Life Choices

To the well meaning man at the library…

Dear Sir,

Thank you for taking the time to stop me to address your concern for young children using computers.  You took the time to engage with our family even though your sentiment wasn’t clear when you were lurking around the children’s computers glancing at my children then around the library while I was trying to select books for them.  When you asked me if those were my children, I tried to ignore the disdain in your voice.  When you said, “computers, ugh,” I tried to remain compassionate, despite my inner lurch to defend this few minutes they sat in front of screens as their only computer time in the last several weeks.  When you followed up with a comment about how they looked like zombies with their headphones on staring at the machine, I couldn’t help but agree in spite of the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach indicating the pushing of an edge.  When you offered to show my children a ‘trick,’ I tried to remain open to possibility as I entertained the offer enough to ask my children if they would like to see it.

When asked, my children came away from their computers with no hesitation to witness your trick, I was a proud mama.  I hope that you noticed. As my three children sat to watch your ‘trick’ without judgement, I hope you noticed.  When they had the same look of concentration about them that they had in front of the monitors because they were transfixed on something new, interesting and engaging,  I hope you noticed.  They smiled and thanked you when you finished,  I hope you noticed.  We left with a giant bag of books, I hope you noticed.  But even if you didn’t, I did.

I know I have wonderful children who do not need to be plugged into technology to be entertained.  They enjoyed your juggling act, despite the dropping of several balls.  They accepted your intrusion into their very limited computer time with grace.  They accepted you for who you were and what you had to offer.  So did I.

I hope that one day you will be able to grow compassion for people who allow their children to use a computer.  Ultimately, we have the same hopes for the future of our children.  I didn’t feel I needed to defend my life choices to you in that time and space.  Perhaps because I know that I am doing right by my children.  Thank you for reaching out and engaging with us on a human level.  This is what I assume was your desired intent.  In this instance it worked.  Thank you for that, it is a rare day when that happens.  I appreciate that you took the time to become involved with our experience at the library that day.  Might I make a suggestion for the future?  Perhaps a thoughtful question posed to a stranger rather than a judgmental statement relayed in a guttural fashion could improve your chances of connection with others.

Advertisements

Top 10 Permaculture Parenting Tips

When I think about what it means to me to be a ‘Permaculture Parent’ I feel that it really is defined by my approach to life.  Looking for ways to live more in line with the Permaculture principles is a way of approaching life.  When I change, those around me change.  When I learn, those around me learn.  Permaculture is a design process by which you observe nature and try to learn as much as possible about natural systems.  I see my family as a natural system.  I, as part of the system influence all other parts of the system.  When I change, the system changes because part of it is new, and it must adapt.

Permaculture is more than a design system for me.  It is a way of thinking about and approaching the world.  We consider as much as possible in our lives how to live by nature’s patterns.  I am constantly self-reflective in order to observe and interact with my own behaviour patterns.  The beauty (and most difficult part) of having children is that they allow your dark side to surface so easily.  Despite the deep love and reverence I have for my children, the day to day living with three little beings that all need help from me pushes me into my edges of human capacity.  Of course it is in these edges that the most growth will occur.  In these moments of being stretched, the tiny cracks in my psyche expand and allow for patterns from my past to emerge.  There is often no time to ‘catch myself’ before reacting.  But these unsavoury moments become fodder for where to turn my attention next.  I try to view each challenge as a guild project, one that needs careful attention in order to discover a way to make the many different levels of the situation work together to support each other rather than out-compete.

When I read other people’s articles about parenting, I love succinct lists of practical changes I can make, things I can do right away!  The difficulty with Permaculture, and parenting, is that neither one offers clear cut answers.  The approach is just that…a set of guidelines by which to structure your actions.  They both take thought, engagement, careful observation and response.  But in the interest of providing something useful that helps to bring focus to a sea of grey areas, I have put together this list of 10 ways I try to be a better Permaculture Parent:

  1. Slow down the pace of life, remove the excess, simplify: physically, emotionally and mentally.  We constantly ask ourselves if things are ‘necessary,’ because if they’re not, the outcome also isn’t worth it.  In the spaces we create, creativity blossoms.  We try to disengage with the ‘overculture’ of consumerism, technology, fear, control, apathy, etc., as much as possible, carefully considering where to place our engagement.  We try to be present and mindful to the situation at hand, knowing that everything else will wait.
  2. Respond rather than react – I try to take a deep breath to reconnect with the Earth before responding to any given situation, there are very few situations that cannot withstand a 10 second delay in response.  This is also modelling a great skill for my children to learn that will serve them.  Taking pause allows me to observe before interacting, by this I mean mainly observing my own inner landscape!
  3. Get outside.  Spend loads of unstructured time in nature.  It’s hard to recognize ourselves as part of nature if we are separating ourselves from it.
  4. Accept feedback in all its forms.  As difficult as it is to take a critical look at my role in my children’s behaviour (especially those rough times), usually the root cause of the turbulence is that I’ve inadvertently created a climate of ‘control.’  If I can find a way to release my ‘old paradigm’ approach to controlling my children and look for creative and less obvious solutions to work cooperatively, I can usually turn things around in a hurry.  The trust required for this took  several months to build.  I had to learn to trust that there was another way that would work, and my children needed to trust that I could change my way of engaging with them indefinitely.  It takes radical trust to allow our children to receive their own feedback and respond to it, but when I am able to step back and observe (with the help of sportscasting or non-judgmentally verbalizing the events of a conflict), it is amazing what solutions the children reach for their own problems – ones that wouldn’t have been obvious or fair in the eyes of an adult.  In treating problems between my children this way, we are also allowing them to learn fundamental Permaculture skills.   Aside from behavioural conflicts, we try to communicate clearly, about everything.  If my children ask a question, I try to give as complete an answer as possible while still being age appropriate.  Our children want feedback about their world and experiences too!
  5. Enjoy time together as a family as much as possible – I have learned to find joy and gratitude in tiny spaces to combat the illusion of drudgery…most of the time.
  6. Practice and teach extreme empathy.  “The Golden Rule” is prevalent in our home.  Not just applied to others in our home, but to all beings, plants, and Mother Nature herself.  My hope is to help my children know and feel the impact they are having on everything around them, since everything in this living system called Earth, is connected.  I hope to help them understand that they are only in control of their own actions, but that their participation in the system will ripple out in positive and/or negative ways.  When my children are upset, the first thing I do is empathize with them, despite my gut reaction to apply logic or quell their emotional response.
  7. We find small solutions to big problems.  I have started to focus on one small thing at a time to try and make change happen and sustain.  For example, I wanted to have a moment of gratitude before sharing our meals, so we started saying a family blessing.  It has taken a while for it to become routine, but now the children remind us if we forget.  We were also having difficulty with tidy up time (a time rife with the temptation to control!).  I started having a tidy up time every day before dinner.  Once dinner was ready to serve, we’d tidy until the house was clean, then eat.  It has also become a pattern we’ve been able to stick to.  I’ve taken to tackling one thing at a time, until it’s established.  Related to this, I have made many mistakes along the way.  When something doesn’t work, or fails to flourish, I try another approach to the same problem.  Being willing to take chances and make (many) mistakes in the process of trial and error is part of the learning process.
  8. We carefully consider the foundation of our children’s days.  Their basic needs are an essential way for my children to catch and store energy.  In our house, sleep is treated as sacred.  We try to work our activities around sleep routines so that my children have enough rest to participate fully in life and with their best selves.  We also make food a priority by consuming nourishing sustenance.  My children help with planting, tending, harvesting, preserving, and preparing food where possible.  We engage with food on as many levels as possible. If you consider other mammals, they spend most of their time eating, drinking and sleeping.  We should also afford these things as much value as possible.
  9. Set clear limits, and allow things to run a bit wild within the defined boundaries.  Our top concern when setting boundaries is safety.  Apart from that, we have certain things which are not tolerated in our home: violence, disrespect of people or destruction of property.  These are hard and fast.  We debate about the best ways to ensure these expectations are met, and have tried many things!  Luckily, since there are few of them, and we always follow through with some method of dealing with the problem, we don’t have to address this issue too often.  Where possible we try to use relevant meaningful consequences.  For example, if you colour on the desk, you clean it up with guidance.  If you upset someone, find some way to make it right (apologise, give the toy back, do something to make the person feel better).  If you throw your food, you clean it up and you can can choose to eat what was thrown or be finished eating (make no waste!).  Our philosophy is similar to that of good design principles.  If we put the time in up front, at the messy design stage of planning, the long term yields will be much higher.  All that being said, we do give time outs for physical violence, as we feel strongly that this is not acceptable in our home and sometimes a timeout is warranted for the safety of all involved.  Most of the behavioural guidance we offer our children comes in the form of asking questions to provoke extreme empathy or by having them predict what might happen if they carry through with an action (for example what might happen if we ran across the street without looking?).  As far as what is and is not acceptable in our home, it is family choice based on our own comfort levels.  We set many smaller limits, but these are situational.  A great tip I follow from Janet Lansbury is that if something is making you feel uncomfortable, set a clear limit and if you have lost your temper, you waited too long to set that limit.  After I set limits, I refer back to the question ‘is it necessary,’ since sometimes these limits are not genuinely serving a need, but come from the overculture, and require a more scrutinous look at a later time.  I am often trying to push my edge as to what ways I can continue to offer my children more freedom.  In the moment where I am dealing with the child, I will set the limit, because it can always be changed, with a new clearly defined boundary in the future.
  10. Awaken curiosity.  There is so much humans don’t understand.  Invite surprise.  Discover together.  Learn together.  Grow together.  Accept growth as a messy process that doesn’t always look pretty.

Missing Out

The downside of a digitized culture is that it makes it so easy to feel like we’re ‘missing out’ on things.  Here I find another place where I’m unlearning what has been bestowed upon me.  I will on occasion experience feelings of loss because of the choices we’re making as a family to diverge from mainstream culture.  I often have the feeling that I don’t ‘fit in’ anywhere and that ‘everyone else’ enjoying themselves doing carefree things that are, by choice, no longer part of my landscape.  Those ‘fun’ things no longer seem fun to me.  What I really crave is the ‘easiness’ of it all, the ability to be impulsive and joyful.  But the contentment I seek does not come from the outside world, making it more difficult to seek and find it in a culture obsessed with consuming.

Social media allows us to see what everyone else is up to through our online lens, creating the illusion that things are so much better for someone else than in our own day to day routines.  Consumption of the lives of others has become a new outlet for gluttony.  Wanting more, wanting the best, having what everyone else has.  The reality is that what we see flash across our screens is but a small portion of life, one that has been constructed, edited, and shared with intent.  Carefully selected highlights.

Parents feel pressured to expose their children to a multitude of extra curricular activities in an effort to provide them with a ‘perfect’ childhood.  In my eyes, the shuffle of activities leaves the childhood part out of the equation.  I don’t want my children to miss out on the opportunities to muck about and learn by engaging in what they’re interested in at their own pace.  This is one of the reasons I have come to form new opinons about schooling and education.  Are my children missing out on a traditional education because I’m choosing to home school them?  Of course they are.  They will not be in a class of 30+ children all of the same age.  They will not spend their days sitting indoors at desks.   They will miss out on being told in no uncertain terms how ‘smart,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘popular’ they are, since they’ll not have a group of people constantly measuring them against others.  They will not be denied their passion for a topic because it’s not the curriculum being taught.  Their engagement of a topic will not be cut short because it’s time for science/lunch/recess/the next unit of study.  They will miss out on being the centre of attention during snack and lunchtime for our lack of consumption of sugar, wheat, corn, and processed food.  They will not have the opportunity to be able to defend our family’s choice to buy used where possible.  They will not spend their leisure time at school talking to other children about the violent video games they’re playing all night long or media they’ve watched. Yes, indeed they will miss out.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard to avoid the inevitable fear of the unknown.  Pushing edges means leaving comfort behind.  And there are of course things that I greatly enjoyed growing up in a school setting that create a reason for me to pause.  I would love for them to be involved in choir or band.  I wish for them to learn another language.  I want for them to find a group of friends where they feel belonging and trust.  I want them to discover knowledge and skills that I don’t have.  But these things seemingly offered by an institutional setting are not best suited to a classroom either.  They are available to my children without the social structure that fails to mimic natural systems.  Creativity, passion, and determination cannot be underestimated.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t have it all.  We don’t need it all.  We just want to be happy.

Meet in Action

We are often defined by what it is that we do.  Now that my role is a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, I don’t think that really defines me.  Come to think of it, I’ve always had a problem with being asked what my job is.  What I do is so much greater than my ‘job.’  Here is a another area where it is easier to categorize, classify, sort, delineate and define someone by something external from themselves.  Some people do work they do not care for, so should their job still be judged as a reflection of themselves?  Then I think about all the people I have taught with over the years and how much variance I’ve seen in personality, aptitude and approach to the very same role.  So why do we try to define someone by what they do?

In pondering how we come together with other people, I started to think about how it is that we come to know each other.  In a way, all we can do is infer, gathering data through clues over a span of time.  The longer the ‘study’ the clearer the results.  What people say, how they act, tone of voice, body language, and what they do…all action.  It is at the point of action that we have a chance to express ourselves and where we have the opportunity to try and understand another.  Sometimes our actions are misinterpreted and our intent does not come across.  But then I think of all the times that I can get a sense of someone or a situation before spending much time with it.  I feel this connection reflects my mammalian instinct and skill that I rarely call upon.  I use these instincts along with my logical mind to piece together my version of reality.  This is a skill I’m trying to hone since I would love to be able to trust my instincts more.  Through many means we are taught not to trust our inner voice within our culture.  Ironically, it is my instinctual understanding of the world that has more likelihood of providing a truer picture of reality.

So, if action is the portal where our separate realities can collide, then it makes me consider how important my actions are.  How am I meeting the world with what I do, and is it in line with how I want to be perceived?  I cannot change how my actions are perceived, but I can change what it is that I’m doing.  In an effort to maintain integrity, I try to think very carefully about how it is that I interact.  How do I spend my time?  How do I spend my money?  How do I make my money?  How do I treat those around me?  How do I treat myself?  And ultimately, how do my actions reflect my inner experience, or do they miss the mark?  Being honest with myself is the only way I can present any level of honesty to the world.

Children’s Crafts as Natural Building

I confess to shopping at the dollar store on occasion, usually to purchase craft supplies for my children.  But recently while sitting at my computer scrolling my way through Facebook’s skewed representation of the lives of other people, I  came across an article about crafts you can make from items purchased at the dollar store.  I recently read an article which aptly reflected my feeling about doing prescribed crafting with my children.  I had already been thinking about the exorbitant number of craft supplies I have on hand for my children to use, but the dollar store craft list exacerbated the impact of this fact for me.  Why am I using dollar store products at all?  The chemicals found in these products are toxic.  They cost way more than a dollar.

Buying from the dollar store generates more stuff.  Crafting is busy work, a distraction from ‘boredom.’   But boredom is a choice.  Quelling that choice with consumerist, capitalist and unethical  craft is only teaching children that shiny new throw away items are the key to happiness.  Not only that but that in order to achieve success, certain things must be purchased and assembled ‘just so’ in order to produce the perfect mechanized product.  Consumerism is at the root of our definitions of beauty being bound to mechanized perfection rather than natural grace.

I have told myself the story that ‘I’m just paying less for the same thing I’d buy elsewhere when I shop at the dollar store.’  Which unfortunately is true in many cases.  But I need to stop shopping there.  And by this I am not suggesting that I shift to buying it elsewhere.  What I mean is that I need to start considering the items purchased, and examine my actual needs.

A closer look at the crafting ideas offered in the article offered insight into how we are lured into a consumerist though pattern when the joy is still there without it.  When I simplify what is available to my children, they come up with their own creative Ideas.  By shifting my perspective only slightly, the list of items constructed out of cheap substandard materials becomes an interesting challenge.  An example from the article was to create a hula-hoop tent to hang from a tree.  Why is the hula hoop necessary?  Why do I need the internet to suggest this activity when my children often make tents out of sheets and don’t need special equipment to make that happen?  Why not use sticks?  Why not just enjoy the shade of the tree?  Another suggestion was to use cut pool noodles and dowels to construct a croquet game.  This one was too much!  Cutting up giant pieces of foam that no one will want to use in the pool afterward in order to stick them in the ground to kick a ball through just seems ridiculous!  How did we get so far removed from Earth’s resources?  Yes, the game sounds fun, but could chair legs work?  Or sticks poked into the ground?  If I got really involved I could paint the sticks too!  Wouldn’t it be so much better to use craft materials found in nature?  Or at the very least my closets, barn, and second hand shops?  Wouldn’t I be encouraging the budding natural builders in my children by only providing natural building materials?  To draw a parallel to our diet, I don’t offer processed food or sugary items, so why would I offer pom poms and stickers to make art?  I have learned through my own artistic journey that re-framing items made in China as art does not leave me feeling satisfied as an artist.  Keeping the materials simple allows for more open ended creativity.

Recently, I attended another trading post.  This time I wanted the children to have something to trade.  We made a fishing game after searching Pinterest for a good idea.  Talk about a consumerist glut!  After selecting something I thought the children could be involved in, I had them choose the papers from my stash of stuff hoarded away from my scrap-booking days, trace the fish and help to put paperclips on the fish, I realized something terrible.  We were making dollar store crafts!  The fishing stick – dollar store dowel.  The string – dollar store.  The magnet – you guessed it!  Could I have used old fridge magnets found at the thrift store?  Sticks from our felled tree?  Twine from used bales of straw?  Would it not have been just as much fun, and perhaps more beautiful?

The spiral of learning can be frustrating, as I watch myself participate in something I don’t want to be doing as I edge in small slow solutions toward more natural building.

Offensively Defensive

I started using the phrase ‘offensively defensive’  to describe some of my interactions with other people.  I’m describing the times where I feel like I may be under scrutiny for not living up to societal expectations.  I have fallen into the trap of trying to be defensive of my choices and the state of my life by ‘heading comments off at the pass’ if you will, so that I can make an excuse for something before someone has a chance to pass judgement.  Playing offense with defensive tactics.  In reality I’m being offensive to myself because of my defensiveness.  All this strategy does is opens a conversation that never needed to happen in the first place.  It is so rare for people to actually be disturbed enough by something I’m doing to make a comment.  Being unnecessarily explanatory for inadequacies also makes me appear insecure about what it is that I’m defending.  Looking in on myself, I see a disconnect in how I’m presenting myself to the world.  I carefully wind my way through life, checking my integrity at every pass.  So why am I coming to my own defense before it is called for?  If I were as confident as I think I am in my choices, then there should be no need to defend them.

I have so many examples of times where I use this strategy.  The easiest to spot are when people come over.  I feel the need to excuse the state of my house.  Rather than just letting it be what it is (cluttered because I spend time with my children and writing and reading instead of tidying).  I make excuses for the dishes near the sink or the mountain of clean but yet to be folded laundry.  Rather than allowing the energy to remain clear, it draws attention and my own negative energies to these misgivings, and measures them up as such by my own admission. Other examples include our food choices.  Rather than just stating facts (I don’t eat…) I feel the need to justify everything.  Unless a reason is asked for, people don’t really care.  And it’s not like I explain myself well in these situations, I usually give a partial answer, the one I think people want to hear.  Rather than clarifying things, it’s more like voluntarily putting myself into a fight or flight situation, one which only makes the issue more convoluted!

So…why do I do this to myself?

Because I feel there is some sort of standard that I should be living up to – but there is none, because we are not machines, we are not all alike, and we all have our own priorities.  Because I feel that I am being judged unfairly – but I cannot know that since I am only anticipating and projecting judgments, ones conjured in my own mind and thus a reflection of myself.  Because I feel like I should be better at something than I am – which I don’t need to be, I am what I am, I am enough.

So then, what instead?  I’d like to stop offending myself now.  Could I accept that people may judge my home, me, my children?  Could I accept that their judgement is not mine?  Could I exercise some self-compassion?  Could I choose to be happy?  Grateful for how I do spend my time?  Lose the fear?  Love?  Love it all?  I choose that.  And if I can’t be that yet, I’ll fake it until I can.

Abundance

In shifting my focus from wanting, pursuit and void filling, I am able to become open to receive.  There is no longer a need for me to follow the well worn consumerist tracks that lead to empty promises.  I am blessed to have the privilege and capacity to experience abundance.  It has more to offer than my limited humanity can understand.  There are depths to giving that cannot be quantified.  How is it possible to continue to give?  Studies have shown that the more we share and give away to others, the happier we are, and the more we have to give.  Mathematical mindsets contest and business as usual prevails.

If all the businesses decided one day that it would be alright to share their surplusses, this world would be a different place.  The hungry would have enough to eat, the homeless a place to sleep, and the thirsty clean water to drink.  Instead we trash food that has been shipped across the planet that is still enjoyably edible.  We heat huge buildings which stand empty and illuminated like towering totems of power.  We bottle water conditioned on the municipality’s coin to ship to stores wrapped in a sheath of plastic.

We have gone so wrong.  Abundance is here – we just fail to see it.  In our efforts to gather in everything we ‘need’ we steal from ourselves.  We take and take leaving no room for regenerative growth.  We have conditioned ourselves to thing we’ll be in peril someday if we let go, live with less, and live generously.  We have come to believe that being self-serving is is necessary for our survival.

Our self-service has become a disservice.  We live in  monolithic homes, stuffed with things we don’t need.  Our desire to own and consume is consuming our potential.  We have created a false abundance based on consumerism that is hollow of meaning and truth.  Abundance is not made in a factory.  The underpaid employees can vouch for that.

Nature can’t help but give.  When I am able to follow her lead, I feel connected to the potential for boundless abundance.  The more we give, the more we have to give.  I’m willing to plant the seeds of generosity and see what yields it has to offer.  I am coming to know abundance as a perspective.  I am growing my trust in it.