Dec 15

Saying No to Say Yes

unnamed It’s a week and a half before Christmas, which is always…. tricky.

I adore Christmas.  Love it.  Love the spirit. Love giving presents. Love the lights. Love the food. Love the Christmas cookies. Love hanging out with my family.

But it can be so BUSY, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stressful.  Exhausting. The exact opposite of what you’d want a holiday season to be.

This year I was well on my way to the latter.  I haven’t been sleeping, I’m still smack in the middle of my recovery and rehab, I’m still in daily pain, the house has once again gotten away from me.

And there are gifts to wrap!  Plans to make! Events to attend!

There’s a six year old, looking to her mom with love and expectation and wonderment, trusting that I’ll make the season magical and fun and exciting.

I literally couldn’t “do Christmas” at the speed I was going, and take care of all my other responsibilities, and focus on my recovery, and make things nice for the kids, and maintain any level of sanity.  

So, I started saying no.

The first thing I said no to was Christmas cards, even though we do them every year.  The pictures, the designing, the addressing, the stamping.  And you know what?  The earth is going to keep spinning even if all my relatives and friends don’t get a smiley picture of the McGrails to hang on their wall for two weeks before they recycle it.

Then I said no to a writing project, one I’d actually really wanted to do, but that carried a deadline of ten days before Christmas.

I said no to adding 237 new cookies to my repertoire this year.

I said no to causing myself physical pain by making the house reach some magical level of cleanliness before we have guests.  They’ll deal.

I said no to feeling like I needed to answer all my emails, or respond to everyone’s questions, or to fulfill anyone else’s expectations.  Yesterday morning, I got up and cleaned out my email box with one big (what I’d like to think was polite) response along the lines of, “I’ll get to this after the new year.”

I said no to doing, deciding, or thinking about anything that isn’t a priority right now.

And those “no”s freed me.

Those “no”s mean that I can say YES to my girl, and to my family, who shouldn’t have to pay the price for me not being able to say no when it’s needed.

YES to a lazy day at the zoo.

YES to paper snowflakes.

YES to a movie and popcorn first thing in the morning.

YES to playing with new dolls.

YES to gingerbread houses.

YES to playdates.

YES to driving around at night just to look at Christmas lights.

YES to Christmas parties with friends.

YES to spending hours reconnecting over Pay Day or Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

YES to hot chocolate and whipped cream.

YES to carpet picnics.

YES to quiet moments, and loud moments, and silly moments.

The “yes”s come quickly and easily, or at least they do when I’m not bogged down with Very Important To-Dos (ie: things I probably need to say no to).  I often find it strange and frustrating how hard it is to say no sometimes. Why should it be hard?  Why shouldn’t we be able to say no at any time, for any reason, and not give it a single moment of regret?

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.  I said those words on my FB page just a couple of weeks ago, and I know I’ll say them again.  I seem to need the constant reminder.

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Because the thing is, there is nothing more important than my family, especially right now.  So when the moment comes and I have to make a choice…. when I feel that little tug of “But, but… you need to do this!  You have to do that!”  I’ll answer, “You know what, as a matter of fact I DON’T.”

This year I’m giving myself the gift of NO, and what a gift it is.


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Dec 07

Q & A – Should I Just Let Her Play?

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Once upon a time, I decided I’d devote a day of every week to answering some of the many questions I get about unschooling and/or gentle parenting.  And for a few weeks in a row, I even succeeded.  But, well, life happens, and it’s been many many weeks.   I’m excited to bring it back again, for however long it lasts.  :)

This first one is from the wall on my Facebook page.  Thanks, Heather!  (Have questions for me?  Post them there, or send me a message, and I’ll get to as many as I can)

 

“I am trying to wrap my mind around unschooling…how do you set goals (do you?) how do you meter growth/success…do we even need to? if my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play? please help!”

 

“How do you set goals (do you?)”   

My goal when it comes to my kids is to continually help and support them as they strive to reach their own goals.  Everyone’s life/plans/timetable/passions are different, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to me to impose my own (arbitrary) goals on my kids.  I also think it’s important to consciously ask ourselves if what we’re doing/encouraging is based on what our kids want, or based on what we as their parents want.  For example, the child who loves gymnastics or soccer or figure skating at age 6 might not want to spend hours training, or in competition, or in climbing through the ranks, and that’s okay!!  As a writer, I was always told I needed to go to college and major in English or journalism of some sort.  I tried college…. It wasn’t the path for me.  And my husband, who has a very good job working in finance, has long wished that he hadn’t listened to those who told them that his proclivity for math meant he should go into accounting, when his inclination had always been to pursue a career outdoors, working with his hands.   We don’t want our kids to ever have those regrets, so their goals will always be exactly that:  THEIRS.

“How do you meter growth/success…do we even need to?”

No need to formally meter anything.  Just as it’s impossible for a child not to learn and grow when he or she has caring and involved parents, it’s also impossible not to SEE said learning and growth when you’re paying attention to your child.  You’ll see it every day when your child is doing things he wasn’t doing the day before, asking questions she wasn’t asking the day before, interested in things he wasn’t interested in the day before, discussing things she wasn’t discussing the day before.  Children are always learning, and it’s something you will see with your own eyes, every time you look at them.  One of the best illustrations of this that I’ve ever read, the thing that really made it “click” for me so many years ago was the idea of thinking about knitting.  If you learn to knit… whether you teach yourself, or someone else shows you how… do you give yourself a test or a quiz at the end to see if you’ve learned?  No.  You knit!  And it’s the same way for children, whether it’s knitting or reading or baking or geometry.  You’ll know they’ve learned, because you’ll see it.

“If my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play?”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  Let her play at 6, let her play at 8, let her play at 16.  Forcing a child to read when she needs to play (or for that matter, forcing a child to play when she wants to read) is counterproductive at best.  As John Holt says, “True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner”  Your child, when given the proper support and attention, is the one who best knows what she needs to be learning, when, and how, and for what reasons.  Natural learning isn’t always linear.  It goes in fits and starts, in circles and loops, from one interest to the other.   But when you step back and look at it, you’ll see that it was all interconnected all along.

Six months ago, my daughter (7 in February) wasn’t yet reading.  Today she is reading, better and better each day, largely because she  started playing Minecraft and other online games, and wanted to be able to chat with her friends.   Her three brothers before her learned in much the same fashion – at different ages, in different ways, for different reasons – because it was important and necessary and useful to them.  Looking at them now, at 10, 14, and 17, you’d never be able to tell who started reading when… and it doesn’t matter.  They all can read.

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Kids know how to learn.  Do they ever know how to learn.  The best thing we can do as parents is to pay attention, support, encourage, engage…. and otherwise get out of their way and watch it happen.


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Dec 06

Love and Hatred in Phoenix

Photo Credit:  Kevin Spencer

Photo Credit: Kevin Spencer

I don’t even know where to start.

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote Race, Compassion, and Some Thoughts on Ferguson, to which the response has mostly been really lovely and supportive.  A few people find me uninformed and focused on the wrong issues…. which is fine.  Truly.  The beauty of blogging (and by extension, the entire internet) is that people are of course free to focus on, write about, and discuss any issues they’d like.

My blog = my issues.

And today, I’m sad.  I’m tired.

The last time I wrote, Phoenix wasn’t yet getting national attention for the death of Rumain Brisbon, whose name has become the latest addition to the list of high-profile officer/civilian killings.  As more and more people hear about it, the comments and the questions and the accusations – from all sides – carry a personal sting.  This one is too close to my own backyard. Too real.  I have driven by this neighborhood, many times.  I could get in my car, right now, and be there in minutes.   And as more details and discrepancies emerge, while people start to organize and protest (so far, peacefully), I feel like I’m holding my breath to wait for what happens next.  I feel like I’m watching it all unfold…. from a different time, and a different place. Surely this can’t be 2014, in a civilized society.

In a separate, but not totally unrelated note, I also learned since the last time I wrote that the valley has its very own Westboro Baptist-style church out there promoting hate.  Again, way too close to home.  In a recent sermon, posted online like all his sermons, the pastor proudly declared that the cure for AIDS was found in the Bible, and was as simple as executing everyone who was LGBT:

“And that, my friend, is the cure for AIDS,” he said. “It was right there in the Bible all along — and they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and testing. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the [homophobic slur] like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.”

Right here in the valley, knocking on people’s doors and literally spreading hate.

I couldn’t help it.  I looked through every corner of his “church”‘s website with the same sick morbid curiosity one would have at the proverbial train crash.  And in an at once illuminating and disturbing turn, I realized that I’ve come across this man and his family before.  I don’t always remember all my online critics (there are a lot of them, and it’s not exactly the most productive thing to focus on) but a few stand out to me.  One of them turned out to be his wife.  Her post was years ago, but I still remember it.  In no particular order, she 1) was one of the few who managed to include almost ALL the hateful misconceptions that people want to perpetuate against those who advocate for gentle parenting, all in one blog post:  According to this woman, my children will grow up to be “angry, hateful, violent, defiant children.”  They’ll be “disobedient, self-entitled monsters”  ”Lazy jerks who want to live off welfare because having a job isn’t fun.”  ”Axe murderers.” She “pities the mothers who have to endure living with such offspring.”    2) used “biblical values” as her rationale, and 3) was local.  Yep, I won’t forget that one.  And it actually makes so much sense to me now, why a stranger would have such vitriol towards another parent, especially a fellow Christian.  It’s what’s preached in her home, day in and day out.

I’m….. I don’t even know what I am anymore.  Appalled doesn’t do the feeling justice.

I’m sad, and so so tired.   I’m angry too, if for no other reason than that Christmas is 19 days away, and there’s just so much ugly right now.  It’s 19 days before Christmas and I’m thinking about heartache and sadness and hatefulness instead of love.

I mean, love still exists, right?

It does.  It does.  I know it does.  It’s there in the muck and the mire and the trenches.  In the houses, on the streets, in the families.  In the KIDS!  My sweet, sweet kids who, if that pastor’s wife met for even five minutes, would see are the very opposite of what she assumes them to be.

There’s still love, even in Phoenix.


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Dec 04

race, compassion, and some thoughts after Ferguson

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  ~ Martin Luther King

There’s a dog barking somewhere in the neighborhood as I write this.  I don’t expect it to bark too long, as most people on my street, as a general rule, tend to let their dogs inside if they’re barking.  There’s a house on the other side of the street whose car alarm goes off at least once a week, sometimes for upwards of ten minutes. But even that is just an annoyance.

It’s a weird thing, living in a big city after so very many years in a small town.  Just a few miles east and the neighborhoods are more affluent, with bigger houses and nicer cars.  Just a few miles west, incomes are lower, and houses are older.  Where we live though, smack in the middle, is pretty solidly middle middle class.   It’s not a fancy new development…. just a regular old street with houses built sometime in the mid to late 80s.    Our neighbors are friendly enough, things are generally quiet and (pleasantly) boring, and I feel safe walking around the block, even if it’s dark out.

I don’t know what it’s like to live in an inner city neighborhood.  I don’t know what it’s like to live in a place with unrest.

I don’t know what it’s like to be someplace like Ferguson.

But I’ll get back to that in a little bit.

Because it’s not just where I live.  As I sit here in my regular old house on my regular old street, in my jeans and Chuck Taylors, drinking my wine while my husband watches The Walking Dead beside me, I’m a cliche.  I’m a 40 year old, white, Christian, stay-at-home mother who’s been married forever.  My husband has a good job.   I have four kids, one dog, and one cat.   I drive an SUV.   I’m a suburban soccer mom (except I don’t live in the suburbs, and none of my kids play soccer.)    We have worked hard for the past 21 years of our marriage, to be sure, but I’ve lived a life of privilege.  No major tragedies.  No major hardships.  No major disadvantages.

I don’t know what it’s like to have to constantly worry that my son walking to the store for Skittles and iced tea might get gunned down and killed before he makes it home.

I’ll get back to that later too.

I was 18 before I saw racism first-hand.  Eighteen!  It sounds so strange to me now, as it’s so much a part of the landscape today.  Had I really lived in that much of a bubble?  It was 1992, and I’d gone away to a Christian college in the south.  We weren’t there for a week before someone said to me and my then-boyfriend (now husband), “So what do you think of black people?”  All casual, as matter-of-factly as if he’d asked us about our favorite TV shows.  What do you think of black people?  When we didn’t answer fast enough (both of us still trying to make sense of the fact that he’d really just asked that) he kept talking:  ”I don’t have a problem with them….. as long as they stay in their place.”

1992.

And that was just the first of many such conversations that year that convinced me that not only did racism still exist, but that it was alive and well in a “good Christian college” in Searcy, Arkansas.

And lest I think that it’s not still alive and well, I encountered it again just last week,  when a perfectly friendly (up until that point) encounter with a friend of a friend at a party turned into a discussion of the events in Ferguson.  In one concise little sentence, she boldly and unabashedly (so unabashedlyshared her negative opinion of an entire race of people, and I was once again that 18 year girl in a bubble, wondering if I’d really heard what I’d thought I’d heard.

Racism exists.

And as the national conversation once again turns to racism in the wake of Michael Brown,  Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice’s deaths, people are so quick to deny that race could have played a role, that they are completely sidestepping an issue that so desperately needs to be discussed. A bit of compassion that so desperately needs to be present.   An awareness that so desperately needs to be raised.

Ironically, the same people who are indignantly yelling, “This has nothing to do with race!!” are the same people who are giving in to the very racism that they’re denying.  I saw a meme floating around that read, “Remember how white people rioted after OJ’s acquittal?  Me neither.”  And you know what?  Maybe they didn’t.  But they rioted in Boston when the Red Sox won (multiple times), just one of many, many sports-related riots.  They rioted in Pennsylvania when Penn State fired football coach Joe Paterno after learning that he’d been aware of his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky’s, molestation of young boys and did not report it.  And just over a month ago, they rioted in Keene, NH…. the little city I grew up going to church in, spent all my weekends with my friends, got my first job, had my first date…. They rioted in Keene during a PUMPKIN FESTIVAL.

White people riot too.

And no one wants to talk about all the people who are exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.  The ones who are trying to protect their town.  The ones who are just trying to make sense of what’s happened.  The ones who are tired, and broken, and weary and still standing strong.

I hear so many people moaning, “I am so SICK of everything being about race all the time.”   And that very well may be true… but I’d imagine that the people who are actually dealing with said racism are even more tired of it than you are.

And I get it.  It’s a complicated, multi-faceted issue, and it’s one I don’t pretend to understand.

I don’t understand how anyone can blindly, unfailingly trust that the officer is the one in the right, and I don’t understand why questioning it automatically makes someone a “cop-hater.”

I don’t hate cops.

This is what I hate:

I hate systemic injustice.

I hate that people are dying.

I hate that people are more concerned with being right than they are about having some compassion for their fellow human beings.

I hate that Eric Garner died as a result of a choke hold, a move that has been banned by police protocol for the past decade, when he was not being aggressive or attacking the officer in any way.  I hate that the officer was not indicted.

I hate that Tamir Rice, a 12 year old child, was killed by an officer who was declared UNFIT FOR DUTY two years ago.

I hate that there are parents, and sisters, and friends, and wives who have to constantly worry about whether or not their loved one is going to make it home alive.

Mostly I hate that at times like this, when people are outraged and frustrated and emotional, that they’re fighting with each other instead of standing together, having the hard uncomfortable conversations, and saying,

This isn’t right.  This is a problem.

I feel sick about this, and I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.

And I understand that Michael Brown wasn’t a model citizen.  I get that.  And the how and the why of that is a whole other important conversation that needs to be had.  But he was a person. He was a life.  I just can’t wrap my head around  a society that’s okay with him getting killed, unarmed, his body left in the street for four hours.  I can’t wrap my head around a society that’s okay with a 12 year old getting killed,  unarmed, within two seconds of the officer arriving, for playing with an air-soft gun with the orange tab removed.  I can’t wrap my head around a society that’s okay with Eric Garner getting killed, unarmed, in an act that the coroner deemed homicide, an act caught on video tape, an act for which the officer will face no responsibility. Why are we okay with that???

It’s not okay.  None of it’s okay.  I saw people celebrating – celebrating – that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted. Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, he’s left his job, and Michael Brown is still dead.  An 18 year old kid is dead, but yes, by all means, lets celebrate. Hurray for justice.

I’m told that I’m too led by emotions;  that I fail to see things rationally over my feelings.

I can’t apologize for that.  I can’t.  Because sometimes – a lot of times – I feel like our emotions, our feelings, our heart, our compassion, our empathy … that’s all we’ve got.

So I’ll sit here, in my quiet house on my quiet street (the dog has stopped barking, and it has fittingly started to rain) and I’ll keep talking about it.  I’ll keep asking questions about it.  I’ll keep CARING about it, because I don’t know what else to do.  I’ll send peace and love to the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.  To the ones who are killed or harmed every day that we’ll never even hear about.  To the families who live with constant worry.   To the ones who so very badly want to do good in a system, and a society, that is so very broken.

And as I read back on what I just wrote, my head tells me not to share it.  The words came out wrong;  too much was left unsaid;  I said what I thought I meant but I didn’t say what I meant to say.  But I’ll click “Publish” anyway, terrified that I’ll be persecuted, and knowing full well that I’ll never know what persecution really is.


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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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