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Au Naturel | Secrets About Faith and Truth

I took longer than usual about my morning ablutions, enjoying every moment from the thyme-scented bath to the flawless foundation (well, flawless for me) to the popping red lips. I painted my nails and tried to look at my – let’s call them curves – as if I could love them. A little bit. I checked that my hair had just the right balance between bouncy curls and sleek smoothness that it needed for the evening’s activities (eight hours later), before pinning it all up again to protect it from our humid climate.

By the time I was ready for the day, mundane as my morning plans may have been, I was bubbly with a little inner champagne of joy and a serious case of the ‘I’m-all-that’s.

I headed outside to hang out the laundry (see? I told you. Mundane.) It was the perfect day for it: hot and bright, with a soft little breeze to ease the oppression of too much humidity.

I’d just taught Goldilocks about the meditative power of doing chores, and I decided to sink into mine with a soulful relish.

The breeze dance through my just-styled hair, displacing some of the morning’s artistry. Usually, I’d have railed inside at the frustration. I’d have willed my hair to stay in place – maybe even pinned it down. I’d have been frustrated by my inability to impose my will on the sun, the wind, my hair, the humidity content of the air, the recalcitrantly damp laundry and the pervading heat.

But not today.

Today I let the wind have its way with me. I immersed my self in its cool touch and felt connected to the earth on which I stood, the greenery surrounding me. These all were my mother, my sisters. Soul mates. Friends.

I heard – no, wait – felt the breath of that breeze whisper ancient truths into my waiting mind.

“Your children’s destiny is not your responsibility. It is no reflection on you. What they become is their affair. What they believe is their choice. You cannot make them believe anything. Not ever. You can teach them what you believe, and you can tell them why. You can model your truth, living it with honest and integrity, and without hypocrisy or ulterior motives. And you should. You can give them the tools they need to think, to learn, to discern, and to grow. You can open the door. You can show them the way. You may even walk part of it with them. But it is their way. And you cannot change it. Only they can do that.

Live joyfully with your children. Relish them fervently. Be present with them every moment that you share. Because those moments grow fewer. And those moments, finally, are all that you can truly give them. Make sure they are enough. Waste none.”

A friend is filled with dogma and fear for her children’s souls. If she cannot make them share her faith, they have no hope.

But she cannot make them share her faith though now, perhaps, for a time, they day. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and what will be will be.

I pray for my children’s souls, but I do not fear. I cannot make them believe anything, but I can teach them to live their truth by bravely living mine.

They are wise and they are strong and they will make right choices for themselves. They will make wrong choices for themselves. They will suffer. And they will rejoice. And in between the suffering and the rejoices, in the myriad tiny and tremendous choices they will make each day from this day until their last days, they will live.

And they will live well.

Secrets about faith and living your parenting

Two Days Later …

Goldilocks couldn’t wash a dish, and my compassion failure hurt her. Deeply.

I realised my mistake almost immediately.

The next day, I explained what I had done wrong. I suggested a do-over, and gave her a chance to master a mundane but necessary skill. I explained that her “problem” (if it can be called that) is not lack of intelligence of basic common sense. It’s simply that her mind operates at such a high level, all the time, that these sorts of entry-level tasks barely crack a nod on its interest radar.

I further explained that washing dishes is meditation. It’s an opportunity to think, to breathe, to plan, to be – all while keeping one’s hands busy with something that really is very important. Not to mention simple to execute. You can do it on autopilot with enough practice (and “enough” is not a lot at all). This leaves your brain free to wander the cosmos while your body is engaged in an activity that perpetuates life, if you think about it. Clean dishes mean healthy humans.

washing-dishes

 

An added bonus is the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that accompanies the end of the task (not to mention the obvious relief :)).

The same is true of all chores. The more mundane, the more meditative.

She considered my words. Then she went and washed the dishes. All of them. She finished the chore in a better mood than the one in which she’d started – and she’d started in a very good mood indeed.

#ParentingWin #YouLoseSomeButThenYouWinSome!

Wordsicles

“Actually, I can’t have this conversation right now.”

My words drilled little shards of ice into my baby girl’s heart. She left quietly, heading outdoors to find solace in the still of the late afternoon garden.

Even as I said them – even before I said them, really – I knew the pain they’d inflict.

I also knew the devastation I’d wreak if I said what was bubbling through my boiling veins. I chose the lesser of two evils.

Goldilocks is fourteen. This incredible young woman is designing a civilisation from first principles, mapping out the relative migrations of tribes, and the natural development of their invented languages. Her study takes place on a made-up land that has two suns and a desert in the middle. She’s studying what she feels would be the natural results of such phenomena.

She is also teaching herself Japanese, piano, and guitar. By ear. And – despite technically being in Grade 8 – she’s averaging around 70 – 80% in all of her Grade 11 final exams.

She’s a genius.

But she can’t wash a dish.

Not even one.

Not even after instruction. From all of us. Over … and over … and over again.

Realising her inability to do what should (surely?) be a simple and obvious task, she was already on the verge of tears. She felt stupid. I, having well surpassed my capacity for doing all the things, all the time, had no patience or compassion left to give. I simply could not begin to fathom how this bright and capable young woman could so utterly fail to grasp the basics of domestic hygiene.

She was devastated.

And I could only add to it.

So I said the words least likely to cause lasting damage. As I washed the dishes myself (great teaching moment lost, mom), I felt awash with sympathy not for that beautiful and fragile thing I had crushed, but for myself. I would have given anything to head out to the cool of the late afternoon garden, sit under the tress, stare across the valley, and just  …

… be.

But no. I had dishes to wash.

Maybe when I am all grown up, I’ll figure this parenting thing out.

And maybe, until then, my children will survive the second-rate version I am able to offer them in the meantime.

The thing is, it really isn’t all about me. But sometimes it is, ya know? It turns out that, like Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood, I, too, am a work in progress.
parenting is a work in progress

Blaming Parents

My parents did not give me everything I needed.

But they gave me everything they had … which was more than they had been given. All they had earned, all they had learned, all they had built was fought for. Hard won. Generously shared.

They gave me the tools to get what I need: belief in the power of creativity … and a passionate love of learning.

When you can learn, nothing is closed to you.

About Time

The Secret to Work-Life Balance is Trusting that it will all be okay in the endWhen I was little, I used to listen to the older and wiser people in my life.
(And I read a lot.)

I picked up a common thread.

“I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my family.”
“I wish I had spent more time with my kids.”
“I wish I had spent more time on what really matters.”

I vowed to learn from those older, wiser folk. I promised myself I would use my time wisely.
Focus on things that really mattered. Be wise myself.

As I got older, I thought that’s what I was doing.

Yet the more I did, the less satisfied I felt.

I was tired and irritable, and the important things seemed to be flashing past me before I had a moment to grab hold of them.

I imagined that having children would give me such a slap of perspective that I’d automatically get my priorities right. Especially since I was already focused on doing so.

But when I had kids, all I could think of was earning enough to give them everything they need. And I don’t mean horse riding lessons and ski trips every holiday.

I mean food.
Clothes.
A place to stay.
Education.

You know – important stuff.

Here’s what I discovered: important stuff clashes with important stuff. Spending time with my family clashes with supporting my family.

(And just between you and me, I have no idea how to fix that.)

I started to think that it would be terribly useful to meet one of those older, wiser people who, with the benefit of wisdom and experience, had discovered the true value of spending time with family (especially kids), and was making that discovery a practical reality in his or her life.

I really felt that there’d be a whole lot of wisdom and learning to glean from such a person.

Recently, I was lucky enough to find just such a person. He’s a colleague and a mentor. His business trajectory so far very closely mirrors mine. His kids are similar relative ages to mine (just twenty-odd years older, of course).

His life took some turns I hope mine won’t, such as divorce. But otherwise, I could see that I could learn a lot from this guy.

The best part (for me) is the fact that he has a daughter not much younger than my youngest.  So even though he has adult children (and even a grandchild), he also has the opportunity to live out the wisdom he learned in his younger years.

Whenever we’d speak, he’d remind me that time spent with family – especially children – is by far the most valuable investment of your time.

We both agree on this point.

But as we worked together, I started to notice a troubling trend: he has even less time available for his kids than I do. Seriously. And that’s saying something.

So really, I don’t have an answer. Maybe when I am old and wise, I will have a clearer idea of how these things work.

But I’m starting to think the best thing – the only thing – to do is to make peace with it.

I’m not saying “go with the flow” (although often that IS good advice). I’m not saying don’t make improvements if they’re there to be made.

It’s just that, sometimes, I’ll be working flat-out, and my kids will pick that moment – in the middle of that deadline – to have a meltdown. There go two hours of work. Two hours of sleep. Two hours of keeping a promise to a client … But they’re two precious hours that I’ve given my child, and that I don’t regret. Sleep deprivation and all.

Sometimes it goes the other way: the kids are doing something amazingly fun and I’d love to join them, but work beckons and deadlines must – and can – be met. Then the deadlines win.

In the end, I hope it all balances out. I really hope the clients are patient and understanding, and happy enough with my work that they don’t find someone with fewer time commitments. I hope my children are healthy and balanced enough to know that sometimes putting them first meant putting their physical needs (clothes, food, shelter) ahead of their desire to spend time with me.

I hope they all forgive me.

I hope it all turns out okay.

And I choose to trust that it will.

Dear Daughters, I am NOT proud of you …

 

Mama ain't Proud of you

There. I said it.

You got 98% for your spelling test? Well, sure. You’ve been drilling those words into your brain for a week. Should I be concerned about the fact you’ll probably never use the word “bipartisan” in a sentence again … at least for another twenty years? And that even then you probably won’t know what it means?

Nah.

You got an A+.

That’s all that matters, right?

Well, I’ve a got a secret for you: I am not proud of you.

don’t think it was a good idea for you to skip break to “get ahead” in your English. And I definitely don’t admire your teacher for letting you do so.

(And don’t even get me started on keeping kids in at break as punishment for not being able to sit still. That’s like depriving someone of oxygen as punishment for breathing too deeply. Kids need to play!)

When you come home with loads of homework and spend all afternoon doing it – even skipping Family Movie Night to study before tomorrow’s big test – I am not pleased. I admit that I admire your tenacity. It’s great that you’re doing what you committed to do. I’m pleased that you’ve found something that is important to you, and I’m very glad that you have the self-motivation to make sure you achieve your goal.

But, Honey, here’s the thing. Why do you care so much? It’s just a test. It means nothing. Frankly, if the teacher hasn’t managed to convey enough in six hours every … single … day … for you to be able to pass a Grade 4 test, what on earth has she been doing with her time?

And do you honestly, truly care about fault lines and plate tectonics? I mean, if you do, fantastic! Let’s study the crap out of those things! Let’s make models and do experiments and really understand the whole fandango.

But I know you. And I know that all you care about is that grade. That 98%. That A.

Why is it so important to you? Why would you give up your afternoons, evenings, and weekends for it? Especially when you’re only 10 years old?

I am not proud of that.

Frankly, I’ve failed.

Because you should be outside, playing. Climbing trees. Building forts. Covering yourself and everything else for twenty feet in thick, sticky mud that makes me want to cry when I think of the laundry I’ll have to do.

That would make me proud.

My friends on social media all post status updates and photos of their kids – JJ just won this award for science. Amy just became a prefect. Susanna came first in her class. They’re all so proud of their kids.

But not this Mama.

Your success is not a number on a piece of paper. Your success is finding your self in the midst of this crazy, noisy world. When you have the courage to tell people – firmly – that you will not hug them, I am proud of you. When you can gently but truthfully tell your best friend you’re “peopled out” when she asks to play … and when she graciously accepts that … I am proud of you both.

When you then realise you would LOVE to see her, and you have the courage to change your mind without shame or guilt, I know you’re growing inside. When she is happy to spend the afternoon with you without a shade of bitterness or malice, I know her parents are doing a good job.

When you feel your friend’s pain, and weep quietly for her when she’s not here, I love you to the shattering, splintered ends of my bursting heart. When you ask me to advise you on how to counsel her, and trust that I will understand that you won’t ever tell me the whole story (because it’s not yours to tell), I admire and respect you. I would move the earth for you.

When you forgive the unforgivable sinner, young and innocent though you are, knowing (as you do) that he will never, ever apologise … my darling, then I am proud of you.

Because those are the things that really matter in this life. And they have nothing to do with fault lines or sentence diagramming or times tables or dates and maps.

 

Why I don’t limit my children’s exposure to electronics

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.

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