Trusting Intuition

Intuition is a deep feeling in our gut we get when we add moments of silence to our days. We are all born with this deep intuition, this psychic ‘knowing,’ but there is so much noise in the world in the form of visual, auditory and socially engineered input flying at us from every direction that finding this time for quiet contemplation can be a battle unto itself. First a quick update on how my week of self care is going:

I haven’t been keeping notes or marking off any dates on the calendar, but I’d say my week of self-care that I had proposed to start in last week’s post has been a success. I ordered myself a new book from Amazon, (Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.) which is a book that when I first started reading it, was very skeptical about, but has slowly penetrated down to my soul. I highly recommend it for everyone- feminists, free spirits, housewives- women- and men too- of all walks. After I put my daughter to bed each night at 7:30, I have done something for myself. Usually it’s been making a cup of chamomile tea, putting my most favorite essential oil combination in my bedside diffuser, rubbing lotion, taking a bath or putting on a face mask, and lying in bed naked (how I sleep best) with the book and my tea, ready to relax utterly. I used to find that I had to put the house in order every night before bed, and while yes, that is a great idea, at this time I think it’s more important I prioritize that quiet, restful, pleasure-ful time by myself. I’ve found that I have no problem catching up on the dirty dishes and floors, and the toys scattered all over the living room the next morning as my daughter is playing. I’ve found that prioritizing these little “rituals” with and for myself, I have something to look forward to and also find myself more willing and able to take on the day when I wake up in the morning.

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But now for our regularly scheduled programming. Our intuition already has these seeds deep down inside- seeds of ideas. The seeds will sprout and begin to grow at different ages and stages in our lives, the trick is to get to that quiet, trusting place where we can identify when a seed tells us it’s time to start growing. Then we need to give it the water (time) and sun (attention) that it needs to grow. The larger the seed grows, the larger our idea becomes, and the harder it is to ignore and the more pressing it becomes for us to turn that idea into a reality- to transplant the bud from within us to the outside world. Sometimes these ideas involve a process of “giving up” something. This is much in line with the post about me giving up TV, but I want to talk about it now in terms of a more general idea of adaptation.

As humans it is in our instinct to “gain.” We get great pleasure and find security in having “more”. More options, more safety, more money, more amenities. To an extent, these things are all good. We need certain things to live- and of course in this culture we have in the West, money is right up there with oxygen unfortunately. But the first step is realizing that there does come a point at which ‘enough’ turns in to ‘too much.’ Commerce would like us all to ignore this point, and it would make them so happy if we had no concept of this point existing at all, as many people do. But of course, we aren’t like those people. We have given ourselves thought, energy and space to hear our own intuition out, even, and sometimes especially, when what our intuition is telling us is going against the grain of our larger culture. We’re the types of folks that when we give up something, we know it’s to gain something else- something better. Most often, we’re giving up material possessions in exchange for non-material, but still very real, commodities or intangible aspects to our lives. These elements that we gain, though you can’t hold them or necessarily see them- they are felt. Some examples: the immediate choice of trading TV for more free time, trading unhealthy food for a longer, more exuberant life, trading expensive cars for our future financial independence, trading a high-paying job that is soul sucking for a lower-paying one that makes your heart soar. A bigger house for a tiny one which is easy to pay for, maintain, and keep organized (even to move around the country!)

For me right now, it is food. I’ve gone whole foods vegan several months ago. Recently (in the past few weeks) I’ve also gone gluten-free and cut out nightshades and high oxalate foods (you can check out this youtube video with a detailed description of the lesser- known last term from a nutritionist). Also check out this humor-filled video about gluten free folk (we have to poke fun at ourselves from time to time so as not to take ourselves too seriously).

Cutting out all these other foods that I loved, and was so used to eating (we’re talking about dishes I’ve made myself for DECADES), has been painful for me. I’m still at the rounded area of the steep learning curve. Finding new recipes, new ingredients, serving my daughter foods that I can no longer eat as well has all been a struggle. But I know my body needs as little obstacles caused by my nutritional intake as possible considering all my other health issues that it’s battling. I’m embracing the concept of food being my medicine. I know that no condition of ill health is worth nutritionally yucky food- no matter how temporally satisfying it is. The video below is one that has rekindled my fire for making all these dietary changes, and bird jokes aside, I hope it will light or kindle your fire within to keep you going on the sometimes painful changes you’re making in your life for your ultimate health and happiness. Let me know about what changes you’re making and how it’s going for you. We’re in this together!

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Becoming Self-Serving

“Selfish” is an insult used against those who don’t want to always do as they’re expected. Maybe they’re egotistical and just want power regardless of who it hurts, but it’s quite possible they are simply choosing to do what makes them happy. The term “self-serving” certainly can be used as a synonym for selfish, but I’d like to dig in and explore this idea, pull it inside out and look at what it could mean when taken as a positive direction in our lives.

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There are those that, for whatever reason, can get up in the morning and immediately get everything they need out of the way so they can start taking care of their family, go to work and take care of business, or head out with hands ready to serve those less fortunate. Some can do this day after day with little thought to themselves. Those kinds of people are amazingly gifted and talented. If you’re feeling a little bad because you’re not one of them, don’t worry because I’m not either. Not even close.

I seek out and recognize those types of people- those “idealists” who just keep on truckin’, fighting the good fight relentlessly every second of every day. They are whole-food eating vegans, they are zero-waste super divas, they are flawlessly minimal godfather figures, they are effortlessly optimistic child development specialist mothers. The list goes on and on. These people give me so much joy and inspiration, as well as motivation to be better, but another feeling creeps in- and I know automatically that this feeling is emanating from my mind and not their message. It is the feeling of “not enough”. I’m not happy, green, healthy or independent enough to be like them. These self defeating thoughts are like weighted stones that sink my heart down deep in my chest.

The analytical side of the human mind is amazing. It is what allows for these comparisons to happen and for us to continue to strive for better efficiency and effectiveness. The only problem with it is that it can cause the emotional response of despair when we can identify the objective, but know at the same time that it is a huge hill to climb, so big that it overwhelms us. This feeling can be constant when we have multiple objectives in our life and we’re also frantically trying to take care of every other person we love or cause that we champion.

At this time I’ve decided to put all of that on hold, and to challenge myself instead to be self-serving just a little bit every day this week. This definitely isn’t my first challenge like this. When Sierra was an infant I tried to instigate a “30 Days of Self-Care” program for myself, but halfway through I just ran out of steam. As a mother it can be hard to take care of ourself at all, even in the smallest ways, sometimes. It can be painful to take a long shower, and hope the little one doesn’t unplug the outlet cover again and electrocute herself. It can be hard to admit to the boss that it just isn’t the right fit any more. I know all too well the fear of disappointing others can magnify to the same level that they appreciate and depend on us. It can be hard to tell our spouse we need some time alone to reflect when they are sensitive and want to be near us. In all the striving to save the planet as well as it’s animals and humans and babies in every way that is humanly possible, it’s so easy to neglect ourself.

As hard as all of it is sometimes, when we become unhappy we have to put it all on the shelf for just a moment, give ourselves a break and a breath- and remember that we, too, are deserving of our own love and attention, the same as every one and thing else that we continually provide it to.  There are many hurdles to get over in doing this, though, as everyone will expect us to continue to run at full speed ahead as we always have. Breaking the cycle, stopping the current that pulls us through life to nurture ourselves is the first step. Secondly, it’s about letting go of all those greater societal expectations and subconscious thought patterns that become engrained in our minds from our culture. Mindfulness and meditation are a great start to this. What comes to mind for me is I kind of flip out when the house gets messy, as it always does with toddlers afoot. I know this feeling of panic comes from my upbringing- when I watched my mom stress out about the house looking picture perfectly clean before any person other than immediate family entered the door. The truth is I feel very tense in perfectly clean homes because it reminds me of those hectic, tense memories. When I come into a home that has some junk lying around and some dishes in the sink I feel like I can breathe and relax, “They aren’t perfect either! What a relief!” This is just one example of a way to “break the cycle” of influence from the outside world. Thirdly, it is being as diligent with taking care of ourselves as we’ve been with any other task we handle each day. This seems simple but it was the big misstep I took on my last self-care journey).

It doesn’t mean we are selfish. It doesn’t mean we don’t care or that we are cold, or broken. It doesn’t mean we’ll never come back in the ring and start fighting hard again. It just means that we have recognized that our candle is starting to dim, and we need a moment to create a new one so that we may continue to burn our lights bright for the benefit of everyone around us. No one but ourselves can know how we feel and give us what we need. We are our own superheroes. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

What I Gained When I Ditched My TV

I know I made a post a couple weeks (months?) ago about getting rid of my TV, and it’s been a process to actually do it. Gurus, Yogis, Hippies, and enthusiastic Waldorf families are among the first stereotypes of individuals that come to mind when I think about all the folks that eschew television. It was kind of hard for me to let go. There is just something that’s a bit all-American about the TV. It’s how you watch the Super bowl, the Macy’s Day Parade, the ball drop on new year’s eve, and presidential debates. It’s become an access point for the never-ending procession of “water cooler shows” as well as its currect incarnation of an endless opportunity to binge-watch Netflix. Even in children’s programming you’re up against the ever-wholesome Sesame Street.

I’d love to say that parting with my TV is a statement I’m making against our consumerist culture, but in truth I was making that statement from the time I moved out on my own 7 years ago, by not ordering cable or finding a way to even get local channels. At that point TVs were just kind of given to me, and the then-boyfriend brought along plenty of videogame consoles that allowed for DVD watching, and my long term relationship with Netflix became established.

Netflix has been a good friend to me. It has given me old shows I thought I’d never see again, has allowed me to see fascinating documentaries and weird foreign films. But when Sierra came along, and I saw how immersed her whole being became when I turned on a show, it made me uncomfortable. The situation became even more volatile when I would turn off the TV and she would spiral into a full-on meltdown. Of course it being a huge flat screen that was the focal point of our living room didn’t help.

As the popular book title suggests, I believe that TV really is a Plug In Drug. It stimulates parts of the brain where neurons connect, and this constant stimulation over time creates strong bonds in the brain that crave constant stimuli. This is the point at which the silence of an empty house can drive you insane. Having the nice big flat screen there staring at you is like a starving child sitting next to a casino buffet. It’s almost excruciating to resist partaking in the Netflix smorgasbord.

So to get down and dirty, here was my process in amputating my TV from our home:

  1. Cancelled Netflix, first the DVD subscription, then Netflix instant. This was pretty painful, although to ease the pain I started following more health-wellness-educational channels on youtube.
  2. I unplugged the TV. This part would have never happened had my husband been here, and it took several explanations over the course of the next few weeks to Sierra of why we couldn’t watch TV anymore.
  3. Selling the TV. Of course, I did this through Craigslist and found that the TV was worth WAY less than it had been when it was new (come to find out they came out with smart and HD TVs that made my simple Plasma display passé). I did begin to panic when the buyer was on his way over, but after it was gone I felt a definite shift in the atmosphere in my living room. It was a calm, simple peace. No more big black box staring at me!

Now the awkward part is I have a big bulky entertainment center with a gaping hole in the middle. I’m working on getting it sold, but so far no one has gone through with buying. I’d love to say we are free from technology all together, but I know that will probably never happen. I use the computer for so many things, and my old mac lets me watch DVDs so we won’t be media free anytime soon.

What I’ve gained: I don’t feel compelled to watch every hot new show that the networks spew out (Gain: Time! also Time spent being productive, or making memories as a family). I don’t feel like I need to run out and buy any new products I see in ads (Gain: Money!). And I don’t pay for any subscriptions (Gain: More Money!) I was able to put the money from selling the TV to a worthy cause (Gain: Good VIBES!). Now if I feel boredom creeping, I have to use my brain to think of something worthwhile to do (Gain: Creativity). Also notice that keyword *do*. When you don’t rely on TV to distract your brain from real life, you find yourself moving your body to get things done more. This is good for your health and also can contribute to an exponential amount of other positive possibilities in your life (starting a small side business, selling clutter, trying new recipes, starting a garden, going on a hike, etc.) Its sort of sad but true that I used TV as an anti-depressant as well. Whenever I was feeling lonely or down, a stand up comedy special would help me smile again. But now I don’t get the quick fix, or the band-aid. Now I have to really feel my emotions, which is sometimes uncomfortable. But I know that in a way, this is important inner work, to really experience the deep feelings. It’s part of the human experience and a catalyst for introspection and reflection.

Remember: You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. -Dr. Seuss

How to Fix Behavior Problems Fast and For Good

IMG_3359It’s a pill. It’s a drink. It’s a diet. It’s a book. It’s an electronic device! It’s timers, time-outs, charts, bribes and threats.

There are so many “specialists” and “experts” out there peddling their own brand of fix it products and methods to solve the most confounding problem behaviors we see young children exhibiting. As an enthusiast of early childhood education and child development (admittedly a more alternative-bended enthusiast), I can 100% guarantee that that entire first sentence up there is a total load of BS. I can tell you that for sure, because I’ve tried many of them both as a parent and an early childhood educator with poor results. There is no band-aid or magic bullet to quickly fix your child’s issues. There is no one-size fits all way to deal with behavior problems, but there is one simple concept that I promise will transform your child’s life and your life as a parent.IMG_2527

That concept is pretty straitforward: Maintain an authentic relationship with your child based on respect. This idea is so groundbreaking only because in our culture we have sailed so far off the shores of parent-child relationships based on respectful communication and real interactions. I first heard about this idea in my infant development class when my professor was speaking about the research of Dr. Emmi Pickler and showed us videos of the sagely Magda Gerber speaking so clearly about the needs of babies. RIE (pronounced wry as in the bread and stands for Resources for Infant Educarers), is an organization that is all about promoting relationships based on respect. Janet Lansbury is the modern version of a RIE spokeswoman (though this is not her official title) is an amazing blogger and has written many books including No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, which was a joy and a revelation to read.

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Later in my child development education, I would be put in the college’s NAEYC accredited program in order to be disillusioned when I saw toddlers being chastised by a teacher for dumping out bins of fake food (because let’s be real- this is exactly what I would do with fake food too!) So I worked up the courage and asked my professor if there was somewhere I could go that had more reverence for children. Thankfully, that professor allowed me to go to Simone’s Infant Care, a beautiful, play-based in home program for infants and toddlers that used the RIE approach with many principles from Waldorf education.

student teaching at Simone's
student teaching at Simone’s

It was here that the words from the RIE website really came alive for me. It was a priceless opportunity to be able to see Simone work with the children in such a gentle and respectful way. The children were all so happy under her care, and what a privilege it was for them to be able to attend such a happy place.

 

When I relocated to Texas I decided firmly that I would raise Sierra with RIE. At times it was hard to do so, especially with being geographically separated from my community and having a husband that was gone a lot. I sent my mentor plenty of emails and questions as I faced my issues. Even with all my training and education, I got frustrated with lack of sleep and joint pain from Rheumatoid Arthritis. I snapped and said things to my daughter that were far from respectful. I watched TV a lot when she was a little baby, I’m now sad to say. I also had a hard time maintaining a good rhythm in the home, as I was still trying (but failing) to lead the same old life of shopping and socializing with friends that I had before I gave birth. I also used an infant swing quite a bit in the first months.

My step dad Frank is staying with me, and last night he was watching me put her down to sleep. He said, “You’re the best mom.” I answered with something self deprecating, and he affirmed “You really are.”

After a pause, Sierra hugged my arm, looked up at me and said, “You’re my best friend, Mommy. I’ll love you always.”

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This was such a beautiful and precious gift from my daughter, but I also count this as a gift from RIE. Being exposed to, exploring, witnessing and practicing, failing, and practicing again the RIE principles over and over and over again has given me the gift of a relationship with my daughter built on respect. Without that foundation there, we would certainly not share the same level of trust and love that we do right now.

I’m struggling with one of my daycare Kiddos. He is full of energy, very assertive and carries the term “bouncing off the walls” into the literal realm many times a day. When he was smaller it used to be so easy to help him, with certainty to grasp his little hands and reaffirm that he may not hit others. It used to be so easy for me to calmly stop him from running, to acknowledge that he wanted to keep playing but that it was nap time now. Over time he has grown bigger and I have grown weaker and weaker in the joints of my extremities. I have fallen down painfully by trying to catch him running as he was dragging a wooden toy along the wall. As I’ve been desperately trying every method I can think of to gain his compliance, nothing I try with him has seemed to work. When I reach out to my professional community, everyone just agrees that he is a flight risk and it’s too big of a liability for me to take on with my condition. I’m beginning to realize that I cannot get his cooperation without laying that same foundation of a relationship built on respect that I have with my own daughter.

Tomorrow, I will start. I know it most likely won’t be very fast, but it will be For Good: For the Good of his little soul, and for For the Good of mine.

Not An Island: On Building Meaningful Connections

Last week I wrote about the one thing that has saved my marriage multiple times. This week I’ve been thinking more and more about my connections to those around me, and how the modern era has made us more connected in a million ways, but also threatens the very fiber of what real relationships are made from. As I think about all the people I’m related to, my friends, my professional contacts and my casual acquaintances, I can recall fondly all the things these relationships have brought me. I’m relatively introverted and this has made me very cautious on “putting myself out there”, but it’s also caused me to treasure and respect those relationships I have kindled.

I have a friend that I consider a friend because we have mutual friends, we’ve been introduced and have chatted in person on multiple occasions as well as conversed virtually- but when I introduced myself on a new online forum, of which this person was also a member, she introduced herself as if I were a total stranger. On another occasion, I attempted to make friends with a fellow army wife here at Fort Hood who was looking for friends, happened to be my age, was also a new and “crunchy” mama, vegan and also from a small town in California like me! We exchanged several long emails over the course of several weeks, but when it came time to actually meet up, she dodged my invitations. This surprised me as she was a very outspoken blogger with multiple thousand friends and followers. She frequently wrote about the problem of having dozens of internet friends but only a few “real” friends in her life, and about how she was lonely and longed for a real community.

These are two rare and outstanding women with whom I definitely could have and would have loved to have made that real genuine friendship connection with, but it their attention was just too scattered across various social media platforms for them to have the time or the energy to reciprocate that effort. This is a real problem that is plaguing our modern society. It’s a virus of being “overly connected” and “overly accessible” to the point that you are no longer available or you neglect to take that final step to form real connections with others in the form of meeting up for coffee, having them over for dinner or letting one another lament about current life dramas on the phone- person to person. This is kinda what I mean:

Of course, sometimes you’ll meet people that you just don’t jive with. Maybe they just can’t get past the fact that you don’t subscribe to their religious views or maybe you figured out over time that they caused you more problems than they were worth. That is OK. In those cases it’s best to just gracefully let them go without holding on to any grudges for your own peace. If you do meet a person that makes you laugh or that you can have a meaningful conversation with, or just find someone that you like for no particular reason, I beg you to please hold on to them! Don’t “throw people away” over a minor disagreement or because they flaked out on you once. Come to grips with the fact that they are who they are and you’ve gotta love them for the exact person they are without hoping that they’ll change or only sticking around for them when they are at their best.

Remember that it’s always a two way street. As much as you’ve got to say “yes” to hanging out once in awhile it’s important to reach out and make some plans with them as well. A call on a birthday or a special text of a picture of you that you don’t share with everyone on facebook can mean a lot to those friends that are maybe just too far away to hang out with regularly. It may seem obvious but your friendships, and also your romantic and familial relationships are the most valuable thing you have. *CLICHE WARNING* At the end of your life, when you’re taking your final breaths, are you going to think of your ten thousand followers on twitter? No. You’ll think of your daughter looking up at you saying “I love you, Mommy.” You’ll think of the Christmas you spent around the fire with your parents and siblings. You’ll think of all the people that grew old with you, the ones that showed up to your birthday party, the ones that were there to take your call when you needed to cry it out and made you feel hope again. The ones you shared moments of real connection with.

In today’s world it’s become a bit more uncommon to march over to your new neighbor’s house and introduce yourself, or to throw out an open invitation in a public forum to ride along with you to a concert or event.. It’s freakin’ SCARY to be that stranger to start talking to another mom at the park or try out to be in a band from a post on craigslist, to march up to your professor and ask for a different mentor than the one assigned you or email a total stranger to ask them about their careers. Sure as hell it takes a great deal of trust to put yourself out there. But you HAVE to do these things. These days it takes effort to find your “people” in life. Unless you live in a tiny town where you and your parents and their parents were raised, you have to build your community brick by brick. Remember that all these things I’ve mentioned are merely just ways to meet people- people that have the potential to become True Friends in your life, for life, if you let them.