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And now we are six

Birthdays have a way of getting me to dust off the old blog. It’s a way to commemorate that is more reflective, a little more slow than the birthday-party-and-cake routine that is also a part of our tradition.

Claire is now six. We’re waving goodbye to early childhood, and settling in comfortably into the school-age years. Reading, writing and logically figuring things out are stepping up while fingerpainting and playdough are stepping back. (slowly. we do still kinda love playdough and painting.)

And while those things are unmistakable signs of six-ness, I want to celebrate her particular Claire-ness too. The way she wears her emotions on her sleeve, telling the truth about how she is feeling and what is going on for her. The way she likes to tell everyone about what she is learning about and how it relates to what we are doing in that moment. The way she loves to play make-believe for hours at a time. The way she just is, in herself.

Happy Birthday Claire! I am looking forward to seeing what the year ahead brings.

smiling girl

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2015: The Year of Practice

Last year I chose a word to represent what I wanted to explore, learn about and invite into my life in the year ahead instead of making traditional resolutions. The word I chose was harvest, and boy howdy did I learn about harvesting.

bea_hand_shadow

I learned that harvesting is mostly about letting go.

Visualize what is involved in harvesting food – you have to physically separate it from its life source, right? Zucchinnis must be cut from the vine, eggs plucked from beneath the hen that laid them, carrots pulled from the ground, firewood cut from a tree that was once alive and is now dead. There is a whole lot of death and dying involved in harvesting.

And yet: the harvest is necessary. Death is a necessary part of life. If done with respect, it can honour the life that came before and nourish the life that is coming up behind. If we never killed anything, we could never survive ourselves. This year I got very closely aquainted with this idea in many different ways: I started eating meat again after almost 14 years of being mostly vegetarian, our rooster fathered a few chicks before being killed, I cut countless zuchinnis from our monstrous zuchinni plant, I permanently said goodbye to any future childbearing, and at the very end of the year, I buried five of our hens, killed by a maurading dog who broke through the fence.

I also learned that the hard work of harvesting is not necessarily the killing part, it’s the processing that comes afterwards. It’s transporting, splitting and stacking that firewood after the tree has been felled. It’s baking, pureeing and using that pumpkin, or putting it by to use later. It’s working hard to be successful at something after you’ve made the decision to do it.

So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to choose for this year, I was feeling cautious. I sure got what I asked for when I chose harvest. I wanted to be very careful what I asked for this year.

christmas_day_walk_2014

This year’s word is Practice.

It’s a humble word, but powerful when put to use. It’s the cumulative strength that comes from doing something many, many times. It’s a path to mastery, creativity and fluency.

It’s also a personal, spiritual relationship between yourself and something that brings you into a new awareness of yourself. A yoga practice, a meditation practice, a dishwashing practice, an empathy practice.

Practicing leaves room for making mistakes, for exploring and repeating and private struggle. It carves out time for dedicated work, for honing one’s craft and skill. It’s about the act of doing. I’m ready to practice.

family_solstice_fire

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all the posts I haven’t written

performing

I was going to write something like “How to go Paleo in a Vegetarian Household” awhile back. Maybe it would be a listicle, and it would be all SEO and everything. But then I realized that all my list items would be things like, “prepare to have your entire world turned upside down,” and “come to terms with cooking 4 different meals 3 times a day,” and I realized that this just isn’t the kind of thing that listicles are made for. This is the kind of thing that therapists are made for.

I took a few nice pictures of the Christmas tree, and made a video of my 5 year old playing Silent Night on her violin. But I sent it to the grandparents instead, because that’s who really wants to see a video of a 5 year old playing Silent Night while the parent holding the camera tries not to cough too much.

I was going to write something about all the foods I can eat now, and how I had a few glasses of wine over Christmas and didn’t have explosive gut problems or a terrible rash, but then: more food posts? Surely nobody wants to hear about my rashes. This is the Parent vortex, not the Food vortex, although perhaps it might be time for rebranding.

I wrote a little bit about my word of the year for 2014: Harvest. It’s in my paper journal. I may write about it here too. Later.

I want to write about my word for 2015 but I don’t know what that word will be yet.

I’d like to write about our lovely Christmas Day, an oasis of calm and togetherness in a wild sea of preparations and concerts and shopping and coughing and runny noses and cutting out 1000 paper snowflakes and washing dishes and preparing food and writing emails and following through on committments and cleaning up after a dog rampaged through our flock of chickens. On Christmas Day we went out for a walk on a bit of land that was once a piece of private property with lots of trails on it. Everyone was allowed to walk freely there until the land was sold, and now it is slowly being developed. In between sections of road and cleared lots there are still amazing seaside bluffs and handbuilt stone steps. The sun was shining and we were all together. The fragments of the old trail tell a story of years of caretaking and love of that land. There, that was a nice thing to share.

I thought about writing a post about homeschooling during the transition into Love of Learning phase, as my 8 year old dives into the world of her own interests and I am working on guiding her towards daily practice of some academic skills like writing and math. But I’m not feeling anything like an expert here. It was way easier to write advice articles about breastfeeding and getting your baby to nap than it is to write about homeschooling. Heck, it is easier to write advice about parenting babies than it is to write about life in all its messy glory.

This is why there are so many books about parenting babies.

This is why there are so few posts on my blog these days.

Life. In all its messy glory.

 

 

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Tumbling down the rabbit hole

Interest based learning: It’s what we live and breathe around here. It’s a wild ride sometimes, though, because you never know where you will end up.

For instance, earlier this year I became interested in a possible link between our food intolerances and our diet. I started following the breadcrumbs of information as I came to them, then dove into an intensive real-world project (aka: transitioning my diet from a western/fairly processed version of gluten free Vegetarianism to Autoimmune Paleo). I’ve started searching out mentors and communities of people who can teach me even more about the links between our diet and our guts, brains and lived experiences. I’m well and truly down the rabbit hole now, studying the Human Microbiome in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offered by Coursera and the University of Colorado Boulder, and reading stuff like this, and this. I’m starting to try to fit this new knowledge together with other things I’ve learned about psychology, and starting to wonder about how the human microbiome, interpersonal neurobiology, autoimmune disease, psychology and empathy all interplay with each other.

Sometimes I wonder at the fact that I am learning so much despite the fact that I am supposed to be the “teacher” in our little homeschool here.

Interest based learning doesn’t always start out looking so academic. Sometimes an interest gets its start in the most humble beginnings – like Downton Abbey. Call it a gateway show, if you will, because before I got into Downton Abbey I’d tried again and again to read the classics like Pride and Prejudice with no success. They just seemed hopelessly dense and dull. But once I’d watched a few seasons of Downton the characters in the classics were able to get their foot in the door of my imagination. Suddenly I could picture a family living in an estate house, and once I had a framework on which to hang these stories I started flying through them, one after another. Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, Wuthering Heights, and yes, Pride and Prejudice. Once I got into the classics, Downton lost much of its appeal.

This can happen with our kids too. An interest that seems kind of frivolous or trashy is actually a door that is opening your child up to the possibility of deeper study in the future.

So when my kids want to spend every waking moment designing elaborate felt wardrobes to go with their felt dolls, I try to relax and imagine where that little rabbit hole might go. Maybe nowhere, maybe to a future as a designer. But wherever it goes, that time they spend digging deep into their own interest is time that has been invested in developing their ability to recognize what they are interested in, and their ability to find and follow those little breadcrumbs that lead deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

It is when we get really deep down that rabbit hole that we start to be able to fly.

felt doll wardrobe

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Let’s Make This Easier

It’s a well known technique for getting things done: break a large, unmanageable job into smaller parts.

Bea was consistently struggling to care for her hair on her own, despite regular encouragement, advice and support from me. It was time to make the job easier. I cut 5 inches off the bottom and now it is a job she can manage on her own. She is elated with her new hair, brushes it without being asked (!), and everyone is happier.

Claire is never expected to learn an entire song at once on her violin. She learns one chunk at a time – clapping the rhythm, one small phrase of notes – and slowly puts them together. Only after a significant amount of practice does it come together as an entire song.

autumn leaves

I know this. And yet, when it comes to my own struggles, emotional ones especially, I persist in trying to tackle the whole enchilada at once. All I see is a tangle of yarn, and the emotional response to that prevents me from taking a deep breath and slowly, painstakingly unwinding all the different threads. Freaking out only tugs all those knots tighter.

How can I break this huge job into smaller parts? How can we make this easier?

Full Disclosure: This is one of those posts where I am writing to figure something out for myself, not decreeing from on high. I do not do any of this perfectly. Your mileage may vary. You may have another technique. It may even involve wine and chocolate cake. That’s fine. I am not jealous. Ok, I am. But wine and chocolate cake are out of my toolkit for the moment and I’ve got to figure something else out.

Take Time / Have an Adult Time Out

Emotional distress is so easy to sweep under the rug. Unless it’s bubbling over and spitting out like a pot of burning oatmeal, ordinary simmering distress can be somewhat ignored. It’s not that fun to deal with and there are many, many other things on the to-do list. So it gets ignored until the simmering turns into burning and spitting.

Calming down our alarmed amygdalas and identifying triggered implicit memories takes time. Lots of time. Time spent either with a patient, warm and loving Compassionate Self-Witness or an Empathy Buddy. There is no quick fix. Time is part of the process.

autumn light

Identify Feelings

Pare off the excess by focusing your attention on the present moment. With eyes closed, scan your awareness over your entire body. What do you notice? Any areas of particular tightness or pain? Can you name those sensations as accurately as possible? Is it a dark, prickly pain or a hot, dull one? What colour is that sensation? Does it have an emotional quality attached to it? I do this as an activity with my kids sometimes and they draw pictures of their feelings, giving them names and pets and favourite sunglasses and everything. They usually find that by the time they have finished their drawing they are feeling much, much better.

Sometimes naming alone brings a tangled mess of a feeling into focus enough so that we can see what needs to be done next. I’ve even had naming bring a huge sigh of relief and a shift in emotional state from agitation to calmness. Name it to tame it.

tree swing

What Do You Need?

Unmet needs are behind every kind of distress – from a toddler’s tantrum to a protracted international conflict. But the tricky thing about needs is that they are universal, and not bound to any one particular outcome. Here’s an example: I have a need for peace and harmony. My preferred strategy for meeting that need is for everyone else to do what I want (Ha!). But I can also get my need for peace and harmony met by going for a walk by myself in the forest, slowly teaching my children how to resolve conflicts and appreciating the peaceful, harmonious interactions I do have with other people, even a conflict still exists with someone else. Looking for the unmet needs is truly the key that unlocks conflict and transforms it from blame and anger to compassion, although it takes time and honest reflection to come to understand what the real, deep needs are for yourself and others.

slug cuddles

 

Make a Request

I’ve left this one for last because it usually doesn’t work well unless you’ve gone through the rest of the process and spent some time identifying your feelings and needs, and the feelings and needs of the other people involved. But once you know what feelings and needs are alive in a certain situation, you might see a solution that will help get those particular needs met. In this case, you can make a request. Ask for something specific, something that can actually be done. “I want you to be less annoying” does not count. “Can we meet at 10am and make a list of the things that need to be done today?” does.

rope swing

What did I figure out by writing this post? I wrote down every tool I could think of and then realized that I ended up with the basic framework of Non-Violent Communication: Observation (time out), Feelings, Needs, Request. Taken together, it can seem like an overwhelming process, almost as difficult to manage as the original distress. But taken separately, each step is one manageable chunk. And they will work independently, for the most part. There is value in each step, each piece of a jigsaw puzzle clicked into place, each small tangle of yarn undone. Even if the rest of the yarn is a hopeless snarl, we can use these techniques to untwist one small part at a time.

 

 

 

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