April 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Every parent knows well the rule of thumb that you must be disciplined with antibiotics. You administer them one time, effectively, and deliver the full dose. Fearful consequences have been drilled into every parent’s head that if you are not precise in following this rule, the result is that the germs will become used to the antibiotics and no longer respond to their impact.
It dawned upon me today that reminding your kids to do stuff works the same way!
We recently re-started our kids piano lessons. They went on hiatus when we moved across the country and took back burner to the many other items on our list required to get settled in (find a doctor, dentist, school, etc.). Through a friend’s referral, we landed a fantastic piano teacher. The kids love him and we love that he comes to the house – everybody wins. Except my kids don’t practice.
What good are lessons without the daily practice – nada. So I nag, and I remind, and offer conditions. Everything you’d find in the What-Not-To-Do Parenting Manual (there isn’t one manual actually, there are loads, but you get my point). Even so, in the absence of a better solution, here we are.
As I tried to coax my two younger children out of the sprinkler on this unusually warm spring day, and into the hottest room in the house to practice their piano, I could hardly blame them for resisting. I reminded them several times, but it had no real intention behind it, and like the germs that have become immune to the antibiotics, my words had no effect.
Then the epiphany came. It’s like antibiotics. If I am constantly asking for the same thing over and over, the kids never know when action is truly required. They also learn no self-management for themselves. When they need to do something, it needs to be delivered one time, strong and true and with a full dose, just like antiobiotics!
It was one of those moments when you wonder how you got this far into parenting without realizing sooner what seems so obvious now. The metaphor of me standing on a mountain top proclaiming the news quickly fills my brain….”And my voice will be like antiobiotics!”
February 24, 2016 § 1 Comment
Family Meeting 4:30 today, at the table.
Really it was a Mom-and-kids meeting because Dad was in Barcelona for work, but as they say, timing is everything. These are the words my kids saw written in window marker on our kitchen window when they came home from school today.
Flashback to earlier this morning when we were a spectacle of unpreparedness and harsh words flying down to the bus stop in the car cause we were too late to walk, lacing up shoes and pulling on jackets as they hopped on one foot, granola bar in hand, up the stairs of the school bus. Exhale.
How did this even happen? It’s the same routine every morning getting ready for school, and they’ve been doing it for years, so how did we get to this point? It’s not every day like this, but when it’s bad, it’s awful. Something’s gotta change.
So this is how the meeting went down. I spoke, while they drank hot chocolate and coloured (so they could sit still long enough to listen, well mostly listen, we had several tangents where I had to bring them back to the initial discussion).
Mom: This morning was yucky. For all of us. I’m sure you didn’t appreciate my behaviour any more than I appreciated yours. I don’t feel it is necessary to re-hash everything that happened, because it’s really the same stuff that goes down all the time, but that is precisely why I wish to talk to you right now. That type of behaviour, from either of us, should not be the norm. While it’s normal to get off balance every once in a while, what happened this morning should not be the expectation. There is no joy in that. And we should always strive for joy. And the quickest way to get there is by love.
It is true that we all have triggers. Things that spur us into a strong emotion. Buttons that get pressed in us that elicit a much larger response than would be expected: a sudden burst of emotion, sometimes you aren’t even sure where it came from, but there it is. You will find there is inner work you can do to release these triggers, but for now, let us agree that they exist and learn how to best support each other when we recognize them happening.
The answer to that, is bravery. It comes from a place of love, but ultimately it is bravery.
As a child your age, when my own mother was triggered, I did not understand what it was, let alone how to support her in it. Bravery is easier when you understand a situation. So I’m going to explain to you what is happening when I get triggered, in the hopes that you all can be brave enough to call me on it when it happens, rather than absorbing the negative energy yourself, or throwing it back at me, which as we saw this morning, leads to no good either.
You see, when someone is triggered, the emotion feels so much larger than anything else, so it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees. Are you familiar with that expression? It means that if someone is on top of a mountain looking down, it is easier to spot where there is a forest, what its boundaries are, and how big or small it is. For someone standing inside the forest, there are so many trees in the way that they cannot see how big or small it is, or where it ends and begins. It becomes very helpful to get out of the forest, if that person on the mountain calls down to them and says, “Hey, you’re in a forest! But if you go in that direction, you can find your way out”. The person in the forest can then make their way out of the forest.
Does that make sense to you guys? Any comments or questions so far?
So my question to you is, are you brave enough to call me on my triggers? When Mommy is caught up in a whirlwind of emotion, will you please call to me from your mountain of different perspective, and let me know I’m in a forest?
And when you are in a triggered state, full of powerful emotions, will you receive my words when I call you on it, and tell you that you are in a forest?
If we can all try our best to be brave forest rangers, perhaps we can better support each other through our weakest moments, and we can all get on to more joyful moments?
I closed the meeting with a right hand in air promise to be brave and receptive as the moment may call for it, to treat our family members the way we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to lead with love whenever we are able.
Onward Brave Forest Rangers!
March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
So we recently had a conundrum in our family:
My family likes to eat delicious meals. I don’t like to cook.
As I explained to my husband, the source of my aversion to cooking is the perfect storm of:
1) I don’t enjoy cooking. Perhaps I might if it was by preferred choice and only on occasion when I was feeling adventurous. But the tedious obligation of preparing something new every night makes me want to run for the hills. My inner psychologist tells me my aversion stems from my formative years watching a working mother juggle family meals with a busy work day, but you can’t blame your mother for everything, right?
2) I am not especially good at it. I seem to have misplaced that element of my DNA that naturally inclines me to blend spices and to intuitively know proper temperatures and cooking times. My grandmother has it. My mother has it. Where is the research proving that trait skips every third generation?
3) I can rarely please everyone. The feedback is hardly inspiring when someone is always complaining about what I have produced. The odds simply don’t fall in my favour with a family of six, four of which are children with oscillating preferences. It’s a miracle I can keep all their favourite foods straight, let alone keep track of them when they take a sharp turn: “You used to love tuna melts, what happened?”
So those are my excuses explanations.
Anyways, back to the conundrum. Recently all of this came bubbling to the surface, resulting in a family meeting and a new system for supper delivery. My husband stated in an I-don’t-know-why-its-so-difficult sort of tone, that he and his siblings used to take turns cooking dinner, each one having their designated night to cook. Eureka!
I quickly began the math. Seven nights in a week: One for each kid, one for Dad, one for Mom, and one for eating out.
<cue the operatic hallelujah and heavenly spotlight>
The kids were thrilled. “We get to choose and make supper?!”. The only ground rules were that it needs to be reasonably healthy, and the supper choices need to be made on Sunday nights so I only have to grocery shop once per week.
And so it began.
Night one: my 5 year old chose spaghetti. Fairly straightforward, even went quite smoothly! Daddy was at work late but he prefers low carb meals anyway, so everyone was happy.
Night two: my 7 year old chose shepherd’s pie. A little more work for mom supervising, but many teachable moments and maternal visions of his future wife thanking me for showing him how to cook.
Night three: my 12 year old chooses his favourite, chocolate chip banana pancakes. And the waters start to get rocky. Healthy choice? Mmm, pushing the envelope. Also,his brother has given up chocolate for Lent and refuses any other flavour of pancake. The situation is precarious in its precedent-setting potential. Are we allowed to opt-out if we don’t like what is served for supper? So the negotiations begin and we are able to stabilize the rocking boat, landing on a non-chocolate chip option for his brother and adding a third clause to the ground rules that there is no opting-out of dinner: you eat what is served.
Night four: my 10 year old chooses panzerottis. Again, a little higher supervision requirement than what I was hoping for, but balanced by own gastro-inclinations (I love panzerotti).
Night five: my husband makes grilled cheese for part of our group, while I enjoy pizza with my eldest during his birthday party (fair enough, I thought, given that I also put together fruit and veggie trays for the party)
Night Six: I prepare chicken legs and vegetables. While it was not greeted with the same enthusiasm as chocolate chip pancakes or panzerottis, there was minimal griping.
Night seven: leftovers.
Not bad for our inaugural week, but as we head into week two, the boat has started rocking again.
Tonight my 5 year old selected omelettes, which is only favourable to ¼ of the kids. Can you guess which one? She took the blows all in stride as her siblings griped and complained about having to eat omelettes, desperately suggesting any other alternative they could come up with to avoid having to eat what was on their plates.
As I began to defend her to her siblings and encourage them towards kindness in their comments about her efforts, I realize that she is skipping away from the table unscathed, content with her newly mastered culinary skills, and her full belly.
And she has delivered her own teachable moment. To me.
March 2, 2015 § 1 Comment
“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.” – Clara Ortega
Today the little girl who lives next door to us asked me why we stopped at four children and didn’t have more. A little disarming coming from a 9 year old “only child”, and surrounded by my kids, sure made me think before I answered. I had fleeting flashbacks to points between my pregnancies when people would ask if we planned to have more children (such an intimate question but no one really gets that), to which my husband and I would always respond, if we continue to be blessed with healthy, happy children, we will continue to have more. That of course stopped at four, when the number of children then matched the collective number of hands between my husband and I.
Truth is, I come from a fairly small family. My mother was an only child, and my father one of two, so even the number of cousins was limited. When my husband and I were contemplating round three, I got a bit fearful looking at the statistics, and asked him “Shouldn’t we stop while we are ahead? We have two beautiful, healthy children”, to which he responded in his confident wisdom, “That is WHY we should continue, because we make beautiful, healthy children!”. I’m forever grateful to have a partner in life who talks me out of my fear.
Now, as I see our children play and connect, I witness the beauty and intimacy written in the truth above:
“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were.”
I think of my grandparents, who each had loads of siblings and have attended many of their funerals. They do not see a frail, aged body, devoid of spirit, cushioned in satin and surrounded by floral condolences. They see a life-long friend and confidant. Someone who knew not just their past but their origin, where they came from and what they looked like at every stage of growing up. No matter how many friends they made along the way, none of them can match that list of qualities.
I see my children oscillate with each other, sometimes playing with one sibling one day and another sibling the next day, or switching it up mid-day depending on the activity. Then there are the days that they all play together. And that is a beautiful thing. Sometimes very loud, but there is beauty in it. And in their adult years, around the Thanksgiving dinner table, they will laugh and remember funny stories, embarrassing moments incurred along the way, discoveries, and revelations among their varied perspectives.
And their personalities, they are captivating to watch emerge. To have evolved so differently under the same parenting, environment, and genes, just fascinating. I get so excited at their futures, where they go, what they will do, whom they will choose, the journey each will take. I find myself smiling, imagining weddings, grandchildren, travelling adventures, wherever the road takes them.
After I finish writing this, I will prepare for sleep, but not before I check on each child, asleep in their bed, in their most innocent and peaceful state. And I will be overwhelmed with both love and gratitude, resisting the urge to scoop them into my arms and shower them with kisses, snuggling their small bodies and breathing in their scent.
One day, a long time from now I will be away from them, but something in the air will remind me of that scent, and it will take me back, bringing a smile to my face, knowing I am blessed.
And I will live outside the touch of time.
November 2, 2014 § 1 Comment
While it was hardly the driving consideration in our decision to move from Ontario, Canada to the Seattle area, it certainly does occupy much of the small talk with the new people we meet:
“So, Canada, *eh*, how are you adjusting?”
“Bet you get all kinds of snow up there, where is Ontario anyway?”
“You can grow watermelons there? Amazing!”
During our decision-making stretch, in considering the move to Seattle, someone said to us “It’s the most Canadian city in the US!”. That was a big selling feature for us. We’ve seen T.V. We know what the stereotypes of big US cities can be like. And we’ve also travelled to several of them, so we had some idea of what we *weren’t* looking to experience. And in all honesty, moving our family to the US, or anywhere for that matter, was not in the plan at all.
Nine years ago when we bought our dream home in the country, 10 minutes outside of a hopping small city, bursting with potential and talent in the hi-tech industry, we had zero plans of ever moving. We were raising our kids, we were close to our families; there was no inclination for anything else.
Not to say we hadn’t broached the topic several times during our marriage. My husband working with several large tech partners as part of his job, there were always the congenial offers: “if you’re ever looking to make a move…”. But we never were. We had four kids. And we had drank the kool-aid about the differences in health-care, teachers and education, the right to bear arms, etc. Canada is awesome. The US is nice to visit, but we are safe and familiar right here, thank you very much.
And then it happened (to borrow the title from one of my kids’ favourite book series).
We said “what if”.
What *if* we were to move to the US for a while? What would that look like? We’ve known several who have done it, and loved it. We knew others that were ex-pats internationally and raved about their experience. But none of them had four kids. True, but what a great adventure to expand their horizons, show them something different. True, but what about our house? Maybe we could rent it out instead of selling it. Turns out the company’s relocation package covers both angles. What about the kids’ education? Their school is fighting a second attempt to be closed – there is a good chance they are going to see transition of some variety shortly anyway. What about my husband’s current job? Turns out that company is at a turning point also – decision time regardless.
And so we found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we stay safe, comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, or do we take the family on an adventure? Taste what it’s like to live day-to-day near the ocean, near the mountains, and among new experiences our children might never come across in our fantastic, but little rural community.
Those who know my husband well know that he is not a spontaneous decision maker typically. He loves to research all the options, become an expert on the subject, and make the decision that will deliver the highest good.
So we did our homework.
We immediately started connecting with friends who made this type of move before, both years ago, and recently. What was it like, how did it change your lifestyle, how did the financials work, what would you have done differently, would you ever move back? We were relentless with interrogating these most helpful of advisors.
The really big decision was, if we moved, would it be permanent? We very quickly established that we did not want it to be permanent. We loved being close to family, felt at home in our community, but most importantly, we had a soul connection with our house (that’s another story too long to tell here, so for now you’ll just have to take my word for it). In addition, we had just launched into a project to overhaul the entire exterior of our house (window replacement, stucco upgrade, eaves & soffit replacement, and patio/deck replacement). This was a house in which we had always intended to stay, to raise our family and to host holidays for our grandchildren in our retirement.
With each person we spoke to, it was becoming clear that many people who had made the move out west, intended to return after a few years, but often did not. This concerned us. We wanted to return. We were becoming increasingly willing to embark upon an adventure for a few years, but not to move permanently. We chewed on that for several days, the thought of whether or not to move permeating our daily activities. With each mundane task I would consider, what would this be like in a new home, in a new city, what would this look like if we were on the west coast, etc. It was never far from either of our thoughts.
After several days of wrestling with this aspect of the decision, tossing it back and forth between us, the fateful words came through me to my husband, “so what if we do decide to stay?”.
All resistance gone, I continued: “If we stay, its clearly because we are thriving, and what’s so bad about that?”. The decision will always be up to us. The only commitment we were considering was to take our family on an adventure, expand our horizons and see what happens!
So we decided to do it.
And we are here: Washington, the greater Seattle area. 45 minutes from the mountains (and snow *if* we choose it!), a couple hours from the ocean, and living in a fabulous community that is close to everything but feels like we are in the country. Surrounded by greenery and hills, where everything grows SO fast, and it rains, a LOT. But the sun does poke through the grey every so often, drawing out of each of us an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. The contrast is therapeutic for the soul.
I woke this morning for the first time with a feeling of “newness” replacing my usual longing for home. And the universe in its uncanny design sent me several encouraging messages along my path today to practice “release”, loving the moment I’m in, and to be assured that all is as it should be, with great things in store.
Stay tuned for our next episode!
With trust, gratitude, and love.
April 4, 2014 § 1 Comment
I ran into a friend at a coffee shop recently, who commented on the busyness of my schedule, exclaiming that she didn’t know how I did it all. I always find it ironic when I hear these words, because I often feel the same way about the person with whom I am speaking, which quickly led me to the conclusion that all parents are busy, and we all find a way to do it! Falling into the trap that most of us seem to, I quickly discounted any element of praise and insisted that I simply have mastered “the illusion” that it is all getting done.
Contemplating it afterwards, I thought about how fantastic it would be if we all shared our “tricks” of getting it all done. You know, the ones that we’d rarely admit to, except to our closest friends, for fear of being criticized as a poor parent. So I am wading out into those judgement-filled waters, and offering you two time-tested tricks from my own parenting bag of tricks:
Contrary to popular judgements, TV really is a terrific babysitter in a pinch. I have used this solution countless times when needing a shower, taking a phone call, or securing a much-needed, sanity-saving time out for myself. Most frequently however, I use this twice a day at bus time. We live at the end of a very long driveway. Despite repeated requests for the school bus to come to the house, alas, we have to catch it at the end of the laneway like everyone else. In the nicer weather, the kids love riding their bikes or skipping down the laneway taking in the warm breezes and bright sunshine. In fouler weather however, of which we have had more than our share this winter, I drive them. It has always been the case, however, that I have had younger non-school age children with me at home while the older children go off to school. Instead of struggling though the tug of war to get a young, uninterested and decidedly strong-headed child to bundle up in their outerwear and get into the car, I turn to the warm, entertaining and immobilizing effects of a trusted friend: Samsung. Convenient, centrally located, and always available!
At an event I was at last week with a collection of mothers, we were discussing the undeniable effectiveness of bribery as a parenting tool. Some were quick to point out that their tool is actually called “motivation”, but I have yet to successfully distinguish the two. And if it weren’t already self-evident in the successful completion of toy clean-up each night before bed (or no bedtime snack!), one could also consider the number one technique my children have learned to use on each other when they can’t get their sibling to do what they want: “Please, please, please, I’ll give you my best Pokeman card! No? How about the remaining candy in the loot bag I got last week? Alright deal.” While I don’t recommend this parenting technique for influencing moral decision-making in our children, it does work like a charm to keep the daily operations flowing smoothly.
And here is one more: despite everything that has happened, or will happen, you are a good parent. So steer away from the duality of deciding if your decisions were good or bad, right or wrong, and instead assess your instincts, rely on your gut, and realize what you are doing is always what you think best for your children given the scenario. Well done, my friend!
February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
My 6 year old is playing with his stuffies on the floor, offering a snack to the homeless one and speaking emphatically to the others about helping people who need help.
Flash back a few hours, when I received a BBM from a friend that she saw a wolf in the countryside near our home, compassionately making me aware of the potential danger it might pose.
As I sit down with my tea to begin my Facebook review for the morning, I see a post from another friend about how How Wolves Save Rivers. Having recently received a BBM on wolves in my neighborhood, I click on it. Unveiled to me, is the most beautiful impact the introduction of wolves has had on Yellowstone National Park. This video was done by a YouTube channel called Sustainable Man.
I enjoyed the video, so I click on some of the others they have created and posted. As I am watching the video Reimagining Investment for the Whole Human, also by Sustainable Man, my 6 year old son wanders up and is watching the screen, listening to the words. He asks me why I watch videos that are boring. Realizing he doesn’t understand many of the words that are being used, I begin to translate into a 6-year-old dialect.
I explain that there is a portion of the world’s people that have a lot (a lot of money, a lot of toys, a lot of food, a lot of clothes) and there is another portion of the world that doesn’t (doesn’t eat enough, isn’t clothed, has no money, no toys). He responds to all of this with his observation that the “donation” box I put in our hallway for my children to contribute to as they are cleaning their rooms, is almost empty still.
Marveling at the connection he has just made I affirm the link, suggesting “perhaps we should change that?”. Without comment he leaves my side to return to his game, and I continue watching the video. A few minutes later he draws my attention to him putting two toys in the donation box. I share my gratitude with him for his action and we both return to what we are doing, me, watching these wonderful messages suggesting we take action for the betterment of all people, and he to his toys. And that’s when I realize it.
My 6 year old is playing with his stuffies on the floor, offering a snack to the homeless one and speaking emphatically to the others about helping people who need help.