Category Archives: Parenting

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Getting Some Distance

There was a time when I was involved in everything that peaked my interest (and everything that I thought I should be involved in as a mother of school-aged children).

I was on several committees at church, on the parent council at my daughter’s school, on the parent involvement committee for the school district, volunteering with the heritage society in my community, and basically burning out faster than I could stay lit.

All this was to grow I told myself. To expand my horizons, meet new people, get involved and help out. And it was invigorating and exciting for a time.

But the more I got involved, the more I felt I had to be involved.

And the joy went out of the volunteering. I already had a full-time job. And now the volunteer commitments were adding up to another full-time job. My family was not getting my focus. I was rushing from one thing to another. My kids were cranky and reacting to the rushed pace of my schedule. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was cranky, too. I worked late into the night on projects for the various committees on which I sat. Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for hours, going over in my head other things that still needed to get done.

I was also trying to manage a chronic pain issue. I could ignore it mostly. But some days it was so bad that I didn’t want to get out of bed. My husband encouraged me to revisit a specialist I had seen years ago to see if there were any treatment options that might alleviate some (or all) of the pain. Of course, with my busy schedule and “I can do it all” attitude, I put off going to the specialist.

Eventually I caved, or my body gave up and I didn’t have a choice. I don’t really remember what the final straw was.

But after several visits to the specialist, it was determined that something could be done for me, and the surgery that was offered might alleviate most of the pain for a good period of time. (I’m talking years here. I could be relatively pain free for years to come following this surgery.)

In those consultations with the surgeon, I was told what to expect in terms of recovery (very long) and he offered some advice about how to prepare for the time that I would be mostly reliant on others for basic things like meals, help getting dressed, moving around, and other things that I’m still discovering that I can’t do on my own.

His advice was to slow down. Remove myself from some if not all of my commitments. Do only what I have to do (which is work full time).

And so, about 11 months before I had a firm surgery date, I started to cut back. I stepped down from committees. I said no to other, new opportunities. I spent more time just hanging out with my kids instead of shuttling them around to activities, camps and school. I kept them home and did simple activities with them, played games, read books…all the things that I had always wished I’d had time for.

And now that I’ve done that, I’m more focused on what’s truly important.

As much as I’ve enjoyed volunteering and helping at church and my children’s school, my children need me at home. And I need more time to myself. This is what I’ve discovered.

And this discovery has led to another discovery.

My children need more time for the things that they enjoy, the things that spark their interests, things they wish to pursue.

And school and our busy life is not the place for that. I have thought long and hard on this for quite some time. It’s not just about me giving up commitments to scale back and spend more time with my littles. Space needs to be created for my littles, too. What does that look like?

Fewer organized activities; fewer commitments outside of the home; fewer big plans to occupy our time on the weekends, the only two full days we get together each week. More time with family. More time moving slowly, truly absorbing what we’re learning. More time meditating. More time in nature.

Distance from over-commitment has improved my perspective on the need for space to grow and to learn. If there is space, there is room to be together, to learn together, to grow together. This new view is why we are looking for ways to make the simple life our life. It is why we are not enrolling our kids in so many activities this session. (It is also because I cannot drive and it’s easy to be simple and distanced when you can’t get around on your own and create your own busy-ness.) And it is why we are going to bed earlier, spending more time reading and less time looking at screens. It is why we are considering making some big changes along with the little changes.

Distance from it all seems to be just what we need. And with faith and courage, we will follow this new path.

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The Next Generation of Bubblewrapping

“Mommy, why can’t I do cartwheels at school?”

I look down at my daughter and wonder how to answer her question. I don’t know what to tell her, truth be told. I can guess at why the administration in many schools don’t want their students to engage in gymnastics in the schoolyard. It will have something to do with liability. But I can’t explain that to my daughter. I can’t tell her the reason she can’t do what almost all 7-year-old girls (and some boys) do is because there are a bunch of adults in this world who are afraid that they will be sued if she happens to fall and hurt herself while she is cartwheeling through the air.

I can’t tell her that no matter how good she thinks she is at gymnastics or how many hours she has spent in gymnastics class, the adults who are charged with protecting her throughout the day are more concerned with getting in trouble and being faced with a law suit than they are about her physical well-being and abilities to use her body as it was intended: for play, for movement, for expansion of her skills and for exploration of the world around her.

So I tell her that it could happen that someone gets hurt at school and the principal may have to make a rule so that no one else gets hurt in the same way.

But I don’t like telling her that. And I know she knows it.

So we weren’t surprised when we found out that there are other parents who are not happy about a cartwheel ban in schools.

The Toronto Star ran an article about it last week. Click on over to The Star to read the article and watch the video.

Apparently, though, there is no ban at the board level.

The TDSB’s official position on this is that “cartwheels are absolutely acceptable.” If your school has banned cartwheels, you are urged to contact your school board trustee to find out what your options are if after speaking with your school’s principal the ban remains in place.”

There is no official ban at my daughter’s school, but there are several teachers who won’t permit cartwheels at recess when they are on duty. I think that’s confusing to kids and it sends the wrong message. There needs to be a clear rule. (And personally, I think the rule should be in favour of cartwheels and all manner of childhood physical movement.)

Kids have enough to deal with in this world without having to restrict their movement any further.

What do you think? Should cartwheels be banned in schools?

Division in School

Why is that when I write a blog post in my head, it all comes so easily and flows so perfectly together? Yet, when I sit down to put it on paper/screen, I stare blankly for what seems like interminable minutes, wondering why it was that I thought I had anything to say in the first place?

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get on with the writing.

I dropped my son off at school today, like every day. And as I was standing in the hallway chatting with the other parents and encouraging my son to change into his shoes and put his lunch bag in the appropriate bin, a woman, looking to be past retirement age and wearing a tag that identified her as a supply teacher, said in a know-it-all tone to one of the mothers, “OK, Mom, time to go. He can put his own shoes on. We must leave them alone to do it or they’ll never learn.”

I glanced over at the mother, who, very calmly and in a kind voice said, “Yes, he is doing it himself.” After her statement, she remained firmly rooted to her spot. She knew her place and her role, and that was to support her son.

I’ll mention at this point that these children are not grade-school age. They are kindergarteners; kindergarteners who are capable of putting on their own shoes and dressing and undressing themselves, but still young and still needing support, even if that support is simply mom or dad or another trusted adult standing by in case they need help.

It’s very likely that this elderly supply teacher, who has probably come in from her retirement to help out (with this I have my own set of issues, but that’s for another post), wasn’t going to bend over and help this young boy had he run into trouble with his shoelaces. I’m perhaps reaching, I know. She may have helped him. But I have good reason to believe that she would have more likely stood over him and instructed him on the task rather than get down at his level and do the work of a supporting adult in a child’s learning. I’ve encountered similar scenarios so many times in the school system that my children are part of that I’ve lost count.

And beyond her actions, the problem with what that supply teacher said, though she may have meant it only to be helpful, is that it creates a separation between family and school. Where we should be building and developing a close working relationship between parents and teachers to support our children, we are creating division. The teachers—supply or everyday—need things to work a certain way at school in order to manage the herd. The parents can take more time to support their children. Why not blend those two methods together? We would create a vastly different system in which our children are currently being educated. Continue to create division and we fall short of the goal—raising and educating well-rounded children. Instead, we turn out kids who have learned how to be assembly line workers, following the herd and doing what they are told. True, the odd one escapes this mentality. Those are usually the ones who just can’t conform, never fit into the system and, eventually, with strength, courage and support, beat their own path. Or if strength, courage and support are lacking, they fall off the cliff and get lost at the bottom.

So, rather than rush a parent out the school door in the morning, why not welcome them into the hallway of little kids who need help, support and encouragement to peel away the layers of heavy winter clothing? The kids may not come right out and thank you for it, but they’ll remember the help they got, the warm feeling it gave them, and it will help them through the day when they face other challenges, knowing that adults do care and will not always just stand over them barking instructions that might be hard for them to follow.

Cuba 2014 – A Family Experience to Remember

It was so different than last time. Our last visit to Cuba involved very upset children, very tired parents, some limited fun, and a desperate desire to get back on Canadian soil.

Granted, the circumstances were different. We travelled as a foursome. We booked a 3 ½ star resort that was not so new, and our children were younger.

This time, we travelled with extended family; we ran into people we knew from home; the resort was 4 ½ stars; it was newer. It was an all-around better experience.

And since we’ve been back, we’ve all missed it very much. The sun, the beach, the seashells, the waves, the sandcastles, the pools, the restaurants, the ice cream…ooohh the ice cream!

SAM_0614 SAM_0616 SAM_0813

About a week after we got back, it occurred to me that life was carrying on in Cuba. People were getting up each morning and walking along a sun-drenched path to a delicious buffet of breakfast delights, then heading to the pool or the beach with a drink in one hand and a book in the other (or in our case, buckets and shovels and blow-up water toys). And the same staff was serving food and drinks and cappuccinos at the lobby bar while happy vacationers lounged about soaking up the calm day.

After realizing this, that everything we enjoyed the week before was still happening at the same lazy pace while we were back here at home in the cold and damp, trudging through our lives at work and school, it took me a few days to get over how much I missed our vacation.

I’ve been reading a book about how the brain works and how memories are created (The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel & Bryson, 2011, p. 67). And I know I have created this memory of how wonderful our vacation in Cuba was this time, especially since I’m lining it up in my mind with the not-so-great experience we had two years ago. But our vacation this time around really was wonderful.

Having gotten over how much I yearned to just be in Cuba at that resort with all of my family, enjoying ourselves together day after day, it finally occurred to me that the sameness of it would be its downfall eventually. We would tire of the warm and happy days and nights spent in each other’s company. We would become annoyed and yearn for some greater purpose.

And that’s when I realized that what Canada has to offer—my life here, the kids’ schools, my job, shuttling kids around, cold one day, hot or warm the next, snow, rain, sunshine—was the very variety of life. It is good to have different seasons, to have different things to do, different people to see depending on the day of the week.

It was fantastic to have spent so much uninterrupted-by-life time with my family—immediate and extended—but it is also nice to come back to our lives with these memories and all that they have taught us about being together and making the effort—no matter where we are—to come together and enjoy each other.

To Cuba! SAM_0501

The Walk and Talk Recess

In an age where families are crunched for time because both parents are working and the prevailing parenting mentality is to register kids for as many extra-curricular activities as possible so that they experience different things and are constantly supervised, some schools in my area have decided to institute what they call a “walk and talk” recess and limit the amount of good ol’ fashioned physical activity that kids get during the school day.

This type of recess prohibits running, chasing games (which include running), ball playing, touching, playing with any kind of equipment, and basically, fun.

So what’s a kid to do?

Act out and be rambunctious in class the minute they hang their coats up back inside.

And is it any surprise? Most teachers aren’t surprised, from what I can tell. The administration seems shocked, though. Odd.

According to one website, walk and talk recesses (in their varying degrees) “IMPROVE the behavior in the classroom”. Maybe, but only because prior to implementing the walk and talk recess at that school it sounds like the students were denied recess altogether.

I’m more of a free-range mom myself. Say what you will. But I grew up in a time when we played outside on the street (for all you helicopter, bubble-wrapping parents, I grew up on a dead-end street with very little traffic, so calm down, my parents were excellent parents (my mom especially)). We played in the neighbourhood…somewhere, usually not within sight of our parents (or any other parents). We had freedom. We learned how to get along, how to sort ourselves out, and how not to complain at every little scrape or booboo. Now, if someone was gushing blood, we sent one of the kids to get a parent. We knew how to take care of each other. And we learned that from each other, from our group. Because that’s what we were; a group of kids who played together and stuck together. We had our own lives away from the adults. And that’s important. And my kids have that, too.

Back to the recess thing. Kids develop that group mentality when they are engaged at recess as well. But we have to allow them that space to create the group and to engage their creativity. The walk and talk recess in my opinion is not the way to do that.

This article from columnist Anne Jarvis at The Windsor Star talks about a school in Auckland, New Zealand that does recess right.

And this is what was learned from doing recess this way:

“And after recess, “when kids have had the opportunity to have heaps of fun and be engaged and motivated in what they’re doing, they come back ready to learn,” he said.”

And what about current playgrounds in general? One word: boring.

Do you know what my kids do on the standard issue, colourfully designed, but super safe playgrounds in Toronto? They climb as high as they can on the outside of the structure and then either swing by their knees from an available horizontal bar or jump off to see if they can stand the thrill of the drop to the ground below.

And once they’ve conquered that height, they look for the next challenge. They are just being kids.

When they were really little and discovering their natural instinct for climbing and testing their limits, I let them go. And do you know what I discovered? Kids will never push themselves beyond what they are comfortable with at any given stage.

If I stood under them, ready to catch them if they fell, they would climb higher, yes, but it was obvious to me that they were not comfortable with their newly attained height. If I told them to try it on their own, eventually, after many park visits, they made it to the top of the climber…when they were ready.

And with all those attempts under their belts, they could own it. They had accomplished the climb themselves. It’s a confidence builder, a skill builder, a strength builder, and a bravery builder.

Did they fall? Yes. Did they get hurt? There was the odd scraped knee; maybe a few tears. Did they learn how to fall to limit the impact? Yes. You cannot get through life without falling. Falling teaches us how to limit the impact for the next time we fall. And we will try again. It’s in our nature.

As stated by Globe and Mail columnist Alex Bozikovic in a recent article, “Given today’s hyper-protective parenting norms, changing playgrounds means changing the culture.” Newer designs for playgrounds are making child’s play fun again. But our culture still has a long way to go to get to a place where kids can just be kids.

naturesplayground

 

Great and limitless

Each day in my Inbox, I receive inspirational quotes, poems and sayings.

Today, I received this one: Continue reading

Slowing down, slowed down, stopped

So, I haven’t been around in a while. I kind of gave up. I got tired. I was overworked (in every area of my life) and now I think I might be a little bit ready again. I miss this space. But this space is going to be a slow space now.

I learned a lesson recently. I won’t go into details. Life presents so many lessons. But I’d like to share this post that I read this morning from UnTangled that kind of frames the lesson I learned…http://drkellyflanagan.com/2014/08/13/why-you-should-unsubscribe-from-my-mailing-list/.