Hockey Hugs

The bunny team scores to go ahead 2-1 over the domino team!

It’s been a rough few days.  As I mentioned in my last post, we lost a very good friend on Wednesday.  While coping with my loss and sadness, I have been maintaining contact with his family, forwarding dozens of messages of condolence, setting up a memorial gathering at the rink, and lots of other little things.

One of my tasks was to find grief counsellors to come talk to CP’s current team of eleven-year-olds.  Let me just say – HOLY COW were these women amazing!  They are the people who go into schools when there has been a traumatic loss – when a student has overdosed or committed suicide or otherwise died suddenly – and they sure know what they are doing.  I was utterly astonished at how they were able to get the kids talking – and pre-pubescent boys are not a population known to be particularly communicative – and to help them express their concerns in a fairly short amount of time.  The counsellors also spoke with the parents in a way that was kind and compassionate while advocating strongly for the boys and their needs  during this difficult time.  I was thoroughly impressed, and immensely grateful.

And now I am thoroughly and immensely drained.  Watching these boys process their grief, cry openly, support each other, and talk about their confusion and regret was undoubtedly one of the most painful experiences of my life.

I have an ambivalent relationship with youth sports.  I view the competitive nature of the endeavor as a necessary evil or revolting, depending on the day.  The parents can be mean, pushy, heartless, unreasonable, overprotective, manipulative, and on occasion even violent.  Of course they are not all like that, not even most of them, but unfortunately a few bad apples…you know.  It can be exhausting, frustrating, disheartening, and occasionally sickening.

But yesterday I was reminded of one of the positives.  These kids are put onto a team, and they may not necessarily like each other or have much in common, but they learn to tolerate each other’s differences and value each other’s strengths and respect each other in the service of a larger goal.  Seeing them passing the tissues, offering supportive pats and hugs, and being vulnerable together in their shared grief for their lost friend was a powerful reminder of this.

Harry loves hockey.  He watches the games with rapt attention and loves to play at home.  His current favorite version is the bunny team playing against the domino team.  Basically, he sets up the bunnies and the dominoes on the floor, they score and celebrate, and then they leave the ice so the Zamboni can come out.  I think it is funny that he sees the game in this way, since scoring is such an infrequent – though admittedly exciting – occurrence.

But recently I’ve noticed that it’s not just the scoring, but the celebrating that really appeals to Harry.   He loves when all the players on the ice share a hug after a goal is scored rather than the goal-scorer pumping his fist in personal glory.  Instead of calling for “group hugs” in our family, he gathers us together for “hockey hugs”.  The team element of the game, the shared experience, is what really captures his imagination.  I am grateful to Harry, and to CP’s players, for helping me to see the importance of community this week.

Now, if only he could get hockey parents to see it that way…

Today is a sad day


I have promised myself that I will make every effort to post here five days a week, and I have done pretty well for the last, oh, week and a half.  :)

But today I dont’ feel much like posting.  Last night, a very close friend of ours passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at home.  Coach Pierre coached my husband as a fifteen year old (see their team photo, CP is on the far left) and now, almost thirty years later, coaches for him in our youth hockey organization.  He was passionate about the game of hockey and was indefatigably dedicated to the young people he coached.  He required nothing less than 100% effort from them, and in return he gave 110% to them every single day.  He taught them about hard work, dedication, and perseverance and though he may have been demanding, every single child emerged on the other side as a better hockey player and a better teammate.  He was kind, well-loved, and fiercely supportive.  John and I loved him dearly, as did our children.

So, today I’ll just share one of my favorite quotes, one that I have on my desk:

“You are unrepeatable.  There is a magic about you that is all your own.” – D.M. Dellinger

Coach Pierre lived his magic – working with children and teaching them his beloved game of ice hockey.  I hope that today, everyone who knew him, and everyone who reads this, will think about their own special gifts and make a point of sharing them with others.  The world needs your magic.

My word of 2012 (drumroll please)

This would be a good word of the year, but it's not the one I chose. image courtesy of flickr user libookperson

It seems that a number of the bloggers I follow are forging a new tradition.  They are not making resolutions this year (a practice that never appealed to me anyway); they are choosing a Word of 2012, words like “yes“, “edit“, and “focus“. This idea, to choose one word that has the potential to inspire and create intention, has captured my imagination.

Looking back over the American Dialect Society‘s list of Words of the Year (WotY) brings a sense of recognition and nostalgia: “tweet” for 2009, “metrosexual” in 2003, “chad” (as in hanging) for 2000, “Not!” in 1992, “google” for the decade 2000 – 2009.  It’s like turning the pages of your high school yearbook.  This year’s winner, “occupy”, seems a no-brainer: the word is brilliant shorthand for a complex idea that has come to capture public imagination.

Oxford Dictionary named “squeezed middle” the word of 2011 (significantly less compelling than “occupy”, and not even a word but two), and bestowed WotY honors upon “tergiversate”.  Yes, it’s a word.  ter-JIV-er-sate, to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.; equivocate.  Hold onto that one for a crossword puzzle, because I can’t imagine any other context in which it would be useful.

I see choosing a personal WotY as less of a resolution-making-type activity and more of an intellectual exercise in wrapping my mind around the complexity that is my life.  I already am painfully aware of the areas where I need improvement – but can I create a code word that can help keep me focused?  Can I find one word that identifies and teases out the underlying current that runs like groundwater through my being and springs to the surface through my many faults?

I have pondered and meditated, and I have chosen for my 2012 WotY: foundation.  The basis or groundwork of anything.  In a nutshell, what I need to focus on right now is laying the foundation for a healthy life.  I need to work on sustaining my mental health.  I need to take better care of my physical health.  Most importantly, I need to focus on living my message and building a healthy home for my family.

When I am not at my best (a euphemism for hypomania or agitated depression), I forget to make dinner, keep track of our schedule, and give the kids a bath and get them to bed on time.  This tends to happen when I am not eating well, exercising enough, or getting enough rest.  I jump from task to task without finishing anything, and I can’t focus attention when my kids want to tell me about their days, play a game of checkers, or read the next chapter of Junie B.  I am always scrambling but never really getting anything important done – because, let’s face it, those are the really important things.

This is not good for my children, and it is not the kind of mother I want to be.  I want our home to be a place of peace, consistency, solace, love, hugs, laughs, and fun, a place where my family feels cherished and cared for.  My personal code word – foundation – will remind me what is important, and to remember that laying a good groundwork will make everything else fall into place.

Helicopter? Tiger? Just a plain old worried mom

I miss this smile

Bess is still having some difficulties in school.  The problem, in a nutshell, is this: we have raised her to be respectful and kind in her dealings with others, and to resolve conflicts by seeking compromise and taking everyone’s needs into consideration.

As it turns out, not all children are raised this way.  My daughter is finding it very difficult to deal with people whose interpersonal skills are, shall we say, less evolved.

Her teacher is an amazing like-minded woman (I first met her when she joined my Attachment Parenting group a few years ago), and I know that she is supporting my daughter’s efforts to affably relate to her classmates.  But there is only so much that can be done.  After all, it’s half-day kindergarten ; they are only there for 2 1/2 hours a day.  She can’t control what her students learn in the other 21 1/2 hours.  Plus weekends.  Plus the previous five years of their lives, give or take.  Not to mention the bus.  Ugh, the bus.

Since September, there has been a marked difference in Bess.  She is becoming increasingly withdrawn and socially anxious, and is electing (begging) to forego many of her favorite activities in favor of staying home with us.  And this, with a gentle and devoted teacher, in a kindergarten classroom.  It is difficult to imagine the situation improving very much in the coming years.

And thus…we are seriously thinking of homeschooling Bess next year, and for the foreseeable future.  I was apprehensive about public school to start with, and I am underwhelmed by the outcome to date.  Bess has always loved being around lots of other people, and was thrilled with the prospect of having lots of new potential friends, all of whom live close enough for impromptu playdates (as opposed to her friends at her previous school, who all lived at least 45 minutes away).  Even she is coming to see homeschooling as a viable, even desirable, alternative.

But am I being “that mom”?

Am I being overprotective, sheltering her ?

Is this about me not wanting my daughter to grow up and go out into the world without me?

Are the changes I am seeing just part of normal growing up, or something more?

What are the risks of allowing things to go on this way, and are those risks acceptable to me?

By permitting her to stay in an environment that is not working for her, am I implying that I think what goes on there is okay?

Is there anything wrong with giving her more time to be a child, to grow up a little more before she has to learn to function in the cold, cruel world?

Wouldn’t she benefit from a little more time spent learning the values and interpersonal skills I want her to have?

Doesn’t my daughter deserve to live in a world where she is treated with respect and kindness, at least most of the time?

Is it fair for me to expect her to treat other people with consideration, and then send her out into a world where she will not be treated in kind?

Won’t she better be able to cope with the range of personalities that exists in the world when she is a little older, more mature, more confident, stronger?

Would I be depriving her of the opportunity to learn how to deal with all sorts of other people by picking and choosing the people with whom she spends time?

 Is it so bad that I have a different vision of the world I want for my child than most of the rest of the world seems to have?

Isn’t it my right as her mother – my prerogative, indeed my responsibility – to do everything I can to create the kind of world in which I want her to live?

Am I even asking the right questions?  Do these questions even have answers?

Twinkle, my little star! (a thinly veiled excuse to brag about my daughter)

She is posing for a picture here, this is not proper violin posture!

When I was in graduate school working on my M.Ed., I had a professor who was enchanted with the Suzuki Method.  Briefly: Shinichi Suzuki was a Japanese violinist who developed a unique approach to teaching children to play violin, and the technique has since been expanded and is now used to teach a number of other instruments as well.  You can read all about this amazing teacher and humanitarian in his book Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education.

The element of the Suzuki Method that appealed so much to my teacher was his emphasis on encouragement.  Dr. Suzuki believed that by giving attention to what you want to nurture in a child, those parts of the child will naturally grow and unwanted behaviors, ignored, will wither.

She liked to tell the story of how Dr. Suzuki’s students would observe him working with a particularly difficult or unskilled student and would wonder what positive feedback he would offer.  One time, he was instructing a young child who wasn’t doing anything right – the child had bad tone, had bad tempo, a bad bow hold, the whole nine yards.  The students laughed among themselves, convinced that this time, the Master would not be able to find a single positive thing to say.  But he did.  He told the child, “I really like the way you held your left foot.”  The child was positively aglow.  “Really?!?!?!  That’s exactly what I’ve been working on all week!”

(I must admit that before we started violin lessons, this story made little sense to me.  WHY on Earth would anyone care about someone’s left foot?  But now I know that posture is an important element of playing the violin, so this makes perfect sense.)

Dr. Suzuki called his method the “mother-tongue approach”.  Children learn to talk at their own pace by hearing people use language around them; similarly, the best way to learn music is not by reading music or being drilled on isolated skills.  Children taught using the Suzuki Method learn by listening to music and then playing the songs they hear, learning the technical skills required to play the instrument within that context.  Parents attend lessons and group classes (social learning is another important element of the method) and act as home teachers, guiding the child’s practice and maintaining a fun learning environment.

So, all this to say that my daughter, who has been studying violin for just under a year, had her first recital this past weekend, and she did great!  In case you want to see how she did – and you know you do – here is the video.  It’s short, just a minute.  Surely you can spare a minute, can’t you?

Motherhood as an act of creativity

I made these people. From scratch.

Please go check out my guest post at Laundry Line Divine’s Out of the Mouths of Babes series.

Through the experience of being a mother, I have finally recovered that creative part of myself that I gave up all those years ago. It may be clichéd, but that is because it is true: having children is the most profoundly and inherently creative thing that we, as humans, can do. We make a whole new person pretty much from scratch, and then we create a home and a family for that person, and we ultimately help that person to create a life for herself. The act of committing my stories to paper (or screen) and looking at them in the light of day, pulling them apart, turning them over, putting them back together, and hearing what other people think about them makes me better able to create the experiences I want for my children and for myself as their mother.

It is so important for women to claim and own and revel in that part of themselves that is creative and life-giving.  Even if we choose not to become biological mothers, or are unable to, our bodies still contain the power of life-giving love.  We need to bring that out into the world and share it, use it to nurture ourselves, the people around us, and the planet we all share.  Especially on this day, my birthday, the day that I was given life, I want to encourage women everywhere to share their unique and special gifts!

Why I don’t do the resolution thing

Baby, it's cold outside! (Or, gratuitous Harry photo)

I seem to be the only person who is unmoved by the apparently universal urge to bid farewell to the past and look expectantly towards the future during this time of the year.  People are making resolutions, setting goals, taking stock, evaluating their lives.  They are full of hope, relief maybe, expectation, motivation.

To me, the turning of one year to another seems such an arbitrary and artificial time for marshaling such intent.  I’ve never been particularly compelled by the turning of a calendar page; my moments of resolve have always come from personal revelations that have engaged my will and demanded a change of course.  Often – no, always – this has coincided with a period of pain and personal struggle, when my natural inclination towards holding an even keel and avoiding conflict and upheaval is overwhelmed by the undeniable realization that things can no longer go on as they are.

On the other hand, perhaps there is some deep wisdom in assigning the task of introspection and self-improvement to the month of January.  The whirlwind of holiday parties and family togetherness has past, and graduations and barbecues and pool parties are still months away.  Where I live, the long dark nights and cold grey days, the swirling frigid winds that chill to the bone make it unlikely that I will be heading out of my house more than is absolutely necessary.  I’d much rather stoke the fire, put on some warm socks and a nice big sweater, and curl up with a cozy blanket and a good book.

Just as the ground that begot sunflowers which towered over my head and sported blossoms that could easily have fed a flock of ravenous cardinals now lies fallow in preparation for the work of spring, perhaps this is the perfect time for me, too, to rest and prepare.

Still, though, I am unable to imagine this as a beginning.  Perhaps while I take the time to read, reflect, and journal I will begin to think different thoughts in different ways.  But the concept of “beginning” that implies a crispness of edges as if one thing stops here and another starts there, this does not exist in the world, or at least does not exist in my experience of the world.  When a moment of clarity occurs, or an experience or opportunity presents itself, there is a sense of newness about it.  But this simply represents a bend in the road that takes me away from the direction in which I was headed, an exit ramp taking me from Route 80 to Route 46.  I am still moving right along, though the destination may have changed or become unclear.

A river may seem to start from a trickle of snow melt in the mountains and end in a vast delta as it empties into the sea, but of course this is not true.  The snow falls from clouds full of water that evaporated from the ocean, and back to the ocean they return.  The molecules of hydrogen and oxygen never change; they held buoyant the earliest microbes, they nourished the dinosaurs, they watered the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat, they kept Cleopatra’s barge afloat and they baptized Mother Teresa.  It’s a cycle; we may perceive a place of beginning and end but that is simply our interpretation.

I feel an urge to lighten things up a bit here; to inject a rousing chorus of “Circle of Life” or maybe break out the guitar that Santa brought my daughter last month and lead a rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn”.  I won’t, because the kids are sleeping and I would rather sit here bogged down in my thoughts like shoes stuck to hot tar than risk a request for water or for the comfort of Mommy snuggles in the cramped twin bed.  Even while my thoughts lack direction and purpose, I am enjoying the freedom to muse in my office, alone, on this snowy night.

What’s the big deal about Santa, anyway?

On our recent visit to see Santa, we asked six-and-a-half year old Bess what she was going to ask him to bring for Christmas.  She had already sent her list, but we wondered if there was anything in particular she wanted to mention.

“I’m going to ask for something, but it’s a secret,” she told us.

She, you see, is testing us.  Or testing Santa.  She is conducting her own little experiment as to the existence of the jolly man in red.

It was inevitable, of course.  As children age, they begin to question.  As they go to school with classmates who have older brothers and sisters, they hear rumors that it’s all a big hoax.

So what’s the big deal, really?  I mean, there is no actual flesh-and-bone person who is Santa Claus and lives at the North Pole and rides in a sleigh full of toys pulled by magic reindeer and comes down the chimney to deliver said toys and scarf down a snack of milk and cookies before moving on to the next house, and the next, all around the world.  She will know this soon – maybe not this year, maybe not even next year, but her Christmases of belief are numbered.  Would it really make a difference if she learned the truth now?

I know that the idea of telling children the Santa myth is controversial in some circles.  There are those that view this cultural tradition as a bald-faced lie told to children, and who would say that this is disrespectful of the children, and that they will never forgive us when they learn the truth – namely, that we have been brazenly and willfully misleading them.  There are those that see him as a symbol of out-of-control commercialism.

I see it differently.  I think that there is enchantment and wonder in the idea of Santa.  Just as I view garden fairies as the personification of nature that give my children a concrete and developmentally appropriate way to understand the cycles and processes of biology, ecology and even chemistry, I view Santa in similar terms.  He is a person who embodies and manifests qualities such as generosity, forgiveness and love, things that are too big and complex to be understood in the abstract (even by many adults).  I think that there is value in giving our children a little magic, a little faith, a little hope in their lives.  So, in our family at least, long live Santa!

BTW, when we went up for our family photo, Santa was kind enough to share with us that Bess had asked for a rainbow yo-yo so that we could keep the magic alive for a bit longer.  (The logistics involved in actually procuring such a yo-yo is a topic for another post!)

Humans, non-humans, and respect

Nothing beats a horse kiss!

Check out my guest post at Humane Connection, the blog of the Institute of Humane Education:

It is so difficult to manage the messages our children receive when it comes to attitudes about non-human animals.  There are animals who are eaten and those whom we would never eat.  There are those who live in our homes, and those we go to great lengths to keep out.  There are those who are companions, and those who have jobs, and those we prefer not to interact with at all.  There are those who live in zoos, and those who live on farms, and those who live in the wild.  There are those who are hunted, and those who are protected.  It’s all so arbitrary, really.  I want my daughter to respect non-human life, but is that end best served by indulging her love of horses despite my misgivings?  Is it served by visiting zoos so that she can experience the magnificent creatures who live there and having frank conversation about the value of freedom and happiness to those animals?  Is it served by taking a hard line?  Or is it best served by sharing these questions with my daughter and examining the shades of grey?

Please feel free to leave a comment!

The mouths of babes

photo courtesy of flickr user joshwept

You know how sometimes, your kids say something that is so beautiful and fundamentally true that it brings tears to your eyes?  Or maybe I’m just a sap?

Bess has suddenly made a huge developmental leap in terms of logical thinking.  As she puts it, “Now I am learning lots of things from my own mind, and not just things that other people teach me.”  It’s really amazing to see how her mind works and how she is able to think things through and solve problems on her own.

She is particularly fascinated, as I think most kids are, with things we would describe as science – biology, ecology, astronomy.  She likes to ask me questions about how our brains work since I am a recovering neuroscientist.  She thinks it’s fascinating how our brains control the things our bodies do, since it all seems to work so fast.  The concept of an endocrine system, or a brain that occupies our whole bodies, is one I am still struggling to explain in a way she can understand.

Anyway, the other day she said to me, “Mommy, you know how when we meet a new friend and we really like them, our hearts beat very fast?  I think that is because our brains are taking pictures of our new friends, and telling our heart to beat fast so it can grow bigger so our new friend can fit in our heart.”

Yes, indeed.