Tag: slow parenting

Summertime Off-Gassing

Here in our house, the last day of school was exciting of course. We were all thrilled to be finished up with ridiculously early alarm clocks and lunches and homework and all the other stuff that accompanies a school year. It’s fine for a while, but by the time you reach the end, it is a veritable drag to the finish. Tupperware starts cracking, notebooks begin unraveling, and even our psyches hit the breaking point. I’m never sure whether we reach that point because we know we’re near the end, or whether we’re near the end because we’re reaching that point.

Here in our house the last day of school was absolutely crazy too. Tempers were flaring. Little infractions were seen as major affronts. Siblings were at each other. People were even making declarations of not wanting to go to Grandma’s together! Which if you knew the glory of Grandma’s, you’d understand the magnitude of such a statement. And my behavior was really no better. And I thought to myself, “oh man, there’s something wrong with us.” Seriously.

My friend Carrie, she who is witness to a lot of my parenting,  called it off-gassing, which by definition is the emission of especially noxious gasses. That description gave me great comfort.  And with that in mind I entered back into the fray.

When I shared  the story of our awful last day with a mama-of-3 friend of mine,  she grabbed my shoulder and exalted,  “US TOO! ME TOO! AWFUL! FIGHTING! CRAZY!!” And she too thought, “wow there must be something wrong with my little family as a unit and surely they’ll never rise out of this yucky, sibling fighting-filled state.

The next day things were a little better. Flare ups yes but not like that crazy last day where all seemed completely hopeless.

And I realized that transition from full on school to full on at home is a biggie. And that giant school’s-out-for-summer exhale is not to be taken lightly. And with each extra person in the house, that exhale will be even bigger still because each one bounces off all the others, around and around and around, until it finds a safe place to land.

So I gave myself a break. And I told my friend Kami that I would share this because we both thought others might want to know that this behavior isn’t indicative of something being wrong with your kids or your parenting or your family as a whole, rather just a little school’s-out-off-gassing. Which is normal. And can be remedied by some downtime, a few trips to the library, and soaks in some cool, clear water.

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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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My kids made up a new game last week. Partly inspired by ultimate Frisbee, partly by rugby and partly by the fact that we took a ball to a big giant field that just beckoned some kind of big, giant game.

All week they’ve been playing – in the yard, in the alley, on the beach and then back to that same big, giant field. I’ve played a few times. Everyone can play. It’s a game for all ages and abilities.

All week it’s evolved, with a few rules being added here and there and a few ideas dismissed after consideration by the group or after realizing it just didn’t work. Over time, the size of the goal has changed, where and how the game begins has been established (after one rather Hunger Games beginning ended up in a head crashing) and a few other dictates determining fairness, point tallies and strategy. One rule that I especially love is that each person on the team has to touch the ball before a goal can be made. The little sister in me always appreciates any rules that help. The rules are made by various kids playing and there is no time that isn’t an okay time for adding or changing or eliminating a rule.

I have loved watching this game come to life and we can already see this game will have a long term place in our family’s game repertoire. What I love more than the game itself is watching the game unfold from the depths of my kids’ imaginations. With each idea presented and rule established I can see their brains working out problems and creating solutions.  They are determining excitement, fairness, fun, duration, etc.

It is just this sort of thing that many experts are saying is eliminated from the childhood experience whenever there are too many dictates from adults or structured play or no play at all. It is the kind of game playing I remember from my own childhood – the creation of any game being part of the actual game itself. Like watching little kids play house where more than half the time they are planning and plotting the roles and rules – and that IS the play.

And I realize this is kind of how I view the whole idea of Slow Family too. There are no dictates or structures from others – there are only the rules that you as a family establish. You can beg, borrow or steal rules from other families you see and love, then interpret them on your own. Or you can make them all up completely, brand new family, brand new game.

It is what I mean when I ask families to ask of themselves, “Is this working for us?” Do you like how the game is being played? Does it seem fun? Fair? Exciting? If it does, keep the rules you currently have. If it doesn’t, make up your own rules. Add in new ones or eliminate old ones. It’s your game! And you can change the rules as you go along.

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I was approached by a mom once, someone whose world randomly intersected with mine both professionally and personally. She was a mom of two littles and I at the time had my three. She had recently seen this picture of me and with a slight twinge of accusation and envy, and a huge dose of fatigue, she said, “UGH! How do you do it? You always make it look so easy breezy. You’re like a mother cover girl.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said next but I think it had something to do with me spitting out my coffee. And then laughing for several minutes uncontrollably, with tears in my eyes.

Occasionally yes, it’s breezy. And even easy. And when it is I try to take notice of those moments in time. Those moments when things are going exactly as I imagined they could go. But mostly, where I live, in a house with 6 people, the line between calm and chaos is a thin one indeed. But what she perceived in that snapshot wasn’t even close to what was.

Which is often true from the outside looking in. Like in this photo. That isn’t even close to a look at the big picture.

Because in one hand, the hand that you can’t see, the one that’s cut out of the photo completely? I’m holding the hand of a rather frantic toddler who is standing precariously on top of a bucket and who is about an hour or so past her naptime and who resisted the idea of lunch just before that and who has hit the proverbial wall of toddler meltdown brought on by the dreaded combination of hunger and fatigue. In the other hand? The one she thought was some sort of handmade bag of fabulous vintage material? Well, that’s actually said toddler’s pants. Full of pee. Which at the moment right before this photo was taken was dripping down my arm. Into the sleeve of my fab dress. 

So the look that to the onlooker seemed to be the very picture of easy-breezy was actually an expression of surrender-to-it-all, if-I’m-not-laughing-I’m-crying, this-is-my-life-and-this-is-what-it’s-like, holy-sh*t.

Since this exchange we’ve added another member to our family and a little more chaos, and in all that time I’ve been aware of the danger of looking in on someone else’s life and thinking I know their whole story.  I know that what I see is a snapshot. A blink. And that I have no idea what’s on their plate at any given moment in time. If I find myself judging – the real of the the virtual, the good or the bad – I know my judgment isn’t really about them at all. But about me. About how I”m feeling in that moment of time. And about what I need. To make me feel whole and happy.

 

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Want to win a copy of my new book? Get on over to Live Mom and read the interview she did with me and enter to win one of 2 free copies. I loved her questions! And I am loving the fact that she’s got two copies to share!

 

 

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Let the Book Tour begin!

Check out  this beautiful review from Suz Lipman author of Fed Up With Frenzy and creator of Slow Family Online

You will get a lot of ideas from Slow Family Living, both big-picture and everyday, that will make you pause and reflect, and will help you lead a more connected and joyful family life…read more

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Launch Day!

With just a few hours until launch, the reviews are already starting to trickle in…

Oh Bern. This is beautiful. Really fantastic. I think everyone will find something in here that will be useful.” Liz Noll, mother of the author, Fort Myers, FL

“This book is fantastic! How did you get so wise? Where did you come up with all these ideas for building family connection?” Lois Bastian (friend of Liz Noll)

And as I get ready to launch this baby out into the world, it is my extreme hope and belief that this book holds  ideas and inspiration for all families to find ways to slow down, connect and create more joy in family life – both now while your children are home, and down the road when your children are grown.

And if you send me an email before midnight tonight with the subject “I PRE-ORDERED!” you can be entered to win one of five year long subscriptions to Brain,Child Magazine. One of my favorite magazines of all time.

And stay tuned for exciting blog posts and reviews from a whole list of amazing blogs and websites!

 

 

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Fostering Sibling Connection

My girls are 5 years apart. Sisters. At the younger’s birth the older stepped in like a mini-mama. So happy was she to have a baby to hold. So happy was I to have an extra set of hands to coddle and soothe and entertain this third child of mine. Lucky us all around.

For years the connection thrived and grew. Delightful sisters playing all sorts of games of dress up and house and climbing trees and orphanage. With a brother in between and another that would join us later it was a sister sandwich full of love and light and lots and lots of laughs.

As the older moved out of imagination-land her needs in a sibling changed and the relationship grew a tad persnickety at times. Still mostly friendly but sometimes suffering from that “you’re an embarrassing little sister” thing that can sometimes happen. I saw it. I remembered how it felt and I didn’t really feel I had much power to sway it.

Then came the camera. Big sister saved up her baby sitting money for a super sweet camera and started taking photography lessons from Leon Alesi, an artist/photographer friend of ours. He specialized in portraits and shared that love with her, hence, her assignments were portrait based – perfectly satisfying to my oldest who had a house full of subjects to choose from.

She tried us all on for size. 4th child was too opinionated. Mama was too busy and couldn’t keep her mouth shut long enough for a good pose. Papa was pretty good but wouldn’t sit for long. 2nd child was good too but tired quickly of the sessions. Little sister was just right.

Turns out little sister loved to pose and please big sister for endless. And dress up in outlandish costumes both of her own design and of her big sister’s choosing. Wild hats, boots, dresses. And to pose she’d go wherever she was told to go and strike a pose of her own or of big sister’s dictation. In fact, little sister took dictation amazingly well on these shoots – which I never would have predicted! On these projects they’d work together for hours on end, biking  and walking to all sorts of neighborhood locations with camera, wardrobe bag and props in tow.

And the photos are amazing.

Both in their artistic capture and also in that they show a bond I didn’t know could be captured on film. There is a gaze in the subject’s eye that is nothing short of adoration. There is a love between subject and artist that is palpable. There is an ability to connect through the lens all the way to the soul and it is lovely to see.

I talked to Leon about this beautiful gift coming from these lessons and assignments; a lifelong gift of sisterly love and connection, a documentation of every step of the way and a collection of sublime portraits of this sweet girl of ours. He smiled sort of knowingly. As if he understood what can happen when an artist falls in love with his subject. And as he smiled and I thought of all the breathtaking portraits I had seen of his, I suddenly realized it was about more than just setting or subject. It was about love and connection. Love of the craft and of the vision held in the mind’s eye and connection to the subject. In his bio he states “a shared discovery is what I want for the viewer.”

I’m loving this discovery of mine, as onlooker, that sometimes siblings need to step away together in order to find their shared gifts. And I’m going to encourage this kind of stepping away as siblings more often. Without me there to meddle in their sibling affairs or as someone for whom they battle for my attention..

And in the meantime, I’ll just thank my lucky starts for siblings; my own and the ones I’ve birthed.

 

**This post was written a while ago and I was prompted to find it by a cousin who was asking about sibling dynamics. I was happy to rediscover this idea, that siblings need space to grow into their own relationship.** 

 

 

 

 

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