The Fire Within. Or Not.

courtesy of flick user matthewvenn

I am a huge proponent of Attachment Parenting.  I am a certified Attachment Parenting support group leader, and I have taught seminars on the topic.  I believe in gentle, respectful and loving relationships between parents and children, and I am convinced that this is one of the cornerstones of Humane Parenting.

With my son, I feel like I usually put my money where my mouth is and I am able to have a somewhat reasonable response to his tantrums, obstinacy, and other assorted and sundry three-year-old behaviors.  But my daughter – she’s a doozy.  She pushes all my buttons, and when she’s done she pushes them again.  Even with all the reading and research and training I’ve done, all the counseling I’ve given other parents, I often find myself reduced to tears, or yelling, or at least snarkiness and sarcasm.  Parenting her takes everything I have.  I go to bed the same time she does to reload my energy reserves enough to make it through the next day.

A recent article in one of my favorite blogs, Rhythm of the Home, was about the four temperaments as understood in the Waldorf educational tradition.  For those who aren’t familiar (I wasn’t), these include sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic.  Sounds kind of medieval, right?

Well, this particular article really spoke to me as a parent.  In it, the author describes her choleric daughter:

When she is happy she jumps and screams and when she is sad she wails in agony. She embraces her friends and family with love and hugs, but often does not understand when that same energy is not returned to her. And as often as those around her feel inspired and energized, they often feel burned-out, as if they have stood too close to the fire within her.

Yes!  YES!  People, young and old alike, seem to be swept up by Bess’ energy and enthusiasm, and yet I often feel exactly that way – “burned-out” – by spending a day with her.  She is a person of, ahem, emotional extremes, and I am someone who tolerates such drama very poorly.  Steiner would probably call me melancholic.

It is difficult for me to be strong and stable in the storm that is Bess’ daily inner life.  One moment she is off-the-wall excited, the next she is reduced to gut-wrenching sobs, the next she is into some new project, and I am left wondering what just happened.  I know that what I should do is simply stand by and offer comfort, and she will work through her emotions and be on to the next thing in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  I am aware that I need to be the port in a storm that gives her the solid grounding she needs to find some sort of balance.  I am even aware that her way of dealing with emotion – feeling it and moving on – is far healthier than my own system.  I know that I have to accept who she is and support her as she becomes her own independent person with her own particular personality.

Yet…knowing and doing are often two vastly different things.

Her constant chatter and motion can be unbearable for me.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the strength of her feelings and I can’t catch my breath.  I try to counsel her while she is in the midst of a meltdown – she can’t hear me, but I do it anyway – and then I get frustrated when she “ignores” me.  She needs a lot of physical contact and she experiences it as rejection when I ask for some personal space, but sometimes if she sits on my lap for one more second I’ll scream.

So here I am, publicly stating my intention to practice bearing quiet witness to the turmoil, and being my daughter’s safe haven as she navigates the turbulent waters of her life.  I will make an effort to appreciate the positive aspects of her choleric personality, and help her to gracefully manage its challenges.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Go Confidently

courtesy of flickr user art by erin leigh

How many times have you seen this quote, on mugs, inspirational posters, magnets, greeting cards, paperweights, you name it.  It is a credo for taking life by the horns and going after the things you want.

Or is it?

I recently learned that this quote is incomplete.  Here it is in its entirety:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. ~ Henry David Thoreau

In fact, even this, while universally attributed to Thoreau but with no source noted, seems to be paraphrased from something he wrote in Walden:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the veritable poster child for simple living has had his words put on posters of misty mountain sunsets or powerful ocean waves and plastered in corporate boardrooms and lobbies as a rallying cry to go out and work more, earn more, and have more?

Yes, go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Yes, live the life you’ve imagined.  But what Thoreau is really saying here is that complicated dreams produce complicated lives, and these complicated lives require a lot of work to maintain.  When we focus on what it is that we are really looking for – love, companionship, community, interesting and meaningful work, new things to learn, comfort, security – we find that our perspective shifts so that we are content with less stuff and more grounded in ourselves and our world.

People in Glass Houses

Our Ally Cat

When I was younger and very active in companion animal rescue, I had a hair-trigger when it came to judging people.  I judged them for not being good enough to adopt a dog or cat, I judged the way they cared for their animals, I especially judged people who relinquished animals to the shelter.  Our companion animals are part of our family, and I would just as soon give up one of my children as one of my cats or dogs.

Or so I thought.

When we started down the rescue path, John had a cat allergy, but it was mild (and truth be told, I was a little selfish and self-righteous) so he tolerated the cats.  Plus, I rationalized, he has tons of other allergies – pollen, mold, dust, you name it – so it’s not like he would be itch- and sneeze-free if we didn’t have the cats.  Recently, his allergies seemed to be getting worse, and he constantly had red, burning eyes.  One morning he woke up and his eyes were oozing and he could barely open them; a trip to the doctor produced a diagnosis of conjunctivitis.  We went on vacation the next day, and his eyes cleared up almost immediately.  We returned home a week later, and the next morning he woke up with painful blisters on his eye.  (And I mean ON HIS EYE.  He actually had a blister on. his. cornea.)  Back to the doctor, home with a new antibiotic since obviously the nasty critters were resistant to the other one.  He went away for work, and again the eyes cleared almost immediately.  Then he came home, and – you guessed it – swollen, painful, blistered eyes again.

So, the new diagnosis is that he has become hyper-sensitive to some sort of allergen.  That allergen seems to be our cats.  Hence we find ourselves in quite a quandary.  He says he would rather go blind than deal with the guilt of re-homing our cats, and he’s only half kidding.  I have gone into overdrive, washing everything in sight constantly, confining the cats to one side of the house and John more or less to another, and reminding him to use his eye drops a dozen or so times a day.  My efforts have helped, but not enough.

On the one hand, the thought of losing my cats breaks my heart.  One of them I saved from gangrene and pneumonia in her kittenhood, and the other I’ve had since he was one day old.  I am definitely beating myself up on many levels – from I should have known better than to have them in the first place to how could I even dream of finding them a new home, and everything in between.  On the other hand, I don’t want John to be miserable and/or blind for the cats’ remaining days.  They aren’t young, 11 and 13, but they aren’t old either in cat terms.  We could have another seven or so years in front of us.

So, as I struggle with my dilemma, I also learn – there but for Grace go I.

Welcome, SheWriters!

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

Welcome, visitors from Meg Waite Clayton’s 1st Books blog, where the She Writer Blogger Ball #5 is being hosted!

This blog is the new and improved version of my old AhimsaMama blog, though I’ve been in a bit of a funk and not posting as regularly as I used to!  I am an educator and activist who uses this space to explore the joys and challenges of living sustainably while parenting two small children and trying to stay sane (literally).

Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to continuing to tour the blogs of the other Blogger Ball participants!

P.S. ~ A big welcome and thanks to the Lady Bloggers who are visiting from the Tea Party going on over there as well!

Hot in New Jersey

courtesy of flickr user plousia

Yesterday I made soup in the crock pot for dinner, and barely even ate any.  It was just too darn hot to cook, or eat, or do anything other than hang out in the air conditioning.  We tried to go out in the morning and lasted about a half hour.  It was already 90 degrees by 10 am.  Definitely too hot to think of something to blog about.

So instead I thought about the people who live in equatorial regions of the world who don’t have air conditioning, or crock pots, or barely even have shelter to shade them from the sun.  Yes, they are more accustomed to the heat, and they probably are carrying a lot less, ahem, insulation than I am.  Still, not fun to cook over an open fire of burning animal poop when it’s over 100 degrees outside.

In solidarity, and trying not to complain about the heat so much.

Gender Roles and Humane Parenting

courtesy of flickr user jubie29

I’ve been reading a lot of momoirs lately.  That, and historical fiction about strong women leaders – Cleopatra, Nefertiti.  I’m really into exploring femininity, motherhood and power these days.  My inability to reconcile all the parts of myself – woman, mother, wife, employee, volunteer, activist – and stay sane at the same time has me wondering how other women manage to do it, and if I want to continue to try.

I just finished the book Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself by Amy Richards.  She talks quite a bit about feminist parenting as challenging traditional gender roles.  I totally get that it is important for our children to see men doing laundry and women changing the oil so they get the idea that there is no such thing as a “man’s job” or “women’s work”.  But is that actually “feminist” parenting?

For me, feminism is about choices.  Women fought against having the roles of Wife and Mother proscribed by society so that they could have options.  Having options means, well, actually having options.  It does not mean that I have to take on all the work in our family that had traditionally been considered a man’s domain just so my kids can see me doing that work.  Does it?

In our family, John does a lot of the domestic chores like vacuuming, dishes and laundry.  If his life depended on it, he would not be able to pick an allen wrench out of a tool box.  I do most of the repairs, and I am responsible for finding people to do the ones I can’t.  He puts Harry down for his nap every day and gives the kids their baths when he is home.  I do all the cooking (and grilling) and take the kids to all their doctor’s appointments, arrange all their activities and play dates, and keep track of the schedules.  We both work at paying jobs, but his requires more hours and pays significantly more.  Our particular division of labor has nothing to do with female versus male, it is simply a matter of our different skill sets and the tasks that suit us best.  I wouldn’t say we have things split 50/50, but I think that is more a function of my neuroticism than his refusal to do his share.  At any rate, it’s close.

Yesterday, the kids wanted to play in the sprinkler and the nozzle was rusted onto the hose so I couldn’t get it off.  I asked John to help me, and our sitter commented, “I guess that’s one of the nice things about having a husband who works from home.”  Her words gave me pause: was I deferring to John because unscrewing things is man’s work?  No, I asked John for help because, partly by nature of his gender, he happens to be physically stronger than I am and was more likely to have success at that particular task.  Should I have struggled in futility, doing battle against this hose in the oppressive heat, simply to prove a point?  Or is it more important to find the person more well suited to the task?

While reading Richards’ book, I found myself wondering if insisting that parents select jobs because they are commonly identified with the other gender – and by describing this as “feminist” parenting, as if any other way is less that enlightened – is simply proscribing new rigid roles in the name of progress.  Just because women can be doctors or CEOs does not mean that every woman is suited for those jobs; some women are happier, and better at, being elementary school teachers or nurses.  And some men are great at those jobs, too.  While it is good for children to see diversity of all stripes in the world, and it is sometimes worthwhile to seek out examples of people who are stretching the boundaries, I think it is more important to respect who we are, and give our children permission to do the same.

Like this post?  Check out Banana Peels and Beach Parties


Simplify, Simplify

courtesy of flickr user coco frigerio

“Our life is frittered away by detail.  Simplicity, simplicity.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

When I was in my intensive psychiatric program this spring, one of their mantras was:  Simplify.

When you are in a place in your life where you are struggling and suffering, and getting through the days is a challenge, then strip it down.  Make it simple.  Decide what you need to do, what is a priority – and be brutally honest about what is really a need – and just do that.  Nothing keeps you down in a state of depression more than feeling lazy and unaccomplished, and when you set unreasonable goals for yourself you are setting yourself up to feel just that way.  As one of my colleagues (if that’s the right word) said, “Expectations are premeditated failure.”

So here I am in this place in my life where the tasks of daily living are a struggle.  Simplicity has always appealed to me in theory, but I had no idea what it meant in practice before.  Now I do, in a very real way.  I keep my days simple – get up, get breakfast for everyone, get showered and dressed, do stuff around the house, get people where they need to go, eat again…you get the idea.  There is no energy left for the extras, but as I get a little better each day I add an extra layer to the basic tasks.  I pop popcorn on the stove for snack, I make barbecue sauce from scratch, I include a little gardening in my home maintenance, I declutter a bit here and there.

I always thought that personally, I would feel empty just being a “homemaker”, but what I’m finding it is actually an incredibly liberating way to live, at least for now.  I have spent much of my adult life as what I would describe as a spiritual seeker, but I spent much more time reading about things like mindfulness and self-observation than actually practicing them.  Now, I have altered my expectations for myself, and I finally, for the first time in my life, feel really and truly free.  I’m not spending my time rushing through one task so I can attend to the next and the next and the next, crossing one thing off my mile-long to-do list while adding five more.  I am mindfully doing things like squeezing lemons for lemonade or watching my kids play at the park, and I feel fulfilled.  It may not be this way forever, but for now I am enjoying it.

The thing is – this kind of living doesn’t make for the most exciting blogging in the world.  I’m trying to live life as it comes, which means that I do a lot of things like spraying my kids with a hose and taking a leisurely stroll through the farmer’s market, but I’m not always thinking about how I can write about these things to make them appealing to readers.  I’m also not photographing things, because I don’t want to watch my life through a lens.  I want to LIVE it.  Over time, I’m sure I’ll find a way to synthesize the two – living mindfully and writing about my life – but for now, one thing at a time, one day at a time.  Everything doesn’t have to get done RIGHT NOW anymore.