Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

It’s a digital age, and the debate for and against the use of electronics rages back and forth. We’re told that it isn’t safe for our children to spend so much time online, or behind electronic devices of every kind.

They need to play!

That’s the war cry from every camp.

Proponents of unlimited electronic access claim that this IS playing in the new millennium, while the opposition insists it is harmful for both the brain and the body – not what playing is supposed to be at all.

My approach to life is to take all the views and consider them, then do what I was going to do anyway. Sometimes what I’ve learned along the way influences what I end up doing … This means that, at times, I have seriously held to each of these views.

But now, like a real grown up, I have my own views. So here they are:

5 reasons why I don't limit my children's exposure to electronics

5 Reasons Why I Don’t Limit My Children’s Exposure to Electronics

  1. I don’t want to.
    I keep searching my gut for some kind of feeling that says, “No, this is wrong. They’ve fried their little growing minds with too many electronic inputs. Make them stop!” But it never happens. I can’t find it. And, seriously, my “STOP IT!” gut reflex is VERY strong. If I’m not hearing it, it ain’t there.

  2. Even if they spent all day plugged into some device or other, they’d be spending less time attached to electronics than either of their parents do.
    We do this for a living, and we love it. I don’t think it’s wrong or hypocritical for parents to say, “Do as I SAY, not as I do” … I do think that there are times when that response is precisely reasonable and valid. So it’s not that I think I’d be a hypocrite if I gave them less access to electronics than I have.

    It’s just one of the ways our family enjoys time alone together … like reading, watching a movie, going to an art gallery, or taking long walks. We don’t have to be doing the same thing at the same time, or even talking, to be having quality time. This is one of the benefits of being an introvert – or a family of introverts!
  3. I’m interested in them doing what interests them.
    And the things they do on these devices interest them a lot. People learn best when they get to follow their interests. My kids have improved their reading and research skills. They have a bigger vocabulary and a wider range of interests generally now.

    They have their own tastes – music, hobbies, people, clothes – than they ever could have gleaned from me alone. They have had safe exposure to all kinds of people – people I could never have found and introduced them to. They have career interests that didn’t even exist five years ago. And they have the confidence that comes from knowing they could learn ANYTHING. Between sites like Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and YouTube, there’s nothing you could want to know and not be able to learn. And they’re teaching themselves stuff all the time.

  4. I wouldn’t ban them from going to school as a punishment, so I won’t stop them from spending time on electronics. It’s how they learn. And it’s what they love. Besides, they don’t really do things that need punishing. #JustSaying.

  5. These are life skills they’re learning.
    No matter what they do for a living, it will involve something electronic, somewhere along the way. In Goldilocks’ case, she’s already using the web to earn a fair amount of pocket money, and she has big plans for a future career based entirely online. The sooner she acquires and masters those skills the better, in my opinion.

    I feel that I am empowering my children with the skills to keep up with the future. And if they can learn to do things like programming and design along the way, so much the better. So many doors open up when you have these skills. And no one online cares how old you are. If a thirteen-year-old could give you a great, mobile-responsive website, and you didn’t know the developer as just a teenager, you’d be delighted with the result. And that teenager would be empowered by having learned and used real world skills.

Here are some things my kids do a LOT of, that don’t involve electronics:

  • Climb trees
  • Climb jungle gyms
  • Swim
  • Ride bikes (depending on where we live at the time)
  • Make tree houses
  • Make wendy houses
  • Make fairy houses
  • Make doll houses
  • Make doll clothes
  • Weave complex narratives for their newly outfitted dolls
  • Write novels
  • Create puppet shows and plays
  • Jump on trampolines
  • Play in the ocean
  • Go for long walks
  • Play in the river
  • Play in the garden
  • Organise their rooms
  • Mess up their rooms
  • Play dress up
  • Try on makeup
  • Read stories to each other
  • Haggle at the market (and achieve samoosas or macaroons!)
  • Do their chores
  • Help with the cooking and laundry
  • Babysit
  • Study for school
  • Draw
  • Colour in
  • Paint
  • Sew
  • Make things out of clay
  • Create complex science projects
  • Run
  • Dance
  • Sing
  • Play the piano
  • Play guitar
  • Look stuff up in real books – with pages and everything!

And a whole lot more. They choose to do these things – sometimes more often than they choose to use electronics.

We need to guide them to make smart choices – choices that support their goals and their health. But we don’t achieve this by taking away their choices. They understand the consequences of their choices, and by and large they DO make good choices. Their choices are never rooted in rebellion or deceit. They are honest with us, and if we have been firm, they accept that with respect and good grace.

But that wouldn’t have happened if we had kept them away from the things they love to do simply because it seemed like they’d spent too much time on those things. The things they love to do are precisely where I want them to spend their time. These are the things that lead us to the truly joyous discoveries we make in life.

Thoughts on Being Wrong

What does it mean to be wrong?

Essentially, at its heart, when you’re wrong about something, it means that what you know about that things doesn’t line up with the actual facts about the thing.

So when you learn the truth, you realise you were wrong, and you make the appropriate changes.

In other words, wrongness can be seen as nothing more or less than ignorance. Which is hardly “wrong” at all, is it? … If that really were wrong – a baby could be said to be wrong inasmuch as he is ignorant of the basics of how to walk, talk, or feed himself.

I hope you can see how lunatic that proposition is. The truth is that the baby is not wrong. Really, he can hardly even be said to be ignorant.

What he is, is unlearned.

The same is true of us. The mistakes we make are the result of lack of experience. And – in an amazing twist of balance – those same mistakes are often also the very experience we need to make us wise. And that wisdom shows us the best way – the “right” way.

And then we cease being wrong, naive, uneducated. We become right. Until we learn the next thing.

Everything is learning.

right and wrong

Thoughts on Compassion

My mom taught me compassion. She lived it in a very real way – sometimes TOO real. She couldn’t hear the sad story of someone’s misfortune without crying, and she would often do whatever it took, at almost any cost, to help them. There were days when we only had enough food in the house for that night’s supper, and she’d give it to someone else. Or when she’d give our last jersey away just before winter set in. No matter that we were now left with none – she was always convinced that their need was greater, that we had abundantly more than we needed, that the balance would be supplied.

And to her credit, she was usually right. We didn’t ever starve. I don’t know how she did it, but we always ate. We didn’t ever freeze. We did get cold, and for a very long time I hated winter bitterly with all it’s cold and no way on earth to get warm.

But here I am, three decades later, still alive, far from emaciated, and more than warm enough. We always had enough and, specifically, we always had enough to share – even when it seemed like we didn’t.

Hurting people hurt people

“Hurting people hurt people,” my mom taught us. People don’t behave poorly when they are loved and cared for. So the child who beat us up and pushed us down the highest school embankment? His parents were getting divorced and his wheat allergy was impairing his judgment. The girl who said I was a nerd and stole my stationery? No one had ever encouraged her to grow her mind or be anything but a pretty little doll, and she felt inferior.

We learned early on to see that the people who most need love usually show their need in the least loving ways possible. And while natural introversion may have kept us from embracing every lost soul we ever met, we certainly always looked on them with compassion, and without judgment.

I knew we weren’t like other families. I knew most of the kids in my class had jerseys – plural – plenty of them. And that they didn’t give them away, even when they’d outgrown them, unless it was to a younger member of the family. Or the maid. Fair enough. Each to his own, and all that. Perhaps they had fewer opportunities. People seemed to find my mom, as if she had some kind of homing beacon attached to her. Whether we were at school, at home, or at the grocery store, they found her. And no matter their age, gender, religion, or race, she helped them.

No, other people were not like us.

What I didn’t know then, though, was that other people don’t seem to teach compassion at all.

It starts with the little things. They tease members of the family who are in pain – whether it’s the toddler tripping over his own first steps, or the brand new teen nursing her first heartbreak. Whether it’s the earth-shattering drama of a tween playground fight, or a desperate yearning for a toy or tool that seems ludicrous to the other members of the family.

They’re not taught to realise that the pain that person feels is all-consuming, even if it seems insignificant to bystanders. A person who has never had any pain so great as a paper cut will feel that paper cut as the most devastating amputation. It doesn’t matter that it’s “just a paper cut” – to the sufferer it is, quite literally, the worst thing that has ever happened to him. But in some families, that person is mocked for their pain, and left to nurse it in their own personal hell.

So when they’re out there, in the big wide everywhere, they have no frame of reference for understanding the behaviour of that irritating, annoying child who doesn’t behave like the others. That person who tries to get people’s attention with silly jokes and random acts of petty vandalism. They don’t have the capacity to see that this behaviour belies a deep inner pain, and that all he or she wants is to be seen – heard – loved – no matter the baggage they bring with them.

Isn’t that what we all want?

But no one has told anyone this truth, and perhaps it’s because they just don’t know. So the annoying person is shunned, ostracised, ridiculed, ignored. They’re left feeling alone and misunderstood. They become reclusive, or their experiences lead them to act out in worse ways.

I didn’t grasp until recently that some kids are just never taught compassion. They’re never taught to try to understand WHY people behave in ways we might not like, and how we can help.

I am so grateful that my mom taught me that lesson. And I am so grateful that my daughters have learned it, too. I wonder how we can share it with everyone else.

Related: 15 ways hurting people hurt people – Recognise any of these? Maybe the person hurting you is deeply hurt themselves.

Just for today

This is my new secret weapon for productivity and effectiveness: Just for Today.

Just for today I will not eat any starch. It’s not long – one day. I can always have some tomorrow … if I want to.

Just for today, I will have only three cups of coffee. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I think I can go without those extra cups if it’s just for today.

Just for today I will remember to sit up straight, and not cross my legs (except at the ankles). It’s just one day. I can do this.

Just for today, I won’t say a single nasty thing about anyone else. Not forever. Not even all week. But today I will be nice. I will be kind. I will be generous and compassionate.

What could we achieve if we just had to do it for today?

what would yoube able to doif you only had to do it

I am reading a collection of articles and short stories written by the incredible author Richard Bach, who wrote the bestselling Jonathon Livingston Seagull – one of my all time favourites.

Last night I read an article titled Prayers. It resonated with me to such an extent that I typed it out to share here, with you. (Note: I don’t have permission to reproduce this article. The book was first published in 1975 and I’m not sharing it for any personal gain – except metaphysical resonance, I guess. So I hope it’s fine that I share it here.)

Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for


by Richard Bach

“You’d better be careful what you pray for,” somebody once said, “because you’re going to get it.”

I thought of that, twisting a Fokker D-7 hard through my little part of the Great Mass Dogfight scene in Von Richtofen and Brown. The scene had looked neat and safe when we chalked it out on the briefing-room blackboard, but now, in the air, it was scary – fourteen replica fighters crushed into one small cube of sky, each one chasing the other, a few losing position and diving blindly through the rest, rainbow paints flashing coloured sunlight, the loud quick blast of a Pfalz engine as the plane flashed beneath without seeing, smoke trails and the thick smell of fireworks in the wind.

Everyone survived that morning, but I was still shaking a bit when I thought about being careful what we pray for. Because the very first magazine article I wrote, twelve years ago, was one in which I prayed that those of us who learned to fly in closed-cockpit airplanes might have a place to rent an open-cockpit one, for the fun of it, ” … and fly a Fokker D-7 airframe with one hundred fifty modern horses in the nose,” I had written. And here I was this moment in helmet and goggles and scarf, pilot of a yellow-blue-white-green airplane, Fok. DVII lettered authentically on the fuselage. I came home from the film with forty hours in Fokkers and Pfalze and SE-5s, my prayers answered so completely that I had all that kind of flying cared to do for quite some time.

A few years after I had prayed for the Fokker, I had gone for a ride in Chris Cagle’s J-3 Cub, at the Merced Fly-in. Cagle had a thousand hours in that Cub alone, I guess, and as we flew across the afternoon he showed me how to fly at zero miles per hour and how to loop and roll the thing. I remember looking out the open door at the puffed yeast-doughnut tire, and past it to the ground way down below, thinking what a great little airplane, and some day, by God, I’ll own me a Cub! Today I own it, and it has big puffy yeast-doughnut tires and the doors open in flight and I look down and remember, Sure enough, it happened again: I got what I prayed for.

Time after time I’ve watched it happen, in my life and the lives of people I know. I’ve tried to find somebody who didn’t get what he prayed for, but to date I haven’t found him. I believe it: whatever we wrap away in thought is opened for us, one day, in experience.

There was a girl I met in New York, who lived in a tight-packed Brooklyn tenement, acred about by old concrete and cracking brick, by frustration and fear and quick wild violence in the street. I wondered aloud why she didn’t get out, move to Ohio or Wyoming country, where she could breathe free and touch the grass once in her life.

“I couldn’t do that,” she said, “I don’t know what it’s like out there.” And then she said a very honest and knowing thing, “I guess I’m more afraid of what I don’t know than I hate what I have right now …”

Better to have riots in the streets, better squalor and subways and sardine crowds, she prayed, than the unknown. As she prayed, she received; she meets nothing now that she hasn’t met before.

All at once I saw the obvious. The world is as it is because that is the way we wish it to be. Only as our wish changes does the world change. Whatever we pray for, we get.

Look about, sure enough. Every day the footsteps of answered prayer are ours to walk, we have only to lean forward and walk them, one by one. The steps to my Fokker were many. I helped a man with his magazine, years ago, and so came to know him. His prayers were in old airplanes and business deals and motion pictures, and he took his chance to buy, in a business deal with a film studio, the fleet of World War I fighters. When he mentioned this, I said I’d be ready if he ever needed a pilot to fly one; that is, I took one step that offered itself to be taken. A year later he needed two American pilots to join the group, in Ireland, flying the Fokkers. When he called, I was ready to finish the path I had begun with the first article, that first prayer about the D-7.

From time to time, when I was barnstorming the Midwest a few summers ago, a passenger or two would say, “What a great life you have, free to go wherever you want, whenever … Sure wish I could do it.” Wistful, like that.

“Come along then,” I’d say. “You can sell tickets, keep the crowds behind the wing, strap the passengers to the front seat. We might make enough money to live on, we might go broke, but you’re invited.” I could say this, first because I could always use a ticket seller, and second because I knew what the answer would be.

Silence first, then, “Thanks, but you see, I’ve got my job. If it wasn’t for my job, I’d go … ” Which was only to say that each wistful one wasn’t wistful at all, each had prayed harder for his job than for the life of a barnstormer, as the New York girl had prayed more for her tenement than for the grass of Wyoming or for any other unknown.

I consider this from time to time, flying. We always get what we pray for, like it or not, no excuses accepted. Every day our prayers turn into fact; whom we most want to be, we are. It all sounds like justice to me; I can’t say as I mind the way this world is built, at all.

I choose to use my tongue for good. I will use it only to edify and uplift and exhort and inspire. (At least – that’s my hope.)

It is not my place to judge. Nor is it my place to share confidences.

I have always found this value very hard to live. This is how I WANT to live. But when someone says something to me I find it hard to change the subject, hard not to respond to them. I don’t want to be rude.

I suppose that I have always felt (subconsciously) that directly confronting them in their gossip is confrontational – and very bad manners.

Who gossips with you will gossip of you

Who gossips with you will gossip of you

So someone might catch me off-guard and ask me a very direct question about someone else. Before I know it, I’ve answered them. I’m a whole lot better than I was. I have been working on it and I’m learning to deflect and to change the subject subtly.

Or someone might assume I share their view of the world and launch into a vitriolic attack on a group or person they assume we hold in mutual low regard. And then the subject changes before I have a chance to defend that person or group, and I’m left feeling like I’ve bathed in bacon fat. Briefly delicious but totally gross the moment you actually think about it … and very, very hard to clean.

So I’ve been giving a LOT of thought to how I would like to behave in future. I’m basing a whole lot of this on how I hope people would behave if someone tried to engage them in talk about me. (I imagine I’m way too boring for this to be a real concern, but I’m trying to empathise here …)

When someone comes to me in future to gossip, here’s my script:

“If someone asked me that about you, I don’t think you’d like me to answer. I’d like you to know with great certainty that your confidence is safe with me, and if I answer that question about so-and-so, you will never be able to trust me again. Your friendship is very important to me, and I don’t want to risk it on random words.

Besides, I can’t speak for them. I don’t know the circumstances of their life, or the moments, events, and choices that brought them to where they are now. I don’t know if, in their place, I’d have done better. I’ve done some pretty crazy stuff in my life, so I’m fairly sure that – given their challenges – I’d have made a huge mess of things.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a good friend like you to keep them on track when they start going off course. Thank you for understanding.”

When it comes to a particular group being judged, I’ll say something like,

“I don’t know what it’s like to be [shortsighted label]. But I do know what it’s like to be [insert label that applies to me]. I like me, but I’ve taken flack for what I am in the past. It wasn’t fun. I don’t want to be someone who makes someone else feel like that.

It’s not my place to comment on their life choices at all. They are no better or worse than I am. Even life choices that are specifically spelled out as sinful in the Bible are no worse than the specifically sinful choices I have made.

So I don’t want to talk about their situation. I don’t have enough information and I don’t think we can easily do this and still be kind.”

If I need advice on a situation, I will speak broadly, and only to someone I trust implicitly, who has earned the right to hear that story. There are many things that can be discussed besides people. Millions. An infinite amount.

I realise that this view might not be popular. I know some people will think I’m boring. Others may even feel judged because I’m not willing to engage with them in the delicious sin of gossip. So be it. I don’t want to lose friends. But I would rather lose a friend because I DIDN’T gossip and I WASN’T judgemental, than because I gossiped about or judged them.

I would hate that.

(And it’s not as if I haven’t done and said enough things in my life to earn some gossip and judgement. But I hope that people will be compassionate and sympathetic to me. They have a right to hope that about me, too.)

The Tweeness of Good Things

I want to be more positive. More than that, I want to be a force for good and happiness in the world. I want to share the joy I feel. And I think that my contentment will grow as I help others grow their contentment.

The question is: how?

When we go onto social media, we see people ranting and raving and sharing vitriol and unloading their frustrations with the day they’ve had and the life they live. Like it’s happening to them, not influenced by them.

And everyone chimes in. Everyone has a bad experience to share. We all wind ourselves and each other up into a frenzied state of dissatisfaction. For some reason that I have yet to analyse, this feels cathartic. We feel released (a bit) after we’ve done this. We feel connected by the pain we share – even if that pain is nothing more serious than a thoughtless fellow parking-lot-user who makes it impossible for you to get to where you’re going by blocking the whole driveway.

Sometimes people even jump onto social media to talk about how they’re so tired of all the negativity. They won’t engage with it. They’ll block the people who share it. They’re done with it. They hate it. No more! They shout from their soap boxes.

They fail utterly to see how that very attitude is more of the same. More negativity. More vitriol. More hate.

Certainly, it’s not making matters BETTER for anyone – not even our hero, so bravely building walls and shutting doors to keep the darkness of others out – far away – and her own darkness safely locked inside with her.

But how can we escape this cycle?

You’d think that sharing something positive, uplifting, or happy would be just the ticket – the perfect antidote to sharing negative stuff. Right?! And yet the very opposite seems to be true. If you tweet about your happy day, you’re labelled a poser, a Pollyanna, a hipster wannabe, a show of. Your joy and contentment is misdiagnosed as smug self-advancement.

And it doesn’t just happen on social media. This attitude is pervasive. I see it everywhere I go.

Most of my friends are ready, at a moment’s notice, to drop everything and come and listen to me talk about something horrible that happened to me. Or near me. Or that I heard about from someone else when it happened to their cousin’s neighbour’s ex’s sister when she moved to Timbuktu. If you see what I mean.

But when I have something to celebrate, it’s not the same. Especially if that something is what we might call something small. Like still being alive at the end of a day. Or having a car of my own. Or the incredible luxury of fresh, potable running water – pretty much ANY time I need it. Or the amazing marvellous magic that is the internet … all technology, really. It’s just incredile in the truest sense of the word. Every day I can hardly grasp the amazing privilege that it is to be alive here, now, today. Everything is – quite literally – awesome.

Even in Church, when we share things we’re thankful for, theses things are considered too small, too ordinary, to be included on the list.

And thus I am branded twee. And smug. And very slightly weird (there are other factors that affect this, I am sure :D).

It’s like people think I’m trying to earn brownie points for the afterlife by being overly (fakely?) grateful for what most people (I infer) take as their due.

“Surely a happy and abundant life is the baseline, and everything else is measured from there?” they imply.

Perhaps that’s what it is. Perhaps taking a moment to enjoy the very essence of each rich moment seems so ludicrous (and terrifying) precisely because it makes people question their own contentment. Their own foundational assumptions about life and what they deserve from it.

Let’s just get some perspective for a bit. Running water is a relatively new addition to life on earth in a historical sense. And having it in the house? It’s little more than a dot on the human time line. Electricity is even newer. If all of human existence were one single human life, we’d have had the marvel of electricity for less than a blink of it.

What about the internet? Is this not the most marvellous of all marvels? The entire breadth and depth of all human knowledge is a few keystrokes away at any time. (Granted, we use those keystrokes to watch cat GIFs and Jimmy Fallon clips instead, but we have the CHOICE.) And even THAT is amazing … choice. The choices women now have in our society. The choices PEOPLE now have in our society. The fact that we have any say in our society at all. It’s just mind-blowing,

Shouldn't we be doing happy dances in the streetShouldn’t we be doing happy dances in the street every moment that we’re not surfing the web? Shouldn’t every second be jubilant when we consider how far we’ve come, and how very easy our lives now are?

But no. We have what we have and now we want more. And when anyone dares to express awe at what we have, well, that person is some kind of yokel whack job. Clearly not very sophisticated at all.

Gonna Take A Lot To Drag Me Away From You

Here in South Africa we have a lot of crazy stuff going on. And there’s a long legacy of very good reasons behind the dubious rewards we’re reaping now. But I know my crazy gypsy spirit well enough to know that if I hadn’t been born here, I’d have ached to live here anyhow. It’s a wild and crazy place and all we who live here are brave and mad and immeasurable lucky.

Every person I’ve met here, in all my life, has been truly wondrous. They’re all so different, and vibrant – pulsing with life and energy and a special kind of creativity that borders on nothing so much as deep magic.

And we all want to run away. We’re scared of what the future holds. We’re afraid of our neighbours. But they’re afraid of us, too. They want to run away, as well. And when we all wash up on the distant shores we hope desperately to call home, those same scary neighbours become our dearest friends … our only daily memory of (wait for it) home.

Africa gets into your blood and takes hold of your heart and plants deep thorny roots that feed you and kill you at the same time. I choose to love it. I choose to live without fear. Should bad things happen, I choose to believe that they are isolated things, and that I was briefly unlucky.

I choose to forgive.

I choose to believe that I may be forgiven.

And I bravely and madly choose to make a life here, and to celebrate it. Every rich and vibrant and unexpected and untamed moment of it. Mock me if you will. Join me if you dare. It’s nothing to me – that’s your life.

This is mine.

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