Monday, January 31, 2011

Tinted Lenses

Photo by ripkas on Flickr
"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?', for it is not wise to ask such questions." 
~ Ecclesiastes  7:10 NIV

As a child, I loved playing with sunglasses and seeing the different ways they tinted my view of the world.  Some were a pretty neutral grayish, others green or yellow, some brownish.  When I first got a pair of 3-D glasses (the old fashioned kind made out of cardboard, with one blue lens and one red lens), I was in heaven!  I actually never could get them to do the 3-D thing too well, but I had endless fun making my world look red or blue, depending on which lens I looked through.

As grown-ups, we still have our sophisticated mental lenses to tint the way we see things, including parenting.  If you look back, even thousands of years ago, the older generations were lamenting the indulgence and lack of discipline in the younger generation.  Across cultures and millenia, we think that the world is going to Hades in a handbasket because the youth of the next generation are so much more coddled than we were, or than our parents were.

I recently read Robin Grille's fantastic book Parenting for a Peaceful World.  Among other things, it contains an extensive cross-cultural review of childhood and parenting from ancient times up to today.  Parts of it were  incredibly disturbing.  Historically, levels of childhood abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) were astronomically high.  Despite the rose-tinted view we cherish of the "good old days", they weren't that good for children or adults. 

Once we are older, I believe that we often wind up vacillating between two different lenses, much the way I did when playing with the 3-D glasses.  On the one hand, we want to see the good in the way our parents parented us.  We love them, and know that we were loved, even when they made mistakes.   Sometimes, that lens is so desperate to emphasize the love that we tend to gloss over the mistakes part.  After all, "I turned out fine".   Except many didn't.

Most of us grew up with messages about shame, perfectionism and secrets, both explicit and implicit.   Proponents of spanking now generally agree that it is not abuse and should never leave any physical damage beyond a temporary sting.  I would agree that in most cases, there isn't any lasting, visible harm.  Science has learned a lot more about what goes on in our brains, however.  Our skin may be fine, but our rates of anxiety and depression are high.  Many girls start cutting as teens because they are so accustomed to physical pain as a release from their shame and negative feelings.  Adults who were spanked as children often have such a deep sense of shame that they are vulnerable to domestic abuse.  They learned too well that those who love you hit you sometimes, and that they "deserve it".  

Extremely well documented, but less talked about are the sexual implications of equating pain and love.  Most spanking fetishists were hit as children and as the erogenous areas of the buttocks were stimulated they began to feel a deeper shame than "just a spanking".  Others find that as adults, they struggle to relax with their partners because of the anxiety and body-memories of pain.  I know that most parents who spank would never dream of molesting their children, but that doesn't mean that there are never unintended consequences that their children never tell them about.

Not everyone is affected the same way, of course, but the statistics are sobering.  Even in those who didn't experience any of the more extreme negative consequences associated with punitive parenting, there are still internalized messages of shame, a struggle with perfectionism and self-worth.  For those who were never given acceptable ways to express strong emotions of anger, fear, disappointment or anything other than "calm and happy", it may be difficult to be authentic and honest as an adult.  Conflict may be avoided at all costs until an explosion occurs.

So on the one hand, we want to view things with a rosier view than may actually be the case.  Yet, the other lens is a blue, negative view of the generation that isn't suffering as much as we did.  They are spoiled, because compared to how we were raised, they get off easy.  I think that at times there may be just a tinge of fear, because if we acknowledge that the punishments and hardships that we endured in the name of discipline weren't really beneficial, then we will have to confront our own pain and anger.  We might have to face old hurts that still affect us, and that is a scary thing.  Even worse, we might have to face ways that we have hurt our own children.

I have wonderful parents and grandparents.  They are caring, Godly people who deeply love others.  Yet, as much as I respect and love my grandparents, I know that my parents showed greater gentleness to me than they received themselves as children.  And my grandparents were kinder, better parents to my parents than their parents were to them.  Each generation has grown progressively more gentle.  My choice to parent my own children non-punitively is not a statement against my parents.  Rather, it is thanks to their more gentle, peaceful and loving way of parenting me that I was able to have greater tools and resources to parent my own children even more gently. 

Let's take off the glasses and see the true colors of how we have been shaped by previous generations and how we are shaping the next generation.  Chances are good that your parents did the best they could with you, and that you were able to give your own children a healthier childhood than you had in some ways.  You have equipped them to develop healthier relationships with your grandchildren.  Let go of any shame (Grace is for mamas, too!) and instead of fearing for our future, enjoy the opportunity to bring greater peace, love and respect in our children and the children yet to be born.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Good Old-fashioned Stoning

Photo by suzettesuzette on Flickr
It is a sad commentary on our nation that the liberal left has been so successful in discouraging parents from carrying out their Biblical responsibility to stone rebellious children.  The Bible clearly commands this in Deuteronomy 21:18-21:
 18"If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
 19then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown.
 20"They shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.'
 21"Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. (KJV)

Yet the permissive parents of this age ignore this passage, claiming that it is cruel and unnecessary.  All you have to do is look at our society to see the results.  Look at the liberal areas where stoning is frowned upon, even outlawed, and compare them to the conservative areas where it is commonplace.  In countries where stoning is still acceptable, children are respectful of their parents, their religious leaders, and governmental authorities.

However, in order to be a Godly stoning, it is important that it should always be done in love, and never out of anger.  A loving, righteous parent will gather the child in his arms and explain why he is stoning her.  He will clearly explain how the child has transgressed and why, in obedience to God, the parent must stone her.  Pray with your child and make sure that the child understands that this is done in love. If this is done correctly, it will lead the child to true repentance.

The parent will then choose a stone.  The stone should be larger than a softball, but smaller than a basketball.  A boulder that is too large might be too harsh, and also unwieldy.  Because the parent is using stones rather than his hand, the child will know that it is not the parent causing the pain, but only the rock.  This will ensure that the child continues to love the parent, even while hating the stone.

The child may become distressed or cry or attempt to dodge the stones.  This must not be tolerated!  Remind the child that any attempt at avoidance will only provoke further stoning (as should prolonged moaning, screaming or any other noisy indication of pain).  Also, remember that a  Godly stoning should only hit the child in the areas above the knees and below the waist.  This will require careful aim by the parent, and is another reason why the child should not attempt to move out of the way.  This is a battle that you must win!  Remember, the Bible clearly commands stoning disobedient and disrespectful children!  If you do not follow through, you are not a righteous parent.


Consider the following story from Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking), told as part of her acceptance speech for the German Book Trade Peace Prize:

"Above all, I believe that there should never be any violence.  When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor's wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn't believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking - the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, "Mama, I couldn't find a switch, but here's a rock that you can throw at me."

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child's point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery - one can raise children into violence."

Not only is this from one of my favorite childhood authors, but even better, it is about a pastor's wife!

If you believe that the Bible teaches spanking, please, please get a Hebrew lexicon and check the words that are used.  The Proverbs verses *do not* in any way condone spanking children.  Nor does any other passage.  The Biblical support for stoning is actually far stronger, and I do not believe that the Bible really teaches us to stone our children, nor do I know anyone who does.  I have linked to and in the past.   Please do not spank out of a misguided notion that God encourages or requires violence toward our children.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Transition Tips: From Homeschooling to College

Photo by Max Wolfe on Flickr
I'll be honest.  The last couple years of my homeschooling were half-hearted, at best.  I was bored.  I skimped on the work, especially if it involved further boredom, any assignment that involved writing (dislike plus boredom), or math (dislike plus difficulty plus boredom).  My mother was in despair.  She was convinced that college would be incredibly difficult for me, and feared failure on my part.  I lacked discipline, motivation and focus.  I lacked study skills.  Did I even know how to take notes?  To her intense relief, (and surprise), I excelled in college.  It was a much better fit for me, and being able to take classes that I was truly interested in made a huge difference.

It was completely different from what I was used to, of course, but homeschooling, even the half-hearted kind, actually prepared me more than we realized.  I also got some very helpful tips from friends that I am passing on here:

Photo by velkr0 on Flickr
* Sit front and center.  Really.  When this was first suggested to me, I struggled not to respond rudely.  That sounded like the last thing I wanted.  A nice, inconspicuous corner near the door was much more what I had in mind.  However, I soon began to see the wisdom in the advice.  I am deplorably distractable.  If I sat anywhere else, within seconds I was paying more attention to the other students around me than I was to the instructor.  It was amazing how much easier it was to concentrate when I was directly in front of the instructor.  It also had the nice bonus of making the instructor think I was serious about wanting to learn.  And, I discovered to my amusement that if you actually fell asleep in class, the instructor was less likely to notice, since they were trying to make eye contact more with the center of the room.  (*Note: I never fell asleep in class [although in a few classes I wanted to], but a friend whom I shall call Mateo did regularly, and the rather grumpy instructor who used his little red laser penlight to humiliate other slumbering students [it was a widespread problem in this particular class] never caught on).

Photo by jimmiehomeschoolmom on Flickr
* Take thorough notes.  Then, go back and rewrite them.  This was my best study secret.  My first version of the notes was always messy--scribbles, doodles, etc.  I would go back and rewrite them, filling in any missing details, making it actually legible, color-coding, etc--essentially creating my own study guide--and it was amazing how much it solidified the information in my mind.

*  Meditation.  I made it my habit to meditate on Scripture in the first few moments of each class while everyone was getting their books or notes out and shuffling stuff around.   One of the things that I retained from the Gothard stuff was that meditation on Scripture would be blessed with success.  Even if you are not a believer, I think that a couple of minutes of quiet meditation will center you, clear your mind, reset your emotions and enable you to fully focus on the lesson.

* Get help.  I hated writing with a dark and deadly passion.  In particular, the time-honored formulas of outlining and editing didn't fit me at all.  I did much better with the spider-web approach, but after throwing together a rough draft, I was usually sick of it and didn't want to work with it anymore.  I would take it to our writing lab at college, and they would go over it with me, making suggestions here and there to polish it.  Having a fresh eye always helped tremendously, and got me over the boredom hump.

* Consider a community college, at least for the first couple of years.  Class sizes are much smaller, you get more individualized attention, it is cheaper, and you can live at home.  It makes for a much less abrupt transition if you can study in peace and quiet at home and sleep when you want instead of navigating dorms and a roommate.  While those are certainly worthwhile experiences, it can be easier to make those adjustments once you have already adapted well to the academic side of college life.

* Work study programs may be for you!  I needed money, of course.  Who doesn't?  Working at the international language lab at my school was absolutely perfect for me.  Not only did it supplement my income, but it was convenient, they worked around my classes, I was able to study on the job, and got to meet the coolest people ever.  It was an ideal stepping-stone in many ways, and especially in making friends and exploring the social side of college in a way that complemented rather than detracted from the academic side.

* The basics like attend class, do the assignments, talk to the instructors.  I threw them in just to acknowledge them, but really, if you aren't doing that, then you should probably rethink your reasons for being in college in the first place.  There are cheaper ways to goof off.  (That said, I quickly discovered the delicious joy of cutting the occasional class.  Timing, however, is everything).

As I mentioned in this post, homeschooling equipped me far beyond what I realized at the time.  Help from amazing instructors and wonderful friends propelled me the rest of the way.  Transitions are tough, whether you are two or twenty, but they can also be full of fun and excitement.  I hope that if you are making the switch to college from homeschooling that it will be a time of joy and growth!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Her body, her choice

Photo by renfield on Flickr
"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." ~ James 1:8  AKJV

Despite my recent post on foolish consistency, I really like to know where my boundaries are.  When I am in the process of trying to determine exactly what is appropriate and what isn't, I wind up getting frustrated with my kids and myself.  Once I am clear on what boundaries I will enforce and why, there is much more peace.

My latest conundrum has involved body boundaries and pride in appearances.  One of my convictions is that my children should know that their bodies belong to them, and that if they tell someone "no", that must be respected.  The only exceptions involve safety issues.  For example, I am ruthless about carseat usage.  Whether they like it or not, they must be properly buckled up when we go somewhere.   Elena has started fighting it a little.  She screams and flails.  There is no shaming, roughness, punishment or anything like that, but there is also no negotiation.  If we are going somewhere, she is in her seat.

Ariana has always shown some tactile defensiveness.  She is extremely sensitive to anything touching her body, and even in winter will wear the least amount of clothing possible.  She winds up in a short-sleeve shirt and underwear as soon as we get home.  She also loathes to have her hair brushed.  Regardless of how gently it is done, she is reduced to tears nearly every time.  We've tried haircuts and spray conditioners, different kinds of brushes and combs, etc.  They help a little, but it is still an ordeal.  Now with something like brushing teeth, I feel confident in enforcing it.  But there is no health/safety issue with hair--just my pride at stake because I don't want to appear neglectful.

We've negotiated different things--brushing a certain amount of strokes, stopping for a break anytime she asks, her doing it, me doing it, and pretty much every other thing that I can think of.  I've explained my reasons for wanting it to be brushed, we've talked of ways to reduce tangles, let her choose special clips or barrettes...nothing really helps.

I feel icky about trying to manipulate her or force her.  Deep down, I think that it is her body and that she should be able to refuse.  I also remember going through similar issues with my mom over fingernails.  I cannot describe how absolutely horrible the sensation was on my fingertips for the first two or three days after cutting my nails, even when they weren't cut too short.  I get how ridiculously dramatic it sounds to use terms like violation, rage, or even hurt--I really do--but the feelings of helplessness and violation were real. 

So now I am trying to navigate just how important it is to conform to cultural standards of haircare versus my daughter's right to say no and control her own body.  I would love to wrap up this blog post with a nice little bow of resolution, but I haven't quite found it yet.  So far, we compromise in that we do minimal brushing at home and negotiate some for special occasions.  (Yes, I have explained several times that keeping it brushed regularly will help reduce knots and tangles, but in reality, it doesn't seem to make a huge difference, and she insists that she would rather have less brushing, period).  Anyone want to solve my dilemma?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Once You Know

What will you do once you know? ~ Inuit Wisdom

Although I have shared a little about our decision not to circumcise our son, I haven't written many posts about it for several reasons, the biggest one being that it is over with. I am breastfeeding and disciplining every day, so I tend to write more about those topics. Also, while most of what I write is to help myself, a mom can always change her mind about discipline and begin to incorporate more gentle methods. With circumcision, I figured that moms who have already made that decision can't undo it (unless they left him intact), so why did it matter?

I have my share of Mommy Guilt. There are plenty of things that I would do differently, given the chance. Thankfully, circumcision isn't one of them. But I definitely don't want to heap shame on women who have chosen it in the past. Why then, mention it at all? Because until we are fully cognizant of what is involved, we risk perpetuating the same cycles of ignorance, pain and guilt. As far as I am concerned, the issue is not what choices you might have made in the past; I am concerned about our future.

A few decades ago in the US, circumcision was "just what you do". Like formula feeding. Most parents didn't question it, and those who did were quickly stuffed full of horror stories about so-and-so's distant acquaintance who was intact and suffered from terrible problems (often resulting in circumcision as an adult).

There were also murky religious views among Christians who reasoned that if God commanded it, there must be a good reason for it. Aside from the formidable verses in the New Testament opposing circumcision, most people have no idea how drastically it has changed since Biblical times. Just as the rod verses in Proverbs have been twisted into something wholly different from what they meant to the Jewish people who first received them, circumcision as typically practiced in the US is light years apart from Jewish tradition.

I've written my response to a few of the arguments I have heard supporting circumcision, although it is brief and incomplete. Some of it is difficult for me to even type, let alone for a mother of a circumcised boy to read. I wanted to try to soften it, but the truth is really so horrific that there isn't a way to present it gently. And, in all honesty, a couple of the reasons, like "wanting to look like Daddy," make me angry. The truth is, the more you learn about routine infant circumcision, the harder it is to present this as a parent's choice in the same way that cloth diapers or disposables are a parent's choice. I don't want to add to anyone's Mommy Guilt. We moms do that enough to ourselves without help from anyone else. At the same time, I want more moms to be aware of the truth about circumcision so that we stop perpetuating it. So read at your own risk, and look to the future, not the past.

* There is no medical organization in the world that recommends routine infant circumcision. The prepuce is a functional, important part of the penis. Yes, removing it can prevent disease, in the same way that amputating our toes will prevent problems there, from ingrown toenails to cancer. That is not sufficient reason for surgically removing it. Boys are more likely to develop breast cancer than penile cancer, and we don't perform mastectomies on one-day-old infants (boys or girls!) just in case they might develop a problem later. Additionally, the number of boys that die from complications of circumcision is higher than you might think. Some researchers agree that it is higher than the number that die of SIDS. Besides death, the number that have ongoing problems resulting from circumcision is extremely high--and some complications are not discovered until puberty. As far as complications later in life for intact guys, the US is one of the only countries in the world where circumcision is the norm. The countries that don't practice it have lower rates of STDS, (including HIV) and other concerns, and do not have vast numbers of middle aged/older men with problems. In terms of hygiene, it is much cleaner to have an intact boy than one with an open wound sitting in feces in urine, and even when they are older needs only a quick rinse.

* Socially, the excuses for circumcision that I have heard are incredibly weak. The whole locker-room thing? Well, my husband, who has spent a considerable amount of time in locker rooms, noted that the guy who was ogling another guy's package was more likely to get a negative reaction than an intact guy. Furthermore, in the US, the number of boys who are circumcised has dropped considerably. They will soon be in the minority (and already are in some states). The most asinine thing I've heard on the whole issue of circ is the "look-like-daddy" bit. For one thing, if they regularly compare penises as adults, well, I think that that is just a little weird. Flame me. And, if cosmetic surgery is OK so that his genitals will resemble daddy's (which they certainly won't until he is close to adulthood, anyway), why stop there? Are you going to give your newborn a nose job so that will look like daddy? Why not? After all, that is something that people will see! It makes more sense than circumcision if your goal is a mini-me.

* Ethically, I cannot justify permanently altering a child's genitals without a significant medical reason. I also cannot justify putting a newborn through a horrifically painful surgery for no reason other than a cosmetic whim. Did you know that until a few years ago, they were preformed without any anesthesia whatsoever? Even now, the pain relief may just be sugar water, and the most powerful pain relief given is a series of injections into the penis. They get nothing afterward, while the wound is healing. Many babies pass out from the pain of the procedure, which not only involves cutting a significant amount of one of the most sensitive areas in the body, but also the equivalent of ripping off your fingernails (the prepuce is fused to the glans the exact same way that your nails are attached to your fingernails, and must be ripped apart in the same way). We used to think that at least they wouldn't remember the trauma. We now know, however, that the body does remember the trauma (even if the conscious mind does not), and that the pain from circumcision creates a difference in the infant's response to subsequent pain (such as from vaccinations) months later.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I said. (And as a not-so-serious aside on a very serious topic, I have really tried to mentally shut out all kinds of puns that are screaming to be made. I have confessed before that I have the maturity of a sixth grade boy when it comes to bodily humor, but this isn't something to joke about).

There is so much information out there, including sources to back up some of the info presented here. I will try to come back in and add some. In the mean time, if you would like to learn more on the subject of circumcision, there is a wealth of information at peaceful parenting and Guggie Daly.  They have compiled several pages worth of links and info.  Other sites that you may find helpful are
Doctors Opposing Circumcision
 Circumcision Resouce Center 
Circumcision Information and Resouce Page 
Mothers Against Circ

As a mother of an intact boy, I am so grateful that I found out before making the choice.  He has never had any problems at all.  Care couldn't be easier--leave it alone until he retracts on his own, then teach him to rinse in the tub.  I don't believe that he would want the procedure done, but if he chooses to be circumcised as an adult, he can have adequate pain relief and they will actually know how much skin to take off, unlike if it were done as an infant.

If your child is circumcised, my guess is that you didn't have all the information at the time of the decision.  Had you watched videos of it?  Were you aware of all the functions of the foreskin?  The risks and complications, including some that your son might never tell you about?  The bizarre history of circumcision in the US?  Probably not.  There is so much to learn as a parent, and so much that we don't find out when we would wish.  There are a lot of other parents who don't have all the info, either.  I am not interested in blaming, but I am interested in helping other mothers learn the facts so that they won't suffer the guilt and so their children won't suffer from circumcision.  That is why I choose to speak up, to do my best to get the information out there.  What will you do once you know?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Handsome is...

Joel (5) was talking to the baby and said that he thinks she could be a boy, except that she is too cute. I told him that he is a boy and he is very cute. He corrected me quickly. "No, I am not cute. But I am very handsome. Aldo [although] I am not so handsome that all of the girls in the town would be attracted to me--just half of dem. If dere were more, den I might have to get married and be part of a different family."

Oh, my. Not even sure where to start on that one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Romance

I really, really like romance, but trying to find a good one to read is so discouraging.  I've got a wild imagination and enjoy paranormal stories and everything, but even my imagination comes to a screeching halt when confronted by some of the inane, unrealistic stuff that is out there.  My reading time is limited, and I don't want to waste it.

A friend of mine named Linda is a follower of some of the same blogs and topics I like, so when I saw that she was a fan of Under the Olive Branch, I was intrigued.  I started on the first post of The Restoration of All Things with moderate expectations.  As I read, I went back in time to my own college days and first love.  I laughed and ached right along with Sarah.  I was so hooked.   Last night I found myself reaching for my phone at 2:30 AM when the baby woke up to nurse, hoping that just maybe, there might be a new post.  There was!  I was so happy to read it that I gladly forfeited the extra few minutes of sleep, which is something I don't do lightly.

I warn you right now, the story will pull you in.  It brought back so many tender, hilarious, painful, awkward, strong and happy memories.  I wish I had grown up with Sarah, Kentucky, Eddie and Joseph.  But in a way, I did, because elements of them are present in all of us.  I can't wait to read what happens next, and I am glad that I will have all eternity to get to know Sarah and hear more of her stories.

Best ever vegan strawberry cupcakes

As a small child, I once ingested a large bite of strawberry-flavored chapstick.  From then on, I avoided anything strawberry as even the smell was nauseating.  Fortunately, as I got older and tasted more real strawberries, I discovered that my aversion was only to the nasty, artificially flavored stuff.  My birthday girl made these cupcakes for her seventh birthday, and they were so yummy that we didn't have leftovers, despite making a full batch!

Ariana's Vegan Strawberry Cupcakes

1 12 oz package frozen strawberries, thawed
1 1/4 C coconut milk (can use regular milk)
2/3 C shortening or butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C sugar
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 3/4 C flour

Preheat oven to 375 and spray or line muffin tins.  Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add the first four ingredients to a blender and puree.  Pour contents of blender into bowl with cry ingredients and mix well.  Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full and bake for 28 minutes.  Cool on rack.  Makes 24.


2 lbs powdered sugar
1/4 C butter-flavored Crisco
1/3 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
about half a package of frozen strawberries (around 6 oz).

Puree strawberries in blender and then mix with remaining ingredients.   You may want to adjust the amount of powdered sugar to desired consistency.  Frost cooled cupcakes, and refrigerate any leftover frosting (or eat it with a spoon :shifty eyes:).

I wish I had more/better pics, but just grabbed this with my phone before they disappeared.  I might have to make another batch so that I can properly illustrate this post...

Birthday Bash!

How is it that my two oldest kidlets are turning 5 and 7?!  What precious, fun, and loving little people they are! I am so blessed to get to be their mom.

We kicked off the celebrations with afternoon tea at their favorite tea shop.  They oohed and ahhed over the lavender-honey spoons and fancy china.  It was hard to decide on the perfect cuppa, but they went with a lovely Lavender Earl Grey and a Swiss White Truffle Rooibos.  Joel was fascinated by the tea light candles under the tea pots.  Then they brought out the tiered tea tray with fancy little sandwiches, scones with Devonshire cream and apricot jam, biscuits (cookies) and tarts.  Their favorites were the little butterfly sandwiches of pumpkin bread with a mascarpone filling, although the curried chicken salad was a big hit with Ariana.  We savored each crumb!  At the end, they brought out special dark-chocolate dipped gingerbread men.

The next day, Carlos surprised us all with a little getaway using our hotel points.  The weather has been cold and gray here, and the indoor pool was the best present the kidlets could have gotten!  They had a marvelous time swimming, and since Amaya considers herself allergic to water, she and I snuggled in bed and watched Food Network.  (She is the only one of the kidlets who hates baths.  The others have always enjoyed it, and Elena begs me to wash her hair every day!).

The next day we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and another splash in the pool until check out time, then we bundled up and went to the Natural History Museum.  Joel was fascinated by every little thing!  He was absorbed with every exhibit there, opening drawers, examining every detail.  The woolly mammoth replica was fun, and the dinosaur bones even better, but Ariana was most interested in the rattlesnake exhibits, complete with noisy, shaking rattles.  Elena loved the canoe and wolf exhibit.  When we left, she kept calling sadly, "Good bye, Werewolf.  I come see you soon!" and letting out little howls.  Umm, yeah, Ariana and Joel are very into lycanthropes and apparently Elena considers all wolves to be werewolves.  At least she isn't scared of them?

The birthday kids
Today was the actual celebration with family.  Carlos grilled carne asada for tacos, there was a ton of guacamole, gringas (sort of like quesadillas with flour tortillas, carne, melted white cheese, grilled onions and grilled pineapple).  Joel had a little Spongebob cake that was perfect for him, and Ariana made the yummiest strawberry cupcakes I have ever had.  I'll share the recipe in a separate post soon.  The kidlets had a lot of fun, and we all enjoyed the day.    I got a few pics with my phone, but they were all blurry.  :(  Here they are, anyway:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Te amo, te quiero, I love you and I like you...

Image by benleto on Flickr

What are your favorite love-rituals as a family?  In random order, and added to as I think of them, here are some of ours:

1.  "I love you and I like you all day and all night," ~ Joelito, age 3, as he tried to express loving forever.  It has become a favorite family saying that we all use several times a day.

2.  Hugs and kisses.  Of course!

3.  Singing their special songs.  I made up a special song for each baby right after birth.  Carlos also made up his own little lullabies for them with their names.  We sing them often.  When Ariana was in Sunday School one day, the pastor's wife asked what their favorite songs we.  She immediately piped up, "Sweet Ariana.  It makes me feel loved".  Elena became hooked on the Hunter Revenge "Little Babies" song, and we sing that one together a lot, too.

4.  Smooches right behind the ear.

5.  Nosies.  My little ones have always loved to rub noses, ever since they were babies.

6.  Singing the "Goofy Goober" song from Sponge Bob every time we go out for ice cream together. 

7. Flashing the "I love you" sign at each other. Especially if it is a place where we have to be quiet.

8.  Baking together.  The kidlets help bake and decorate cakes every birthday and pretty much any time we are in the mood to bake, which is often.

9.  Love notes.  Ariana writes little love notes on my phone nearly every night.  :)  When I work, I always find little notes from her, and I often leave notes for the kidlets to find in the mornings, too, especially if I am gone before they get up.

10.  Coffee and tea.  Elena loves to help me make coffee in the morning, and we all love to drink any special little drink together.  We do individual Starbucks dates a couple of times a month.

11.  Zerberts.  Joel and Elena love to give and receive zerberts!

This is only the tip of the iceberg.  I plan to update it whenever I think of more, and I would love to hear about the special little love rituals your family shares.  <3

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deconstructing the United Front

Photo by JRGCreations on Flickr
In my post on consistency, I mentioned that I also hold rather heretical views on the tenet of "the united front".  Like consistency, it is assumed to be common sense and rarely controversial.  I have some strong disagreements with the whole concept, though.

First, the whole point is, as Alfie Kohn points out, a united front against the child.  It is part of the whole adversarial mind set that pits the parents against the children in war.  The theory goes that if the child senses any weakness, he will attack you at your most vulnerable level of disagreement, so you are bound to an alliance with your partner in order to create a show of strength.   As I have stated before, our family is on the same team.  We aren't at war with our kids, and we are not afraid  of evil motives on their part.

Secondly, it is inauthentic.  The united front supposes that you and your partner actually disagree to some extent, but are backing each other up from a sense of obligation and/or fear.  Do I really want to teach my children to ignore their own conscience and go along with others to prove their relationship?  Is that the model of conflict resolution that I want them to follow?

If you are punishing your children, then it might seem more fair to be consistent.  However, kids are smart and adaptable.  Our kidlets know that Dad lets them watch some shows on TV that I wouldn't, and that I have a higher tolerance for messes than he does.  That hasn't caused any problems for us.  Whichever parent is more actively taking care of them at that moment decides the boundaries.

Once you move past the united front, there is an entirely different view of problem-solving and collaboration that opens up.  You are forced to confront your true needs and reasons behind a direction.  When those are clear, then you work together as a united front--parents and children--against the problem, with a large opening to see out and view fresh solutions.

What if one partner refuses to do that?  Then you learn how to have healthy boundaries and grow from that point.  If the parents' relationship is so fragile that disagreement will cause damage, then I suspect the damage is already done.  Clinging to a facade won't help either of you, and won't model a healthy relationship for your children.  Get counseling--alone, if your partner refuses--and learn how to be healthy yourself, and see how your relationship can become healthy from there.

The goal is a healthy family where disagreement is a springboard to finding solutions, not where it is feared as hurtful for anyone.  Learning how to navigate conflict and find respectful ways to disagree and work through the issues is an incredibly important life skill.  It must be acquired through practice.  Tear down any false united front that causes you to be inauthentic and build one together with the whole family where every member is united in the endeavor to meet each person's needs.

Photo by recursion_see_recursion on Flickr

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Foolish Consistency

OK, I thought about a goblin pic, but went with waffles instead, because, well, who wouldn't prefer to look at yummy waffles?  And while I don't really advocate waffling, I do appreciate the option to flip according to new info or circumstances.  Photo by TheCulinaryGeek on Flickr
I've gradually found that I flat out disagree with a lot of the common sense, middle-of-the-road discipline principles that parenting magazines love.  Things like "parents must present a united front", for instance.  And, the most sacred of all, "You must be consistent."  I realize that I am going against established precedent here, but I honestly don't see it as a good idea for real life.

Real life is constantly adjusting to new circumstances.   On a day when we have plenty of freedom to structure it as we wish, I might welcome and even initiate a lot of games, and day dreaming or "dawdling" wouldn't be a problem.  Other days, we might have obligations that cause us to be in a hurry, and I find myself trying to rush them through things. My tolerance for some things fluctuates quite a bit.  If I have a bad headache, I am going to be much more sensitive to noise, for example, than I would be on another day.  Do I be consistent, and just forbid boisterous play all the time?  Or do I be authentic and explain that this day, my head hurts and ask them to please be sensitive and use quiet voices?

In real life, if I make a decision without having all the facts, I may change my mind once I become aware of new information.  I certainly don't want to teach my kids to never admit when the are wrong or to continue with a bad choice out of stubbornness.  In real life, we make course corrections as we grow.

I believe that the obsession with consistency is really just a product of punitive parenting.  If you are going to punish a child for going against whatever rules you set, then yes, it is better to be consistent rather than impose arbitrary "consequences".  However, if you are not operating from a punitive paradigm, then there is nothing wrong with inviting collaboration for each new set of unique circumstances. 

Perhaps the biggest point that the consistency-camp makes is that if you change your mind, you are giving in.  That, of course, "teaches children to tantrum in order to get what they want."  Really?  What if, instead, it teaches them to speak out about situations that need improvement, and that their needs are important to us?  If tantrums are the problem, you can give them more appropriate ways to express themselves, but don't feel the need to punish a tantrum by being inflexible.  If they are so genuinely at the end of their rope that they lose control, they aren't learning anything positive.  Deal with the issue of tantrums separately.

While some parents cling to the consistency excuse from fear, others want to cave from fear, too.  If you grew up with disapproval for any expressed emotion besides "happy", your child's unhappiness can cause big feelings in you, too.   Is it fear or true compassion that is motivating you?  Do you need to take some time to achieve clarity on the issue?  Telling your child, "I didn't realize how important this was to you.  Let me think about it some more," is a valid, authentic and helpful response.

Kids are brilliant problem-solvers, if we invite their help.  Often, if we explain what our goals are, they can come up with creative solutions that we would never have imagined that meet everyone's needs.

The next time you come up with a conflict with your needs and your child's needs, sit down and explain what you need.  Invite them to help with solutions.  Take them seriously.  If this is a new thing for you, they may be a little suspicious of your motives.  Keep working.  Be respectful of their contributions.   You might be delighted with the results!

If you make a mistake, own up to it.  If you say no hastily and later reconsider, explain the whole process to your child.  Sure, it is better to think things through properly the first time, but we are human.  Besides, you may later find that information or circumstances have changed and warrant a different response.

Discipline is about moving beyond contrived situations into authentic life together, about equipping my children with the tools they need to be successful.  One important skill is to recognize the need to adapt.  Creativity, the ability to problem solve from different angles and the humility to admit mistakes are also skills that I want for my children to develop.  I believe that they have great minds, and a little inconsistency now and then will nourish that greatness.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." ~ R. W. Emerson  

Ah, well.  Here is a goblin anyway, just for fun.  After all, a post on inconsistency needs an example, right? Photo by herval on Flickr

Saturday, January 15, 2011


As a child, I was, to put it mildly, a handful.  Not only was I strong willed, but typical rewards and punishments didn't work very well.  My intrinsic motivation was strong enough that if it conflicted with any external motivation, I would do it (or say it) anyway.   My poor mom.  I always knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she loved me dearly, but it is only now that my own children demonstrate some of my traits that I see what she was up against.  For her, the most exasperating thing of all was my constant backtalk.

I can still hear the frustration in her voice as she asked why "once, just once, I couldn't accept (well-earned) correction without justification or excuses or saying something back."  It was a familiar complaint.  She saw it as excuses and justification, and perhaps as trying to wiggle out of punishment.  I saw it quite differently.  To me, it was a matter of truth and justice and knowing all the facts.  Sometimes I would try (a little) to not respond.  It usually lasted about three seconds, if that.  It was like trying to contain a fire hose.  Regardless of any punishment (including soap in the mouth or even a slap, which was rare for my mom--she was at her wit's end), it just gushed out of me.

"Ah, teenagers," some of you may think.  No, this was all old hat by the time I was four.  It peaked around age six, I think. 

This was not a sign of disrespect, although it was frequently interpreted that way.  On the contrary, if I had truly not cared about her opinion, I wouldn't have bothered to engage as much.  I had enough respect for her character to assume that she wanted the full story and that in the interest of justice, she would appreciate a full knowledge of the facts, despite her protestations.

30 some years later, I have come to believe that this is part of the way that God created me, and many of the other kids who do the same thing, because as an adult, I am grateful for the gifts these traits have brought into my life. See, while it would have been much more convenient from a parent's point of view to just tell me something and have me do it, mine were forced into explaining things far more than some parents. The result was that I internalized values and acted from my own convictions rather than for whatever little carrot or stick was present. It was a lot more work when I was younger, but when I was older, I was remarkably resistant to peer pressure. Being able to follow my own conscience is a gift, and I am thankful that my parents nurtured it by taking the time to persuade rather than coerce.

Another thing? I still speak up, and I still want to look at all the possible viewpoints of any argument. It has helped me to research and learn about all kinds of topics. It has encouraged me to grow in creativity and compassion. It has increased my ability to empathize with others, and made me a better person.

As a parent, I have also learned that what most people would consider to be backtalk is a signal.  It means that I need to do one of two things: collaborate or get off my butt.  In the first case, it is about the relationship.  Am I trying to be controlling?  Am I slipping into the whole children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard/because-I-say-so mindset?  If that is the case, then I need to step out of that and invite them in to solve problems.  Collaboration, not coercion.  And yes, even small children can help come up with solutions for everyone!  If it is a safety boundary or something that must be enforced, collaboration still helps, but I also need to do more than just yell state what they need to do.  I have to get up, interrupt whatever I am doing, pay attention and physically maintain the necessary boundary.  Is it fun and convenient?  Not really.  Is it necessary and better in the long run?  Absolutely.

Wait!  Isn't this really defiance, and therefore deserving of punishment?  Probably not, and definitely not.  I hate that so many minds have been poisoned to the point of seeing defiance under every doily.  Questions, and even disagreement are not the same thing as defiance.  For a kid like I was, they are more accurately a prelude to whole-hearted obedience.  We don't do things "just because", and questioning or at times even arguing is a necessary part of the process of understanding for us, so that when we do follow through with the instructions, it won't just be surface compliance that is "still standing up on the inside", but unreserved obedience to the spirit behind the request.  Don't underestimate the value of that, and don't try to squash that out of your child's spirit.  If by chance you succeed, you have lost your greatest ally in what you were trying to teach to begin with.

And as far as punishing it, even if it were "defiance"?  Take a look at the Bible.  Read the stories about Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul and others.  They "talked back" to God.  And He didn't punish them.  In fact, there were times when He counted it as righteousness.

So now, when my own children "talk back", I hear echoes of myself. Sometimes I need to give them a more courteous way to express themselves. But I always want to listen and take their words seriously. Most Hebrew scholars say that the verse in Proverbs about "Train up a child in the way he should go" speaks to guiding the children according to their bent, or God-given nature. I think that what most people see as backtalk is actually a part of that, and that the fruit is a good and healthy thing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Adventures in Learning: Homeschooling and College

Photo by JSmith on Flickr
One of the best parts of my week has been watching my brother start college.  We are nearly fifteen years apart in age, but very, very alike in many ways, and it has brought back a lot of memories of my own experiences beginning college.  Although I had gone to kinder, first and second grade at regular schools, we switched to homeschooling when I was in the third grade.  The first year was frustrating, but we found our groove, and I continued all the way through high school.  Well, sort of.

The only method we knew was taking school books, reading through them together and then writing out the answers to all the exercises.  It was boring.  And I loathed writing.  By middle school, I had developed the habit of racing through any multiple choice responses and marking anything that actually required a written response with a "DL" (for Do Later).  I pretty much never got around to doing it later.  The last couple of years of high school I wound up doing very little, period, for several reasons, including the fact that the correspondence course we were using sent us the wrong books and took forever to rectify the mistake.  My mom was near panic.

In retrospect, all the time that seemed to have been wasted really wasn't.  I read voraciously.  I traveled a lot, including trips out of the country, for weeks at a time.   Some of my most treasured memories are of weeks spent traveling with my grandparents.  Those are far more valuable than any rote schoolwork!  I worked in the summers and learned a lot by the experiences there.  In reality, although we had no concept of it at the time, I was unschooling myself, and learning about all kinds of things by following my own interests and passions.

Some might consider that a rather inauspicious background for college.  I did, back then, and I think my mom did, too.  I know she was very worried about my success in college, and since she had actually done it before and I hadn't, I trusted her judgment.  I was terrified of failing.  I needn't have been.  In over 165 credit hours, I had one B.  The rest were straight As.  One day in Biology lab, the professor pulled me aside and asked if I was homeschooled.  I nodded in surprise and asked how he knew.  He responded that I and one other student out of the 73 in our section had nearly perfect scores and were easily at the top of the class.  She was also homeschooled.   He said that after decades of experience in teaching, it was almost always the homeschooled students who were so successful.  I was told the same thing by other instructors.

The truth is that homeschooling prepared me for college in several ways:

* I learned how to learn.  Years spent basically teaching myself had helped me refine my study skills.  I knew what worked for me and what didn't.  Rewriting my class notes to make my own study guide was the most valuable way for me to study.  For some students, it may be an entirely different strategy.  I was able to concentrate on the things that I already knew worked, and gradually incorporate new approaches as they seemed appropriate.

* I wanted to learn.  This was key.  I took classes that I was actually interested in, or that would at least allow me to take the ones I wanted to take in the future.   And because I was accustomed to seeing school as academic rather than social, it was easy to maintain focus.

* I viewed my instructors as allies.  I have seen many students come out of high school with the idea of teachers as "other"--totally foreign beings whose attention it is best not to attract.  After years with my mom, speaking up was so ingrained that I couldn't have stopped that in college even if I tried.  I had respect for my teachers, but I also had respect for my own thoughts and opinions.  The vast majority of my instructors was excellent, and welcomed collaboration, initiative and input from students.

I believe that if I had gone to a traditional school, a lot of my motivation would have been stifled, and I would have been more focused on getting through than on learning.  While our homeschool experience wasn't perfect, I am incredibly grateful for it.  I started to say that it shaped me into the person that I am today, but that isn't exactly true.  It kept me from being shaped into someone else. 

At this point, I don't know for sure what our educational choices will wind up being for our family.  We are happily homeschooling for now, and gradually leaning more and more towards unschooling, although we are not and may not ever fully unschool.   We may eventually decide to use a public or private school.  I expect them to attend college (since my husband and I are both college teachers, it just seems likely), but they may choose an entirely different path.  Regardless, I hope that learning will always be a glorious adventure for them, and I believe that homeschooling will give them a foundation to pursue their dreams.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What My Children Taught Me

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Like many other moms, I've struggled at times with my view of myself. It has always been easy to put myself down or to shame myself for not always living up to my ideals, whether those ideals are about my body, my intelligence, my personality, my spirituality and character or any other part.

Right now, my weight is higher than it should be, my hair needs to be colored and styled, my preferred wardrobe is comfy pajama pants and an extra large T-shirt. But you know what? My body has nourished 4 little ones over the last 7 years! They grew inside me, receiving everything that they needed to grow and be safe, and then to make their entrance to this world. Three of them are still breastfeeding! Every day, they are receiving amazing liquid love from my body. I gave birth to a 9 pound, 6 ounce baby with a nuchal hand without pain meds of any kind! I am no athlete, but that is an awesome accomplishment. I have pulled more all-nighters than I ever did in college and still managed to care for my sweeties and do what needed to be done. And my four year old says that I am beautiful. Yeah, I won't be on magazine covers, but you know what? My body is amazing!

Since becoming a parent, I have found abilities I didn't know I had to juggle all kinds of things, to multitask, to communicate with and understand someone who can't speak or explain why she is crying. I've learned a lot about child development, about pregnancy and birth, about breastfeeding, about gentle discipline and more. I've read dozens of books. Most important of all, I have learned to change my thought patterns and erase some of the hurtful messages that used to play in the back of my mind. My children have taught and motivated me to listen to truth. My mind's capabilities go beyond what I used to believe.

I have always considered myself to be socially awkward. Yet having children has challenged me to push myself out of my comfort zone and to reach out to other moms and children. Despite my shyness, my children taught me to smile at other moms, to say an encouraging word to those who seem discouraged. And I really, really hate confrontation, but I have stood up to doctors and nurses, other parents, even at times my own parents or parents in law, when I believed it was in the best interests of my children. They have made my sense of humor grow a lot, caused me to find my voice and confidence and to follow my heart and instincts.

Spiritually, my children have taught me to let go of a lot of toxic things, to seek love, joy and peace much more deeply than ever before, and to be ever more conscious about treating others the way I want to be treated. Their innocence and unconditional love have humbled me and helped me to understand how what we do to the least of these reflects our heart for God. And if we can learn to act justly, love mercy and walk in humility with God, I believe we are where we need to be.

I am not a perfect mom. It is doubtful that I ever will be. And I truly desire to keep growing and learning. But my children have taught me that the person that I am right now is not someone to shame or insult, even in my thoughts. My body, mind and spirit are full of power, love and beauty, in ways that I never would have realized if I hadn't learned from them.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)