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    Food for Thought on the Gender Binary

    Last night we were at a restaurant as a family - my husband, myself, and our two children. As we were waiting for our food, one of the servers approached our table and singled out one of my children.

    "Is this child a boy or a girl?" she said.

    We answered as we understand our child in question to be - what our child has asserted to us to be their gender. (for the purpose of this piece, the gender choice of my child has been withheld)

    The waitress appeared puzzled, and continued to linger at our table, scrutinizing our child. She got closer in - right up to our child's face, in fact.

    "Are YOU a boy or a girl?" she inquired directly of our child, obviously unhappy with our response - perhaps seeking  clarification or perhaps just confirmation of our assertion from the source - it was unclear. Her interrogation wasn't mean spirited, just, well... overtly skeptical.

    Our child shrugged, unbothered, and answered.

    Still, the waitress lingered; still looking. Bewildered.

    And then, as if in attempt to justify her incredulity to both us, AND our children,  

    "oh, well, this child has such a girl's/boy's face!"

    And with that, left our table.

    We were, in a word, flabbergasted. That is, my husband and I, anyhow. In fact we both felt unable to fully enjoy the rest of our meal.

    At issue for me, primarily, was WHY someone felt so compelled to even ASK the question she had, to override the - what I would believe to be - generally understood code of appropriate conduct when addressing "strangers": that is, basically, to be polite and NOT impertinent.

    But beyond that - giving that an assumption of appropriateness might vary from person to person - why CONTINUE to pry after the question had been answered ; to continue to meddle into an area of personal definition that is, well, PERSONAL?

    What gave someone the right to take the liberty of assumption well beyond casual observation and into interrogation?

    And then, we were plagued with trying to answer our own questions: Was it because our child was dressed as our child felt they'd like to dress - perhaps not conforming to the understood gender expectations of bright colors = girl and dark colors = boy? Was it because our child was wearing their hair in the way they choose - perhaps not conforming to the understood gender-aligned expectations of short hair = boy and long hair = girl? What makes anyone feel they NEED to classify another person into box A or B? Is our society so hung up on defining personhood by gender assignment? Was it because we didn't loudly put our foot down and insist that our child was A or B? Was it because our child is... a CHILD, and adults tend to take liberties in speaking with children that they wouldn't dream of taking with adults?

    I don't know.

    Incidentally, the interaction didn't seem to faze either of our children - not the one whose gender was being questioned, and not the one who - apparently - fit neatly into the gender binary. I wonder, perhaps, if our children's reactions - or lack thereof - mightn't be a lesson. Gender is but one piece in the very large puzzle of being. We needn't make it the primary nor the ultimate in defining who a person IS.

    Food for thought.  


    Posted: Nov 12 2012, 19:00 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Parenting

    The Most Fierce

    And though she be but little, she is fierce!

    ~William Shakespeare


    I don't recall ever reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so maybe that's why I didn't recognize this quote right away when I first read it. Yet, once I had, I couldn't shake it - as it brought my thespian daughter so clearly to mind. She exists with wild abandon; energy, enthusiasm, verve - she lives each moment to its very fullest potential. So, it is with her vivacity in mind, I decided to make this one Shakespearian line into a print, as an homage to her; my little girl, the actor, and the most fierce of all. 



    Posted: Oct 31 2012, 11:16 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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    Connection and Attachment Beyond Babyhood

    Attachment parenting is often associated with babies and very young children. But what happens when your baby is too big for a sling or your preschooler has weaned? Does attachment parenting have to stop? Not at all. The basis of attachment parenting is getting tuned-in to your child, learning to communicate effectively, and staying connected.  You may not be able/want to breastfeed your five-year-old, but that doesn't mean he no longer wants - and needs - the gentle nurturing touch that you and he shared when he was a sweet, chubby baby. Here are some ways to help strengthen those connections you built in babyhood, and stay in-tuned with your older kids:


    Get down on the floor and play.

    Sometimes it's really a challenge to shake the stiff realities of life as an adult and loosen up. Sometimes kids play seems boring. Sometimes all you can think about is what you're "not getting done" while playing with your kids. Maybe you're just not the playing kind? I get that. It can be hard at times, to get down and really play with kids, but it's worth it! Even a bit of an effort makes a difference. Every ten minutes spent helping construct a Lego tower, tossing a ball back and forth, or throwing a blanket over the kitchen table to make a fort adds to your connection bank. We can all find ten minutes. Remember, play is kids' language. We need to speak it now & then.


    Hug, cuddle, and use gentle touch.

    Not only babies like and benefit from gentle touch. Keeping attached to our children means cuddling up with them - even when they're nearly as big as we are! Offer hugs whenever you can (wrestle  if kids say they are "too big" for hugs & kisses), offer  a gentle massage to help kids relax before bed, cuddle up on the couch when watching a movie or reading a book, use gentle, reassuring touch (like a pat on the back) when your child is working hard at a task, offer to brush or braid your children's hair (and then have them do the same for you!). Gentle touch is a great way to reconnect and show love without having to say a word!


    Write a love note.

    My daughter has told me many times how much she enjoys reading the notes I've left in her lunch during the school year. Jot down a happy poem, an inspiring phrase, or a note from the heart and leave it somewhere your child will be sure to see it - in their lunch box, on their bathroom mirror, or in their sports bag. If you're not the flowery words type, try something simple like a smiley face or "Have a great day!" (I created a few "staying connected" cards - feel free to print & include them in your kids' lunches). Just a few words of encouragement or cheer, reminding your children that you're thinking of them - even when you're apart - can really mean a lot to your child.


    Actively listen.

    Listen to your kids when they talk. Simple, right? But I know how challenging it can be to stop what you're doing and pay close attention when your child is in motor-mouth mode, or telling you the details of the latest Harry Potter book, which you both have already read, many times. Keep in mind that while the little details may not be important to you at that moment, what they are telling you is important to THEM. By making eye contact and actively listening, you're letting them know how important THEY are to YOU. Good listening is crucial to keeping your connection strong. And while the stories NOW may seem simplistic or boring, as they grow, if they're used to telling you their feelings and experiences, you'll be the first person they come to when the stories are scary, complex, or they're facing challenging decisions as teenagers. Listening now reverberates.


    Attachment parenting doesn't have to stop with breastfeeding, babywearing, or cosleeping. Staying connected our kids doesn't take much effort, and can make a world of difference in maintaining that close relationship you established in babyhood. Go ahead, give your big kid an extra hug today & see how good it feels!

    Posted: Jun 14 2012, 00:00 by kelly | Comments (3) RSS comment feed |
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    Fostering Independence by Asking Instead of Telling

    We all want our children to become independent thinkers, to make their own decisions, and to think critically. When they are young, we still must guide them, as they don't yet have ALL the info they NEED to make the correct decisions. But sometimes I find the balance of imparting my own knowledge and wisdom while still encouraging my children to think for themselves and do what they already know, is often skewed towards my own knowledge. Maybe it's out of convenience: "If I just do it, it'll be done". Maybe it's ego: "I'm the Mom, I'll just tell them, and they'll do it". Maybe it's habit… when you have young children, you've only recently come out of the stage of having babies, who DID need you to - most of the time anyhow - instruct or DO instead of ask. But whatever the reason, I do find myself instructing my children on what to do, even while knowing they already have the information they need to make a decision.

    Example, bedtime routine: I get stuck many nights saying the same things: Okay guys! Please start teeth brushing then put on your jammies! In the midst of instruction, they usually have raced off into their bedroom, picked out books for reading, started building magformers, jumping on the bed, and… sometimes getting jammies on and brushing teeth in the meantime - but to the tune of SEVERAL "reminders". While I find myself getting a little annoyed, looking at the clock, realizing the time for books is getting short. I usually remind again: TEETH!!! This scenario plays out more nights then not. But… they DO know how to brush their teeth. And, they do ACTUALLY brush their teeth, they DO get their jammies on, they DO pick out a book and get into bed.

    So why am I still standing around telling them what to do?

    As with so many things, a simple change in approach does wonders. Instead of TELLING them what do to: "Time to brush your teeth!" or "Please get your jammies on now!", I have started ASKING them what THEY think needs to be done: "What needs to happen before we can read a book?" or "How do we make sure we have enough time before lights out to do what you want?" The answer, usually, is my kids getting RIGHT TO brushing teeth & putting on jammies. ASKING them (instead of dictating) what needs to be done - and then stepping out of the way while they figure it out - invites them to think, to make decisions in the moment, and start to develop their own sense of time management. Now, they may not do exactly what I wanted in exactly in the way I wanted it, but usually, things get done, on their own, and a great lesson in critical thinking and self-reliance has been taught (while saving my own sanity).

    It's not just bedtime for which this would work! I can think of many scenarios in which we parents may feel the need to just step in and DO or TELL our kids WHAT to do, when they are perfectly capable of figuring it out themselves. How about:

    GETTING WEATHER-APPROPRIATE CLOTHING ON: It's pretty wet outside. What do you think we should wear to stay dry?

    BICKERING SIBLINGS: I see you and your sister are fighting. How can you work together?

    TIME MANAGEMENT: Remember that you have piano lessons on Friday. What's your plan for practicing this week?

    GETTING READY TO GO: I don't like being late in the morning. What do you need to do to be ready to go on time?

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    So… Do you find yourself telling your kids what to do instead of asking them what they think they should do? Does switching from telling to asking work for you? Tell me about it!

    Posted: May 31 2012, 17:59 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Becoming A More Present and Less Judgmental Parent

    I feel I've come a long way in my parenting  journey over the last eight years.  I've developed more patience than I ever knew possible for myself, become more tolerant, open-minded, empathetic, and (sigh) better able to handle sleep deprivation. I've learned new techniques for calmly dealing with frustration, and for disciplining without punishment/reward/bribery (something prior to parenting I hadn't realized was even possible). But, though I've improved in these areas, incorporated these ideas into my parenting toolbox, that doesn't mean I've mastered them! And, still, my children change, new challenges present themselves, I find my limits being tested and I'm continually having to learn new, different techniques in order to change along with my kids. No one ever said parenting was boring, right? Something I've been working on recently, is learning how to calmly observe situations (as opposed to immediately judging what's going on and thus creating an emotion - usually a more forceful one like anger or irritation or resentment), as a way of being more present and better able to deal with things as they come up.

    When I am in a situation where I feel like my children are out of control, going wild, not listening… and I feel myself getting anxious, frustrated, or on the edge of outbursting myself, I try to stop for a moment. I take myself to a protected, quiet (or as quiet as you can get with children) spot. I breathe. I think about how I am feeling and recognize how I am (re)acting towards my children. I try to do this without judging myself - just acknowledging and recognizing. I breathe some more. I try to envision what I'd LIKE my children to be doing… AND (perhaps more importantly) how I would LIKE to respond to my children. I breathe. I try to ignore the outbursts or craziness for a little bit longer. Next, I think about what they are doing at the moment. I try to switch my way of thinking about what's going on with them from judgment to observation (something like moving from:  "I can't BELIEVE the how they've wrecked the house! I JUST straightened it up! They're out of control!!" to "There are a lot of things on the floor. My kids are full of energy."). I find that when I can move from forming opinions about what's going on to just making general observations, I feel my sense of stress about the situation greatly reduce. I go from feeling like I "NEED TO FIX" this situation to feeling like I'd just like to continue on with the day. When I'm no longer seeing what's going on as a problem and instead just being present with the situation, bringing awareness to life as it IS, then I'm no longer needing to fix it, so I can look at it more optimistically, calmly, and with a broader view.

    (Photo Credit: NaturalLifeMom.com)

    Take the example of the "house being wrecked immediately after cleaning it: if I look at it as the kids going bonkers, disrespecting their space, and creating more work for me, I may find myself wanting to hurry to clean up, which stresses me out, I may dictate that the kids follow suit, but then feel angry, frustrated, or put out when they don't immediately heed my directive, or irritated that they just keep getting louder - echoing my own irritated energy.  Nothing has been resolved, nothing learned, and stress continues on. Usually multiplied. If instead, I look at the same situation (after breathing and calming and reframing) as: kids with lots of energy, and stuff on the floor, I can more easily start picking just up the stuff (because it's just stuff on the floor that needs picked up), without demanding that the kids help (because I've envisioned them seeing me clean up and want to join in to help, since picking up stuff is part of life, and kids like to be part of real life), and I don't feel angry or frustrated because there's no blame, no judgment, no expectation. In fact, maybe I put on music while I clean up - because I like cleaning to music. Maybe I make a game out of it because who doesn't like trying to "make a basket" with stuff on the floor? Without pressure or force or guilt or blame or anger directing my actions, I often find myself more calm, more creative, more present. And, when I am more calm, my kids feel my calmness and direction, and they naturally start calming down, mirroring, echoing. Things get cleaned up, people are calm, and the day moves on. I haven't yet perfected this, but I find that it's working, so I continue to work in this direction in the hopes that we all will experience more peace, calm, awareness, and presence in our lives!

    (Photo Credit: PresenceParenting.com <-- for fabulously non-judgmental tips on how to acheive more presence, peace, and harmony in your life with children, please visit my friend Amy's blog. She also wrote this lovely online guide: Nurturing Presence)

    Here's to more calm, more breathing, and less judgment in your own life. Peace. 

    Posted: May 30 2012, 16:09 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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