Aug 20

The Jar of Pickles

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Everett (10 years old at the time of this writing) has a thing for dill pickles.  Every time we go grocery shopping, everyone is welcome to make whatever requests they’d like…. and his requests contain pickles 100% of the time.  It’s not at all out-of-character for him to ask to stop for pickles at random times either, like when we’re coming home from swimming.  Or gymnastics.  Or the mail box.  Once we walked to the dollar store – around a mile away – and came home with a few things, including pickles.  The bag broke on the way home, when we were literally across the street from our house.  Glass shattered, pickles everywhere.  We carefully picked up the mess, and I told him we’d get a replacement for him the next time we went out.  It was very sad, but was redeemed a little bit by the fact that I got to amuse myself by imagining the neighbors (whose house it broke in front of) coming home, sniffing, and saying to one another, “Do you smell…. pickles??”

When Everett gets pickles, the jar is opened, and the pickles are finished before it is ever closed again.  He does share… but for the most part, he polishes off the whole jar largely by himself.  I will joke with him that there IS such a thing as having a few pickles and then putting the rest of the jar in the fridge…. and he will respond with something along the lines of, “That’s MADNESS!”

Yesterday, he was eating the last pickle in his jar, and he suddenly said, “Do you know WHY I eat the whole jar of pickles?”

Why?

“Because.  If I died, or the world ended, before I got to go back for more, my last meal would have been a single pickle.  Think about it.  Would you rather your last meal be one little pickle, or a whole JAR of pickles?”

……..

So there you go.  Important, irrefutable (if a tad morbid) life advice from Everett.

Eat the whole damn jar of pickles.


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Aug 19

Q & A – Unschooling Basics

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Every Tuesday, I’ll choose a handful of questions to answer here on my blog, as long as the questions last. Want to ask me about unschooling or parenting or anything else I write about (which is, uh, pretty much everything)? Send them here, or post on my Facebook page.  

This week, it’s all about unschooling!  Next week, I’ll focus on some parenting questions.

What does an average day at your house look like?

This is always a hard question to answer, because so much of it depends on the time of year, the season, what everyone’s interested in at the time, if people are wanting to be out and about or are more inclined to stay home, etc.  One of the really great things about unschooling – and homeschooling in general – is that it largely allows you to follow your family’s natural rhythms, rather than being confined to someone else’s schedule.

Lately, things have been… crazy.  So for the most part, the kids and I are appreciating the downtime when we get it. Spencer, who’s 17, and setting the groundwork for a lawn care and small engine repair business, will spend a lot of the day in the garage working on his engines, outside testing out weed-whackers, studying for his next test, or playing games on the computer with his friends (he runs his own Minecraft server.) Paxton, who’s 14 and by far the biggest introvert of the bunch, is the one I have to make sure I connect with or I’d never see him.  :) He spends his time on his computer fairly exclusively. Everett is 10 and busy busy busy.  He loves the computer like his brothers, and he also loves animals, science, karate, experimenting, moving around, and accompanying his mom on errands.  He’s always got some sort of project going on.  Currently, it’s a triops he hatched about a week ago.  Tegan, at 6, seems to have one foot still in “little girlhood”, and another foot confidently exploring her independence.  She loves to play games with me, of all kinds.  Loves to bake.  Loves to play with her friends. Loves music and dance.  Loves her TV shows.  She’s recently begun playing Minecraft, and has a brand-new little Skype buddy.  :)  My role in all of it?  To be here, in whatever ways they need.  I pursue my own interests too (and at the present time, am busy working on conference planning), but my first priority is them:  Getting them what they need, bringing them where they need to go, answering questions, playing, talking, listening, helping, showing.  And Googling.  Always lots and lots of Googling.

What activities do your children do that are run by others e.g ballet etc?  And do you find that these activities are enough for your kids to make friends?

What’s interesting to me about this question is that it’s one I would have asked myself 15 years ago.  I too thought that my kids would make their friends through “extracurriculars.”  And they’ve done a LOT of them too. Between the four of them over the years we’ve had basketball, baseball, karate, gymnastics, fencing, Cub Scouts, ballet, and likely many more that I’m forgetting.  The older two don’t really have any outside activities at the moment, and the younger two are down to two activities each (gymnastics and ballet for Tegan;  gymnastics and karate for Everett).  They’ve enjoyed all the activities they’ve done, and they have made friends – or at least been friendly with – other kids in their classes….. but that’s not really where they’ve made their good friends.  Most of their best friends (and they certainly have no shortage of friends) are either fellow unschoolers/homeschoolers that they’ve met and connected with through homeschool groups, field trips, etc, or met on their own through mutual friends, OR met on the internet through shared interests.   The friendships that they’ve formed inspire me.  They are true and long-lasting.  In just a couple of weeks, Paxton (14) is going to get on airplane to stay with a friend in Michigan for a couple of weeks.  They’re going to fly back together in time for the conference, then his friend is going to stay with us a couple of weeks as well.  I realize that people can and do still visit with friends when they’re in school…  but generally not when school’s actually in session, and generally not for a month at a time.  I’m excited for him that he gets this opportunity.

What kind of things do you do to provide a learning environment for your children and how does it work if you have more than one?

LIFE is the ultimate learning environment.  I know, I know.  It sounds corny.  But it’s true.  I think the best thing parents can do to provide a learning environment for their kids is to just be involved in their lives, and let them be involved in yours.   We’re a family, so we do life together. Beyond that though, just practically speaking, it’s important to have interesting things to play/read/explore/discover, both in and outside the house.  Books, games, toys, puzzles, movies, an internet connection, Netflix, computers, art supplies, science kits, a zoo membership, a Science Center membership, interesting people, interesting places… the list goes on.   When they have a specific interest, I do everything I can to help them explore it (a recent example is here), and as long as money or practicality is not a factor, I support spur-of-the-moment wishes too (that’s how Everett ended up with his Triops)

As for having more than one child…. I think the most honest thing I can say is that you find a way to work it out. My kids are all about 3.5 years apart, so I’m going to have had a very different experience in that regard than my friend who has 5 children 10 and under, including a set of twins.  There are seasons that are more difficult than others (for example, when one child is going through a period when they need all of mom’s attention, all of the time, and doesn’t want to share), but overall, you find your groove.  :)  You do things together, you do things separately, you take some one on one with each child… it works.

Do you have a routine/structure at all? 

Other than that opposed by outside activities (ie:  we have gymnastics on Tuesday afternoons, karate and ballet on Saturday mornings, church on Saturday night), probably not in the way you’d ordinarily think of “structure”, no. We do however have a rhythm to our days, and again it depends on what’s going on at the time. I always hesitate a bit with this question, because I think that the misconception will be that if there’s no routine, the house is chaos, and it’s not the case.  It is…. free-flowing…. but not chaotic.   If we have nowhere to be, we sleep until we’re rested.  The kids all get up at different times, so they eat when they get up. Our day may then take us to any number of different activities, either at home or away…. and we all come together to eat dinner when my husband gets home from work.  We wind down in the evenings, and go to bed when we’re tired (with a resulting “bedtime” that looks very different than the mainstream, particularly for the 14 and 10 year old who are currently on vampire schedules and stay up most of the night.)

But it works.  And when it doesn’t… when there are kinks, or someone’s not happy, or someone’s not getting needs met… we fix it.


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Aug 18

Trying something new….

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My cat.

So, you know how everyone has their “thing” that they do to remain sane when things are chaotic around them? For some it’s running, for other’s it’s meditation, still others it may be a bath and a glass of wine.

Well, I actually was starting to like running, but I can’t currently run because of my shoulder.  I do like meditation, but it’s generally coupled with yoga, and I’m currently limited there as well. Wine is nice…. but baths aren’t my thing, and they get cold too fast anyway.

But WRITING.  Writing is, and always has been, my never-fail go-to.  A half hour of writing – anything – is better than therapy as far as I’m concerned.  So I decided, at least until I get bored with it, that I’m going to take some time every morning before the girl gets up (time I ordinarily would have spent wasting time by getting annoyed with people on Facebook mentally preparing for the day) and post a new blog post.

Now, this is a 99% selfish act on my part, because beside the fact that it just makes me feel better, I miss writing when I don’t do it.   And I’m mainly announcing it here for accountability sake.  But here’s what it means for you:

(In a list form, because you know I love lists)

1.  More stream-of-consciousness writing.  My brain is a strange and crowded place.  The more I can get some of those random thoughts actually out, the better for everyone.  For example, I just learned that you’re not supposed to leave two spaces after a period anymore. What kind of craziness is this?  Apparently it was an old rule, and only applied when people were typing on manual typewriters.  The writing world has since evolved, but I didn’t evolve with it.  I’ve been doing it for over 30 years now, and it’s highly unlikely that I will stop.  Deal with it.

2.  More stuff about my kids and my family and our adventures.  When I first started this blog, it was about my life.  My kids.  Our unschooling adventures.  I had about 12 faithful readers, and I wrote about our day-to-day happenings, from the funny to the unexpected to the mundane.  I miss that sometimes.  No one ever made any nasty comments.  I never made any conscious decisions to stop writing in that fashion and start writing about “issues”, but somewhere along the way, it just organically happened.   And don’t get me wrong…. I’ll still write about issues.  I just feel like I freed up a whole lot of writing time to return to some of that older stuff too.  But, it also means:

3.  More stuff about parenting and unschooling and responses to the current mainstream thought that’s out there.    I’ve written about my love affair with sticky notes before.  Well one of the things that my sticky notes are often covered with is notes about things I want to write about.  Or articles I read that I wanted to respond to.  Or questions I want to ask.  Because of life, I barely got to half of them.  But if I’m giving myself the gift of five to seven whole posts a WEEK (seriously, I’m like giddy about this) I’ll have that many more opportunities to get to them.

And,

4.  More stuff FOR, and BY YOU.  You know what my favorite day on my FB page is? Thursday.  Because for the past 3 or 4 Thursdays, I’ve been asking you all to share a picture from your phone.  I can’t explain how much I love this!  I love seeing what you all share.  I love answering your questions.  I love getting your feedback. Posting more often will allow me to bring some more of that to my blog, instead of just keeping it on Facebook.  I would love to do a weekly FAQ, and I would love to do a regular post about your take on some of the parenting issues that come up again and again.  I get a lot of messages, and I respond to as many as I can, but I like the idea of posting and answering them publicly even more… because lots of other people share the same questions.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

At the same time I’m writing more, I’m going to be doing almost the opposite on my Facebook page.  It’s not that I’m not going to keep posting, because I am.  But I am going to guard the conversations much more closely.  I feel like things have been on a steady downward spiral lately, and I don’t like it.  I don’t like it that there is name calling.  I don’t like it that people can’t be kind when they disagree.  I don’t like it that some of my loyal, faithful readers who contribute SO MUCH to these conversations are getting attacked by others.  I don’t like it that new people who are asking genuine questions are getting attacked by others.

I may be naive, but I like to think that people can still behave like grown-ups, even on the internet.

So the rule (the ONLY rule) is:  You have to play nice.  Agree, disagree, think I’m crazy, think what I post is crazy…. but BE NICE.  If you think someone’s being an idiot, great!  If you actually CALL them an idiot… you’ll be removed; not the idiot.    Deal?

Love you all, and as always, thanks for coming along for the ride.

 


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Aug 15

I Don’t Care Where Your Kids Go To School

Tegan is excited for another year of "Not Back To School"

Tegan is excited for another year of “Not Back To School”

 

It’s mid-August.

For lots of people, mid-August means back-to-school-shopping.  It means new clothes and new backpacks and new haircuts.  It means family traditions or special breakfasts, and fresh-faced smiling pictures in front of the fireplace, or the house, or out on the sidewalk.  It means kids excited to continue seeing their friends, and excited to see what the new year will bring.

For lots of other people, mid-August means the official start to another year of opting out.  It means another year of sleeping in.  It means another year of charting their own course, choosing a different path, and learning on their own terms.  It means kids excited to continue seeing their friends, and excited to see what the new year will bring.

For still others, it might mean something else.  Maybe they homeschool, but still utilize the public school part-time.  Maybe they’re a homeschooling family who chooses to adhere to a school’s schedule.  Maybe they’re a full-time traveling family.

All of the above are valid, acceptable, well-founded options, depending on the family.

We chose homeschooling (specifically, unschooling) for our family a long time ago.  Spencer was really just an infant at the time, so the decision was made over 17 years ago.  It’s a decision we continue to make, year after year, because it’s the right decision for us.  We’re happy with homeschooling. We’re like… completely, blissfully, disgustingly happy.  And in the grand tradition of “promoting what you love instead of bashing what you hate,”  I love to talk about it.  Write about it.  Share other articles about it.

Isn’t that what happy people do?

I love to hear happy stories and see happy pictures of my friends’ kids, no matter where they do, or do not, go to school.

Unfortunately though, not everyone is happy.  Sometimes the parents are unhappy, sometimes the child is unhappy, sometimes the family in general is unhappy.  It’s for those people especially that I think the homeschooling discussion is important.  Not necessarily because they need to choose homeschooling, but because it’s important that they realize there are options.  It’s important that people can take a step back and say, “Okay.  This isn’t working.  What can we do/change/try to fix this?”

That’s a big part of the reason I continue to write about it, and honestly sometimes it’s the only reason, because talking about homeschooling is not always fun.  I get a lot of defensiveness when I post or write about homeschooling.  A lot of it.  I once lost a dear friend (she literally just stopped being my friend) when I posted on Facebook that it was back to school time, and we were happy that we were once again opting out.  She told me that she couldn’t believe I had such “vile contempt” for people who sent their kids to school, and ended our friendship as of that day.  It didn’t appear to matter to her that I hadn’t actually said anything about people who sent their kids to school,  let alone something that conveyed “vile contempt.”

Being happy with my choices does not equal contempt for your choices.

Here’s the thing:  If you’re happy and secure in your own choices, great!  If you’re defensively yelling at me and calling me names and making big speeches, I might question how happy you really are…. but if you truly are happy, great!   If you tried homeschooling but ultimately decided that public school worked better for your children, great!  If your kids are happy and healthy and thriving and love going to school, great!  You don’t have to defend your choices to me.   My choices shouldn’t matter one wit to you.

Because (and I mean this in the nicest way possible)  I don’t care where your kids go to school.  I really, truly don’t.  I love homeschooling, and for that I make no apologies.  But I’m not on some one-woman crusade to convince the world that everyone.  must.  homeschool.  I have my own family of 6 to think about – a family that’s currently off the rails with a totaled car, an insurance mess, an upcoming surgery, and 6 short weeks to finish putting a conference together – so I promise you, I’m not taking the time to make any judgments about yours.  I wish I had the kind of time people think I spend judging others!

I fantasize about pulling down my blog often, but until/unless I do, chances are very nearly 100% that I will continue to talk about homeschooling.  It’s my life;  it’s what I love.  If reading about homeschooling makes you angry or defensive or wish something bad will happen to me and my family…. might I suggest you simply don’t read those posts?  You can stay and yell at me if it makes you feel better, but I assure you it’s not necessary.

The internet is a big, big place.  There’s room enough for all of us.


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Aug 13

Robin Williams, Depression, and the Reason No One Really CHOOSES Suicide

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I sound my barbaric yawp  over the rooftops of the world

It is dark and heavily raining as I write this, a sound that is at once mournful and comforting.  A poignantly fitting backdrop for a day when we’re all still trying to make sense of the death of the man who brought great laughter and emotion to so many.

Like most people my age, I grew up watching Robin Williams.  My family’s TV was tuned to Mork and Mindy every week.  I remember his earlier movies, like Good Morning Vietnam.  I laughed at Mrs Doubtfire.  Adored him in Patch Adams.  Was deeply affected by What Dreams May Come.  Thought he was brilliant as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting.

The one that stays with me the most though, for a variety of reasons, is Dead Poets Society.  It was released when I was teenager.  My family and I were on a camping trip that weekend, the four of us happily crowded together in a little pop-up.  We woke up to a day of heavy rain, much like this one, and we decided to wait it out in a nearby movie theater.  Dead Poets is arguably just a really fantastic movie.  I left the theater that day feeling touched and inspired and newly excited about life.  What I didn’t realize at the time of course, was that I would go on to base my entire life’s philosophy – as a person, a parent, and an unschooler – largely on that movie.  Carpe Diem, boys.  Seize the day. 

And now, 25 years later, Robin Williams has died.  All sources are saying that Williams – like so many of us – was a victim of depression, and that he sadly took his own life.

As is usually the case when a beloved celebrity dies, social media has lit up, awash with expressions of shock, condolences, heartfelt words…. and a whole lot of insensitively and ignorance.

Cowardly.  Selfish.  These are the two words I’m seeing over and over in reference to the nature of Williams’ death.  There are some very good reasons why we should never use these words to describe suicide, which I’ll get to in a minute, but first I want to address something else that I read yesterday, something that angered me on a level that I can’t even describe.

A popular blogger called his suicide a “bad choice.”  A choice that he wouldn’t have made if he’d only had more faith.  If he’d only chosen joy instead.

If preventing suicide was as easy as advising people to just not choose it, it would cease to exist.

But it doesn’t work that way.  Depression is an illness.  An illness that lies to you.  An illness that is so deep and so pernicious and so consuming, that by the time it’s taken you to the depths of actually believing that suicide is the only answer, you know longer even feel like you have a choice.

I can sit here with a clear head and list all the many, many reasons I have for staying here on this earth …. God, my beautiful family, my writing, my yoga, my ability to reach others, coffee and cupcakes and sunsets and the smell of the desert after it rains…  My list would go on and on.  But a person on the brink of suicide is NOT clear-headed.  Depression has stolen their ability to think rationally.  DEPRESSION LIES.

So writing it off as something that’s simply a bad choice is insulting and insensitive.   There are lots of bad choices out there:  Talking when you should have remained silent, texting while you’re driving, eating that double bean burrito right before you go to sleep.

But succumbing to the soul-crushing despair, loneliness, and hopelessness that precedes suicide? That is a heartbreaking tragedy, not a “bad choice”.

The fact is, unless you’re IN THE SHOES of the person in the throes of depression, you simply cannot know what they are thinking, what they are feeling, and what they are and are not capable of rationally deciding.  I have dealt with depression for most of my adult life.  I have been medicated, I have tried natural therapies, I have Googled at 2:00 AM in the deepest pits of desperation, just hoping someone, somewhere, could help me.  I didn’t talk about it for the longest time, mainly because talking about it generally garnered me little more than “cheer up!” comments, and other well-meaning but misguided admonishments.   But I have been there.  I have been in that place.  I have been that broken.  Feeling like I am suffocating..  Drowning. Immobilized.  With my heart ripped open and the belief that the only thing I had left to live for was my faith.  I have been there.  And I still can’t pretend to know what Robin Williams, or any other suicide victim, was thinking or feeling before he died.

I know this, though:  Depression does not discriminate.  It crosses all racial and religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.  It can strike anyone.  It is a painful and crushing and complicated illness, one with as many different many paths to healing and wellness as there are people in the world.

By all accounts, Robin Williams was seeking treatment for his depression before he died.  He was trying.  He was reaching out.  He was doing what he was supposed to be doing, and the depression just won.  That is sad, and it is tragic.  Suicide is always sad and tragic,  which is why that same blogger’s worry that twitter comments saying things like, “You’re at peace now” would glorify suicide is so misguided.

Being glad that someone is no longer suffering and in pain is not glorifying suicide.

Showing empathy and compassion is not glorifying suicide.

Suicide sucks.  Depression sucks.  Those truths aren’t debatable.

But this was a person.  A person carrying so great a weight, so great an amount of pain that he took his own life. Would it have been better – better for him, better for his family and loved ones – if he hadn’t done it?  If he’d found a path to peace on this earth?  OF COURSE!   No one should commit suicide.  No one should live, or die, in that darkness.  But the fact remains that he did commit suicide, and the resulting worldwide discussion about it should be about bringing about awareness.  It should be about learning about tools to help others.  It should be about empathy and compassion and understanding.   It should be about reaching out to each other… frankly, honestly, unabashedly sharing our stories.  It should be about letting others know that there is help, that there is someone to talk to, that there IS a path to peace on this earth.

It should not be about shaming anyone, ever.

And finally, as to the “selfish” and “cowardly” and “they just didn’t have enough faith” comments:

You know what those kind of comments do?  They tell the poor souls out there who are currently contemplating suicide that the lies of their depression are true.   That they’re selfish. That they’re cowardly.  That they’re not good enough.  Not strong enough.  I ask you, from the bottom of my heart, is that really the message we want to send?  Is that really a message that is somehow going to help?

Because from where I’m sitting, the message we need to be sending people in the grips of depression is very much the opposite.

You ARE strong.

You ARE loved.

You ARE good enough.

You ARE worth it.

Let’s practice love.  Let’s practice grace.  Let’s practice kindness.  Let’s practice compassion. Let’s create an environment where people who are depressed can come forward for help without feeling like they’re being judged and condemned.  Let’s create an environment where people who are depressed can be supported, and encouraged, and lifted up, instead of feeling that they have to hide.  Let’s create an environment where people know they are loved.

If you are struggling with depression, talk to someone.  Talk to a friend, a therapist, your parents, a pastor, ME. Talk to someone.

Because no matter what depression tells you, no matter what twitter or Facebook or insensitive bloggers may tell you….. You are worth it.


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Aug 06

Look For the Helpers

The kids and I got into a car accident today.

I’ve had little “incidents” before, but this was the first, bonafide, real-deal car accident.  And it was terrifying.  We were on our way to my sister’s house to swim (after a three hour long doctor’s appt, one of many appointments we’ve had this week, just because that’s been the way our life’s been going lately), and about three minutes from the house, this happened:

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It was one of those things that somehow happened in a fraction of a millisecond, and in slow-motion all at the same time.  There was nothing I could have done to stop it from happening.

Now, the police officer at the scene very clearly deemed the other driver at fault.  But I’m not sure how this all works – and I watch too much TV – so I’m not sure if I’m supposed to give details.  Suffice it to say that there was an accident that involved another car, and my car was totaled.

As is so often the case when anything scary happens, I’m finding myself replaying it over and over in my mind. The second it happened, the fear in the kids’ voices, Tegan’s terrified tears, the relief in realizing we appeared to be okay, the long aftermath of phone calls and questions and insurance and tow trucks…..

Several minutes after it happened, I was introduced to one of the passengers in the other car when she came over to yell at me.  Is it really strange that that moment was just as traumatic as the accident itself?  I know intellectually that she’d been scared too, and I know intellectually that it’s normal to react in a less-than-positive way when you’re in that situation.  But in the moment, I thought of none of that.  I was busy thinking about my children, the fact that they could have been seriously injured, the fact that I could have been seriously injured. Getting yelled at and accused (for something that was not my fault) set me over the edge.  But she was gone as quickly as she had arrived.  She said her piece and left me standing there with the kids, and then we all convened with the cop for statements and exchanging of information.

I said nothing from that point on, except to answer the officer’s questions.  The only thing I knew to do, largely for self-preservation, was to keep quiet while it all got sorted out.  I’m pretty sure that I was operating on adrenaline for the whole exchange, because it wasn’t until much much later, when I was safely in my sister’s car after mine had gotten towed, that I started to shake.

You know how people say they are “shaken up” after accidents?  I now have first-hand knowledge.

It’s about 8 hours later, and I’ve let myself get more and more worked up about it as the hours have passed.  I’m a little bit scared to go to bed, because I’m fairly certain I’ll have nightmares (and/or not sleep at all.  Six of one, half dozen of the other)  I am so, so, thankful that it wasn’t worse.  So thankful!  Not just for us, but for the other car as well.  I’m so thankful we were wearing seat belts.  I’m so thankful that it happened when it did instead of a few seconds earlier, when it would have been much much serious.  I’m so thankful for insurance.

And right now, I’m thankful for Mister Rogers, whose words popped into my mind like a healing balm for my wounded and stressed out soul:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Those helpers are the ones I’ll be thinking of when I go to sleep.

~ The woman who called 911

~ The young men who witnessed the accident, were so sweet to my kids, and stood and waited with us until the cops came, to make sure they could give him their statement of what they saw

~ The doctor who happened to be driving by and stopped to see if we were all okay

~ The man in the Quik Trip who brought us out cold bottles of water while we waited

~ My sister, who got right in her car and came down to pick us all up

It was an unpleasant, scary situation to be sure.  And big deal, I was yelled at by one single person….

 

Because I was helped by so many more.


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Jul 25

Rest

unnamed (6) A few weeks ago, I confessed to a few trusted friends that I was exhausted.  Stressed, burnt-out, and just generally floundering at the end of my mental and emotional rope.

As is usually the case, it was a relief to simply talk about it, and I felt a little lighter as I went about the business at hand…. kids, conference planning, yoga, activities, errands, appointments and life. Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.

Then, also about two weeks ago, my lingering shoulder pain took a hefty jump from a level of 2 to an 8.  (If you’re not familiar with my long, boring shoulder saga, the very condensed version is: Hurt it in May, 2012.  Did physical therapy, eventually had surgery in Nov 2012, had a LONG recovery, did more physical therapy, and…. it’s still not right)

I have been contemplating returning to a different doctor for another opinion since… well, pretty much since I had the initial surgery… but I’ve been putting it off, because life.

Over the past few days, the pain has gone from being reasonably well tempered by three ibuprofens, to barely being touched by Vicodin.  I can’t get comfortable, can’t sleep, and as of this morning can barely move.  I’m hopped up on pain killers, I could fall asleep any second, my house is a disaster, and I can barely string a coherent thought together.

And in a strange sort of way, it makes me want to laugh. Like truly, gleefully, joyfully belly laugh. Because I realized something this morning, in the midst of my boo-hooing:

I so very desperately needed to rest, and now I’m resting.  Granted, curled up painfully and awkwardly on the couch in a drug-induced haze is not my preferred form of resting… but it’s resting nonetheless.  I am stubborn (so stubborn), and sometimes us stubborn people need a swift kick to get the message.  I consider this my kick.

The housework will wait.  The errands will wait.  Life will wait.

The kids are being sweet and helpful.

Netflix has my back.

My shoulder issues will eventually be sorted.  Soon I’ll get back to a doctor.  I’ll probably have another MRI. Maybe another ultrasound.  Possibly medications.  Likely more physical therapy.   Perhaps additional surgeries.

But today…. today I just rest.


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Jul 19

We ALL Need Boundaries – some thoughts on my nanny response, one week later

tegananabellehottub

 

“Nauseating.”

Nauseating.  That’s one of the most recent comments I’ve read in response to my 5 (Alternative) Reasons post, which has since become my single most viewed, and most shared, post of all time.  Truth be told, I’ve grown sort of fond of the one-word critiques. They’re succinct, to-the-point, and require no attention on my part.  They rip right off like a band-aid. Plus, there’s just something exhausting (albeit mildly amusing) about reading the three paragraph diatribes expressing disgust and irritation and annoyance at the mere existence of my words.

That’s not to say that I didn’t receive positive comments as well.  I did!  I read many lovely and encouraging words of support, and I appreciated every single one of them.  Sometimes I get bogged down in feelings of, “No one understands” (which tends to extend into, “I must be a horrible writer”), so hearing that someone both gets what I said, and even concurs with me is hugely validating.   Thank you for that, truly.

Ah, but the critics abound.

And after a week of reading, and reflecting, and ruminating, I’ve recognized some honest objections that deserve some follow-up.  In keeping with the spirit of the original post, I’ve organized them into five main categories.  In no particular order:

1.  You suck / I hate this / This is the worst piece of drivel I’ve ever read.  Just kidding. Not about getting those comments, but about them deserving a response.  Every time something I’ve written is shared more than a few times, sooner or later I get the above responses, nearly verbatim (I’ve filtered out the F – words.  You’re welcome) And honestly, I can really only feel sorry for people who 1) feel so badly about themselves that they need to try to tear others down, and 2) have nothing better to do with their internet time than troll blogs that they hate.   Also in this category are the people who made comments about gentle parenting producing “spoiled rotten little brats”, and sadly there were lots of them.  The issue of spoiling is one to be discussed for sure… but not with people whose first line of defense is to resort to calling children names.  I’d like to think we’re all adults here, and as such should be able to have conversations sans name-calling.

2.  But kids need boundaries!  I absolutely agree.  Kids do need boundaries.  We all need healthy boundaries, regardless of our age.  Lovingly and respectfully helping our children establish and maintain their own personal boundaries is an important part of any kind of mindful parenting…. which is why I’ve never – in this post or any post – stated otherwise.  The people who are raising this objection are reading something that simply isn’t there. One of the limitations of a blog post as a means of communication is that it’s just a snippet of a larger philosophy; not the whole picture.  I would have to add about a jillion disclaimers to every post to head off this kind of assumption, and nobody wants to read that.  So let me just state for the record, as clearly and plainly as I possibly can:

Gentle parenting does not mean that there are no boundaries.  It does not mean that there are no limits.

It means that boundaries and limits are not something that are arbitrarily prescribed for the child through control, coercion, and punishment… but rather something that are navigated together, with respect, compassion, and mutual communication.

3.  But kids need to hear the word no / they need to learn that life won’t always hand them everything they want!  I have a thing for a good caprese salad.  There’s a local pizza place down the street from us that has the BEST caprese appetizer.  They serve it in a stack, and it’s drizzled with a balsamic reduction that is just about the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life.   Seriously.  My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.  The last time we went there, we all sat down, ordered our drinks, and ordered the caprese…. only to be told that they’d run out, and would we be interested in some garlic bread or antipasto instead?

Life sometimes deals us a “no”, this much is true.  From small things like appetizers, to larger things like desired jobs.  And certainly, sometimes as parents, things such as circumstances, finances, or practicality dictate that we need to tell our children “no” as well.  I’m not arguing that fact at all.  But the thing is, it’s an inevitable fact that kids WILL learn about the “no’s” of life in time… and as for me, I would much rather my children view me as the person they can always trust with their disappointment when life hands down the “no”… and not the person who delivered an utterly unnecessary “no” just to teach them a lesson.  They will learn about no’s!  When I need – legitimately and genuinely need – to tell my children no, they understand.   They may be disappointed (just as I was disappointed when I couldn’t have my salad) but they understand.  And knowing that those times will and do come, I view my job as being their soft spot to fall when it happens, not as the person doling out more disappointment in order to “toughen them up”.  The world makes us tough enough.

So yes, when it’s at all possible, I’m going to say, “YES”, with no disclaimers, and no apologies.

And while I’m on the subject of life and toughness:  one person who disagreed with my post stated that she could never be as “soft” as me.  She said it as an insult, and while there is clearly a difference between respectful and being “soft”, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that are much worse things to be called.  The world is full of harshness.  I can’t help but think that a little more softness – in ourselves and in our children both – could only be a positive thing.

4.  To each his own / Everyone needs to do what works for them / There’s no right or wrong way to parent / We need to support each other, not judge each other

This is hands down one of the most frustrating things I ever hear in regards to parenting.  YES, we need to support each other.  YES, every family is going to look different.  But complacency – especially when it comes to how someone is treated – is never going to help anybody.  Not speaking out against harmful practices (yes, I’m calling some of the nanny’s recommendations harmful) is never going to help anybody.  Not advocating for kindness and compassion is never going to help anybody.  Children are far too often marginalized in this society, treated as “less than”, viewed as second-class citizens.  And we do no one… not the children, and not their parents, who are arguably trying their best to do right by them… any favors by not first recognizing and then talking about this very real issue.

and related to this:

5.  ”I think the easiest thing one can do is critique another’s work. Instead of polarising views how about a piece of work that is put forward on it’s own merit.   I’m not a fan of they said this, I say that.”  I quoted this comment simply because it was one of the last ones that I read, and it was fresh in my mind.  But it wasn’t unique.  There were several that said essentially the same thing.  Why did I have to attack the nanny?  Why did I have to be so mean?  So judgmental?  So petty?  Why couldn’t I just write a positive piece about my own views instead of comparing myself to her?

Well first, I don’t disagree.  It IS easy to respond to something that’s already been written, especially something that’s all neatly laid out in a list.  Bullet-point lists almost beg to be answered.  In all fairness though, I was not critiquing someone else’s work.  I don’t know the nanny.  This was not about her personally, and it was not about her work.  It was about ideas. About philosophies.  Philosophies that an alarmingly high number of people – in fact millions of people – were accepting as fact and gospel.  Why shouldn’t alternative views also deserve to be heard?

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing responses to someone else’s article.  In fact, few things fill me with such a “damned if I do, and damned if I don’t” kind of dread.  I never respond to these things when I first become aware of them… in fact, I mostly wish they’ll quietly go away.  But then they’re shared again and again.   People praise them again and again.  One by one my readers start to send me the links….. “Have you seen this yet?”  ”Would love to hear your response to this!”  ”I hope you’re writing a rebuttal to this”  ”Can you believe this nanny??”    So I’ll carefully write my response, truly trying to be as kind and as diplomatic as possible.

Every time, these posts are far and away my most read and most popular.

And every time, I’m told how glad you are that I wrote them.

And every time, I’m scolded:  ”You’re so, so….. MEAN!”

I cannot win.

As for a piece of work that’s put forward on its own merit:  I write those all the time.  My blog is full of them. They’re just not as widely read or shared as this kind of post.

Which is … uncomfortable for me.

Because in real life, I’m just a quiet, soft-spoken mom.  My kids think I’m a big dork.  My husband thinks I’m neurotic.   I dislike drama; I avoid confrontation.  I hate the icky feelings that come with being the center of attention in any way, especially when I’m being looked at with such critical eyes.  I am the last person in the world you’d expect to take some big stand for anything.  I never planned on writing, or growing, a blog.  I never, ever strove to convince anyone that “my” way of parenting is the right way.

But I continue to do what I do and write what I write for one reason:  I think how we treat kids matters.   I think kindness matters.  I think compassion matters.  I think this is worth discussing…. and discussing and discussing… if it means that even one child will be treated with a little more patience, or a little more understanding.

Even if it earns me a title of “nauseating.”


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Jul 10

A Culture of Love

I’m thrilled to bring you another guest post from my good friend Alice.  She previously wrote for my blog here, here and here.  Thanks Alice!  I’m always happy to share your words.

alicekidsbridge

Six months ago, my husband and I packed up our house and our 5 kids and moved to Turkey.  Although he’s been military for over 20 years, this is our first overseas move.  It’s hard enough to prepare yourself for living in a foreign country – preparing 5 small people (who at the time were 9, 7, 4, and 2 year old twins) was nearly impossible.  And our Turkish is…lacking.  And that’s a generous description.

Ever since my twin girls were born in 2011, my biggest challenge (besides actually leaving the house) has been managing 5 kids in public while fielding rude comments and questions from strangers.  Disparaging remarks about how many kids I have, rude comments about how I’m lucky I finally “got my girls” after having 3 boys, rude remarks about their own kids – I’ve heard it all.  And hated every second of it.  In America, I believed that I didn’t like talking to people, or meeting new people.  I dreaded going out with my kids because of the inevitable comments.  It’s a delicate thing, to respond to rude comments.  But even on the rare occasions when I felt like I had the perfect response, it wore me down.  It’s exhausting to always be on your guard, to always expect the worst possible thing to come out of someone’s mouth.  And more times than not, that “someone” was a fellow mother.

Before we moved to Turkey, I read everything I could find on the internet about Turkish culture.  Everything I found said the same thing – Turkish people love children, and lovingly welcome them everywhere.  That sounded promising!  And now I can say with certainty that what we’ve experienced in the past 6 months proves it to be true.  It started the minute we got off the plane in Ankara.  At that point, we had been traveling for almost 24 hours.  And we were lucky enough to bring a horrible stomach virus on the planes with us, which made itself known as we were boarding our first flight in Washington, DC.  I had one of my girls in a sling, snuggled close as we got ready to board, when she threw up all over both of us.  And thus began the world’s most hellacious journey.  By the time we finished traveling, both girls were wearing airport t-shirts and diapers, having compromised all their clothes (and extra clothes) with vomiting and diarrhea.  My 4 year old was also sick, and my 9 and 7 year olds were jetlagged and starting to feel sick.  Needless to say, when we finally landed in Ankara, my husband and I were…done.  And our family smelled, like oh so many odiferous things.  And yet the first Turkish person we encountered, while we were still exiting the jetway, was an airport worker who smiled when she saw us coming, and excitedly gave our 4 year old a hug and patted his curly head.

Six months later, I have nothing but positive stories.  Everywhere we go, strangers happily say, “Maşallah!” which is a blessing for our kids and also a way to protect them from evil.  It doesn’t matter that I have visible tattoos, or a bleached pixie cut – no one is looking at me.  They’re too busy counting my kids, exclaiming over twins, and giving hugs.  And frequently, asking to have their picture taken with my kids.  And although my Turkish is very basic, tone of voice translates across languages – there is no negativity in these interactions.

Even teens and young adults love kids.  We walk to a small Turkish market frequently from our apartment, and one day we happened to go while a large group of preteen and teenage girls was there.  While I was paying, my boys decided to wait outside.  When I exited the market, at first I couldn’t find them, and then I saw that my 7 and 4 year olds were totally encircled by girls cooing over them, and my 9 year old was sitting on a bench grinning, with 2 teen girls sitting close to him in a lovingly protective manner.  There were no sinister implications here.  The love and affection for children is deeply ingrained in the culture here.  In America we have stereotyped our teens to be selfish and self-centered; we as a society treat children badly and then act offended when they respond in kind.  But here I see firsthand a society that regards all children with love and kindness, and I see the teens and young adults giving kindness in return.  I’m not claiming Turkey is perfect, but the Turkish people are doing something really right.

Probably the best example I can give involves the dreaded public tantrum.  We took a trip to Amasra, a beautiful coastal town loaded with history and old ruins.  As we were walking around the old castle walls, we came to a set of stone steps that was truly treacherous.  Steep, long, steps made of bumpy stone, with uneven heights, and no railing.  I picked up one of my girls, but when my husband picked up our other 3 year old, she threw a fit.  So he put her down and said she could walk but she needed to hold his hand.  She refused, and got madder.  At this point our boys were halfway down the steps, and I was waiting at the top holding a 3 year old who was getting heavy.  It was not a good (or safe) situation.  So my husband gently picked up our screaming girl and carried her down, while she continued to scream the whole way.  When he got to the bottom, he set her down, and she turned around and marched back up 6-8 steps, and came down on her own while my husband walked next to her.  A Turkish woman watched this whole scene, and was laughing kindly.  She and I looked at each other, smiling, and she said, “She’s so determined!  She’s going to be a leader!”  I have had kids have public tantrums in the US, and they have almost always been met with scorn and derision, and worst of all fellow parents trying to shame me.  It makes a difficult parenting moment harder, and deeply embarrassing.  But instead of putting us down, this wonderful stranger lifted all of us up by praising my daughter’s character.  Yes, determined.  Such a positive way to phrase it, and so true.

Years of the Turkish people treating children with kindness and love has created generation after generation of adults who feel loved and give love freely in return.  The generous way they view normal childhood behavior is a precious gift.  And as it turns out, I’ve realized that I do love meeting new people and talking to them, especially when I know that no disparaging remarks about my family will be part of that conversation.  Living in Turkey has changed me in many many ways – one of the most important being that I now know firsthand the blessing a positive interaction with strangers can be.  Back in the US, I will be on the lookout for families in public, especially ones who might be having a hard moment.  And I’ll do what I can to offer kind words and generosity of spirit towards their children.  It’s something small we can all do that can make a big difference.

More love, more kindness.  Only good can come of it.

alicefam

Alice Davis is an Army wife, mother of five, and probably the last person on earth who doesn’t have a blog.  She loves to talk about unschooling, gentle parenting, and mothering multiples.  Her family is currently living inTurkey, and soaking up all that the culture has to offer.


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Jul 07

5 (Alternative) Reasons Modern-Day Parenting is in Crisis

It’s happened again.  A parenting article gone viral, one that has the mainstream masses rising from their seats in raucous applause…. and the rest of us shaking our collective heads.  In the article 5 Reasons Modern-Day Parenting is in Crisis, a nanny (I think that’s important to note. She’s writing it as a nanny, not as a mother) outlines what she believes to be the five worst mistakes being made by us modern parents.   It’s a crisis, she tells us.

Well, she and I do agree on one thing.   There’s a problem with parenting today.  But I believe it’s very much the opposite of the one she describes in her article.   These are her five main points, and how I would re-write them.

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1. She says: A fear of our children. I say: A fear of loving or giving our children too much 

People are so afraid of this myth of the spoiled child, that they’re failing to look at this rationally. Our children are people, deserving of the same kindness, consideration, and respect that we’d give anyone else whom we loved. She outlines the example of a child upset because she wanted her milk in a different colored cup.   She says, “Let her have a tantrum, and remove yourself so you don’t have to hear it. But for goodness’ sake, don’t make extra work for yourself just to please her”  My first thought would be to simply ask what cup the child would like before you poured it, but beyond that:  why shouldn’t the child be able to request a certain cup, and why on earth would you deny a request for something so simple?  Just because you can?  Parenting shouldn’t be about power plays and control.  It should be a partnership.  A dance.  With respect and consideration going both ways. Imagine you had a special house guest.  Without knowing his preferences, you hand him an ice cold Coke.  If he politely asks you for a glass of water instead, would you refuse to give it to him in order to teach him a lesson? Of course not.  You’d simply get him the water.  Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much care as we’d give a guest in our home?

At one point in the cup scenario, the author says, “mum’s face whitens and she rushes to get the preferred sippy cup before the child has a tantrum.”   And absolutely, you shouldn’t do things for your children out of fear.    But you should do things for them because you love them.  Because you should give, and give freely, just like you’d do for any other person in your life whom you love.   And finally, a child’s life is so full of decisions that are made for them.  If we want our children to be good decision makers, they have to make decisions!  We need to empower them by letting them make as many decisions as they can….. especially when it comes to something as easy to grant as a blue sippy cup.

2.  She says:  A lowered bar.  I say:  An expectation that children should act like miniature adults.  

Oftentimes, I see people expecting children to act even better than adults.   They’re not allowed to question, they’re not allowed to express displeasure, they’re not allowed to make noise.  They’re not allowed to act like children.  In short, they’re not allowed to be human.  You guys, we’re raising PEOPLE here, not training monkeys. They are young people who are still growing, still maturing, still figuring out how things work.   The author worries about kids learning manners, how to clean up after themselves, and how to wait patiently at a restaurant. And your child WILL learn those things if you expose him!  He will learn good manners when he sees you, yourself, consistently displaying them to the people around him.   He will learn to clean up after himself when he sees you, yourself, consistently cleaning your own messes. He will learn to wait patiently at a restaurant when he sees you, yourself, consistently waiting patiently.  In the meantime, help him navigate!   Use “please” and “thank you” if that’s important to you, but don’t chastise him if he forgets.  Let him help wipe up the spilled milk, but don’t critique his work.   Model appropriate behavior at the restaurant, but order his food early, color with him on his kids’ menu, and commiserate with him that waiting is sometimes hard.   Expect great things from your children, yes.  But don’t expect them to behave like full-grown adults when they’re 3.

3.  She says:  We’ve lost the village.  I say:  We’ve lost a *healthy* village

I don’t entirely disagree on this point.   But where the author and I part company on this issue is how we view “the village.”  I think community is incredibly important, but not in the negative fashion that she describes.  She bemoans, “it used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child.”   She talks about the need of other authority figures to “correct” (ie: punish) someone else’s child, and that is not something I can rally around.  More adults to befriend children, to talk to children, to take children under their wing, to mentor them, to treat them like people?  Absolutely!   My uncle recently moved from the east coast to retire in Arizona, and it’s neat to watch the relationship he’s formed with Spencer (17 at the time of this writing)  They both love engines, and machines, and figuring out how stuff works, and have bonded over their shared interest. Family and friends who are supportive in this way are invaluable, to be sure, and it is no small thing to have a network of people who enrich your life and the lives of your children through friendship, and through kindness and compassion…. NOT through “carte blanche to correct your unruly child.”

4. She says:  A reliance on short cuts.  I say:  A reliance on the way things have always been done

This was a strange one.  She starts out by chastising the parent who uses technology to keep a child busy while waiting at a restaurant (Caillou, by the way, is spelled C-A-I-L-L-O-U) but quickly moves in to advising parents to let their babies “self-soothe”, and not to help their toddler who’s raising his arms to be picked up after he falls. Modern technology is its own issue, and for the record I find nothing wrong with letting a child quietly watch something on a phone or tablet when he’s waiting for something.   But far more concerning to me is this idea of being a hands-off parent.  Yes, your parents probably left you to cry-it-out.  Yes, lots of parenting books still advocate “sleep training” and “self-soothing.”  Yes, many parents will tell you you’ll “spoil” your child if you respond to them too often.   But what does your  instinct tell you?  Do you listen to it? Instinct tells us to go to our children when they cry.  Instinct tells us to pick them up when they want our assistance.  Instinct tells us to comfort them, to love them, to be there for them.  It tells us to pick them up when they cry.  The first time and the thousandth time.   Babies NEED their parents.  They need touch.  They need connection.  They need to be heard.    Parents fear that if they hold their children too much that they will never separate, but it doesn’t work that way.  A need that is met breeds confidence and self-assurance and feelings of wholeness.   A need that is not met never really goes away…. it just resurfaces later in some other form.   Don’t rely on “baby training” because a book or your mother or that internet celebrity tells you that’s the way it’s always been done.  Your child is a person, and she needs you.

5. She says:  Parents putting their kids’ needs ahead of their own.  I say:   Parents putting their own needs ahead of their kids.  

None of your children asked to be born.  Let me just start there.  Children come into our lives as our invited guests.  It makes no logical sense to me to invite these little people (with big needs) into our lives only to then expect to go about business as usual, expect to continue putting ourselves first, expect them to conform and compromise and go without according to our own desires.   Your life changes the moment you bring a child into the world, and it should! Particularly when they are very little, your kids’ needs should come first.    And before I’m accused of it, I’m not suggesting martyrdom here.  YES, make self-care a priority. It’s important. But it should never come at the expense of your child.

The author gives the following examples of “mistakes” parents are making in this area:  ”Often I see mums get up from bed again and again to fulfill the whims of their child. Or dads drop everything to run across the zoo to get their daughter a drink because she’s thirsty. ”  I’m not a fan of the negative-sounding “whims”, but if your child has a need at night, help them meet it! And if your child is thirsty at the zoo, for heavens sake…. get her a drink!   I think we’ve lost sight of “doing unto others” in the name of not spoiling our children, and THAT is the real problem with parenting today.  Not giving too much.  Not the lack of a village. Not picking them up when they cry.   We’ve forgotten that children are people – cherished people, deeply loved people – and that they are deserving of all we can possibly give them.

And finally, the author closes in part by saying, “So please, parents and caregivers from London to Los Angeles, and all over the world, ask more. Expect more. Share your struggles. Give less. ” Every time I’ve read this article those words, “give less” haunt me.  Give less?  No. No, no, no.  We need to give more.  More to the people around us, more to our children, more to ourselves.  We need to give freely.  Abundantly.  Selflessly.   We need to give of our hearts, our time, our attention.  Yes, we need to give more.

And when we lovingly give to our children, they in turn, will become adults who give to the people around them.

 


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