Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tempus fugit, so, yes, we've been having fun.

Always interesting to check on expressions you use readily. Time flies while you are having fun, in its Latin version actually translates according to Wikipedia, as "time flees" and the example given of the first use of the phrase is: "But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail." Finding that quote pretty much stops me in my tracks on my plan to give you a detailed run down on what we have been doing for the last three busy weeks.

But love of detail is my game. After all, it goes with the packrat gene quite well. Still, since it is a gorgeous sunny day with a lovely warm breeze, I'm going to fight for brief. We spent the first week since our last post doing some major log jam removal in our house. Shifting bookshelves, taking down bits of wall, creating places to hang coats and jackets. Those were my goals, that and seeing the floor of the room Thing Two abandoned several years ago.

Here in Nowhere we live in a post and beam home built around 120 years ago, perhaps a bit more. Post and beam construction means that there are no supporting interior walls. Except for in the new addition, which is modern balloon frame construction with gyproc walls, all our walls and ceilings are wood. So if we want to put up a picture or a hook we just hammer or drill and hey presto, there it is. I have loved this feature of our home since I was a child because it gives me such a firm sense of being able to manipulate my environment to suit my whims.

So while I cut out a few boards from one wall and moved them over parallel to what was left of that wall to create a clothes cupboard, I could hear Thing Two upstairs putting up shelves in her room and had the pleasure of knowing that instead of being in a classroom that belongs to everyone and thus can be manipulated by no one without a great deal of forward planning, she was able to make her space truly her own, and learn a few things about how wood behaves into the bargain. Since she has been spending plenty of time this past few months whittling and sawing, it all seemed to flow very sensibly.

We had a deadline for our projects, hers of emptying her room and mine of making better use of the downstairs common spaces, because, as we did in November, we were travelling to another part of the province to attend a gathering focused on the local food movement. That trip, visiting family, and stocking up at the farmers' market, devoured week two.

The gathering took place at Windhorse Farm and instead of time spent passively viewing power point presentations, it was another experience of growing together around conversations that matter. Spending a day with people who are passionate in their belief that access to locally grown food matters to all of us is a powerful mid-winter tonic.

Standing around a fire outdoors and going for a brief walk and meditation in the forest energized me and reconnected to me to some of what I learned on our first visit. Now when I reflect on that day or stand outside, I can hear in my mind Jim's calm voice suggesting that with our feet firmly planted on the forest floor we let our bodies sink into the earth, our breaths mingle with the breath of the forest, and our minds rest in space. It feels right to me. I particularly like the resonance of experiencing the starlit sky enveloping me when I remember to let my mind rest in space.

Just remembering to breathe deeply is always a great leap forward for me! The rest of that week I basked in the comfort of my role as Nana to two of my amazing grandchildren. There is nothing so wonderful as being in the presence of preschool children, when you know that they are cared for and loved as comprehensively as my eldest daughter and her wonderful husband care for this little boy and girl.

The effect of their love, and the nearly daily involvement of their grandpapa, is very evident in the way these kids move through life. At the same time, face it, kids are kids and their development demands a lot of testing of the limits! So, it is pretty wonderful to be Nana and to know that I am not responsible for the daily limit struggles. For me, what works in face of all that testing is a constant commitment to thinking on my feet and giving choices about everything.

It can be quite a trick to keep articulating choices to offer that are truly acceptable to you as an adult. Harder still sometimes, is sticking to the plan. The key is having an answer ready when the child says "I don't want to..." to both of the available choices. It is much easier for me as Nana than it ever has been for me as a mom, to remember what the next bit of the dialogue is. It is quite true, not only for children, but also for adults, that sometimes the available choices do not include something we really want to do. At that point, acknowledging the wish that things were different has to precede the statement that the choices are still the same. For me, this is usually the winning combination on moving forward with whatever project is at hand.

When Thing Two was about three I was finding life very heavy going as a single parent. I had rather too much on my plate for one thing: chronic low-grade depression, menopause following fast on the hormonal roller coaster ride of pregnancy, nursing and weaning, and an enormous new home based self-employment project. It was nuts. Looking back now, there are many choices I wish someone else had been able to lay out for me at the time. However, since I was in charge of outlining the available choices and had gotten my teeth sunk into one of the big ones with the strength of a madwoman on a merry-go-round, Thing Two had to toe the line on lots of day to day interactions. I suppose children often do, whatever choices the parents make about what they take on in life.

In the twenty-two intervening years between the birth of my middle daughter and the blessing that is Thing Two, a lot of my parental coping and management mechanisms had gotten rustier than old parts on an old car  in a maritime climate. Fortunately my sister, whose working life as Head Teacher in a nursery classroom in the UK, revolved around 3 and 4 year olds, was only a phone call away. Her knowledgeable support  gave me the life raft I needed.

Choices are meat and potatoes, or perhaps beans and rice, to her -- the essentials of good interaction between adults and children. Since I wasn't firing on many cylinders at the time, she gave me one, nearly all-purpose, mantra to cover the really sticky situations, like a three year old doing a cut and run in a parking lot. Or less dangerous, but still fully able to derail a day, getting up from whatever activity had peacefully engaged her the moment a business call was underway and beginning a loud go-nowhere conversation with a Thing One whose mind was working overtime to stay in adult business mode.

The mantra? "Can you stop yourself, or does Mommy have to stop you?" Other versions: "Can you hold my hand, or does Mommy have to put the harness on?" "Can you stop yourself, or do you need some help?" I don't think many people hear those mantras as warm fuzzy moments of parenting, but the essential reasoning behind them makes a lot of sense to me. And for Thing Two and I, they worked.

Some days she chose to hold my hand, some days she chose to put on the harness. As her dislike of the harness grew stronger, along with her understanding of what the available choices in the parking lot or crowded mall were, she learned to stop herself from running away, eventually even without having to hold my hand.

Achieving what we want in life is only possible if we have self-discipline. Self-discipline is a learned skill, we don't pop out of the womb with it fully developed, any more than mothers welcome their newborns to their breasts fully equipped with all the skills to feed them successfully.

Using the "can you stop yourself or..." formula  with young children gives them a basic grounding in one of the key self-discipline skills. Learning, during the preschool years, to examine your choices before expressing yourself with direct action, is essential to getting along at every age, in our families and in our communities, whether we home school or not.

Stating the choice as "can you stop yourself or...?" or simply as "can you insert desired behaviour here or...?" works because it offers, in terms which a child can grasp, what action is required.  "Your brother is playing with the toy. Can you stop yourself from grabbing it, or do you need help? Or if this is the umpteenth time today the hand has shot for the other child's toy, " or do you need a time out?"  Both options are acceptable to the parent. While neither may be acceptable to the child at first, repeated use of the phrase gives the child a chance to put on the brakes and consider her next move.

It also gives the caregiver time to draw breath and offer more help. "You wish you it was your turn to play with the truck, so you can use words to ask your brother 'when is it going to be my turn?'" Combined with the magic of a timer, using these systems creates part of a process that gives children the tools they need to make good life choices.

My sister also gives the very useful example of the white elephant in the corner when speaking to young children, and I suspect to most people. Think of what you want and state that, rather than giving the negative solution. "Use words!" is a much more effective thing to gasp than "Don't hit!" The point of the white elephant is that as soon as you mention an elephant it tends to fill up the mind. Better not to reinforce an idea you suspect might be forming in the jungle of kid play by using a word describing any undesired behaviour. De-coding "don't" takes a lot more mental agility than translating the word "hit" into action. I guess I think of it this way. Feelings are our first language and action is speech. As parents and caregivers our role is to teach a second language, words, which give all the gradations of action that allow for civilized interaction.

It is always useful for me to think about the early language years, when along with all the excitement of first word, sentence and  disagreement, parenting seemed so overwhelming and yet manageable at the same time. Back in the sixties, researchers did a project with results so definitive that you would think whoever holds the purse strings on early education financing would be falling over in the rush to institute well funded early childhood education, both for parents and caregivers. My sister told me about the High Scope Project, long ago, but apparently I was thinking about something else at the time, like the abysmal failure of governments to move early childhood education to the top of the budget.

High Scope's central concept, the plan, do, review learning model  is one I want to focus on here in Nowhere.  I think that Thing Two and I could use it to tether our imaginations to some of our goals, assuming of course that that might be a good thing. I'd say that we need some practice on each of the steps, and well, this hasn't been a brief post, has it, so perhaps that timer has my name written all over it. Like so many things we learn, self-discipline, whenever we begin to learn it, requires practice. I guess I'm at the review stage of life, making a plan to do better.

Week three of our disappearance? Short version, we came home and our internet signal was lost in space. Without a phone it took a bit of time to make a plan with the service provider, but now we're up and running again and considering how much time we had for other pursuits during the four days we were out of the cloud. It is still sunny and I can hear the drum beating out in Camp Guokir, so I'm off to enjoy spring before it is even supposed to be here. And yes, daffodil shoots are up.

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