Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Building Bridges

So easy to get in trouble with people... letting misunderstandings put another brick in the walls between us. We say something. The other person interprets what we have said through their own filter. We don't ask for clarification. We make an assumption about what was meant. Sometimes we are right. But, when not, we start the conversation in our head about how that person has wronged us. Then we are off and running- angry, resentful, disappointed.

Some of us are natural communicators. We choose our words carefully and then check in with others to make sure there is understanding. This does take extra time, but it is usually worth it. The rest of us need to learn from our clear, direct friends.

It is especially important that we help children with this. They don't always understand the words we have used. Children also often go to the place of believing that the problems in our relationships, our anger or turning away from them is their fault. And it is not. Children don't make us angry. Our friends or partners don't intentionally make us angry. When we are angry, we are making a choice to react to the situation that way.

We need to build bridges that help our relationships grow. We need to offer support and listen. We need a healthy dose of patience. These special relationships deserve our attention. As I write these words, I need this reminder, and a nudge to apologize for a misunderstanding I contributed to just the other day.

Wishing you a day of bridge building. We need each other.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Season of Gratitude

It's easy to write about gratitude, but often hard to remember these things in the moment. We can get so wrapped up in the busy-ness of right now. Or get tangled in resentments or regrets. Believe me - I could make my list!! But just for now, with a few moments for reflection, I'm going to share a few gratitudes and hope that you will too.

  • I am grateful for family. They are the people we have been given, not the ones we have chosen. Though it isn't always easy, it is so much more satisfying to love and accept them than to fight... or to wish they were more understanding. And besides, we don't really have control over them, only our own feelings and reactions.
  • My three sons are now grown. They have each weathered some tough times and gained skills to navigate in unfamiliar or scary territory. May their paths continue to open for them.
  • Even though times are financially very tough for many, there are also many wonderful stories of generosity and kindness. On the whole, Americans are very generous people.
  • Opportunities to learn are everywhere. We can learn from children. We can learn from the next person in line or a driver who shares the busy road with us. If we are open, lessons come in many forms.
  • I am blessed with good friends, people I have chosen because of similar experiences or interests. People who share my values and beliefs. What would we do without them? We might be very isolated and lonely. It is sometimes hard to reach out, but is often very rewarding.
  • Children are a constant source of joy and surprises. There they are, smile on their faces, open and ready for the next new experience. Give a hug. Read a book. Push a child on the swing. Smile back.

There are so many things to be grateful for. I would love to hear from you about what you are thankful for. Blessings for the season.... and for every day!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our habits - Their habits

Sometimes children develop some of the same "bad" habits that we struggle with. What are the best ways to deal with this? Just a few thoughts -

If you tend to be someone who turns to sugary or snacky foods, and you don't want children to do the same thing, try to leave these foods behind at the grocery store when you do your shopping. Since these are trigger foods for you, when they are not there, then this eliminates a potential source of "fight" with others. Fighting about food is one of the things that has often contributed to our own current food issues, so many of us learned to hide our food or lie to ourselves and others. If the food is going to be around, can you find ways to accept and not fight about it?

The other night we were all (all of us adults) watching a movie together and I was totally distracted by the fact that every one else kept going for more and more snack foods and I try to not eat ofter dinner. The right way for me to respond is to just do my best to take care of myself. They will take care of themselves in whatever way they need to.

I was a nail biter until about 7 years ago. That is nearly 50 years of nail biting. One of my sons is also a nail biter. When he was a kid, I would negotiate all kinds of things to try to get him to stop. And I would also give him "looks" or say something. None of this ever did any good. Hey, I should have known this since nothing worked on me either. A few years ago, as an adult, he decided to stop. It is hard to watch our kids doing things we don't like, especially when we see the same things in us. Sometimes consequences work, and sometimes they do not, and often our constant reminders can just be too much.

I went to a workshop on the emotionally intense child this past weekend. One of the things the speaker said is when children complete a task and behave appropriately, give big acknowledgments... when they do not, give big love. This sounds good to me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Near and dear to our hearts

Seems like more and more, there is life to talk about. A dear friend of mine passed away today. So I am reflecting on her life and my cherished relationship with her. We all start out as little children, full of potential. We come from all kinds of families. Some children have parents who adore them. And some parents have a hard time figuring out what children really need. No matter what, no matter where children live and grow up, their potential still bubbles inside. Our potential does not stop at the dawn of adulthood. We continue to have many opportunities to learn and stretch our imaginations, to reach further than we could have even thought possible as a young child.

We are encouraged to grow by feeling near and dear to someone. We are social creatures and need each other. There can be miles that separate us, but we feel a strong connection with the mere thought of our loved one. Or the sound of their voice. Or a glance at a photo that reminds us of a special celebration.

I am in awe of the resilient spirit that helps each one of us to fly. As I remember my friend, may we all feel the support of those near and dear to us that have been the shoulders that lifted us onward. And may we offer our support to those coming right behind us. Blessings to all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tweeners need us

What's a "tweener" you ask? These are kids who are in the middle between childhood and full blown adolescence. They are often in the beginnings of the changes brought on by puberty. And all the emotional mood swings are starting to kick in. They are capable and want to be thought of as "grown up" but they still need lots of support and guidance. Because all kids develop at different rates, tweeners are typically between the ages of 10 and 14. This can be a very awkward time for the tweener and the adults in their lives. These are also the middle school years from 5th through 8th grade. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to those times!

Though they are very tuned into their friends and actively push adults away, they need us. Especially in these crazy times. They are pulled to make choices and decisions about many things: school work, recreational activities, and values choices. They feel peer pressure intensely and what to fit in. Media bombards them from all sides.... with music, video, games, advertising. And the messages they are getting are not always the ones we want them to focus on.

More than ever, we adults need to work to keep the channels of communication open.... and not just with rules and more rules. Yes, they need limits. But we want them to think of us as available and approachable when they need to talk, or just to do something fun together. We walk a challenging line to keep a balance between loving support and appropriate limits.

What do you do to keep the lines of communication and connection open between you and your tweener?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A fresh start today

You can't go back and make a new start.
But you can start today to make a new end.

This is a saying that is used by people who are struggling with recovery from addiction. This can give hope to all of us when we have gotten ourselves into a jam and don't think we can ever leave this mistake behind us. We can. And each day is a fresh start on the rest of our lives.

How often do we remind kids or other family members over and over again about the mistakes they have made? "You always forget to do ____." or "When are you going to ever learn ____?" Yes, we get frustrated that learning often seems to take a long time, but it did for us when we were kids, too. It still does! And this kind of message isn't what helped us finally get beyond and grow up. This kind of message left us feeling like we would never get there. It deflates self esteem.

After a time out, or a consequence as a result of an inappropriate behavior, we can actively put this behind us and encourage the child to do the same. For ourselves, when we make a mistake, when we respond too harshly, we can apologize and start fresh today or even the next moment with kindness. Yes, children need redirection. They need our help to learn and grow. They do not need us to "bark" at them with commands. We learn too, day by day. I learn day by day, as I work on things that trip me up and keep me from being the best person I can be, toward myself and other people.

Thankfully, today is a new day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

True? Kind? Necessary?

I have been considering the question of what to say and, frankly, when to keep my mouth shut. To be honest, this is the challenge of a lifetime. I find this much easier to decide when I am interacting with strangers and acquaintances. This is difficult when I am talking about my relationships with friends, and especially family. I also know that I am not alone in this communication struggle because I hear examples from others all the time.

Why is it that many of us think we know best? That we have the answer that will solve her problem, even when there are plenty of times when we have a tough time finding the best solution for ourselves. If he would only listen to me.... yeah, as if my life is perfect and always operating smoothly!

Recently I was at a meeting where someone remarked that at work, when she wants very badly to say something about a situation that is bugging her, she sometimes has her wits about her and remembers to stop and think first before speaking, asking herself -
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Later that day, I received my daily "Thought for the Day" from Eknath Easwaran's book Words to live By, with the very same reminder. Though these questions probably originated many years ago from the teachings of a wise sage, I felt I was getting a clear message from the universe today to consider my words carefully. When put to this test, often, my best response is silence. These are very helpful questions to teach children. But even more important, they are probably best learned through example.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

14 Cows for America

I get a weekly e-newsletter called "Exchange Everyday" with info to assist early childhood educators. This story is one that must be passed on. Our children need to hear about the love and kindness and compassion offered by others so they will learn to do the same and stand with people who need support - physical, emotional, and spiritual!

Some children's books are funny, some are clever, many are not so clever. Every once in a while, one touches the hearts of both adults and children. 14 Cows for America by Carman Agra Deedy is such a book. It is a beautifully told and illustrated story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah from Kenya. Here is part of his remarkable story in his own words at the end of the book:

"I am Kimeli in this story. I grew up in a small village in Kenya.... When I was older I won a scholarship to study in the United States. Many American moms and dads welcomed me to their homes, as would their own child. Like the Maasai elders in my villag e, these people showed me kindness by taking me in and helping me get an education. America became my second home.

"I was in New York City on September 11, 2001. What happened that day was devastating. Many people were left without their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Like countless others, I watched brave firefighters and police officers risk their own lives to save people. My warrior heart could not sit still in me. I wanted to do something to help.

"My childhood heart told me what to do: Offer a sacrifice in the way of my people. To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own. I had saved enough to fulfill my dream and buy a cow. I decided that the cow, a symbol of life to our people, would be my offering to the grieving Americans....

"I returned to Kenya the following spring and told the story of that tragic day in New York City. Hearing my story, seeing my tears, the ancient spirit of my people was stirred up. When I presented my gift for blessing, the others offered up their own precious cows. Fourteen cows were blessed that day. It was a great moment in my village. We were helping to heal people far away.

"When the American ambassador and his wife came to our village to accept the cows, 'The Star Spangled Banner' played over a loudspeaker during the ceremony. Although my people did not understand the song, they stood along with the Americans and placed their hands across their chests. Seeing hundreds of Maasai standing with him in respectful silence made the American diplomat cry. His tears caught the Maasai by surprise, and we were all swept up in the deep emotion of the moment. A connection between the two cultures had been made. We felt we had taken some of America's pain into our Maasai hearts.

"These sacred, healing cows can never be slaughtered. They remain in our care in Kenya under the guidance of the revered elder Mzee Ole-Yiampoi. The original fourteen have calved and the herd now numbers over thirty-five. They continue to be a symbol of hope from the Maasai to their brothers and sisters in America. The Maasai wish that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Impulsiveness and "evil"

This is a far more provocative subject than those I often write about. But I feel compelled. I was with someone the other day who felt that her nephew as irredeemably evil. He hurtful, mean, rude things to others all the time. Are there people who are innately evil? Are there children who are hopeless causes because they will not learn to behave in socially appropriate ways? From my experience, the answer is No.

First, I don't want in any way to make this all about "environment" meaning that children are a reflection of what they have been taught, or what has been modeled. Though there is truth here, we can too quickly get into a place of blaming parents and caregivers. This is not a blame game. This doesn't help children and society as a whole at all. The social and emotional climate of a child's upbringing is only one piece of the puzzle.

And this is also not solely about genetics. Our genes are a powerful influence on who we are and what we become. But life and family members and experiences all go into the mix and can mediate with genes. Most young children are impulsive by nature. They are curious and some will go to any lengths to try something new out. A three year old child may even pinch a baby sister or brother really hard or put a kitten into a bucket of water to see what happens. Rarely is this done to really hurt the baby or animal. This very young child is not hopelessly evil. Young toddlers and preschoolers do not have the ability to logically understand another's feelings or the consequence of their behaviors in nearly the sophisticated way that they will a few years later when they are school aged. And certainly having a moral conscience is something that is taught.

We can ask a very young child, what's the rule about..... whatever. And because they have heard this from us, they often can parrot back a simple correct response. But in the moment, they forget. They are not thinking fully when they let their curiosity or excitement get the better of them, and they do something that seems hurtful or mean. That is exactly the time when they need a reminder. They need to hear that that behavior is unacceptable, it is not kind and respectful. And they need to be directed to appropriate activities. Just saying "no" or "stop" is often not enough to sidetrack them.

Some adults will say, "well, he knows better." And they are right. But knowing better and always making the right choice in the moment are two very different things. Even we adults do things that "in our right minds" we know there are better, more healthy, more kind responses. We over eat. We drink too much. We stay up too late. We forget to make that appointment for the dentist. We react to someone on the road, and cut them off. There are many, many examples. This does not mean we are innately unteachable people. Children need us to remember that we can act thoughtlessly, too. And we can learn to be more aware, moment by moment, and ask ourselves, "what would be the kind thing for me to do right now?" And then we act the same way toward children.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Looking for ancestors

This is a picture of one set of my great grandparents, Willard and Lillian St Martin. I believe this is a wedding picture taken in bout 1896 in Wisconsin.

I have been doing the family genealogy for many years. I love this adventure. It is like I am running a major detective agency. Using resources in archives, libraries, and now many online sources, it is possible to go back in time and find our ancestors. Since I am often busy during the school year teaching my classes, summers are the time for me to dig back in and see what I can learn. Well, this summer, rather than spending so much time looking back, I've decided to find my "cousins" in the present.

When my dad's father was a young man, he left home and married, and after only a few years moved the family from Minnesota to San Diego, CA where my dad was born, and I was born and raised. My grandfather died before I was born from early onset diabetes. He had been told about 10 years before that he would only live a year or so, but was able to beat the odds of that time. Because my grandmother remarried, we had very little contact with grandpa's side of my family. One time we saw my great grandfather (Willard in the picture) who was living in Washington as an elderly man. I have pictures, but I don't remember him.

So this summer, I have been looking for relatives on my Martin side, and I have found some. I am also excited to be getting pictures of the uncles and aunts from way back. And I am even planning to visit some of these folks in the midwest. It is very exciting to learn more about the family.

Many children today have no idea who their great grandparents are, or where they came from. People used to depend upon their oral history and shared their stories freely. Where did that practice go? We have become a media-driven computer age, but forget to take the time to talk with our elders and learn their stories. I have so many questions I would like to have asked of those who are gone. So, I am looking for the elders who are still around to find out more.

We are here today because of the hard work and spirit of adventure of our ancestors. Many of them lived hard lives. Some of them were less than perfect. Others are described as generous, caring people. They all helped make us the people we are today.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Too many details

Our visit with family went well. There were many precious moments of just sitting and talking. I was pleased to see my sons visiting and laughing with extended family members they very rarely see. It was a pretty relaxing visit. And now that I am back home, other "stuff" calls. I always have lots of things on my list. Lots of details that are screaming to be handled. I get easily distracted by additional things that can seem to come out of nowhere and call out, "Me first!" To be honest, I am more likely to follow the call of those opportunities that sound fun or interesting. I recognize that this is a gift. Sometimes I cannot let go. Sometimes I must do all those things before any fun.

No matter what we may think we need to be doing, kids call out to us all the time! They want help. They want to show us something that is precious to them - like a dandelion flower or a spider or a rock that shines with "gold." They're fighting with each other. They are bored. Can we let go of our list of things to enjoy the moment with a child? Sometimes we are just too busy with all of the details. We need to decide what is most important.

I know that self care is critical. If I am not paying attention to my health, I am not at my best. So little things like being sure to eat a good meal, brushing my teeth, taking a walk are necessary every day. We live in a face paced world that wants me to hop on the hamster wheel and keep running. I need to remember to get off and stop. There are always priorities to juggle and reassess. What do we really need to focus on?

Life is full. Life is crazy. And life can be really challenging. So, how can we remember to take time to enjoy the moments? Sometimes it's simple (though not always easy) - Stop. Breathe. Notice.Listen. Appreciate. Just writing this was a gift for me. Thanks for being there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Remembering 60 years

Dad with my two sisters, Susan and Kathryn

My parents just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Next weekend we travel down to San Diego for a family reunion and appreciation for all that my parents have given us.

Raised in the midst of the big Depression, Gordon Martin and Tricia Totten found each other through a church youth group. Mom had come to California with her family only a few years before, and Dad was born in San Diego. They each saw in the other a partner who could help to light the way during dark times, and bring joy and fun at other times. Theirs has not been a totally smooth life path, but whose is? Through it all, they have loved and accepted each other, and supported each other on the journey. They are best friends!

Mom has always loved reading. She is creative and has always encouraged us to follow our dreams. She took her role as a mother seriously, being room mother, scout leader, and chauffeur to many different activities that reflected our individual interests. Dad is a very hard worker, modeling the importance of a strong work ethic and life-long learning. Even at 83, he is writing a book on a science topic that he passionately believes in. They still dance weekly at local round dancing events.

We had many fun family times when we were kids. We went to church every Sunday, and on camping trips most summers. We four siblings are still close today, at a time when many families are split by differences.

What memories are we making for our kids? What kind of family life are we providing? What values do we reflect in our daily choices? How are we offering children the support to be all that they are meant to be?

Thanks Mom and Dad!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Celebrating successes

The end of another school year is fast approaching. Most of us are relieved. Even working parents who may have to scramble to figure out the appropriate child care for the summer are thankful to be able to set the evening routines aside. Homework can take a break for a few months.

And at the end of the semester, report cards will be issued. Some have done very well, often with the support of others. There is also a common tendency to notice the things that did not go well, the subjects that need more attention. Just for a little bit, let's have a moratorium on nitpicking and focusing on the negative. Let's do the opposite of what we often do, and be sure to give more positive attention, offering congratulations for the things that have been well done, the successes accomplished.

This is a reminder we all need. I am much more likely to be critical of myself and the mistakes I make than to acknowledge when I do well. It is more encouraging to get positive feedback from others than to feel the inadequacy of "constructive criticism." Is it ever really constructive? It still feels like judgment, even if it is feedback that could ultimately be helpful. When things are going well, the kids are playing together without fighting, we tend to hold our breath in surprise and gratitude. These are the times to recognize and celebrate.

So, for today, I celebrate the successes in my family members and in myself. Well done! Good for you! Enjoy the day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Looking for Normal

I was at a meeting the other day where someone was talking about children who are in the foster care system. These children have often experienced abuse and deprivation that NO child deserves. These kinds of experiences can have a profound effect on a child's development. It can become skewed. They may be "normal" in their learning in one area, delayed in another, and sometimes even ahead of their peers in another.

For example, a child can be starved for emotional connection and may seek contact in all the wrong ways, being too friendly with people they don't know, with poor to none existent healthy boundaries. Or a child might be delayed in language development because no one talked to them on a regular basis or they had poor nutrition. Or still another child might be too interested in sexual matters well beyond their years if they have been exposed to inappropriate sexuality. Any one of these children could potentially be right on target with milestones in other areas of their development.

When we really examine this issue, we are reminded that each child grows at their own pace, influenced by many different factors. Parents and other providers often hold up the standards of "normal" to gauge where a child is today. We need to be careful in our expectations. For just about every marker of a child's current growth, there is a very wide range of what is actually "normal". And what is "normal" for one child, may not be for another.

Years ago I took our young son to a new doctor for his regular well-check visit. He was a very tall, well-built child. He was not over-weight, but he had broad shoulders, a large head, and a big frame. Like many children his age, he was a picky eater, but in spite of this, he ate reasonably well. This doctor who didn't know him or us took a look at the growth charts they all have and saw that he was about 95% in height and 90th in weight and was concerned about his size which was "normal" for our son. He was actually pretty evenly proportioned because the percentiles were very close. This doctor didn't really even understand the charts he was using and cautioned me about providing the right nutrition.

What is "normal" for you, for a child, or for another person is just what is "normal" for each of them (within some reasonable limits). Rather than looking for or striving for the mystical, allusive thing we call "normal", it seems to me like we need to be doing more to accept our children and our selves right where we are. And work with doing our best to provide the nurturing and enrichment that maximizes each person's on-going growth and development.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Seeing their wholeness

One of my favorite pastimes is going to a movie. I get myself a large bag of popcorn and sit down and wait for the make believe to make me laugh, or think, or capture my heart. There are many movies I won't see. Hollywood can spend lots of money on junk. I just went to a very touching movie, The Soloist, based on the true story of a man who is homeless in LA. This man is a talented musician with schizophrenia. The movie story is not totally true to the real man, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, but the heart of the story comes across wonderfully.

I like to find the truths in fiction. I like to be reminded of our humanity, and to see the hope in this sometimes very crazy world.

Mental illness is a crippling health issue that takes many forms. We have come a long way in our understanding of the multiplicity of disorders, but we are also still struggling to figure out what this means for individuals and families. Mental illness is still shrouded in mystery and fear. When we put our collective mental health on a continuum, we find that we all lie somewhere along the spectrum. Is there really such a thing as "normal" or are we all unique reflections of our makeups shaped by heredity and experience. What does each person need to feel comfortable with life?

And we still have a long way to go, to give each person, each child, the chance they need to develop to their own potential. These are "nice" words but the practice of this point of view takes a lot of faith. As a mother, I had times when I did not act from faith. I believed I had the answer and knew exactly what was right for my children. Of course, sometimes I did. But I also mis-stepped.

I guess my point today is that we need to keep trying to really see our children, our loved ones. See them as whole people. We need to admit that we can only do our best and that we are going to make mistakes in our relationships, in our lives. We can accept each unique being and remember it's not our job to change anyone. Heck, I have a hard time changing some of my own bad habits. I'm not sure where everyone in my family lies on that mental health spectrum. I do know that we're not neatly lined up together. And I'm convinced that love and acceptance are always better paths to take on the way to wholeness.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Feng Shui of Caring for Children

I was just thinking today about the vibes that surround me here at my computer in my home office. I am a teacher and writer, so I am literally hemmed in by piles of papers and boxes of books, full-to-overflowing shelves, and file cabinets. In spite of this sometimes overwhelming clutter, some of my best writing and class planning has happened here.

Fung Shui is an ancient practice that helps us recognize the impact of our surroundings on our physical and emotional energy. Some practitioners are able to assess aspects of a person's quality of life through observation of their living environment. This is a metaphysical science whereby we are encouraged to create living spaces that help us tap into the chi (life force) that support us all.

Clearly, children are affected by their environment. The lighting, the noise, the busy-ness and pace of the activities, the number of people and children, the number of activities, the emotional charge of the interactions - all of these things and more can influence how children AND adults are able to function.

We know that when we are stressed and in a hurry and have too many responsibilities calling to us, we are less patient and less creative. So, of course, what we do to fashion a reasonable pace of life makes a huge difference in the process and outcome of our days. In these times, most of us are doing WAY too much, WAY more than is reasonable. And our environments prove this.... homes and yards that need attention, buildings too close together, streets and highways crowded with cars and people. I can feel it.

AND when I am conscious, I can breathe deeply and slow down, and put more of my energy into creating a space that nurtures me and the ones I live with and work with. Where are we going? What is really important? Who is really important? What can we do today to consider working more harmoniously with the energy that holds us all?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Seeing Children

I have been reminded several times lately about how important it is to really see children. Some of us grew up with the "seen and not heard" philosophy. We were supposed to be quite and polite. With these expectations, I don't think children were really seen. How can people really understand children when they don't talk to them, or let them talk. When they must sit and always wait for adult approval. I am so glad that my parents didn't raise us with this attitude. We laughed and played together. Yes, we had our hassles, too. We were seen.

Seeing children is also about being careful to avoid crippling labels that make children feel bad about themselves. Even when children are intense and dramatic, we can see them for their energy, creativity, and enthusiasm for life. When children seem shy and fearful, we can see them for their careful observation and study of a situation before jumping into new experiences.

Children need to be seen and they need adult mentors who are willing to offer support and guidance, mostly in the form of time. No other distractions, just focused attention. Gotta get those cell phones and TVs off and give kids the gift of being seen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm scared

Kids say this to us all the time. In fact, we worry when a child seems fearless, seems to take risks without thinking of the possible consequences. We want them to be brave, to try new things. But we also want them to be careful and stay safe.

Life can be pretty scary. New things. Or unexpected surprises. Or big loud dogs. Or the dark. It is so important to acknowledge a child's feelings, no matter what. A child's fear may seem silly to us, but the fear is real to them. Children need caring adults who will really listen to them, and not always be so stuck on needing children to listen to the adult. Yes, children hear us, but so often our talking is lecturing and after a minutes it sounds like, "Wah, Wah, Wah Wah, blah blah blah." One of the best gifts we can give is taking time to listen. When they trust we will listen and accept their feelings, they are more likely to be willing to tell us about them when it really matters.

I'm scared right now, too. I'm scared for the future. What will it be like? Will we be able to manage? Will our children and our grandchildren be able to take care of themselves? Will there be resources to go around? Will we finally learn to live in peace and share this planet? Will we have clean water and blue skies and fresh vegetables?

My questions and concerns could go on and on. But in this moment, I am also very grateful for my friends and family who listen to me. They help me come back to right here and right now. This is the only time we really have, so I'm going to take a deep breath and express my gratitude. This moment of being present to my own fears is what I needed. And that breath. Kids need this, too. They need us to listen and acknowledge and bring them back to right here and right now and the things we can do to make today a little less scary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Service to our country

I was walking past a grocery store today. And seated on a chair near the entrance with a big sandwich in her hands was an elderly woman with a sign. She was collecting donations for AmVets. I asked her if she had served. She proudly told me that in 1942 as soon as women were allowed to volunteer, she joined the US Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and served until the end of the war. I thanked her and gave her a donation. As I walked away, the tears surfaced. I was very moved that this probably about 87 year old woman was so proud to have served our country. And I was proud of her.

I am probably a pacifist. I say probably because I'm not sure what I would do if I felt my family members' lives were at stake. But I believe in diplomacy, a difficult, yet sincere, tireless effort to understand people with opposing views and work for compromises that consider the needs of all. For many, many years, the mighty have prospered and the little guy has had to follow or die. At the same time, I have always appreciated those who join the military to defend the rights of democracy. And though I don't believe war, or fighting is the answer, I believe our military and their family members should be well taken care of. Like Michelle Obama, I am deeply saddened that many of our military families are on food stamps. A military enlisted salary is not enough for one person, let alone a whole family. Our military personnel deserve a greater quality of life than they are given.

So this woman today made me think about all those who serve. How do we treat them? What kind of resources are available to their spouses and children?

And what are we teaching children about the value of offering service to others? I believe in a youth corps in which every 18 - 20 year old, male and female, would serve the country in some capacity for one year. This would not just be for military service. They could also choose to work in the cities, in parks, fight fires in the forests, offer child care to inner city families. Our country needs the help of strong young people to rebuild decaying communities.

Thank you to all those who have served our country - in the military and in countless volunteer positions throughout our communities. Bless you all.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Being in time

Where does the time go? This is not about being "on time" but in it, present to the moment. I'm sure I have lamented many times before about the passage of time. Today I have been having one of those days that feels spacious. I keep looking at the clock and being surprised by how much time I still have. What a way to approach life? How can I hold onto this experience? There I go, wanting to micro-manage this or package it. I have been moved by a poem this morning, "Trough" by Judy Brown:

There is a trough in the waves,
a low spot
where the horizon disappears
and only the sky
and water
are our company.

And there we lose our way
we rest,
knowing the wave will bring us
to its crest again.

There we may drown
if we let fear
hold us within its grip and shake us
side to side,
and leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there
in the trough,
in silence,
being with
the low part of the wave,
our energy and
noticing the shape of things,
the flow,
then time alone
will bring us to another
where we can see
horizon, see the land again,
regain our sense
of where
we are,
and where we need to swim.

But "if we rest... keeping our energy and noticing... then time alone will bring us to another place... regain[ing] our sense of where we are, and where we need to swim." Today, I have felt myself resting in that trough, and feeling nourished there. I am where I need to be. I can let some of the "shoulds" go, just for today.

In this busy world, what a gift to offer to children, to just be, to slow down. We can ask ourselves, "how important is it that I do this today?" And when we do slow our wild pace, children show us and teach us many things. They offer us creativity and curiosity and enthusiasm and wonder. Then for all of us, "I'm bored!" can be replaced with a world of possibilities.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Knitting Socks

One of my favorite finished sock pairs

I first learned to knit from my mom when I was a kid. Then I relearned or got the new and improved instructions from a neighbor when I was an older teen. Throughout the years, now and then, knitting has been a source of creativity and relaxation. And to be honest, a way to keep busy while I was watching TV or a movie. Then about a year and half ago, I got the idea to learn how to knit socks. I found a great site online that gave step by step instructions. Following along, I got one done. Then I did the second one, and it was so much better, that I took out the first and knitted a third. My first pair was born. Since then I have made more than 40 pairs of socks.

Knitting socks has proven to be one of my favorite pastimes in all seasons. They are easy to take along and pull out anytime. They are a great gift. My husband says that when he wears the ones I have made it's like having me right up against him.... ah, sweet!

In tough times and good times, in all times, it's great to have a hobby or interest that brings us joy. A few weeks before Christmas, I was having tea with a friend at one of the local cafes. There was a young man who was carefully knitting what looked like a scarf on some big needles. I asked him about it. He said his girlfriend had just taught him that morning and he was planning to make scarves for friends as gifts.

What kind of creative pursuits are we encouraging in kids today? For ourselves?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Do you feel the earthquake?

Seems like the earth is rumbling under my feet. We have definitely come to a huge tipping point, I hope, and who knows what kinds of things might happen.

A new president and many new possibilities. Yes, we have lots to do to recover from this huge mess we've dug ourselves into. And one man can't make it all better. Well, I don't know about you, but I have more hope now for eventual rebuilding then I did some months back. I'm ready to do more, doing my part. Yes, we can!

And what a different world we present to children. You really can grow up to be and to do anything you set your heart on. I know, it also takes a good dose of luck and connections and being at the right place at the right time, but hope and belief go along way in preparing the road ahead.

I'm thinking a lot these days about what we can do and I think these times definitely require action. How can we give our kids hope? We can talk with them about their dreams. We can show them through our example that we live in this world community together and must all help out. We can be more conscious and aware of what's going on around us. We can smile lots more. We can turn the TVs and computers off and go outside - rain or shine. We can take kids to neighborhood clean-up events. We can turn on the music and dance... or get out the drums and make some joyful noise!

The earth is moving under my feet... I gotta get moving. Are you coming?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Community Building - Change is comin'!!

Hey, times are tough, but change is coming. This morning in church many eyes were tearful with anticipation as we all held hands and sang, "We shall Overcome." This won't be easy times. But, when we all work together, we can rebuild this hurting country, and reach out to the world. I'm so excited and full of hope. My hope is that Barack Obama will create a presidency that feels very different from what we have experienced in recent years.

Diversity is encouraged. New ideas will be flowing. We will all be called to serve our country in some way, through volunteering and reaching out to others.

In recent years, too many have adopted a feeling of entitlement. The American Dream isn't about a free ride. The dream is fulfilled when we all work together. In America we can speak our mind. We have freedom and choices, but not if our choices are going to hurt others.

I will be watching lots of TV in the next few days, joining others in our national celebration. A big part of my joy is for today AND for future generations. What a message this gives to children. You can become whatever you want to be. And we are all behind you lending our support. Yes we can.... build "a more perfect union." Yes, we can!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tough Times - Part 5 Community Building

During tough times and all times, we can't do this alone... this being life. We aren't meant to be isolated, and in fact, when we become isolated, times get tougher. And yet when I am feeling crummy, one of the first things I do is shut myself off from others. There's a difference between seeking quiet, meditative time to ponder our next steps, and closing the doors to companionship and support.

In these times we're in now, and in the near future, community is going to become even more important. I believe many people today are starved for connection. And yet, isolation and loneliness make it more difficult for us to reach out. Children can be natural connectors for us. When one of my sons was three, he would smile and enthusiastically greet strangers when we were out and about, "Hi, my name's Wade. What's your name?" And they need us to encourage their comfort with friends and competence in social settings.

So, we must be proactive. What can we do to build community? Here are a few simple "small steps" that I am going to take:
* I'm going to connect more with my neighbors.
* When I'm feeling stressed, I'm going to make more of an effort to call someone.
* I'm going to continue to make walking "dates" with friends.
* I'm going to smile more and greet people when I am at the store or doing errands.

More than ever, there are many changes that must be made to create a sustainable future. Building strong communities must be right at the heart of this effort.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tough Times - Part 4 - Small steps - Do Something

Times are tough and it is easy to get overwhelmed and stuck. I offer this reflection from Chris Trout at -

This week's reflection is about you. How is it going? Are you moving toward what you want? "A-a-ck" you say! "Be careful where you tread. I'm feeling a little vulnerable these days."

Why is this so often the way it feels? For we...
  • Want to take action in our lives.
  • Intend to ask for and advocate for what we want.
  • Are committed to taking the first steps.
  • Are determined not to let another day pass.
But it (another day) does pass. And we don't (act). And we regret. And we lose steam. Then time goes by, we have an insight or revelation that will make it all different this time, and we start the whole process over again (albeit having peeled back yet another layer of our ever-so-complicated psyches).

Sound familiar? Here's the good news: You are so not alone. Here's the bad news: You aren't nearly as uniquely complicated as you had hoped. ("Yes I am! Leave me alone!")

So what to do?

Anything. That's right. Do any tiny, miniscule, pathetic, insignificant little thing even remotely related to what you want. It needn't be the right thing or the most productive or what anyone else thinks you should do. Just do any one thing - right now, today. Then tonight (and this is the important part), look yourself in the mirror - I mean it, literally look at yourself in the mirror - and thank yourself. Say, "________, I appreciate your action on __________. Way to go. See you back here tomorrow night." Do it again tomorrow.

This is how success works. Not very complicated. Not so dramatic. Step 1: Do any simple act to move forward. (Yes, skipping just one chip from the bag counts. Saying "hi" to one person on the elevator counts. Getting the address of the masters program counts. Noticing one tree on the way home counts. Step 2: Express gratitude to yourself and the universe that supports you. Now repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

Do these two simple, insignificant, not-so-dramatic steps every day and soon your brain will get the idea. The actions will get bigger, a little more 'significant' - all on their own. Some actions will create their own next steps. New ideas will come to you at the oddest times. An
d before you know it, you will look at where you are and say "Now how did I get here?"

When you say that, promise me this: that you will stop and smile, say "Thank you" to yourself, and relish the feeling, for you are now one of those people you used to envy, people who seem to know the secret.

Do anything... thank yourself.
Do... thank.
Do... thank.

One thing... anything... today.