Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chrystal Soup, or Staying in the Fog

I am writing through a wall of dullness in and around the head region...ugh. It is nothing more than a head cold, though, for which I am so thankful, and I have come to decide that it has actually had a positive effect on my parenting...I'll see if I can explain. Yesterday was trying. Eliza has been sick with her cold for a week, and we have not been our usual out-and-about selves, so begin with that. We did get out yesterday, making our market route in the 20-degree weather (7 vendors braving the weather outside, the other 30 or so have moved into the mall until March), the girls stopping for bread samples and bbq samples and to chat with the regulars. On to the mall. I have such mixed feelings about the market in the mall - I mean, Mall does not say Farmer's Market to me - but it is true that it is far more comfortable for the vendors to be inside than out these cold months, so I brave not the weather so much as the muzak to do our weekly shopping. This week we stocked up on beeswax candles, in hopes that we are up to decorating them on Imbolc. But now I'm rambling.

The day started well enough, but it just went downhill. I did not have even my usual quota of patience, lost what I had left when Ani demanded (loudly. in fact, screaming. repeatedly.) that I accompany her to the bathroom, interrupting my head-splitting headache session on the couch, and I was not connecting at all with Eliza, who seemed just hell-bent on having it out with her sister or me, one way or another. It is all the while creeping towards dinner time. While some other mother, much saner than I, would have popped in a movie and let the afternoon take care of itself, it has been my experience that this pushes Eliza further into isolation, with disastrous results. If we, as a team, are having a rough day, a movie rarely if ever makes it go better. Once it is over, the squabbles not only pick up where left off, they have gathered strength. Believe me, I had dreamt of such an afternoon, but I decided to ask Eliza to help me make dinner instead. Well...she had some choice words about my plans for dinner and decided to make something else herself. For her. I said, um, we don't make two dinners in this house, so...I guess you're making dinner for everyone, right? We talked about how a person might start a soup (she came up with onions! garlic! right on...) and went from there. She came up with what she called "Chrystal Soup" because "it tastes like chrystals." All right! Some oregano, basil, rosemary and six potatoes later, we had soup. During the making I took her lead, making suggestions here and there, but trying to stay out of it. The dense fog I was in slowed my reaction time, which was good because though I had this quick little daydream in my head of calling it Peace Soup because - look at how we took anger and discord and turned it into a tasty soup! - the frustrations had not ended for her. Somehow though I was able to not get short with her, not show my own frustration, not give up. Now, as I realized how feeling sick was actually working to my advantage, giving me a buffer of sorts from my usually quick anger and too many words, I also noticed that it was not having the effect I might have thought on my daughter. Instead of calming down and letting go of her stress, things seemed to amplify before they got better. My interpretation was that she felt me giving her room and she filled it. She had a lot of crap from the day, the week, to let go of and she did.

I wanted to remember this hour of soup-making for the reminder it gave me of how it feels to not feel so personally involved in the rage happening in the other person. I knew I was giving everything I could in the moment to Eliza and she was feeling the way she needed to feel, and I was able to stay in my fog and not yell, lecture, or even comment. I don't think I'll go out and write a book called "Better Parenting: Stay in the Fog" or anything, but it is really difficult for me to remain steady and calm for my kids, and it is one of the strengths I want to develop, so I want to remember how this feels: slowed reaction time, conserved energy , listening or letting it all wash over me instead of grabbing every offending look or steel-sharp word and flinging it back...simple presence...all this, without the excess of mucous.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quieter Days

*First, I have to mention that there is a give-away of Young Scientist science kits over at Ordinary Live Magic (Too!)! The link will take you to the post where you can enter in the comments section. If you haven't ever visited Stephanie's other site, Ordinary Life Magic, you should have a look around. She is an endless source of inspiration and JOY and good stuff in general...*

Our last few days have been close to home - Eliza is slogging through a cold and as the temperatures have dropped even more, it feels cozier to stay put. We have made a raindate for this invitation to dad to join us for lunch uptown:
Ani and I have been looking through the ingredients in her favorite tea and loved to find one of our favorite roadside flowers, chicory, among them! We had to do some drawing...
She and I have been waking a bit earlier than the rest of us, and we've been playing games over our "first" breakfast. They are mostly reading games, using our Quiddler cards, and this morning the game lead to her writing her first note to me. Notice how the first sentence wraps around in a zig-zag? I thought that was pretty interesting...
"Dear Mama, This note is from me. From Anika"
Then we had looks at a little dead spider we found in a corner...
There was an evening with Papa, Jenga, and Katamino...
And yesterday was filled with lots of ginger tea - sort of a tamed-down version of our cold elixir - and laughing, and reading...starting with A Kid's Herb Book story about ginger.

The giggles and faces are over the reading of Gee Whiz - It's all about Pee! We'd read Goodman's The Truth About Poop a year ago while I was prepping for my poop class - this one was just as filled with fascinating and unbelievable facts about know you want to read it! We've also been listening to more of Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider and making our way through the pile of library books we gathered earlier in the week.
Eliza took this picture of her sister

Our day was surprisingly derailed by a spontaneous visit from friends. I have a hard time judging what is best for all of us on the fly, and this time I did not manage a wise decision. I have spent the fall protecting our space, our flow, and a lot of that has to do with protecting the relationship between my girls. On this day when they were so delighted with each other I should probably have found a polite way to tell my friend it was not a good time to interrupt our day. But we had no real "plans" and were obviously just I didn't. And we just didn't get that day back. The evening was full of bickering and rudeness, which was not a good way to spend an evening that we have Dan at home for dinner and bedtime. Sigh.
So today we start over again. Lots of reading. More tea. Now some listening and playing and responding to requests and making some food for friends (African groundnut stew - oh man, I think it might be GOOD!)...and so the day goes.

Protecting the "yes" and the peace in our home today. So far, so good....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Among the Trees

Winter returned to us this week, and I am surprisingly feeling more settled and content. It just didn't seem right to be having spring; winter is rich for its demands and constraints - we are forced to be more creative in some ways, needing to spend more time inside than we do in other seasons. I need some winter to mull in, to find those parts of me I am a little uncomfortable with, to get a sense of the depths. (I can almost hear Dan say, "oh no, not the depths. pleeease not the depths.") I think it is necessary to find those places in order to shed old growth and start the new. Isn't that what this time of year is all about? I need to feel those limitations, and I think it has something to do with needing to feel like we deserve spring, the newness, the second chance, when it finally comes.

Today we went out to see what winter had to say.
The girls right away began addressing the trees like this: Hello, Breathing Buddies! Eliza went on and on in her greetings, and included hugs and pets. Ani chirped along next to me, explaining how we need the trees in order to have clean air to breathe. They are on Our Side.
In truth, we chose this hike because of one tree in particular. The beech tree. We have just finished a book that was first published in 1921 - The House Above the Trees by Ethel Cooke Eliot. We loved this story - an orphaned girl named Hepatica (we cannot wait to see these flowers this year) finds she can see clearly the spirits of the forest and has a long beautiful adventure with them. Her guardian on this journey is Tree Mother, who nightly ascends a huge beech tree, to sleep in her house above the trees. While I sat to think about what beech trees we might know, as the girls were imagining the climb Hepatica had up its branches, Eliza suddenly remembered that the tree we like to visit and bounce on is a beech. It worked better than chocolate to get the girls on the path today.
A great beech tree rose up...Its leaves and branches looked black against the moonlight, but the sound of their breathing and movement was green. Tree Mother put her hand on the dark trunk. "This is the stair to my house," she said. "We must climb."

When I Am Among The Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

~Mary Oliver, Thirst

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Weekend days...

We've had a stretch of pretty unremarkable days...not sparkly, not bad, just...days in some sort of balance. Visiting friends,

making muffins, celebrating a friend's birthday, having a go at darts,
playing with clay, listening to stories: Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, The Boxcar Children

getting out for a soggy rain walk, reveling in the purples, reds and golds of the browns...
pushing the boundaries a bit further...

and now we're into the week. We'll see what unfolds...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ten Minutes

I have noticed a tendency within myself to feel slightly anxious before family members arrive in our home. This is beyond the probably normal "I hope everyone is comfortable and that we have a nice time together and they don't notice the dust on top of the refrigerator" anxiety, because I have this feeling (self-generated) that the older our children get, the more scrutiny we will be under with our learning process. This, again, is something I am supposing, which means it is really just a part of my own processing of what we are doing, as imagined through the eyes of people who just haven't ever considered doing things our way. Thus far everyone has been very supportive and not critical at all, but it is natural that they would be curious - you know, about the well-being of their grandchildren. So at the same time that I welcome the opportunity to ramble on and on about what we are doing, I also somewhat dread the question, "So, Eliza, how is school?" It is totally well-meaning, but just the phrasing reveals a misunderstanding of what we are or aren't doing, and is based in a world of vocabulary and boxes that the kids just don't know about. We don't "study" science, social studies, english, spelling, we don't call anything we do "school" (unless we are playing school, which is a whole other ball game!), so that kind of a question confuses E into saying, "um...well, I don't go to school." So they press, but you do school at home, and she says, "uh...well, not really. No, we don't have school at home." and suddenly the world in which we are quite comfortable feels not so comfortable. There was a good conversation starter for Dan and I last week while my dad and his wife were here. Listening to Eliza sputter through the above conversation on their first evening here, I offered something along the lines of "We're learning all the time, through living" and Dan offered something along the lines of - ok, no, his exact words were "We're more casual than most people would be comfortable with." (Insert sound of heart flipping over and landing at feet) He was not being thoughtless, he was being honest, and while I wished he hadn't said it quite like that, this gave us the, um, opportunity to have a long heart to heart about what we are doing and what we are not doing, which he just doesn't have much opportunity to witness on a daily basis. We talked through some concerns or doubts and he as always had some good ideas to offer. Talking is good.

We were able to follow up this initial conversation with our family in the next few days, and share a little more of what we are doing. Then there was one morning after breakfast, while we were still sitting around talking, and Eliza piped up that she had a game for us all to play. It was something like taking turns thinking up words that started and ended with the letter "T", and then digressed into words that had "T" just about anywhere in the word. These spontaneous games go a long way into showing me what's happening in those amazing brains - Ani is past needing any kind of assistance with this kind of game and shocks us all with her vocabulary and phonic sense. The game shifted at some point, then or later, I don't remember, to the letter "S" and at some point someone used a "Sh" sound, and that opened up a whole new angle to the game. Anyway, this went on for about 10 minutes or so, and then we were on to the next thing, but my Dad commented with raised eyebrows, "well, that was school!" Yes! He went on to say that with this kind of one-on-one interaction, conversation, attention, we probably only need to spend ten minutes on something that a classroom spends whole periods, or several periods, on. Yes! It was such a relief to have him see that for himself, to understand why I keep little lists in a journal of the 10 minutes here and there that we spend on this kind of thing, just to remind the part of my brain that is stuck in school-mode that at the end of a day bouncing from one thing to the next, interspersed with dance parties and muffin making and hiking, there is learning - you can't actually turn that off if you tried.

** ** ** ** ** **
Here are a couple of the ways we've spent our 10 minutes this week...

Making concoctions
This is a new area for Ani; this concoction involved rosemary, raisins, hazelnuts, cinnamon, coconut, and water. Mmmmm.....she ate every bit of it.
Here is our version of "hangman", which we don't call "hangman" cause it just seems too weird to me and I can't bring myself to play it, let alone with my kids, so I changed it to "girlfriend", which works for us 'cause really, the drawing can go on and on and on (depending on who is drawing, of course)...anyway, the girls loved this game.
Sile Mama (silly mama) - drawing by Ani
(and no, this does NOT refer to the second of the Twilight just happened to be a new moon.) Eliza and I are enjoying a game from Family Math called Bridges. She whoops me just about every time...
On our way to get Dan (finally ) on Tuesday, we stopped at the craft store, and the girls saw these mailboxes. I think they are really hoping to get loads of valentines (HINT! HINT!), but in the meantime, there have been notes a-flyin' around here!

"Dear Mama I hope we did not make too much noise in the car
I love you I hope you love me too."

When Eliza saw the flag on Ani's box, she commented that she wondered why the school across the street flies the flag every day which lead to a discussion of the pledge of allegiance and what the flag stands for and I remembered that I had actually bought a book* that went through the whole pledge word by word and gave the meaning behind it, and the girls were totally into it. Anika paraphrased the first line by saying "I promise loyalty to the country", and we talked about what that means. Eliza remembered having to say it at Girl Scout Camp and of course not going to school she had no idea what she was supposed to do, which apparently really annoyed the scout leader who marched up to her and slapped her hand to her heart. I told them about not hearing the pledge until I was in the fourth grade (my family had lived overseas until then) and feeling the same way, like I didn't understand what it was about, while everyone around me seemed willing to recite it without questioning what it meant. She decided that she is ok with parts of it, but would "only mouth" other parts if she were forced to say it. (Shoo. I remember feeling the same way in church as a teenager! I'll only say the parts I believe out loud and mumble or mouth the other bits. Or clamp my mouth shut tight, depending on how I was feeling that particular Sunday...) We learned that it was written as a poem for school children, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas, and we talked about how important it must have felt as the states united to encourage Americans to feel united. Interestingly, what I didn't care for about the pledge when I learned it was that it celebrated only one part of the human team I belonged to - much like church did, later on. It celebrated an "us" that was not large enough for the way I had learned to feel about the people around me. And in fourth grade, I was coming from the USSR, where I went to school with kids from many other countries, and was not feeling very welcomed by the kids in small town America who picked on me for having lived where I did.

Whew. That probably took more than 10 minutes. But you get the idea right?

*I pledge allegiance by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson, great illustrations by Chris Raschka - I just noticed that in his bio, Raschka says that he respectfully abstains from saying the pledge - I'll have to share that with Eliza...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Persephone Dreams...

The minute the icicles started to melt (remember the snow from just last week?), my youngest wanted to know if it was spring. Ah, Spring. I talked about the old calendar, which marks Imbolc, coming up on our Groundhog's Day, which "used to" mark the first day of spring. I talked about the equinox, which marks our calendar's first day of spring. And all the while she is looking at Now: the blue in the sky...the familiar friends plantain and chickweed already littering the ground...the truly new, young green of the moss...and turns to Eliza. Who tells her that maybe what is happening is that Persephone, bound to remain underground with Hades for six months before returning to join her mother Demeter and bring spring to the earth, maybe she is right now thinking about returning to see the colors of spring, so dear to her heart. And when she dreams those dreams, we get a glimpse of what we are longing for...

(we christened this vine The Umbilical Cord)

This walk was a saving grace; we finished choir on Monday and jumped in the car to drive the hour and a half to get Dan from the airport and E happened to have left an important something on the couch at home and I remembered some chocolate goodies our neighbor brought us earlier in the day, sitting on the kitchen to the phone....huh, I guess it's late enough in the day that Dan could have left me a message from the airport in Iowa...whew. Good thing I checked - he was socked in with fog. So I grabbed the chocolate and some water bottles and sweetened the disappointment with declaring it a hiking day! And Persephone dreamt us up a good one...