life, evaluate what’s important, what’s not, and work to eliminate the latter.   So as my shoulder and arm heal, so will the rest of me.  I guarantee it’ll be painful at times, just like with physical therapy, but the pain will eventually reveal something brighter, clearer, and stronger.  With each appointment, each ice pack, each Advil, each good night’s sleep, I’ll heal.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s but a blip.  I indulged myself for two weeks, and now it’s time to move on.

To healing, even when it hurts.

 


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Nov 14

Ten Tips for Happier Living With Your Teenager

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I love teenagers.

I’m lucky enough to have two (so far) of my own, but I love getting to borrow other people’s teens as well.

Teens are awesome.  They’re smart and funny and interesting, and some of the most multi-faceted people I know.  One minute they have more maturity than an adult …. and the next they’re simply really tall children, embracing all the sense of play and wonder that too many people lose as they get older.  One of my favorite memories of the conference was when I peeked into the teen room at one point to see that all the tables had been tipped on their sides, pushed together, and covered with table cloths to make a really huge fort… much like a toddler would do with sheets in the living room.  :)  Even now, nearly two months later, it still makes me smile.

They’re wonderful.

Which is why, when I read articles like the one I just read that advised controlling your teen through shame and humiliation, one of the many things I feel is genuine fear that people are missing out on what could potentially be one their favorite stages of life with their children.

And yes, there are challenges, as there are at any age, in any relationship.  Parenting a teenager is a whole different ball game than parenting a younger child, to be sure.  But the answer to the struggles is not more control, but more understanding.

Here then are 10 things that help my relationship with my teens stay as close and connected as it was when they were little:

1.  Respect their need to hibernate – When Spencer (now 17) was going through puberty, he started sleeping…. a LOT.  It honestly felt like he was sleeping 20 hours a day, although I’m sure it wasn’t really that much.  When he wasn’t sleeping, he was lounging with a remote or a PS3 control, and my formally talkative, animated kid mostly grunted to me in response.  I was starting to get genuinely concerned until I started asking my friends with older kids and they all assured me that it is very very normal, and that my job was to basically just keep on loving him and not try to change him.  The fresh perspective helped when Paxton started going through it a couple years later.  ”Yes!  I remember this!  And it’s okay.”   Teens hibernate sometimes. They’re going through major changes and they may withdraw/sleep/grump for weeks or months or years.  It’s okay.  Respect it.

2.  Respect their right to privacy – I can think of no way quicker way to break trust (with anyone, but particularly with a teenager) than by snooping through their things, demanding personal information,  or not respecting their space.  YES, be involved in their lives.  YES, have open lines of communication.  YES, work with them to help keep them safe.   But rifling through rooms and phones and Facebook accounts only destroys trust, creates feelings of violation, and widens the gulf between you.

3.  Respect their individuality - I have two very different teenagers.  One’s a sharer.  One holds his cards very close to his chest.  One’s an extrovert.  One needs to spend massive amounts of time in his room to recover after any sort of event.  One has a wickedly dry sense of humor.  One laughs when someone says “balls.”  I love them both equally, and I love spending time with them both equally, but my time spent with each is different,  and it wouldn’t be fair to expect anything else.   Allowing someone to be themselves is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, especially during teenhood, a time when their sense of self can be so tenuous.

4.  Remember what it was like to be a teenager – I was 15 the first time I truly got my heart broken by a boy. Whenever I think of being a teen, that immediately springs to mind.  But whether it was boys or teachers or peer pressure or betrayals of false friends or just feeling like NOBODY UNDERSTANDS, being a teen was HARD. Life felt like an emergency.  All.  The. Time.   My body was changing;  Hormones were raging; I was trying to figure out who I was, where I fit, what the world meant.  I was stressed out and confused and uncomfortable in my own skin.  Now, admittedly I don’t see nearly as much of that in my own teens (some of which can probably be attributed to genetics, and some to unschooling). Their transition to teenhood has been a much smoother ride, and they’re generally drama-free.  But.   There are moments, for sure, that are difficult, and the very best that I can do to help is truly remember how it felt so I can listen sincerely, empathize honestly, and when there is nothing else to say, offer a genuine, “Yeah, life really sucks sometimes.  But it does get better.”

5.  Encourage their independence –  Earlier this fall, Paxton flew to Michigan (at 14) to stay with friends for a couple of weeks.  This was a first for both of us, and I missed him terribly – I’ve faced up to the fact that I just feel the best when all of my chicks are “in the nest” – but it was an amazing and important trip for him, and one that gave him the confidence to do more traveling on his own.  So while my instinct nearly told me to throw my arms around his ankles and beg him not to go (in a slightly less dramatic fashion, of course), I knew that it was a positive thing for both of us.  Letting go is just as much a part of parenting as holding on, from the small ways to the large, and being a parent to a teenager means letting go again and again. Independence is an important part of a child’s growing autonomy, especially as a teen, and it’s our job to honor it.  BUT,

6.  Don’t PUSH their independence – There’s no magic age at which a person needs to:  get a job, get a driver’s license, or for that matter, fly solo across the country to visit a friend.Everyone’s path is different; everyone’s time-table is different.   Life is not a race to the finish line.  One person’s journey is not better than another’s, and it’s remarkably unfair as a parent to compare.  Sometimes a teen needs wings to fly. Sometimes he needs someone to sit by his side and say, “I’ll be here as long as you need me.”  It doesn’t matter what your niece or your friend’s son or the go-getter across the street is doing.  What your child needs from you is for you to support THEM, exactly as they are.  Encouraging, cheering, supporting…. but never PUSHING before they’re ready.

7.  Check in with them often – Remember the hibernating from point #1?  It can be SO easy to just let them do their thing and only say hello if you happen to cross paths when they finally got hungry enough to come out to the kitchen to make a sandwich.  And, for sure, there is a certain degree of giving them their space that’s not just okay but necessary.  But relationships can’t exist in a vaccuum.  They need consistent care in order to thrive.  Have dinner together.Find out what’s new.  Bring her a fun snack when she’s at her computer.  Ask him about the book he’s reading.  Surprise them with the movie they’ve been wanting to see.  You can’t maintain a healthy relationship without connections, and you can’t have connections without taking the time to make them.

8.  Be interested and interesting – One of the truly fun things about having teens is that they’re able to discuss and have opinions about more “grown up” things like current events, shared TV shows, or politics. I love getting my boys’ perspective on all of the above, and I share my own thoughts freely.  Similarly, I show an interest in their interests (which, admittedly doesn’t always come naturally.  I’m not a video game player for instance, and all of my kids are.  I’m learning)  If it’s important to them, I respect it.  I listen to their stories.  I share articles/websites/videos that I think they’ll be interested in.  I share of myself too!  I’ll tell them the funny thing that happened when I was at yoga.  I’ll talk about the blog post I’m writing.  In short, I involve them in my life, and – when I’m invited – I involve myself in theirs.

9.  Don’t take everything personally – So, I’m sensitive, and I have a tendency to get my feelings hurt easily, especially when it comes to the kids.  Experience has taught me that this is NOT a helpful trait, particularly in the arena of parenting teens.   As I said above, being a teen can be hard, and that hardness sometimes spills, leaks, or spews out as something resembling sarcasm or sullenness or anger or selfishness.   In other words, they’re human, just like the rest of us, doing their best to deal with life and circumstances and big, big changes.  I remember once when one of my boys and I went through a phase when we were seemingly butting heads daily, and I inevitably went to bed with my feelings hurt just about every time.  It was just a season – in hindsight, it didn’t last long, but in the moment it felt like it went on forever.  At the height of it, I cried – bawled – one day in the car, hurt because we’d had plans together and he backed out at the last minute.  I allowed myself that sadness, but then I took a step back and reminded myself:  ”It’s not about me.”  I’d gotten hurt with collateral damage, yes, but it was really, truly not about me.  It was just something he was going through, a messy period of growth, and my internalizing it and getting all visibly upset about it not only didn’t help, but also just prolonged the problem.  Once I recognized that, and emotionally extricated myself from the situation, it gave him the space to work through whatever it was he was working through, he realized I was on his side, and our relationship rapidly improved.

10.  Don’t be afraid to be their friend - No, not someone who just tells them what they want to hear, and not someone who’s only around for the fun stuff, but an actual friend.  Listen without judgement, accept them for who they are, be someone they can trust at all times.   Be the one they can ask about last week’s Breaking Bad, AND about last weeks election.  Be the one they feel they can come to with their celebrations AND their heartache.

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Above all, be their constant.  Their unshakable, unmovable rock in a world and life that’s so rife with change and uncertainty.  It’ll be hard sometimes, but it’ll also be oh so very very worth it.   Because despite what the overly negative, mainstream, “Just wait till your kids are teens” admonitions may try to tell you, teens are amazing.  And the person who gets to parent one (or 2 or 3 or 4) is a lucky, lucky parent indeed.


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Nov 10

Being a Parent AND a Friend: Why I’ll Never Separate The Two

As an advocate of homeschooling, I forever hear the question, “But what about socialization?” and am inevitably filled with frustration. It’s not the asker’s fault of course, but it is a question born of a lack of understanding. A lack of understanding about homeschooling, and an even larger lack of understanding of the word “socialization.”

When it comes to parenting, the socialization conversation’s pesky little cousin tends to be, “It’s not my job to their friend; it’s my job to be the PARENT.”  Again and again it comes up on blogs, on parenting sites, and on social media.

“Be their PARENT, not their FRIEND.”  No matter how it’s packaged, worded, or framed, it all says the same thing, and issues the same dire warning.  Whatever you do, no matter how much you’re tempted, for the love of all that is good and holy, never mix friendship with parenting.

I see these words, and I hear these warnings, and I can never help but think of that ubiquitous line from The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

I’ve decided that people are just really, really confused about the meaning of the word, “friend.” That’s the only possible explanation I can think of for a why a person (or a lot of persons) would not only fail to see its importance in parenting, but actually deliberately EXCLUDE it, at any time, from their relationship with their children.

A friend is someone with whom you have a deep connection.  Someone you respect, and who respects you. Someone you can trust, implicitly.  Someone who encourages you, cheers you on, and believes in your dreams. Someone who has your back, no matter what. Someone who LETS YOU BE YOU.  Someone who listens without judgement, gives honest advice, and always has your best interest at heart.    Someone who has seen you at your best and your worst.  Someone who isn’t afraid to call you out on your bullshit, and still loves you just the same.  Someone who lifts you up when you’re down, catches you when you fall, and provides a port in the middle of your storm.  Someone who, if you text to say “I need you” at 2 in the morning, no matter the reason, no matter the circumstances, will steadfastly respond “I’ll be right there.” Someone who, even when it feels like the rest of the world has conspired against you, is on your side.

I’m going to be that person for my kids.   Every time, in all situations.  With no disclaimers and no apology.

Why on earth would anyone choose NOT to be that person for their kids?

And I’m told I misunderstand.  That when people say, “Be the parent, not the friend” that what they really mean is that you shouldn’t make decisions with the goal of getting your children to like you.  But that’s not a friend.  (And I’d also argue that if you’re doing/saying things that cause the people in your life not to like you, perhaps that’s something to examine in and of itself)

They’ll say that they aren’t going to be like peers who encourage or are silent about dangerous/unhealthy behaviors.  But that’s not a friend.

They’ll say that as parents they need to do the hard stuff, and can’t be the “fun” one all the time… the one you get together with to lightheardedly hang out, shoot the breeze, or share a meal.   And while there’s nothing wrong with easy relationships with pals like that if you choose it, that’s not a true friend either.  A true friend is there for the fun and the difficult.  The lighthearted and the serious.  The laughter and the tears.

They’ll say that “Sure, sometimes you get to be their friend, but sometimes you have to “be the parent.”"  Or, “Sure, you get to be their friend, but being a parent has to come first.”  But being a friend isn’t something you do part time; or at least it shouldn’t be.  It’s not something you take on and off like a sweater.  That trust, that connection, that relationship should always be there, every time, in all interactions.

Finally, some people will tell me, “I’ll be their friend when they’re adults.  Right now, I’m the parent.”  And this to me is the saddest – and riskiest – of all.   This is blunt, but…. there is a very very real possibility that if you don’t choose that relationship with your children now, that they won’t choose to have it with you when they are older.

“But, but….” they’ll say, “You have to guide!  You have to protect!  You have to show them right and wrong!”  Of course you do.  Of course you’re the parent.  I have never once advocated for permissive parenting on this blog, and certainly am not going to start now.

Being a friend, and being a gentle parent, does not mean being a doormat.  It means a partnership born of mutual respect, connection, and compassion… one in which both voices are heard, and both opinions carry weight.   And for those times when one opinion needs to trump the other?   Maybe someone is about to do something dangerous or foolish such as run into the street when a car is coming.  This is something I hear a LOT, both in this conversation, and the spanking conversation.   (“But how will they learn to stay out of the street??” And as an aside, I have four children who learned not to play in traffic, who have never once been spanked)  It’s a silly argument.  If one of my children were in immediate danger,  of course I would respectfully intervene…. and I would do so as a responsible parent AND as a concerned friend.

If you forget the articles, ignore the experts, and tune out the noise, you realize that parenting is about a relationship.  And it’s been the most intense, most meaningful, most rewarding relationship I’ve ever experienced. I can’t separate the friend from the mom because my relationship with my kids is BASED on friendship.  The ultimate friendship. Deep friendship. Strong trust. True respect.  It’s a friendship rooted in love and history (how many of your other friends have you literally known since they took their first breath?).  It’s a friendship that’s at once simple and complex.  It’s a friendship that’s often evolving and sometimes messy and always beautiful.  It’s a friendship that’s peaceful and safe and familiar. It’s a friendship that’s profound and life-changing and pretty much indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it.

And it is always there, threaded through each moment, each word, and each interaction. Through the good times and the tricky times and the really tricky times.   I will always be their friend, and they know this.

I am their friend.

And I don’t mean to minimize the relationship when I say that, because of course my relationship with my children encompasses friendship and so. much. more.  So I’m not suggesting that a parent-child relationship is only a friendship, because it’s obviously more complicated than that.

But I tell you what…. it’s a heck of a good place to start.


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Oct 22

If You Can’t Say Something Nice: Learning to Keep Quiet About Others’ Appearance

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Guilty.

Let me just start there. I’m not proud of it by any means, but I’m guilty. Someone will post something about some celebrity’s plastic surgery, and I join in the collective rubber-necking. I look at the pictures. I shake my head. I lament the obvious poor decision making skills of the individual, and/or the ethics of the doctor who would commit such atrocities.

Or on a more intimate – and shameful – level, I’ll do it at the grocery store. Assuaging my guilt by telling myself, “Well it’s not like I’m saying something to them“, I’ll make snap judgments about the skirt that’s too short, the top that’s too revealing, the fit that’s so unflattering.  It’s amazing the vast amount of ways your brain can tempt you (in just a fraction of a second!) into unkindness.

I’ve been convicted as of late to stop this.  To make a conscious decision to no longer engage in such an ugly practice. Ugly, by the way, is not a word I use lightly.  NEVER appropriate to use about someone’s outside appearance (I do honestly believe that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way), actions can be ugly. Thoughts can be ugly. Words can be ugly.

And feeling the need or the right to critique another person’s face or clothes or waist size or boob job?  That’s ugly.

The past couple of days my Facebook newsfeed has been awash with new pictures – complete with commentary – of a popular actress.  People can’t seem to leave her alone.  And it’s not her acting that they’re talking about, or her new movie, or her work at all.   No, her crime is at once more basic and more insidious.

She dared to go out.  In public.  Looking…. different.

Good grief, what is wrong with us?

Of all the things in all the world to discuss, we choose THIS?  Whether or not some celebrity we don’t even know has had plastic surgery, and how, and why, and to what effect?

I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of it in myself, and I’m tired of it in other people.  It’s not nice to criticize others.  It’s not nice to play judge and jury about someone else’s appearance.  I could sit here and talk about society and self-esteem and acceptance and what a bang-up job we’re doing at sabotaging ourselves… but sometimes starting with the basics needs to be enough.   It’s simply not nice, and I don’t want my kids growing up to think it’s okay.  I don’t want my kids growing up with a mom who inadvertently SHOWS them it’s okay!

And so, I’m challenging myself  - and if you’re reading this, I challenge you too – to make the decision to stop.  For 21 days (not only for 21 days, but because 21 days is widely regarded as the length of time it takes to form a new habit), I’m going opt out.  Opt out of reading the articles that focus on someone else’s appearance.  Opt out of the discussions about someone else’s looks.  Opt out of any mental commentary on someone else’s clothing choices .

We’re better than this;  I know we are.  We can have real discussions about important things. About kindness, about beauty, about joy….. not about someone’s lip injections.   We can laugh about life’s absurdities and foibles and whimsy….. not about someone’s haircut.

We can judge each other not based on:

dress size

body modifications

hairstyle

clothing choices

make-up technique….

but on character.

And those times when we catch ourselves?  When we’re tempted with unkindness, when gossip becomes too alluring, when we truly don’t have anything nice to say?  May we be the change we want to see, and not say anything at all.


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Oct 16

Book Review: Gentle Firmness by Stephanie Cox

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It is clear that fear is the main effect of spanking, no matter how it is done. Believing that God wants children to be hit often leads many children to struggle with their relationships with God or to be so afraid of Him that they totally reject Him.

~ Stephanie Cox

Gentle Firmness, by Stephanie Cox, is one of the most important new books to join the gentle parenting movement, particularly for Christians.  Thorough and well-researched, it takes an unflinching look at the history of spanking within the Christian faith;  why the Bible doesn’t actually say what so many well-intentioned pro-spankers think it says; the harmful and often long-term effects of spanking;  and finally, practical suggestions on what peaceful parents can do instead.

While there are thankfully a growing number of prominent Christians speaking out against spanking, this particular book stands out for a couple of reasons.  Though it is woven with personal accounts, it is rooted in research, history, and details.  The entire first section of the book clearly shows exactly how the practice of corporal punishment within the Christian faith comes from man, not from God.  Cox gives detailed accounts of the influence of Jonathan and Susanna Wesley, and the beliefs of Calvinism, had on spanking.  It goes on to illustrate the very real lifelong effects of this kind of parenting (I was happy to see that she thoroughly addressed the oft heard, “I was spanked as a child, and I’m fine!”)

One complaint that I often hear from pro-spankers is along the lines of, “Well that’s all well and good.  But if you don’t spank, what do you do?”  It’s easy for a spanking advocate to make the leap in thinking that says that if you don’t spank, then you must not discipline at all. That is of course not the case, and Cox spends Part Four of the book discussing exactly that. It’s important to note that she isn’t advocating for swapping spanking with other types of punishments such as time-out either.  What she espouses is truly parenting in Jesus’s footsteps:  parenting – and by extension, disciplining – with kindness, compassion, and grace. Lots and lots of grace.

I am utterly thankful for this book, and for Stephanie Cox and the important work that she is doing.  My own personal knowledge of the history of spanking was spotty at best, and while I truly believed that the Bible did not advocate spanking, my responses to the contrary generally never got more in-depth than, “Jesus wouldn’t hit a child.”  This book, and Stephanie’s research, fills in all those gaps.  It provides the answers, it cites the research, it documents the history.  It exposes all the misinformation, and puts Christians firmly (but gently :)) on the right track of truly following the Bible when it comes to matters of parenting.

The tagline reads, “Conveying the True Love of Jesus to Your Children Through His Example,” and that’s exactly what it does.  This is truly a refreshing and encouraging book, one that should be on the bookshelves of churches and Christian parents everywhere.

You can follow Stephanie on the Gentle Firmness Facebook page here.

*I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.*

 


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Oct 15

Free To Be 2014 – Day Four

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Sunday, like the last day of pretty much any big event, was bittersweet.  There was still flood-related scrambling on Sunday because in addition to losing a couple of rooms that were still soggy, a  miscommunication had meant that a wedding was scheduled and taking place in the majority of our upstairs rooms as well.  Some talks and funshops had to move rooms,  and others ended up having to share space.  Our white-board was full of changes.  But we worked it out, and no one – at least to my knowledge – seemed to mind too much.

After taking Saturday morning off, I was so happy to teach a gentle yoga class on Sunday.  It was a lovely and fitting way to start the final day.

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Also on Sunday:  an important circle chat from Jen Andersen about what to do instead of punishment.

The moms panel.

The dads panel.

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Circle chats for teens… demonstrations on dread locks… classes on essential oils…

A film canister rocket funshop

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Photo by Dan Omerza

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Photo by Dan Omerza

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Photo by Dan Omerza

My daughter’s favorite funshop, the Barbies and ponies:

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Photo by Alessia Mogavero

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Photo by Alessia Mogavero

A funshop all about hugging:

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A mother/daughter chat about unschooling with Pam and Roya (which, by the way, was the ONLY discussion that was led by three generations of the same unschooling family :))

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Photo by Chrissy Florence

And a main presentation by Allen and Laura Ellis:

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

A final word about the speakers if I may.  I don’t want to sound too self-congratulatory about my choices here, but I could not have been happier with the line-up of speakers!  They blew me away.  The biggest goal we had when choosing the speakers was to represent as many possible viewpoints as possible, and that’s exactly what happened.   I feel like they covered every perspective, assuaged every fear, addressed every concern.  They were inspiring, informative, and entertaining.    Pam, Roya, Erika, Tiffani, Laura, Laura, Allen, Matt, Jeff, Jen, Brian, Rachel… nailed it. TWELVE main speakers in all (even more when you count those who led single discussions, who were just as appreciated!), when we’d originally planned for seven.  They were amazing, each and every one of them, and set the bar extraordinarily high.

And finally, closing out the conference was the always wonderful Amy Steinberg:

Photo by Chrissy Florence

Photo by Chrissy Florence

I told this to Amy, and I will say it again here:  I felt like her concert was the perfect note which with to end the conference.  Her love, her positivity, her lyrics.  Perfect. Amy doesn’t have any children, but she’s an unschooler at heart nonetheless.  Her words capture, over and over, the very essence of how we’re trying to live and what we’re wanting to do as parents.  I could not have been happier as I listened to her sing.  (If you’re not familiar with her work, might I suggest you remedy that ASAP.  Start with Exactly.  You’re welcome)

And with that, the conference was officially over (save for the late-night drinks that followed), except… I still don’t feel like it’s over.  The past couple of weeks – hearing your words, seeing your pictures, re-living the memories, strengthening the connections – has kept it all alive.  I’m sure I’m not done talking about it, and I’m most definitely not done thinking about it.  So I can’t wrap it up, because there IS no wrapping it up.

The bubble lives on.

God bless the unschooling bubble.


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Oct 14

Free To Be 2014 – Day Three

Photo by Kiera Cook

Photo by Kiera Cook

Day Three – Saturday – is at once the hardest and yet most interesting day to write about.  It was the busiest of all four days, and arguably the most memorable.  Besides the violent monsoon and the subsequent flooding (I’ll get to those later) it was an emotionally taxing day for me personally, so very much like my feelings, this blog post will likely be a little bit scattered and all over the place as I re-live it.

I woke up feeling terrible on Saturday, burnt out and exhausted.  Recognizing that I would be crawling by the end of the conference if I didn’t do something about it, I cancelled yoga and took the extra hour to myself.  Some ibuprofen, a shower, some coffee and a proper breakfast – Yay!  Breakfast! – later, I was feeling a bit better, at least physically.

One of my kids was going through something difficult… something that would have been difficult under the best of circumstances, and was made almost unbearable by the conference setting.  As a parent, it’s always…. well, it was difficult (yes, I just used the word “difficult” three times in four lines.)  It was difficult, (4) and I share it just to give a fuller picture of where my head was at on Saturday.

So Saturday.

There was a chance of rain (Ha.  Foreshadowing is great.)  so we’d already planned to move the dinner inside, instead of on the pavilion.  We also had the talent show to think about, and Jungle Jill, and board breaking, and air brushed tattoos.  Mike also left at one point to go pick up Amy Steinberg from the airport, which left me somewhat… anxious.  While he was more than content to work quietly in the background, (“This is your conference,”  he kept telling me.  ”I’m your assistant.”) Mike and I very much worked as a team, each of us doing entirely different things.  There were questions that only he could answer, and vice versa.  All of that to say, whenever one of us left the hotel – which only happened a handful of times over the course of the four days – I got a little nervous.

But all was well.

The rain started when he was gone, and it wasn’t long before it was coming fast and furious, complete with the unrelenting lightning, rolling thunder, and gale-force winds that make Arizona storms so exciting.

Up until that point, everything had been going smoothly.  Jeff inspired everyone by opening up a conversation about passions. Sara & Matt Janssen taught us how to become gypsies.  Matt Jones talked about reconciling unschooling with a corporate life. Jen Andersen reminded us all to tune out the outside voices so we can better focus on our own kids.

My parents had come set up their air-brushed tattoos, and there was a line 10 deep.  There was button making and face painting and plastic bag print-making.

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Photo by Dan Omerza

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Photo by Jenna Boring

Everyone seemed to enjoy Jungle Jill despite the apocalypse happening outside:

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Photo by Chrissy Florence

And all the teens on the teen panel were wonderful and well-spoken:

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I don’t remember where I was when the flooding happened.  That sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Like all those big moments in history, the ones where you always remember exactly where you were, and exactly who you were with.  (Where were YOU when you heard about the flood? :-D)  Anyway, I was in a lot of places, and it changed moment to moment, so I really don’t know where I was.  I just know that at some point, there was flooding, and everyone that was attending anything downstairs made a mass exodus for the second floor.

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Photo by Qarin Van Brink

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Photo by Qarin Van Brink

In typical unschooling conference fashion, people hardly blinked.  (Which is so, so interesting to me.  We got complaints over much smaller things, but flooded out conference rooms?  No problem!)  We had to shuffle around the rest of the schedule a bit, the whole evening starting with dinner had to get pushed back an hour; and Erika’s SSUMs, Laura Flynn Endres’s main presentation, and Matt’s board breaking funshop all graciously went along with the flow.  (See what I did there?)

The staff had to work harder than ever, there were some downed trees, and some definite scrambling.  But no one was hurt. It was not a catastrophe. And in the end it just made for a little extra excitement.

Oh and the kids?

Photo by Jenna Boring

Photo by Jenna Boring

Photo by Heather Kennedy

Photo by Heather Kennedy

Photo by Chrissy Florence

Photo by Chrissy Florence

I don’t think they were too broken up about it.

And even the big empty rooms that were drying out turned out to be a great place to play:

Photo by Chrissy Florence

Photo by Chrissy Florence

Once the excitement of the flooding had died down, we all gathered for the Mexican dinner.  It was the first time during the conference that everyone was really in the same place at the same time, and it was a little overwhelming to me.  Not in a this-is-way-too-many-people-around-my-hamster-ball-of-introversion kind of way, but in a “We did this!!  We created this thing, and people are here, and they’re happy and they’re chatting and they’re eating and they’re HERE and we did this” kind of way.

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340 people, all in one place.

Looking around that room during that dinner was an incredibly powerful, surreal moment for me, and it’s one I will remember above almost any other.  Granted, I was physically and emotionally spent by then, someone had just given me a hard time about something, and everything was a little extra…. raw.  Still, what I felt was real, and it turned out it was just a precursor for what I’d feel an hour later.

On the surface, the talent show that followed the dinner can be summed up like this:  a couple of skits, dances, music, and jokes interspersed between a whole bunch of little girls’ interpretations of Frozen’s Let it Go.

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Photo by Chrissy Flornence

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Photo by Chrissy Florence

Photo by Jenna Boring

Photo by Jenna Boring

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Beyond that though, it was So. Much. More.   It was a whole roomful of people offering genuine love and support to every child who got up on that stage.  It was parents encouraging – but never pushing! – their children into trying something new, and feeling their joy with them when they did it.  It was people accepting and celebrating the uniqueness and beauty and perfectly imperfect quirkiness of each and every person in that room.  It was people who knew they were free to…. well, free to BE.  It was the whole of gentle parenting and unschooling and the conference all in that one moment.

And that’s what made me lose it.

I was admittedly on the precipice of tears the entire night, but the exact second they finally spilled over was when this lovely little girl was singing:

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

This is Tegan’s new friend, and Jennifer Andersen’s (of Our Muddy Boots) little girl. It was a big deal for her to get up there, but she did it. I looked at her, and I looked at her proud mom, and I looked at Tegan who was doing all the hand motions with her off-stage in solidarity (Let it Go is ALL about the hand motions). In that second, all the stress and the anxiety and the wondering and the worrying and the relief culminated in a sudden unstoppable rush of tears.

I was very grateful for the previous rain, because when I slipped out the door onto the walkway, it was cool and comfortable outside.  There were a few kids running and laughing nearby, but it was otherwise silent and still.  I stayed for but a minute, all by myself (there was too much of the evening left to totally check out) but I stayed long enough to cry, to breathe, to pull myself together, to feel gratitude…. gratitude for that moment, gratitude for the conference, and gratitude for all the people who came and made it a conference.

Until two days ago, even my husband didn’t know about that moment.  In two minutes I was back in the room, and back to business as usual.  And an hour later I was drinking white Russians and serenading everyone with Wrecking Ball.  (Wait what?)

I share it with you now mostly because I’ve received so many really lovely comments of gratitude over the past two weeks, and I want you all to know what it all meant to me too, and what YOU all meant to me.  I don’t know that I can truly put it into words, so my hope is that a glimpse into a vulnerable, private, tear-stained moment might give you some idea.

It meant the world to me, truly.  And I thank you.


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Oct 12

Free To Be 2014 – Day Two

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Photo by Jenna Boring

Like Thursday, Friday started (at least for me) bright and early at 6:00.  I sadly missed breakfast again, but I did get to grab some coffee before yoga.  I also got to hide in the art room for almost an hour until I was called away, while I helped kids fancy up their fingernails. Bliss. I’m not exactly sure what the scheduling gurus (us) were thinking when they scheduled me to do yoga at 8 followed immediately by fingernails at 9…. but I made it work.

Friday also brought us improv instruction, string painting, bubbles, and duct tape.

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Photo by Laci Omerza

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Photo by Jenna Boring

It brought in-depth dad discussions with SSUDS, circle chats about relating to your teenagers, unschooling and diversity, an FAQ panel of grown unschoolers, a discussion about unschooling and parenting

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Photo by Jenna Boring. We did this talk rather on the fly, but it went well! Lots of great discussion from the audience, and I had a surprisingly good time.

and main presentations by Brian Curtice

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Photo by Jenna Boring.

and Tiffani Bearup

Photo by Jenna Boring

Photo by Jenna Boring

Friday night was my favorite night of Happy Hour, because the fabulous Craig Davis was warming up the crowd with his strolling magic before his show.  Mike and I adore Craig Davis, but I’ll admit that there was a small amount of “Will people think this is too hokey?”  And indeed, there were a couple.   But he won over so many of them with this card tricks. I especially loved hearing the skeptical people squeal and laugh with … shock, maybe is the word? at some of his reveals. And yes, I know intellectually that it’s all an illusion, a slight of hand, and that it’s simply a skill that he practiced over and over and over (and he was awesome enough to give a couple of us some insider tips and even showed us how to do a simple trick).  But still.  Some of that “mind-reading” stuff FREAKS ME THE HECK OUT. He’s genius.  He’s also a living unschooly example – even though he went to school – of someone who followed his passion and made a lifestyle out of it.  He’s never supported himself in any other way than doing magic, and he clearly loves what he does.  Awesome.

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Photo by Jenna Boring

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Photo by Jenna Boring

After Craig’s show, I actually got to hang out at the pool until they closed it down.  Have I mentioned the pool yet? So much of a conference’s magic happens in and around the pool! (figurative magic, not magic magic :))  My kids logged many many hours in that pool with new and old friends.  It brings people together.  The connections, the play, the relaxation, the quiet late-night chats over drinks.  Sometimes there’s just nothing on the planned schedule that can compete with the pool.

Photo by Heather Kennedy

Photo by Heather Kennedy

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Photo by Chrissy Florence

Magic.


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Oct 09

Free To Be 2014 – Day One

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Life is not a bubble (which, by the way, if you’ve never been to one, an unschooling conference is exactly that:  a giant, 4 day, unschooling bubble) so the time since the conference has been quickly ticking away on me… one appointment, one bill, one trip to the grocery store at a time.  Like most big and surreal events in my life, it exists on some other strange space-time continuum, simultaneously feeling like it just happened, and like it happened a whole lifetime ago.

In real life, it’s been two weeks.  In fact, the first day was exactly two weeks ago today.

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

That’s me giving the opening welcome and announcements.  This picture kind of cracks me up because I look so serious.  In reality, I was giddy.  Nervous.  But giddy.  I don’t remember what I said (though I am pretty sure I did announce “I’m so nervous”), and I know for a fact that I left out at least 65% of what I’d planned.  But I got up there, and I kicked us off.

Day one was a whole lot of running around, setting up, checking in, and introductions.

I had to keep checking in with myself to confirm that the conference was actually happening… that there were real-live people there… that it was not in fact yet another pre-conference dream (I had a LOT of them, especially in the last couple weeks)

It was exciting and nerve-wracking – in the best possible way – to meet and hug and talk to so many people that until that moment I’d only known on the internet.

Day one was busy and lovely and validating.

There were ice-breaker games.  There were gnomes and fairies.

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Photo by Sandra Jessop

There were fantastic main presentations by Pam Sorooshian

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Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Erika Davis-Pitre

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Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

Roya Dedeaux

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Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

and Jeff Sabo

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Photo by Alicia Gonzalez

A little aside about the laptop in the picture with Jeff.  It’s my own personal laptop (the one I’m writing on at this very minute), and it performed very well in its conference duties, despite the fact that it was essentially limping along.  I dropped it a couple weeks ago – bad shoulder – and each day is bringing more and more side-effects from said drop to light.  Anyway.  The sticker on the right hand side was a treasured gift from my friend, Jess, that says, “Going down the road less traveled” and it made me happy to see it up there at every talk I attended. Also, I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t had the forethought to change my wallpaper before the conference.  For those that didn’t happen to catch it when it was up on the screen: it’s a meme that resonated with me strongly that reads:

My spiritual teachers, in order of importance:

1. People who annoy the living shit out of me
2. All other spiritual teachers

A little crass perhaps, but oh so very true.  Our challenges are some of our best teachers, are they not?

But I digress.

There was also parkour.

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Photo by Jenna Boring

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We were thrilled with the turn-out, in 102 degree heat no less!

And a dance….

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That red-headed blur in the front right is Tegan, who looked so cute all dressed up for the dance (which I sadly never got a picture of), and who, like so so many other kids, completely came into her own in a whole new way during the conference.

And a teen dance.

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Getting the privilege of playing DJ for the teens confirmed for me that they are truly some of my favorite people on the planet. Teens are awesome.

And through it all, there were the quieter, more important things.  The things that unschooling conferences exist for:

The connections, between parents and kids, new friends and old.

The gentle examples of kind and respectful parenting.

The answered questions, the moments of “a-ha” clarity, the new nuggets of wisdom.

The joy.

I could have missed it all (and, admittedly, I missed a lot of it). I was running on adrenaline for all four days… there, but not really there…

But still, I saw.  I witnessed.  And it was beautiful.


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Oct 03

Free To Be 2014, Part One: It Was More

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One week from yesterday, we woke up bright and early at the Embassy Suites, and began the first day of our conference that was over a year in the making.

I really believed that I wouldn’t want to talk/write/or think about it for a good long while after it was over.  I need to rest, I said.  I need to be process, I said.  Well… I do need to rest, and I do need to process.  But I pretty much haven’t shut up about it yet.  And it turns out that I won’t really process it until I write about it (which should not surprise me, because that’s just the way I operate.)

Without having ever done anything remotely like this before, we were going into it somewhat blindly.  Still, we had put in a LOT of preparation, and I felt like we had a fairly good idea of what to expect.

I expected stressful.

I expected busy.

I expected exhausting.

I expected high highs.

I expected low lows.

And it was all of those things, but it was more… of all of it.

Stressful – This was truly one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done.  Someone compared it to planning a four-day wedding, and while I suppose it’s a fair comparison, I don’t like weddings and I sort of hope all my kids choose to elope.  I’m kidding.  (No I’m not.)  All of it, from the scheduling to the decision-making to the ordering to the fire-extinguishing to the millions of little details that were all threaded together into one big elaborate web… it was more stressful than I ever could have anticipated.  Was it fun and exciting?  Unequivocally, YES!  Oh but the stress.  I couldn’t have fully appreciated it until I actually experienced it.

Busy – I envisioned myself doing a lot of running around, a lot of fetching, a lot of answering, a lot of facilitating, a lot of working.  I just didn’t envision the right amount of running around, fetching, answering, facilitating, and working.  I didn’t sit.  I barely ate.  I think I made it to the bathroom once a day.  And I loved doing it!  That’s what I was there for.  A year’s worth of work had culminated in my doing exactly that.  The level of my own personal amount of “busy” was just even higher than I’d thought.  In my head, the conference would sort of run itself… and it DID, in many ways, with all the amazing speakers, prepared funshop hosts, scheduled entertainment, etc… but I wasn’t exactly in a position to sit back and enjoy it.  And don’t get me wrong:  I was completely happy to be doing what I was doing.  Very happy. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t also make me very tired.  Which leads me to:

Exhausting –  Conferences in general are just exhausting.  And the exhaustion that comes from hosting a conference is its own animal, for sure.  I hit a wall on the morning of the 3rd day.  It was 5:30, I’d slept for around 3 hours, and everything hurt.  I didn’t think I could get out of bed.  I cancelled yoga, took the extra time to take a shower and eat breakfast, two things I hadn’t gotten to do yet.  (That’s gross.  Sorry.) But I rallied.  Even now, a week later, I’m still more exhausted than I’ve ever been in recent memory.  I’ve been an insomniac for most of my adult life, but I have had NO trouble sleeping for the past week.  I’m more or less slipping into a coma every night. I go to bed fully intending to watch a TV show or two before I go to sleep, and I wake up six hours later…. the remote still in my hand, and the TV still on its menu screen.

High highs – So this is the part where I get mushy.  I want to give some specific examples in subsequent posts, but to sum it up as much as possible:  I think the goal of any unschooling conference is to get connected. Refreshed. Recharged.  Inspired.  To gather together with your “people.”  To talk to others who understand.  To witness the sweetness and magic and love that is unschooling and gentle parenting.  To strengthen and heal.  To feel supported.  To feel empowered.  I saw all of that, and so. much. more.  Good grief you guys.  You’re incredible.  I feel so, so unbelievably grateful and lucky to be a part of this awesome community.   It seems cliche and almost… self-serving… to say it but I gotta:  THIS is what makes it all worth it.  This is what makes the stress and the exhaustion and the work all fade away.  You Are Incredible.  And the support and encouragement that I personally received from those of you who took the time to share your thanks, and your kind words, and your positive feedback mean more to me than you’ll ever ever know.

Low lows  - Yes, there were a few.  I’m a sensitive person, and an introvert, and an empath, so…. conference hosting (and blogging for that matter) was an odd choice, as I knew it would be.  There were some big, big emotions.  Big letdowns.  Big hurts.  And again, I was expecting it.  But whew.  I really shouldn’t have ended with this point though, because it’s the highs that “stick.”  The highs that will sustain me.  The highs that will remind me why I did it in the first place.

At least they will after I get caught up on sleep.  :)  And by then I’ll have some more (happy!) tidbits and memories and favorite moments to share.

I LOVE AND THANK YOU ALL for an indescribably amazingly awesome experience for our first foray into the conference world.


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