Thursday, September 16, 2010

New blog

I am now writing a daily blog about our homeschooling journey (using pseudonyms to protect the innocent).

You can follow it at

I may occasionally also post to this blog. Maybe this will be my Sunday blog. We'll see!

Thanks for following me!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What kind of blog should I start?

I am up at 12:30am. I should have gone to bed an hour ago, but my brain is really charged and won't find sleep soon. I know I haven't blogged in a long time and I have a ton of ideas rolling around in this supercharged brain of mine. But here's the deal.

I am going to start a separate blog about this home schooling journey that we sort of started this week (if you count being extras on a tv show and going to the Motown Museum educational... which, for the record, I do). However, I can't quite decide on the tone of my blog. Let me ask you all.

But first the thought process: I would love for my home school blog to be brutally honest. I want tonsil-revealing laughter, heaving tears, and bad mommy moments. I want to be honest-to-god blatantly truthful about the reasons I'm home schooling, about the days we're having, about how it effects my relationships with my kids and husband and third-cousin-twice- removed. About how it effects my relationship with myself. (Is that my ego? Hellooo? I've been trying to ditch you, can't you get a hint? No-one wants you around, gosh.)

BUT (I always like to stick that big "but" out there), I want a blog that my grandma and grandpa can read. I want to keep my friends, and for the moment, my husband. I don't want judgements being made about me by my closest friends and the other 200 people that stalk me on Facebook- um, I mean, that care enough to read my blog and get something out of it, maybe.

So, do you think I should do an anonymous blog under a pseudonym so I can really reach into my heart and soul. In which case, I won't tell you my fake name or the blog address or it wouldn't really be ANONYMOUS would it? So you probably wound't get to read it until it's published in book format under a pen name. In which case, you still might not read it. So really, this "out there" blog would be just for me and whatever strangers stumble upon it. Anyway, if this was the case, I'd also write a very mild "here's what we did today" sort of blog for the people who are just checking in to make sure I'm not screwing around playing Wii and watching Netflix with the kids all year.

Or, should I do a very restrained version of the "out there" blog for y'all? Which, by default, would be a little less than "out there" and might be considered boring.

OR, should I just throw caution to the wind, trust that you all know me well enough not to make life-altering judgements about me or my kids, and pump-out the shocking truth on a new blog baring my own real smiling mug and traceable, trackable, legal name?

Because you know, when I (and when I say "I," I really mean "we" meaning me and Jay) decided to home school, it wasn't like just choosing a different school. It was like choosing a different lifestyle... and I'm sure there are going to be issues. Fascinating issues.

Please weigh in on this giant "but."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fast Food is NOT Cheaper!

The most disturbing segment on "Food, Inc." was not the cows standing knee-deep in their own manure. It wasn't the scientist engineering the next prepackaged chemical-laden Frankenfood. It wasn't even the chickens who couldn't walk because they got fat so fast their internal organs couldn't keep up. No, I think the most disturbing segment... the one that has been on my mind since my family watched the film with me last night, was the interview with the family who could afford to feed their children burgers and soda but not pears or broccoli.

Why does this disturb me? Because it seems to me the problem was not that they couldn't afford fresh produce. The problem was that they either didn't know how to cook, or they were incapable of planning ahead for meals that they might not have time to cook after work.

The scenario began with this family of four driving through a fast food place. They ordered at least four burgers and a chicken sandwich off the dollar menu, plus two dollar Sprites and a large Dr. Pepper. Their total came to around nine dollars with tax. The mom claimed that this food filled them up the fullest for the price... but they couldn't purchase two pears for a dollar? Hmmmm.
This really bothered me. The older daughter was in a health advocacy group for teens because she was worried about her father's diabetes and the potential for her sister to contract early onset diabetes. What this girl and her family needs is to learn how to cook healthy meals ahead and plan for an entire week at a time

So tonight I though I'd price out our dinner to see if burgers and sodas really were the cheaper alternative. Put my menu where my mouth is, so to speak. Tonight I made a huge chef's salad, French bread from the grocery's bakery, a little organic butter.... and because we had extra kids at the last minute... penne pasta with a little butter, olive oil, garlic, and some chopped herbs from our garden.

Here's the rundown:

Romaine (two heads) $0.40 (they were on sale five for a dollar at Kroger)
1/2 English Cuke- $0.50
1/2 Organic tomato- $0.50
3 Organic free range eggs (boiled) $0.75
1 cup chick peas-$0.50
1 organic carrot (shredded)- $0.10
1 tbsp parmesan cheese- $0.25
1/4 cup Ranch dressing- @$0.50

1/2 loaf French bread- $0.50
butter for bread (brushed on lightly)- $0.25

1/2 package organic penne- $0.75
butter and oil- $0.75
chopped garlic- small pennies
herbs- pennies (from my garden)
salt- almost nothing

Ice Cold water- nothing (unless you count the % of your water bill)

TOTAL: $5.75

Wait a minute!? Did I just claim to feed six people for under six dollars??? Yes, I did. Even if I underestimated the cost of a few of the ingredients, I still fed two more people a much healthier meal for LESS THAN burgers and soda!!!! And, one child had a second plate of salad and my hub had so much on his plate he couldn't finish. Not to mention that there's a plate of pasta and two slices of bread waiting in the fridge for an after-swim snack.

So, the bottom line here is education. People need to be taught how to prepare food ahead of time to meet their time constraints and their bodies' health needs! I know it's tough to go up against these giant corporations who have stolen our food sources and stripped away the health of American citizens... the only place to hit them is in their pocket-book. And the way to start is to learn how to cook, to teach someone how to cook, and to educate communites like Jamie Oliver tried to do with his Food Revolution.

...Oh, and if the excuse is that your kids won't eat the healthier stuff... let them go hungry for a day and see what they will eat! Since when did children get to dictate the dinner menu? Now honestly, my kids have never starved. But if they don't think they will like something that is being served, they are directed to take a "no thank you bite." Do you know how many of our favorite meals have started with a "no thank you bite?" The other route past your childrens' picky taste buds is through the kitchen! If they love to cook, they will love to taste! Today my son was up and cooking (from a kids cookbook) before I even gave him a good morning hug! The outcome? A plate of deviled eggs that were devoured as an afternoon snack!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hormonal Overload... and Glee

Did you ever have one of those days where all you wanna do is lay on the couch and watch every episode of Glee on Hulu chronologically backward from the newest to oldest, cry no less than twelve times, and bake a batch of cookies and eat the batter off the beaters while nursing a headache with coffee and Bayer aspirin? Hmmmm, okay. Against those of you who think that I am in the unlikely .05% of people who get pregnant after their partner's vasectomy or a likely candidate for immaculate conception (see a recent FB post), I am not making a very good case.

Today I was supposed to weed the garden, finish the laundry, take some stuff to the post office, get a photo cake made for my son's class party, go to Home Depot and buy wood chips for around the front bushes, lay the wood chips, press my son's dance costume for dress rehearsal tonight, and then take a shower if I have time. Instead, I watched every episode of Glee on Hulu chronologically backward while nursing a headache, crying, and sucking cookie dough. What the h*ll is wrong with me?

I have a couple of theories. One, the headache got it all started. Thought I'd take my loving husband's advice and lay down for a while. But laying down for a while is boring. So checking my brain out while watching a little musical drama was enticing. THEN, when I tried to get on Hulu I discovered my Internet was down and I had to call AT&T. You can imagine what that did to my headache issue.

I ended up taking my frustration out on the kitchen, scouring counters and dishes until it sparkled. Then, feeling a small sense of accomplishment, I popped to Extra Strength Bayer and headed back to the couch where the latest Glee was cued and ready to go. Feet up, tissues ready, I was thrown into the totally improbable and completely soul-wrenching world of misfits with voices and heart! But after the newest episode, I couldn't go on without unearthing what happened before they lost at regionals and Quinn had her baby and gave it up to Rachel's real mom, and so on and so on. I even watched on my laptop while I made cookies (and licked the batter). Did all of this help my headache. In short: Nope.

So, if I'm not in the .05% or the modern day housewife version of the Virgin Mary, why this four-episodes-of-glee-blubbering-cookie-dough-eating-nonproductive afternoon?

Theory number two: I am anticipating the end of the school year, and I am uncomfortable with transitions. Hmmm, could be. This last few weeks have been incredibly hectic. My excercise routine has been totally off (I mean, as in "not happening"), bedtime is crazy, there are events every day of the week including the weekends and I am feeling totally swamped. While I am desperately looking forward to Thursday when the kids will ride the bus home for the last time, perhaps subconsciously I am soaking up every last minute of quietude in my recently more-hectic-than-usual home. That's plausible. We'll run with that one.

Whatever the case may be, I have one hour left before picking the kids up and rushing one of them to dress rehearsal with a pressed costume, snacks, and entertainment (none of which is prepared). Maybe we'll have to make time for the shower now, and worry about the rest of the stuff later. ;)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day Seven?

I think this is the seventh day of the Consequence Contract, which has incidentally been the best form of discipline I have EVER used with my son. Aside from that very first day, I have had absolutely ZERO complaints and have enjoyed a full week of the relative serenity provided by the banning of electronic devices and the temper roller-coaster that often accompanies them.

In the meantime, I have issued two mini-contracts, one to each of my children, for slightly more minor infractions of our moral code of conduct. On the same day, my beautiful little girl got a contract which defined the terms of a one-day grounding for persistent teasing (something that I absolutely can no longer tolerate), while my son got almost the same contract as his sister for infractions that don't really need to be mentioned here. The outcome was that they both got home from school, read and signed a contract, and stayed in the house and back yard playing only together (and with mom and dad) until bed time. This was the first understanding of the fact that they could, indeed, earn another contract while still working through the duration of an existing consquence.

Hence, a new "culture" in our home has begun. In fact, my daughter told me the other day that her brother, quote "needs a contract" for something he said to her. I decided then and there that I like this rather peaceful and democratic system. Okay, so this bring us to this morning and the two mini-contracts that are sitting patiently on our kitchen counter waiting to be read.

Surprisingly, they are not for Chailyn and Kayden! They are for Chailyn and... his mom! This morning he and I had a run-in over something (the details of which are inconsequential). He began to race around the room, avoiding my beckoning, and then started to slap and flail a bit. Instead of quieting my mind, walking away, counting to ten, I grabbed his arm to hold him still... and yes, raised my voice (not too harshly), and dealt with it in a less-than-democratic-and-peaceful way. NOT a good way to start the day.

So off the children went to school, but before the big yellow bus even got out of our subdivision, I was writing a joint contract. Chailyn has to write a 3x5 card about how he could better deal with a similar situation in the future. My consquence? Left blank... to be discussed with, and written by... Chailyn.

I want him to also have the benefit of this tool that seems to be working well for me. Now of course, I won't let him abuse it (or me). I want him to think about how it made him feel when I lost my temper, and think about what might be a logical consquence for me.

But just as in the rest of this giant experiment called parenting, it's all trial and error... and we only hope that we make more correct hypotheses than not. Here's another one of my dad's sayings: "Do something, even if it's wrong!" What he meant was, instead of living life passively, doing nothing to make positive change, take a stab at it! If you get it right, great! If not, learn from your mistake and press on.

I want my kids to know that I make mistakes, that I am human. However, I also want to instill in them a sense of responsibility for their actions. Even if what I did was a mistake, I still OWN it. It was MY mistake. Once they learn that, it will be easier for them to apologize, forgive, and be forgiven. To live free of guilt and to try new things without fear of being bound by failure. Wow, if they can truly internalize those qualities, they will live a very happy life... and that's all we really want for our children, right?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day Two of the Consequence Contract

Day Two: Today was the morning of the second day of the Consequence Contract served upon my son by the Supreme Court of Bryceland. The Consequence Contract stated that all electronic gaming will be suspended for the duration of sixteen days (until the last day of school), and that each and any incidence of non-compliance with this contract will earn the offender an additional day to its duration. Any and all complaints must be submitted in writing. Verbal complaints will add 1/2 day to the duration of the contract. Signed by all parties involved (mom, dad, Chailyn) and dated. No fuss. No muss. Just the law.

Why such a severe (according to the offender) consequence? Because, I am absolutely done with the disrespect that I am being shown nearly every time my son is on or near a computer or Nintendo game (especially if it's... god forbid... time to get off). I also see my son crying, getting angry, frustrated, and out of control when he can't get to the next level, when something's not downloading fast enough, or when the screen freezes. Or when someone wants to... ehem... speak to him while he's happily and busily engaged in cyberworld. He turns from an energetically competitve penguin who is throwing snowballs or catching fish (Club Penguin) or block man building new cities, to a child worthy of Supernanny at the drop of a hat... or let's say, the click of a mouse.

So yesterday, my mom's last morning here, he had a meltdown after I kindly asked him to sit in the living room while playing his Nintendo DS. I asked him to move because I couldn't stand hearing his crying/whimpering/lipcurling frustration at whatever it was that was causing him such angst in Pokeworld. Why was he playing this in the morning, you ask? Well, we decided we'd give him an hour a day a little while back. He could decide when to take the hour. I actually like when he chose morning for part of the time because when he got home from school he would more likely use his time to play with friends outside. This morning, that wasn't working out so well. When I asked him to move he had a fit, crying and saying "no." He finally moved when I gave him a "strike." Three strikes and the game is mine for the day.

Then we had another, rather public, incident at the bus stop where he told me "no" repeatedly when I asked him to go over by the tree and calm down after he had an episode with his sister regarding places in line. I think he screamed loud enough to wake every sleepin'-in slacker within a two mile radius. When the big yellow bus rolled up to the stop, I gave my son a hug, told him I loved him, and watched him wave goodbye. His tears rolled down his cheeks as he peered at me through the bus window, waving a very very sorry hand.

It suddenly hit me like a wayward frisbee to the back of the head... My children saying "no" to me is the most disrespectful thing EVER. Not only that, it could lead to a relationship where I do not have control... a dangerous relationship where my children, as they become teenagers, feel they can constantly throw the frisbee at the back of my head. Well, I was going to have to either learn how to play frisbee or confiscate it. (Seriously, I'm not sure if this analogy makes any sense, but just run with it.)

I walked home from the bus stop and wrote up a contract. A very very specific contract. I called my husband and gave him the details, and he supported me 100%. When everyone got home I simply told my son that there was something on the table for him to read and sign. I left to take Kayden to dance, and when I returned he had signed it... "Not truly yours, Chailyn Bryce." Good enough for me. At some point during our very quiet evening, he said that the contract wasn't fair, that two days without screens would be fair, and proceeded to climb under some pillows and wail and lash about when we tried to talk rationally to him. We calmly reminded him about the non-compliance clause, and filled in +1/2 day on the space allocated on the bottom of the page. He then asked if we could go to the library.

The rest of the evening seemed as pleasant as you can get with one kid doing dance rehearsal and mom headed off to a meeting. And aside from being very very tired this morning from having stayed up very late reading, our second day is going well.

I just read an article on a friend's Facbook page regarding a shift in the culture of our youth as a result of living in a techno-world... it claimed that younger generations are becoming less empathetic and more narcissistic. I will now be documenting how this "screen-free" two weeks affects the relationships within our family and my son's outlook on life.

Wish me luck. Oh, and if my son comes over to your house, please put away your iPhone tic-tac-toe app, and log off of World of Warcraft... he will breach his contract just for watching you play.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"How Not to Raise a Child"

"If I was paid to do this job, I would have been fired a long time ago!"

Yes, that was me, berating myself last night after being disrespected by my beautiful children just one more time than my fragile mommy-ego could handle. I felt I had no control over my household, my children were not kind to one another, they had absolutely no sense of responsibility, they were being greedy and selfish and naughty and it was ALL MY FAULT! To quote my yester-self, "I have had one job to do for the last decade, and that's to raise responsible, respectful, kind, loving and considerate children... and well, look at them. I have failed entirely." This into the loving arms of my husband who told me, essentially, to get a grip.

So, okay, maybe I was overreacting. If you know my kids, I hope you think so, too. They are generally compassionate kids, respectful to adults (inside of whom they did not gestate for nine months), smart, funny, and good. So why then do I often feel like I have completely messed them up for life by any one of my choice parenting blunders: lack of self-control when in the toy store/candy shop/ice cream shop/Target/grocery store/garage sale/etc; lack of discipline; lack of followthrough on meager disciplinary action; letting my emotions stomp all over my (Parenting with Love and) logic; not making my daughter do her Rainbow Word Cards every night so now she has to be in remedial reading group; yelling (hopefully the windows were closed) when I should have counted to ten. Oh, those of you who thought I was a good mom.... LOL!

I am. I am a good mom. But I am realizing that we (this generation of moms and dads) have been ruined by all the parenting textbooks that paint a simple step-by-step picture of how to do a perfect job. When I first taught Montessori Parent-Infant classes, I let parents know that the Montessori Method was absolutey the best way to raise your perfect gem of a baby. Then after I had my own little gem, I taught parents to trust their instinct and modify any technique to suit their needs.

Now I feel like I've just thrown all textbooks into the toilet with dead fish (who, incidentally, doesn't like chocolate milk). My dad used to have a saying (yes another one): "I love you so much that I want other people to like you." THAT's what I'm talkin' about. I want to raise my kids well enough that they succeed in the outside world... success in the important areas, like confidence and compassion, et cetera ad infinitum. But according to the last "textbook" I read (1-2-3 Magic... about three years ago) I am doing very little correctly. I have made too many mistakes to possibly pass Parenting 101. Huh, this from the Class of '95's Most Likely to Succeed!?

So, here's what I'm thinking. I am not the worste mom in the world. In fact, I'm probably not screwing my kids up too badly (I can only hope). I just have a really high false standard that some teeny-weeny-beeny voice in the back of my brain is telling me I must live up to or face dire consequences. That teeny-weeny-beeny voice is the voice of my mom-conscience, who has retained every morsel of parenting advice and every outline of every method ever read on microphish in the library of Momness located inconveniently between my adrenal gland and my heartstrings (open 24 hours for those late night emergency guilt-trips). So, in order to get TWBVoice fired (or at least temporarily laid off), the one working in my subconscience and perhaps all TWBV's in other POOVOB's (Parents Occasionally On the Verge Of Breakdown), too... I thought it might be a good idea to write my own parenting handbook.

I will call it, "How Not to Raise a Child" A compliation of short stories illustrating several POOVOB's most regretful parenting catastrophes. A book designed for us to read and realize that, even though I just told my daughter she was grounded and then let her friend come over because it was easier than having to play makeover all night with her myself, I'm not the worste parent in the world.

If this project sounds interesting to you, and you yourself are a POOVOB with an interesting story about childrearing that will make ME feel better about MYSELF, please let me know. I seriously want to get together, hear your story, jot down notes and publish it for the world to see. (Of course, your anonymity will be honored). E-mail or call me. If you are a close enough friend, or if I haven't changed my Facebook privacy settings, you will have my information.

And remember, before yelling, count to ten out loud. Then instead of shouting profanities, shout "Ready or not, here I come!" After a while you will give up looking for the little buggers, and you'll forget all about what you were angry for in the first place!

*Note: some of the scenarios that were depicted in this post as being me (the ones that repulse you or seem completely out of character for me) were entirely made up for dramatic purposes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Long Walk Home- Does a change in school culture point to a lack of core values?

It seems like every time I turn around lately someone else is talking about bullying in middle and high schools! Kids are being tripped in hallways and slammed against lockers. The words "gay" and "fag" are used as taunts. Girls are teased for not using sexual lingo or wearing their clothes too tight around their necks or too loose around their curves. Kids are ostracized for being poor, uncool, too smart, too dumb, too pimply, weak or ugly.

The response in schools is a desperate attempt to educate kids about the effects of bullying, and to crack down on the offenders. While these attempt are well-intentioned, I think they are cracking down on what seems to me to be a symptom of something much more ominous than locker-slamming, towel-snapping, foulmouthed arrogant bullies.

When my father was in the Peace Corps he was stationed in a tiny village on a small island in Micronesia. My dad has many stories about his experience living there, from eating fish eyes and doughnuts with flies in them, to killing spiders in his hut with a machete. But one story comes to mind right now. He told me about discipline in the schools in the village of Palou. If a child disobeyed in school, or was disrespectful, they were told that they would be walked home by the principle after school. That child would immediately start quaking in his seat, unable to focus on anything for the rest of the day... because he was prepared for the longest walk home of his life.

When the principle and the child arrived at the home, the parents would come to their door. The principle would gravely tell the parents that their child had spit on the floor at school, or mocked the teacher, or pushed a classmate. The parents would then step outside their hut to be whipped!

Now, don't go crazy. I am in no way in favor of public flogging, or private for that matter. However, this story illustrates how in this tiny village they believe it's the parent's responsibility was to raise a respectful child. If you fail, it's not the child's fault, it's yours!

So why do we, living in this progressive country, detatch ourselves from our child's actions and remain in the background of their moral upbringing? Why must they, alone, bare the consquence of an immoral act? It's like we raise them up through age five, then once they're off to school for seven hours a day, it's like, "Whew, now someone else can handle this!" Now, understand that I'm not talking about a particular "we," but more like a generalization of the masses. There are a percentage of us that are still taking responsibility for our children, who constantly work on their developing characters. However, I feel like a growing part of "the masses" send their children off to school, and when they do so, they immediately release all responsibility for not just education, but also socialization and character-building, to the public institution.

Why? Why is this okay? The schools are trying desperately to institute education and discipline policies to combat what seems to me a deeper issue of lack of integral values that are necessary for a peaceful society: love, compassion, understanding, justice, honesty. Did the kids just check these at the door when they scanned their security card in the lobby of Dead President High? Or did they never have these values to begin with? And honestly, why does it become the school's responsibility to raise children? Schools are for learning geometry, history, math, language, arts, science... NOT for learning how to be in the world. That is a parent's job, and if they are not doing it, then dammit, they should be flogged by the principle (hypothetically speaking, of course).

I am not going to pretend that I am a perfect parent. My children have their own socialization issues. But I am addressing them full force, always reinforcing the values I feel are most important (honesty and compassion). One of my children has been on the locker side of the shove for several years. The school continues to battle bullying with "friendship keys" and counselling... for HIM! NO. I want to talk to the parents of the kid who framed my son for writing "fuck" on the bathroom wall, who called him names, who made him cry. I want to know why that child is lacking in important human values. I want that parent to say that they are addressing the situation. I want that child to say he/she is sorry they hurt my child. No-one is taking responsibility... except the schools (some schools do a better job than others), and even then they are only combatting the results (a bully). Who is addressing the fact that a child doesn't have enough compassion to care about another student, to be intentionally mean to one of his peers?

Lately (I'd say all within the past ten days) I have read a blog post, watched a movie, seen two news reports, and had a converstaion with a distraught mom, all focused on bullying and the tumultuous social climate in the higher grades in public school. It probably happens in private school, too, so I'm not playing favorites. It makes me ask myself, if it takes a village to raise a child, do I want it to be that village? That's not a village, it's like "Lord of the Flies!" And I'm sorry, if you think posting "Bully Free Zone" on the cafeteria wall, handing out flyers with keys to being a good friend, and giving detention to the trippers and name-callers is going to cure the problem, I think you are delusional about the depth of the issue.

Maybe the school principles need to walk some children home.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Err is Human

We all make mistakes. When we cease to make mistakes, we cease to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually. We cease to be human, and therefore create a disconnect from our brothers and sisters that I believe is essential to the development of inner peace.

I am the first to admit that I make mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes. I also admit to having made a lot of mistakes. Furthermore, I strive to apologize for those mistakes directly to the people that may have been affected by them.

Now, I am not going to say that I realize my mistakes right away. Often it takes some pain, tears, or other such consequences with subsequent inner searching and turmoil before I realize that I have done something wrong. (When I say "wrong," I mean "against my inner core of morality.") But through the inevitable repetition of this process, I feel like I have gained such spiritual insight and emotional growth. I am now at a point where the act of recognition and apology is freeing. It is an amazing feeling to own your actions, even the wrong ones.

By doing this, you give yourself the power to release them. You then open yourself up to forgiveness.

Let me give you an example from my own life. Back when I was director of the Infant and Toddler program at Petoskey Montessori, I made a mistake. In reconfiguring the classroom, I neglected to put safety locks on a door that was newly accessible to the children. Subsequently, four toddlers escaped the classroom when their attendant left them alone in that part of the classroom. They ran down the ramp and out into the parking lot, which was adjacent to a busy road. While they were quickly spotted by our staff and returned safely to the building, the parents became uneasy about the care of their children while they were under my supervision.

This situation caused me a lot of turmoil. I remember wanting to get angry at the caregiver for not staying with her allotted children. I remember feeling anxious about my own capabilities as director. I remember feeling horrified that I could have put these children in danger. I also remember feeling upset that those children were not taught by their parents to stay inside the school (I didn't have children yet). But finally, after feeling all of these things, I submitted to the fact that it was ultimately my responsibility... and I had made a mistake.

I called those parents, and I apologized (with silent tears in my eyes). It was probably the most intense and stomach-wrenching thing I had ever done. But you know what? I felt a tension release between myself and those parents, even across a telephone line. This apology opened up the floodgate for open and honest conversation, and we were able to rebuild the families' trust in the school. Ultimately, I was also able to regain confidence in my own ability to do my job.

While those parents didn't actually say, "I forgive you," I could feel that they trusted me again. By taking responsibility for my actions, by not getting defensive, over-explaining, or pawning off responsibility on someone else, by being honest... I helped build a human connection that was invaluable in my relationship with them.

That was nine years ago. Since then I have made countless mistakes. Each one has been a learning experience, helping me build important character traits like grace and humility. Now, I have a lot more mistakes to go before I can claim any kind of moral perfection. Indeed, that type of claim would indicate that I had many more mistakes to go! But I now look at mistakes not as something to defend, hide, avoid or suppress, but as learning experiences that bring me closer to the people around me.

We walk a common ground of living imperfection. And it's beautiful.

To err is human. To accept those errors with grace is an integral tool for building authentic, honest, human connections.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha Meet at a Cocktail Party

Everyone has been at a cocktail party, or a in a car headed out on a field trip with some moms from your kid's class, or in church coffee hour, where you have been in a position to make small talk with people you don't really know that well. The conversation might look something like this:

"Hey, how's it going?" says you.

"Fine, and you," responds strange person.

"I'm Joe, nice to meet you."

"Oh, I'm Sam. Good to meet you."

"Do you live around here?" you ask.

"Yeah, right down on such and such a street."

"Oh yeah, I live around the corner on and that other street. You lived there long?"

"Sure, grew up in the neighborhood," says Joe.

"No kidding, me, too!" you respond. "Did you go to President's Name High school?"

"Yes! Played football there. Love the game. You watching the Big College Name Game tongiht?"

You get the picture. But here's what I'm thinking... While it might sound like meaningless garble that these two people are wasting their time with, I don't think so. What they are doing is probing eachother to find some common ground, something by which to relate to one another. In their trivial question and answering, they are finding a starting point for their relationship!

So, what might it sound like of Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha ran into one another at a cocktail party? Hmmm, let's speculate.

After the three prophets greet eachother with names and handshakes, I'd like to think the conversation would go some thing like this...

Jesus: What do you do?

Mohammad: I'm in public relations.

Jesus: Oh, yeah? Me, too! For what company?

Mohammad: Islam, Inc. Been there for oh, about 2700 years. You?

Jesus: Christianity and Co. Let's see, been doing this for about 2000 years or so.

Buddha, softly: It's been about 2600 years for me. But, ahhh, I have a friend... His name is Vishnu... he was kind of my mentor, he's been in it for around 4000 years... He got me interested because he said this work would really touch people's lives. I think it does... [he pauses in though while Jesus turnes his glass of ice water into wine]. I think the most rewarding thing about the job is that you really get to give people the tools to live a peaceful life.

Jesus: I agree. My work really helps people find their way to God.

Buddha: And God is peace, love, enlightenment. God is in everything and everyone.

Mohammad, scratching his beard: I think the toughest part of my job is that you often get a group of radicals who take something way off track. Then everyone thinks the whole company thinks like they do. That's a rough one to try and mop up.

Jesus shakes his head in agreement: I know, the Crusades were a toughy for me.

Mohammad: Mmmm, and all this terror in the name of jihad! Where do they come up with this? Allah didn't intend us to kill one another. That's not bringing anyone closer to Him. It's just not congruent with the mission statement of my company, unless someone has rewritten it without telling me.

All the men nod and look deeply into their cups, taking a moment of silence.

They go their seperate ways, agreeing to meet for coffee some time. They discovered they had a lot in common after all, and thought there might be some networking they could do to make eachother's jobs a little easier.

My point with this story is to illustrate that studying the world's faith traditions is very important to creating peace in this world. Because no matter what faith you are, in making "small talk" with the other religions, you may just find some common ground on which to build a healthy relationship.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We Are One

When I was flipping through a magazine recently, something interesting caught my attention. It was a half page article bullet-pointing the main characteristics of Hinduism. Now, it caught my attention because I have been studying Hinduism in depth lately for a writing project I'm working on... and I find the religion absolutely fascinating. Anyway, here's what really grabbed me about the article: It stated that Hindus worship many gods, but may choose one particular God to which they focus greater attention.

It is my understanding that this statement is absolutely not true. Hindus do not worship many gods. Hindus believe that there is but one God, which they call Brahma. The other prominent images in Hinduism, such as Ganesh and Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, are simply an incarnation of that one God that embodies specific characteristics. So, for example, I am simply one "me." But I am also mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend... each of these aspects of myself projects a different aspect of my character. It personalizes the relationship that someone has with me. This is how Hindus relate to God.

Will you see various images being worshipped at shrines and temples, on home alters and depicted in books? Yes. These images help the worshipper to invoke different attributes of him or herself: With Vishnu it's balance and ultimate good, with Shiva it might be self-control, or with Ganesh- wisdom. One might pray to the characters of Ramayana when seeking out the path within the construct of family... how to be a good wife, brother, father or son. The way a Hindu worships these "gods" might be similar to how a Catholic prays to different saints, or to the Holy Trinity. (However, I haven't begun to dig deeply into Christianity, yet... Maybe that will be my next project! But which denomination of Christianity? There are so many!)

To further illustrate my point that Hinduism in not polytheistic, I discovered that Hindus believe that even when a Christian prays to Christ or a Muslim to Allah, they are all praying to the same God. God is one. Not that the other religions are praying to the Hindu God, they take no ownership over God. They simply believe there is One, and people choose to worship Him in different ways.

Would this message of complete inclusion of all religions, as simply different paths to the same God, build a peaceful world if it were deeply embedded in every faith tradition? I tend to think so.

But I have so much to learn...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Running, Ghost Hunting, and Salsa

Many of you know that I have recently started running. But you might be surprised about the reason why I took up this rigorous and often painful (albeit healthy) activity! I didn't start running necessarily for health, for weight loss, for muscle toning. I didn't start running to clear my mind or run away from something. I actually started running to get closer to something... uh, er, someONE. I ran for the connection Jay, my partner of over thirteen years.

Somewhere along the road our journeys, while staying parallel, split into seperate paths. We no longer shared many common interest. We disagreed about where to go on date nights, we didn't enjoy the same movies or books, we filled up our free time (what little of it there was) volunteering for different organizations, often going out with different friends, or reading different books on opposite ends of the couch. He wasn't interested in what was happening to Rachel in "The Red Tent," and I really wasn't too interested in hearing a detailed description of the Masonic symbols as recited from "Freemasonry for Dummies." Our road somehow forked, and we diverged.

When we realized this, I decided it was time for me to rediscover my relationship with my husband. How could I connect? Well, I couldn't become a Freemason... I'm pretty sure that's now allowed. But I could run. And I was pretty sure it would be good for me in more ways than one. So I told Jay to sign me up for running the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure with him! We'd for a team: Team "Will Run for Boobs!" He was surprised and happy, I think, that I was taking some interest in one of his passions!

It was slow going for me, but after a couple of weeks I was running 5k! I would call him with raspy breath and give him my new best time! We'd talk about routes through the neighborhood, or the vertigo you get when you hop off the treadmill. He's going to help me get my Race web page going. Meanwhile, I am getting healthier and feeling better about myself!

I know it seems like a small thing, but I'm sure this interest I started showing in one of JASON's hobbies has helped us reconnect to one another on a deeper level. It shows him that I apreciate him and am interested in what he does. In turn, he has gone out Salsa dancing with me... something that he would NEVER choose to do on his own! And we had an absolute blast!

Next week we plan on combining one of his favorites with one of mine... Salsa lessons and ghost hunting! So I guess what I'm getting at is this: If you feel like you are missing something in your relationship, don't try to ask your partner to find it. YOU find it! Try showing some interest in one of your partner's hobbies... ask them to show you how to cook that famous souffle that they make so perfectly, dust off the bikes and have him show you how to trail ride, take an art or dance class together, ask her about that online game she is so engrossed in or that movie he's been wanting to see. I guarantee, even if it's not your favorite activity, it will make your partner swell with love for you... just that you CARE about something important to them.

Okay, well, that's enough "Dear Abby" advice for today. It's just been on my mind so I thought I'd share my discovery with you... in case it might help you too!

Now, if anyone else is interested in ghost hunting and Salsa dancing.... ;)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pieces of Peace

Last night was Goddess Night... Ahhhh, Goddess night... the second Friday of the month, from 7:30pm until (well, um... late) is a sacred time for me and the women who gather at the church to share this incredible journey we call womanhood. This particular Friday night happened to be incredibly moving for me for several reasons.

First, it was an amazing feat of time juggling to get the children coordinated for the evening. Jason was in Detroit for a masonic speaker for the first part of the night, so it was time to call in the troops. Hah! I couldn't be more appreciative for my friend in Livonia who took Kayden rollerskating and made some delicious popcorn balls for a late movie (as evidenced by the blue marshmallow lips :), and to another friend for hosting Chailyn for a fun play date! Thanks to our gracious friends, each of our family members spent an evening nurturing our spirits in our own separate ways! I went to sleep last night feeling such gratitude for the people that surround me, who bring me peace in so many ways. ((( yes, sigh here )))

Second, the content of the Goddess evening was very deep and meaningful. Mary lead the group in a meditation that drew out the light in each and every woman in the room and connected us in a circle of life. We went on to our check-in, as usual, but this time it seemed that each woman had a unique narrative of creating healthy relationships within their families that was truly touching and inspiring. At one point, when Jeanie was talking about her recent accomplishments with her work against puppy mills, an explosion of warmth actually erupted in my chest and spread throughout my body. That feeling of warmth and connectedness continued through out the night... from the conversation over plates of food to the closing when we shared what gave us peace at the end of the day. I went home feeling completely content, like a warm blanket wrapped around my soul.

And indeed, I have been finding peace in my life lately. But I didn't find it in one place, like a treasure chest buried in the sand. Instead I found little pieces of it in many different places. One surprising place I found a piece was in my own body! I have been running. I started running because I registered for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in May, so I thought I'd better prepare myself. But once I started, I couldn't stop. For the first time this week, I ran three miles in under forty minutes! It felt GREAT to reach that milestone. Not to mention that the exercise, combined with a little bit of food control, have helped me lose eight and a half pounds since the beginning of February. I am discovering first hand just how connected are the body and mind. When I don't at least take a very long walk on a given day, I feel drowsy and down by night fall. The body and mind go hand in hand, or even closer! They are just two part of one organism... our self!

I found another piece in ritual. My family started an evening prayer ritual that has helped us connect to one another, and to really be introspective in regard to our own thoughts and behaviors. We gather in the meditation room. The children light a candle and Kayden usually says, "I have a light in me." Chailyn recites a prayer that he made up about peace, love, and light. We ring a chime for a short silent meditation on a topic that the kids come up with. We have had peace, the light in us, respect, etc... Then we talk about our thoughts. We reflect on how we could have behaved more according to whatever principle we meditated on. We forgive ourselves for mistakes and vow to do our kindest the next day. We end with the chalice meditation, a squeeze pass, and a collective extinguishing of the candle. This short ritual has brought our family together in so many ways. It has put "the spiritual path" directly into the course of our day, which can often become forgotten alongside the megahighway of daily routine.

The last piece was found scattered among my friends and family. Truly, the relationships that I have are like that warm blanket wrapped around my soul. I have been closer to Jason than ever (as he is also working on his inner peace). We are sharing an understanding, respect, and joy that can often drown under more than a decade of marriage. And after last night, I realized again how amazing it is to have a network of support in a practical way... but little do all of the amazing people in my life know that the practical support has an underlying layer of love and caring that shines through each and every time they reach out a hand to help. True friendship... that is what completes my circle of peace.

As the old adage so profoundly states: The size of a heart is not measured by how much one loves, but by how much one is loved by others. Hmmm, I feel my heart swelling just now...

May peace be with you... body, mind, and spirit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It Takes a Village

"It takes a whole village to raise a child." This African proverb makes so much sense in the context of a rural village... small huts with thatched roofs, fire pits where women roast vegetables and pound grains, men hunt and build and worship, grandmothers weave baskets and share stories while children play about their feet. We can visualize this village. But what is a village in America in 2010?

I gave birth to my son when I was twenty-three. One of the first gifts I received was Dr. Spock's "manual for raising children." I was also in Montessori training at the time, where I was introduced to Waldorf, attachment parenting, and the Montessori method, just to name a few. I had no shortage of experts instructing me on the best way to be a parent. But in spite of hours of study on the subject, when my mother left my home to go back to Chicago, and I found myself standing in my living room with a week-old son, I felt unsure of myself and very alone.

It wasn't until my daughter was born that I really identified that feeling of solitude. We had just moved to an apartment in Northville, Chailyn was three, Jason was working, and I knew no-one. I wanted to pack up everything I owned and move "home!" Well, at least back to where I had my career, my work community (which was a school), where I knew the stores and the parks and the routine. But I knew that was not possible, so I set out to make friends. I began to take the kids (double stroller and all) to the coffee hour at our complex's clubhouse. This is where I met the four women who got me through the next year... ahhh, but my memory fails, and now I can't even remember all of their names. But Marla was from northern Michigan originally, like me. We began to work out together and have play dates. Priti was from India, and I can still remember the deicious smells in her apartment and the way she entertained the children with her piano. Then there was the woman from Mexico, whose children barely spoke English... but they had a traditional Mexican birthday party for the son complete with an indoor pinata!! Chailyn loved that! Finally, a fourth woman from Finland who moved to a condominium in Novi before we moved to Livonia.

These women, from all over the world, became my little "family." While my mother, aunts, and mother-in-law were reachable by phone, I had no women (sisters, cousins, friends) close to me that I could turn to for help walking this tightrope that is mothering. And the pages of a book provided no comfort. But these women gave me with a taste of what I needed to make it through those really tough years. Sometimes it was as simple as suggesting a toy, a food, or a relaxation technique. Other times it was sharing a glass of wine and some quiet time without the kids. These connections meant so much to all of us. But, as apartment living often dictates, we all moved away into homes or to different states following husbands' jobs. Our little cluster of women broke apart.

I found myself in Livonia, once again in search of a "community." I was determined to create my own "village" no matter what it took. Nearly four years ago, when my family walked the gravel parking lot into a little white chapel on a hill, that is exactly what we did. We began to build relationships that would fill the gaps in our family, which is spread all over the country. We have made close friends that are like aunts and uncles to our children... I have met women who have become like sisters to me.

I have also developed relationships with women who have experienced life, who share their stories and their knowledge with such openness and honesty. These women have given me a shoulder to cry on, advice when I sought it, laughter to rejoice in, and a smile or a hug to greet me on Sunday morning. These are women who have been through so much, who have so much to give, and they hold a very special place in my heart.

My family has also become close with several families in our neighborhood. We help eachother with child care, with home projects, with rides to basketball practice or bus pickup. We watch out for eachothers' homes, pets, children. Sometimes we just share lemonade on the back porch while kids play together in the yard. Sometimes we share sorrows and cry. They are also a part of my village.

This village is a place where I feel safe, where I feel loved, where I feel accepted for who and what I am. This village is a place where I give just as much as I receive... where I give my time, love, and energy with an open heart, and without keeping a log of what I have spent. And that is what I receive in return.

Without my village, I would not be who I am today... as I would like to think that without me, my village would not be the same. Together we become just exactly the community we need. Thank you, sincerely, for being a part of my village.