Ten List: Things That Make Parenting Easier, #1

A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on ten lists I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.

Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. So from today: here’s my daughter Phoenix. She’s going to grow up to be a Furry, I think. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That. #LOL

Phee

#1. Stop judging other parents; stop being self-critical. Both are self-obsessed behaviors.

“Stop judging” usually runs into one of two quagmires right off the bat. The first is, “What do you mean don’t judge, we all make judgments, I have the right to decide what’s best for myself/my family/my kids,” blah blah blah.

So about choices. Just this week I’ve chosen many times over, at any given moment, whether to clean my house, play with my kids, work volunteer hours, cook homemade fare, build my garden, pet or walk my dog, exercise, have a date with my husband, visit friends, sew, write, rest. Et cetera. Each time I chose one thing I couldn’t very well do the others. This is life. It happens.

So let’s drop the pretense. We all discren and we all make choices. We’re all doing the best we can on any given day, and we all make mistakes. No one is free from making mistakes, from having wrong perceptions, from being driven by fear and anger. We can only demonstrate our will, our uniqueness, or what Viktor Frankl called “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” in how we respond to our anger, fear, our mistakes. Some of us have a sense of humor, humility, and openness about these things; some of us, less so. I’m hoping this post restores or imparts humility, humor, and courage. These are all traits accessible to every single human being.

There’s a second speedbump in mainstream culture when we talk about unlearning judgment. For those of us brought up Nice White Lady  (*raises hand*), we interpret the pop-culture mag articles about not-judging to mean merely the outward appearance of civility. In other words, “keep your opinions but keep them quiet, merely dropping hints in public, and finding those who’ll share in your hatred and judgment when you want to be more open about it all. OUT LOUD judgment or judgment voiced in the wrong company is Mean & Nasty, a social gaffe.”

Just: No. Keeping nasty comments to yourself is a start; but it’s the inner voices that will hurt you and then necessarily, hurt others. Those perceptions and judgments will construct pitfalls for other parents, for children, and for yourself. You will fall on the sword you install. Every time. And P.S., you aren’t making things easier for others when you live this way. This didn’t used to occur to me. It matters to me, today.

My experience informs me that judging other people (and finding them inferior, worthless, “bad”, et cetera) is our Ego’s response to Fear. That’s it. It’s that basic. I don’t like formula-feeding moms because I’m upset to think of babies who aren’t getting the best upbringing/nurture/nutrition etc. I hate pro-lifers because they oppress women and their hate frightens me. I can’t stand Christians because I was hurt by my family/the church and they’ve made me feel inferior! While I relate, I understand, and I’ve been there, for me a Fear-driven way of life is not a quality way of life.

Our strategies need never be informed by Hate and Fear; they are more intelligent and skillful when they are not. It’s kind of sad that when it comes down to it, many of us are trying to save our own skin, or telling the world, “I can’t deal with the suffering of others, so everyone needs to behave.” Once I recognize these drives within myself the whole thing falls apart and I can proceed with a great deal more intelligence, compassion, kindness, strength, and courage. To be honest, when I realize this is where I come from, I usually have a laugh about it and talk it over with someone.

I don’t have an antidote to Fear to impart here. Personally, I had to have a spiritual, moral, mental, and emotional breakdown, and be built back up brick-by-brick, which is where I found faith – I discovered the possibility to live a spiritual life. That’s just me, though. It actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. OK, it was pretty rough. But I’m here today and today I have Faith. Faith has enabled me to participate in the world, to change the world for the better when I can. I no longer need to put myself in a box, to not be friends with so-and-so because she does this Naughty thing, to stay up late being Right on the internet, to Other other people. Et cetera.

If you don’t like the concept of Faith or spirituality, by all means substitute ethics or principles or values. Do not allow my experience and the rituals that help me, be an unnecessary impediment to your life.

One thing helps me here is fluidity. When I see a father scolding and yanking his son’s arm, I don’t think “What a monster” today. I know that man is all out of better ideas. It hurts him to hurt his son but he has no better option. I’ve been that harsh and hurtful parent. I can walk up to that man and say, “Can I help you?” I can let him know I see him hurting someone and I won’t let it continue, but I see him hurting too. I don’t have Fear like I used to.

I have a dear friend who found the St. Francis Prayer very effective. She told me it kept her from practicing all her bad habits and allowed her to supplant them with better ones. The prayer reads:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

It is very brave to live this way. Many cannot bring themselves to do it. I am not a Catholic, but I find this prayer to be a wonderful reflection. These principles help me to minister to others, instead of building up my Ego and my sense of righteous indignation. When I see something that makes me angry (in other words, that frightens me), I am less likely to go on the offensive with MY way of seeing things, MY practices, MY life. Today I know I am not helping others when I clobber them with my judgment, words, and actions, and when I put the nail in the coffin of being Right. These new strategies (relatively new to me, anyway) have helped me a great deal. I can ministrate with kindness in public, and feel compassion and experience Presence. When I am troubled by something, I can respond with more clarity. If I need to, I can talk with an understanding friend who has less Ego at stake than the so-called offending party (or the person, edifice, or principle that disturbed me). Egos shouting at one another, well, we all know what that looks like.

I didn’t change quickly, or all that happily. It cost me a great deal to live the way I used to. Ultimately I found resentment, judgment and fear made me too sick. Just: very, very ill. They make me ill today if I rehearse them.

I hope you’ve come to see that judging others and self-criticism go hand and hand. It is not possible to live with one but not the other. Both are steeped in arrogance. Both only seek to grow the Ego, the Self, the personality. They do nothing to reduce our anxiety, increase our usefulness. If nothing else, know a thought like, “I’d never be caught out like that,” “I wouldn’t tolerate that from MY kid”, “what shitty parents”, et cetera is going to hurt you later. There is no if, and or but about it. It’s going to hurt you later, and it hurts you today, even if you don’t know it. It hurts other people too.

It really is okay to say, “This scares me, and it hurts me.” It works wonderfully to say this, to know this, instead.

Tomorrow: Tip #2, Do what feels right but is scary. A mistake here & there is better than a stifled life.

everyone becomes a poet

The other day in the lightning storm things got dicey, and Phee and I figured we might not make it out of there. So my daughter says, “I have to tell you something,” and tells me a secret about a boy. AND I JUST ABOUT DIED FROM THE ADORABLENESS, that she told me this because she thought we might perish together in the car, meeting our demise in a storm. And no, I haven’t told anyone the secret. Not the one. Not even her father.

So today she came home and showed me a bracelet she’d been gifted, engraved with the word, “LOVE”. And I asked if it was from the boy in question, and she said Yes. When she later asked me to fasten it around her wrist, I asked how that all went down and she said, “He kinda threw it on the ground and said I should have it.”

So, at their age. That sounds about right.

My kids made a cake today while I was busy; it wasn’ t quite finished baking at 1:40 PM when they were due for their dentist appointments. They biked down there and I finished things up and joined them. And seeing their little bikes all parked and them taking care of their dentist shit. It’s pretty awesome.
 

dentist

Being a mother is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It has pieced back everything good and blessed of my humanity.

We have a busy few days. I’m making a birthday snack for a friend tomorrow; we’re hosting a band for dinner and a friendly tour or two of HQX. The kids are featured in an art show opening this week. And I get to make my other commitments including daily walking the dog a few miles.

It’s all good stuff; I hope to relax and enjoy it as much as possible. I need to slow down and expand my prayer life. Here’s hoping I remember, tomorrow morning.

halfway to what what we typically consider legal emancipation

I tell my daughter, “Even though you’re only ten you’re already smart enough to take care of yourself. But you get to live with us as long as you like until you want to go off on your own.”

She nods. She fully understands. I turn my face to traffic so she can’t see tears in my eyes.

She walks the huge dog like a champ. Her shoulders back and her little chest up. She walks the dog like a boss. LIKE A GODDANMED BOSS. She is my heart.

Hutch & Phee

bodhi / bakery

Today, Phoenix walks into my arms after swimming.

“I reached Enlightenment. Like the Buddha.”

Then a second later she says:

“You’d better watch out.”

!!!

In celebration of Phee’s spiritual milestone I bought her a dozen cupcakes from Bonjour Cupcake in Olympia. Pretty special stuff.

Bonjour Cupcakes

***

So, I’m expanding my horizons a bit. Typically un-shy about unschooling here at this site, and on a Twitter account or two, in real life I keep it mellow. Actually, docile and resigned. But, but, but before you call me a milquetoast, I have my reasons. I swear! The thing is, around here most people hear “unschooling” and it’s their first exposure. And they have opinions and assumptions immediately. I am talking from the SECOND they hear the word. And even those who’ve heard the term or have seen a segment on TV or read an article (ahem), well, they have already made up their mind and diagnosed quite a bit about anything unschooling-related. And usually, when it comes to my family, incorrect or just plain bizarre diagnoses. The point is, I say “unschooling”, the other person starts talking. Blah blah opinion opinion. I’ve responded by shutting down because A. I’ve considered myself un-asked and B. it has been a bit exhausting to hear the same stuff from so many. I have been responding with conversational null and voids like, “Yeah, a lot of people have that concern.”

I thought I was being gentle and kind and open – but I realize, despite positive intentions, I’ve been a bit passive.

Over the last few days I’ve been mulling a few things over (unusual for me, as I usually jump to my own KrazyBrain conclusions pretty quick!). At the Life is Good Unschooling Conference Ralph and I had the pleasure – amongst many pleasures – of listening into to Jeff Sabo’s talk, “In Defense of Unschooling”. The presentation was, essentially, one hour discussing common responses we get from people when we say the “U” word (and yeah, every response?  I was familiar with it), and suggestions for how to deal with these responses, depending on our mood and the situation. I’ve been thinking over Jeff’s suggestions quite a bit.

So, long story short, I’ve decided to be more assertive. More active in the conversation and more “out” as an unschooling family. If someone asks why my kids aren’t in school, I now say “we unschool” (instead of ” we homeschool”). If someone asks what unschooling is, I’ve stopped saying, “Oh, it’s a type of homeschooling.” The reasons I said these things were, mostly, it framed things nicely for the other party. Then I got to listen, or not, to the ‘splaining headed my way.

These days, when asked, I tell them a bit more.

“Unschooling means different things to different people. For us, it’s a parenting practice based on the indisputable truth kids are learning all the time, and the belief they shouldn’t be segregated from normal life. Our kids have better opportunities than sitting most of the day, memorizing and then regurgitating facts for tests. We’re also not interested in forcing them into the many social problems in institutional school environments.”

Or some such.

So based on the kinds of things I do say now, I had a lovely interaction with a homeschooling mom today at the YMCA, while our kids swam. Nothing went tits up and I felt more a part of, and less a lady that sits on the bench and texts and smiles at people and is “polite”. And in case you’re wondering, after I got my little “pitch” up there out of the way, we spent most the conversation talking about her experience and her concerns. She told me she receives a lot of criticism for homeschooling. And I listened to some of that criticism and offered up – what I hope was – supportive feedback.

Tangentially, much later in the evening a friend told me, “I was surprised when I heard that you ‘unschooled’ your kids… because when I got in the car the first time I met them they were using words I hadn’t learned until I was seventeen”. I love hearing stuff like that. And tonight I was thinking, Why? Why do I love hearing that kind of thing?

Yes, part of it is: it’s nice to know your children are thriving in some way. But I no longer need my kids to sound smart for my own vicarious virtue (since first-off “smart” is overrated, and second what other people think of my kids is none of my business). I also no longer need to be constantly self-soothing I’m doing the Best Right Perfect Thing at all times – because today I know I’m flexible and can change strategy if I need to. No, when it comes down to it, I guess hearing my friend’s mind being blown (or at least opening a bit) is pretty cool. Maybe one of the cooler interactions that happen between people, on whatever end of the conversation you find yourself.

And I guess I feel a lot of gratitude and a lot of gladness that my family and I have had such a full and rich life. My kids haven’t had to go through the kind of drudgery I had to. They aren’t learning to be praise-addicted as I did. They are more active participants and authors in their own lives. My children aren’t alien to me, or problems to be managed, or irritations to be herded, or products for me to inject my own hopes and dreams into. They don’t have to waste their time doing what other people want. They can waste their time or spend it wisely as they see fit, unencumbered. They are free to learn. I am truly grateful.

And like, when a friend sees this going down for our family, and sees that it works? He’s all the more free to make that choice for his own children, should the opportunity arise.

Yeah. That’s worth speaking up a bit.

some bitchin’ stitchin’!

(or is it “sumbitchin’ stitchin'”? Depends on our mood I guess!)

Gray's General Store, Embroidery

I’m teaching a beginning embroidery class at Gray’s General Store!

“May 17 4:00pm to 6:00pm, $30. Learn the versatile skill of embroidery with Kelly. She will cover the basics of embroidery and the class will include a project kit of a tea towel, pattern and your color choice of embroidery floss.”

Skills taught: Selecting fabric, thread, needles, & notions; tracing patterns or making your own; stabilizers and hoops; knotless or knotted construction; 5 stitches: stem, running, backstitch, rice stitch, and French knots; pressing and washing.

For more questions call or text me! 360.500.3287

Gray's General Store, Hoquiam

the “s”s keep me up at night

2 Chocolate Milks

Back to my old routine – out on bikes to conduct business in downtown HQX.

Yesterday I got started sewing in my new place. I figured just what felt right – an old skool vintage grunge flannel, child-sized, in a pretty and soft cotton semi-flannel (Yes, semi-flannel! Such a thing exists). You can see just a wee bit of the fabric on the left, under rulers and interfacing. You can also see my 60+ year old Singer I’ll be sewing on, through the doorway.

Sewing

Tonight I heard a wonderful poem.

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.

― Rumi

“i love you all the way into space”

The other night my son laughingly and briefly impersonated an activity of scientific inquiry he’d seen on a documentary about the sasquatch. I laughed so loud and spontaneously he gleefully repeated the performance, adding nuances and several more jokes. He was really funny. Phoenix joined in a few minutes later and pretty soon I was laughing so hard I almost choked.

Sometimes I forget just how much my children – and my husband – love to see me laugh. We’ve been so incredibly busy with the move and even though I am not stressing the way I would have even a year ago, I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been thoroughly relaxed.

This afternoon, the first substantial meal I’ve made in the new kitchen (a kitchen I adore), I put together a huge batch of homemade meatballs in a rich tomato sauce for our party tomorrow. Out the window I see my mother next door, my blonde-headed son helping her build her greenhouse. They have a plan to grow a bunch of corn in our huge backyard this summer (I KNOW, CORN!, HOW ADORABLE IS THIS PLAN?!). I feel the deepest sense of satisfaction in my children and their lives, running in sturdy boots through deep green yards and chasing cats off my sewing room fabric and inventing a game called “Penny Toss”, and politely asking me to play over and over even as I frown and scrub the floor and tell them, “In a minute…”.

But, life is good. It’s odd to be in the same neighborhood I grew up in, hearing the music of the pond in my mother’s backyard, but to have my own space too full of my own colors. Tonight I asked Ralph, “Do you know how long I’ve wanted a deep blue living room?” I modified the color choice to reflect Phoenix’s favorite but it’s true, I remember the apartment in Seattle that first got me enamored.