Relatively Speaking

There’s the tiptoeing around in the early morning, the absurdly quiet sex late at night, going to restaurants you avoid like the mall on black Friday, searching for your Tupperware containers that happen to be suffocating underneath your pots and pans.

There are more than 24 hours of driving time between me and my family, my parents are all retired, and we have the first grandchild, a giggly 2 year old with blonde curls. This means that they visit us frequently and for long stretches of time spanning anywhere from two weeks to two months. It is a long time to silently cringe as your child is fed all forms of unnaturally sweet confection on a regular basis, and to feel the immense pressure of entertaining or at the very least being around your family member constantly.

Old family patterns can creep back into your relationship and control your responses without you even noticing. As the youngest sibling, the “sweet” one, the automatic reaction I have is to be amicable, accommodating, and to absorb endless amounts of criticism disguised as advice or as innocent questions with a good attitude.
When I begin to sigh heavily and feel my words snapping like fresh peapods, I take a little time out for myself.

I think about the fact that two of my grandparents died less than twenty years from the age that my parents are now. I remember that soon enough I’ll be dropping off them off at the airport and will return home to an empty house, going back to the long mornings and afternoons with no adults to talk to. Soon enough Sierra will be asking “where’s grandpa?” And he will already be hundreds of miles away.

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Someday I will say goodbye for the last time. Maybe then I will remember the irritating little habits, the times they angered or upset me, but those memories will look like tiny crumbs compared to the enormous feast that makes up the soul and presence of this person; this beloved family member. As in all things, looking at a situation with a telescope rather than a microscope can help us to move forward in peace in our relationships with the ones that raised us, the ones that loved and knew us the longest. In this way we put our egos in check and choose grace and love to guide us in making the most of our time together with our relatives.

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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.

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!