Choose Small and Slow Solutions

“Vacationing”

The truth about vacations with children is that they are hard work.  We just returned from a trip to the city with our three children, aged 5, 3, and 1.  We had an amazing time.  We visited family, an aquarium, a train museum, took a ride on transit, and visited a science centre.  All together we stayed two nights.  One would think that two nights would be manageable.  I suppose it was manageable, but not easy!  Packing to leave took me a whole day, mind you it was well punctuated by life with three little ones.  While away, none of us slept as much or as well as usual, which is to be expected, despite the ace accommodations we had!  We were blessed to be able to stay with my sister and brother-in-law, who gave us the run of their basement, which is set up to be a rental unit!

Boundaries are pushed when you travel.  The children ate more sugar and prepackaged foods than usual.  Their bedtimes were later and all their naps missed.  I do not have children who sleep well in the car, stroller, carrier, or anywhere that is not a bed to be frank.  But we did it.  We did it and we had a great time.

I thought it took me a lot of time to pack for the trip, but unpacking is a whole other thing!  Usually when I return from a trip, a few loads of laundry and some tidying up are all that are required.  But this time it seems like we are trying to dig ourselves out from under a mountain of laundry and mess!  I just unloaded the car before coming in to write this post.  I am feeling stretched.  I wonder how much of the stress of traveling is actually caused by my own needs for regulation and self-care that are not being met.  I am tired and feel like there’s a huge number of things to do, and no time to do it!  Life keeps churning here whether we’re present for it or not.

Just before we left we ordered a new mattress, decided we were going to move our bedroom to the basement, realized we needed to fix the toilet that is constantly running water, and the night before we left the drain pipe under the bathroom sink broke, rendering it useless.   Before we left, it felt like we could do it all!  I was energized and looking forward to our vacation.  But now that we’re back and buried under all the things that somehow fit into our minivan, I’m feeling overwhelmed!  I suppose I was taking a vacation from the idea of having responsibilities.  But they are real, they are wanted, and now that the trip is over, they need attention.

Life will calm again.  It always does.  I am learning to appreciate the times where I feel ‘on top of things,’ noticing them as they come.  It is with gratitude for the easy moments in life that I am able to be carried through the busy times. I am looking forward to when things calm down again, because I have good reason to value it!  Being away and pushing this edge has taught me just how much I value a simple life.  Small and slow solutions is such a difficult concept to practice!  I reminded the children of this morning, and failed to remind myself, that we need to be gentle with each other and ourselves as we return to our regular rhythm again.  So for now, I’ll try to stay centred, take it one breath at a time, and one task at a time, and eventually it will all get done.

Advertisements

Anticipation

We lost a great deal of our orchard blossoms early in the season during a frost.  It was a disappointing day.  We tried hard to save them, throwing a sheet over each tree, which knocked off some of the blooms in the wind before we decided to remove them.  After the frost hit, Rob got up before sunrise and misted the trees in an effort to prevent the frost from doing damage, a trick we learned from an excellent DVD we own called, “The Permaculture Orchard.”  We still ended up losing most of our fruit.  We have some pears coming on and a few apples.  Last year we were only able to harvest four pears and four Asian pears.  It looks like we’ll have an equally scant year this time around.

We have many interesting and different varieties of fruit.  Apple, pear, plum, corneilian cherry, paw paw, chum.  We are eagerly anticipating the year when we can sample all of the different varieties, selected for winter heartiness, disease and pest resistance.  I can’t wait for the day we have to give fruit away because we couldn’t possibly consume it all!  But this year, I look forward to sampling whatever our orchard offers us, no matter how small the yield.  There is nothing quite like biting into something you’ve grown yourself.

Goals meet Reality

I often have great ideas for what I’m going to accomplish in a day.  The day starts off with a bang, getting the children through their morning routines and into a rhythm.  My morning energy leads to noticing all the things I could do.  As we enjoy our day together, meandering through what calls to us, the list of possibilities grows.  I think of things that need to be done  and tuck them in the back of my mind for those sacred hours after the children go to bed.  I have big plans to mulch my flowerbeds, fold the four baskets of laundry or finally wipe that yogurt smear off my front window.  Then dinner happens, the children go to bed and I am faced with a messy kitchen and no energy for the now crumpled list that lies in the back corners of my mind.  The garden waits, the laundry waits, the yogurt smear waits.

It has taken me three children to realize that there will always be more work.  “Catching up” on the laundry is futile.  No sooner is the last load done, folded and put away, that it happens for someone to have a leaky diaper, requiring a full bedding change.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many days I experience the same pattern of setting goals for my evening hours, only to find myself reading instead.   I still keep trying.   Perhaps this is the human spirit or just my way of being able to continue the journey.  I like to think of it as creating a vision, but responding to change!  Regardless, I no longer feel guilt over self-preservation.  My evening often has a yield beyond accomplishing domestic tasks.  Without some down time in the evenings, I find I’m not refreshed enough for the next day.  I’ve pushed through too many nights of staying up a bit too late in order to try and ‘get it all done’ to know that it leaves me strapped the next day.  What was a beautiful home the night before only explodes again because I lack the energy to sustain it.

My messes, like the weedy perimeter of a garden holds the sustainable growth for our future.

Empathetic, But…

I have written before about how my family values extreme empathy.  We try to meet each other first by empathizing, whether it’s adults or children.  We try to validate feelings and then work to find solutions.  What is becoming clear to me is that even though we have this goal, it isn’t always achieved.  There are nuances in our language that are preventing our sentiments from coming through.

A huge culprit in the way of our empathetic encounters is the word ‘but.’  I find myself trying to work my agenda into  statements of empathy.  I say things like, “I can see you are upset about getting your diaper changed.  You don’t want me to change your diaper right now, but it’s time for your nap.”  or “I understand that you don’t want to put your shoes on, but we have to go now.”  The empathy is there, but it is inserted as a placation.  Real empathy does not have a hidden agenda.  Real empathy isn’t rushed through.  It serves to allow ourselves to truly hear the other side in an effort to understand what it might be like to be in a different position.

I have started to reflect on the use of the word ‘but.’  When I think of times I’ve heard it when all I really needed was to be heard myself, I can attest for the fact that it devalues an entire response.  Hearing something like, “I know you’re really tired and not feeling well, but I the kids really need to eat dinner.”  The value of expressing my discomfort of being tired and sick was lost as soon as the word ‘but’ joined the party.  It is as though the word negates everything that comes before it.  It’s a word that supersedes.  The word ‘but’ gets in the way of unconditional empathy.  Unconditional empathy speaks of unconditional love.  And so, it is no longer a word that is welcome in my home (although it still comes knocking from time to time).

The difference between using and not using the word ‘but’ may sound something like this:

“I can see that you don’t want to have a nap right now.  You look really frustrated, but it’s time to sleep”

versus…

“I can see that you don’t want to have a nap right now.  You look really frustrated.  It’s hard when you want to keep playing and mommy says it’s time to sleep.  I understand.  I want you to have a good rest so we can play together this afternoon.  It’s time for a nap.  I’ll see you when you wake up.”

In the second example, I did not change the outcome.  The child is still expected to have a nap.  I included a few extra sentences of empathy, without using the word ‘but.’  I also included and a separation of the empathy from what has to happen by explaining why it has to happen.

Here is another example:

“I know you want to buy that toy.  It is difficult to see something you want and not get it, but you have already got a firetruck toy at home.”

versus…

“I know you want to buy that toy.  It looks really neat.  What do you like best about it?  Yes, those flashing lights and sounds are really cool.  It looks like it would be a lot of fun to play with.  I want us to choose only the best toys to bring into our home.  We already have a firetruck, so we’ll leave this one for another boy or girl to buy.”

I feel like a bit more effort up front to find connection during my expressions of empathy goes a long way.  It’s rather like in permaculture where a lot of time is spent in the design phase before beginning the actual work!  I have been trying to revise the language I am using with the children and am seeing some amazing results.  Now, I just have to have empathy for my process of change, as I count the number of ‘buts’ that are still uttered!

Dirt Cookies: Sharing the Heaviness of Life with Children

How is it possible that we have people so impoverished that they have to eat dirt cookies in order to trick their stomachs into thinking they’re full?  They have no food.  My husband brought up that he had seen this video last week as we sat around the dinner table.  The children were curious, asking about what the cookies looked like, what they tasted like, and ultimately asked to watch the video.  We elected to talk about solutions rather than spending our time watching something that would perhaps be disturbing for them.  But what has been more interesting is how they have been carrying this idea with them, that there are children in the world who are eating dirt to survive.  They bring it up frequently, as it is something beyond their understanding of the world, and I presume the idea was a bit jarring, as it was for me as well.  My children have lived a very sheltered and privileged life.  We have never known hunger.

At first, my children wanted to bake some cupcakes and send them to Haiti.  After some discussion about what might happen to the baked goods on the long journey across the world, my five year old son has decided he will donate money to help these people find something better to eat.  He recently started a t-shirt business, upcycling t-shirts to fund a Lego police station that he wants.  He came up with the idea of getting the rest of the money to buy his Lego station (which is now only about 3 more shirt sales), then sharing the remainder of his profits with hungry children.  An admirable solution for a young boy!

When we first brought this up with the children, I was a bit fearful of burdening their young souls with life’s ugly side.  The side where people aren’t as privileged as us, to the point where they struggle for their necessities.  I questioned whether my children are too young for these harsh realities.  What I was surprised by was his willingness to rise to the occasion.  He expressed a genuine desire to help out.  We do a lot of talking about ‘the golden rule’ in our house and after the fact, I see this as an extension of that discussion.  I think our effort to look for solutions rather than wallow in what’s wrong with the world is where real change can be made.  I hope to inspire my children toward making a difference and teach them that along with their privilege comes an opportunity to help others.

The truth is, extreme poverty exists.  The more I can normalize it, the more my children can move beyond an ‘us and them’ mentality and can rise up to find small solutions to big problems.  We will continue to talk about dirt cookies.  I plan to fully avoid the ‘you should eat your dinner, there are children in the world who are eating dirt cookies instead’ angle.  This helps no one.    Guilt should not be a motivating factor towards action.  What I do hope for is that my kids will be able hold in their hearts the difficult reality that there are children in the world without enough to eat and that we can do something about it.

First Steps

My littlest has started walking.  Gone are the days where she must be carried, but then again, gone are the days that she must be carried!  Change always means I am leaving something behind.  Sometimes I am happy to move on and release what no longer serves me.  But at other times, change leaves me feeling like I’ve lost a part of who I am.  In this case, it was my daughter who changed.  As her mother, I feel mixed emotions of the joys of watching my baby grow and develop in healthy ways and feeling a loss of her ‘babyness.’  Her learning to walk a bittersweet victory.

When change happens, it is worked and worked and worked, and then one day it just is.  There has been a week or so where my daughter has been walking with teetery steps, unable to go much distance.  But her determination in her ability to walk motivates her to try again and again.  It has only taken a few days for her to find her balance and her confidence as she makes her way throughout our home.  It was beautiful to watch her succeed after muddling through the first steps of her journey.  I am reminded to never give up despite things not seeming easy in the midst of it all.

My daughter’s walking journey has been extra special for me because I didn’t coax her into it.  Unlike my first two babies, for whom I walked them tirelessly back and forth across the house until my back ached, this baby I let learn on her own, at her own pace and in her own time.  She patiently waited and waited. For many months she pranced around the coffee table and alongside the sofa.  She still wasn’t ready.  It was July first when she took her first few unaided steps.  From then, it has taken nearly four weeks for her to blossom from just a few steps into a toddler who can take the whole house.  She waited at the edge of change until she felt comfortable to step forward.  And when she did it was with wonderful success!

Upon reflection, my daughter already knows how to use and apply many permaculture principles.  She’s got small slow solutions covered!  She had a vision, and responded to the changes in her physical capabilities in order to work towards it.  She sat at the edges of her ability for quite some time, pressing slowing into them towards growth.  She was able to catch and store her own energy, learning incrementally the skills she needed to build on in order to walk.  She integrated what she was learning about her own body so that when she was ready to try something new her progress was rapid.  She was a master at self-regulating, accepting feedback from her body and surroundings.  She obtained a wonderful yield – she can now walk on her own!  I was able to stand back, observing and interacting with her progress, maintaining safe boundaries within which she could grow and flourish.  By choosing to give her the opportunity to develop in her own time, I feel we have really valued nature’s gift of natural development.

It is amazing to see how quickly she is adapting to her new skill, but perhaps it is because it is in fact not new at all.  She has been working on ‘walking’ since her birth.  She has been watching her family walk around her.  She has been building core strength since learning to roll and sit.  She has been testing her legs by raising her body to stand from a squat, pulling up on the side of her crib.  She developed her coordination as she learned to crawl, feeling those first tastes of freedom through movement.  She tested her balance from the safety of the sofa’s edge.  She tested the water many times as she took one or two steps before sinking to the floor.  She knew what she was doing and she knew when she was ready.  So in fact, it  took her a very long time to develop the skill of being able to walk.  But it was the point of visible change that took no time at all.  That moment of transition where suddenly she was walking.

This is how change really happens.  Strengthening slowly, but punctuated with bursts of energy and motion forward.  Much of the work that happens toward the change is unseen, or seemingly unrelated.  Our desired change is always in the works, but the motion is not yet visible in a recognizable form.  When we are determined enough, we will try again and again until we are able to take those first few steps toward freedom.  Then one day without great pomp and circumstance, when the change is upon us, we take those first few unsteady steps into the unknown.  It is then that we are reminded that change is difficult.  A challenge.  But worth it.

Thank you dear baby girl for showing me the way to persevere in the face of change.  You are such a blessing!

Decluttering

We spent the day cleaning our barn out yesterday.  It felt so good to get things moved out of our space that we no longer have use for.  It is always an interesting balance to strike between ‘making no waste’ and becoming hoarders!  We have taken the stance that if we have a project in mind right now for an object, then it can stay, otherwise, it is better served somewhere else…anywhere but in landfill!  I now have a shrinking pile of things on my front lawn for free, that people can pick up to use!  It feels so good to know that the items will be used.  Having things stored in my barn is wasteful.

I keep returning to this idea of decluttering in my life.  I am constantly searching for ways to simplify.  Living with less stuff seems to speak to me.  Perhaps it is because it offers the opportunity to strip away something of the consumerist culture that is ever present, despite efforts to quell its influence on our family.  Moving though my days, it is amazing how often I come in contact with consumer ideologies.  We don’t have television and very rarely listen to the radio.  We don’t read newspapers or subscribe to any magazines.  This reduction of media flow cuts out most advertising.  We still have two bundles of flyers appear in our driveway every week.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was really interested in price matching and couponing to reduce our family’s grocery bills, making the appearance of the flyers at least useful.  I found that I began buying food that I don’t normally purchase to ‘get a deal’ and began to question just what type of ‘deal’ I was in fact getting!  Now when the flyers come in, sometimes I glance through a few (the stores that sell organic products), and the load of them ends up filling our recycling bucket.  I am almost ready to toss the lot without even looking at them, but when organic food is on sale, I will still sometimes stock up.  The truth is that the food that goes on sale is rarely whole food, and when it is, it is generally not organic.  As we move away from shopping in a grocery store, the time I use every week to shop the flyers would be put to better use preserving food I’m buying in bulk from local growers.

It is this cyclical thinking that keeps me spiraling.  I’m working my way toward detaching fully from mainstream life, but I’m just not ready for a full break away yet.   What is feeling more productive is to keep pushing towards it.  Leaning into our edges wherever we can in order to make some progress.  When climbing a mountain, any amount of progress is progress.  And so, I’m always on about clearing out our spaces.  I crave minimalism.  A life where what we’re living with is only what we’re currently using.  It is difficult to let go of some things.  Things that have bits of my identity tied up in them.  As I consider tackling my studio, with the bin of fabric that has sad untouched for years, the pastels, charcoals, and paints that speak the word ‘should’ instead of ‘inspiration.’  So for me, clearing of things is a way of clearing my energy.  Clearing my assumptions.  Clearing my holding patterns.  And so, I keep pushing against it, leaning into it, as uncomfortable as it is, because one day I will be able to release my grip and find the freedom I’m searching for.  My hope is that one day I will find I have declutteedr my inner landscape too.

—–

I’ve read every decluttering book I’ve been able to get my hands on, and these are by far my two favourite resources:

Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing