I did this!

So it finally happened. I fell in love with the scouts this weekend. To be honest, it’s been an ambivalent journey here.  I am happy the organization now allows gay scouts, but it’s bothered me that it hasn’t extended to the troop leaders? Really? When even states you’d never think would allow same sex marriage are finding the ban unconstitutional? Hmm. But then, I’ve wanted my boys to get the many of the basic skills my husband got as a scout. It was also something he could do with the boys where he felt he could contribute.  It’s been a conundrum, to say the least. We agreed to do it for the first year, and go from there.  I know if we face some major moral/ethical challenge later, we will definitely cross that bridge if/when we come to it. So far, we are happy with our decision.

And it’s been a great situation for all of us. Once or twice a month, Tim would dutifully take the boys to meetings, they would bowl and do science experiments, and I would relish the couple of hours I had to myself. Perfect.

Until this darn annual cub scout campout. #1 dad had to be out of town for work. That left me to be #1 mom. I was forced to get off the sidelines and become Engaged Parent. Now, I love the Engaged Parent. My friend Craig is an Engaged Parent. He homeschools his kids, hangs out WITH them for hours on end, and is all around a good parent. I like to think I am an ENGAGED parent, but when I look at the “Craigs” of the world I kinda suck.  I can point to a number of factors that contribute to my lack of “in it-ness”, some of which I’ve already talked about. But truth be told when you have two kids who are very close in age and are for the most part into the same things, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines. Plus, I have wonder Dad for a spouse, who will take out a drill at 7 am to help one of the kids throw a project together. I am NOT that parent. I rest on the “Well, I plan the activities and make sound education decision for my children” laurels (which, granted are pretty solid), but I am often dragged into board games, coloring (which I love, so I’m not sure what that’s about), or kicking a ball around – which, again, I love to do but just don’t seem to want to get off my butt and do when they want to. I do other things, though, like work on homework with them, help them in the kitchen, but I certainly could do more.

And sure as heck, this weekend I did. Being in it, totally immersed for the weekends sans my buffer (the spouse), I was forced into participating. It was, dare I say, weirdly therapeutic, and also eye opening.

The therapeutic part came when I realized – in a very large way – that maybe the things we are adverse to doing are less about desire and more about ability. I mean, this is not something I really hate. I was not raised camping or doing anything outdoors, but love nature. I have yearned to be one of those outdoorsy people, but I have little knowledge so I tend to avoid making plans out of fear of the unknown. What better way than an immersive experience? With help? Sometimes you just have to jump right in, or you’ll never find out.

The eye opening part has made me think about how important it is to have a positive attitude when approaching something we are unfamiliar with, and that it can be structured to make it more possible. The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research presented findings on academic mindsets  a couple of years ago that I find relevant to my changing feeling on the scouts. Whether they try to or not, it’s totally set up to promote all four types of mindsets associated with long term success, including mine:

  1. I belong in this community. 

Totally. After twenty minutes of struggling with the tent – which I have assisted assembling a number of times but tend to auto-pilot – a kind dad came to not my rescue, but my assistance. We chatted as we got the tent together, and it made me feel like I might just get through the weekend. It just went on from there. I suppose like having pets, kids are the perfect “in” so I chatted with other parents, and then made my way to the kitchen to help out. Folks were so welcoming, after a while I started to forget that I was doing it on my own this weekend.

I don’t even need to talk about the kids. Five minutes after we got to the camp site, they were off and running. They didn’t need an invitation.

2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.

I like that the scouts are built on this mentality. Effort is rewarded in all sorts of ways that are extrinsic, and I saw first hand from the older scouts that these skills had become intrinsic. Each level was grouped to do developmentally appropriate activities, all that built upon the previous skills. The younger kids were getting their whittling chips, and the next level was building the camp fire.  I could see the pride the kids felt in doing these projects, and they were rewarded for their efforts. I even benefitted from this structure, and I felt MUCH more capable by the end of the weekend (see pics below).

3. I can succeed at this.

Which leads to the success part. The kids are set up for success, and I appreciate that. Having a win (which I will share in a moment) really makes people want to do more. Activities were broken into manageable pieces, so everyone left feeling good and capable. Me included!

4. This work has value for me. 

Every single activity this weekend had value to the kids, even if they only camp once a year. They learned first aid, naturalist principles, flora and fauna, and about cooperation. The older kids were benefiting by sharing their skills with the younger boys, too.

And above all, it was fun. I find it kind of humorous that I shy away from these types of functions, since as an educator I do value a structured activity to learn a skill.  In fact, I tend to seek out a classroom environment in these situations.  It was like going to a basic camping seminar. With dirty kids. I loved it!

A visual recap:

We learned how to build a fire. The right way.

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We made friendship bracelets.

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We learned how to make Dutch oven cobbler.

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We also went on a hike, made first aid kids, built bird feeders, and ate s’mores.  I picked up a couple of camping tips, and even learned how to make better fried rice. It was kind of magical. It was also majorly exhausting.

But more than anything, I walked away from what I’ve come to believe is one of the most powerful feelings we can have: “I did this!”  Heck, I think I even earned a coveted (novice!) ENGAGED parenting badge. And all I can say is I want more.

 

 

 

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inspiration.

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“It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkable difficult to kill.” 

Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

 

 

 

it didn’t fall from the sky.

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I have been a haphazard writer since childhood. I have  a small lot of different sized journals, most somewhat filled but then abandoned.
Depending on my head/heart space, my journals have consisted of a variety of things. When things are going sideways, they are filled with regrets and rants.  When things are feeling good, however, they are filled with joy and optimism.  Sometimes I write crappy poems, and I’ve even written a song or two.
And sometimes when I feel the tension between now and what lies ahead, I get future-focused.  A recent one I found was called  “3 Feats”  from March 7, 2014.  Let me first start by saying I am a fan of Rob Brezsny, and I am a fan of visioning, since I have seen firsthand the magic of deliberate intention. I haven’t always been good at being patient, and sometimes I am so convinced something is going to happen a certain way that I almost miss the experience. Writing it all down helps me see what’s going to happen, and also spot what feels true to me versus what I think I want.
Here is a snippet:
“Dear Me,
It’s been an awesome year. You finally got off your ass somewhere in March, and decided to live, to dance. You had a moment in bed on March 8, 2014, where you lamented and hated yourself & looked at pics that made you nostalgic for a life that may or may not exist, but then you looked at your pics and were filled with love and hope. Then your husband called and he chatted the way he does and gave you good news that he would be traveling less. It was spring and you decided to LIVE. You made a date with an old friend, you soaked in the sun, and made a list of 3 feats for 2014. By June you were a (new job). You were scared s****less  but you knew it was a good step for you. You lost 15 pounds. It was simple really. You worked out, and sometimes you danced, 5-6 times per week, acknowledged your sugar addiction, and started to feel compassion for yourself as a little girl who self medicated with junk…it had never changed.”
(And it went on from there. This makes me a little choked up to re-read, particularly the part about the little girl who self medicated. Dang. But it was true. I loved sweets, and it was the one thing my grandma plied me with before she died. She was a diabetic and couldn’t eat them herself, but had no problem loading me up with goodies. Sigh.)

I am happy to report that as of July 10, 2014, all three “feats” have been accomplished. I did lose 15 pounds. I did dance toe to toe with my sugar addiction, and have claimed a minor victory. I did work out. I did get a new job. Oh, and I did start a blog. I won’t bore you with the details of what I wrote down, but a lot of it came to be the way I thought, and some of it flat out came from left field. Whatever! I’ll take it!
(I am still kinda blown away by it all, down to accepting a job ON my birthday. It wasn’t even the original job I’d imagined, but it was certainly the right fit for me.  What the heck is that about?)
Well, I guess it’s about faith and being deliberate. In looking at these, they weren’t so much feats but conscious decisions. Then I naturally started taking action to help manifest these goals. When I went to a conference last year, I heard Angela Duckworth speak on “grit”, or  sticking with something until you master it.  She’s also used the words passion and perseverance. Anyway, one of the things she said that stuck with me was she addressed practical ways of developing it.  One of her suggestions was talking the process out, imagining the obstacles, and planning out the time/space to make it happen. I kinda feel like the visioning letter I wrote to myself served a similar function. I wrote it all out, not in a fluffy “then you won a million dollars that fell from the sky” sort of way, but in a genuine “I’m laying it all out” way. I felt by writing it, I became aligned with it. I also see that the same things that I was interested in at 14, I am interested in at 40. These “visions” are just another expansion of the story of me.
The gist of the journal prompt goes like this, since I can’t find the original post I read it from:
  1. Date your letter a year from today.
  2. Write it to yourself, or even write it to a close friend. Whatever.
  3. Tell the story of how these feats came to be.
  4. Sign it, and forget it. Or don’t. But at least surrender it to the universal powers that be.

 

Might be time to do some more visioning. This time with a trailer in it…

recharge.


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There is little to say after such a blissful weekend, other than to reiterate the importance of recharging the batteries.  Even in as little time as a few hours away, there is space to dream and scheme and just be happy.

10 Random Reminders/Lessons from this Weekend:
  1. Fire, water, and fresh air. And a little BBQ.
  2. The kids didn’t ask for gadgets once. They were too busy riding bikes, shooting squirt guns, swimming, playing with other kids, and helping the grownups cook.
  3. In order for me to feel comfortable, I need to get in and help. Only after cutting potatoes, picking up garbage, and making some food for the group did I feel settled in. It’s a good reminder when I’m feeling awkward or like an outsider.
  4. I remember the first time I went on a scooter ride with Tim and his friends, probably a dozen years ago. I remember marveling at the incredible sense of community I felt. It hasn’t changed.  It’s a testament to carrying your passions with you, long after they’re the “latest” or “greatest” thing.
  5. Canoeing is a direct reflection of your relationship – in that moment- with the person you’re rowing with.
  6. Riding a bike around aimlessly is just as fun at 40 as it was when I was 14.
  7. The greatest form of food flattery is having the kids eat all it. In less than five minutes. Zucchini bread. Who knew?
  8.  A snippet from my journal: “everything is perfect right now. I’ve even made peace with the wind…”  Clearly I am more of a poet when I’m in nature.
  9. It really does take a village to raise a child. It felt so good to let my kids run around all weekend, knowing there was always an  adult nearby to keep an eye out.
  10. I rode around on Rowan’s bike for awhile, trying to do wheelies. When I got off the bike, I looked up and saw Rowan, who had the biggest grin on his face. He said, “That was so awesome, mom! You’re so awesome!” Then he ran up to me and hugged me. I almost cried.

love is spoken here.

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role. n. the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.

integrate. v. to form or blend into a unified whole: cause to undergo integration


For years I have been interested in role integration. How does one “become”? I have explored this idea in education, relationships, in parenting, in my own life. What starts as a spark of an idea or a feeling we can sometimes turn into much more than a habit or a lifestyle, but a life. How do we get there? Or in here?

Even today, I sat in the “chair” at the therapist’s office and wondered aloud about being a “good” parent. How one nurtures when (s)he hasn’t been nurtured. This is an essential function of the role of parent. Right? Do we not say ‘nature versus nurture’ as if it is something that is extrinsic and may not come naturally?

And then something occurred to me, just like the other part of the Radio Lab piece on language yesterday (yes, it was that interesting to me).


There was a deaf school in Nicaragua many years ago, opened for the first time in the nation. Deaf kids finally came together, but could not communicate with each other. They had no common language.

So they made up  their own. They needed to communicate. They needed to connect.

Years later, researchers found, deaf people in Nicaragua are still using the same language started in that place, now expanded. The researchers tested the elders, and found that they didn’t have the thinking-related words, which the younger ones did. It seemed that the elders didn’t have the capacity because they didn’t have the words. Or was it other way around? I am not sure, and maybe I’m reading too much into this. But the long and the short of it is that researchers returned a couple of years later, and the elders mysteriously were testing higher in metacognitive functions. How? The younger generation had taught them. The young people, through a deaf society, had come into contact with the elders and now they were expanding their language. And maybe their way of being.


I fully understand now that my children – and to some extent other people’s children – are teaching me how to nurture like the younger deaf children are teaching their elders. They are teaching me their language of love, one that I didn’t know existed until they spoke it to me. Each of my 3 is so different, and I’m learning – every day – how to actively listen and respond in a loving manner.

And nurture is love in action. There is nature, that is what got us here, but it has also been grown by deliberate practice. Every day. Every breath. Catching myself when I stop listening about things like the weight of a polar bear or Mario Kart. Legos. Coloring books.

This helps me stay present with the grownups (including myself), who also need love and nurturing too.  It’s helping me be a better partner (yes, a role) and boss (that’s a role too).  But they are all quintessentially the same thing, and I try to keep that my focus. Be as human as possible. My life depends on it.

About ten years ago, when I started on a path towards being the me that I like calling me, I read – cover to cover with notes – the book You Are the Answer by Michael Tamura. I can not verify its helpfulness or insight at this moment in my life, but at the time it woke me up to the idea that I didn’t have to look for my purpose, that maybe it was already in me. Maybe I was already in it, I just couldn’t see it because I was not speaking fully the common language of love and the soul. There was no role – mother, teacher, friend, wife, whatever – that I needed to integrate since it was all inside me anyway.


My therapist left me with this word to add to my expanding dialect:

eudaimonia. n. a contented state of being happy and healthy and prosperous. flourishing. from ue – good and daimon – genius, true nature, spirit.

Sounds good to me.

 

 

episode.

I heard part of a  Radio Lab episode today about language. One of the segments was about this deaf man who did not have language (he had not been taught to sign) for close to 30 years. After he connected with the outside world, he was asked what it was like before he had words. At first, he didn’t want to talk about it. Then he said he could not remember. He could be that way anymore. He told the woman that he could no longer spend time around his old friends, who without word via sign language, spent time communicating through a highly nuanced but also elaborate mime-like story telling process. He said he could no longer be that way.

This was very powerful to me.

 

 

Rules of Engagement.

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I like acronyms. Always have. They’re clean, they’re easy to remember.

Over the last couple of years, I have spent a lot of time researching student engagement. It’s a hot topic right now, particularly since we know the more engaged students are the more they learn. But the more I researched student engagement, I started to realize the key elements that keep students engaged are the same ones that keep people engaged in their everyday experiences. I mean, it’s so freakin’ easy to check out these days.

I used to think I was checking in, but really now I see how often I’ve just been going through an escape hatch into another dimension, one that doesn’t support the now. So I’ve developed some “rules of (re) engagement”  (RE-ENGAGED) for myself over the last year, a little cheat sheet for keeping myself engaged, or re-engaging when I feel myself floating out into space. In fact, it helped me with this project.

Rule #1.  (r)eflection. a period of solitude, rest, to reconnect with my purpose, my values. not seeking, inviting. The idea for the blog came out of a spring break a ha moment, that I wanted to start writing more regularly on the things that really matter to me, namely living a life on purpose.

 

Rule #2. (e)nvision. a period to envision and embrace. the big picture. I drew pics and took notes, wrote weird ranty journals after periods of zoning out and turning inward. I could really “see” it when I was done with the vision.

 

Rule #3. (e)nvironment. what environment supports my vision? what feels good? It felt good to think about my space as a journal, online, to be private but public.

 

Rule #4. (n)avigation. my GPS system. do I need a guide? a book? what are my resources? can I do it alone or do I need help? In this case, some of it I could do alone – namely, the writing. Some of it I had to enlist my friend Steph’s help, who has created some beautiful work online for herself and others. She also has been blogging for a long time and is giving me pointers. Thanks, Steph.

 

Rule #5. (g)oal. what’s my goal? how will I know when I’ve reached it?  why?  Well, the first goal is creating the blog and going from there. While I envision something more expanded, for now I am comfortable sharing my thoughts and experiences around living a meaningful life. Why? Because it’s on my mind and it’s in the air. I encounter so many people who are seeking an authentic existence, or as authentic as possible, including me.

 

Rule #6. (a) bility. where am I really at? keepin’ it real. may lead to a different goal or a need for navigation. In this case, I am kind of a novice, and I am ok with that. There will be mistakes, and I have help. I’m good. I am looking at other people’s blogs as models, and reading about the subject to get insight into how to share my thoughts in an effective way.

 

Rule #7 (g)ame.  challenge, play, personal bests. Knowing myself, I always enjoy a “challenge”, so I set up a 100 day project I found online to keep my progress visible and accountable. It’s just for me, and it makes me feel proud of myself to log the days.

 

Rule #8  (e)xperience (direct). experimentation, too.  direct experience and experimentation are key. I need to do it to really know it. many times it starts with the envisioning – where I feel it on a heart level first. I can talk all I want, but the writing isn’t going to do itself. And? It’s real. I have that satisfying feeling of “I did this” when I see it taking shape.

 

Rule #9 (d)ivergence.  choice and contrast.  Is it “me”? If I didn’t like the way something happened, I use it as a learning experience for the next time. This thing will change as I change. And that feels good. I got support to getting it started, and from here I will check in with myself about how it feels, how it looks, if it’s reflective of my original feeling and in a form that is mine.


 

I’ve been playing around  with this process for awhile with a small degree success.  It’s helped me get more conscious of what feels right and good, which I know is the the best “GPS” available. I have pretty good intuition, but when it’s something I may feel vulnerable about I tend to shut certain areas of “me” off.  I say yes when I mean no, or say no when I mean yes. This process has helped me slow down a little, focus on some key pieces of connection, then act from a place of deliberate intention. But, like everything, it’s a work in progress. For now, it’s kinda working.

 

 

mantra.

In one of my journals is scrawled:

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This is something I think about all the time, especially as a parent and as a partner. I first began pondering this idea when I went to sign Kirby up for sports, which I’ve only twice participated in formally in my entire life. I wasn’t allowed.  But he wanted it, I wanted to give it to him, and I had to muster some 6th sense-type skill in order to do something that for others may be totally simple. Navigating is tenuous when you don’t know where or how. Besides, it all felt foreign, uncomfortable.

I allowed myself to feel his joy. I would stand on the sidelines, focusing on him running up and down the field, kicking the ball, throwing himself fully into the moment. And little by little, his love started to mix with my love for him. Watching him on the field, having a blast, made the the itchy feeling I had interacting with the other parents start to subside. I was in it.

I tried to talk to one of the parents about it, one morning when I was feeling loose and happy and clearly caffeinated enough to engage in a philosophical discussion at soccer practice. Suffice it to say, the dad – who had played sports, lived sports – didn’t really catch my drift. Also, I felt like I was speaking in code about something larger.

How do we love when we ourselves have not felt loved?  I believe these tiny and not so tiny moments are what open up the door to let something so large in. And once we feel it, we cannot help but give it back.

I thought of this again today, at the climbing gym. Though this time I wasn’t at the sidelines, I was right there with the boys, cheering them on and helping hold the ropes. Next time I will get a belaying lesson and get right in there with them.

It is my mission to provide a better life for my kids than I had growing up. It is my mission to love my family and provide for my family – emotionally and physically – more than I knew growing up. It is a constant mantra. I.must.be.more. 

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