Tag: slow family living

Resistance is futile.

Our refrigerator door has a feature in which a tight seal is activated each time you close the door. Once you shut it, it takes a few seconds, maybe 3 or 4, for the seal to loosen enough to open the door again. So if you  try immediately, it is difficult to pull. There is resistance.

It used to bug me this feature. I occasionally even exclaimed out loud a rather inappropriate epithet, followed by a frustrated sigh. To a refrigerator door. For a delay of possibly 2 seconds of time.

Then one day when all was calm and the seal had activated as I was putting away groceries, I just stood there, hand on the handle, and took a big deep belly breath. In, down, out. In the time it took to take that breath, the seal released its vulcan grip, and I easily, effortlessly opened the door. AND had the benefits that a deep breath can bring.

Simple as that. What was frustration, was now benefit. What was blood-pressure-raising, was now calming. And at the risk of sounding all spiritually haughty, what was resistance, was now empowerment.

All day I looked for more chances to turn frustration around. And I didn’t have to look too far. Each time I came across the little things that aggravate like red lights and toothpaste on the counter and socks on the living room floor, I froze. And took a breath. The things that are so momentary and so minuscule really, but became monumental in the way I let them impact me. And all day I used those frustrations as a reminder to take a deep breath.

Now it’s my sometimes mantra. FREEZE! Take a breath. Feel better.

Because really, though I long to remember these mantras of mine ALL the time, I am human and it is only sometimes I am wise.

I am grateful when I do remember, and even a tiny bit grateful for these little frustrations now that I know I can use them to my advantage.

Because believe me, living in a house with 4 other humans,  those little frustrations aren’t going anywhere and I am breathing deeply all day long. When I am not shouting inappropriate epithets that is.

 

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Midway through our last full week of school I came upon some photos from the beginning of the school year. Seriously? That much physical change has occurred in all four of my (not so) little people? Faces went from kid to teen. Bodies stretched out a few inches. Hair grew. Shapes shifted. And that’s just  their external selves. On every level, physical, mental, and emotional, the expansion, if laid out in graph form would be off the charts. From not knowing to knowing. From strangers to friends. From uncertain to certain and vice-versa too. As if I, their mother, connected to but outside of their being-ness, could even begin to fathom the changes brought on by these past 9 months. Like a gestation of a whole new being.

We are ready for summer on many levels, and for the break from the routine. We look forward to turning off our alarm clocks or at least setting them to a more humane time. We are ready for a pause from the onslaught of information and from the hustle and bustle that is the scene of the school year – socially, academically, mentally, physically.

In these last couple of weeks of school, I’m going to make an attempt to mark the here and now as a keepsake. Because even though I think I’ll always remember us as we are in this very moment, apparently, based on the shock I felt looking back to September, that’s not true.  Who we are keeps changing, morphing, growing, expanding and it’s hard to see where we were in the face of the present day.

I’m going to create a ritual that will capture this particular moment, knowing that we will never be right here right now ever again. And knowing too that it’s fun to reflect and collect our year’s souvenirs for posterity’s sake. My goal these next few weeks, whether one-on-one, or as a group, is to inquire with my children about their year. Because here’s what I want to know…

  • What were your highlights of this school year?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know going in?
  • What was hard?
  • What was easy?
  • What are you appreciating about your own sweet life?
  • What do you love?
  • What were the highs?
  • And what were the lows? Knowing too, in retrospect, that even the lows have brought their own rewards.

Then I’ll tuck it away. And we’ll have ourselves a summer. Full of expansion in its own right and of a totally different variety. And maybe I’ll be reminded with a passing glimpse, to do this periodically, to look back on the recent past with the lens that only hindsight can provide. And years from now, when all are gone, we’ll have a snapshot of all of these successive particular moments in time.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in parenthood, in personhood, is that no year, ever, is at all like the last. We just continuously expand into our own truest selves. And while I can’t stop time, I can capture a little piece of it as a small souvenir.

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Aren’t my Children Marvelous?!

The other day I was walking with a friend. We were going on and on about all the marvelous things happening around us and all the marvelous places we had been that week and all the marvelous people we had met.  And it dawned on me, that that feeling I was having of being so completely blown away by the pure beauty of all these things, was exactly the parenting tool I needed to put in my toolbox.

I needed to marvel at my children.

Not in the bragging way that the title of this blog post suggests. Not in the oh wow they’ve won an honors award or  created a prosthetic hand for science fair or even passed all their classes. But in the way of just simply marveling. In the true sense of the word based on the  definition I found…

marvel. verb. 
1. to wonder at (usually followed by a clause as object): I marvel that you were able to succeed against such odds.
2. to wonder or be curious about (usually followed by a clause as object): A child marvels that the stars can be.
Everyday I wonder about these amazing beings of mine. All four them. So unique and yet so much the same.  Their own selves since the moment they were born and yet so much a part of me and each other.
Everyday I am curious about their existence. Wow. I made you in my body and now, here you are, learning to read, drive, do a handstand, write a paper, swim for miles, photoshop, even text, and ollie the 8 stair at the skatepark after a thousand attempts that I could not bear to watch.
Even the traits of theirs that make me blow a fuse,  like when they argue their point incessantly, or choose to stay up until 3 am because they were watching a movie they love or talking into the wee hours with friends, even those things are to be marveled at, when I can step away for a moment, and stop raging and really ponder what it is they’re doing. They’re defending their position, fighting for their desire, fulfilling a passion and creating deep, passionate connection.  And though the immediate result might be a fight, or a tired, cranky day, and though I might want to flip off said child in the moment, like Kelly Corrigan so astutely noted in her memoir,  in the big picture it’s all marvelous. Truly. A trait, a person, an act to marvel.
So today, and everyday, and maybe especially when I’m pissed, I’m going to try to remember to marvel at my children.
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A Pre-9/11 Love Story

About 22 years ago or so, I sent a postcard to my now-husband, then boy-I-had-met-on-a-trip-to-Chicago. He didn’t have a phone in his artist’s studio/warehouse where he was living but wasn’t supposed to be inhabiting. So I sent him a postcard telling him the flight I was taking from Newark, NJ to Austin, TX had a 3+ hour layover and I thought maybe, since he was not only a starving artist but also a cab driver, just maybe he could pop in and say hello. I mailed it without knowing whether he got it or not.

As we taxiied up to the gate I had kind of forgotten, well not really forgotten but kind put out of my mind, that he might actually show up. I got off the plane and there he was, his beautiful face, standing at the end of the chute with a big smile and this sweet leather beret he would wear when he drove the cab. We spent the next 3 hours talking, making out, having a drink, talking and dreaming about a future together.

I always think of that 3 hour layover as the tipping point in our relationship. The day we actually decided that we really liked each other. A lot. And the day we pondered how we coule make it work so that we could be together. A few months later, he came down to Texas and now, 4 children later, here we are.

So why am I telling you all this? Because it’s 9/11 and I think of all the changes that have happened to our existence since then and one of them is how we go to the airport. See, if it had been after 9/11 we wouldn’t have had the opportunity for that chance encounter. He couldn’t have come to the gate. We couldn’t have rendezvoused for a few hours planning out the next 20 years of our life together. And I probably wouldn’t have reached out because meeting up outside the gate would have felt like a lot of work and planning without phones. (oh yeah, no cell phones then either.) And it might have felt like an imposssibility. Plus, that feeling, of seeing him at the end of the gateway? Come on! That was like seeing heaven!

There was a certain fearlessness that accompanied the time before 9/11. I wish we could have that feeling back. And maybe we can. That feeling of trust. A friend posted this today on her Facebook wall…

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

Let’s get that back. That feeling. Of trust in humankind.

Oh, and could we maybe spend the billions of dollars we now spend on warfare on something else?

 

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School started this past week here in Austin. It always feels so abrupt, that transition from summer to school. For three months there are basically no bedtimes, lots of cousins, time with Grandma, swimming, canoeing, lazy afternoons reading and napping and lounging about, and morning after morning spent sleeping in.

Then BAM! School starts back with lunches and homework and early mornings and strict bedtimes and lots of things that just have to be done, right away or at least on a pretty tight schedule. Not that it’s bad, just that it’s different. and by different I mean kind of bad in that it hits us with  a real wallop. ESPECIALLY if we are not prepared.

Which this year, I gotta say, even with 4 kids getting out the door to 3 different schools, we all felt pretty prepared. We had figured out bus schedules and school supplies and lunch boxes and wake up times. We had found scissors and binders and mechanical pencils from last year.  And had even thrown the backpacks in the washer for a fresh clean start to this brand new academic season.

And the other thing I did? I took myown advice from my very own book and I set my alarm for 10 minute earlier than I had set it last year.  I also vowed to myself that I would not hit the snooze. And that I would wake the kids up a few minutes earlier too. Because really, though it SEEMS like the snooze will give me what I want, and though I am not naturally a  morning person, not by any stretch of the imagination, unless I can snooze for another hour, it doesn’t do anything but prolong the agony.

But this ten minutes of extra awake time? It gives me the world. It gives me time to put my coffee on and get dressed and even take a few sips of that coffee paired with a nice deep breath. It gives us all space  - around getting that signature we forgot  last night or finding that shoe that’s got to be around here somewhere or changing the stained shirt or just sitting for a minute while someone picks at the typewriter, without me freaking out that WE NEED TO KEEP IT MOVING OR WE”RE GONNA BE LATE!!!

It’s rather amazing really, the chilled-out-ness that the extra 10 minutes is giving us all. Not to exaggerate or over-emphasize,  but truly? With this extra 10 minutes in the morning, we’re  happier, easier, and surely healthier too, because that feeling of panic that comes from  rushing, whether we feel it in our heads or our bellies or  in our throats as we’re yelling to get a move on, that feeling cannot be good for us.

I know we’re only in week one of school, and I have been known to wane on resolutions in the past, but I think this one’s a keeper. And  I am going on record here as saying that that extra ten minutes is a total game changer at our house. Not that we’re all walking out the door singing Kumbaya or anything, but we might. We just might.

My children love it when I sing.

 

 

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Here’s one thing I have realized lately…

When I’m scheduling a time to meet up with someone, rather than giving a definitive time, I give a small 15 minute window. So rather than saying, “I’ll meet you for coffee at 9:30.” I say, “I’ll meet you for coffee between 9:30-9:45.” And what it grants me is a feeling of calmness that never existed for meetings set at an exact time.

Because when I’m driving across town for a 9:30 meeting and I allow the standard 20 minutes to get there but then there is a bit of traffic or an accident or I need to stop and pop a piece of mail in a drop-box, the 15 minute window gives me a feeling of peace that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s more human. And more realistic. And allows me to feel the feeling of slowness the entire time I’m transporting myself.

And the same goes at home. If I say, “We’re leaving at 12:00 sharp!” It can cause a bit of panic as the moment of the sharp draws near. Ack! I’m not ready! I have to use the bathroom cries one or I can’t find my shoes cries another or where are my keys cries me! Until everyone is spinning in tension.

But if I say, “We’ll depart between 12:00 and 12:15.” It’s all cool. And the things get done without panic. And most often we’re in the car and ready to leave at the early part of the equation rather than the later and we’re coming in calmly.

Truly, it’s a little bit of magic. And I urge you to give it a try. It just takes the edge off.

And if you get where you’re going first, or if you find yourself waiting for the others to be ready, just take a few minutes to breathe.

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Slow Family on the Radio!

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For parents and people everywhere, a few words from Lao Tzu. Thanks to my friend Liz for sending this along the other day. It has stuck with me and helped me along this week. It’s funny sometimes what things change your perspective.

Print it out for yourself if you can, and the next time you’re struggling with a decision or looking at others to determine your move or worrying that what you’re doing for your children or offering your family or creating for yourself isn’t going to be right or be enough, read these words to yourself. Aloud if you can. Or put them on a loop for those days when you need a reminder that you’ve got this. You’ve totally got this.

Always We Hope — Lao Tzu

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time,
it will turn out.

This is it.

No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.

There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.

Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.

Abide at the center of your being.

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Carrie Contey, PhD is the co-founder of Slow Family Living, not to mention a super dear friend of mine. She has wise things to say about babies and children and parents too and I feel lucky to get to have her visit our “lab” of 4 children and 2 parents. It helps immensely!

Recently we were kind of struggling to understand the resident 6 year old as he made his way through the world with some big, giant emotions. Woosh! It was sometimes hard to take.

And then, something busted through. He is learning to read. And the other day? He started dancing like a madman. Truly could. Not. Stop. Himself. Tap shoes were flying and everywhere he went he was like an animated cartoon moving fast and furiously.

Today Carrie writes these wise words…

You know when your child is acting in ways that are hard to handle?

I’m talking about the times when that little growing person is doing the things that push your buttons and make you want to SCREAM (and sometimes you do)? 

Well, it very often means SOMETHING’S COMING. Read more….

Our little guy is literally TAPPING his way into a bigger, brand new human experience. And I’m going to try to remember that.

Thank you Carrie Contey! You are a dream.

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The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is a favorite organization of mine. They do a lot of really good work lobbying for rules and regulations about how and where children are marketed towards. They work really hard to keep our schools and school buses commercial free and they generally work hard to inform parents and children everywhere to be aware of the marketing machine that is working really hard to target children. Their work has definitely informed my own parenting and made me ultra aware of the power of the consumption machine.

Nowadays kids are marketed to at every turn. While eating breakfast and watching TV and walking through school and answering the phone. A lot of it is disguised as “information” or “entertainment” which is something I really want my own kids to be aware of. An informed and aware kid is not nearly as susceptible to the marketing tools as an unaware kid.

And I kid you not that more than once I have dissected the language in various catalogs to let them see that what they were trying to sell was a feeling. What they were actually selling were products. In one particular catalog that sells very popular and expensive dolls, one turn through all the pages and my girls were able to see that the languaging promised them, in no particular order: friends, love, happiness, security, popularity and adventure. It didn’t take much to decipher either.

And of course, the abundance of screens that are in our lives these days, in the form of TV, computers, tablets, e*readers and telephones, can be overwhelming bastions of advertising. Not to mention, creativity killers that take away our boredom, the very boredom from which many good ideas can come from.

With that in mind, The Campaign for  A Commercial Free Childhood is hosting Screen Free Week. Yes, you read it right. A whole week of Screen-free time for the whole family. Well, not counting work hours of course. But you know, that time the rest of the day that is spent spinning virtual wheels mindlessly searching, watching, wiling away the hours until bedtime.

What they’re suggesting is that we, as families, fill that time instead with, well, family time. In whatever way shape or form you can. Truth be told, in our house, the screen plays a fairly regular role. When the kids were little I controlled it more but now, with homework seguing easily into Youtube time or FB or whatever, (for me as well as them!) we are on the screens a lot. Especially if you count our collective hours – for 6 people.

Right now we have 2 school nights a week that are already screen-free and for next week we’re going to try to add a few more. It’ll take a little bit of intention on my part. And a decision to be a little more engaged in the evening that I sometimes am. Because I admit, when there is so much to do, it’s sometimes easy to have everyone plugged in and out of my hair.  So I’m going to ask that we shoot for 80% participation as a family. I’d say 100% but I feel like setting the bar a little lower will give us a little necessary wiggle room. Which this family really likes and requires.

So I’m going to buy a brand new box of big fat sidewalk chalk and then here, in no particular order, are 10  things we’re going to replace our evening screen time with next week…

  1. family games (Michigan Rummy is waiting)
  2. walk to the library
  3. craft projects (including using said chalk to make inspiring signs on plywood for all the drivers that pass on our busyy street)
  4. yard time
  5. basketball in the alley
  6. alley art project
  7. making cards
  8. writing letters
  9. getting ready for Maker Faire
  10. walks to the middle school track for family relay races
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