I Am Back…

I haven’t written a blog post since November 30, 2015. I have thought about writing many many times in the past 8 months, and I have missed writing. I kept saying to myself, week after week, that this will be the week that I will write. But it wasn’t happening. I think I felt overwhelmed with my new job (which is amazing, I love, but the first year in a new job is always a steep learning curve!), and I just didn’t have any mental space left for writing.

But I am back. And I am committed to writing, because it is so important to my life practice. Blog writing, where the slate is wide and open, allows me opportunity to self-reflect on life moments. Life moves so quickly, often flashing by with the daily juggling of responsibilities where one can feel constantly racing to catch up. The life moments are small and can pass by so quickly, that it feels so critical to take pause and notice. When I’m committed to writing, I move slower, I mentally capture these moments like my mind is a camera. As Jon Kabat-Zinn asks in Wherever You Go, There You Are: “Can we be in touch with our own life unfolding? Can we rise to the occasion of our own humanity?” (p. 133).

Blog writing challenges me to think differently and make connections between ideas, pushing me to create new ideas or reframe old ideas from my own unique perspective. There is so much content out in ‘the cloud’, and I am constantly reading articles that interest me. A friend recently named me an ‘article hoarder’, after I showed them my extensive system of using apps (Flipboard, Pocket etc) to save articles that resonate with me. It is easy to feel insecure amidst all of this content – ‘maybe I have nothing original to say’ when there is so much being said already. But this little voice gets drowned out by my excitement for the conversation that is happening all the time on the internet, where voices are free to speak and dialogue, disrupting the boundaries that we have created in ‘the real world’ based on discipline, pedigree, age, language/culture, nationality. My unique voice is a drop in the internet ocean, connecting with all the other drops that make up the ocean.

And so I will return to writing. I will make writing a practice in my life, and I will carve out time for it. I hope you enjoy reading, and participate in the conversation when you feel moved to.

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Parenting Without Punishment

Its been about 6 months that I have now consistently, consciously been parenting without punishment. And along with no punishment, no rewards either. This decision was after great struggle over the past 7 years in my relationship with my 9-year old son (yes, struggle began at the early age of 2), who is so amazing and also the most stubborn person I have ever known. I am very familiar with motivational research that shows that the ‘carrot and stick’ approach (punishment and/or rewards) is not effective in motivation, and actually, can cause the opposite effect of de-motivating people. This research is most prevalent in HR research around motivating/demotivating employees, and the research findings have been popularized by one of my favourite writers (and TED Talk speakers) Daniel Pink in his amazing and inspiring book Drive.

While many of us, myself included, know this research well, we don’t seem to apply these same principles in our parenting. And in the moment, when I am reactive and angry, it can be so easy to pull out a punishment. But, and this is the kicker, IT DOES NOT WORK. My son’s behaviour does not change because he is afraid of punishment or doesn’t want a consequence. His behaviour is in reaction to something much bigger going on in his life.

Why, even when I know this, do the punishments so easily escape my mouth? Because frankly, I have power over my 9-year old son. And I have been thinking about my power, and the (unconscious) abuse of this power in my day-to-day reactions. I came across this powerful online article by Teresa Graham Brett about ‘Adultism’ that shook me to my core – vhttp://www.kindredmedia.org/2011/11/adultism-the-hidden-toxin-poisoning-our-relationships-with-children/. I teach the Power Flower and the ‘isms’ to College Students, and I am comfortable identifying and speaking about racism, homophobia, sexism etc. But this article made me confront my own oppressive use of power in parenting: “…if we are using our power over the children in our lives, we are perpetuating injustice and oppression. We are setting children up to accept a world that is based on the more powerful controlling the less powerful.”

All of this collided with my reading the amazing book ‘Honey I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-Outs, Sticker Charts and Removing Privileges All Don’t Work’ by Alyson Schafer. This book was critical in providing concrete tools on what parenting can look like, when I am parenting without punishment. Along with the arguments above for this strategy, Schafer writes from an Adler psychology perspective, which is that children misbehave because they are experiencing a negative feeling and are communicating this. It is our job to understand what they are trying to tell us through their misbehavior, and to help them to find another way to feel positive and re-engaged in their life. Instead of getting angry with the misbehavior, Schafer encourages parents to ‘get curious’, to play the detective in understanding what is happening in our childs life.

In her book, Schafer points out that we often say disrespectful things to our children on a daily basis, not even thinking about it. Statements like: “Why don’t you act your age” or “How old are you anyways?”. Statements that serve to knock kids down a notch or too. When I really reflected on this, I realized that I was doing this, often without even thinking about it. And I wanted it to stop.

Without a doubt, parenting without punishment has been a game-changer for me, my family and my relationship with my son. It has been incredibly challenging for me to check myself, bite my tongue and not react with anger, threats or consequences. I have tried to respond with love and patience, every time. I am trying to treat my children with the respect that they deserve, every single day. And it has been eye-opening for me to notice how, even when I am so committed to parenting consciously without punishment, it can be so difficult. Especially when I am tired, or trying to get the kids out the door so we don’t miss the school bus, or when I’m trying to multi-task.

However, it has been so worth it. I saw the results right away, within 48 hours. Our family has become calmer, my son is happier and we have found a sense of peace.  When my son does something wrong, I try to find out whats going on. But I also try to honour my feelings too, which sometimes means I need to take some space. I try to name my feelings, so that my children see that modeling. I say clearly, not angrily (but sometimes sadly): “I am feeling upset by what has happened. I need some space.” For the time ever, my son, who is so stubborn and could never before admit that he was wrong, has started apologizing on his own, when he knows that he has made a mistake. This was shocking when it first happened. I had never received an unsolicited apology from him before.

And we talk a lot about what is going on. My experience resonates with Schafers argument, that there is always an underlying reason behind the misbehavior. I play detective, and sometimes its challenging because he won’t just tell me what is going on. That would be too easy. But I often find out, even if it’s the last conversation before sleep, when he is most comfortable and ready to share. His reason behind the misbehavior usually has nothing to do with me, and is often a feeling of sadness and fear of not belonging with his peers at school. Usually there is some small but critical event in his day that has made him feel insecure about his significance and self-worth in his world. And when I find this out, it is my job to simply hug him, tell him that he is so very loved and that I believe in him. And especially after those most difficult days, I like to share my favourite quote with him: ‘tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it’ (Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Missing My Grandpa

I’ve been remembering my Grandfather lately. For some reason, 7.5 years after his death, several events have resurfaced his memory, and I miss him. It started with our family reunion, when many of my relatives flew in from England and we came together at my Grandmothers house to spend time together. A few years before my Grandfather died, through the wildness of the internet, my Grandfather found a long-lost half-brother who he didn’t know existed. They connected, my Grandpa’s half-brother flew across the ocean so they could meet, and as luck would have it, their resemblance, mannerisms, facial expressions etc, is uncanny. Fast-forward 10 years, and 7.5 years after my Grandfathers death, and sure enough, he attends the family reunion with his wife and daughter, who also looks uncannily like my Grandfather. First tug of my heart.

Second: I attended my cousins wedding, and there is a slideshow shown at the reception with lots of childhood photos. Sure enough, photos show up on the big screen with my Grandfather smiling and playing with his grandchildren, and tears well up in my throat. I am not prepared for the suddenness of such deep sadness in my heart, the emotion that I can only name grief. I can only define grief as missing someone who I love so deeply, who I wish I could have one more cup of tea and conversation with.

Third: my neighbor took my family and I out on his sailboat on a beautiful August day. His boat was very similar to my grandparents boat, and sitting on the boat basking in the sun, all of my wonderful childhood memories of being on the boat with my grandfather came flooding back. As I looked out at the beautiful lake and up at the wide-open blue blue sky and as I looked at my family, I felt thankful in that moment and a strong sense of peace washed over me.

My Grandfather was an intense person, and not always the easiest person to be around. He was opinionated, and lived life with gusto. My Grandfather never took a second of life for granted, and taught me to live with conviction and care deeply about my life and my precious time on this earth. My Grandfather was an outspoken activist, who was not afraid to take risks and speak his mind. My Grandfather was a long-time Anglican Christian, but he had a conflicting relationship with his faith. He wanted so badly for the church to change their views, especially in being accepting of homosexuality as well as recognizing the multi-truths of other faiths and that Christianity is not the only route to God. I remember attending church with my Grandfather and him arguing with the clergy members, as well as muttering under his breath to me when certain parts of the service were not ‘in line with the times’.

Of course, in writing this piece, I decided to google my Grandfathers name (Eric Perryman), with little hope that he would have a presence on the internet 7.5 years after he has passed away. Sure enough, I found two letters that he wrote to the Editor of the Anglican Journal, advocating for change in views. I can hear his articulate, angry (but trying to be diplomatic) voice in these letters that he wrote:

Letters to the Editor – May 1999 – http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/letters-to-the-editor-564

“Dear editor, Congratulations for publishing the March opinion piece on collegiality by Canon Gordon Baker, and the editorial on the need for open debate within the Anglican Church on potentially divisive issues. The various points of view on any divisive issue need to be discussed in all segments of the church long before any motion reaches the floor of a diocesan or general synod. If the democratic process is to be followed, then it becomes questionable as to whether collegiality within the House of Bishops can be used as a reason to override the prevailing viewpoint of other parts of the Anglican community. The recent example in the Diocese of New Westminster where a motion agreeing with the blessing of same-sex unions was passed by clergy and lay delegates at their synod, yet put on hold by their bishop, is a case in point. There, democracy and collegiality were mutually exclusive. I have asked our bishop to provide us, the laity, with documented reasoning, which led him to vote against the blessing of same-sex unions. To date he has not responded. He is the leader of his flock and therefore surely has a responsibility to give us his reasoning even though this may be different from other bishops. We, the laity, would be helped immensely in our struggle with divisive issues if bishops would trust us and share discussions and differing viewpoints with us. I hope our bishops will recognize that the time has gone when people were content to leave their brains at the church door”. Eric Perryman Corbyville, Ont

Letters to the Editor – March 1998, http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/letters-to-the-editor-31

“Dear editor, I am writing to praise Bishop Michael Ingham’s fortitude and honesty in writing his latest book, Mansions of the Spirit. W. Turner (February letters) took exception to this book because it was allegedly not based on the biblical truths. What are these biblical truths which state that Christianity is the only road to God, that Christians will be given preferential treatment in the next life, that other people not of the Christian faith will be dealt with accordingly? As more and more regions of the world become multicultural and multifaith, Christians have to face the existence of other religious faiths and must be prepared to discuss whether the great religions of the world are all connected to the same truth. In the same way we must be prepared to recognize the connection between interfaith reality and interfaith conflict. We should be thankful to Bishop Ingham for providing us with such a well thought out book to help us become informed, caring and unbiased Christians. I invite Mr. Turner to provide us with documentation illustrating those biblical truths referred to.” Eric Perryman Corbyville, Ont.

He never gave up. I am not sure if the Anglican Church ever moved forward on these issues or not, but I do know that if my Grandfather was alive, he would still be writing these letters and fighting the fight.

I don’t know what I believe about life after death. But I do know that my Grandfather taught me some of my core values, about living my life with gusto and integrity, and taking risks. I am striving to teach these values to my children, and in doing so, his spirit is kept alive.

MyGrandpa-Eric

Thinking about Friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately. Candy Changs words resonate with me, in her amazing ‘Before I Die’ TED Talk (which if you haven’t watched, I highly recommend): “Two of the most valuable things we have is time and our relationships with each other.” As someone who struggles with feeling that I never have enough time to do what I need to do in a day, Candy Changs words hit me hard. Because sometimes (okay I admit, often), I think that I don’t have time for relationships with others. I struggle with time, with the feeling of not having enough time, and I often put my to-do list ahead of my friendships.

We were invited to my friends sons birthday party last weekend. These are friends that I have known for 20 years – unbelievable if I think about it, I have known them for half of my life. They are pretty much my oldest friends. In the 20 years, we have had times of intense closeness and times apart, and currently, they live far away and we don’t see them very often. But when we do see them, there is magic there, that feeling of joy when you are with someone who has known you for 20 years. We almost didn’t go to the birthday party, because it was far and we had just schlepped to IKEA and back dealing with an annoying furniture mishap. There were excuses, lots of excuses. I was tired. I needed to grocery shop, get ready for the week, etc etc. I thought I didn’t have the time.

Thankfully, we decided to get in the car and go. And I am so thankful we made this decision. It was such a joy to see my friends again, to hug and reconnect. I am so happy that I was present for their experience of celebrating their son turning five. Its amazing that we met as young adults (practically children still!), and now here we are, watching our children running around in a playground.

For me, valuing my relationships means that I need to be present. In this world of increasing distractions, presence is not always so easy. But it is critically important. And for me, presence is practiced and friendships are deepened through good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. I keep in touch with many friends through Facebook where we comment on each others photos and I get updates on everyones day-to-day experiences of living. Facebook is great for keeping in touch, and seeing snapshots of life. But, I cannot make the mistake of thinking that friendship is developed through Facebook. For me, friendships and relationships deepen by being together, sharing physical space, making eye-contact, listening and sharing, and understanding each other.

And friendship is worth making time for.

Resonance in Song

A year ago, my friend and I started a band. We went out one night and discussed how we loved music and wanted to have more music in our life. I have always been a musician, singing in choirs as a child, and playing guitar since I was 16 years old. But when life got busy as I became adult with kids and job commitments, sadly I stopped making time for music. My friend found music later in life, teaching young children in a classroom and learning the ukulele to use to engage her students. It was a pivotal conversation and a jumping point for what is now our cover band: Folked Up. We practice in my back den every two weeks or so, and we just have a fun time trying tunes and playing around with harmonies. And I am so happy that music has come back into my life.

What I love most about singing in my band, is harmonizing. I am not generally a religious person, but the only way I can describe my feelings when I harmonize, is that I feel the presence of God/the Ground of Being/something greater than myself. I hear/feel resonance – energy coming together and multiplying, like tidal waves carrying across the ocean and crashing on the shores. And I feel transformed by this resonance, fundamentally changed.

We decided to do a small house concert for friends and family, to mark our one year of making music together. We aren’t polished, we make mistakes and fumble, but despite our nerves, we wanted to share this piece of our lives. Here are a few songs for you to enjoy!:

Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ3BSbtspRg

You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT8C_EDJR8M

Down Under (Men At Work) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFwDxenBd_E

Karma Chameleon (Boy George) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVddnkxOaA8

I Will Give You Everything (Skydiggers) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG3u_FwAOSU

All About the Bass (Meaghan Trainor) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o2zNJo0kKo

Summer Loving and Learning

My 9 year old son is a different person in the summer. He goes to daycamp every day, and comes back happier, lighter and at peace in his spirit. We have spent this past school year with our son being so tense and anxious, looking to pick fights with us and his younger brother, defiance and anger often in his eyes. This was a tough year in our home. And through it all, we almost forgot who he really was. We started to believe that this angry, disengaged self was really him.

But here he is, coming home from camp every day, with a huge smile on his face, openness and peace in his eyes, and excitement to tell me all about his day. When he went to school, I would ask about his day, and he would just shrug and say, ‘It was fine’, in a voice that told me that it wasn’t fine. When I ask him about his day at camp, he can’t wait to tell me the stories and activities, the friends he has made, the funny encounters, and what he has learned. We love the summer.

But it begs the question, running through my head every day, “Why can’t school be more like camp?” It feels incredibly sad, and a missed opportunity, that at grade three, my son waits all school year for the summer. As someone who is passionate about learning (and works in the post-secondary sector), I am very concerned with his disengagement at school. I want my son to be excited and engaged with his learning, to be happy going to school and happy in his life. I want him to feel safe facing learning challenges that stretch him, to be creative and innovative in his thinking, and to make mistakes and learn from his mistakes. Is this too much to ask?

So what is it about camp, that is different from school, that captures my son’s spirit? A few elements come to mind:

  1. Active: camps are very active, kids are moving around all the time, instead of learning at a desk. People need to move. My son needs to move to learn, not because he has ADD but because people need to move. He is happier when he is able to be active, not at set times but throughout the day.
  1. Experiential: Hands-on experiential learning, like trying to sail a boat and learning about wind patterns, will be imprinted in memory because it is interesting and practical. This engaged learning is far more powerful than book learning that is remembered only for a test.
  1. Fun: Camp is fun! The songs, jokes and cheers. Doesn’t everyone want to have fun and enjoy life? Does school need to be so serious? Can’t learning be fun? I found this great article about a professor who doesn’t have exams or tests, but now reframes them as ‘celebrations’ – that is the spirit I am looking for!
  1. Connected: This is the game-changer for my son. My son makes an immediate connection to his counselors at camp. This does not happen at school. Based on this connection, he feels like he belongs and that he is safe. At the end of Day 1 at camp, he knows all of his counselors names. He talks incessantly about his camp counselors, and at the end of his week at camp, he is sad to say goodbye. I was pleasantly surprised when one evening, he gave up storytime before bed so that he could make all of his camp counselors snake puppets out of construction paper to give to them as presents (and he is NOT usually a crafty kid!). He selected which puppet should go to which counselor based on their personality. This connection just does not happen at school.

How hard would it be for schools to integrate these elements, to foster a (dare I say) fun, engaged and joyful learning environment? It would actually be very hard, because it would mean radically dismantling the culture of education that hasn’t changed much in 100 years. The culture of education that I am referring to, is where ‘learning’ takes place in desks and in classrooms, where kids line up when bells are rung, and fun is relegated to a once a year ‘fun day’ (listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk on this – he is very articulate and inspiring). Yes, dismantling this system of education would be hard. But for the sake of our children, it is time for change!

SickKids – Soothing Spaces

I recently spent five days with my little one at SickKids hospital. It was probably one of the most stressful times in my life, and definitely the most stressful time as a mom. Five days is such a short amount of time in the grand scheme of life, but when I was there, it felt like forever. The days were long, waiting for tests and doctors and results and answers, and the nights were even longer, sleeping on the pull-out chair beside the hospital bed and worrying about my life (and my other son) outside of the hospital. I met several parents whose child was living in the hospital for months and months, and I can’t imagine how hard that reality must have been.

I think a lot about space, and how space impacts us, in terms of how we feel and how we act. I believe strongly that space has an incredible impact on our attitudes and behaviours, and even small changes to space can make a big difference. During our days at SickKids, we had a lot of time to explore this hospital, and I was always looking for ways to entertain my three year old. In the midst of stress, we found spaces that provided much needed laughter and peace. These spaces made all of the difference in our day, providing us with energy and uplifting our spirits. My favourite spaces were:

  1. The Elevator

What could be better than an elevator to entertain a three-year old? We ‘rode the rails’ for hours every day. We pressed the buttons, got in and out, in and out, and the elevator was a source of endless entertainment. We met a lot of people on the elevator, going up and down, all going about their lives. I love how the elevator is so open, and the space of the hospital from this perspective feels so open and spacious. I was so appreciative of this space during our stay at the hospital.

SickKids-elevator-K SickKids-elevator

  1. The Tim Hortons train

The Tim Hortons at SickKids has a train that goes around and around the store. There is a button for kids to press that makes the train move. Again, this was a source of great entertainment for my boy, who loves trains. A few times a day, we would do the walk to Tim Hortons, and I could drink much-needed coffee while K pressed the button and delighted in watching the train move. I was very thankful for this space.

SickKids-TimHortonswithtrain

  1. The Starlight Room Rooftop Space

This was the most important space for me during our time at SickKids. It brought K and I (and others) a deep sense of peace when we needed it. We weren’t able to leave the hospital, so we were stuck inside during beautiful sunny days. When I found the Starlight Room Rooftop Space (on the 9th floor – if you are looking for it, you can only take the middle elevator up to it), I almost cried with joy. The rooftop patio is beautiful, with couches and water features, and we were able to be outside! We were able to enjoy the warm sun and the breeze of the wind, without leaving the hospital. We spent a lot of time up on the rooftop patio, playing and making crafts and enjoying fresh air.

SickKids-StarlightRoom-rooftop

These spaces at SickKids made my stay there bearable. SickKids is a special place, with amazing doctors and nurses and staff, and I am so thankful that little K was taken care of there.