Saturday, 29 June 2013

Weekend Reading {vol. 100}

Come As A Child @ Internet Monk
When I visit [my grandson], he takes the reins as soon as I arrive and sends us galloping off in the direction of his choice. Whether it’s “Read this!” or “Play outside!” it’s clear from the get-go who’s in charge. His mommy often reminds him that it’s not nice to order Grandmere about. While Silas certainly is bossy at times, I’ve noticed something else driving his entreaties of, “Grandmere! Stand with me! Sit with me! Run with me!”

Did you catch that? “With me.” As I study the beaming smile and the gleam in his eyes, I see...delight. He is having great fun, and he wants me to join in. Though Silas is years away from being able to put it into words, he already understands that the best of life’s moments are those shared with a loved one. The joy of shared experience bubbles over and spills onto everyone around it. And that reminds me of God.

The Still, Small Voice @ A Deeper Family
It wasn’t until everyone had caught their breath, including Elena, that my doctor explained what had happened. When I started to push and my water broke, they saw that she had a prolapsed cord. Normally, that results in an emergency c-section, but there wasn’t time. Thankfully, her heart rate never decelerated, and her Apgars were fine. I asked him what would have happened if I had had an epidural and Pitocin like in my previous births. He looked at me steadily and replied that she would have died, or at best have had severe brain damage. Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit had likely saved my daughter’s life.

Today we are celebrating her fifth birthday, but I still feel as though I’m the one who received the gift. We are much stronger than we know, and a still, small voice is more powerful than any roar of doubt.

10 Great Ways to Be An Unhappy Mom @ Mothering
1. Believe that you must have it all now. This one is running rampant through our culture, creating discontent within every demographic. Because we are suddenly aware of the existence of millions of products, experiences and ways to “improve” upon our lives, because millions of dollars are spent annually to creatively convince us that we need that which we’re suddenly aware of AND because instant gratification is now assumed and expected, it’s easy to see how we’ve become totally caught up in this defeating mentality. It is equally present within the mainstay of motherhood. We are taught that we can have careers, babies, balance within our homes, bigger homes, more time with our spouses, more organized closets, physical fitness, money in savings and vacations to counter the chaos (to name a few) ALL AT ONCE. Then, in an attempt to manage impossible loads (or ease our guilt for having failed to do so), we consume — because according to the ones spending the millions, that will solve the problem. Guess who wins in this vicious cycle?

Taking back Eden @ Jamie the Very Worst Missionary
Shame is a byproduct of a dying world. It's a shackle that binds us to our brokenness. It is Shame who first points a finger and cries out, “Look at you! You're NAKED!”, and tells you to run and hide. Shame warns you to cover up, hide your junk, don't get caught. Shame clothed us in fig leaves and nestled us in the bushes; shame led the way right out of Eden, and still it barricades the door.

If you believe shame is the pathway to obedience, I'm sorry, but your gospel is twisted. Shame is no friend of Jesus.

Friday, 28 June 2013

A Child's Memory

It's only a memory.

It is summer and I am small, four, perhaps. My baby sister is there, bright-eyed and laughing, two years old and gloriously carefree.

It is the most beautiful memory of my mother that I possess. Her hair is long and straight, brown, and her head is thrown back in laughter. She snaps pictures of us as we take turns sliding down our little red-and-white metal slide. 

I see her now. My sister is at the bottom of the slide and I pull myself to the top, watching them below, pure joy, both of them. 

And I feel, suddenly and inexplicably, a great sadness.

I grew up with that sadness, somehow. It's been there since that day, a deep sorrow that seems to have no particular cause nor hope for relief. It exists alongside that other inner constant, peace, and it makes little sense to me how such opposites can live so harmoniously together. But there they are, even today, deep sorrow alongside a peace that passes all understanding.

I think about that memory often. It is, as far as I can tell, my earliest one. It seems to me that it was the moment I became truly aware of my own existence, myself, a person separate from all others. Perhaps, then, the sorrow is more correctly a sort of loneliness. I am me and I am separate and I feel certain that one day, when the world is set right again, that feeling will no longer be with me. Until then, I think it's as much a part of me as my own heart, waiting for something that is too big and too grand to put into words. 

Anyway. It's only a memory. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

"Whispers Through Time" Book Review & Giveaway

This post is part of the Virtual Book Tour for the launch of L.R.Knost's newest release Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood. Click here if you’d like to check out all of the other stops on the tour!

"Communication is the core of all parent/child interaction. Whether parents choose to brandish it like a sword to control their children or wield it like a mallet to hammer their children into shape or whisper it like an invitation to follow, communication is the means of parenting. What is lacking in the sword and the mallet is connection, sharing, understanding, camaraderie...that 'commune' element of communication."

From the introduction to L.R. Knost's Whispers Through Time: Communication through the ages and stages of childhood, these gentle yet straight-forward words set the tone for the rest of the book. Along with its predecessor, Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle parenting through the ages and stages, both new and seasoned gentle parents will find this a worthy resource.

Each of the book's short chapters is concise and to-the-point, making it an easy read for parents who are often short on time. The book takes the reader from newborn through adolescence to explore typical development and effective communication at each stage. Beginning with the baby stage, the author describes the importance of intentional and responsive communication from the first moments:

"Communication begins at the moment of birth. Interwoven in those precious moments after a newborn is placed on a mama's belly are the first cry, the first eye contact, the first rooting for the breast, and the first opportunity to respond, to meet needs, to connect."

In her signature no-nonsense style, L.R. Knost ends the baby section with a reminder of the impact our perceptions of our children have on who they will become down the road:

"So, who are you raising, parents? An innocent child or a cunning manipulator? It's vital that you decide, because your perception of who your child is and what motivates them will influence not only your attitude toward your child, but your response to your child as well.

Remember, who you think you are raising is who you will raise!"

The baby stage is followed by the toddler stage, and L.R. Knost tackles tantrums, "no's", shrieks, and connecting through play. Woven throughout it all is this gentle reminder:

"No matter the problem, kindness is always the right response. When your child is having a problem, stop, listen, then respond to the need, not the behavior. The behavior can be addressed later, after the need has been met, because only then is the door to effective communication truly open."

Next up are the preschoolers, including lying, whining, and "why's". Again, the focus throughout is effective communication regardless of what behavior the parent is dealing with at the moment:

"All behavior, including lying, is communication. Focusing on the need behind the behavior instead of the behavior itself or the lie it prompted will actually solve the problem rather than simply address the symptom of the problem."

Middle childhood discussions include tattling, tone, apologies, and more. Reminding us that our words matter, L.R. Knost says:

"Parents, choose your words wisely, carefully, thoughtfully. In the same way that violence begets violence and anger begets anger, kindness begets kindness and peace begets peace. Sow words of peace, words that build, words that show respect and belief and support. Those are the seeds of a future filled with goodness and hope and compassion, and aren't those the things we really want for our children, after all?"

Also included is the challenging reminder that what we model to our children speaks loudest of all:

"Consciously, intentionally, and consistently living out how we want our children to turn out is the most powerful and effective character training there is. The lessons they will take into the future will consist far more of how we treat them than what we teach them."

The teen years chapters cover backtalk, friendship, and giving our teens both the space and opportunity to open up to us about what's going on in their head and their heart. Following up on her earlier delineation between punishment (penalty for undesirable behavior) and discipline (guidance toward desired behavior), the author reiterates the importance of this difference:

"The punitive parenting approach focuses on the child as the problem and attempts to solve the problem by 'fixing' the child through intentionally unpleasant external forces.

The gentle parenting approach focuses on the child having a problem and attempts to help the child solve the problem through connection, communication, and inviting cooperation."

More than anything, communication must be between two people, not dictated from one to another:

"For effective communication to take place, both parties need to hear the other. If both are focused on trying to be heard at the same time, neither will end up being heard. As the only adult in the parent/child relationship, it's up to you to listen first, to understand first, to acknowledge and validate your child first. You have the maturity and self-control to be patient and wait to be heard. Your child doesn't, especially when emotions are running high.

Parents who are focused on control often find the idea of an interactive response rather than instant, unquestioning obedience from their child to be an uncomfortable concept. It's in that exchange of thoughts, though, that children learn how an adult thinks and that they begin to internalize the belief systems and values parents ultimately want their children to take into adulthood."

So much truth packed into such a little book.

Win it!

L.R. Knost is generously giving away the first two books in her Little Hearts Handbook series, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages. To enter, leave a comment on this post. Giveaway is open worldwide until 11:59 PM PST. Be sure to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win!

Congratulations, Amanda, on being randomly selected as the winner of the giveaway!

Other stops and opportunities to win during this Book Tour are listed on L.R. Knost's Book Tour page, along with a book trailer and sample chapters.

About the Author

Best-selling parenting and children’s book author, L.R. Knost, is an independent child development researcher and founder and director of the advocacy and consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources. A mother of six, her children range from 25-years down to 25-months-old. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood are the first in her Little Hearts Handbooks series of parenting guides. The next book in the series, The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline is due to be released November 2013. Other works by this award-winning author include the children's picture books A Walk in the Clouds, Petey’s Listening Ears, and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series for ages 2 to 6, which are humorous and engaging tools for parents, teachers, and caregivers to use in implementing gentle parenting techniques in their homes and schools.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Weekend Reading {vol. 99}

Mom's Nest @ A Little Bit of All of It
“Well…” I continued, “it’s the same with me. And with all women! Every month a woman’s body prepares a nest in her tummy, where a baby can grow. Her wise body gathers tissue and blood from inside her, and makes a warm and comfortable nest. Then, if no baby starts to grow, there is no need for the nest. So Mamma’s wise body sends the nest out in a big whoosh. That’s why the flow is red, because it’s made of all the good, nourishing blood that was ready to help the baby grow.”

“Every month,” I shared with my daughter, “I thank my body for being such a miracle, and for knowing how to make a baby grow inside. I also thank it for the wisdom of letting go of the nest, when I don’t need it.” Ellah was fully satisfied. She had a clear picture in her mind, and the Moon Flow made sense to her.

Actively Connecting @ Practicing Mammal
For a difficult child, or for kids during their difficult phases, the establishment of the bond of love must be made almost every time we interact with them.

It seems like such a small thing, but seriously, what a change in family dynamics, to spend a few minutes a day priming the relationships. It becomes a habit so that we end up priming all the relationships in our home all the time. Build up each other.

In which I’m hoping for a slower summer light @ Sarah Bessey
I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of being everywhere and nowhere. Multi-tasking is a myth: I’ve ended up doing everything at once and nothing well, and I think in pithy status updates instead of real thoughts. I sat down to watch a movie earlier and I couldn’t do it: two hours is too long to sit still without doing something, anything, everything all at once, too. My head feels full of noise and chatter and opinions, pouncing from thought to thought without rest.

I remember how an afternoon could pass in such a lazy way when I was that gap-toothed kid with sunshine in her hair, a day passing a slow never-ending way of sunshine and wandering, how minutes blurred into hours, and it was just the way of things, a quieter mind somehow. I miss the meandering, I miss the laying down and watching the sky, I miss picking up a book and finishing it without wanting to check my email. I miss creating and dozing and watching the world for a few moments.

The Homily @ Internet Monk
God’s grace is scandalous; it’s not respectable in the least. Do you not see that in our Old Testament reading? Come, buy food without money, stock up on milk and wine with your food stamps. We don’t read that this is a one-time offer. It seems we can continue to get all the food and all the drink we want without ever having to pay. As a matter of fact, we cannot pay for what God is offering. We can only receive it as it is given — freely.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

What is it really about?

It's almost never about the kids.

Oh, it feels like it, all that noise and mess bordering on chaos some days. I stomp around, grumpy and short-tempered, trying to bite my tongue and figure out what exactly it is that's bothering me so much. They're just laughing. It's a good thing. No, it's not really the kids that I'm annoyed with.

Do you know what it was the other day? The blinds. There it was, two in the afternoon, and for some reason the blinds were still closed. It was cloudy and grey outside but even darker in here, and my mood was darker still. Until I noticed the blinds. It's amazing what light can do, driving out the unreasonable moodiness along with the dark.

Sometimes it's the clutter. A few minutes of tidying and the tightness in my chest relaxes. Our days are always more peaceful when our surroundings are in order.

Sometimes I'm hungry. Or they're hungry. Put some food in us and we're good as new.

Sometimes I'm thirsty, and I don't realize it until I'm standing in front of the fridge chugging water like I can't get enough of it. Grumpy? Not me. Not anymore.

Sometimes I just need my five-minute sanity routine. Closing myself in the bathroom, I empty my bladder, splash some water on my face, and run a brush through my hair. I somehow feel more human after this simple moment of self-care and refreshment.

Not every bit of unhappiness is so easily solved, of course, but for those general day-to-day moments of I'm-feeling-grumpy-and-I-don't-know-why, our day can be turned around in only a few minutes when I lean into my bad temper and figure out that underlying cause. And if that's true for me, how much more true is it for my kids themselves? Their own grumpiness so often has a simple underlying reason, if only I would take the time to help them dig into it and then solve it, moving on cheerfully into the rest of our day.

As I go about my week, this is the question I need to keep in mind: what is it really about? Is there something little, something simple, that is causing me to be short-tempered? Is there something I can change in five minutes to improve my mood - a few minutes of straightening up, a snack, a walk to the mailbox, something else? What can I do to let go of that grumpiness and return to parenting with joy and light-heartedness?

Because truly, that grumpy mood of mine is almost never about the kids.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Battling perfectionism

I am a perfectionist.

I am a perfectionist, and some days I will defend it with all my heart, hands balled into tight fists as I shout, there's nothing wrong with this! What's wrong with perfectionism, anyway? What's wrong with doing the very best you can possibly do in every possible area of your life? What's wrong with that?

So what if I refold the towels my husband (incorrectly) folds? They fit better on the shelf my way. So what if I have to clean and organize my house top-to-bottom before having company over? Our loved ones deserve it. So what if I spend half my life paralyzed by minor decisions? It's worth it to take the time and be sure before committing to something that might not be quite right otherwise.

But when I look at my life, at myself, at my relationships and anxieties and fears, I can't pretend for long that there's nothing wrong with that.

Perfectionism makes me a poor friend. I want to invite you over. I do. I care about you and enjoy spending time with you but what if I don't have the right food in my house? What if I have nothing to offer you, no homemade cookies to go along with our tea, no guest-worthy food to serve for lunch or dinner? What if I don't find the time to scrub my shower before you arrive? And then I panic because I don't know what to make and I don't have time to go grocery shopping today and the kids create a new mess just as I quickly as I clean another one up and my laundry hamper is never empty and why would you want to come over anyway? I'm probably just imposing, and you'll accept politely because you're kind and generous but I know it's really just another obligation to add to your calendar...and so I don't invite you over.

I'm sorry.

Perfectionism limits the kindness I extend to others. You just gave birth, you beautiful mother you, and I want to serve you with meals and thoughtful gifts and oh, I would love to help you in any way I can while you recover. But I don't know what to make, don't want to burden you with another casserole to add to the collection in your freezer. Maybe something warm and fresh? Although you probably have something planned already; I could call ahead to be sure but then you'd feel like you had to tidy up and be presentable (or at least I would in that situation, I'd run around like a mad woman just to be sure everything was in order before you arrived with the meal that was intended to bless me with rest). You are incredible and I'm afraid my attempts at kindness will only end up being a burden. And a gift? You probably have more baby clothes than you have closet space, trinkets are just something else to be dusted, I don't know what books you already have and maybe you'll think this outfit is silly or ugly and who'd put their baby in that anyway? I could help, though. I know that most days, having someone else put on a load of laundry would be gift enough times a thousand, but I'd probably come off awkward or creepy or imposing, as if you need me to do your laundry for you anyway. In the end, I offer a generic-but-heartfelt let me know what I can do to help, but I know you won't ask because I never do either.

I'm sorry.

Perfectionism keeps me from carrying out in body what my heart desires. I want to offer something to those in need but I'm afraid it won't be enough, it'll be wrong somehow, not good enough or helpful enough or offered in the right way. I want to help but I'm afraid my help will be more burden than anything else. I want to send photos of the children to their grandparents but they're just cellphone pictures and they deserve nice bright clear beautiful pictures, and I need to sort them and choose them and edit them and I get behind and it gets overwhelming and so I send nothing. I want to share my thoughts but what do I have to offer anyway? I want to write but what do I have to say that doesn't waste the time of the one who will read it? I want to sew but how do I ever choose just the right fabric for this project? And everything takes so much longer because it must be thorough and checked and rechecked and redone and polished and just so in the end, and even then I'm as likely as not to decide to toss the whole thing out anyway. Not good enough.

I'm sorry.

Perfectionism heaps shame on my family. I know my husband notices when I quietly refold a wrinkled shirt before slipping it in its drawer. I have to nearly sit on my hands to keep from taking over my son's projects - let him fold his own damn paper airplanes, who cares if they're six-year-old quality instead of perfect? I get angry too quickly, do too much myself, because am I the only own who bothers to do anything right the first time? Look, you just swept the floor and there are huge crumbs under the table! Don't you know we have company coming? They'll think we're disgusting, that we can't even concern ourselves with their comfort enough to remove the bits of Cheerios and toast from under their chairs! Oh forget it, I'll redo it myself, just keep the kids out of here or they'll scatter my dust pile across the floor.

I'm so, so sorry.

And after all that...still those thoughts creep back in. Who wants wrinkled shirts from poorly folded clothing anyway? Why wouldn't you put your best effort into whatever you're doing? Why not do everything as thoroughly and as correctly as you are able?

I can read all the reasons why not and still that voice lingers.

I'm sorry.

The lie of perfectionism is that the goal will ever be achieved. I am juggling, constantly juggling, and I can't keep all those perfect balls in the air. I get one just so and another one crashes to the ground, then another and another until I give up and let the rest of them fall to my feet as well. If I can't do everything, why bother doing anything?

It sounds just as foolish and self-defeating in writing as it is in reality, but I catch myself clinging to it nonetheless. I tell myself to prioritize. I assure myself that some seasons demand letting some things go. I remind myself that I am the only one - the only person on this entire planet - holding myself to these impossible ideals. No one else expects perfection in every area of my life. It's all on me.

And yet when I dig underneath the noble-sounding ideals of hard work and a job well done and so on and so forth, it all comes down to the same thing - what will they think? They - friends, family, casual acquaintances, complete strangers, they. They will think I'm a mess. They will think I'm foolish or weird. They will think I'm a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad friend, a bad whatever. They will think I can't keep up with basic housework. They will think I'm unintelligent. They will think I've failed them. They will think...

I just want everyone to think well of me. That's what it really comes down to. Just one more unachievable goal. I don't remember a time when I wasn't a people-pleasing perfectionist...but I do think it's time to figure out how to let it go.

I'll start by leaving these imperfect words just as they are.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A naptime benediction

Nine months old and every nap the same.

I sit on the couch and snuggle her sweet self as she nurses. One of her chubby hands winds itself in my hair, always, always. She looks around when she's finished her pre-nap meal, eyes searching, more often than not, for the source of brotherly noise she can hear behind her.

I take that as my cue to stand up. She snuggles against me and pops that wrinkled thumb of hers into her mouth, the other hand maintaining its hold on my hair. We walk to the bedroom, slowly and purposefully, and I say the same words every time:

Mommy loves you.
Daddy loves you.
God loves you.
Sleep well, my love.
I'll see you when you wake.

I lay her down, covering her with her grandma-knit blanket. Goodnight, I whisper, as I lean down for one last kiss.

Sometimes her eyes follow me as I leave the room; other times, her eyes are closed as soon as the blanket is pulled over her. I shut the door quietly behind me.

I return to those boisterous boys for our own quiet time. We read a couple of chapters from our current read-aloud - just one more chapter, please? - and sometimes more. Then I leave them to their own quiet activities while I have a short nap of my own. No one whispers words of peace to me as I close my eyes, but I feel peace nonetheless, my last thoughts always a grateful thank you as I allow rest to come.

Sleep well.