Thursday, November 30, 2006

We're back, and thoughts on toy guns.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

We're back, and thoughts on toy guns.
Current mood: annoyed

Well well, we are back from our whirlwind tri-part trip. Part one: overnight trip to my Grandmother's for Thanksgiving. Part two: our very first overnight backpacking trip with the kids (Billy and I used to do quite a bit of backpacking together, but have not been at all since before we had Littleman. And of course, backpacking with young kids is another ballgame entirely). Part three: two nights in Gatlinburg TN for some fun with the boys. Whew!!

It was a lot, but we did have fun and I'm glad we went. Now I have all sorts of material to mull over, write about and enjoy. Right now however, the experience at the forefront of my thoughts is one I had this morning, while picking Littleman up from Montessori.

While we were in Gatlinburg, we bought Littleman a classic toy pop gun. Made of wood and pvc, it's an itty-bitty rifle complete with cork, string and sliding barrel- slide the tube toward you, and it pulls the cork snugly into the tip. Quickly push the tube away from you, and the compressed air shoots the cork out of the gun with a satisfying "pop"! The string keeps the cork from going very far. Littleman loves it, and had a grand time marching through Gatlinburg with his rifle on his shoulder, or popping the cork again and again.

Now, I am very aware that many people do not approve of toy guns. I have heard the arguments, and there is much there to think about. For awhile I was unsure whether or not I wanted to have any toy guns in our house, not because I am concerned that they promote violence (though many people feel this is the central problem), but because I do not want my children to learn that guns are toys. In our family backgrounds, there are many military personnel and many avid hunters, so guns are definitely a part of life for people in our lives. I don't personally believe that guns themselves are evil, nor do I think that a child who learns how to handle a gun is more violent than a child who never encounters a gun in his life (not that any parent can totally eliminate guns from the conciousness of their children). I intend my children to learn gun safety, and probably at some point to learn how to shoot. I think that the best way to protect my children from accidents involving guns will be to demystify the guns themselves, and to teach safe and proper behavior whenever guns are around. Of course, hopefully they will NEVER encounter a gun without proper adult supervision! But you never know, so I want them to understand what not to do.

Anyway, all that is still in the future for us, and back to the point- all I want to be doing now is to lay a foundation of some very basic concepts involving guns. I think gun play is a logical starting place. Gun play seems to be instinctual- Littleman hardly ever watches TV (only at relatives' houses from time to time), but somehow just that little bit, and his interaction with his cousins and friends, has taught him how to hold and point a gun (more or less) and that guns "kill". (Not that he has any understanding of what "kill" really means). Is it healthy then, to ignore this behavior, or to actively try and squelch it? I think actively discouraging it would actually encourage him, and ignoring it could lead to dangerous ignorance later on. So, I figure the best thing is to treat it like any other play-acting, and sometimes casually explain how one would handle this thing if it were real and he were grown up. I'll also start enforcing rules- for instance you only shoot guns outside, and you do not point guns in people's faces. Otherwise, let him have fun. Think how many loving, non-violent men (and women!) played with toy guns as kids. I don't think the gun play itself is a problem.

Anyhow (I had more to write about this than I realized!) the pop gun was in the car behind Littleman's carseat. I was in the drive-through at his Montessori school, and one of the school's officials was helping him into the car. He spotted the gun and excitedly tried to get it out, but I told him he couldn't play with it in the car. He didn't argue, and forgot about it promptly. The woman could not shut that car door fast enough, so she could turn away from me and hide her expression. She radiated waves of disgust and dismay, that I would allow this darling child to have and play with a toy gun. I understand that toy weapons are taboo at school, and that's totally acceptable (and logical!) I also understand that many people feel strongly against toy guns, and that's fine. But it's still irritating to have somebody so disgusted with me, and my parenting. It's so very condescending for her to think she knows what's best for my child, and I do not.

I am not terribly concerned with what she thinks of me, and I don't think this will affect how she interacts with Littleman. But it does leave a bad taste in my mouth, and makes me disinclined to be very involved with her. How irritating.

It's odd how, now that I have kids, I find I am judged all the time by all sorts of random people on how I interact with and raise my children. People that would never presume to tell an adult how to run his or her life are perfectly willing to tell a parent what is best for their children. Sometimes they are just trying to be helpful, but often the underlying current is much more negative. The vast majority of the time I hardly even notice, but it can be very irritating when someone I must deal with seems to think that my choices are "bad" for my children, and that their methods are so much superior to mine. (I swear this lady probably feels toy guns are tantamount to abuse! You should have been there. . .) The tension is totally unnecessary, and makes civil, comfortable exchange difficult.

Oh, well! In the meantime I rather like the classic, loud "pop"! We all do what we think is best. :)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On TV, happiness, good health and gratitude

On TV, happiness, good health and gratitude

Current mood: cheerful

Wow, so I was stuck at the studio for awhile last night (my car is in the shop for routine stuff) and to kill time I was watching TV. I don't ever watch TV (we do not get any channels at all at the house) and I am pretty amazed. What an incredible, colossal waste of time! It was mildly interesting at times, but that wasn't enough to make up for the bland worthlessness, the blatant manipulation and absolute banality of the programming. It was almost like I could feel my brain cells begin to liquefy. I swear I do not remember TV being this bad- either it is worse than it was when I was in high school, or else my absence from the medium has given me an objectivity that I lacked before. I seem to remember the "educational" channels having some good stuff to show. . . but anything that caught my fancy last night turned out to be stretched, edited and beaten into submission so much that it lost what value it's premise held. Man, do they ever know how to beat a dead horse. My resolve to never get TV here at the house has been reenergized.

OK- that said, I did actually come away with a couple thoughts and ideas to ponder. Mostly they are recipe ideas from the food network (mmm, a pinot noir reduction as a glaze for turkey. . .), but there was also one program that discussed "Happiness and Your Health". (The long program could have been condensed into 5 minutes and still easily made it's point, but I digress). It talked about various studies that show that laughing a lot, being upbeat and happy, loving people and having gratitude will all improve your health in concrete ways. Furthermore, if you do not naturally feel happy, you can fake it and still reap many of the health rewards.

There are clubs around the world called "laughter clubs", whose members aim to laugh every day, for many minutes a day. (I remember someone saying 30 minutes a day is a good goal). If they don't feel like laughing, they fake it and laugh anyway- and lo and behold, their mood improves. Over time laughter can improve your mood, lower blood pressure, reduce stress and impart an overall feeling of well-being. (So can meditation, even for beginners).

Caring deeply for others improves your health. Positive people enjoy better health than negative people do. An ability to communicate well with others leads to a better sense of well-being and a more positive outlook. And cultivating a sense of gratitude for the good things in your life can actually have many concrete health benefits.

Which brings us to Thanksgiving: silly perhaps to have a holiday to remind us to be grateful for our blessings, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of something we need to be doing every day. I love Thanksgiving, not least because I enjoy the food preparation, traditions and the shared meal. But it is also a holiday that is not so commercialized; a holiday whose original meaning is not obfuscated by layers and layers of ancilliary trappings. (Which might only be because it is such a young holiday, but the why of this point isn't really my concern here). It is a great opportunity to practice concious gratitude, and hopefully it can be a jumping-off place for us to remember to practice gratitude on a daily basis.

Be thankful- it's good for you!

Gratitude part 2: an article.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gratitude part 2: an article.
Current mood: tired

This is an article that was sent to a yahoo group I'm in, and it directly relates to some of my earlier blog post today. I thought I'd reprint it here for you.

Hearth & Soul
Jean G. Fitzpatrick

How Kids Learn Gratitude
There are simple ways to cultivate your child's natural thankfulness.

Moments of thankfulness open our hearts to joy, fill us with peace,
connect us to those around us. They help us feel blessed.

Recently, scientists have been taking a closer look at how positive
emotions affect us. Barbara Fredrickson, for example, a psychology
professor at the University of Michigan, has found that cultivating
gratitude may actually undo the effects of negative emotions such as
anger and anxiety.
Too often, though, when we try to teach our children thankfulness we
go about it in surprisingly negative ways. We wait until moments when
we're worried we have spoiled them for life. "You ought to be grateful
for all the stuff you have," we tell them angrily after we have
tripped over their toys for the 10th time.

Or we teach thankfulness as "reverse envy." I once heard a
particularly grumpy Sunday school teacher lead a class in a prayer
that was a classic of the genre. "Thank you, Jesus, for all the things
we have," she said dourly, as her class of kindergartners bowed their
heads, hands folded. "Because we know that there are so many other
children who have no parents and no toys and no clothes and no nice
house." The underlying idea here is that we ought to value our
possessions because others don't have them--an approach more likely to
inspire guilt than gratitude.

The reverse-envy approach was studied by researchers at Southern
Methodist University and the University of California at Davis, using
three groups of volunteers. One group kept a daily log of five hassles
or complaints. The second group wrote down five ways in which they
thought they were better off than their peers. And the third group
wrote down five things each day for which they were grateful.

After three weeks, those in the group who kept gratitude lists
reported having more energy, fewer health problems, and a greater
feeling of well-being than those who complained or gloated.

What's the best way to help children experience the heart-expanding
effects of gratitude?
Here are some simple ways to help children cultivate gratitude on a
daily basis.

Give thanks in prayer. Set aside a regular time for thank-you prayers,
before dinner or breakfast, or at bedtime. Give thanks for small
things--finding a colorful fall leaf on the driveway, getting over a
cold, seeing the dog do a funny thing. Young children are naturally
thankful, according to Montessori teacher Sofia Cavalletti. She writes
in "The Religious Potential of the Child," "The prayer of children
up to the age of seven or eight is almost exclusively prayer of
thanksgiving and praise."

Say thank you to your family. Research suggests that people are
actually more likely to express their thanks to strangers or
acquaintances than to their own family members or peers, according to
the National Institute for Healthcare Research. But when parents show
appreciation to one another, to their children, and to other people in
their lives, children learn to do the same thing. When your child does
a household chore--even if it's one of his or her assigned tasks--say
thank you. When your partner does something considerate, express your

Slow down and smell the roses. Babies and toddlers are fascinated by
sights and sounds and smells, from the color red to a ringing bell to
cookies in the oven. The older we get, the more oblivious we become to
the everyday sensory pleasures of the world we live in. When we pause
to enjoy them, we regain the openness that is an essential part of
gratitude. Make sure your child doesn't spend so much time with
electronic entertainment that he or she misses out on the tactile joys
of flowers, plants, crayons, paint, music, and dancing.

Create a year-round thanksgiving spot. This is a home altar of sorts.
Find a convenient but safe place--the refrigerator door, a bulletin
board, or a small table or shelf. Make this a special spot for things
you are thankful for--pictures of people you love, souvenirs and
memorabilia, handmade treasures, and, of course, your child's artwork.
Invite your child to add his or her own items, and set aside time now
and then to admire the objects and pictures together.

Teach your child to write thank-you notes. Even if kids write them on
a computer, thank-you notes means more when they specifically mention
the gift and say something appreciative about it. Writing thank-you
notes to coaches, teachers, baby-sitters, neighbors, clergy, and other
caring adults helps a child appreciate all the people who care about
him or her (and it's a nice antidote to the complaints most adults hear).

Keep a gratitude journal. One way to help your child develop
thankfulness is to cultivate it in yourself. In a notebook, write down
three to five things you're thankful for every day. Keep the focus
small and specific--give thanks for a child's patience during a long
wait, for a pan of brownies that turned out well, for a good joke
someone told at lunch. You may wish to share the journal with your child.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Current mood: crappy

I like the sound of rain on the roof, and the wind in the branches outside. I was awake last night when it started, gently at first with a sound like the house settling, building quickly to an intense steady pour. The house was quiet and cool; we were warm and snug under the blankets. The rain hummed me to sleep.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

all over the map tonight

Monday, November 13, 2006

all over the map tonight
Current mood: disappointed

"I am a big boy."
"Yes you are, sweetie."
"I have to get bigger so I can have a skateboard."
"Well yes, you are still too small to have a skateboard."
"Yes I have to get bigger and then I will get a skateboard, and I will ride it on the ramps. I will ride it on the BIG ramps, and I will carry my skateboard like this." (he demonstrates) "Hmm, what kind of skateboard will I get? Oh I will get one with a skeleton. My skateboard will have a skeleton on it and I will ride it on the big ramps when we go to the mall. I will have a skateboard and carry it like this."
"Wow, well OK when you get bigger you might be able to do all that."

* * *

Tonight I was all set to go to yoga again. We're supposed to meet my neighbor there. Diaper bag packed, kids fed, running late but can still make it on time. Sweetcheeks is dressed and ready; I'm helping Littleman dress quickly. I reach for his shoes. Not there. I quickly search around. Nowhere in sight. Littleman (of course) doesn't remember where they are. I rush about, grousing and still hoping to get out of the house in time, but still I can't find them. I run outside and look in the car. I call Billy on the off chance that he knows where they are, but no luck. (He helpfully suggests that I check the freezer). I continue looking, though I am realizing we're not likely to make it by now. Finally I do discover them, in the dirty clothes hamper. I don't know why Littleman decided they needed to go in there. We are actually buckled into the car, engine running, before I make a final realistic assesment of the time and decide there's not much point in going- the class would be half over. Dammit.

We drove around the block for the hell of it and came back inside. I left a message for my neighbor to explain our absence, and while the boys munched the goldfish crackers I'd packed for them, I at least do some yoga to a DVD in the living room. Even without the ever-present interruptions and distractions here, the DVDs are just not the same as going to a class. I'm not sure if it's that a class is more challenging (usually), or that I have an easier time relaxing when I am somewhere else and I am just following instruction. But in any case the DVDs, though better than nothing, do not leave me feeling as good as if I've just done a good yoga class. Sigh.

After my yoga DVD, I put on Winged Migration for the boys while I ate dinner. I've not pulled out that movie in a long while, and both boys were entranced. That was nice. Littleman even continued to watch it as I put Sweetcheeks to bed. I'm glad they enjoy it.

* * *

Tonight I am grateful for tea, for finding things that were lost, leftovers for dinner (ah so easy!) and for strong foundations.

* * *

Musing on homeschooling: there is always the question of "socialization". People think homeschooling can be bad for children because they do not get a chance to "socialize". Well, what does it mean to "socialize" someone? The American Heritage Dictionary offers three definitions. To "socialize" someone can mean: "To make fit for companionship with others; make sociable." OK. But "socialize" also means: "To place under government or group ownership or control", and "To convert or adapt to the needs of society." Yes, I'd say public schools definitely strive to "socialize" children. Let's just say that I don't think "socialization" is all it's cracked up to be.

* * *

I think that's enough random postings for tonight. :)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

On yoga, and the beauty of knowing your neighbors.

Monday, November 06, 2006

On yoga, and the beauty of knowing your neighbors.
Current mood: refreshed

We've lived in this neighborhood for 5 years, and for most of that time (has it really been 4 years??) I've been active in the neighborhood association. Also for most of that time, the other active members (always the same hardy souls) could be counted on one hand. We have really struggled to keep things going, as this is a voluntary association and people generally don't do jack-shit unless they have to. So we were always strapped for cash and starved of feedback or participation.

Still, we've continued to limp along. Gradually we started getting a few new semi-regulars to the meetings and the occasional event. With dedicated door-to-door volunteers, we got the word out in person and added more paying members. We even have managed (barely) to get enough families to join the pool so that we could afford to keep the pool open. Next year looks even better. Partly this is from the dedication of all the active members, and partly it's due to new, younger families moving in that are interested in meeting their new neighbors.

But the really gratifying thing for me is to go to a social event sponsored by the neighborhood association, and actually see a lot of neighbors there enjoying themselves. People who would probably never have met are making friends, having fun and helping each other out. For instance, for Halloween we had a bonfire, s'mores and a haunted trail. It was great!! There were so many kids, and I saw lots of familiar faces from around the neighborhood- plus some newcomers! Everyone had fun. On Halloween night, we had a hay ride cruise slowly around the neighborhood to accompany the trick-or-treaters. I was passing out candy at home, and had more trick-or-treaters than we've ever had. This sort of thing is exactly why I wanted to be involved in a neighborhood association to begin with.

Getting back to the point of my blog entry, while helping at the bonfire I was chatting with some other ladies about the gym nearby. One of the ladies has a membership there, and mentioned that she really likes the weekly yoga class. I mentioned how much I miss yoga, which I love. She invited me to go along with her as a guest, but I said I'd have to come up with a babysitter first. When she told me there is on-site childcare, I said "Sold!"

We went tonight, and I am SO glad I did. I liked the class, and though I am way out of practice I was not as stiff as I expected I'd be. It helps that the class is a little less strenuous than my old yoga classes, without being too easy either. Mr. Cheeks was less than thrilled with me being gone an hour, but hopefully he will adjust. Poor kid. We'll see how that goes. I have unlimited use of the gym for 3 days, and after that I think I can continue going as a guest for $5 per class, if I am accompanied by a member. I need to check on that.

I just love that, by knowing my neighbors, this opportunity has come up for me to renew my regular yoga practice. I'd probably have never looked into what the gym offered if I hadn't been chatting with my neighbors over a bonfire on a fun October night.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

rocking to sleep

Friday, November 03, 2006

rocking to sleep
Current mood: happy

Densely packed, soft, humid miracle- sweeter than honey, than angels or pumpkin pie, sweeter than all the treacle cliches that come to mind. Halo of downy curls glowing into my neck, fingers that humble me, delicious, delicious juicy knees and the breath of god- as mist that thunders off a waterfall, as a butterfly lights on jasmine, as the moss that cushions footfalls in the hush of twilight. Nothing so elemental, nothing so fundamental, nothing so pure as this treasure melted into my arms, this love manifest, this ancient creature, this baby.