May 07

Behind the Waterfall: Meditation for Beginners

(This post is the second of two about meditation.  Want to know why I meditate?  And what it’s got to do with a waterfall? Start here.)

So you want to learn to meditate?  Awesome!  While a quick Google would yield you pages and pages of results instructing you how to get started, I tend to find much of what’s out there to either be too simplistic, too frilly… or just lacking the personal details that make it all come together.  So I decided to write my own little list.  Meditation 101, if you will, for the newest of beginners.

It’s not hard.  

It’s actually really simple, and just takes dedication and practice.  Pick a time (right after you read this post is a great time!) and give yourself five minutes… or even two if you don’t want to start with five.  I like to meditate first thing in the morning, because I feel like it sets me up in a good frame of mind to start the day, but really any time of day is fine.   Give yourself a few minutes, get a nice timer so you don’t have to watch the clock (I like an app called Insight Timer) and follow the steps below.

1.  Get comfortable.  You want to be able to sit up with your back relatively straight (that helps with breathing). Your legs can be crossed, out in front of you, whatever you’d like.  I’ve taken up sitting on the floor, with my back resting against the couch.  I’m not sure why exactly, except that I feel like I’m able to sit straighter on the floor, whereas if I’m actually on the couch, I tend to get all slouchy and snuggled in.  So I sit on the floor.  Wherever you decide to sit:  get comfortable, check your posture, and make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom.   Turn off the ringer on your phone.  Set your timer.

2.  Breathe.  You don’t need to breathe in any special fashion;  you just need to breathe, and draw your attention to your breath.  Being a yogini, I’m partial to something called ujjayi pranayama which is basically deep, slow, inhalations through the nose, down the back of the throat… and slow, audible exhalations out through the mouth. This breathing technique alone slows everything down, and hugely relaxes your body and your mind.   That is always my first preference, but it’s not mandatory!  Some people who are new to deep breathing breathe too deeply, and end up making themselves feel light-headed.  If that’s you, no problem… just breathe regularly until you get more accustomed to it.  No matter how you breathe, just pay attention to it.  Notice as your breath comes in, fills your diaphragm, and moves out again.  You might find it helpful for your focus to count each breath as you exhale.  When you get to 10, start over again.  Just keep focusing your attention on your breath and noting how it feels, and how it calms your body.

3.  Set an intention.     One thing that I ask my yoga students to do sometimes is to simply think of one word that they want to focus on.  Your word might be peace or calm or joy or forgiveness.   Having a word in mind can be helpful because it can give you something specific to return to when your mind starts to wander (and it will start to wander).  If not a word, you can focus on a mantra, or on a higher power if you believe in one. The idea is to decide what it is you want to get out of your meditation session, and it can be something different from day to day Keeping things simple and deciding that you’re going to just keep focusing on your breath is perfectly okay too.

4.  Be gentle with yourself when your mind wanders.  YOUR MIND WILL WANDER.  It will.  It’s okay!  And when you find yourself thinking about your to-do list, or the bills you need to pay, or any of the other 10,000 things that clutter up your brain all day, it does not mean you failed at meditating.  It just means you have another opportunity to practice bringing your attention back to your breath, or your word, or your mantra.  Meditation isn’t so much about an empty mind as it is about one that’s learned, through practice, to focus where you want it to focus…. rather than being distracted and overtaken by rattling, runaway thoughts and worries.   Remember that you’re not trying to stop the waterfall.  You’re trying to find peace in the stillness behind the waterfall.  So when you realize that you’re thinking about scheduling little Suzy’s dental cleaning, or wondering how you’re going to deal with that difficult situation with your co-worker, or mentally lambasting the mailman for always delivering your packages to the neighbor, acknowledge it, gently let it go, and return your focus to your breathing.  Is your foot cramping up, is there a car alarm going off outside, did a dog start licking your face?  Acknowledge.  Let go. Breathe.

5.   Repeat.  Keep returning your focus and attention back to your breath or your word of intention every time your mind wanders.  When your timer goes off, you’re done!  Do it again tomorrow.

And that’s it!  Meditation for beginners.

Questions, comments, testimonies?  I’d love to hear from you!


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May 02

Eleven Years

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To Everett, one of the most kind-hearted, giving, energetic, creative, beautiful souls I know. Your love of your family and your friends and your animals and of LIFE inspires me.  Thank you, for making me smile every day for the past eleven years.  Thank you for letting me be your mom.  Thank you, for being you.

I hope you have the happiest of happy birthdays today, and I can’t wait to go to the game with you tonight.


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Apr 30

I AM That Boy in Baltimore

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This post was written by a dear friend of mine who wished to remain anonymous.  I don’t think we can ask for a more powerful reminder not to make assumptions, and to have compassion for all.  This “You’re so judgmental” knee-jerk reaction has GOT TO STOP.  We need to stop. Listen. HEAR people.  Really see the person behind the words.  We *all* have a story. 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

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You labeled me judgmental and accused me of not being in a place to know what it’s like to be a single black mom raising a child on her own. You accused me of being insensitive of her struggles and the fear and desperation she must be experiencing right now.

The irony is that you judged me. You took one look at the color of my skin and my “upper-middle-class” status and dismissed my comments as being from an entitled-ivory-tower-mother looking down on another mother.

Except… you’re the one that’s assuming. You’re the one who is judging what you don’t know.

I am that boy.

I know what it’s like being raised by a single mother. I know what it’s like living on assistance in Section 8 housing. I know what it’s like to not see your mother for days on end because she’s working nights. I know what it’s like when you finally see your mother and she’s utterly exhausted from working a job and going to school. I know what it’s like to have your mother use the minuscule amount of energy that she has left to violently deal with the behavior you’re exhibiting simply because your life is unstable.

I know what it’s like to be repeatedly struck across the face. I know what it’s like to be hit with a shoe. I know what it’s like to be hit with a hairbrush.

I know that it’s pointless to tell anyone at school because they have beaten me too. I know what it’s like to be told to bend over and grab the desk for “acting out” or “being disruptive” because I have so much to say and no one is listening.

I know what it’s like to beat up other children because they made me angry. Because I learned that “might makes right”. The best way to get someone to behave the way you want them to is to make them hurt until they comply.

I know what it’s like to destroy property. Yes, probably “for fun”, but also because I just want someone else to hurt the way I hurt.

I am that boy and I’m pleading with you to stop encouraging my mother to beat me. I’m begging you to equip her with the parenting tools to lift me up. I’m asking for you to see ME in all of this.”

 


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Apr 29

Violence for Violence: A Mom’s Turmoil in Baltimore

mombaltimoreI was not going to write about Baltimore, even in passing.  That’s the first thing you need to know.  I think that the post I wrote about Ferguson (and still stand by) captures my feelings about Baltimore as well.  Then yesterday, I gave my opinion about the mom – you’ve all read about this mom, and/or seen the video – who publicly struck her child, again and again, in an effort to get him off the street and away from his participation in the rioting.  My response wasn’t even about her really….. it was about the greater public opinion that was lauding her as a hero.

Finally, a mom doing parenting right, the world seemed to scream.

It made me profoundly sad, and quite honestly, confused.

The very same people who recognize that violence is not the answer in retaliation to the police somehow find violence an appropriate response when it’s coming from a parent?

It bothered me all day.  And when a page I follow asked the question, “So what do you think of this mom that’s being called the Mother of the Year?”  I answered,

“Violence in response to violence is still violence, and it isn’t the answer.”

I received a handful of comments, but the very first one read:

Spoken like a true person who has no idea what it’s like being a single black mother.

And she’s absolutely correct!  I don’t know what it’s like to be a single black mother.  I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a single black mother.  I don’t pretend to know what kind of fear, and anger, and horror was coursing through her body to prompt her to react that way.  I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to fear for my teenage son every time he leaves the house.  I think about it, and I can’t even imagine.

But I can’t really apologize for being born white.

And I can’t really apologize for not condoning violence (yes, I think that what I saw on that video was violent)

And it’s obviously not me trying to speak for a single, black mother… but just to speak as a human.  A human mother with four kids who thinks that the cycle of violence has to be learned – and therefore can be broken – and passed down from generation to generation.  A human who realizes that if a mom uses physical punishment as her biggest parenting tool (likely because her parents used physical punishment as their only tool) that unless she makes a conscious effort to seek alternatives, her children will also learn that an appropriate response to anger and frustration is physical violence.  A human who will always always stand on the side of the children, and their right – as any other citizen – to not be hurt at the hands of their parents.

Somewhere, somehow, the cycle needs to stop.  I don’t think violence is the answer.  I don’t think violence is ever the answer.

I will apologize for one thing though.  I apologize for not knowing the right thing to say;  for not knowing the right way to express my rather complex feelings about all of this.  For not being able to understand, ANY of it.  I think that compassion would go a long way, for all involved…. including this mom and her son! but starting with the young man who entered police custody alive, but somehow ended up dead.

Compassion for the 10s of thousands of people, that the media doesn’t want to show us, who are peacefully protesting.

Compassion for the police who are being physically harmed for doing their job.

Compassion for the innocent people who live in that city who are just trying to go about their lives amongst the unrest.

Compassion for the loved ones of all of the above, who wake up each morning with fear in their hearts.

And yes, compassion for the people who know no other way to voice their frustration and anger and deep-seated wounds than to act out in a physically violent way.  Somewhere along the way, we failed them.  Somewhere along the way, they learned that violence was the answer.

My fear is that if we keep offering praise and encouragement – instead of alternative tools and support – to parents who are physically violent towards their children, that the tide will never change.

It’s terrible what’s happening… not just in Baltimore, but all across the country.  And it starts with the kids.  It’s starts with how they’re treated;  it starts with what we’re teaching them. Change starts with us, as their parents. It’s a difficult and uncomfortable and painful conversation to be had for sure, but it’s one that needs to happen.   White, black, single, married, gay, straight.  I don’t care who you are or where you’re from or what your history is. Have the hard conversations, ask yourself the hard questions.  Recognize that nothing will ever get better if we’re fighting amongst ourselves, instead of getting real, thinking of the children, and realizing that we’re all in this together.

We’re all just doing our best to make sense of something that makes no sense.


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Apr 28

A Speck on the Earth

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I heard a sermon once – and I sadly completely forget the context – in which the pastor was trying to relay how very tiny and insignificant we really are.  The earth is but a tiny part of a vast, vast universe.  Your continent is but a tiny part of the earth.  Your country… your state… your province… your town… your street…. and on and on. We’re truly little more than microscopic specks of dust.

I think of the speck analogy a lot, especially how it compares to the “me-me-me” attitude of society in general. The amount of self-aggrandizing and arrogance that is out there is mind-boggling.  Quite the opposite of the speck theory is this pervasive attitude that the sun rises and sets based on our own whims, and that everything, EVERYTHING, is in fact about us, and our needs and our comfort and our feelings.  My husband (who is right more often than I like to publicly admit) is often saying that 99% of the world’s problems boil down to people and their selfishness, and I can’t say that I disagree.  People are selfish.  People are arrogant.

I get called arrogant often.  In fact it’s probably one of the things I get called most often, second only to judgmental.  It’s not even always in response to what I write now that I think of it. Sometimes it’s a reaction to my just having a blog in general and/or thinking that anyone would want to read it.    Which is fair enough I guess.  I think there’s probably a certain amount of arrogance in anyone who puts out a creative work in hopes that someone will read it/watch it/listen to it.  Ironically, I don’t much write for other people.  I (selfishly :)) write for myself, because it’s the way I’m wired.  It’s an outlet, so I don’t explode.

The thing is though, none of it matters. What I write, what I share, the things that prompt people to call me names…. it doesn’t matter.  It’s just noise.  I’m a speck.  What matters isn’t jentheblogger, but how I conduct myself when I don’t have a running commentary critiquing my every thought.  This past week I’ve been holed up with my family.  I temporarily unpublished my Facebook page, to protect myself – and by extension, my kids – from the backlash that always comes after a post is widely shared.   I spent 72 hours in bed with a feverish 7 year old.  I went to the doctor, twice.  I went to a baseball game and out to eat with some friends.  I took care of the house and the kids and spent a lot of hours dealing with the chaos that comes from taking in a stray dog.

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It felt good to retreat to my little bubble, even at its most hectic.  Except….. I don’t think that living in a bubble is really the answer either.  I think there has to be a balance somewhere, because while, yes, we are but specks, I refuse to believe that we aren’t also part of something bigger.  The past few days, in the wake of everything that is happening in Baltimore, I have to believe we’re part of something bigger.  It seems to me that it’s just a matter of deciding what it is we want to be a part of.

I read this morning that nearly 75,000 people have a signed a petition to bring Derek Shephard back to Grey’s Anatomy.  (In case you’re not a Grey’s fan, or you don’t have a Twitter account, the world is apparently in mourning because Shonda Rhimes killed off a beloved character in a rather sudden and devastating way last week)  75,000 people!  If that many people can so quickly band together over their outrage about a FICTIONAL TV CHARACTER’S death, surely only good things can come from people coming together to address a cause that’s real, and good, and noble.

I’m a speck, this much is true.  But I’m a speck who’s going to keep standing on the side of love and kindness, tolerance and respect…. for kids and adults alike, because it’s what’s right.  It’s not the easiest or most convenient or most comfortable side to stand on (isn’t it ironic how much prolific unkindness and hatred is aimed at a call for kindness??) but it’s where I’m led, again and again.  Sometimes kicking and screaming.  Sometimes painfully. Always humbly.   But I’m here, hoping that I’m indeed part of something bigger than myself.

 

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

P.S. If you want to join the conversation (or if you want to call me arrogant) you can once again like my page on Facebook.


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Apr 19

Six Things My Kids Are Allowed to Say to Adults

167183_471596638308_3379574_nThere’s a blog post out there garnering a lot of attention titled 6 Things My Kids Aren’t Allowed to Say to Adults. After seeing it come through my Facebook newsfeed for the 27th time, I finally took a look.  Then I took another look. Then another.  Interestingly, each time I read it (3 times in total), there was another new edit, update, or clarification from the author. Clearly feeling the stress of negative comments, she defended, expanded on, and added specific examples for all of her original points.  She added a disclaimer.  She closed the comments.

As someone who is intimately and painfully familiar with the frustration of feeling like my words are being misconstrued, I am definitely sensitive to this mom’s plight.  Unfortunately, her additions to the post just made me disagree with it all the more, and were actually the impetus I needed to write a response.  Still, it somehow seems important to me to state right from the start that what follows is in response to words, ideas, and concepts…. not to one individual person.  I don’t know her, and had never read her blog prior to this one post.

I will list the six specific words/phrases in a minute, but the biggest reason that I disagree (and the overwhelming thought that clung to me as I read) is this:

I’m not interested in raising robots.  My kids are not mine to control, or to train.  They are human beings.  Lovely, perfectly imperfect, unique human beings with their own personalities, their own thoughts, and their own opinions.  I want to recognize and embrace and honor who they are, not who I want them to be.  I want my kids to feel free to say anything to me, to express any emotion to me….. and I want them to trust that I’ll always provide a safe space for them to do so.

{A quick but necessary little side note here, because for some reason my being open about my faith seems to invite people to employ Bible verses as weapons:  I’m aware of the scripture that reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It’s a great verse!  I don’t refute it.  I do however refute the way it is so often twisted to advocate for a dehumanizing, literal “training” akin to something that you would do with dogs.  Children are not dogs.  This scripture – and others like it – simply serve as a reminder of our responsibility as parents.   Not just as Christians, but as caring, invested parents in general.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models kindness and respect, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models grace and forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others.  It’s our responsibility to parent in such a way that models love and gentleness, both for ourselves and for others. Those are the values that I want to live out loud, and by extension, show my children.  Those are the values from which I trust that my children “will not depart.”  And if we live it, they will learn it….. no “training” necessary.}

First and foremost, we were created as human beings… with a full range of personalities, emotions, and styles of communication.  I want my kids to be authentically themselves at any given moment, not some straight-edged, boxed-in version of themselves that I created through force, coercion and control.  And if there is anyone that I want them to feel free to be REAL with, it’s me!!

(Have I mentioned I’m not interested in raising robots?)

Here then, is the original list of words the author won’t allow her children to say, and why I feel very differently.

1.  ”No”

A word that the author calls “the ultimate defiance towards authority,” I find the word, “no” to be a hugely important word for everyone to have at his or her disposal.  My youngest is now seven, so it’s been awhile, but I remember well when she and all three of her brothers discovered the word as toddlers.  In one memorable incident, we were all hanging out on our king bed one night, and it was getting late.  We told Tegan (who was barely two at the time) that it was probably time to put on her pajamas.  She looked at us with a little gleam in her eye, took her finger, and clearly traced the letters N O on the surface of the bed.  Not only were we not offended by her “defiance”, we thought it was awesome!  We had no idea she could spell, or even knew what the letters looked like, and she was immensely proud of herself.  What a powerful word!   We laughed, she laughed, and then she put on her pajamas.

Being able to set boundaries for yourself – in all kinds of situations – is an invaluable skill, and it often starts with the ability and the confidence to say no.  I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I have often found myself burnt out and spread too thin.  Learning to say “no” as an adult was a huge step to protect my space, my health, and my sanity.  My kids know how to say no, and they are welcome to do so.

Does that mean then, that every time I ask them to do something, they say no?  NO!  (Ha, see what I did there?) They really never say no in that context, because our house doesn’t work like that.  We operate as a partnership, not a dictatorship.  We respect each other.  If I say to one of the kids, “Hey, can you help me pick up for a couple of minutes?” they’ll gladly help, much in the same way that I’ll gladly help when one of the kids asks me to bring them a drink when I’m in the kitchen.  Mutual respect and communication go a long way towards maintaining peace and unity within the home.

2.  ”Just a minute”

She wrote:

When I tell my kids to do something, I expect them to obey immediately.

But “just a minute”  is something that we say as adults all the time.  All. The. Time.  I do try not to say it too often, because I want to stay present and engaged with my kids, but if I’m asked to do something when I’m really involved in a project, at a minimum I’m going to need to jot down whatever thought/word/project I was working on a sticky note (because I’m 41 and sleep deprived and my brain is full…. so if I don’t write it down, I risk losing it forever)  So while I’m happy to help with whatever’s asked of me, this is real life, so I don’t often jump up the exact instant that I’m asked…. which makes it categorically unfair to expect something different of my kids.

The author did say that her children were allowed to ask if they could, for example, finish reading their chapter in their book before they did whatever it was she’d asked them to do. But why should the onus be on the kids to ask permission?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that their time is just as valuable as ours?  Why can’t we as parents have enough respect for our kids to recognize that they don’t exist to be at our beck and call?  Unless time is of a serious essence (ie: someone’s on fire), “just a minute” is a perfectly acceptable response.

And I don’t expect my kids to be “obedient” (I actually can’t stand the word obedience)  What I expect is that my kids will treat me with the same level of care and respect that I extend to them. And they do.

3.  ”Yeah”

She wrote:

Opinions on this may vary depending on your geographical location, but where I’m from, it is incredibly disrespectful to answer any adult with anything but “Yes ma’am”; “Yes sir”; “No ma’am”; and “No Sir”. My kids will definitely be corrected if they answer with a flippant “Yeah” in response to any question.

I agree with the author that opinions on this one likely vary based largely on geography.  I was raised in New England – not in the south – so I was not raised to address adults with “Yes, Ma”am” and “Yes, Sir” (what the author requires of her children.)  I’m actually not a fan of being addressed in that way myself.  It sounds awkwardly formal, and it makes me feel old.  I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to feel pressured or required to respond to me in that manner, particularly not in their own home.  If they want to answer me in the affirmative, “Yeah, yes, yep, yup, uh-huh, and right on” all work for me.

I don’t worry that they’ll not know when to use more formally respectful language either.   I speak in a different way to my friends to my husband to my mother to my boss to a police officer.  I adjust my level of formality and familiarity depending on the situation, as do most of us. We learn about being polite in a variety of settings as we grow, and as we mature.  It’s really not that complicated.

I’m their MOM, the most familiar person in their life. They really don’t need need to address me the same way they’d address a judge if they were arguing a speeding ticket in court.

4.  ”I don’t want to”

Very similar to #1.  When the author tells her children to do something, the only acceptable response is immediate obedience.  ”I don’t want to” is rarely an issue in that context in our house – remember, this is a partnership, not a dictatorship – but when I ask my kids to do something (that’s one huge difference between myself and the parenting philosophy employed by this author:  I ASK.  She TELLS)  When I ask my kids to do something, I’m genuinely asking, and while nine times out of ten the answer is yes, they always have the option to respond how they’d like.

Like the word, “no”, “I don’t want to” is a hugely important and empowering thing to be able to say, across many different circumstances.  I never want to give my children the disadvantage – and possibly put them in an unhealthy or unsafe situation – by telling them it’s not an appropriate thing to say.

And to hopefully head off some inevitable comments:  No, I don’t worry at all that my children will grow up to tell an employer “I don’t want to” when they’re told to complete a reasonable but unpleasant or boring task.   (Although, to be honest, if my children ever find themselves miserable, unfulfilled, or generally unhappy with their life choices, whether it be work or anything else:  I would hope that they would have the courage and the confidence to say, whether through words or actions, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore”, so that they could seek to create change.)

5.  ”I don’t like this”

She says:

If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat what is set before them.

I’ve written at length about my philosophy of food when it comes to my family (most recently here), but in short: We try to make foods we all like.  We’re all members of the family, and we all get to have a voice:  from the foods we buy, to the snacks we have on hand, to the dinners we cook.  Everyone gets to have, and express, an opinion.  And on the rare cases when we happen to have a dinner that someone doesn’t like?  No problem! They’re free to have a sandwich, make an egg, fix a bowl of cereal, whatever they’d like – something that the author deems a no-no.  My kids eat all kinds of foods, and are always game to try something new.Sure, they each have a few things they don’t care for.  Don’t we all?  As an adult, I generally simply avoid buying/eating the things I don’t like.  Why wouldn’t I extend my kids the same courtesy?  If they don’t like something, they’re always free to express it, especially in the safety of their own home.  Now, if we were visiting new friends for dinner, would they stab something with a fork, hold it up for the whole table to see, and announce, “This stuff is gross”? (something that a grown adult actually did to me once, after my woefully botched first attempt to make seitan when I was a vegan)  Absolutely not!  As with #3, it’s simply a social nuance that they learn with time, maturity, and involved parents.

One more point about the food.  There was much ado made about the fact that there are starving children out there who have nothing to eat, and therefore children should be thankful for what they have, and eat whatever’s placed in front of them.  Yikes.  Yes, it’s wonderful to have an attitude of gratefulness.  And yes – unfortunately – there are starving children out there. It’s an important thing to be aware of, to be sure.  Even better is to do something about it, and to help out whether by donating your time or your money to people who are in need.But using it as a vehicle to shame and coerce your children to eat what is put in front of them?  That isn’t fair, respectful, or helpful to anyone.

6.  Nothing 

She says:

When an adult speaks to my children, hiding behind mama and refusing to speak is not acceptable behavior

Much like saying “Yes, Ma’am” when the situation calls for it, and not telling the nice neighbor that the food she just made you is gross, learning to talk and interact respectfully with adults is something that comes with time and practice.  Just like adults, some kids are naturally outgoing from the beginning, and others start out by wanting to hide behind mom.  Both are okay!  I’m 41 years old, and I can think of many a social situation where I wish I could hide behind my mom.   But I don’t.  I’ve learned to shake hands, and smile politely, and say “It’s nice to meet you”, even if my voice shakes when I say it.  And kids will learn too.    But requiring them to interact in a way that they’re not ready for is no different than requiring them to hug and kiss grandma even if they don’t want to.  It’s a violation of their right to personal autonomy, and it seriously blurs the line of when they can and cannot say “no”, and who they do or do not have to listen to.

Their body = their choice

Their voice = their choice

If your child doesn’t want to talk to me for whatever reason, please don’t insist that they do!  I don’t need or want a forced “hello” or a forced “thank you” or a forced “I’m sorry.”   I’ll just be happy to know that you’re honoring your child’s wishes, and respecting his right to trust and make judgments about new people in his own time, in his own way.  It’s an important skill to have, and forcing them to interact in the way that you deem appropriate is stripping them of the practice they need to hone that skill for themselves.

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If you’ll indulge me while I say it for a third and final time:  I’m not raising robots.  These are HUMAN BEINGS. This is a relationship we’re forming here, not boot camp.  The idea of censoring, controlling, and requiring certain narrow words and reactions from children not only saddens me but quite honestly genuinely frightens me.  It feels more like programming than parenting.  Kids aren’t ours to program.  They are ours for but a short time, to nurture, protect, and guide through our example…. but also to sit back and watch, while they unfold into the perfectly unique and already-laid-out version of themselves, which I guarantee you is far better than anything you or I could ever orchestrate on their behalf.  

My kids can say anything to me.  They can express any emotion.  Share any feeling.  Give any opinion.  In short, they can be real.

No matter what else a home may be, shouldn’t it at least start with being a place where you can be yourself?


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Apr 06

Do-Overs

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I’m not personally really big on video games, but my kids are all passionate players of video games of all kinds. One of the things I like about video games is that the game is never truly over.  If you’re killed, you’ve often got another life in your queue.  Even if you’ve used up all your lives, you get that sad “Womp womp womp” music, and the words “Game Over” flash on the screen, it’s still just a matter of re-starting the game,  Sure, you might have to start over from the beginning, but you’re never really done.

In Star Stable, one of the games I play with the seven year old, your horse never dies.  It gets sad if you don’t feed it and brush it often enough…. but it always forgives you once you start taking better care of it.  And you can fall off of cliffs (something I do a lot, because apparently I’m as clumsy in pixelated-horse-rider form as I am in real life, walking-down-the-street form), but it just results in a whinny and a little pop-up message that says you’ve “taken a dangerous fall, but your horse has miraculously survived.”   Then it spawns you and your horse back to the top of the cliff, no worse for the wear.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because for the past month or so, my real life has been way off-line. I’ve been fighting off some sort of virus for what feels like forever, one that’s so persistent I’m still coughing a good four weeks after it all started.   I’ve gotten completely out of my normal routine.  I haven’t been sleeping. Housework has piled up, projects have piled up, emails have piled up.   This past weekend, I was so distracted that I did something I never do and flaked out on something I promised I’d help someone with.  Just straight-up forgot about it. And even though I apologized, I’m still heavy with the guilt of having let someone I care about down.  I feel stressed out and frustrated, but beyond that I feel a disproportionate sense of…. failure. Perfectionism kicks in, and I feel like I’ve been failing on all fronts.  And when that happens, I have a tendency to get depressed and defeatist, which of course only exacerbates the problem.  I literally start to feel like I’ll never get back in my groove, even though I know intellectually that that’s not the case.

So, I’ve decided I need to start giving myself more grace, and treating life like a video game. Yeah, there will be times I’ll get off track, get lost, use up all my energy pellets, fall off the cliff. But it doesn’t mean it’s time to quit the game.  It’s just time to re-group, that’s all.  And to give it a positive spin, it’s the best opportunity to re-establish goals, adjust priorities, and assess what sort of prize you’re actually pursuing,  It’s a chance to return your focus to where it needs to be, and not let it be complicated by the pesky little distractions of the game.

I’ve been reading a lot about meditation lately, and one thing that I find really interesting is that most people mistakenly think that the real work of meditation is emptying your mind of all thoughts, when really the opposite is true.  Your meditation muscle is flexed when all the random, fleeting, unhelpful thoughts do come…. and you gently and persistently (and over and over and over again) return your thoughts to peace and quiet, or to God, or to your mantra.  It’s something that gets easier over time, but it needs to be practiced, to be sure.

That’s where I am right now.  I’ve fallen off the cliff and I’ve gotten distracted by the proverbial fly buzzing in the yoga practitioner’s ear.  IT’S OKAY.  It’s just time to re-focus.  To get ready to re-start.  To gently accept the negative thoughts, but then let them go.  To breathe deeply, to shake off the insecurities, and trust….. trust that it’s okay to be human,  trust that there’s nothing wrong with having to start over, trust that starting over just means another chance to get it right.

Trust that if you just hang tight, your horse will re-spawn to the top of the cliff, and you’ll be off and riding again.


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Apr 02

Q & A Video: How Do Unschoolers Get Into College?

A new video for you guys, answering a very common question.

For more of what I talked about at the end, read this post.

Also, my nails are really bright. My daughter picked the color :)


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Mar 25

An Open Letter To Phil Robertson Supporters

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To my fellow Christians,

I’ve never been a fan of Duck Dynasty.  Let me just admit my bias right up front and start there. I watched the show once – well before all the controversial headlines – and I would rather walk barefoot through a forest of Legos than be subjected to watching it again.  But people have different tastes, and I understand that.  And when you find a TV show or an artist or a public figure who you can relate to in some way, it’s a powerful thing.  I think as a Christian, there’s something particularly alluring about seeing a fellow believer in such a prominent way in mainstream society.  And I understand that too.

Hey this is a cool!  This guy’s on this popular quirky reality show, and he’s a strong believer! What a nice change of pace!

I think we all want to feel we belong to something larger than ourselves.  We want to feel that we FIT somewhere. So when someone like Phil Robertson comes along, with his beard and his ducks and his “good biblical values”, people desperately latch onto him….. and they hold on so tight that they can’t even see what it is they’re grasping.

Oh how ardently people defend him!!  But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not HIM they’re defending so much as the idea of the Christian ideal that they (mistakenly) think he represents. We should encourage and support and defend the rights of those who are putting themselves in the public eye as a representative of Christ-like behavior.  Absolutely.

The problem is….. his behavior is pretty much the antithesis of Christ-like love.   I’m literally embarrassed that Christians are so steadfastly standing behind this man, hailing him as a role model for Christian values.  I have to ask, because I just cannot understand, even a little bit….

Seriously?  THIS guy?  THIS is who you choose to hold up as an ambassador of our faith? THIS is how you want to represent Christianity?

Honestly, it’s no wonder that so very very many people are turned off by religion.

This is a crass, vulgar, hate-filled man who made graphic comments about what kind of sex gay people must be having, as well as comparing homosexuality to bestiality and stating that AIDS was God’s punishment for immorality.  This is not Christ-like!!  (In case you’re wondering, you can find out what Jesus actually had to say about homosexuality here.)

He blames STDs on “beatniks and hippies.”  Sex apparently is a very big issue for him, as it’s something he rails about often.

And most recently, he recounted a graphic, disturbing hypothetical story (pulled from his own imagination, for reasons I fail to understand) about atheists getting raped and murdered in their home.

Again, I have to ask:  THIS GUY?

Now, I’m one of those rare Christians who doesn’t believe that homosexuality in and of itself is a sin (and honestly, even if I did, I have better things to be concerned about then who someone else is attracted to) but even if we disagree on that, can we agree that vulgar and hate-filled rants aimed at gay people are not the answer?

I have many atheist friends whom I love dearly, and I don’t think it’s my job to convert them.  (I think it’s my job to LOVE them, and to live out my own faith to the best of my ability)  But even if we disagree on that, can we agree that graphic fantasies about raping and murdering entire families of atheists are not the answer?

Can we agree that if we’re really going to represent Jesus, we need to start with LOVING people, instead of damning them all to hell?

Can we agree that if we’re going to hold someone up as a role model for our faith that it should be someone who models kindness, and grace, and actual love towards mankind?

My fellow Christians, I think we need to take a collective step back, and take a good long look at what it is we’re doing, how we’re representing Christianity, and who we’re hailing as our heroes. For me, I’ll look to Jesus for my example.  But if you need a human example, there are people out there to emulate.  There are kind people, loving people, people who use their platforms to spread positivity, not hatred.

I ask you though, in all sincerity, to stop looking for them on Duck Dynasty.  Stop telling yourself (and others!) that Phil Robertson’s words or actions represent the true nature of Christianity, because they do not.  He doesn’t represent the God that I know.  He doesn’t represent the Jesus that I know.  He doesn’t represent any of the loving, giving Christians that I am privileged enough to call friends.

The state of American Christianity has gotten so far off the mark that I don’t even know that it is fixable anymore.  I see the worship and admiration of people like Phil Robertson, and I genuinely fear that we’ve lost our collective heads all together.

Let’s bring humanity – and some common sense! – back into our faith.  Let’s give a little more effort towards “loving your neighbor as yourself”, and a WHOLE LOT LESS credence to sad, confused reality stars who are bent on persecuting others.

Sincerely,

Fed Up and Frustrated


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Mar 16

Mom Guilt, And Why You Need To Lose It

Photo Credit:  Nina H

Photo Credit: Nina H

Last week, another blogger whose opinion I greatly respect and admire, posted an update that read in part:

I will never, ever forgive myself for allowing my precious baby to be circumcised. I don’t believe I should ever be forgiven by anybody for it. The buck stops here.

I genuinely think it was the first time I ever disagreed with her (which is exactly what I said when I commented). She and I both share the same – very real – regret.   It is my biggest parental regret to be sure.  I’m thankful we were given the opportunity to make different decisions for our younger boys.

But I’ve forgiven myself.

I believe very strongly that you have to forgive yourself if you want to be a healthy and vibrant and positive parent….. whether your regret is an unnecessary cosmetic surgery, or inadvertently snapping at your daughter when you were sleep deprived.   You simply cannot be the parent (or the person, for that matter) you were meant to be if you stubbornly refuse to forgive yourself for your offenses.

Forgiving yourself does not mean you’re letting yourself off the hook.  It does not mean that what you did is suddenly okay.  It does not mean that you’re not taking accountability for your actions.

It means:

to give up resentment against.  To stop wanting to punish.  To stop feeling angry or resentful for an offense, flaw or mistake.

In other words, it simply means you release yourself from the negative and destructive feelings – you guys, these feelings are so destructive! – about the event in question.  It means that you show yourself grace… that you recognize you’re a human being who makes mistakes, and that you deserve to conduct your life without carrying around a heavy burden of guilt.  No good ever comes from guilt.

If you let guilt take residence, it eats you from the inside.  When it remains unchecked, you become that guilt.   Everything you do, say, and feel is then filtered through that guilt.  It colors everything.  It darkens everything.  It affects the way you interact with yourself, with the world around you, and with your children.

When my kids make mistakes (and they do make mistakes, because they’re human), I don’t want them to ever live under guilt.  Self-reflection, yes.  Self-responsibility, yes.  But never guilt. So it’s not something I want to model for them.   I don’t want my children seeing mom view life through a lens of guilt.  I want my children seeing mom owning her mistakes, learning from them, and doing better the next time.

I want to tell my kids,

You’re not a product of your mistakes.  You’re a product of your triumphs.

Our mistakes teach us.  They help refine us.  They help shape us.  But they do NOT define us. Living under guilt and failing to forgive ourselves for our mistakes makes our life become about the very mistake that we want to move beyond.  And how can you ever truly grow and heal and move beyond a mistake if you refuse to release it? (Spoiler:  you can’t)

Guilt does not serve you.  Guilt is self-centered and narcissistic.  It wants to steal from you.  And as long as you allow it to stay, it will do exactly that.

If you’re going to offer your children grace, and kindness, and forgiveness (and I’d like to believe that if you’re here reading this that you do in fact want to offer those things to your children), you need to first extend it to yourself.


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