Holding on to the rope

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I recently read something that struck my sensibility about parenting to the core.  It was an essay written about parenting teenagers – but it made so much sense regarding the parenting of preschoolers, too.  (ntmoms.com/letter-teenager-cant-write/)

Parenting is at best challenging and at worst the hardest thing we have ever done.  The metaphor in the article cited above is a really good one. As parents, we are holding on to the other end of the rope.  Your child will pull, and twist, and swirl and pull and even try to pull it away as she swirls.  It is our job to hold on.  To be their anchor – even, and especially, when it takes all our strength to do so.

I know this so very well as the mother of four teenagers.  Its so hard when they are little – but it’s so very scary and even sometimes harder when they get bigger.  You hope that they will make the best decisions and you pray that they will stay safe – and you are so grateful when everyone is back home and tucked into their beds.  But holding on to the rope is essential and exhausting – and it all started back when they were three feet tall.

Preschoolers and teenagers need to flail.  They need to know where the edges are. It’s how they stay grounded and feel safe.  It’s how they know they are loved. However it is hard- especially when they are young.  We want them to be independent.  We want to nurture their strength and sense of the world.  It gets tricky to know when to say no; when to say stop.

We all want our children to be self-actualized operators in this great big world of ours.  We all want them to be strong and independent – resilient – we want as parents to nurture and cultivate those attributes.  Stopping their urges, not fulfilling their requests – its exhausting. But it is ESSENTIAL.  Hold on to the rope.  Keep them grounded. It is the only way and it is what they are asking for – the whole entire time.

I say to you – as someone who struggles with this – to remember to hold on to the rope. Hold on.  Hold them in – don’t really let them go;  they need to know where to find the ground.  Love them all the time.  And they will become that self-actualized human being that you want for them.  If you let go and just let them flail out in the world – the unravelling can leave them lost.

Kindness

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There is a well known quote by the Dalai Lama:

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

This simple statement has become the steadfast mantra in my family and extremely useful as I  parent my four children. Even now – as they are turning into adults and larger than life – whenever one says or does something unkind – all I have to start with is…”Be….” And invariably one of them finishes the phrase for me – usually with a small smile edging out the corner of their mouth.

And when I think about the children at CNS – we have the same approach and goal for all of them.

The work of preschool is varied and vast – but there is so much in the social area that our classroom and outdoor spaces become petri dishes of social and emotional development. In fact, some could argue that it is the actual REASON for preschool. We all know that parents could create very rich and wonderful areas of creativity, science, literature, in their homes – but where can they find a dozen other children to fit all into that space and have to share and take turns? Preschool.

When I talk to prospective parents about our specific goals for each child at CNS – I spend most of the time talking about the social piece. We want them all to learn kindness. Practice kindness. Feel kindness.

It doesn’t mean that everyone has to be friends with everyone else. It doesn’t mean that every moment has to include everyone that wants to be included. It does mean that when another wants to join that group, they are received with kindness. It does mean that someone needs help, that they are given help. It does mean that we greet each other with a smile and always say goodbye. It does mean looking out for each other and taking care of those who need that care – however big or small.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Such a simple idea. I practice it everyday – and you know what I’ve found? It really is not hard at all. And by giving kindness, even just a little bit, it comes back bigger than you can even believe….

 

Comfort

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This past year has been a year of change, upheaval, new beginnings and mourning – so in this season of thanksgiving, I took a little time to list out some top ten lists of what has sustained me through this past year.

We all have our comforts and supports –  what we do, who we listen to, and who we read. I took some time to list out (not necessarily in order) what those have been for me in this past year.  It made me realize that despite ups and downs of living and being – that I live a life of opportunity and resources; I am incredibly fortunate.

Of course what really gets anyone of us through hard times are those who we surround ourselves with – for me I have been blessed with incredible brothers, sisters, and four amazing children.  And, I would be nowhere without my incredible friends or the irrepressible, Casey.

Beauty surrounds us.  Find your path.  Take time to realize all that you have.

In Thanksgiving:

  1. Conservation Land
  2. Running Sneakers
  3. Bike
  4. Oil paint
  5. Back porch
  6. Walden
  7. Turntable & Vinyl
  8. Maine
  9. Hoop
  10. Yoga
  1. Adele
  2. Nathaniel Ratecliff & the Night Sweats
  3. Bon Iver
  4. Edith Pilaf
  5. Mumford & Sons
  6. The Hunts
  7. Mary Lambert
  8. Sara Bareilles
  9. Bach
  10. Yo-Yo Ma
  1. e.e. cummings
  2. Thich Nhat Hahn
  3. Tyler Knott Gregson
  4. Mary Oliver
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Maya Angelou
  7. Emily Dickinson
  8. Winnie-the-Pooh
  9. Fred Rogers
  10. Pablo Neruda

 

Freeschool

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We all want our children to love school. I haven’t yet met a parent to say otherwise. Regardless of our own experiences or memories – we all want our children to love school.

It starts early. No matter where you are from, or where you are – it is always there – this conscious desire and in fact sense of urgency that our children have a positive, pro-social, empowering, meaningful, long lasting experience of school. And as their parents – we are driven to find this place for them in order for that good start, that first taste, that lingering warmth that underscores the rest of their educational journey.

It is where they will make their first friends, work on writing their first name, paint something to adorn their refrigerator or bedroom walls, and learn how to say goodbye and wow how they learn how to celebrate hello.

When they are young, we scour the options – if we are so lucky to have options – and try to find a place that mirrors our own values and expectations and understanding about what makes for a good school. And the funny part of that – is that has been my experience, both personally as a parent myself, and based on the hundreds of visits with prospective parents – it is really all a feeling. A gut instinct kind of experience. You walk through a school, you hear the words, but it is in how a place makes you feel that you know if this is the place for your child.

And now, in these coming weeks and months, I will meet a new batch of earnest, inquiring, parents – who come to find out in person about this community, our program, curriculum, and who walk about and wonder if this could be the place for their child to fall in love with school.

And here’s what we forget as parents sometimes…they will love if we do too. The children feel that most of all. When parents embrace a school – so will their children. And in that hug, that hello – the child can then be nurtured. The love and trust that exist between parent and teacher, parent and place become the fertile ground from which the beauty of love and learning can take place.

Community Nursery School is a co-op – meaning that the parents are all involved in the operations, decisions, and daily life of the school. I often tout the research that supports the connection that children benefit when their parents are involved with their school. But do we really need the research to back up what we already know and feel in our hearts? It just makes sense. When a child knows his parents care enough about a school to go to a night meeting, or attend a work day weekend or take time from work to parent help – the child gets the message. School is a special place. An important place. A place where mommy and daddy get to play, too.

This year, I have the much fun of welcoming some children into our youngest group — that I knew before they were born.  I can remember with each of these children when the mom told me she was pregnant.  And so now those babies are Front Roomers.

One of them happens to call CNS, “freeschool”.  And I think that is just beautiful.  Because isn’t that really what it’s all about?  A place where free play and love abound.  An environment where freedom is cherished and a child’s self will is respected.  Freeschool.  I like it.  (Thank you Charlie.)

Our connections go deep.  Our love is deeper still.  This is more than just a school.  It is a community.  And I am just so grateful to be along for the ride.

Keeping it REAL

 IMG_0012“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I recently moved to Belmont.

In exploring my new neighborhood this summer, I stepped into a bakery a couple blocks from my apartment. Ohlins. A friend was coming over for coffee that morning and I thought it would be nice to have some muffins to share.

Ohlins has a somewhat dingy store front – handwritten signs yellowed with curled edges. Inside, old time bakery cases are trimmed with an array of Green Mountain coffee options. In the cases, the variety of doughnuts is plentiful and right there in that shop on that morning, I spontaneously decided to skip the muffins and opt for the a jelly dipped instead.

I ate one on the walk back – and I was transformed. With the first bite, I was brought back to my childhood when all doughnuts tasted just like that. Pure. And good. Not just good – deliciously good. With no aftertaste – no weird slippery feeling on the top of my mouth like when I eat a Dunkin Donut – this was just a good delicious sweet treat.

And I realized something on that street corner. That doughnut was REAL. No chemicals. No preservatives. Made that morning.

It really made me consider that while I was enjoying those purely delightful calories that would do nothing for my body but give me a sugar rush and more fat to burn off – I realized that I wasn’t ingesting any chemicals. And how is it that our food system has become so corrupt that buying a real doughnut felt like a new experience? A novelty. Something my own teenaged children have yet to experience.

It is hard to find REAL this days. It is hard to sustain conversations without having someone check their phone or hear a text alert beep.  We are so distracted and our attentions split between before, now, and what’s next. It is hard to demand REAL. We live in a fast food cheaply constructed consumer driven world where there is very little REAL. We live in a world where it is cheaper to buy a new oven then get your few years old oven fixed.

As part of my move to Belmont, an old family bed came up to Long Island to furnish my bedroom. My brother graciously drove it up for me arriving one Saturday morning. I had been moving stuff into my apartment all morning – but when that bed arrived – something else happened. I couldn’t lift it myself. Not one piece of it. And I consider myself reasonably fit and strong. But there was no moving or even putting that bed together by myself. It was heavy. Made of REAL wood. Nothing like the stuff I had recently purchased – not even close.

I know there are so many new inventions and advances that make our lives better today then what life was like for my parents – or their parents. But what have we lost?

We have to become more aware of what is REAL in our lives. So that we don’t miss our own opportunities to be REAL and we recognize when there is REAL. To be present. To fully love. To be aware of what is distracting from this present moment. To eat REAL food. To appreciate the weight of REAL wood. To stop and smell REAL roses.

Be aware of what is REAL. Because with real ingredients in your life, everything tastes so much better.

Guilt without sex

When I arrived on the Swarthmore campus in 1986, there was a popular t-shirt that many undergrads were wearing, “Guilt without Sex”.  My dad laughed out loud when he saw it.  Truly at the time, I don’t think I understood it.

As my time went on at Swarthmore, I came to understand it quite clearly.  There was the guilt that we all walked around with any minute that we weren’t studying or on our way to studying. The workload was crazy and too much and there was never enough time to do it all.  My time there acquainted me with those feelings of constant worry that I wasn’t doing enough, and yes, guilt.  (And it was also true that there was not much sex either.)

Fast forward to becoming a parent.

Guilt is a very pervasive emotion. It accompanies so many moments after our children are born.  Every phase of their childhood provides us with multiple opportunities to feel guilty.

They aren’t having enough play dates.
I shouldn’t take them to McDonalds.
They watch too much TV.
I shouldn’t leave them with a sitter to go work out.
I shouldn’t buy them another plastic toy just to get through this shopping trip.
I am too hard on them.
I am too easy on them.
I should really be only feeding them organic produce.
I really shouldn’t be using screen time as a reward.
Oh, why do I love that the iPad can keep them so busy for so long?
Am I doing enough?

There is that circular internal conversation loop that we all play.  It comes from the best of intentions.  It comes from caring and loving and wanting the best for our children.

But I have come to a place of recognizing it and realizing that there is no need for that kind of guilt.  It serves no useful purpose.  And it drives us crazy. It creates an atmosphere of clouds and worry around all the love that we are desperately trying to give to our children.  It doesn’t make us better parents.  It makes us anxious parents.  And anxious, worried, “am I doing enough?” parents are not allowing themselves to just be in the flow of living.

The “Mindfulness” movement is something that is ancient – so to call it a new idea or a ‘movement’ is very silly.  However, it has gotten a lot of recent attention and within our current cloud of parenting resources, it comes up a lot.  And I like it.  A lot.  The concept of slowing down and breathing is exactly right.  It takes us out of our self-talk and doubt – and even guilt.  It brings us to the present.  To the now.  That’s where life happens. And if you practice it, the guilt has a way of floating on. Away.  Where it belongs.

Guilt doesn’t make us better parents. It only makes us second guess ourselves and regret decisions that we have already made.  Don’t allow guilt to take away this moment.  You are here.  Doing your best. That’s what makes you a good parent. The caring.  The awareness. Feel the confidence in that.  And just remember this, when it starts to unravel and guilt works its way in (and I know that it will despite all intentions), breathe.  Just breathe.

And remember, that all they need is love.

 

This is what happened.

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On December 9th, I grabbed a rebound, turned up court to run the break, and I fell down. My Achilles tendon, long nursed through bouts of tendonitis and many sore runs, just gave out.

Since that time, I have been limited physically – have spent two weeks on bed rest – and have had to completely slow down and take that very deep proverbial breath.

Many people who know me have commented as to this must have been so very hard for me to do. I live an active lifestyle: whether training for a new race, swimming across the pond, coaching a team through a practice, or trying to keep up with my children.  All of that had to stop.

And something magical happened.

Community happened.
Friends happened.
Life happened.

Meals began to arrive.  Friends dropped in and sat on my bed with me and spent hours just chatting and catching up.  Some friends that I hadn’t seen in over a year.  A year. There was so much to say, share, tell, and think about.

My children – who are constantly hungry – were sustained by the daily meals being delivered (still being delivered).  But on a more important level – much more – they have been witness to “Community”.  To an outpouring of love and meals and help – and so they are experiencing firsthand what it means for us to take care of each other.

It is perhaps one of the most important life lessons that we can teach them.  For wherever they go on in this life – no matter what happens to their friends or extended family, they will know what to do; how to help.  They will remember.

Thank you all for this lesson.  I could never have done it without you.

Every parent wants their child to grow up and know how important it is to care for their neighbor, their friend, the person in their community that needs help. But how to teach that?

I don’t wish a ruptured Achilles tendon on anyone.  It hurt a lot – and so did the surgery.  But I do wish that all of our collective children experience “Community”.  I like to think they get a little taste of this at CNS through daily parent helping.  Your child’s special day is special – but it also is giving every child a message that their classroom is an important place to be. Important enough to shift your schedule, take a personal day, or find a sitter for a younger sibling.

To nourish each other is something incredibly special and can take on so many forms. Thank you all for nourishing me and my family through these days of recovery.  I promise to pay it forward – and who knows, maybe one of my kids will even cook dinner for you one day?