Friday, February 27, 2015

Saying Yes to the Magic

My daughter is going through something called the seven-year change. When I first heard about it in my Waldorf Education forums, I thought it was rather silly. Then I experienced it.

The idea is that somehwere around the seventh year children start becoming more aware of the difference between reality and fantasy. They realize that maybe not everything is real, they begin to doubt the magic. It's called leaving Eden, leaving the dreamlike state of early childhood.

My Jane has handled the change quite well. A blossoming also accompanies the change, being ready to begin formal schoolwork, it's not all bad. But she's also very back and forth on magical things. She desperately wants fairies to be real and believes in them wholeheartedly. But then some days she just starts crying that she'll never see one. Why can't she see them?

She'll make wishes on stars and then when they don't come true, walk around the house mopey and sad for a day or two sighing and saying, "Wishes don't come true."

It's pathetic. And depressing. And breaking my heart. I understand wanting, needing, magic in the world. And this transition doesn't mean she has to stop believing in magic or fairies. She doesn't want to. I don't want to.

So last night, when she wholeheartedly wished on the first evening star (checking with me multiple times to make sure that was the real "wishing sta") I knew I needed to at least do a little something to make it come true. I couldn't bear the thought of facing her and talking about how wishes on stars never come true.

Instead, I sprung into action. She had wished for a Magic Tree House like the one in the book series with the same name. She wanted it filled with every book in the world so that we could visit all her favorite stories. She was so sure her wish was going to come true that she couldn't sleep last night. It was worse than Christmas. She kept asking me and Rob where we wanted to go first. She decided to let Max choose the first book. She worried if the books would all be in English. She drew pictures of her favorite book characters she wanted to meet.

And after she finally fell asleep, I placed her playhouse on the trampoline and put a picture book inside. A story about a concert that happened at the zoo. The next morning, Jane was up at 6 am. She looked in the front yard. No tree house. I had her look out back. No tree house, but who put her play house on the tramp? She found the book. She knew it was the wishing star. She was so happy, even though she readily admitted it wasn't quite what she was expecting.

Jane waited patiently all morning until we could go on our adventure. She asked me that morning if someone had put the house on the tramp. I said I didn't know for sure, but maybe. That's how wishing stars work sometimes. Just because your wish doesn't poof into existence doesn't mean it isn't coming true. Sometimes wishing stars work through other people to help your wishes come true. I also talked about how we can help other people's wishes come true when we do something nice for them. It's kind of like helping the wishing star.

Anyway, all that buildup finally got us to the magical adventure. We piled into the play house. I stood outside and spun it in circles a few times while the kids closed their eyes. When they opened their eyes...nothing had changed. But I had a strange pulling in my arms. It was pulling the car!

And we were off. The pulling of the wishing star finally got us to the zoo, where we ate lunch and I felt the inexplicable need to pull out my guitar and start singing. The kids grabbed instruments from the bag and we put on our own concert right there at the zoo, just like in the book. After a few songs, we went in the zoo. It's really more of an animal rescue. After feeding the goats we decided to play a few more songs for them.

Jane swears the goats were dancing.

The zoo director came out. She asked if she could video tape us. Then she asked if I'd be willing to come back on a Saturday and play for an hour or two. She loved it. Kept saying what a fun idea it was to sing with the animals. Then she started planning.

We'll put up posters. It will be a free day. Can you do this on a Saturday every month?

And just like that, Jane's wish wasn't the only one coming true. Because now my silent wish, to become more involved  in the community with my children, was coming true as well.

Just goes to show. You leave your house on an adventure and you might come home on a whole new one.

In the end, Jane realized that it wasn't exactly what she wished for, but it was fun nonetheless. She's ready to go on another adventure. I told her that's all up to the wishing star and whenever it will put another book in the playhouse.

So, if you have any great ideas for books and adventures. Leave them in the comments!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why does the ocean have waves?

I have a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Rob has his in neuroscience, not to mention all the science classes he had to take in dental school. We. love. science. And I've always dreamed of introducing my kids to the wonders of science. And for many years, I've tried. Oh, how I've tried.

But guess what? A four-year-old just isn't going to understand the world of atoms and hydrogen bonding and electrons, no matter how simply you explain it. I can explain to Jane (6) about how the sky is blue because of the size of particle in the atmosphere that bends light at just the right angle. But let's be honest, I barely understand the intricacies of that answer. I know she doesn't. And for a child, who still sees the world as a place full of magic, still believes in fairies, Santa, and talking animals it's a terribly disappointing answer.

I had to remind myself recently of one of my favorite quotes from A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. "Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there someday."

And we will. One day I will sit across the table from Jane and squeal about the amazing qualities of water and the "magic" of that 104.5 degree angle.

But not yet. Because right now, Jane still loves to hear about water as a living, breathing, thinking thing. She still sees the bees and the butterflies as playmates. And she desperately wants to find a fairy.

And so for now, I preserve the magic. Oh, I give them what they are ready for. We practice observation and experimentation. We explore the science that is happening all around us, the blooming flowers, and buzzing bees. The butterflies, earthworms, and bird nests. What we can see and touch.

So today at the beach, when my children were mesmerized by the waves, instead of lecturing about the gravitational pull of the moon and the tide and the physical and mathematical properties of waves, I told a story. And it went like this.

A long, long time ago, when the earth was still very young. Before there were humans or even animals. The sand and the ocean were best friends. The played together, and told jokes, and laughed and laughed.

Then one day, Ocean said, "Sand, you are my best friend and so I am going to show you my greatest treasure." And with that, Ocean pulled out the most beautiful, white shell.** It was round and smooth and sand just had to have it.

"Oh, please let me hold that shell," said Sand. "Please."

"No," said Ocean. "It's my greatest treasure. Nobody can touch it but me."

"Please," said Sand. "Please, please let me hold it."

"No," said Ocean. "It is too precious to me. I don't want to lose it."

Then Sand got angry and yelled and stomped. "Let me hold that shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

Ocean didn't want to lose his best friend, so he gave Sand the shell. "Just for a little bit," said Ocean. "Then give it right back."

But when Sand held that beautiful shell, he knew he could never give it back to Ocean. He wanted to always be able to look at it.

"Okay, give it back," said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

"Give it back now!" said Ocean.

"No," said Sand.

The Ocean screamed, and kicked and threw a glorious fit. "Give me back my shell or I won't be your friend anymore!"

But instead of giving back the shell, Sand threw it into the air and it got stuck in the sky. Sand rejoiced. Now he could always see that beautiful shell and Ocean couldn't take it back to his dark, watery depths!***

But Ocean let out a loud roar. "No! Shell!" He reached, reached his wet, foamy hands out and out. But they couldn't reach the shell in the sky. But Ocean couldn't give up. To this day, he still reaches his watery hands up over Sand, reaching, always reaching for his shell, which we now just call MOON.

**Rob pointed out that this would probably work better as a pearl.

***I originally had this go so that Ocean didn't see what Sand had done with the shell, and so the waves are really Ocean searching through the sand, looking for his shell, thinking Sand has hidden it somewhere. He finds many, many shells, but not HIS shell. This version is kind of fun, as today Jane was sure we'd found Ocean's shell and she kept shouting "I think the Ocean is mad at us now!" as the waves washed over our feet. You choose which you like best! I added the moon bit in because I can't help sneaking a tiny bit of science in there.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Journey in Discipline

A few weeks ago, I came to the end of my rope. I felt like I had tried every discipline technique under the sun and nothing was working. Why, whenever Max did something wrong did it always excalate into screaming, and tantrums. The more I disciplined, the more he acted out. It was a vicious cycle. One that always ended up with me feeling bad and Max feeling bad. I knew it was hurting him.

On good days he'd come up to me. "I'm choosing to be good Mom." Then his lip would pout out and he'd stare at the floor. "But sometimes I'm a bad boy." I always tried to reassure him, that he was always a good boy, just sometimes we make wrong decisions. But our actual discipline sessions said otherwise.

Me throwing him in timeout. Him banging on the door, screaming. Me screaming back that if he broke that door we'd never go to Disneyland again. My teeth were grinding. I was angry. I love my son and I've seen his sweet side, but why wouldn't he just shape up?

Time-outs worked great with Jane. Why did they send Max into a rage spiral? Why did some days feel like constant battles?

I reached out on an internet forum, begging for help. I got a lot of great responses and was led to a website by Dr. Laura Markham, that I highly recommend checking out. But I knew that I could not just adopt a new discipline strategy. I'd tried that before and I always flamed out miserably. I had to choose to make one change. Just one.

I made two actually.

Change #1 - I stopped viewing it as discipline, and instead saw it as a 'correction.'  I'd always gone into my discipline interactions viewing it as a battle of wills. 'You will listen to me. You will do what I say. You will bend your will to mine.' I saw every act of disobedience as a threat. But just changing that one word in my head changed my whole approach.

This wasn't about me. And this wasn't about punishment. I was not going to punish anyone into being a better person. Boundaries are needed by everyone. But I set them and enforced them in love. 'I love you be we can not act this way.' This change in wording led to...

Change #2 - Begin every correction with a statement of love/empathy. This change had a two-fold effect. First, it forced me to calm down and see the good in my son. I could not do this when I was angry. So now, I try to begin every correction by getting on eye level with my kids, lovingly touching them (hug, hand on the shoulder, etc.), and making a statement of empathy. "I understand that it's hard to..." or, "I love you so much, but we can't..."

Max's response totally changes with this approach.

But it's not perfect. Sometimes, even when I'm loving, my kids don't want to have to do what's expected. Sometimes they still get angry and start throwing fits. And when this happens, I have to help them calm down. Correction can't take place when either party isn't calm. So, right now I have two strategies to help everyone calm down.

Calming Strategy #1 - Deep breaths. These usually work best with some guided imagining. I have my kids blow out birthday candles. Or pretend to be the spring wind waking up the flowers. Or we pretend we've swallowed a balloon and are blowing it up inside us. If that doesn't work...

Calming Strategy #2 - Timeout. There is a place for it, I feel. But only as a way for us to calm down. It does not do the correcting. It is not a consequence. It is just a way to protect the child and everyone else and get us to a place where we can talk.

When I started employing these changes and strategies, I noticed a real difference in the peace in my home. But it wasn't my kids who changed. It was me. I stopped going into a correction in fear, or anger, or pride. I stopped trying to struggle against a child who was not in a place to listen. And then I had to actually correct. This led to a revamp of the rules.

Rules, rules, rules. So many rules. Don't hit. Don't kick. Don't yell. Don't spit. Don't throw. Don't, don't, don't. No, no, no. Everything was couched in the negative. And there were so many to remember. And what was the consequence for each of them. Did it help anyone learn anything other than, "Step out of line and be punished?"

New Rules:

Gentle Hands. (feet, teeth, heads, etc)
Gentle Words.
Gentle Voices.

Most things fall under these categories. When I couched our rules in these terms, it was easier for me to see that my consequences needed streamlining too. They needed to actually correct, not punish. Now, when the kids need a correction, I talk to them about getting their hands back to gently. About making up for what they did. Getting their words back to gentle, etc. The kids get to help me brainstorm this, if they're up for it.

Back to gentle hands. For Max, this works much better if I can find a soft blanket or silk and wrap it around his hands. "How can we get these hands back to gentle and soft like this blanket?" We have done all of the following and there are plenty more you can think of. Fold blankets, help pick up, do something nice for the person you hurt, give them a hug or kiss.

Back to gentle words. I usually make the child say something nice to or about the person they said something mean to. I'm also going to add asking for forgiveness, rather than saying, 'I'm sorry.' Sometimes a child refuses to do this. That is when I take them to their rooms. They can come back out and be with the family when they have something nice to say.

Back to gentle voices. Up until this last week, I didn't know what to do for this. But after praying, I was blessed with inspiration. We either sing a song or say a prayer. (Many times it is just me praying with the child on my lap) We pray to help our heart be happy again and let go of being angry. We sing songs about love and family.

My heart is the anchor of my home. If it is at peace, I am much more able to lead my children back to that place.  This is what I have learned more than anything. I'm by no means perfect. Sometimes I still find myself getting angry, yelling. But not nearly so much. And I snap out of it much faster and get back on track.

But my slip ups all have a similarity. I have not been on top of my game. Meaning, I probably didn't start my day with prayer and meditation. I am probably distracted. I have allowed meaningless things in the world bother me.

It's hard work. Hard to stay centered and present. Hard to be able to separate my self-worth from the actions of my children. But it is worth it.

I know my strategy will have to change as they grow older, and some of the things I do here would not work with a 2 year old by any stretch of the imagination. But for once, I finally feel like I'm swimming rather than just barely staying afloat.

I did make one other fantastic change. Storytelling. But that deserves a blog post all it's own, which I will write soon!