confidence

Grocery Store Meltdown

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Today is birthday week at our house.  My daughter, now 2, was born on April 6th.  Today is my eldest son’s birthday, he is now 6 and tomorrow, April 9th my second son turns 4.  Needless to say, birthday week is a crazy one around here.  I try to make each child’s birthday special for them, doing whatever it is that they choose for the whole day (within reason of course!) The children have not been sleeping well because they’re so excited!  Then factor in the cake and ice cream, increased levels of sugars in their diet – I let them eat cereal for breakfast and parfait with store bought granola for snack.  Add to that jealousy the children feel as they watch their sibling enjoy their special day.  Needless to say we’re a bit out of sorts.

Yesterday was our day off from birthday celebrations, so we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the things the boys wanted to have for their birthday meals.  The children, excited at the prospect of getting to choose their menu were having difficulty containing their excitement.  I usually have the littlest two ride together in the car.  But as they grow it is getting harder and harder for them to share the middle leg hole space!  My middle son was feeling uncomfortable and asked to come out of the cart.  Ensuring I had his attention, I confirmed that he had to stay near me and not touch things on the shelves in order to be able to stay out of the cart.

The two boys did a decent job of containing themselves in the aisles, but things started to unravel when they started playing horse and rider in front of the supplement shelves, lined with tiny bottles.  When I asked them to stop, pointing out the density of products on the shelves as well as the dirty floor, my younger son began to spin instead.  Dizzy, he knocked into the elbow height bottles, knocking every over.  Bless my eldest, who helped him to line them back up with careful precision.  Now spinning again, I had to remind my middle child to help with the mess.  He helped as much as he was able.

Shortly after, the boys decided it would be funny to play a game on me and head to the next aisle over on their own.  My eldest was gone only a few seconds before he thought better of the plan and came back to find me.  My younger son held out until I could maneuver the now heavy cart around the end cap to find him.  Reminding him what I had told him when I lifted him out of the cart, I placed him back in the seat.  He was not a willing participant, but I got him into the seat without too much commotion.  He continued to protest in new ways, clearly not wanting to be at the store any more.  His disdain turned into bothering his sister by squishing her leg and leaning over to compress her body.  I asked him to stop several times, but was unable to think of an alternative to him sitting in the cart…and taking the 2 year old out was not an option!  Despite my attempts to use sportscasting and non-violent communication by the time we reached the check out line she had grown tired of his antics and began hitting him in an effort to get him to stop.  He was quick to join the party, adding a chorus of cries to the mix.  I wanted to leave for the sake of my children.  But with three small children to manage by myself, a cart full of unpaid-for groceries and no other time to accomplish this errand, we had to find a way to move though the last of this shopping trip as gracefully as possible.

To maintain the limit, I stopped their hands gently, saying “I won’t let you hit each other.”  When my daughter tried to start the fight again, moments later, I held her hands firmly but gently, saying, “I won’t let you hit your brother.”  I asked her to tell me when she was ready to stop hitting.  It didn’t take long.  Once I released her hands, the hitting stopped.  For a time.  I tried entertaining them all with a game of ‘I Spy’ while we waited.  Participation was waning when my middle child decided he would like to get out of the cart.  I set another limit…”It is not safe for you to stand in the cart.  You must stay sitting down or I will have to put the buckle on.”  Cheekily he tried again as I was distracted with loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.  On went the buckles.  Then the cries of protest erupted.   It didn’t take long for my son to begin the hitting again.  Again, I maintained the limit, “I will not let you hit your sister,” holding his hands gently to stop him.  When he was finished trying to hit again, I released his hands.  He continued to cry for the duration of the check out process.

Once we finished, my eldest needed to use the bathroom.  I stood there and talked to my middle son about what had happened.  He expressed how angry he had been because I made him sit in the cart and put his buckles on.  I listened.  Then I asked if I could tell him my dies of the story…how I needed him to be safe by being near me in the store and staying seated in the cart.  Also by not hitting or being hit.  He understood, ending with, “I love you mommy.”  We hugged, rejoined with my eldest, and headed out of the store.

It was the first time I haven’t felt embarrassed at this type of misbehaviour.  I was able to keep my temper under control for the whole thing…an remarkably, I didn’t even have to think about it!  For the first time, in the moment, I felt like I knew what to do to help my children.  For the first time I wasn’t worried about what other people thought of my children, my parenting style, me.

After the whole thing was over, and we were heading home, I pondered what was different.  Nothing really.  That was probably the worst behaviour we’ve had at the grocery store.  The difference was in myself.  My ability to keep calm despite the fact that my children weren’t was new.  Detachment from my children’s behaviour was new.  Usually I feel like the way they are behaving is a reflection of myself…but not this time.

Ironically, this day, this one day where I felt like I nailed it given the circumstances, having confidence in the way I had handled it, a woman stopped me on the way out of the store saying:

“We’ve all been there.  And if people say they haven’t they’re lying.  You’re doing a great job.  Don’t worry about it!”

I uttered a quick “Thank you,” with as much of a smile as I could muster, feeling pulled from my disconnection from judgement and proud that I didn’t really need any congratulations this day.  I knew that I was doing right by my children.  Yes, they had a loud and unsavoury emotional experience at the store.  But people have big and difficult emotions and as a culture we hide them away all to often.  Perhaps we created a disturbance for other people who were shopping there, but really, that is their problem.  My problem is to figure out how to support my children through their emotional turbulence the best way I am able.  I am building confidence because I see that my efforts to be a mindful and respectful parent are working.  I am beginning to more consistently access my ability to be vulnerable, and in doing so I am finding that I am more connected to my children…and myself.  The difficult moments aren’t what matter…connection does.

 

Thanks to Janet Lansbury for her post which inspired me to share this story.

 

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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!

Child’s Play

We went to the park this morning to meet the children’s grandmother and great-grandmother.  It was a beautiful summer morning made better by being together with four generations of people we love!  The playground was bustling with children running feverishly from activity to activity.  My children participated wholeheartedly in the slides, monkey bars, and teeter totters.  The gross motor activities were great for my boys, who enjoyed testing their agility on the rock wall and pushing their limits by daring themselves to run the steep slide by themselves.

What I noticed about my children is that they were not engaging in activity at the same pace as the other children.  They were content to stand aside and watch another child race past and down the slide.  They were happy to observe another child use the spinning chair first before deciding to try it themselves.  Some may view this as an inability to engage with other children.  I see it as a healthy connection to their inner voices.  They are already observing and interacting with their environment.

Less than an hour into our visit, my eldest was drawn to a small creek that ran through the shade of an old willow tree alongside the edge of the playground.  The buzz of a gas powered edge trimmer held by a man wearing protective ear and eye wear was working it’s way along the opposite bank.  I tried to redirect his desire to head to the creek.  When the worker had made his way down near the end of the creek, I allowed my son to play in that area.  He was so happy, so much more engaged.  It wasn’t long until his younger brother and sister came to join him.  They were still observing and interacting…but this time it was with the rapids, the plants, the water, the crayfish and the frogs.  They befriended some (much older) children who were catching crayfish upstream, taking a peek at their latest catch.  They fell in the water and got muddy.  I heard many other parents and caregivers distracting their children away from the creek, worrying they would get hurt, wet or dirty.  Isn’t this what childhood is all about?  Risk taking to build self-confidence?  The learning my children had in that creek was of far more value to me.  Especially as they coaxed their grandmother under the footbridge to check out the huge crayfish they found down there!  What a beautiful moment.  They were drawn to the natural space.  They were happy to be muddy and wet on a hot day.  And it wasn’t just the water drawing them in, since following their creek stomp, we headed over to the splash pad where again they stood mesmerized by the flurry of activity around them.  I don’t think my three year old went in the water, he seemed content to run around the outside of the concrete pad splashing in the puddles.  I have to admit that a rocky stream with critters seems much more appealing to me than water jets spraying at eye level in unpredictable ways.

I’m so pleased to be raising children who value nature and unstructured play!  I am satisfied with their desire to play in the shady creek instead of the sun drenched desert-like play park. I admire their ability to follow their hearts and sources of joy rather than worry about trying to fit in.  I want to preserve that for them for as long as possible.  In all honesty, this is what I wish for myself…

Lessons from a Toad

I spent a few hours with a toad this week.  I sat with it in the garden, watching its movements and observing they way it lives.  I have had a fear of toads (and frogs and snakes too) since childhood, when I spiked a high fever involving hallucinations of amphibians and reptiles crawling out through a hole in the ceiling plummeting onto myself.  I felt trapped, unable to move likely due to being sweaty and tangled in the sheets.  I am over the worst of this fear now, as I no longer have anxiety when I see them, now I just experience surprise at their presence.  I am able to allow my logical mind to process their proximity as harmless.  So being able to sit with a toad for some time was cathartic in many ways.  While sitting with him, I learned some lessons that I thought I would share.

Toads spend a lot of time contemplating.  The toad I watched would hop a distance, then wait.  Then move slightly in a sort of walk, then wait.  He did much more waiting than moving.  There was no hurry.  There was no reason for him to rush.  He was not particularly threatened, so he could take his time in order to not become threatened. I have a tendency to want to rush into things, rather than waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.  I become impatient with the process.  The toad was all about the process.

Sometimes the toad took a great leap, and sometimes he just shuffled.  This is true for life.  There are times where a great leap is required to make ground.  Where I have to assert great energy toward inciting big changes, and other times where a small adjustment is required for a better view, or just to get more comfortable.  Both are necessary ways to move through change.

Toads have the capacity to turn their heads slightly.  I had always thought that they moved their eyes or had to move their entire bodies in order to increase their range of vision, but as it turns out, they have a neck of sorts.  They must have a pretty good range of vision, between their eyes being atop their heads and being able to turn their head slightly.  Movement might mean a toad would get noticed, so anything he can do to look around and take in the world from a place of stillness is an advantage.  Our culture promotes the opposite of this.  We are all hurried to keep up to the pace of life we’ve created for ourselves, and rarely slow down enough to make observations.  Our culture values productivity.  Looking is not productive…unless of course it could save your life!  Being at the top of the food chain has its disadvantages.  We have lost touch with our ability to be present because we don’t rely on this skill for survival.  When I consider it in these terms, I realize that getting back in touch with my alert and intuitive sense of self is the only thing that can save me from a crumbling society.

I spent nearly two hours with the toad, over which time he moved about a meter (3 feet or so) hopping a few times, adjusting himself several times, and turning his head a couple of times.  Meanwhile the rest of the garden was a flurry of activity.  Birds, butterflies, bees and insects hurried about while the toad by contrast waited.  It seemed as though his waiting was put forth in an effort to attain a goal, for after his movement toward the shade of the back of the garden, he found a hollow in the ground to hunker down into.  Perhaps it was a spot he’d visited before.  Once he reached his destination, he settled in by digging his hind legs beneath the soil slightly.  Then he waited again.  And waited.  And waited.  After some time, he fell asleep.  But even in slumber, he opened his eyes every ten minutes or so to make sure everything was still as he’d left it.

I have much to learn from the toad.  Pace.  Contemplation.  Careful calculation of when to exert my effort and when to reserve it.  The art of camouflage.  Knowing when to jump with confidence.  The beauty of stillness in a bustling world.  The slow pace with which I can pursue my dreams.  Look (a lot) before leaping.  Blending in doesn’t mean I’m lost.  The importance of  repeatedly checking yourself against your goals.  It doesn’t matter what the outside world sees, or think they see, what matters is the depth to which I understand my goals and how to reach them.  How to be fully present with what is on the journey.

What a gift it was to be able to sit with a toad.  For a few hours, I was able to avert my fears and learn from him.  Perhaps my fear of the toad extends beyond his exterior to what he represents…that which stretches me.  I have found an ally whose lessons I am grateful for.

Defining Character

There have been several occasions when people have made comments to me about how the personalities of my children are related to the order in which they were born into our family.  I resisted this idea, thinking that the stereotypes and reductionism of this approach are not helpful.  Not only that but I have a disliking of the idea that something like birth order, which is so far beyond our control, surely could not be such a strong influence on who my child will become.  What I am coming to realize however is that it is life in the home that changes with each addition to the family.

I did a quick search to come up with this information about the stereotypes based on birth order:

1st born = the achiever

2nd born = the peacemaker

3rd born = the life of the party

In my quick overview of the information from a few sources, the idea is that we as parents treat our children different based on how they fit into the familial structure.  What I find interesting about this is that the parents are actually the ones determining a child’s fate.  Why is it that we try so hard to have control over our firstborns, and relax so much by the time we get to number three?  I would say experience, but more aptly it is out of necessity.  When I had my first, I wanted to do everything ‘right’ in order to raise my child to be the best he could be.  But in my effort to control the directions of his growth, what has been overshadowed?  What has been lost?  My first does fit into the stereotypes above, because of me.  Not because I treated him differently based on some preconceived notion of how he should fit into the family, but rather my preconceived notions of what it means to be a parent.

So I am left feeling like I have actually failed my firstborn!  Now that I have three children, I have had the chance to do a lot of inner work, and observation about my parenting.  I have come a long way in my parenting journey in five short years.  I have relaxed a lot more with my children, see more opportunities to enjoy the journey, and have far more trust than I ever thought possible!  Rather than feeling like my third child has gotten the short end of the stick, I feel like she has the opportunity to figure out who she is without so much of my well meaning influence.  Even statements like ‘be careful‘ uttered repeatedly whittle away at our children’s confidence.  I have learned to sit back and watch a whole lot more.  That is also thanks to RIE and the work of Magda Gerber and Janet Lansbury  She is a very independent child and can occupy herself quite nicely.  What are we losing of our children when we try to direct them toward our own agendas?  What could they be if we offered supportive compassion without hidden agendas?

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.

Actions Speak

“How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”

~Karl Weick

I watched a wonderful TED Talk last night about how our actions impact our mindset, regardless of intent.  It is clear that what we are thinking or feeling at any given time affects our actions, but the scientist in the video set about looking at how our body’s actions can change the way our brain functions. I think intrinsically I knew this, based on how different I feel when I’m up and moving versus sitting at the computer for too long I just hadn’t expanded this thought to include all that I do with my physical body.

The study was of people who were asked to take on a ‘power pose’ (think superhero or a CEO with feet up on a desk).    What they found was that testosterone rose and cortisol levels decreased when a ‘power pose’ was held for just two minutes.  Similar to how holding a pencil between your teeth without letting your lips touch it replicates a smile and can improve your mood despite lacking the intent of an actual smile, the ‘power poses’ changed brain functioning at a chemical level to give the gift of confidence.  If you look to nature, even amongst different species of animals, certain body postures are common across the board.  Crossed and huddled postures denote shyness or withdrawing, while wide open and tall postures exude confidence.  They extended the experiment to have people go through a  fabricated job interview with and without first ‘power posing.’  It was all done blindly, so the researchers at the end didn’t know what conditions they were judging, meaning who had posed/not posed.  100% of the time, the people who had done the ‘power poses’  were chosen for ‘hire.’  Amazing.

So what conclusions did they draw?  The researcher summed it up with the euphemism, “Fake it ’til you make it!”  But she took it one step further.  After she started taking her own advice, she realized that she had become what she had wanted to be; a confident public speaker.  So she changed the saying to “Fake it ’till you become it.”

I’m still thinking through the implications of this information but for now, I’ll be posing.