A roller coaster ride that never stops.

Archive for the category “parenting”

Thoughtful v Mindful

I have just returned from a walk on which I had a very simple insight: I try awfully hard (and unsuccessfully) to be Mindful, but I have sort of lost Thoughtfulness in the shuffle. They are both very important to the kind of life I want to live, as my attempts to be Buddha, Jesus, Socrates, etc. daily demonstrate, but these days, I am more just a reactive, emotionally flooded disaster than a sage or holy person.

Never one to quote the dictionary, I will give my take on the difference between these two words:

  • A Thoughtful person considers a matter carefully, with reason leading the way.
  • A Mindful person is aware of each thought, feeling, and sensation present in any given moment.

Thoughtfulness is geared a little more toward action, and Mindfulness toward observation.

To me, there is also a matter of degree – thoughtfulness, while still a challenge, seems a lot more in reach than mindfulness. Thoughtfulness involves bringing one part of yourself to bear on one aspect of your existence. I have “done” thoughtfulness up right many hundreds of times; mindfulness maybe a handful. My focus has been a lot on the latter recently, but it has occurred to me that perhaps I should aim a little lower and at least try to be a little more thoughtful from time to time. I have my hands plenty full with that, without trying to achieve enlightenment or Nirvana or even a lesser goal like serenity.

Observe: I went out for a walk this evening when a storm was imminent. I was angry at having been cooped up all day doing my repetitive household chores and repetitive thought patterns. Everyone here suggested I figure out an alternative but, out of pure reactivity, I insisted on leaving. My SEVEN-YEAR-OLD daughter gave me an umbrella on my way out the door.

Five minutes in, the heavens opened, and thousands of cold, sharp knives stabbed my back for the next forty minutes. It turns out that umbrella, in addition to being far too small to cover 90 percent of my body, also had a hole right in the middle of the top, so a Chinese-water-torture-style trickle ran down the middle of my face the whole time. While I’m glad I got a chance to clear my head, a little thoughtfulness may have been a good idea, and the walk postponed.

Now that I demonstrated to myself the need for more attention these matters by getting very cold and very wet, I think I may find keeping them in mind a little easier.


Teeth Again

I have mentioned before that teeth are being shed like mad around here, and I just noted that we are up to TWENTY-SEVEN teeth lost. Jane has lost more than half of those all on her own, and Tim has lost none, so I know we still have a long way to go. I can’t help but marvel at the pace of tooth-related activity. It really feels like it’s happening almost constantly. I have had many Tooth Fairy Malfunctions this summer, so I am trying to tighten up the performance here and get my magic back on. It’s really indicative of a system-wide failure. I am so very disappointed in how much fun and whimsy I CAN’T find this summer. Still not sure why, but I suspect that it has to do with needing to change my focus from “Preparing for Fall” to “Relaxing Expectations and Rolling with It.” I am hoping for an hour this busy weekend to stop the running and do a touch of big thinking at this midway point of the summer. If only we were at the midway point with teeth, but I fear there are many more 5am scrambles in my future.

Tomorrow night is toga night at the outdoor Shakespeare theater, and I think I will initiate a more lighthearted approach to the second half of summer by attending the theater in a sheet.

Not Going Well

I’ve decided to say the words “Summer is not going well.” I am hoping that will bring some sort of relief in some way. I don’t enjoy admitting that my plans have gone awry, especially when I put so many hours of effort into them. I read approximately 200 pages of blogs and ebooks and articles to give me ideas on how to design a perfect summer. Last year went fairly well, so I built a lot on that. Somehow, it’s just not working the way I have envisioned and planned for. At all. I like to think I know my children and am familiar with the best ways to deal with them and channel them in positive directions. With all that, it’s going very wrong, daily, and almost everything that has worked for us in the past is failing now. The kids are fighting with a fierce passion. Tim is not ever napping. Instead of relishing the time they are in camp this week, I am at loose ends trying to use those few precious minutes, and am usually fending off an excessively irritable four-year-old. The systems I set up to help the kids accomplish summer work and light housework are falling utterly flat. No one is self-motivated in any area. Even the morning routines, like brushing teeth, are going horribly wrong daily. I am sleeping less than ever, and have not gotten more than five hours of sleep any night all this week, for example, as I struggle to get household management work done in the time after they finally go to bed, close to 9 now, since that fits the rhythm of the day best.

What upsets me most of all is how I am behaving. Going on far too little sleep, losing ground here daily, and in a worse emotional place than I ever was during the school year, I have no idea where to start to fix this problem. So many plans for the fall depend on my having time to be productive. So many visions I had of summertime are quickly evaporating in nearly a month of failure. I am not sure where to look for a way to make this better, but I know it isn’t in seeing the grand successes of the families around me, who seem to be getting this summer thing right with much less effort. I am hoping for an insight that will point me in the right direction, or at least on the road to the right direction. Now that I’ve said aloud that things are faltering, maybe that alone will open a door somewhere. Here’s hoping!

Paradigm shifts

Every summer, I keep expecting that my mind and body will feel a glorious release with the end of all the school demands. I will be ready immediately to enjoy some lazy days and the slower pace. What in fact DOES happen — and it surprises me every year — is that my brain goes into immediate overload at having three new inputs plugged in 24/7, and it takes me a good long while to adjust to that. Meantime, I act a lot like a zombie. I am bone tired and have very little patience or other resources on which to draw. My answers to any and all questions (approximately 764 so far, as of noon) today are represented in the list below:

  • I don’t know.
  • I guess.
  • Ask me later.
  • Please stop talking.
  • Can you ask Janie?
  • I forget.
  • I’m sorry, but my brain cannot process that right now.
  • Because.
  • What?


Right Speech

Lately, there has been an epidemic of cruelty among the girls in this house. In all the discord, which often turns violent, it is the words that upset me most. Such terribly withering and snide insults these verbally gifted females are hurling at each other! They are using their powers for evil, and we are all suffering for it. So I got an idea on how to fix it once I stumbled upon this quotation from Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

This wise guideline struck me immediately as something we needed to keep front and center for a while, till being more careful with our words became automatic. I remembered the Buddha’s advice on this matter, and decided we could add that in for good measure. It turns out that lots of people have realized the importance of how we “use our words,” and have made pretty posters on the topic. I gathered two pre-made posters I liked, and made one for the quotation above, before laminating and cutting them out:


The next step, I decided, was to have each girl be in charge of one poster, and read it to the rest of us. She was then asked to explain what she thought the poster was advising. Each girl did very well with this, and got the main message I had hoped to convey: If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.

Each girl was then responsible for hanging her poster in a location known to be a hotbed of contention and conflict. While they are experts at picking a fight anywhere, any time, about anyTHING, some areas leaped out at us: the DINING ROOM, the AREA NEAR THE TV, and the BEDROOM. The plan was then to hope that, during a conflict, someone along the way would catch herself or others using unfortunate speech and point silently to the poster in that area, prompting a peaceful regroup.

This is where the plan — so elegant, so teacherly — went awry (i.e., in the application in a real-life family). First, the girls fought about who got to post in what area. Why did Lily insist on using FIVE pieces of tape instead of the four apiece I had designated, so someone was shortchanged on purpose (Emma argued)? Jane also pointed out to all that THEY weren’t the boss, and she would act freely, thank you. For laughs, Lily hung hers in an obscure location. Next, the girls each monitored MY speech with laser-like intensity, and pointed sarcastically to the signs, quickly zeroing in on precisely which principle I had violated. After that demoralizing fol-de-rol, the posters remain in locations Damon and I later moved them to, living testaments to my wrong-headed idealism. However, I can’t stop hoping that their presence will slowly make some sort of impact in this escalating war zone, three tokens of nonviolence that weren’t there before. There goes my idealism again.

Do I Dare?

I have been led to the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, and I am so happy I found it. I am just getting my feet wet in this book, but I already see how much I have been trying to live according to the ideas here, and really can’t help trying to live the opposite of daily, thoughtless drudgery. However, at the same time, I often feel I am actually living exactly the opposite kind of life after all. On the one hand, I believe passionately in raising my children myself, and already gave up the little bit of work I had to do a better job with it, but on the other hand, I do not have the sense that I am making a larger contribution, and that eats away at me. I believe I am “stuck with” (on good days, “committed to”) raising my children and trying to learn how to be a competent homemaker at some point, but I will likely always struggle with feeling that this work counts. And doing work that counts is so important to me.

The book starts with this quotation from Theodore Roosevelt, and I see here what I think I’m physically doing (with the dust and sweat and blood (and poop)), but not necessarily the “worthy cause.” I know I’m enthusiastic and devoted, but I don’t know if that counts if you are not laboring toward something larger than your own family. Here’s the quotation:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I’m going to keep reading and thinking to see if my work is big enough after all.

For the record, I am reading fiction too: Every Day Is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel. This is a dark, almost stifling book, taking place in large part in a house full of ghosts (maybe). This novel is a perfect complement to the other side of me, the one that is “haunted” by sleep filled with nightmares and kinship with less-than-optimistic music and poetry. No one wants to talk about that, though, so we’ll just stick with saying that I am reading Daring Greatly and trying to cheerlead my way through my Grand Midlife Project.

Special Time

I am taking the second level of a parenting class that runs once a week for 10 weeks. I first took classes there a couple years ago, and have been itching to get back and remind myself about the philosophy and techniques this “school” uses, based on Adlerian psychology. We parents are given a wealth of tools to use to encourage our children and build positive relationships with them at the same time that we are teaching them responsibility, resilience, and compassion. One concept that has had nearly miraculous results here is “Special Time,” which involves spending 15 to 20 minutes with one child at a time, with no distractions, doing exactly what the child wants you to do together. It gives him or her some power for those few minutes, and since feeling robbed of power is one of the big precipitators of misbehavior, this is an attempt to head that whole dynamic off at the pass. In general, on a less formal level, I try to keep in mind the importance of building as many positive interactions with everyone as possible, to offset and hopefully outweigh the negative ones. I do lots of baking, crafting, and family trips to that end. But the minutes spent in Special Time are truly transformative.

Yesterday, I started with Lily, as she is my “Problem Child of the Month,” which is probably not a great thing to have labeled her in my mind. She had so many things she wanted to squeeze into our minutes together, but we focused on two: a lively game of Red Rover played with stuffed animals (a family favorite) and “craft time.” She came up with the brilliant idea of having me print a picture of an elephant with an upraised trunk so that she could glue a bunch of hearts on as though they were blowing out of his trunk. I cut the hearts while she glued, and then created a quick frame. She finished up while I moved on to my next Special Time child, but within a very few minutes, she had finished this amazing piece:


I can’t get over the genius of the title “Elephant in Love.”

Emma decided to mimic Lily’s activity, which is a common occurrence, but she had her own twist on it. She wanted to make a book about our family. We always have a huge stack of drawing paper at the ready, so we quickly stapled some together and got started. She asked me to write some letters on the cover, and was absolutely blown away by my (pretty standard) ability to do block lettering. In fact, our whole time together was spent in complimenting each other on our amazing skills. And we were utterly sincere. She truly couldn’t believe how cool the designs were that I made within the letters, and I couldn’t believe what she did with that idea on her own letters. She thought my colorful fireworks were awesome, and we both congratulated each other on our general creativity. It was one big Mutual Admiration Society meeting. All we were able to work on was the cover, but it’s a beauty:


Last was Jane, the biggest attention hog of all, and she and I finally got to sit down with the sewing kit she got for Christmas to work on putting together a stuffed elephant. (The day appears to have had an elephant theme.) I have almost daily said, for a month now, “I can’t do that right now” to her about that elephant, and it was a relief to both of us for me to be able to sit down and get out all the parts and get it all organized at last. Now she has everything in one place and just asks for threading help as she powers through in her free moments. Our actual Special Time, though, was my favorite time of all, because the one thing I stink at doing is sitting down anywhere for 15 minutes, and it felt good to sink myself into a creative project and work with my hands. I am a sewer and handcrafter from way back, so this was an especially nice treat for me! My favorite moment was when Jane discovered a thimble and said, “Wow! This is a DELUXE sewing kit!” So easily impressed — which is a good thing.


The power of those three Special Times has reverberated through the next 24 hours. It has been far from a bed of roses, though: the minute right after Lily’s ended, she said, “I hate you,” and I admit to being a little peeved that Old Lily was back so quickly. But we have all reflected many times on how fun the projects were, how nice the conversations were, and how we can’t wait to do it again. It is hard to sustain Special Time, and it is hard to ever achieve that perfect one-on-one state with one of me and four of them running loose, but they don’t let me forget about it, and I’m grateful. It is the most valuable tool in my toolbox.

Monster Bus

Friday morning was just one of those kick-offs that didn’t gel for us. When there are several items on the agenda right after dropping the girls off, that means that a whole morning has to be all lined up, and five of us showered, brushed, dressed, and outfitted, by 7:30. That is not easy and today, it did not happen on time. However, on Fridays, I am finished teaching for the week and feeling much looser than I am on the other days, so I quickly did the little mental acknowledgment of the inevitable as we left our driveway at 7:47, and decided to relax and enjoy the ride for once. I am so glad I did. The girls and I were all in stitches for a lot of the trip, and this may have been the first drive all week that was 100% free of lectures or recriminations. And, while I would agree with me that a lot of our lateness is their fault, and much of their morning dithering contributes to my sense of overwhelm, I think we all enjoyed the break from my pointing this out.

So we decided at some point to discuss what kind of car we would get next, since our wonderful Sienna has nearly 200,000 miles on it and more broken doors than working ones at the moment, among other issues. The discussion very quickly turned silly, and yielded ideas such as a two-seater motorcycle (on which I would spend approximately two hours taking one child at a time to school each day), a monster truck (in which each child would have a separate cage for safety like today’s drivers use), and a school bus. Honestly, I liked the monster truck idea the best, as I could then blow right through traffic each morning, and make only the one trip, but then I found this perfect creation:

And there is no rule that says we can’t paint it another color, give it a name, and make it our own!

My favorite part of all is that we can set it up so no child can touch any other for the entire trip. I am already feeling my jaw unclench a little thinking of the peace that alone would bring….


I would think everyone has a tendency to feel alone at times. I think I indulge in this a little (lot) too much. Evanescence is my theme band, and this is my all-time favorite song by them, which I listened to several times this morning, even:

I am wondering now if feeling alone is a choice I am making. I’m not quite sure how I would go about changing that tendency, but I am planning to deploy all available inner resources to change my theme song!

Identical Identities

Every day, I mix the twins up at least once. I always have. They really do look and behave in incredibly similar ways, and even people who know them well have to ask me which is which regularly.

Ultimately, though, they are much more different than they are alike. Some differences have always been evident, from the first week of life. Anyone who has known them these six years could easily distinguish personality traits that are diametrically opposed: Lily’s the loud, nurturing, generous one, whereas Emma’s the soulful, witty, thoughtful one. Even physically, they have plenty of differences: while never more than half a pound apart in weight, they almost never have the same shoe size, and their new teeth are growing in in radically different ways (both requiring orthodontic work, of course). For a long time, Emma’s hair was curly and Lily’s was straight. Lily has strabismus and other vision problems Emma does not share. Emma uses the potty about half as much as Lily does after drinking the same amount, and Lily spills about twice as many drinks as Emma. They like very different foods, and enjoy doing different activities. Really, this is a case where I could go on listing for quite a while.

Somehow, when I encountered a way in which they are radically different — in reading ability — I thought only of their similarities and not of their many differences. They should have exactly the same ability, I reasoned, since they have the same basic brain structure. The fact that Emma read an announcement about Copernicus’ contributions on the school loudspeaker in kindergarten meant that Lily should be doing the same. As of this writing, a month into first grade, Lily struggles to sound out every word. Improvement is happening, but very slowly. Operating under the assumption that there must be something wrong, I waited eagerly for her to get glasses this summer to see if that had much impact. Months later, it has not. Her hearing is perfect. From the way she communicates, there does not appear to be any deficiency intellectually or behaviorally. Fundamentally, she is having a harder time learning to read. I was waiting to hear from her teacher that she was placed in a remedial reading group, and was stunned to hear that she is considered “on track.” Really, then, there is nothing to worry about.

Still having trouble with this radical difference between them, I consulted with a friend who has some special needs experience. This friend pointed out not only the many ways in which the twins are different, but the fact that I have a hard time myself conceiving of anyone having trouble in school, so this issue is particularly jarring to me for that reason. This brought home to me an inherent danger in having identical twins that I thought I was handily circumventing: comparing them to the detriment of one or the other. I am so very dedicated to seeing each of my children as individuals, and meeting each one where he or she is, yet I still falter. This has shown me how important it will be for me to keep that dedication in mind when I find that tendency to compare — which is understandable in parents, I think — creeping in. The next step will be to stop my incessant comparing of MYSELF to other people who are in far more different circumstances than Lily and Emma ever will be!!

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