Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ping Pong Book


"Mom, how do you spell 'like'?" my youngest one called from his room last night. "L-I-K-E," I responded. "Hmmm...well, I almost got it right," he replied. I assured him that Mom's know how to read their kids spelling if they sound it out and try their best. And if they can't for some reason, they can just ask for help when they read what has been written. Satisfied with the answer, he put his notebook in our special spot and went to bed.

This morning I awoke and eagerly opened up the notebook we share and discovered this sweet note written to me. What a precious way to start my day!

This week I introduced the concept of a "Ping Pong Book" to the boys in response to one of our Advent questions, "How can we be even closer as a family?" (For a list of the questions that we discuss each evening, visit Playful Learning. It's been a wonderful addition to our holiday season!) I had read a description of the Ping Pong Book from one of the Mamas in a homeschooling group I belong to online. The idea is to get a notebook that you and your child will share. You each take turns writing a message (or drawing a picture for younger children) to one another each night. You place the notebook in a special spot so that the next morning the other person can read their message and respond that night. The boys loved the idea and were excited to get started right away!

There are many reasons why I'm so excited about this new ritual:
1. It is another method for us to connect as a family. The most important thing in my opinion!
2. It provides the children with a model of how to write in a non-direct way. They see how I write letters to them and pick up on how a letter is composed, how sentences and questions are formed, and how words are spelled without it being a 'teacher-directed' activity.
3. They can practice writing in a non-threatening method. It's not an assignment. I am equally okay if they draw a picture, write a word, or write a whole page full. Writing by hand has been something that my oldest has detested so far, so I'm grateful for this opportunity for him to go at his own pace and develop skills without pressure of failing.
4. If continued into their pre-teen and adolescent years, the Ping Pong Book gives them another way to communicate with us those things that they might not feel comfortable discussing aloud. Disagreements, pressures outside the home, questions about puberty or relationships... My intention is that by that time the book provides a safe space in that we can express ourselves without fear of dragging it out into the light if it feels better to leave it on the page for the time being.
5. When they are adults, my hope is that these Ping Pong books will be a sacred keepsake that will show them of the love, support, and care that was given to them throughout their childhood. They will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were loved unconditionally. Their opinions were valued. Their ideas mattered...they mattered. Isn't that what we all want for our children and want to feel ourselves?

I'm curious and hopeful to see where the Ping Pong Book will take us...how it will evolve over the next couple months and years. Do you have a ritual that is similar? If so, please tell us about it in the comments. Together we can parent more thoughtfully, intentionally, and lovingly by sharing our successes, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams for our families.

All love for you and all you do~
Santosha


Monday, December 8, 2014

Crying in the Closet and Finding My Way Home

For the last several months, I've been telling the groups of mothers I teach and my friends that I see the "light at the end of the early childhood tunnel". I loved, absolutely cherished my sons baby, toddler, and preschool years. However those past eight years were taxing in ways I couldn't have imagined when first embarking on this parenting journey. The 24/7 caretaking, the sleepless nights, the struggle to find time to read a book or heaven forbid use the bathroom by myself. Now that they are "almost six" and eight, there is less of the hands on caretaking. They can make their own breakfast. I kiss them good night and they fall asleep in their own rooms (most nights). I can shower and know that the house won't burn down if I take the time to put on lotion afterwards. I find myself with time to practice my guitar, read several books, and still have time to devote to playing games, reading aloud with them, and exploring alongside them. I was confident I was in the "smooth-sailing" stage of parenting.

Cue giggling and knowing "mmm...hmmm..." looks from more seasoned parents...

As everything in life, nothing is forever. As I was asserting my parenting ease, my youngest son was beginning to become more defiant. More resistant to whatever I asked him to do. His behavior showed his anger, his frustration, and his struggle for more control. Shouting, hitting and kicking, and downright refusal ensued that would make any toddler's tantrum look like a warm up. What was going on here? Where was my agreeable, mature "almost six" year old?

Dr. Barry Brazelton describes this as a "Touchpoint". A period of disorganization and chaos in the life of a baby or child before are organization into a higher level of thinking or mastery of a skill. This is why babies all of a sudden throw their sleep schedule out of the window right before or during the period of mastering crawling. Or why toddlers refuse to eat much while they work out walking or talking. My logical mind knew this period was probably a result of a growth spurt (he might not feel well overall) or the fact he was showing signs of beginning to understand how to read more and more words at a rapid pace lately. My emotional mind, however, was feeling the effects of being shouted at, hit, kicked, and negativity and resistance thrown in my face repeatedly all.day.long for weeks on end. I felt like I did when he only slept for an hour and a half at a time for the first ten months of his life. Overwhelmed.  At a loss for what to do. Done.

 
Those feelings lead me to a point one night last week where I found myself in my closet with tears streaming out of my eyes, asking for divine guidance on what to do. A simple request was met with resistance yet again and I said to my sweet, conflicted child, "I do not want to yell at you. I am frustrated, so I'm going to my room." I could have put him in his room. I could have yelled. I could have punished. However, I knew that wouldn't help anything. The problem wasn't him in this situation. He was responding to my request not to make me mad, but because he was going through what he was going through. THAT had nothing to do with me, but my response had EVERYTHING to do with me. THAT is what I owned by putting myself in "time out".

My bedroom closet is the most interior room in my house. It occurred to me that I had put myself in the very center of my home. And what better place to be? I physically acted out what needed to happen within myself. I needed to return to the center of my own self...my home-base...and remember my grounded, centered true nature.

How do we return to our home, our place of centered-ness, when the storms of parenting come our way? As I pondered this question, I began to see parenting (and life) as an ocean. There are periods where the waters are calm. We are smoothly sailing in our boat and calmly observing all around us with ease. Then there are the highs of excitement. These are moments when we see our little ones making huge discoveries or when we accomplish great feats. The birthdays or holidays or "highlights" we typically hold onto. We are riding our surf board and overjoyed with the thrill of living. There are also the storms of the ocean. The waves grow bigger and bigger and hit us over and over again. Sometimes we get dragged under and we struggle to catch a breath. It sounds dramatic, but when you are in it...when you haven't slept a solid four hours in weeks or taken a shower in four days...it can feel just as intense.

How can we find a grounded place in all of that water? The only place there is to look is within ourselves. By finding our own internal home, we can find the touchpoint to come home to when we feel tossed about. We can find a place of home that allows us to weather any weather.

You might be saying, "Yes...all of those metaphors sound nice, but what do I DO the next time I find myself crying uncontrollably in my closet?!?"

First, acknowledge that you are crying in your closet. Don't try to fight it. Cry! Let it out! There are no awards given for holding it in. You will feel better immediately, I promise.

Then, take a deep breath. Then another. By taking long, slow, intentional breaths you are sending a message to your brain that you are safe and you can handle this. If there is anger or tension there, try breathing out with an open mouth, releasing an audible sigh or forceful bellow. (A much better release than yelling, which is why I think those of us with yelling tendencies do it...for the release.)

Once you have caught your breath, then begin to notice where in your body you feel your breath. Can you sense your place of home physically? Perhaps it is in the space right next to your heart. Or in your gut, where your intuition originates. Once you've sensed it, focus your breath on filling up that space on the inhale and releasing stress on the exhale. This whole exchange of moving from our 'fight or flight' brain into our 'problem solving' brain can take a few seconds or several minutes, but it is worth the time to reclaim our breath and return home to our true selves.

Then, we can add in a mantra that helps reprogram our internal self talk from negative into positive. A few mantras or affirmations that have helped me in the past are,
"You are safe. You can handle this."
"The moment is as it is."
"Breathing in, I receive love. Breathing out, I give love."
"He is not giving me a hard time. He is having a hard time." 
I have been known to post these quotes around my house to remind myself throughout the day.

When overwhelm starts sneaking in (or rushes in and pushes us over), we can remember to go to the center of our home using our breath and reassuring words. Then we are ready to respond to our children with the loving, grounded presence that they so desperately need in that moment.

With love,
Santosha

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Great Pumpkin Meltdown


"It's HORRIBLE!!! Take it AWAY!!! My life is RUINED!!!" A steady stream of explosive statements was pouring from my seven-year-old son's room yesterday evening following the ceremonial lighting of our jack o' lanterns. It was the first year that he wanted to do it all by himself. He scraped out most of the seeds (with a little help), drew on his Minecraft creeper face, and sawed it out using the little pumpkin carving kit. He had a little trouble getting it to look just right, but after some discussion we decided to add a few more details by shaving off sections of the top layer of orange so that it looked like blocks were missing around the carved sections. He seemed satisfied as we took it into the house and waited for the sun to go down.

We were supposed to go to two different pumpkin carving parties yesterday, but both he and his brother woke up with coughs, stuffy noses, and slight sore throats. Not enough to keep them in bed, but enough where they didn't need to be sharing their germs with their friends. So we loaded up still clad in their pajamas to make a run to our local grocery store for pumpkins, chili, and apple cider for our own fall festivities. We spent the day reading together, watching movies, carving our pumpkin, roasting pumpkin seeds, and baking apples. Once it was time to light the candle, I could tell my son was tired and run down from not feeling well. When the candle was lit inside his jack o' lantern, all of those feelings plus the frustration that had mounted in trying to do something hard for the first time came out in a big way!

After a few minutes of allowing him to blow out the steam through shouting, I went to his bedroom door and asked if he wanted to continue to yell or if I could come in and talk about it. He said I could come in and through tears he told him how he wished he would have done it a different way, how it was too late now, and he wished he could have another pumpkin. I shared with him how difficult it had been for me to learn how to carve pumpkins over the years. (I've come a long way from the triangle eyes and two teeth smile versions from when I was his age!) I told him he had two choices...three really. He could leave it as is and modify it into something else. He could turn the pumpkin and try cutting it out the way he wanted to on another side. Or I would be willing to get him a second pumpkin for another try. He thought about it and decided to try another side, but possibly get another pumpkin if that didn't work out. He told me that he wanted me to turn the pumpkin around so no one could see what he had carved. I told him I wanted HIM to blow out the candle and do it, since HE was in control of the situation. He did so and just like that the "explosion" inside him had been extinguished as well.

I reflected afterwards on the many ways I could have handled that situation. Ways that I used to handle his big emotions. My initial, unconscious reaction to this situation would have been to react to his behavior. How silly was he to make a big deal over just a pumpkin! I could have denied his experience and told him he shouldn't feel this way...it wasn't that big of deal. Of course his life wasn't ending! It was just a pumpkin. I could have told him to toughen up and deal with it. "That is life!" I could have made a big deal about paying for another pumpkin and had him pay for it himself. "Money doesn't grow on trees!"

However, I chose to respond rather than react. I chose to parent with heart and invoke love. I decided to see the root cause of his angry words and know that all feelings must be worked through rather than shut down. I attempted to use empathy and remember all of the times I tried to do something big and it didn't work out the way I wanted it to. I thought about how I would have liked to be treated in that same situation. I didn't want to "coddle" or encourage the victim mentality of "nothing ever goes my way", but I did want to show him that I understood and we could solve the problem together calmly. Above all else, I wanted him to know without a doubt that he was loved no matter how angry and disappointed he was and no matter what his jack o' lantern looked like.

So often parents feel like they need to teach a lesson through "tough love". Through overwhelm or just repeated patterns of how they were raised, they think the lesson of the "natural" consequence is more important or perhaps an inflicted consequence or punishment would have been needed to "deal with this tantrum". They don't take the time to see what causes these upsets and they feel if it's not "nipped in the bud" it will continue forever and escalate even more. I have to say I understand as I used to be one of those parents. I now disagree.

The next time your child has big emotions, take a moment to breathe to calm yourself first. Then, take on the perspective of your child and see how big of a deal it is to her. Remember a time where you felt similarly and realize that for many more years you've been taught how to show these emotions in a more "socially acceptable" way, for better or for worse. Know that she needs to let the feelings pass through while feeling safe and loved, then you can talk about solutions. There is time. And it's worth taking the time.

Namaste~
Santosha

P.S. If you are looking for ways to learn how to calmly and peacefully deal with you child or your big emotions in a responsive rather than reactive way, I have learned so much from Dr. Laura Markham at www.ahaparenting.com and L.R. Knost at www.littleheartsbooks.com.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Celebrating the Seasons of Our Lives

The autumn leaves are falling around us where we live. Golden hues of yellow, red, orange, and brown paint the landscape in a way that makes a person feel glad to be alive. I've taken many walks lately with chin pointed up, eyes wide, and the crunch of leaves underfoot to keep me company. On these solitary walks I've had a moment to pause inside as my body moves in a steady rhythm outside. I've had an opportunity to reflect and refocus the lens of my vantage point to include the many people, situations, and things in my life that I am so grateful for. My children, my partner, my friends, my health, my home, the work I do... There's an abundance that fill me with gratitude if I take the time and perspective to see it.

Vibrant Being

Traditionally, fall has been the time to give thanks. Farmers had brought in their harvest and families were surrounded by the fruits of their labor. In fact, one can look to nature for many seasons and the feelings associated with them. Autumn is for humble gratitude and abundance. Winter is for slowing down and reconnecting within and with those we love. Spring brings a sense of renewed hope and anticipation. Summer is a joyful adventure, brimming over with activity. How blessed am I in my part of the world to see these seasons acted out in nature, serving as a model on how to flow throughout the year in a way that is in harmony.

And just like the natural world, our life has it's seasons as well. I sometimes have a tendency to see things as black and white...always or never. If I'm having a hard day, I am quick to think it will always be this hard. If things are going great, I might assume the good times have to last forever and feel hurt when they do not. However, a wise person knows that there is an ebb and flow to all things. The lens zooms out and the focus takes in a wider range. My wise husband has said more than once that this "season" of our life, these ten years or so while our children are small, is where we will put in the most hands-on care taking in our lives together. Just as ten years ago I was a newlywed with my boys nothing more than a wish uttered each time I blew a dandelion's puffy seeds, ten years from now they will be young men preparing to leave home to take on a world of their own. This is the season for midnight snuggling when they climb into my big bed, spooning honey into their mouths to soothe a sore throat, encouraging them as they climb the highest rocks or swim across the length of the pool, and reading to them for hours even though they could read most of it themselves.

Child of Light
Although the diaper changing, every-two-hour feedings, and colicky evenings seemed like they would last forever, they did not. And neither will this season. And that is okay. "For everything there is a season..." Today my five-year-old and I wrote a song together on the guitar. We sat side-by-side and planned out the chords, rhythm, and he wrote the words, which in my biased opinion would hold their own to any Bob Dylan song out there. Last night my seven-year-old son told me, "You don't need to improve. You are a good mom already!" I look back at their toddler years with their chubby hands and squeaky voices and my heart is full. I look forward to their first love or when they learn to drive and I feel proud (and a little scared). However, I know that THIS season isn't to be wished away. It isn't to be rushed or held back or missed with my thoughts somewhere else. This season is to be lived Blissfully Present and On Purpose, just as all the seasons of our lives.

Namaste~
Santosha





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nature's Classroom

"Let nature be your teacher." ~William Wordsworth


I asked the Youngest One (age 5) how he would like to learn when discussing homeschooling last week. "Through nature," he exclaimed without hesitation. "What would that look like?" I inquired. "You know...we can go in nature and count the trees and add them together. Or identify them." As his eyes sparkled, I knew he was speaking from my own heart. Nature teaches, nature heals.

"A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he." ~Walt Whitman

Yesterday found us packed up with art supplies, some books on trees and poetry, a picnic lunch, and an extra change of clothes headed towards our nearby state park. We had invited a few other families to join us for an unstructured time in nature for the majority of the day. No planned activities, but ample materials to take the interests of the children in the direction they wanted to go.

We arrived about 10am and set up camp on top of an old rock foundation of a house from long ago. It's nestled up in the hill overlooking the trail and a pavilion, so it's a perfect place for a hide out. The boys have often pretended it is their castle and that morning was no exception. They designated their boundaries and drew a map, asking me to help record who their enemies, allies, and neighboring kingdoms would be.

Once that was sorted out, the other families arrived and we began to feel hungry. We meandered back to the open field next to the parking lot to get out our food and the children played tag, climbed trees, swung from vines hanging over a log suspended across the creek and stopped to have a few bites of food when they were hungry. Our gang consisted of three mamas, a couple of daddies, and a total of seven children ranging from 13 months to 8 years old.

"It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world." ~Rachel Carson

Exploration then took us to the bridge crossing the creek. There the children waded in the water, hauled big logs up and out of the creek bed, climbed tree roots and jumped off into the water, pretended they were fairies, and reenacted "Billy Goats Gruff" with all seven children acting as billy goats and the mothers taking turns being the trolls. Imagination, team work, physical and spacial negotiation, courage and discernment, and literacy knowledge all came into play during their time in the creek. All were included and everyone played a part at the level they were comfortable with...not too easy, not too hard of a challenge as it was self-directed by the children.

"From wonder into wonder existence opens." ~Lao-Tzu

By this time, it was nearing 2pm and we made our way back to the picnic table. The five "bigger" children wanted to go explore the castle more, so the band of 4-8 year olds made their way up the short trail to their "kingdom". It felt good to give them the freedom to be just out of sight, trusting that together they could conquer whatever challenges that would come their way...or they would send a representative back to get us. Within about five minutes they did. They had come across a garter snake who had caught a leopard frog by the leg and it was putting up a good fight. The mamas made their way to the scene and we all circled round nature's drama and watched as the snake strategically ended the frog's life and ensured his meal. We discussed predator/prey, the food chain, and the perspective of the frog and the snake. A moment that any show on Animal Planet could not beat. We experienced it with our own senses.

"It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to... The feeling for things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures." ~Vincent Van Gogh

As we made our way back to our cars and back into the realm of the "civilized world", I reflected on how much they had learned in nature that day. We didn't count trees, but we did experience so much of what really counts. Each time we make time to go into the wild, we have the opportunity to experience the natural world and feel it's healing powers, learning the lessons it's offering to teach us that day. You can find stories of creeks, castles, bridges, and fields in books...but experience is what memories are made of. And that is a curriculum I can invest in.

For more information on the importance of unstructured time in nature (for children and adults), check out Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Beginnings of Yoga, Homeschooling, and Acknowledging My Own Dharma

Today is a day of beginnings for a lot of people in my town: the first day of our public school's school year. My children are officially a Kindergartener and Second Grader, although they won't be getting on that yellow school bus. This is the first day we are "officially" homeschooling both children. We are celebrating with a trip to the state park, art materials and sack lunches in tow, to what the Youngest One calls, "Nature School"...if the thunder I hear outside right now blows over quickly.

My beginning began a few years ago, but it's infancy stages have matured into a fledgling, ready to take flight. For the past couple years, my heart has wandered to focus heavily on yoga. I'm six months into an eight-month-long 200-hour level teacher training. I teach 5-6 yoga classes a week to Mommy/Baby, Toddlers and their parents, and children. I have a fairly consistent personal practice which includes asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation. I'm reading the ancient texts and have learned so much.

I've also put the majority of my heart energy into discovering which method of homeschooling meets my children and my needs most optimally at this point in our lives. I've read hundreds of blog posts and several books. We've tried structured curriculum, complete radical unschooling, Waldorf, theme-based learning, and many things in between. I've reflected, asked the children their thoughts, and learned so much.

Where my heart has wandered during this break...yoga and children!
And, I'm still learning. I took significant time off writing for many reasons, but the main one is that I didn't feel "qualified" to write about these Heart Wanderings until I had lived it awhile, processed, and knew just what it was I was talking about. Well, at times I still feel like I don't know what I'm talking about, but my spirit says it's time to share what I'm learning as some of it may relate to others on similar paths.

I can't pretend to have all of the answers, but my calling seems to be to help raise the questions and invite others to follow their heart wanderings into a place of deeper knowing, whether it be through yoga, parenting, homeschooling, or another avenue that whispers to their soul.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, "It is better to do your own duty badly than to perfectly do another's; ... No one should relinquish his duty, even though it is flawed; all actions are enveloped by flaws as fire is enveloped by smoke."

So, beginning today, I begin again to share from my heart. From what I know, what I'm learning, and what I wander to and wonder about. I'd be honored if you join me on this journey.

Namaste~
Santosha

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Snow Day Challenge


Today a large snowstorm is supposed to grip our town, shutting down all universities and colleges, most city departments, and pretty much everything that can be closed will be closed. This storm is anticipated to rock most of the Midwest U.S. and my friends are jokingly referring to it as 'Snowmaggedon'.

For those of us who have the priviledge of a warm home and a job which allows us to stay there safe and sound with our loved ones, today we have a choice. We could complain about not being able to go do what we were scheduled to do. We could worry about our job, the pipes freezing, or if we will ever see warm weather again. We could feel overwhelmed or frustrated that the kids are stuck inside again and afraid that we won't know what to do with them and all of that pent-up energy. We could glue ourselves to the Weather Channel or local news and relive and analyze every detail of this 'horrific winter emergency' brought to you by reporters who were trained not only in meteorology, but also theatrics I'm sure...drama keeps the ratings high, you know.

OR... You could find out the basic information you need, turn off the channel, and walk away. "Snowing all day. Don't drive. Got it." Click. Instead of complaining, worrying, and resisting reality as it is, you could simply exhale. You don't have to be anywhere or do anything else. The moment is as it is. 

You could sit on the couch with a comfy blanket and read, with our without a child on your lap. You could stay in your pajamas all day or play dress up and break out the make up and pearls. You could get on the floor and play dollhouse or Batman with your child. You could make a blanket fort or hot chocolate or playdough or cookies. You could take a long, hot bath. You could have a dance party or a tea party or a Wii Tournament or a Family Game Day. You could finally clean out your closet or your spice cabinet or get paperwork together to file your taxes. You could paint or draw or play guitar or complete that Pinterest project you've been wanting to try. You could declare it "Kid Choice Day" and follow your child's lead to find their bliss and reconnect with the inner child within you.

Remember how excited you felt on a snow day while growing up? A day with no expectations or responsibilities. A day out of the normal routine. A whole day with nothing but open-ended possibilities...

If it's a snow day in your part of the world, I challenge you to make a choice. Choose real connection over the need for media input. Choose to follow your children's lead or your own bliss and let go of your to-do list and your accomplishment-based agenda for this one day. Choose to slow down and take in the present moment with your senses rather than be pulled towards worry, overwhelm, or frustration with thoughts of the future or past. Choose joy and wonder and reconnect with the wide-eyed child who's excitement can light up the room.

"It's a SNOW DAY! YAY!!!"