Taming the Crazy, Finding Your Zen

You always seem to be a day late and a dollar short.

With a cold cup of coffee in one hand and a smudge-smattered cell phone in the other, your hair hasn’t been washed in days and your jeans are sagging off your butt. You’re counting the days until payday, when you can buy bananas and stop scrounging through the pantry looking for dried fruit from 3 months ago. You last had a fight with your mother on your birthday which was last year and haven’t spoken since. You wonder about the job market and what you will say when they ask you why you have a leap year long gap in your resume. You watch your kid reaching up to the counter, pulling down the potted plant so quickly you wince and cry out, but it’s crashed on the floor already.

I get it.

It’s ok, and you’re gonna be ok.

You’re Not Perfect, Your kid isn’t either.

Gracefully Let Go of What Isn’t Working

Make it easier on yourself

Live By Your Values

Simplify Your World. The Less You Have, the Freer You Become

Fill Your Cup with Peace

It’s so important to realize that you are not innately full of peace. You actually have to fill your own cup on a constant basis. No one else will do it for you.

Stop. Breathe.

Remember that we are but a speck in the vastly huge cosmos.

Breathe again.

Keep breathing.

Remember: This too, shall pass.

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Breaking the Tradition of Gift Giving and Recieving

We can go out into the woods, into a field, into the back yard to lay down on the lawn and fix our gaze up at the clouds rolling under the sky, we can still the mind just enough to hear the tiny whisper coming from the heart. This solitary stillness is important as a regular practice if we are to lead the lives we were meant to. There is too much business and external messages in the space of our regular lives of tasks and routines.

If we listen carefully, we will know what our heart is saying to us.

Sometimes what the heart tells is difficult to truly know. Often it just begins with an urging, or a reluctance, a joy or a sadness. This is to be expected- this is the language of the heart.

Once we receive its message, the next task is to hold it in our conscious mind and give ourselves the time and space to process it. We can always picture the message as we lay down to bed and request some guidance through our dreams or in our waking lives.

I heard something from my heart recently, and I recognized that it was a struggle that seemed silly, could be perceived as selfish and at the same time difficult to resolve. There are always matters which arise that present a challenge for us to reconcile.

My message was: I’m stressed about the upcoming slew of birthdays and Christmas that’s coming upon me. Why? I asked again. This time the answer came to me immediately. The presents. Presents are supposed to bring joy for both the gift giver and the receiver. There’s a whole slew of etiquette around gifts, and millions of entire issues of magazines dedicated to the tradition. There’s also enormous social pressure to comply with this practice.

I thought about calling this post Breaking Free from Expectations or Bowing Out of Obligation Gracefully, but the decision to decide to stop giving and receiving presents is really kind of a radical way of doing those things. It’s definitely not a simple decision to make, and unlike going vegan it’s not an easy thing to read about online. I personally am the only person I know to do this. Here is my reasoning.

I believe at a time long ago, when people didn’t have much, gifts were often desperately needed or perhaps were items that were handmade with love in a way that made them family heirlooms. The items gifted were used carefully and passed down, allowing a few to several generations of practical use. These days, most everything you can go out and buy was made in a factory or a sweatshop in China for very little pay, with cheap materials in a fast process that makes the item completely disposable and likely unsafe. This modern process has allowed people to buy many items for many people, for many occasions. What happens as a result of this? We have more stuff that we likely have no use for, we throw more of it away, more ends up in landfills, and we support cruel industries that cause destruction to the planet.

At first I thought of alternatives to this pattern. I could make everyone handmade gifts, yes, but not everyone can benefit from the same thing. Sending out little gift baskets filled with soaps and lotions made with organic ingredients and recyclable packaging would be very pleasing and useful to me, but probably would only be useful to a handful of my family members. Because of modern conveniences, people become attached to their particular brand or product for self-care, for food, for most everything that is consumed. Even their tastes in décor and fashion has become highly specific and individualized. There’s always Amazon wish lists so that you can be sure to get the person exactly what they need, or gift cards so they can pick for themselves exactly what they would like. But I had to ask myself, how is this any different than giving someone an envelope of cash in exchange for them giving you an envelope of cash? It’s completely soulless. On this level of monetary exchange I would always be the weaker party, as I have no income besides what I make from selling random things on EBay which puts me at the lowest income level of anyone else in my entire family or friend group.

Other solutions are donating to each other’s charities which is wonderful, or asking to only receive “experience gifts.” At first I thought that would be a wonderful solution, but so many “experiences” that I would want for my family had only one gift-type option: the gift of membership. These memberships to places like museums and parks were upwards of $75. I just didn’t feel comfortable asking for these in lieu of physical presents, as I realistically would only visit these places once or twice a year due to geographical distance.

“But it’s the thought that counts.” Yes I agree. So here is my thought on the practice. What I would honestly love to receive is a letter, or more preferably a phone call from anyone who cares about me on my birthday. Ditto for Christmas although I’m not Christian in the least and the holiday causes a lot of grief for me (the consumerism, hustle and bustle, going here and there and all the dang traditions that it forces). So to be honest I could care less about Christmas. In turn, I will make a commitment to calling ALL close friends and family on their birthday and Christmas to have a real conversation with them, to connect with them. If by any chance some of them are physically with me visiting, then going out and doing an activity they enjoy while we spend time together is what I will give. To me this is what is important and meaningful, the most precious gift.

So I’m announcing to everyone that I’m bowing out of the traditional form of gift receiving and giving. Not all of my family knows yet, some that do are understanding (let’s be honest- I’m already kind of weird so it’s not a huge surprise, I’m just getting more “out there” than I already was). Some are in complete denial and insist that they give me gifts anyway. That is fine. I will receive the gifts with a recognition that this person is in their own way trying to please me (though it’s strange that they would do what I asked them not to do to accomplish this) and they will get donated to a charity where they will be of use to others less fortunate than me. This may sound harsh but I know that I don’t want to add any more objects to my home, as I’ve only become happier in making the decision to let more and more items go.

From what little I could find online of people that have made this lifestyle choice, it seems like this takes a few years for your family to get used to. For me, that’s ok as I’m not trying to shove my ideas down everyone’s throat, I’m just making a change that will make my life more in line with my personal values.

As for my daughter, that’s something my husband and I will need to discuss further. I’m loving the idea of “Something they want, something they need; Something to wear, something to read” from us and a limit of one gift per family member.

This blog post has turned into a guide for bowing out of gift giving and receiving, but could also be useful as encouragement to bow out of anything that doesn’t make the heart happy. So let us continue to reflect, consider and take action to live a life filled with joy and peace.

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.

NBK

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.

My Marriage’s Perpetual Lifesaver

I’m realizing now that this is the first time I’ve decided to write a post about my marriage, such a huge facet of my life! Truth be told, I’ve come to feel like talking about my marriage could, and probably would, bite me in the ass. There have been many times when I opened up to friends and family about my relationship, just to have them tell everyone else I know. On a few occasions, it got back to my husband, which embarrassed him deeply.

Obviously, facebook would like to have you believe that all of your friends have perfect marriages, but no one’s marriage is perfect at all. Of course the reason for this is that no one is perfect, and a marriage is made up of two people that are in constant flux, making mistakes, and trying to meet all of their goals and the expectations put upon them. With kids and careers in the mix, it’s easy to treat your other half as just another detail. Sometimes you mess up by forgetting a promise you made, other times you may say something that is completely unforgivable.

The main thing you absolutely need to work out any fuck up, no matter how big, is a common goal. If the identified common goal (a healthy marriage) is the major game plan, all the little details that make up an argument such as what was said, what was done, who was right and who was wrong are just minor things.

My husband and I actually started counseling when we were engaged and have been in counseling on and off ever since. I highly recommend it. Though we’ve only been married for 3 years, we’ve been friends and lovers for 7 years and have had our fair share of blowouts and pettiness. We’ve had public screaming fights, minor squabbles in the car, days upon days of begrudgingly ignoring each other. The one thing that has saved us each and every time has been something that I first saw when my parents went to counseling as a very young girl.

The counselor recommended to my mom and dad that they take turns holding the remote control to the TV with the rule that anyone who was holding the remote had total license to talk about how they felt. No one else was allowed to talk or interrupt them while they were holding the remote, and they were allowed to hold it as long as they wanted to. Even though my parents ended up getting divorced, this one silly tool made such an impression upon me that as an adult, when my counselor asked me to describe what the positive things my parent’s marriage taught me were or recall a time when they weren’t fighting, this was the one and only thing I could remember.

Though my husband initially laughed at the idea, by god it worked miracles! So pretty much every time my husband and I get into a fight, we use this method. I’m not going to lie, it takes a goddamn long time to do, and often you have to wait until both people have calmed down, but it is so much better to express the anger, the sadness, the regret, the misunderstandings, this way then to keep it inside or try to talk it out in little bits and pieces. It also models for our daughter what it looks like to work out a disagreement peacefully rather than hold it in and act subtly rude to one another.

This isn’t a new idea, many cultures have used some sort of Talking Stick to deal with major decisions among a group of people. Not only is the Talking Stick symbolic of a person’s personal power in a conversation, it reminds everyone to stay focused on what is being said rather than to focus their attention on coming up with a rebuttal to what is being said. I honestly believe that there is no more perfect method than the Talking Stick. Even now that my husband is deployed, and most of our communication is done through text, the principle of the Talking Stick has rescued us from nasty fights. All you have to do is type up an email and ask the other person to imagine that you are holding the Talking Stick, and then get everything out. It is best of course, to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For instance it is much more productive to say “I was offended when…” rather than to say “You offended me when…”

This makes the conversation less accusatory and more expressive, which makes the other person more understanding and less defensive.

The major thing to remember about marriage that is so easy to forget in the heat of an argument, is it is a collaboration and not a competition. Even if you were to win every fight, it would not be a true win because the other person would lose. The real win comes from compromise or collaboration. When both people can identify what they want in the situation, then it becomes a matter that’s as simple as identifying a way to meet those needs that both can agree to.

Breaking the habit of being passive aggressive, name calling, shouting, blaming and volatile is the hardest part. Like anything else in life, this method takes practice. The more my husband and I have done this, the easier and less awkward it has become for us to do. Each time I remember to use it, I grow more and more capable and prepared to use it next time we need it.

I hope that this method helps you in your relationship or marriage, and if you have any other tools that work wonders for you I’d love to hear about them!

New YouTube Channel for Interactive Songs

Since my husband has been deployed, it’s been really tough to do it all on my own. I have so much respect for single moms that do it 24/7, as well as moms who have husbands that leave continuously over their entire career.

To be honest, with the Rheumatoid Arthritis I’m not handling it very well physically or emotionally. Some days it seems like I might not make it through all of the things that need to get done. So today I decided that SiSi and I should have a project of our own that we could look forward to- a special activity we could do together that doesn’t cost any money and isn’t too hard to do for me with my physical condition. Something both of us love is singing together. I’ve always loved singing but thought I had a terrible voice. The moment I found out I was pregnant, however, I started singing to SiSi when she was but the size of an avocado pit and haven’t stopped since.

Lately, she’s not only been singing with me, but singing little verses of songs on her own, too. So I asked her today if she would like to record a video of us singing together. The recording process was a little rocky, as I had to figure out what I was doing, but I’m actually pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to make. When I asked her what she wanted to sing, she immediately started signing Wheels on the Bus, so that was that. I just recorded us singing as many verses of it as we could think of then edited it down to the best ones using iMovie. She’s napping right now but I can’t wait to show her the finished product when she wakes up.

I hope this will become a fun ritual for us, and maybe even a a fun ritual for our friends and followers of this blog to sing with their little ones. Click here to check it out and let me know what you think!

Edit: As an 8 months follow up, SiSi stopped wanting to make a video every week, but there are almost a dozen archived on the channel for you and your little ones to enjoy!