Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"They Come Through You"


Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Household Chores
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
***



My family history is complicated. I am adopted. I've been told my story is heavy, but I believe it's worth telling.


What makes my story unique is that I didn't learn the truth about where I came from until I was 33 years old. A wife and mother to two children, and foster mom to one. I appeared to have my identity firmly in place, deep down though built on shaky ground. As my mom struggled to put her words together, I already knew what she was going to say.

I was thinking, "she needs me to just sit here, patiently. She needs to say it out loud." And when she finally said it, all I could say was "I know."


I knew. However unconsciously.
I had dreamt it. I had felt it. I had spoken it in whispers my whole life. The times I had dared to question it out loud, to the knowing adults in my world I was told to stop being ridiculous. The message that I was surely crazy to question where I came from. My transgression was giving heed to something I could feel in my body.

~
This is why, a year and a half ago when she finally managed to put truthful words together for me, all I could say was:
 "I know".
"Your dad is not your biological dad. I was pregnant when we met."
 "I know"
"How could you know!?"
I could sense her shock.
"I know the way anyone knows anything. I've always known it. Right here. In my gut."
~

Okay, I'm half-adopted- this was no less devastating. In the following year and half, I spent massive amounts of energy questioning everything I thought I knew; trying to piece together the importance of heritage, genetics, roots.

The answer I've come to is Genetics are in fact very powerful, and knowing where one comes from is invaluable.

Taken as a granted for so many people, it wasn't until I realized I had no clue that the privilege of KNOWING became a treasure!

~

I never fit in with our family. Never. I always felt like a misfit. Intuitive, moody, empathic, creative, and willful. In most ways, this news felt like a relief ~ I could BREATHE again with the understanding that I AM ME, and I was valid in my feelings of misfitting.


To a large extent we, as a family have gone our own way. We unschool, with focus on creativity and spirituality. The greatest learning has always been about discovering WHO we are, and WHO we want to be in the bigger picture. I am a birth doula, massage instructor, a potter, and a student studying counselling, youth work, and art therapy. My husband has been a care aide, and a stone mason. Mostly though, he has been one heck of a husband and father. Together we have worked hard to build a life we can be proud of.

As an adult who now knows my history, I can see the ways my genetics and unconscious roots have helped to create who I am.

I was a healer* and an artist before I knew we had any history of that.I have also been a mother, not just to my own children, but to some of my friends children, and my children's friends. My heart and door is wide open because one thing I have always believed is that FAMILY is made up of those we LOVE. Blood or no, family is made up of the people we choose. Is this a belief I have because of my disconnected, hidden roots? A side-effect of feeling like a misfit in my family? I have had an altered ability when it comes to forming attachments- sometimes much easier than one would expect and at other times struggling much, much more to have what I would believe should be instinctive.

(*when I say Healer, I am not referring to faith healing- I am referring to personality traits and the caring professions I have mentioned. The women in my heritage were described as "healers", a very broad term imo, implying that they were empathic, intuitive and caring women.)


One gift I can give my children is the truth about our history- both the known and unknown.

I can choose to pass on the positive stories and pieces of identity. I can spare my children the trauma I experienced when I had my world turned upside down. They can grow up with the self-knowledge I lacked. Our family has include artists, and healers, horse trainers, gypsies and musicians. They can know that some in our family history went on to have a great deal of education and became very successful in their fields. Maybe they will identify with some of those things and maybe they won't, but they will be able to grow with their internal world intact. There's also something kind of special in not knowing everything, a certain amount of mystery and story-choosing... heck, maybe someone in our background was a mermaid! :D



They can have freedom knowing we respect and love them whoever they are or choose to become. They can have the gift of FREEDOM to be who they are now and to grow into whoever they please.

Over the course of this last year two things have been the most influential for me: 1.) my husbands outlook, 2.) the words of Kahlil Gibran.

My husband says I should give no one credit for my identity. He questions why I would choose to give away my power in that way. He says I am who I am because I have worked hard to be who I am. I have lived through a lot of trauma, I have faced it, I have worked with it, I have let it fuel me. I am me because I am me. I credit the Creator and myself. I strive to be true to who I am and to live an authentic, joyous existence. Ultimately this is what I want for my children too (minus the trauma, of course). I want them to BE. To GROW and LEARN. To feel EMPOWERED to create their identity. Just as I knew in my gut who I am, they do too.


And now I close with the words of Kahlil. His words "they come through you not from you" brought me peace at a time when peace seemed utterly impossible. His words ground me in my role in my children's life. 

Our heritage, though powerful, is only as important as we choose to make it. 

This is literally posted on my wall as a reminder:


On Children
by Kahlil Gibran
~

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

~

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

 ~

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

~

 You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

***
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • "They Come Through You" — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
  • The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
  • Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa's string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
  • Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it's important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
  • Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she'd be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
  • Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children's emotional health.
  • Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children's ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling's Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cultivating Love for Life Long Learning

It's been a while since I talked about our learning journey so this is gonna be a good one!

A LOT of really great stuff has been happening for us this year in the learning realm!

 

I'm going to list our favorite resources. (And just to be clear, I'm not being paid to do it.) Most of these resources we have uses through strewing... which basically means, we fill our home with learning resources knowing that our children will discover them... occasionally leaving stuff in places we know it will be "discovered". No force, no coercion, just natural inborn curiosity. I'm going to intersperse these with some of the amazing things I've been privileged to witness and learn from my learners.

One of the most common concerns I hear from people is concerns about how our children will learn to read. Granted, we expect them to learn in their own time, which can feel a little nerve wracking and insecure at times, BUT they have learned. Our daughter, whom I have talked about at length in other posts is now an avid reader despite many learning challenges.
Our son simply hasn't been interested until this year, nonetheless, he is reading all on his own. We read with him and to him every night, these are some of the best books and series we've found. Most of these we found at our library. We started doing a once per week trip this year and it has been just amazing. One of my favorite things.

We had this series on our book shelf. It's a hand-me-down from my childhood. We began reading it together, and it lost my sons attention so we moved onto the tv series. An amazing amount of learning stemmed from this series, carrying on through the whole year... We refer to it as "the year of Little House" as it was a near-obsession.My oldest is re-reading this series again, it's so loved.

 Okay, honestly, I have not read these. My husband has been reading them with our son, and our daughter has whipped through them too. Anything that gets him "hooked" I figure has to be good!
 Again, I love a series that has a movie too. Watching the movie got my daughter started on these. My daughter has been eating them up.
 Math is just not my thing, or my husbands. Sometimes I worry my kids will be super deficient in math. LIFE OF FRED teaches math in story form and with humor. Really cool.

We've also been loving online learning sites- Brainpop, IXL and Dreambox.


GAMES for math are awesome too. Ticket to Ride, Cards, Crokinole, Settlers of Catan, Carcassone.... Seriously, the list could go on and on.

 This may seem a weird shot to include, but following natural learning ideas we haven't pushed our kids to learn to read- trusting that they will in their own time and way. That's where Strewing comes in...
We have ALWAYS had a basket of magazines, books, and comic in our bathroom. I would venture to say most of their reading skills have come from bathroom time!
 I seriously cannot say enough about this series-
ORIGAMI YODA. So Awesome! Star Wars meets origami, meets middle school. Funny and super entertaining!

Spaceheads aka- SPHDZ also had our full attention.

 Oak discovered this one on our very packed bookshelf. It's an old classic reader, and it's an awesome find. Bonus is because he "found" it he was enthusiastic about reading it together and the words were at just his level!
BOY AND A BEAR IN A BOAT~ Okay, I know that sounds super strange but it was, imo, very in harmony with Waldorf style stories. Oak says it was "Peaceful, Adventurous, and a little bit stupid cause there wasn't a proper ending." It was one of those open ending, which I think is kinda cool cause it leaves it open for creativity and exploration.
<<< This one is a treasure. I would actually give it as a gift to new parents. Full of Waldorf stories from around the world, teaches morals and humanities :D and the art work is beautiful!

Of course, building toys, marbles, and letter tiles!
 
Chalk boards and white boards are scattered throughout our house, messages from BE THE CHANGE cards are written on them. These cards are a GEM! SO SO Cool!

 A ready supply of tactile and crafty supplies: clay, beading, paints, pastels, yarn, scissors, paper, glue,and sewing stuff.

Aaron's Thinking Putty is really neat stuff. This one changes color with a little light pointer, other ones are magnetic or change with heat.            >>>>>>>>>>>>
Exercise has been a HUGE component for us this year. Weekly swimming and skating, scootering to the park and playing ball with the neighborhood kids. I have read about the importance of physical exercise in learning but never witnessed it's influence on growth until this year. Definitely worth making a priority.

This year we discovered Geocaching. Seriously, if you haven't heard of it- google it. Download the App. It's worth it. Exercise, time in nature, and discovery.

Grandpa gifted Oak a microscope which has opened the door to very new learning. Thanks Grandpa!

Our daughter Liv, has been a part of organizing a few community activities too. She's directing a (rather large) group of home learners in producing their own bible Drama. Regularly rehearsing and planning costumes. We've also connected with a great group of Belly Dancing women. These to group activities are free, all it took was connecting with a group of like minded people!

I will add to that instruments. For Liv, playing the violin is something she was able to be successful at even when she was struggling with her learning challenges. So maybe for your learner it isn't a musical instrument that gets them going, but whatever it is that they have success with- I say- Go with it!


This is ZUKO. This little guy has provided tons of science learning. Now I'm not saying run out and buy a pet for science... but caring for him, our fish and our dog have been pretty great learning opportunities!

I'm gonna go out on a limb and talk about screens for just a sec. I know this is a controversial one... Waldorf is all strict and very limiting on it, and on the other end you have the radical unschoolers who are like "no limits ever- learning is learning." I'm setting philosophy aside and just going to say what has worked for us and why. This year we imposed limits, as much as I cringe a little as I say that. The limits are as follows, screen time after 3pm, and free-for-all on weekends- unless it's a learning website. Again, I cringe because we have modeled these limits based on school hours. Here's why it works, before we set these limits, only screen-oriented learning was happening, now various kinds of learning is- and lots of it! It's been a simple and effective limit. Totally worth working through my initial "cringe".

The other thing that's been new is I've returned to school! The kids are getting a look at what a more traditional course looks like, and they are digging into my textbooks with me. It's been really cool. so that's my last thought: model Love of Learning, it's contagious!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

a call for compassion


I recently took a facebook break. I've never done that before, but I was inspired to do it because one of my friends had in the past and she found it to be an insightful time. She was taking another "break" and I jumped on her bandwagon.

Articles and blogs about the vaccine debate had been flooding my feed. (Before you stop reading this post is NOT about vaccines!) More than anything I read about the diseases or shots I was disturbed by the attitudes of people. People read the opinions or worse, the real life experiences of fellow humans and feel entitled to judge, to argue, to blame. To debate their belief or experience, to debate the choices made by another human.


I find the lack of basic human compassion both shocking and disappointing.



Regardless of the topic, this trend to judge, shame, argue, debate and impose is ever present.


I have seen it in regards to everything: birthing choices, health choices, schooling, co-sleeping, breast and bottle feeding, discipline, spirituality and religion.
Most of the comments I've read, a person would NEVER dream of saying to another persons face, stranger or not. I have never once shared my story with someone in person and been met with the kind of abuse and hate I see happening online.


Where are people's compassion?


We live as though we believe it would be great if we could control everything; sometimes our comments imply we even wish to control the decisions other people make. But do we really want that much responsibility?.. including being at fault for any undesirable consequences? Are we really so sure we are absolutely "right"?

We want to believe we can control the aspects of life that are simply UN-controllable. It would be amaze-balls if people could say definitively, without a doubt it is ALWAYS best to X-Y-Z... But we can't, because we have this beautiful thing called variety, and uniqueness and choice; and nothing is one size fits all.

The good news is I can control me. I can be mindful of my thoughts, association, beliefs, and choices. I can do my best to make the right choices for myself and my family, and I can do others the honor of crediting them with the same best intentions; thereby choosing Compassion... even if for no other reason than it feels a whole lot better.

I can be open to learning, to the possibility that I could be wrong. I can realize that when I click on a link to read someones story, it is not my right to be angry with them, to argue them, or to shame them. When I read someone's story, it is my right to realize that it is just that it ~ is THEIR STORY, and it is just as true and valid as is my story.

Hopefully I will choose Compassion over Judgement.


This is a call for COMPASSION!



Imagine you are looking the person in their face. Hearing their voice. Seeing their tears of loss. Let compassion be more important than being right or justifying your own choices. Realize that everyone has so much more going on than you can possibly imagine, and show Compassion.


IMAGINE our grandmothers getting together and judging one another as harshly as we do online. Our grandmothers had this thing called community. Person-to-person connection. Face-to-face hugs. Sharing and support.

Am I being idealistic? Probably, and still I just have. to. say. something.

So after my two week facebook break, I logged on to add some photos... Only to feel like I needed to write this and take another break. I got sucked into the news feed, which surprise surprise is still full of vaccine debate, and hate, and people calling each other ignorant and other names. No one is "hearing" each other. No one is using their senses to feel or offer support. No one is stopping to think about the real, live person on the other side of the screen who has their own very real stuff going on; their own just-as-valid reasons as you.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Unschooling / Natural Learning ~ For The Win! (Even With Dyslexia)

Not so long ago, only 3 short years, I was writing in this space about my daughter's learning disabilities. She was in the process of having her learning assessed.

To catch you up, the results showed, she has dyslexia (reading), dysgraphia (writing), and a math disability that I can never remember the official name for. Having her assessment done was a huge decision, again, one which I wrote about at great length. I'm writing today because I believe it's important to continue to tell our story. Choosing the learning path of unschooling/natural learning can make one feel lonely and misunderstood at times; and certainly having a learning disability or raising a child with one (or a few) can also feel isolating at times. It is with my daughter's permission that I continue to share our story.


Three years ago, when she was diagnosed, the focus of conversation was often on "interventions"... What program, tutor or therapy would address her deficits? At the time, I felt very frustrated at our lack of available resources. We live in a small town, and many of the things suggested simply were not available where we live. 

I felt insecure and afraid sometimes that my daughter may not get the help that the experts felt was essential. 

So what happened next?

She spent one year working at a small farm, and creating art in a local pottery studio.
How did this address her needs? These are not exactly recommended "interventions". 

A professional could probably break it down; but an educator, I am not. I am simply a mom; so I can only speak to what I saw, and what my daughter has been gracious enough to share with me as I'm writing.

After her initial diagnosis, I saw relief. I saw relief at having a name for a problem she knew was there; but had not been validated. Before her assessment, she carried frustration and anxiety. She knew she was different. No matter how hard she worked to be like her peers, she couldn't be. They knew it, and she, unfortunately felt it. I witnessed her negative emotions turning inward, against herself; I think that was the most concerning. She is bright and gifted, but all she could see were her short comings. It is for this reason that when parents ask me about assessments; I, in turn ask about the child's emotions. How does the child feel about them self? Are they noticing and feeling the differences? Are their peers noticing? Is it affecting their relationships with others and with them self?... But I digress.

Having a name for her difference meant when she felt it, she could say "oh, that's my dyslexia". When friends or family noticed her struggle she could explain, "it's because I have dyslexia."
A diagnosis relieved her of feeling that it was because she didn't work hard enough, or feeling that she must be stupid. No, she has a brain that works like people who are given a dyslexic brain. No shame needed.

I asked my girl what about working at the farm helped her. She says having a routine helped her to improve her sequencing. Talking to the animals helped her by helping her to feel understood. Building a relationship with the horse, and being able to communicate through the bridle helped. She says that when riding the horse, her and the horse would share their anxiety. Not exactly a traditional dyslexia intervention. 
With the lack of resources, we continued to approach her learning the way we always had: with the belief that she is built to learn; she is endowed with the wisdom to know what she needs. Her work on the farm inspired her to want to make a movie on the farm. She tacked writing a script with passion, and confidence; and while her spelling, punctuation and penmanship were impressively behind her peers, it didn't matter - to her or to us.



At the pottery studio too, she got to experience success. She has always been gifted visually. Here she got to create and develop her talent in this area. Again, she was inspired to make things that incorporated script. Her "output" as it would be called by the Powers That Be, would have been extremely low if we consider that what was recommended was intensive 2-5 day per week of official interventions.


My daughter's healing was first, emotional. Her confidence and self-esteem had taken a big hit. This time was for her to feel success. For her to own her diagnosis; and to feel our confidence in her.


The following year, we did find a tutor. She wasn't in our town, and traveling to visit her proved to be costly and sometimes due to weather, just plain impossible. Again, what was recommended, was at least twice per week. It just wasn't realistic for us. So we tried once a week; which eventually turned into only twice per month. Overall, she did not have very many visits. My daughter would work with her tutor for a total of 3 hours each visit; one of which was spent riding her horse! To begin with, my daughter admits she wasn't thrilled at the idea of working with the tutor. She says she agreed to it by accident; that I asked her about it while she was distracted. She says she imagined that working with a tutor would be like spending time with someone who wanted to change her. Seriously, just take a moment and digest that.


Once she started working with her though, she found that she really liked her. She was a really nice lady with whom she connected. And of course, riding never hurt her motivation!




The next year, she had no "interventions" at all. Wait. That's not entirely true. The school we work with, generously set her up with a program for kids with dyslexia, for me to work through with her. It was a FAIL. Frustration reared it's ugly head once again. Her confidence and our relationship was taking a hit. If I had continued to act out of fear, I would have pushed it longer than I had. Thankfully, we acted in favor of love and peace instead.
She spent the year devouring every book she could get her hands on: she has read the whole Little House series, Little Women, The Bread Winner Series, the first 4 books of the Lemony Snicket Series, the old Peter Pan, 3 of the Mysterious Bennedict Society, BFG, and both of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books, James and Giant Peach, The Hobbit.... the list goes on and on...
She also joined a belly dance group, and choreographed a dance for our group, and continued learning violin.


If I've learned one thing the most, it's that when it comes to learning; Emotion is Everything!! It is at the root of our motivation and success. Positive feelings, inquiry and passion create learning. Period. So "intervene" with activities that create these emotions and learning success will follow.

 

 

Last year, despite being granted an exemption, my girl chose to participate in the standardized testing.With the help of a scribe, she scored in the average range! Go figure that.


This year marked the fourth year since her first assessment. The Powers That Be felt she was due for an updated assessment. She jumped at the offer. Unfortunately, she misunderstood what this was all about. With all the obvious progress she had made she thought it was possible that the examiner would tell her she no longer had dyslexia! So when the results came in showing all of her vast improvements, all she heard was that she still had this difference. She was incredibly disappointed; but with some time and reassurance she has gained a better understanding.


I'm the most excited to share with you what I believe is the most amazing thing about the results. This is the main reason for this post...

As I looked down the list of official recommendations, it may as well have been a list of activities she was already engaged in. Creative writing and drama- she has organized a group of our local home learners to prepare a drama. She has written a script, and is actively directing the rehearsals. She has discovered online creative writing forums where she has been posting a story she has been working on. Continuing to learn violin, to improve her decoding and fine motor skills. Non-competitive sports, where a motion is repeated, such as belly dance. Obviously, there were other very simple recommendations for us. Things like giving her a quiet space to work in.

We are so grateful to have found a fantastic tutor to work with her this year. She has approached our girl with a curious, respectful, and co-operative spirit. When she asked our girl what her learning goals were she said spelling, punctuation, printing and math. All the things, unbeknownst to us that would appear as the exact areas needing improvement. She has proven to me again and again, that she is so connected to her intuition. Together they have been working towards these goals, not with a program as their guide, but positivity, inquiry, and passion.




So, what's my point?

~Do what works for your learner: approach their learning journey with curiosity and respect; with value on their emotions as the ultimate guide. Negative ones to indicate something is not right and positive to say "Keep going! Life is good!"
~Don't fear the assessment. And certainly, if your child is showing signs of suffering emotionally, get it done! Find out what exactly is going on for them; and some clues as to what may help! If nothing else, a diagnosis can validate for them what's happening in their world.
~Lastly, most importantly, and most difficultly: trust your learner. Trust them to know what they need and how they need it. Because if we allow them the honor and space to be tapped into who they are, they really do know.