Archive for July, 2010

Emward Bound

We’re heading west, toward my dearest sister Emily. We are packing the mini-van and hitting the highway like true americans. We even have a red and white cooler.

I love my sister and if you follow this blog you may notice that I am constantly scheming to get to her or get her to me. There was just the two of us growing up and we switched off being the youngest and the oldest, meaning that though Em technically is two and a half years older than me, I occasionally pulled out in front, drawing on some inner wisdom or know-how that gave me the mature sister position. Other times she rescued me from peril or counseled me through the hazardous terrain of teenage social life, acting like a true elder. A bit of freedom from birth order roles meant we were friends.

  • When I was a dorky freshman in high school she shared her locker with me because it was an “upper locker” situated near the quad which set me up with a higher social status from the get-go.
  • Also in high school, she protected my reputation by editing my outfits, something I didn’t exactly relish but appreciated in terms of her interest and care.
  • She pumped me to elementary school on her rickety ten speed. I sat on the back rack carrying a saxophone and causing us to list deeply to the right.
  • She has brown curly hair and is taller than me by a few inches but anyone that hears us speak for even a millisecond has no doubts as to our relation.
  • Whenever I see her she tosses a few choice clothing items in my direction and always provides me with the best of the latest Filly collection. Almost my entire wardrobe is from her.
  • She drove an orange european karmman ghia, fast and furious like a true teenager, running out of gas and locking the keys inside repeatedly.
  • As a child she had trouble falling asleep and would check in with me every five minutes to see if I was asleep. I’d wake up long enough to say no, not yet, before falling asleep again.
  • She is young at heart and spent every friday night with me at our grandma’s house, long into high school.
  • When hoarding something yummy she coined the term I should get the most because I like it the most! A phrase she stands behind to this day.
  • She dreams big and then systematically creates that dream for herself. Again and again.
  • When she worked at our aunt’s deli she’d snack on the tubs of ice cream, boring a hole straight to the bottom because she only ate the good, candy, chunky parts.
  • She slacked her way through high school, got straight A’s in community college, majored in Chinese politics at a prestigious private school, spent a year in law school before dropping out to run a bike delivery co-op, taught herself to sew, went to design school, learned enough to drop out and began a highly successful clothing line. In other words she is smart and interesting.
  • We each had teddy bear hamsters and developed an elaborate imaginary life for them including rock careers and relationship jealousy. We’d talk for them in high-pitched hamster voices even if they weren’t around.
  • She shunned me only once, sitting among a pack of other teenage girls she shooed my twelve-year old self out of her room by hurling insults and a shoe. But it was just the one time.
  • She makes beautiful little matching Filly dresses for our girls and treats them like humans not babies.
  • She lives her life like it is a story. A romantic, tragic, aesthetically beautiful and triumphant novel.
  • I call her when I’m sad.

So we are making a new batch of Gak, gathering every fairy in the house, and shoving bathing suits into duffel bags. We will fend off boredom and stop to pee three million times. I will lean forward in my seat, willing myself closer to my sister.


July 31, 2010 at 9:01 am 1 comment


We celebrated Xi’s seventh birthday yesterday. Nathan catalogued our multi-stop celebratory parade here if you’d like to see photos. The load above is what I pulled home from our last river stop. Holy cow, birthdays are a lot of work.

Leading up to the special day I pumped the girl for details of how she wanted to celebrate. And now that I think about it I guess that might be part of the problem. If you’d like to keep things simple and low-key, don’t ask an almost seven-year old to plan the day. Especially one that fashions herself after royalty, poufy dresses, sky-high cakes, and fancy balls always dance through her mind. She planned a bike parade with streamers and balloons to highlight her celebrity, a stop at the coffee shop to allow our older community friends to celebrate with watermelon, rides on the carousel, a cake party at the river, and a birthday dinner at home.

What I forgot was that with each birthday request there would be a mountain of parental tasks attached. Streamers? Those need to be made and taped. Balloons? That means an additional stop, toddler in tow. Watermelon? That means a trip to the grocery. Rides on the carousel? That means Papa has to be willing to go around and around and around. Cake at the river? That means Mama skips the carousel in order to race home for swimsuits, towels, snacks, water, tubes, forks, napkins, goody bags, and the cake. Birthday dinner? Mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets is about as simple as it gets but still requires effort and dishes.

In order to make it come together I found myself scheduling the pre-birthday moments with military precision. Bella! If you want to get that banner done you need to get a move on! Nathan! We have fifteen minutes until Xi’s arrival! Next task: balloons and flowers, GO! And of course, like any smart mama I attempted to get as much done the day before as possible, the cake for example, but even that method has it’s pitfalls.

Birthday cakes are mildly stressful affairs so I like to make them at night while the children are dead asleep and I can concentrate fully, but Xi’s is a dead-of-summer birthday and I didn’t want to heat the house up in the evening when we are trying to cool it down enough to sleep. I figured early morning would be better. That’s until I realized that the children aren’t asleep at that time, they are wide-awake and more than willing to offer Mama lots and lots of “help”. I was doubling the recipe in my mind while negotiating whose turn it was to stir and that, as we all know, is not a recipe for yummy cake, it’s a recipe for disaster. The end result? Flat and salty frisbees.

Xi’s request was for a three-tiered, pink cake with white swoops and swirls, blueberries, raspberries and flowers. Flat frisbees were simply not going to get the desired loft and round two of cake making was required. Even with the best get-it-done-ahead-of-time intentions I was still up at midnight fighting a split piping bag and licking pink frosting off my fingers. The birthday girl did not get swoops but she did get a pink masterpiece and she seemed happy.

In the end I am exhausted but also glad. Xi is a middle child and try as you might to prevent it, they do get a bit lost in the shuffle. For example, Xi lost a tooth the other day and tucked it under her pillow. But after helping the three-year old thrash herself to sleep, and late night talks about puberty with the oldest, we simply forgot our tooth fairy duties. Xi woke in the morning and sadly noticed that the tooth fairy didn’t come. That was a low point in my parenting career. I set her up to write a note explaining the situation (perhaps the tooth fairy was running late and Xi woke up before she had a chance to visit?) while I slipped unseen into the bedroom. By the time she tucked the note under her pillow the tooth fairy had done her deed and Xi was delighted. But still!

I want her to know that she’s special, that her desires are important to her parents, and I think we accomplished that. Now if we could just press pause, freeze these girls while they sift through birthday gifts, I could sleep through the afternoon…

July 29, 2010 at 8:29 am 2 comments

Follow Me

The Birds and the Bees, what a light and silly name for a subject so complex, in any case, that’s what’s in the air at our house. We don’t hold back when our children ask us questions, often droning on, detailing further angles and layers long after they have lost interest. But as far as sex is concerned they have been content with The mama has the egg and the Papa has the seed, and together they make a baby, for years and years. Not once have they asked how the seed actually meets up with the egg.

Until yesterday…

It began with menstruation. I recently finished the Red Tent, which sparked my imagination with ways in which to celebrate a girl’s passage into womanhood. And as my reading happened to coincide with an article in Mothering that describes a modern-day celebration of a young girl’s first menses, it suddenly dawned on me that our wide-eyed, forever young at heart Bella might be nearing this very milestone herself. Holy shit.

I set the article beside her cereal bowl and casually mentioned that she might want to take a glance when she got the chance. She never did read the article, but she saw the words period, menstruation, and PARTY!, and hopped up to eagerly ask if we could have a party for her when that time came. That started it off.

Bella: What does the blood feel like? How do you know it’s coming? Why is there blood? Can you see the egg when it comes out? How big is it?  Why does that happen?

Often when I jump into the river to float with the girls I jokingly let out a “quack, quack, quack!”, like a mama duck signaling her ducklings to follow. Our girls “quack, quack” in response and immediately hurry in my wake. Now I use that same quacking method when moving through a crowded grocery store or airport. It triggers something primal and never fails to get their attention or to get them to follow my lead.

As I began to field Bella’s questions my voice must have sounded a metaphoric Quack! because soon enough three sets of eyes were eagerly pointed in my direction. They were ready.

I described fallopian tubes, the uterus, the journey of the egg, the shedding of the inner lining of the uterus, all the wondrous working of the female body. And then they realized the gap, the whole “egg meets seed scene”, so I asked:

Okay, the egg is waiting and ready. What do you remember about making babies?

They shouted: It needs a seed! It needs fertilizer!!!

Me: How does the seed from the Papa get inside?

Their brows wrinkled and I saw the machinations dawn on Bella and she said: Oh God!

I kept it simple, informative, and neutral. I giggled knowingly when Bella commented that she certainly doesn’t like imagining her parents making babies that way. No one does. I reassured them that when done properly, when all parties are ready emotionally and physically, there isn’t pain involved. And I answered inquiry after inquiry.

Their questions were smart and their interest was age-appropriate. Echo tuned out for parts, rejoining to celebrate being born with eggs inside her body, and smiling broadly when imagining the egg and seed growing into someone like her. Xi stayed tuned-in but spent most of her time absorbing the basics. Bella pieced together the facts I was offering with all the bits she has overheard in movies and music, and I saw satisfaction settle over her face. Finally it was all making sense.

Eventually we wound our way back to the start, to the part that is most pertinent to their current lives. They can’t even imagine kissing anyone until they are at least teenagers, but some girls have their period at age ten, and that fact put them on high alert as Bella is wrapping up her ninth year.

Bella: Let me just get this straight… is having my period a good thing or a bad thing?

Oh man. I was so happy to be lobbed that big, fat, slow-ball, the chance to set the stage positively. I gazed at her with love and light and said: It is the most amazing, incredible, beautiful treasure.

Her shoulders lifted in delight and her face glowed with excitement. With deep, contented sighs all three little ducklings went happily back to their fairy adventures.

So often parenting is spent feeding the children, keeping them from ripping their own heads off, and shoving them into bed before we rip their heads off. When they are little there is also holding and grooming, but with the older ones it seems safety, sleep, and food make up most of the day. It was rewarding to remember this other part of the puzzle, the leading and guiding. The part where I get to hold their hands and walk with them toward their future, their empowerment and toward self-appreciation.

July 27, 2010 at 11:45 am 1 comment

Incredible Capabilities

One of the greatest things about giving birth is that it gives you a glimpse of your personal power. Bringing a human into the world requires intense physical, emotional, and mental strength. After Echo’s birth I did not bask in post-natal bliss and missed taking advantage of my new and honorable state wherein you are allowed to lounge in bed and graciously accept care from your family. I was too pumped up, too charged with endorphins and energy, and I sprung out of bed at first light, toasted waffles while breastfeeding, and yearned to shine my glorious, powerful light.

Little did I know that growing a child in my body and then bringing it forth was only the beginning of strength requirements.

Babies nurse through the night. Sleeping on your side all night goes on for months and months. And although your spine develops a permanent crick, the muscles seize up on one side to ensure long-term lopsidedness, and your inner knees exhibit permanent bruises from clacking against one another for hours on end, you do not roll over on to your back.

A mama’s body can do that.

Babies need help falling asleep. Sometimes only the perfect bounce, bounce, swoop, jiggle jiggle combination will coax their eyes into verifiable closure and deep sleep. And although both your arms fall asleep, a stray strand of hair tickles your nose, and your calf muscles threaten to pop, you continue. Bounce, bounce, swoop, jiggle jiggle no matter how long it takes.

A mama’s body can do that.

Kids cry a lot and often. For them there is sorrow and trauma waiting at every turn. Sometimes a popsicle falls. Sometimes a bug crawls over a toe, or even just near a toe. Sometimes there is only one sock to be found, or an elephant crucial to the nighttime ritual goes missing. Tears are frequent, screams are common, and although you’d like to scream as well, or leave the room, or curl up under the covers and eat chocolate, you don’t. One more time you reach down and pick up, you wipe tears and kiss noses, and you set things to right, however momentarily.

A mama’s heart can do that.

Children like repetition. They want you to say where’s the baby? while covering your eyes three hundred and forty-nine times before they are ready for something else. And even if you have already read Me Hungry that morning, and last night, and every day for three weeks before that, they want you to read it again. And again, and again. And although you’d rather brew a pot of tea, or pee, or talk to your husband for thirty-seconds, you still read Me Hungry one more time.

A mama’s mind can do that.

If anyone had asked you ahead of time whether or not you were capable of such feats, or even wanted to be capable of such feats, you probably would have said NO, but here you are, doing it, not just once but daily. The quotidian, maternal versions of lifting an elephant, saving the world, and defeating a chess champion.

Okay, sure, there are plenty of times when you actually say I can’t do this!, but most of the time you do it anyway.

In the picture above, Kris is holding thirty pound Sascha and nursing while standing on shifty river rocks. After giving birth, Kris’s  muscles grew as Sascha did, rendering her strong enough to do that for prolonged periods of time. Her heart swelled and became well conditioned, making her willing to give that to her girl, to soothe and love her in this way. And her mind became burly, allowing her to stay in that moment, watching the creek flow by, waiting for her daughter to finish.

She is capable of that, and if we want to be,we are capable of it as well.

July 24, 2010 at 9:35 pm 8 comments


Obedience. The holy grail of raising children. Well mannered, polite, obedient children is the goal of many, but I think if they gave it a little thought, more parents would toss this goal aside, maybe even drop it like a hot cinder. Why? Because requiring children to demonstrate absolute obedience to authority results in adults that are fearful, mindless sheep.

When children are young we, the parents, are the authority, and it feels good that when we say DON”T, they… don’t. We tell ourselves we know better, that we are teaching them how the world works, that minding their parents is the most important lesson we can impart. But what happens later when we are no longer the authority? Or if we aren’t present? If our children are taught to follow orders and their standard authority is at work, running errands, or watching tv, they will have no choice but to seek out an alternative authority. The tricky thing is that parents don’t get to choose who that alternative authority is. Often a boyfriend takes up the position, or a pack of peers. We cannot require them to obey our every command while at the same time teach them to think for themselves.

So what does a parent do?

1. Demote obedience in the hierarchy of child behaviors and instead relish the moments when your children challenge your ideas, ask questions, and assert themselves. These are desired qualities that will serve our children in the long run as they become adults and are given the opportunity to make their own decisions. If they are given enough room to think for themselves during childhood the likelihood of these decisions being good is high.

2. It seems counterintuitive but to have more control you must let go of control. With fewer rules to resist, children resist less. Many of us have created numerous and senseless regulations that are needless. Rethink your own list of “don’ts” and see which can be loosened. Whenever it is safe, give your child freedom to explore and discover natural consequences. When given time to move freely and think independently a child will be more open to following reasonable guidance.

3. Use NO sparingly. This word is most potent when used only in critical moments, such as immediate safety situations. Watering it down by automatically using it at every turn renders it useless. And even if your answer is negative there are ways to frame it so that  there is less friction to brace against.

Yes, I will be able to read you a story, but I want to brush my teeth first. (Instead of: No, not right now.)

That’s a possibility. Let me think about what our next steps might be and I’ll let you know how we can fit a trip to the park into our day. (Instead of: Well, we have a lot to do today, probably not.)

Yes, I hear that you want to go to the library very badly. I’m not sure we have time today but I know it’s important to you and I will work to make that happen as soon as possible. (Instead of: No, not today.)

For further examples of saying YES more, and No less, look here. For more on the hazards of an automatic NO look here.

4. Use empathy as a way to teach empathy. “Good” behavior or obedience, can be achieved by encouraging empathic behavior. A child that can recognize feelings as they occur for others automatically considers how their choices are contributing to those feelings. This often results in actions that we have come to consider “polite” or “proper”. A child that recognizes another’s pain and feels bad for bumping into them will naturally apologize. An enforced Say your sorry! isn’t necessary. When given the information that Aunt Flo feels sad when kids chase her cat, an empathic child will, more likely than not, stop chasing the cat. A rule that declares NO CAT CHASING isn’t required. The most effective way to develop empathy in children is to treat them with empathy.

The related topic of manners can be found here.

5. Look for the underlying need behind the action. When a child is driven toward a particular action, and especially when they won’t stop doing that action, even when you have asked them not to, there is a very good chance that a strong need is their motivation. Look and listen closely, open your mind to strange possibilities and you just might be able to offer information and an alternative solution that meets that need.

I see that you’re banging that hammer on the wall… I am concerned about making marks. Are you wanting to fix something and be helpful? Hmmm. Can I set you up with the work bench outside? (Underlying need: purpose, effectiveness, or creativity)

Honey, I asked you to stay out of that tree. It isn’t strong enough to hold you. Are you wanting a challenge? Shall we go to the park where you can climb that dragon’s tower? ( Meeting the underlying need of: freedom or competence)

Please stop hitting your sister. She doesn’t like it and is getting angry. Do you want her attention? Can I help you find a way to get that in a different way? (Meeting the underlying need of: love, to be seen, or companionship)

A complete list of needs can be found here.

6. Offer as much information as possible. Disobedience is often due to a lack of understanding, something easily remedied when the parent is willing to take time to explain. We often have very good reasons for asking our children to do something, or to stop doing something, but don’t share them. Providing information allows children to see the thought process behind our decisions.

Tommy that stroller was built for a baby doll so I’m pretty sure it can’t hold you. Will you climb out of there?

Elizabeth, I notice that the cat is putting her ears back and swishing her tail. I think that means she doesn’t like the way you are petting her. Will you try something else?

7. Respect children as human beings and treat them accordingly. Children are not pets to be directed with barks and commands. They aren’t even yours, they are theirs. They have their own opinions, thoughts and desires and recognizing this will go a long way in getting them to do anything.

Letting complete obedience go might feel like a scary thing. Many of us are attempting to meet our own underlying needs by controlling our children. But the benefits to our children of rethinking this goal are well worth it. In the moment, explaining, using empathy, and offering alternatives can feel trying and time-consuming but I think that most of us would trade those few minutes and extra energy in exchange for independent, bold, thoughtful, and spirited children.

July 23, 2010 at 8:12 am 3 comments

The Power of Words


What does this mean for our kids and the words with which we surround them? You probably aren’t visiting this site if you find yourself frequently bellowing “you make me sick!”, but what if we were EXTRA diligent with our words and our children? What words do you want to rain down on your loved ones? What words do you want to linger in their bloodstream? With which words do you want to paper their lives?


When choosing words I look for ones that describe what I want to happen, or that describe how I want my child to think of herself.

Will you slide that glass of milk over so that it stays on the table? (not, “so that you don’t spill the milk”)

That bench is pretty splintery, will you sit over here so that you stay safe? (not, “Look out! You’ll get a splinter if you sit there.)

The pants were designed to go the opposite way, can I help you turn them around? ( not, ” Your pants are on wrong.”)

I’m going to pick up this towel so that it stays dry. (not, “so that it doesn’t get wet”)

That’s so funny! (not, “You’re so silly.”)

Can I help you stay safe? (not, “Careful!)

Will you put this on so that you stay warm? (not, “You’ll freeze without a coat!)

Will you speak more quietly? (not, “Stop yelling!)

The river water isn’t healthy for you. Do you want the water that we brought? (not, ” Ew! Stop drinking that. You’ll make yourself sick.)

Will you talk to your sister and work something else out? (not, “No fighting!”)

Words dramatically affect the environment, peaceful, positive words create a peaceful and positive space. Children also take words very seriously, especially when they come from their parents. If they hear, bad, wrong, no, hit, yell, they will associate these words with themselves as human beings and stretch to meet that expectation.

And pragmatically speaking, if you say:

Don’t poke your eye with that stick!

Law of Attraction dictates that, somehow, the stick will make its way to the eyeball. Describing what you actually want to happen, or how you want your children to be, will save everyone a lot of grief.

July 22, 2010 at 6:10 am 7 comments

Did I ever Mention This?

This is my girl today. Eyes ablaze, striking first, screaming second, pissed.

My logical, solution-seeking brain wants to know why? I scan through the last twenty-four hours. Did she get enough sleep? Food? What the bleep is wrong? Eventually I come to my senses, it doesn’t matter. I feed her all the time and we strive for as much sleep as possible. There aren’t days where I let sleep slide, or forget to offer nutrients, so even if I found a culprit to blame there still wouldn’t be anything to do differently in terms of physical needs.

After flailing about in this direction, I remember that I can still address emotional needs and quickly pull out empathy and information.

Empathy: Oh Echo. I see you’re really upset, really mad.

Information: When you scream at Bella like that she turns away from you and doesn’t want to play. Can I help you talk to her and figure out a solution?

I use my face to show understanding, I make myself physically available in case a hug or snuggle is desired, and I keep listening, searching for deeper feelings that can be empathized with. This is our formula and it works. It is time-consuming, at least in the moment, (although I’d argue that time-outs, threats and bribes take more time out of your life in the long-term), and quite verbal, but our children thrive under this system.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned the fact that I also use physical restraint. Today, empathy is reaching Echo’s ears, but not before she lands a few blows. Once I caught wind of her fierce temperament this morning I have been quick to slide my body between hers and her adversary. When the safety of others is involved I follow the same formula, while gently but firmly holding Echo in my arms.

Empathy: Oh Echo. You’re really mad. You want to hit her, huh? Oh you’re sad too? You wanted to play with that toy and she picked it up before you had a chance.

Information: You want me to let you go so that you can hit her and scratch her? Well, I think I’m going to continue holding you so that your sister stays safe. When you hit her she feels mad and probably won’t give you the toy. Do you want help figuring something else out?

It’s a safety clause but you have to be very mindful when you use it. It’s tempting to convince yourself that you are keeping others safe when in reality you are looking for ways to justify controlling your child’s movements. It’s better for your relationship to assume the best and be mistaken than to continuously and thoughtlessly jump in and use restraint. In addition, blocking a blow to spare another child harm is very different from grabbing an arm as an expression of your own anger. Empathic restraint is a short-term, temporary measure to protect others, the real, effective work is being done by your words, expression, and empathy.

July 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm 7 comments

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